The Chumps of Choice

A Congenial Spot for the Discussion of Against the Day, by Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Cornell '59, and Any Other Damned Thing That Comes Into Our Heads. Warning: Grad Students and Willie-Wavers will be mocked.

Monday, April 30, 2007

She Blinded Me With Zeta Functions

ATD pp. 489-524

We cut to England with Nigel and Neville (introduced in pp. 219-242) in a steam bath, debating which of Yashmeen Halfcourt’s nipples was glimpsed (“Now was that stage left or audience left?” 489:15) as they spied on her skinny-dipping. Much theatrical atmosphere in this section. They also contemplate each other’s penises (with lethargic annoyance) and reveal that Yashmeen, after returning a trinket from Neville, has a new beau in one Cyprian Latewood, of Latewood’s Patent Wallpapers and Embryo Apostlet at Cambridge University. Yashmeen’s exotic Orientalism and Cyprian’s gayness mark the relationship “It’s that harem mentality, being sweet on the Eunuchs sort of thing. As long as it’s always someone that impossible” (489:17). Their attention then turns to opium beer.

In Reginald “Ratty” Mc Hugh’s rooms at King’s, he and one Capsheaf and Cyprian attempt to mope themselves into the “lilies-and-lassitude humor of the 90’s” (491:18) and with “the ineluctability of certain mathematical convergences”, Yashmeen’s name comes up. Cyprian blurts “I think I’m in love with her”. “As gently as I can, Latewood… You. Sodding. Idiot. she, prefers, her, own, sex”. Having established the (at least nominally) the lay of the land on both sides, Being college students, counter-examples are immediately brought up, including “divine Walt” (Whitman, 492:1) and one Crayke, whose object of affection was Dymphna, of the Shetland pony persuasion. As a last resort, studying is recommended.

Yashmeen has her own fan club in the persons of Lorelei, Noellyn and Faun, who counsel her in similar fashion “dump him” when learning he doesn’t dance; be content with “vegetable love” (ref. to Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress” but immediately taken down the obvious path (494:23). Cyprian’s one redeeming quality to Yashmeen is that he makes her laugh. Yashmeen’s sidelong (c.f. the portrait of Constance Penhallow, p. 127) looks have an erogenous effect on Cyprian.

Ratty has incongruously become a favorite of Professor Renfrew, who is compiling information on everything for his “Map of the World”, in whose orbit Yashmeen also circles, and Cyprian hangs on every tidbit of information about her, including that she has “connections to the Eastward” (496:11).

During summer vacation, Yashmeen returns to her rooms in Chunxton Crescent , feels alienated from T.W.I.T. and distant from Lew Basnight, and immerses herself in mathematics and the “journey into the dodgy terrain of Riemann’s zeta function and his famous conjecture…that all its nontrivial zeroes had a real part equal to one half” (496:30).

Back in Cambridge after the long vac, the mode includes fringes (bangs) worn by the upper-class in imitation of the working girl, the fortunes of Ranji and C.B. Fry of the England XI vs. Australia, slide rule gunslinger facedowns in New Court and Coronation Red. This latter may provide a time cue, as the coronation of Edward VII and Alexandra, finally bringing the Victorian Era to a close, was in August, 1902. Yashmeen realizes her pursuit of the zeta must take her to Göttingen, where Riemann’s papers and Hilbert are. She and Cyprian have a typically understated parting (“There’s little future for you in hanging about here simply being adored. I know nothing about Riemann, but I do at least understand obsessiveness. Don’t I” (499:24). He sidelong admires her neck.

Renfrew, on hearing Yashmeen’s intention, plots against his doppelganger Werfner. Back in Chunxton Crescent, she consults the Grand Cohen, who advises her to be less attractive by being metempsychosed as a vegetable. A package, ostensibly from Renfrew, arrives directing her to an appointment for a fitting of a Snazzbury’s Silent Frock (500:21), the dress that harmonically cancels out any rustling and an instance of the developing theme of camouflage. There are hijinks in the fitting room, Yashmeen drifts into a reverie involving the Earls’s Court ferris wheel (harkening back to the one at the 1893 Columbian Exposition) and jellied eels, and departs for the Continent. Cyprian is dejected, but – feeling all is not over between them – not disconsolate.

The next section (505) begins with another sendoff, this of Dally and Erlys Rideout picking up from where we left them (357) and boarding the SS Stupendica with assorted Zombinis headed for Europe. This section up to the middle of 515 I find remarkable in its purity and simplicity- to the point of any comments I might make being clumsy and intrusively offensive. Suffice it to say it’s the continuation of the backstory or Merle and Erlys, already pregnant with Dally, meeting in Cleveland after the death of her father, Bert. The sunsets unnaturally vivid due to the eruption of Krakatoa (Krakatau, 1883 – “I thought sunsets were just always supposed to look like that” (507:3). Their unspoken agreement to travel together. Dreams if Dally. Luca Zombini appears and Merlys decamps with him, leaving Dally to Merle. “You know you can have anything from me you want. I’m in no position –“ “I know, but Merle told me I couldn’t take advantage. Is why I was never fixin to do more than drop in, say hello, be on my way again.” … “Turned out to be all different anyhow.” (509:14). Tender, simple and a bit melancholic love of a mother and a daughter. Among the other passengers is one Kit Traverse, traveling to Göttingen on Scarsdale Vibe’s dime to study mathematics and “Become the next Edison” (331). Large obvious implied signpost- That’s exactly where Yashmeen is headed!

Having met before at R. Wilshire Vibe’s Greenwich Village soiree, and with a bit of motherly research, Kit and Dally may acceptably acknowledge each other. Dally knew Frank Traverse in the Telluride Tommmyknocker section so she and Kit have that to catch each other up on. Just as things are lining up nicely – on Dally and Kit on the promenade deck, orchestra playing Victor Herbert and Wolf-Ferrari -- the Traverse history winds toward the Webb/Deuce business and Kit (trying to protect Dally) is gone. Dally relates this as Erlys strokes her hair (513:39) – heart-wrenchingly simply beautiful.

Things return to normal Pynchonian weirdness starting on 515, when Kit -- feeling claustrophobic and constrained vis-à-vis his relationship with Dally -- and his math buddy Root Tubman start poking around below decks. Turns out the Stupendica is also the SMS Emperor Maximillian, 25,000 ton Dreadnought-class battleship of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Vast round empty cabins to accommodate gun turrets, decks hinged like a Transformer to swing down and lower the ship’s profile and become armor plating, crew trained to scramble over the side at a moment’s notice and repaint the hull in dazzle camouflage. The ship is more than a transformer, however- somehow it is both a liner and a Dewadnoght simultaneously, built at two separate shipyards in Trieste (!) and somehow inexplicably merged. A quantum effect, maybe, on a rather larger than usual scale and prompting the question “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?” In the boiler room we meet American stoker OIC Bodine (!) (Other works post) and Kit is press-ganged into shoveling coal. Apparently the two ships, originally conjoined only at the Engine Room at a “deeper level” (519:23 and Ahab’s argument to Starbuck), are now separate and Kit’s reality exists on the Maximillian. The ship steams around near the coast of Morocco and Kit observes German families in place to be offloaded in order to create a ready-made “hostage crisis”. Kit slips ashore at Agadir, stays long enough for a drink and some gnaoua culture, and is promptly re-shanghied on the trawler Fomalhaut out of Ostend. Discussion with Moïsés, resident Jewish mystic, centers on the duality between this Agadir and the other Agadir or Tarshish also known as Cádiz (simultaneously?) as Jonah’s landing-place and the possible function of the Straits of Gibraltar as a quantum diffractor or Maxwell’s demon (521:38). Back aboard the alternate reality of the Stupendica, Dally searches fruitlessly for Kit, and after a brief atmospheric pause in Venice, arrive at their destination, the bilocationally-apt city of Trieste.

Notes and Commentary

Nigel and Neville, to me, speak in the voices of Julian and Sandy from the BBC comedy series “Around the Horne”.

Laterality and lighting are, as always, keys.

The Apostles are a secret society/debating club at Cambridge whose new members are referred to as embryos. Famous members are numerous and include those in government, the arts, spies and homosexuals, none of which is mutually exclusive.

Lilies and lassitude were trademarks of Oscar Wilde.

Yashmeen’s nickname at Cambridge is Pinky (493:9) rendered Peeng-kyeah. Coincidentally (?) it was also former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s nickname at Harvard.

The three blonde girl-chums (although I can’t get Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo out of my head) are girls of “high albedo… the girls of silver darkness on the negative, golden brightness in the print” (493:20). The Grossmiths and Weedon (494:37) who the girls wouldn’t disdain a tipped wink from are authors of “Diary of a Nobody” explained here. Grossmith Senior starred in many of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. Also, aside from the Lorelei/siren thing, there’s the Rhine Maidens in Wagner to consider.

Before throwing up our hands and saying “It’s all Greek to me”, let’s at least dip our toes into the deep waters of Riemann’s Hypothesis. Published by G.F.B. Riemann in an 1859 paper as sort of an aside, it states the conjecture that the real part of all non-trivial zeroes to the zeta function of a complex number is one-half. Okay, what’s a zeta function? Just the infinite sum of the terms one divided by the index raised to the power of the argument. Thus zeta(2) = 1 + 1/(2 squared) + 1/(3 squared) + 1/(4 squared)… on to infinity. Zeta(3) = 1 + 1/(2 cubed) + 1/(3 cubed) + … Contrary, perhaps, to our intuition, the sum of an infinite number of positive numbers isn’t necessarily infinite. Achilles chasing the proverbial tortoise at 1 meter per second runs a meter in the first second, half a meter in the next half second, a quarter meter in the next quarter second and so on until he approaches arbitrarily close to two meters. The series is said to converge to the number 2, or in other words, the limit of the series from n=1 to n=infinity of 1 divided by 2 to the nth is 2. (Since the times are decreasing similarly, Achilles catches the tortoise). The zeta function diverges for n=1 (1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + …) is infinite, and it converges for all real (rational, like 1 and 1/7 and irrational like pi and the square root of 2) numbers greater than 1. Zeta(3) cited above happens to converge (without necessarily warning us) to pi squared divided by 6. So far, so good, eh? What nasty Riemann did in his paper on the number of prime numbers which are less than an arbitrary given number, was apply the zeta function to complex numbers. That is, numbers that have a real part and an imaginary part that is a multiple of the square root of -1. We have met them before. Remember quaternions -- i squared = j squared = k squared = -1? Remember the complex plane, where one axis is the real numbers and the other is the imaginary numbers? Anyhoo, when you plug a complex number (a + bi, where a is the real part and b is the imaginary part) into the old zeta function, Riemann found that there is another way to represent the zeta function as a functional equation (that is, a function defined in terms of itself. Doesn’t seem to buy us much headway on the surface, but diddling with the functional equation shows that all complex numbers with the real part being a negative even integer (-2, -4, -6 etc.) plugged into the equation give you an easy answer, and thus are called trivial zeroes, while all others (called non-trivial zeroes by those to whom trivial is anything that can be proved with less than three blackboards full of equations) have a real part that must be between 0 and 1 and those so far tested by Riemann and others (billions and billions of them) all have a real part of one-half. Big whoop, you may say, and I wouldn’t blame you. Proving that the real part of the non-trivial zeroes of the zeta function of a complex number must be 1/2 has not so far proven to be trivial. Doing so would have implications in number theory and on numerous other proofs that hinge on the assumption of Riemann’s conjecture, but wouldn’t, say, make cracking all our encryption a piece of child’s play. But to mathematicians, proving the conjecture has become one of the Holy Grails, and even more so, now that Fermat’s last theorem has been apparently well and truly sorted. There’s a million dollar prize waiting. So, I hope that we may ponder the mystical ineffability of ½ and Yashmeen’s motivations with a bit more lucidity. Sorry if I didn’t succeed, and sorry for the length. (We get some amusing wacky hits, by the way, if we Google the solutions to the misspelled Reimann’s conjecture).

There’s something going on here about neck-admiring from a 3/4 rear vantage that I doubt has made it into the psychosexual literature. I don’t know if there’s a correlation, but geisha extend the white face powder down the nape of the neck and the collars of their kimono stand quite away from the back of the neck . Also, before going out, someone strikes a flint so that a spark lands there. I don’t know the significance.

The Silent Frock Atelier, L’Arimeaux et Querlis, for which read Larry, Moe and Curly. Typical.

R.M.S. Dreadnought launched 1906, 17,900 tons, 20.9 knots, 10 12-inch guns was so revolutionary that she gave her name to a whole series of battleships and prodded Germany and other countries into a major naval arms race – and a precursor to World War I.

Dazzle camouflage was actually used on ships (notably the liner Mauretania, sister ship to the Lusitania, in her wartime incarnation as troopship/ hospital ship. Instead of mimicry, whose object was to blend in with the surroundings, dazzle was intended to confuse the viewer into believing that one ship was many disconnected objects, thus making it harder to target position and direction. Bilocation, as it were.

Skepticism regarding Jonah’s landing and speed of travel is popular among doubters of Biblical inerrancy. If I remember correctly, it comes up in Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby-Dick.
chumps2 public web album

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

Additional Discussion, pp. 489-524

Stoker OIC Bodine (p. 517) and his relation to Pig Bodine should be elucidated, as well as some remarkable parallels in the work of Neal Stephenson.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Location, Location, Bilocation

ATD PAGES 460-488

Frank and Stray 460-471
From the first graceful sentence of this section Pynchon uses light to define the mood and direction of Frank’s journey.

“Frank came back...splashing up droplets out of the muddy river which transmuted briefly to sunlight he could no longer in his heart appreciate.”

This reminded me of Frank’s earlier fascination with silver transmuted to gold and with the mystical properties of spar. Now it is dreams in the night of Estrella (Star) Briggs which draw him back to the southwest Colorado town of Nochecita (night). Nochecita seems foreign and impenetrable “an unreadable map” which increases his sense of “lines crossable and forbidden” (his brother’s wife?),and estrangement. In his confusion he feels that “the day... seemed set to the side of what he thought was his real life”.

He stays in Stray’s former and now decaying house for 3 "nights”* having fleeting visions of her amplified by the changing light and wondering if she can sense him too, after which he can take no more.

As he leaves he runs into Stray’s friend Linnet, still a pretty schoolteacher; possibly also a hooker. She lets F. know she thinks Stray is quite the drama queen, that Reef has left her and the country, and that she s living in NM and doing a good job raising Jesse.

Next he is slugging a glass of whiskey looking down through a green crystal haze ( more weird light) on the town of Fickle Creek . He finds a room at the Hotel Noctambulo (sleepwalker) where folks are up all night in strange but friendly pursuits. The town is full of motorcyclists, and wired with a desperado energy that includes singing unionists, nihilists, the 4 Corners Gang? , and seemingly a mountain climbing werewolf named Werner. Toward morning Frank goes for flapjacks and finds out Stray was overhead with a motorcyclist named Vang Freely. Bit of a romantic let down after them dreams. They pass him without notice, F. staring at Vang's leather clad crotch, the crowd staring at the contented looking Straying Star as she swings up her skirts to mount the bike, and well, adios.

Jolted out of the land of shamanic spirit journeys, dreams and ghosts and into a fast changing reality. Frank blows the Fickle Creek all night pop stand, and is blowing time and money in Denver when he meets Moss Gatlin (probably modeled loosely after Johann Most)

driving a motorized mini-chapel with bells and steeple, a sign that reads ANARCHIST HEAVEN, and filled with some of the lost souls of Denver. Turns out the vehicle is “borrowed” and the owner wants it back, so they haggle out a bargain over the several souls which are Gatlin’s work. Funny stuff.

We think of Christianity as safely aligned with state power but Christians were once considered dangerous godless nonconformists by the Roman authorities. Seems like throughout ATD Pynchon is outlining a broad-based anarchist faith with different branches and methods, of which are hinted at throughout this chapter. We see a kind of mirror of the dominant capitalist protestantism in Moss Gatlin who preaches about Plute Hell, “subhuman” (Deuce, Sloat) enemies, saving souls, etc. In Frank the author continues a more complex undermining and reordering of what you might call ground truths or moral/spiritual orientation.* His empathy or compassion or searchingness seems to elicit a kind of emotional/ spiritual honesty from others. Frank's mother prays unashamedly for someone to avenge her husband's murder.

This is a dialogue that runs through Western Lit and Pynchon like a vein of silver, or to some, fool’s gold, and might be a good topic for additional discussion at the risk of digging up what seemed a nugget and: “Yup, that there is pure hunnerd percent pyrite”.

Changing modes of transportation and changing names of Towns are all worth paying attention to.

Taking the train for Cripple Creek, Gatlin and F. talk about Webb. Frank is troubled about Sloat but Gatlin says it was a service even to Fresno who “ wont’ get into Anarchist Heaven”.

(F) “Plute Hell?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me”.

In Cripple Creek Frank helps a young man, Julius, who may’ve been Groucho Marx (this was figured out on Pynchon-Wiki) and knows his mother.

Mayva is running an Ice Cream parlor and their time together deepens the emotional bond with honest feelings about prayers, pension money from the mine company, about Sloat, and finally, reluctantly, about Lake and Deuce, Mayva feeling betrayed by Lake. There is some pretty classic Mother /Son, Mother/Daughter stuff going on here. Frank has the inclination to sympathize with his Mother and Father and doesn’t know how to deal with Lake and we get the sense that this incapacity is deep enough so he is finished with any pursuit of Deuce.
The chapter ends with a tender memory of Mayva’s childhood desire to run away and work in a carnival, ending on this final note:

“Yes, and there I was with all o’ you, right in the carnival, and didn’t even know it.” And he hoped he’d always be able to recall the way she laughed then.

Lake and Deuce 472-488

Down from the mountains and eastward through towns “it was better to keep clear of”. Deuce Kindred and Lake travel warily through the exposed smallness and stark social divisions of the kind of prairie town Deuce thought he had left behind.

“it was the light kept reminding him, yellow darkening to red to bitter blackness of the whirlwind brought among the sunlit, wildflowered meadows,...”

They visit Deuce’s sister in his childhood home where we find him reluctant to talk about his mother who was a laudanum user. She died during a frozen winter and couldn’t be buried till spring and the ground
thawed. (phewee!) Deuce can’t sleep in this house.

We begin to see Deuce’s vulnerability in his need for Lake to forgive him, and Lake’s in her need to elicit emotions from her bottled up husband. Despite this internal tenderness and desire to transcend the as yet unspoken truth, there is a sense of forboding as they seem to be moving not toward the open possibilities of a futur
e but into the constricting troubles of the past. Either way they have to confront the stark truth of Webb’s role in their lives.

For all the sprawl of the novel Pynchon can be amazingly spare and the shift between each one’s thoughts and the dialogue is intense. There is a powerful scene which starts with Deuce questioning Lakes love for her Father, but turns to her telling him he didn’t have to kill Webb.
“ could ‘ve stood up .” “could’ve been a man instead of a crawling snake.’

This may mark an end to the possibility of emotional communication , though emotional connection and need continues. After this Deuce has an ominous sensation” like he had put his head into a very small room ....’Well maybe “ his voice echoes, ‘” I could go out and kill a whole lot of other folks ? and then I wouldn’t feel nearly as bad about just the one...”

Funny how a few word
s can just blow your legs out from under you.Definitely worthy of discussion.

Arriving in Wall o’ Death, Missouri, site of an abandoned carnival with the motorcyclists Wall of Death the last intact structure, Deuce is mistaken for an expected sheriff and takes the job. Their life is beginning to seem as normal as it might when they hear news of Sloat Fresno’s death. Here are the only tears we will see from Deuce.
He tells Lake about Sloat and suggests it might have been one of her brothers. She expresses sorrow and sympathy, but he wants to hurt her back.

“you just keep bein faithful to that Anarchist shithouse you grew up in”..he was out the door...

While Deuce is gone the other sheriff’s wife, Tace Boilster, comes over for a smoke and Lake tells her the whole story. Turns out Tace was sexually abused by her Father and brother and a sympathetic friendship starts.

Lake dreams about Mayva talking with animals and understanding them,then singing
”She was only a dynamiters daughter,but caps went off where’er she passed by.”
In the final memory o
f the dream Mayva says” Swear Lake, you’ve gone sour in your old age.”

Tace tries to talk Lake into leaving but Lake writes in her diary:

“I can never leave him....,I have to stay, it’s part of the deal.” Deuce returns soon is begging for forgiveness. She cannot forgive Deuce or her father, will neither leave nor reconcile. Their inability to have children seems evidence of the poison between them. It is hard to fathom what is holding them together . They break into a violent fight after Deuce taunts her with final memories of Webb’s disappointment in Lake. Tace and Eugene Boilster show up with a shotgun before one of them kills the other.
Tace suggests ”You could make a case ...that you’ve both been all along in some unholy cahoots, ...”


Pynchon seems to be outlining the tragic force by which abuse is passed on and internalized, becoming a pattern. Is it a deterministic picture or does the author indicate there are better choices possible?

Why Wall o' Death? Is it obvious reference to Richard Thompson Song?

What is he logic of Deuce’s internalized animosity to the anti authoritarians?

What's happening with Mayva fantasizing about being in a carnival and Lake settling in an abandoned carnival site? or Tice's fantasy about being an outlaw?

Is there a connection between Lindsay Noseworth's marriage fantasies and Frank and Lake's journeys? Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?

I put this together on kinda short notice but had a lot of fun browsing the Denver Public Library's photo collection. Wow.

Tried to keep the precis simple and focus on the action rather than the writing. The guy coulda written westerns. Which suggests another topic. Why IS he writing a western ? And the follow -up: Why are there no anarchists or unionizers in Louis L'Amour novels?

I know my fellow chumps will mostly ask and answer their own questions anyway, so I will commence to shut up.

Additional Discusion, pp. 460-488

You can go with the crazy people in the crooked house
You can fly away on the rocket or spin in the mouse
The tunnel of love might amuse you
And Noah's Ark might confuse you
But let me take my chances on the Wall of Death

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Subdesertine Adventures (pp. 431-459)

It’s now Section Three, “Bilocations.” The prefix bi- means two, of course, which makes perfect sense to us, having discussed this theme for months now. Presumably, we’ll be seeing how this duple notion applies to the physical world. Will it mean two separate places, linked somehow? Parallel-worlds? Or, the phenomenon of a single being occupying two different places (or even times or dimensions) simultaneously? Guess we’ll have to read on to find out.

I suppose keeping an eye out any imagery suggesting two-ness would be a good idea. For example, in the first paragraph on page 431, we get the image of a Bactrian camel – fitting not only because that’s the variety found in the Asian desert, but also interesting in that it’s the two-humped variety.
We join Lindsay as he’s “cameling along,” noting the firmament, ruminating on the function of light during key moments in history. It’s confusing upon the first pass, as the reader can’t reasonably be expected to understand that Lindsay is actually riding a camel. I note, for no particular reason other than to point it out, that Lindsay Noseworth is described with his full name in this paragraph, yet only Lindsay in the opening paragraph.

Over the following two pages, we learn the back-story. Lindsay had “caught signs of Incipient Gamomania” (“abnormal desire to be married” [432]) during his most recent physical (mandated by the C. of C. Comprehensive Annual Coverage Agreement, or “CACA” – which the ATD Wiki points out is a universally-known word for “shit”). Note, of course, the “two” imagery there: “…my governing desire in life is to be no longer one, but two, a two which is, moreover, one—that is, denumerably two, yet—” [432].

The forbidden malady had earned him brief stay in the Biometric Institute of Neuropathy (read “loony-BIN”), from which he’d been discharged to find the Chums at their “subdesertine” post.

(Language notes: Whether obscure two-word phrases -- “mutatis mutandis” [433] “pari passu” [434] “allegro vivatchy” [446] etc. -- strike anyone as odd and somehow meaningful beyond their definitions is perhaps best left for the comments section.)

Page 434/435. The Chums leave the Inconvenience and are now on board the H.M.S.F. Saksaul, navigated by Captain Toadflax. According to this site (which has a picture), Saksaul is a fine name for a subdesertine craft. “Saksaul trees are one of only a few tree species able to survive in the sandy desert’s soils. They are an important ‘keystone’ species, providing shade and shelter to wildlife and grasses while also preventing erosion by stabilizing the sand with their root systems.”

(I assume HMSF must mean Her Majesty’s Sand-Frigate. The ship is referred to as a frigate at the bottom of p. 435, and then specifically a sand-frigate later at p. 440. Speaking of those initials, btw, I never did get around to reading the libretto from Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, but I'd expect to find additional similarities with our Chums.)

So, we’re on board the Saksaul, and learn about some of the equipment (how the “windows” work, the Paramorphoscope, the augers, the steering-blades, etc.). Toadflax comments [p435] that to find Shambhala, you need the right equipment and the right attitude (no doubt a reference to Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path, which I’m sure our host, Neddie, took notice of as well, given the prominence of those eight virtues along his blog’s right-hand margin).

(Funny, the technology and even some of the scenery in this section (e.g., the “Torriform Inclusion” [436]) reminds me of that god-awful movie The Core.)

Civilian paramorphoscope operator Stilton Gaspereaux (hereinafter SG) outlines a theory about pilgrimages devolving into crusades, warning that the search for Shambhala may run into an “unavoidable military element” [436-7]. He loads the Itinerary into the machine, which produces a dreamlike sensation of falling.

There’s a problem, though. According to SG, the final coordinates appear to be invisible. He believes there’s an “additional level of encryption” [437] to it, and wonders whether there might be a variety of Iceland Spar “that can polarize light not only in space but in time as well” [437].

He goes on to describe the Manicheans, an ancient religion you can read all about here. Note the interesting sentence in that article: “Because Manichaeism is a faith that teaches dualism, in modern English the word ‘manichaean’ has come to mean dualistic, presenting or viewing things in a ‘black and white’ fashion.” Notably, the discussion of Manicheanism leads to, IMHO, the most laugh-out-loud exchange in the book thus far (which I’ll repeat here just for fun):

“That’s the choice? Light or pussy? What kind of a choice is that?”


“Sorry, Lindsay, I meant ‘vagina’ of course!”
The discussion ends as they approach Nuovo Rialto “N.R.” [439], an ancient city with roots tracing back to “Mani himself.” The city had been ransacked by Jenghiz Khan (one would guess in the late 1100s). (And, maybe this is pushing the imagery a bit, but I’m tempted to suggest that the alternate spelling of Genghis Khan, here, is at least notably in keeping with the predominant theme of doubling or at least suggested/possible doubling.)

Toadflax explains the mystery surrounding the dating of the shrines in N.R. as they enter the “port.” The crew, meanwhile, begin their “Passing of the Remarks” (which I took to mean the usual comments the crew always makes before some leisure time).

SG warns the crew about the chong pir, sand fleas each “the size of a camel” [440]. Wikipedia confirms that pulex is indeed a scientific name for flea – thus, Pynchon’s invention of pulicide, against which SG admonishes Suckling (who’d been packing a pistol, just in case). Strange creatures, the chong pir; they don’t so much attack as negotiate for your blood.

In no time, the crew are in the Sandman Saloon, where they meet oilmen Leonard and Lyle (L&L). I couldn’t help but think of George Bush as L&L described a bible-toting wildcatter from “the States,” from whose bible they received an epiphany about the next big strike (at the ruins of Sodom). When the Chums seem surprised about the oil exploration in the area, L&L point out that the Saksaul is not only likely equipped with oil gear, but that such exploration is probably its true objective. L&L slyly mention how valuable the Saksaul’s “logbooks of every bituminous possibility” [442] would be.

[Interesting note: In that middle paragraph on 442, there’s another mention of “single up all lines,” the opening words of AtD.]

As far as I can tell, there was never any proof (at least at this point) that the Saksaul was hiding anything from the Chums. Near the bottom of 442, there’s an interesting bit of narration from the Chums’ POV: “…[the Saksaul’s] crew continued to pretend that prospecting for oil was the furthest thing from their thoughts.” We’ve talked about paranoia in the previous sections, so this might be a good time to bring that up again. Clearly, the Chums believe Toadflax has a secret motive – and this belief ultimately leads to Randolph being caught in flagrante delicto about to blow the safe in Toadflax’s cabin.

After parting ways with the Saksaul, back aboard the Inconvenience, Miles goes “off on one of his extra-temporal excursions” [443]. His vision closely resembles Chick and Darby’s experience in Dr. Zoot’s machine.

Meanwhile, the Saksaul comes under attack. Now here, it seems perhaps the Saksaul was in fact up to something besides searching for Shambhala. Toadflax, when asked who’s attacking them, remarks that “one mustn’t rule out the Standard Oil...” [444]. He sends SG for help – tells him to take “water, oasis maps, and some meat lozenges” [444]. (You gotta love that detail, right?!) SG makes it to London and begins searching for Inspector Sands (aka “the Sands of Inner Asia”).

Following that is a brief description of a terrible war brewing in the Talamakan desert (in China). Whether this is the same desert as the one we’ve been in for the past 15 pages, I admit, I didn’t catch.

We meet Inspector Sands on 445. He’s currently being called in on some disturbance at a cricket game – some “wog” who looks out of place. Turns out its SG in disguise.

The two stop off at the Smoked Haddock for a pint, where SG lays it on Sands that Shambhala has been found (under the sand, but within some kind of an air bubble) and there’s a war brewing over it.

This ends the subdesertine portion, for now. Were I not mired in my own sand pit all weekend – a.k.a. multi-schedule Federal, State, Local, and even, believe it or not, Canadian tax documents – I’d have gone back to check a few details about which I’m still confused, such as the location of Talamakan vs. the desert they’d been in and of course the discovery of Shambhala. But, if anyone can shed some light on that, I'd appreciate it.

* * *
Okay, I’m on page 449 now and haven’t yet cracked what “bilocations” might mean, specifically. However, we do now jump backward in space and time to Merle Rideout, who happens across (or was possibly looking for) Dally’s old doll, Clarabella. Upon finding it, he begins to cry and soon packs up and heads East.

In Audacity, Iowa, he comes upon a small crowd at a movie theater; they're upset that the projector’s broken, again, and during an exciting part of the movie as well. Merle offers to fix it, and does so with little trouble. “…[Y]our sprocket tension’s gone a little strange, is all…,” [450] he tells Fisk, the guy who runs the projector while Wilt Flambo is away (having “run off with that feed clerk’s wife”). He then takes over the projection duties for a few weeks, finding himself considering whether there’s a better way to produce the same effect (projecting a movie) as the quite complicated state of the art.

Also, FWIW, I’m not sure if this means anything to anyone, but we have another close-but-not-quite instance of the title on p. 450. Here it says “…against the fading day…” [top paragraph]. Could be nothing, of course.

[I’ll be sure to put up that “Discuss Other Pynchon” section, as I recall Monstro and possibly others discussing Pynchon’s GR and the theme of movies. Perhaps there’s something to be said here. The Wiki author has some thoughts on this that you may want to check out.]

Page 451. Merle happens across Candlebrow University, where a “classic prairie ‘twister’” [452] is about to touch down in the middle of a professor’s lecture. Everyone crams into the Metaphysics Department’s pimped-out private storm shelter and commences previous conversations as though nothing out of the ordinary were happening. Why? Because, of course, this tornado is a regular visitor to the campus. It’s even got its own name: Thorvald. The thought of students and professors leaving “propitiatory offerings” [453] of sheet metal and other “dietary preferences” is nothing short of brilliant. This isn’t the first weather-related anthropomorphism Merle’s become acquainted with; recall Skip, the ball lightning from pp. 73-74 or so. Merle doesn’t become as intimate with Thorvald, though – understandable, given the circumstances.

Soon Merle finds himself a regular at the local “bazaar of Time” [454], an annual summertime gathering of fringe scientists and nut-cases peddling Time-related wares and generally hanging out together. One day he runs into Chick Counterfly and Roswell Bounce (placing the current time at where ever it was in the previous section we covered in which the Chums were acquiring their Hypops gear). “Last I read,” [Merle says, my emphasis,] “you were over in Venice, Italy, knocking down their Campanile…” [454] Interesting, no? Where’d Merle read that?

Anyway, Roswell recounts his frustration with Scarsdale Vibe, going so far as to suggest an interesting, darker additional use for his Hypops Apparatus. “Kaboom,” says Merle [455]. I guess we’ll see if that happens…

The following day, Roswell and Merle have an interesting conversation about lightning and light (completely oblivious to Thorvald, who’s making another appearance, but decides not to kill them). Turns out Rosewll shares Merle’s thoughts on movie projectors being overly complicated. Roswell plans to head out to California, which he calls “the future of light” [456] because of the “moving picture” business. The two wind up meandering for miles, discussing various new ways to think about and control time and gravity.

The section closes with a visit from Hermann Minkowski, a German mathematician, who delivers a speech in German, though he “wrote down enough equations so people could follow it more or less” [458]. As usual, Merle and Roswell’s wheels begin to spin as they smoke cigarettes and consider the blackboard equations after everyone else leaves.

Roswell says, “Way I figure it, all’s we need to do’s translate this here into hardware, then solder it all up, and we’re in business” [459] “Or in trouble,” Merle replies.

Do check out that Wiki page on Minkowski. There’s a quote from him at the bottom. I don’t know what in the hell it means, but it sure sounds like something that Roswell would say:
“Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”

Additional Discussion of pp. 429-459

"By the way, who's the practical one here and who's the crazy dreamer, again? I keep forgetting."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Well, I'll Never Sleep Again...

I'd like to bring to the present attention a comment on the post "E-Extra!! Read All About It!... Evil Deal Goes Down!" recently left by Mysterious Benefactor Oarwell, which sheds some extremely creepy light on that weird hotel where Lew Basnight stayed after he'd committed whatever nameless crime he was exiled for...
Slaps head! The hotel! It's obviously the actual hotel built by serial killer H.H. Holmes, the top floor of which was "never cleaned by the custodian," and was a giant maze, with doors opening on brick walls, stairways leading nowhere: a trap in which Hunt killed at least 27 people, and maybe 200. In the basement were vats of acid and lime to dissolve the bodies, delivered from the top floor by chutes. Across the street? A pharmacy which Dr. [Holmes] owned.

Was Lew Basnight the murderer? A patsy? Clearly Pynchon has read "Devil in the White City," and borrowed at least the hotel for his own adventure in mythopoiea.
I call to your particular attention the fact that Holmes/Mudgett built this nightmarish rat-maze of a hotel for the particular purpose of luring unwitting victim/visitors to the 1893 Columbia Exposition...

Woof! Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs looks like Andy Hardy compared to this guy...

Monday, April 09, 2007

Busted Time Machines And Harmonica Madness

Yippy dippy dippy,
Flippy zippy zippy,
Smippy gdippy gdippy, too!

picture source

(pp. 397-428)

While the Chums are on leave in New York City, a stray remark made by a messenger sent from Chums Hierarchy, a street kid named "Plug" Loafsley, sends them on a quest to find the honest-to-gosh Time Machine.

Meeting Loafsley in an underage underworld dive in the city's raunchy Tenderloin district, where they are beguiled by Angela Grace, a nymphet chanteuse, Darby Suckling and Chick Counterfly bribe Loafsly into taking them to Dr. Zoot, the man with the machine, whose lab is several blocks away, in the West Village.

At the lab, which steals electric power from the Ninth Avenue El, Zoot assumes the two Chums are tourists looking for new kicks and dickers price for a ride in his Time Machine. Seated inside, the boys have visions of vast social disorder and, worse, emptiness, before the machine disintegrates around them. They are pulled from a void by Dr. Zoot wielding a giant performers' hook taken from a Bowery theater.

Dr. Zoot is revealed as a fraud and tells Suckling and Counterfly that he got the machine secondhand at a yearly conference on time travel held at Candlebrow University, institute of higher learning out there in the distant heart of the Republic (405:17) He directs them to a bar there, the Ball in Hand, and one Alonzo Meatman who will, Zoot says, help them get a time machine.

At Candlebrow, an enormous university underwritten by the vast fortune of Gideon Candlebrow, inventor of Smegmo, an all-purpose condiment, and hair product, made from rendered pork, the Time Conference is in full swing (indeed, it has the trappings of an eternal event) and the Chums again meet up with their old pal Prof. Vanderjuice. With him they visit the town dump and there see heaps of scrapped time machines. At the low saloon down by the river, the boys are dismayed when a young patron asks if they're looking for Meatman, then turns color and vanishes. Daunted at this, all leave except Chick Counterfly, who waits for Meatman (for it was he) to reappear.

Alonzo leads Counterfly to an older, gas-lit part of town, explaining he knows a conduit there by which mysterious beings make known certain desires which he is employed to fulfill. In a suite of vacant rooms in a block of vacant buildings, Meatman introduces Chick to "Mr. Ace", who says that he is a refugee from a destitute and broken future, the end of the capitalistic experiment, an emigrant across the forbidden interval of time trying to aid the migration of others.

Mr. Ace tells Chick that the Chums have unwittingly been used to frustrate the entry of these future beings at several points across the globe, and then offers a deal: If the Chums aid the invisible others through the barrier of time, they will compensate the Chums with the secret of eternal youth.

After reporting back to the Chums, who seem interested in the deal, Chick brings Miles Blundell to his next meeting with Mr. Ace, relying on Miles' second sight to suss out the truth of the matter. Miles starts weeping at the first sight of Mr. Ace, intuiting his true intentions and warning (417:19) Assuredly, he does not have our best interests in mind. Miles also sees other beings, through, he tells Chick, something like windows. What's more, they see him too and begin pointing this thing back at him, not exactly a weapon--an enigmatic object, he, kind of, explains.

Indeed, psychic interference by the Trespassers soon causes the Chums to undergo a strange transformation (as does, we're told, the whole Chums of Chance network), becoming without realizing it the Marching Academy Harmonica Band, students of the Harmonica Band Marching Academy, an alternate of Candlebrow U. They hallucinate entering and attending the Academy, a revery which culminates in a hot musical number where all sing and dance about the AWOL 'Zo Meatman.

'Zo, we learn, had met earlier that day with the Commandant of the school, a wrinkled, white-haired, gold-toothed martinet keen on controlling his students' every moment. Alonzo is paid for his work as an informer and, meeting over, leaves the premises, apparently never to be seen again.

Meanwhile the spell on the Chums begins to lift. (It is unclear if it has been in force for hours or weeks.) First they doubt they are harmonica players. Then they wonder if they are really just readers of the Chums of Chance adventure series, left behind on Earth as surrogates for the true Chums. In doing so, they dream of meeting those real Chums, hosting a dinner for them followed by a harmonica recital.

Gradually, after a certain release from longing, they walk to the edge of an unnamed small town and find sky ready, brightwork gleaming [. . .] as if they had never been away, the Inconvenience and Pugnax, barking with unrestrained joy.

No sooner have the Chums returned to themselves then they're visited by that Alonzo Meatman, who brings the Sfinciuno Itinerary and a warning to await orders. These promptly arrive via the Tesla Device, directing them to proceed to Bukhara, in Central Asia, to rendezvous with the Saksal, a British frigate that sails under desert sand, commanded by one Capt. Q. Zane Toadflax.

Needing, of course, under-sand diving suits, the Chums are brought to inventor Roswell Bounce by their mutual friend, Prof. Vanderjuice. Bounce is happy to sell them the needed Hypops units, undercutting the price of those available from the Vibe Corp., including one especially modified for Pugnax.

So supplied, the Inconvenience flies eastward, leaving Candlebrow U. behind, along with the Mysteries of Time to those with enough of that commodity to devote to their proper study.

So ends Iceland Spar. Bilocations dead ahead.

I hope you Chumps will forgive me for saying that I think these are the strangest fucking 30 pages our Mad Lad has put down since the controversial ending of Gravity's Rainbow. Signifiers and subjunctive clauses abound. I noted a nod to Burroughs (William, that is, not Edgar Rice) in Meatman's disappearing stunt at the bar (very Nova Express), the air of Lovecraft in the utterly creepy description of the time-dead rooms (pg 414) where Mr. Ace comes and goes, a feeling for Arnold's Dover Beach (the continuous roar as of the ocean 404:11) in that view from the Time Machine, and something of the end of the Nestor chapter of Ulysses, in which Stephen Dedalus listens to the old school master Deasy in his office, next to an open window, as he natters on about Irish cattle and the Jews. Like 'Zo, Stephen gets paid and walks away. And then there're those worn out Asimov Transeculars seen in the town dump (I love, love, love that!) Less interesting to me is Smegmo, a very sophomoric joke aptly nestled in a collegiate setting.

But only a master can pull this shit off, and I suggest interested parties pay attention to how Pynchon uses the nearly interior narrative voice in the Marching Band passage to arrange events and create a sense of mystery in the reader's mind as to what's going on. As if is a favored construction, used deftly enough to almost disappear, along with Were they, Perhaps even, may really, Had they, and some would. It is a precise use of imprecision, and it casts a strange spell.

Speaking of, note that on the way to Zoot's lab, Darby and Chick pass a memorial landmark of the devastation wrought on New York by the creature of the Vormance expedition, passing through the gate proclaiming THE DOLEFUL CITY, seen first on page 154.

And Mr. Ace? Miles, we are told, cries like a cleric seeing God when he meets him. From this we may infer that Mr. A. has a creative authority over the Chums, though whether he is meant to be the author of the Chums of Chance adventure series, or the author of the whole Against the Day shooting match, I will leave for others to kick around.

Additional Discussion, pp. 397-428

Now, it ain't that I wouldn't, 'cause I can, but I won't,
And I would if I wasn't, but I am, so I don't!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Porque le falta marihuana que fumar; or, The Tarahumara Way of Knowledge (pp. 374-396)

(A cleaned-up version of the song. Source.)

First, I hope I will be indulged a small prefatory note. As most of you know, I had surgery to replace a rotten hip early in February. The surgery was a rousing success, and I'm now almost completely back to full strength. During my recovery, I was on a fairly hefty load of painkillers, which had the unfortunate side-effect of turning my once-powerful brain into a flaccid instrument with all the acuity of a bucket of mud. My ability to read and attempt to comprehend the Most Important Voice in American Postmodern Letters suffered badly, and I'm afraid I wasn't paying all the attention to our Common Enterprise that I should, as its putative host.

For this I sincerely apologize -- although you seem to have been getting along rather famously without me. I now can say with no small pleasure that I'm no longer taking those damned pills -- and am even happier to say that I no longer need those damned pills. I've caught up with the reading and the commenting, and you will be seeing quite a bit more of me for now on. I thank everyone who emailed me privately with encouragement, and in particular I thank Will Divide, an admirable friend and co-captain.

Now, enough of that, let's get on with it, shall we?

We return to Frank Traverse, following his hunch that Deuce Kindred (and possibly Lake) might have crossed the Rio Bravo (316:16) into Mexico. We are in the waning days of the period of Mexican history known as the Porfiriato, the corrupt misrule of the dictator Porfirio Diaz -- "a government that had already fallen but did not yet know it." The Mexico Frank finds is "an empty shadowmap, a dime novel of Old Mexico." There is music in the cafés at night, and revolution in the air. (Included entirely to show I've been keeping up with Comments!)

Frank is accompanied by Ewball Oust, a young mine engineer who is suffering an exile from the U.S. that he can't really understand a reason for; his family seems to want him gone, but not for any reason Ewball can fathom. He says, in a hilarious parody of casual American speech, "So what I figure it is is, is that my folks just want me out of the country." After some palaver about the comparative merits of two methods of recovering silver from tailings, Frank's mention of argentaurum brings out the topic of what is known in Mexican Spanish as espato (or, sometimes, punningly, espanto -- horror, amazement) -- Iceland spar. Ewball invites Frank to come apply for work with his family's company, here known as Empresas Oustianas, S.A. (I'm inclined to think that there's a wicked Spanish pun in that name -- hostias? [an anticlerical vulgarism] -- but I'm not married to it.)

Frank picks up his Galandronome and tootles the corrido "La Cucaracha" on it. Ewball tells Frank that the song's about General Huerta, who at this point in history is a general in Porfirio Diaz' army and is brutally subduing both indigenous peoples and Zapatistas in the south. For a fascinating account of the lyrical development of "La Cucaracha," check Cecil Adams' "The Straight Dope." Readers of Spanish will likewise enjoy this exploration of the story of the song's lyrics. Evidently, Gral. Huerta's inattention to personal hygiene and absurd dedication to smoking the Kind Bud led to great merriment among his detractors -- who were legion among Mexico's poor and exploited. Here's the chorus from the Huerta version of the song:
La cucaracha, la cucaracha (The cockroach, the cockroach)
Ya no puede caminar (Can't walk anymore)
Porque no tiene, porque le falta (because he doesn't have, because he's lacking)
Marihuana que fumar. (A fuckin' bong hit)
(Translation's a bit loose.)

Christian imagery and allusions abound in this chapter. We get the first of these as Frank and Ewball's train travels through the Mexican countryside, its denizens the campesinos waiting "for Christ to return, or depart, for good." This indecisiveness on the part of Deity will be reflected later, in the apocalyptic rant of Dwayne Provecho (oh, lord, deliver us from that pun!): "...he started to go away, and then he slowed down, like he'd had a thought, and stopped, and turned, and now he's coming back for us..." (379:22).

Frank, who is not sleeping at all well, has dreams of a mocking Deuce Kindred, which all seem to take place in the same place, a place he's convinced has an "actual counterpart" in the waking world.

Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week preceding Easter) "rolls around," and in the holiday quiet Frank and Ewball explore Guanajuato, the "old stone city" north of Mexico City where Empresas Oustianas has its dealings. It's Good Friday. Frank realizes he's actually in that "actual counterpart" of his dreamscape. Frank dismissing the affair as "just a dream," they climb a mountain overlooking the town. (The paragraph in which this happens, 377:25-32, is particularly gorgeous, the city below them "stunned as if by mysterious rays to a silence even Frank and Ewball must honor -- the passion of Christ, the windless hush... Even Silver itself taking its day of rest, as if to recognize the price Judas Iscariot received...".)

They are suddenly set upon and apprehended by a contingent of disreputable-looking rurales, for mysterious reasons. Then, on this Good Friday, they are taken to a juzgado, to a cell "deep below ground level, hewn out of the primordial rock." They do not stay there three days, however, but are taken that night, apprehensive about their fate, to el Palacio de Cristal, the ironically-named city prison. It now begins to become apparent that not only are Frank and Ewball being detained for political reasons, but that they are considered special prisoners.

Dwayne Provecho (the name is a pun on the Spanish salutation buen provecho, which is roughly equivalent to bon appétit, or "enjoy your meal") is a "religious bore," haranguing Ewball and a sleeping Frank on Christ's return. Dwayne's rant has some very interesting elements, speaking as it does of a roar in the sky, mysterious noises emanating from nowhere evident. It reminds me in no small way of the celestial choir reported by the Bindlestiffs of the Blue way back on p. 19, those "voices calling out together. All directions at once. Like a school choir, only no tune..." Perhaps Dwayne is one of those "civilians on the ground" who hear these sounds?

It also becomes apparent that Dwayne has knowledge of secret tunnels in and out of the prison, tunnels that date to the days of silver-mining within the city limits of Guanajuato -- tunnels that might come in handy if, say, you might want to break out of a Mexican jail.

It also becomes apparent that Ewball has a supply of ready whipout he's being cagey about the source of. (Hah! Read enough Pynchon, you start imitating his sentence-constructions...) This money buys them privileges, in a prison that now begins to sound pretty damned pleasant -- a cantina, a theater, reefer and opium available, and a prison population quite a cut above the usual riffraff. Not to mention the "rectal integrity." Important, that.

The screws are pretty pleasant, too -- particularly Sergeant Amparo Vásquez, a "molten-eyed" piece who lets then do "anything they had the payback for." She begins to give them more hints about the reason for their imprisonment -- that one of them (she won't say who) did something "long ago, back on the Other Side" (i.e., the U.S.). She also warns them that there's more to Dwayne than meets the eye -- that he "goes in the shadow of the paredón" (that is, that he risks being lined up and shot), that he has connections to the P.L.M -- the Partido Liberal Mexicano, the leading anti-Porfiriato political organization in the encroaching revolution -- and quite possibly even more desperate characters.

Dwayne approaches Frank and drops heavy-handed hints that he knows Frank is the Kieselguhr Kid. (See "Suggested Discussion" below for more on this matter.) Dwayne does indeed have connections to desperate revolutionary elements, and has been sent by them to enlist the legendary Kid. It emerges that Dwayne's also been talking to the Telluride contingent -- Ellmore Disco and Bob Meldrum -- and they seem to share the opinion that Frank is the Kid. Dwayne's also been spreading the word around the prison, making the place considerably less hospitable. It's time to bust out.

Through those tunnels that Dwayne knew about, the newly escaped Frank, Ewball and Dwayne scurry -- and meet the momias. Oh, yeah. They're real. A perversion of Christ's Resurrection, aren't they: Mortals disentombed, but never reborn -- their earthly remains put on display for the crime of failure to render unto Caesar... "It all gets turned to pesos and centavos, water to wine you might say," sez the Dwayne who not two pages ago was raving about the Apocalypse...

Dwayne delivers up Frank and Ewball to the Anarchists he runs with, led by El Ñato (translates as "snub-nose"), who carries on his shoulder the most amusing parrot I've come across in my wide travels through the halls of literature. Unlike the parrot of the nonfictional world, this one doesn't repeat things said to him -- Joaquín comes up with his own dialog all by himself, thanks very much. Clearly, much can be made in the symbolic line of a parrot that doesn't repeat -- or, if you like, reflect -- words back at you. Particularly when the parrot buttonholes Frank with an insult-laden harangue on Double Refraction.... "You just keep floating along in a gringo smoke cloud, thinking there's only one of everything, huevón, you don't see the strange lights all around you." It's enough to make a man consider psitticide....

El Ñato wants to give Frank his first commission as El Chavalito del Quiselgúr -- blowing up a local Palacio del Gobierno -- the town's unclear to this reporter -- as a distraction from the true objective -- a heist at the Mint. But while stealing the dynamite for the job from a nearby silver mine, they are engaged in a firefight with -- with somebody, but it's hard to tell who in the dark. Sensing the smell of Huertistas -- who have the stench of Indian blood, burned crops, stolen land, and gringo money -- El Ñato orders a retreat westward toward Sombrérete.

On the road, pursued by Huertistas, Ewball brings a sight to Frank's attention: Three Tarahumara Indians, a man and two women, almost entirely naked and taking refuge in a cave, are being set upon by Huertista outliers. (That bit about their running faster than antelopes, by the way: That's real too. The Tarahumara pride themselves on their ability to run fast and far -- for days on end. No coca, either.) Ewball, with a hitherto unexhibited skill with a shooting-iron, sends the Huertistas packing with a few brilliantly aimed shots. Frank, no doubt thinking of ducking El Ñato and his anarchists, decides to stay with the Indians, while Ewball, who's developed a real feel for this Anarchism stuff, considers going back up north, to the Other Side. The friends part ways.

With the Tarahumara now, Frank gets a whopper of a psychology lesson. The younger of the two women is named Estrella, whose name is identical to his brother's wife, Stray. And yes, he's got quite the log, there...

Frank comes to understand that he has been looking for "the one duende or Mexican tommyknocker" who could "take him beyond his need for the light or wages of day." El Espinero, as close to a Carlos Castaneda brujo as you're likely to find outside the pages of Tales of Power, leads Frank up a mountain to an abandoned silver working, and shows him an utterly flawless piece of calcite spa, a "twin crystal, pure, colorless, without a flaw." El Espinero directs him to look into it. He sees -- or thinks he sees -- the image of Sloat Fresno, Deuce Kindred's sidekick. In a flash-forward, he tells Ewball that the Indian had said that it wasn't a real piece of spar, but the "idea of two halves, of balancing out lives and deaths."

Later, El Espinero hands Frank a peyote button. "You have," he tells him, "fallen into the habit of seeing dead things better than live ones." The hikuli -- the peyote -- is a cure for -- he waves his hand in a gesture that encompasses...everything.

It's quite a trip. He finds himself flying over the landscape with Estrella, who has become "Estrella/Estrella," a combination of, or refraction of, both the Tarahumara girl and his sister-in-law. They come to a cave in which rain falls steadily. This rain, Estrella/Estrella tells him, is the rain that would have been falling on the parched desert but now falls only in this place -- the result of the original sin that created the desert. "Back when they were designing the world --" Frank interrupts: "They." (Why Frank would bridle at the implication of polytheism among an indigenous American people is a bit of a poser, but it's sure a good chance to get in that most Pynchonian of words...)

"They." In Tarahumara cosmology, God's got a wife and kids.

"The idea was that water should be everywhere, free to everybody. It was life. Then a few got greedy."

The original sin.

As Frank parts from the Tarahumara, he sidles over to El Espinero, asks, "Oh, by the way, that hikuli? got any more of that?"

El Espinero laughs, points at a cactus on the ground. The stuff grows free. You just have to recognize it.

That white boy's a bit of a slow learner, ain't he....

And shortly after seeing a vision of Sloat in that extraordinary piece of spar, who should he run into in a dusty cantina in a tiny pueblo in the middle of nowhere... The violence is quick and deadly. One half of his father's murderers accounted for.


Suggested Discussion

Who the hell is the Kieselguhr Kid? Was it ever Webb Traverse? His sons certainly believe it was -- Reef, carrying his father's body back to Telluride from Jeshimon, ponders carrying on the "family business" (p. 214). Yet the federales are passing around photos of Frank, and Ellmore Disco and Bob Meldrum (according to Dwayne Provecho) are convinced it's Frank. Is the Kid becoming a legend, a container that anybody can dump anything they want into? Fiction?

The Christian allusions through the first half of this chapter peter out after Frank and Ewball bust out of jail. Yet the chapter ends with a very different creation story. How do the two cosmologies inform each other?

The spar El Espinero shows Frank is very strange indeed. It's got two lobes -- does this crystal refract itself?

Additional Discussion, pp. 374-396

Monstro's comment from a couple of days ago struck me as extremely apt:

I think these metaphoric systems are being chosen for a reason. It isn't just that Pynchon is being "trippy" but that he is trying to find simpler ways to describe something and to offer as many metaphors as possible to show that this "trend" in the way things actually work isn't really all that unusual at all. But then, what is he going for finally. What are these the echoes of? That's what's got me right now, because the second you start using politics, religion, and the nature of reality as metaphors for something REALLY important, you have to ask: what's more important than those?

Oh, indeed...

Here's some commentary from another source that I thought was relevant to this topic. My dear wife, Wonder Woman, bought me for Christmas the volume of Zak Smith's drawings of Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow. A quite stupendous thing, which I intend fully to have at my side when next I foray into that unforgettable masterwork. From Zak's Foreword:
[This is] the real-world unity of the Pynchonish style of thought: go off looking for the answer to some maybe-meaningless question, collect and connect the obscure clues, find out that the world is weirder and wider than you'd imagined and so are you.

Or, to put it another way, Pay attention to everything interesting because everything is connected.

People often call this style of thinking "paranoid," but that word connotes something pathetic rather than something that might be creative or useful. Gravity's Rainbow in particular seems to have been written by someone who began with no other project than to observe, write esssays about, and know the history of nearly everything that interested him in the one-eyed hope that, in the end, it would all be connected -- the hope that after 760 pages some thread connecting warfare, behaviorism, and bad limericks would emerge and that this thread would be relevant, if not to the entire world, then at least to the life of the author.
Oh, please do discuss...