Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"Show a Little Backbone," Advises Mrs. Quoad, or: 81 Today

The traditional High Egoslavian Holy Day Pynchon's Birthday post:

Have I ever mentioned I love Thomas Pynchon's novels? Here, pages 606-608 Bantam mass market 1974 edition Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon's main theme:

     But, if I'm riding through it, the Real Text, right now, if this is it... or if I passed it today somewhere in the devastation of Hamburg, breathing the ash-dust, missing it completely... if that the IG built on this site were not at all the final shape of it, but only an arrangement of fetishes, come-ons to call down special tools in the form of 8th AF bombers yes the "Allied" planes all would have been, ultimately, IG-built, by way of Director Krupp, through his English interlocks - the bombing was the exact industrial process of conversion, each release of energy placed exactly in space and time. each shockwave plotted in advance to bring precisely tonight's wreck into being thus decoding the Text, thus coding, recoding, decoding the holy Text.... If it is in working order, what is it meant to do? The engineers who built it never knew there were any further steps to be taken. Their design was "finalized," and they could forget it.
     It means this War was never political at all, the politics was all theater, all just to keep the people distracted... secretly it was being dictated instead by the needs of technology... by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the energy-burst of war, crying, "Money be damned, the very life of [insert name of Nation] is at stake," but meaning, most likely, dawn is nearly here, I need my night's blood, my funding, funding, ahh, more more.... The real crises were crises of allocation and priority, not among firms - it was only staged to look that way - but among the different Technologies, Plastics, Electronics, Aircraft, and their needs which are only understood by the ruling elite....
     Yes but technology only responds (how often this argument has been iterated, dogged and humorless as a Gaussian reduction, among the younger Schwarzkommando especially), "All very well to talk about having the tiger by the tail, but do you think we'd've had the Rocket if someone, some specific somebody with a name and a penis hadn't wanted to chuck a ton of Amatol 300 miles and blow up a block full of civilians? Go ahead, capitalize the T on technology. deify it if it'll make you feel less responsible - but it puts you in with the neutered, brother, in with the eunuchs keeping the harems of our stolen Earth for the numb and joyless hardons of human sultans, human elite with no right at all to be where they are - "
     We have to look for power sources here, and distribution networks we were never taught, routes of power our teachers never imagined, or were encouraged to avoid... we have to find meters whose scales are unknown in the world, draw our own schematics, getting feedback, making connections, reducing the error, trying to learn the real function... zeroing in on what incalculable plot? Up here, on the surface, coaltars, hydrogeneration, synthesis were always phony, dummy functions to hide the real, the planetary mission yes perhaps centuries in the unrolling... this ruinous planet, waiting for it Kabbalists and new alchemists to discover the Key, teach the mysteries to others...

2018 Update: This is the year of the scheduled Against the Day reread, I didn't think it would happen, I don't think it will happen, but I can no longer say it won't happen.

2018 Update: Ed's Pynchon's birthday post.

The famous candy scene from Gravity's Rainbow:

      There is no graceful way out of this now. Darlene has brought a couple-three more candy jars down off the shelf, and now he goes plunging, like a journey to the center of some small, hostile planet, into an enormous bonbon chomp through the mantle of chocolate to a strongly eucalyptus -flavored fondant, finally into a core of some very tough grape gum arabic. He fingernails a piece of this out from between his teeth and stares at it for awhile. It is purple in color.
     "Now you're getting the idea!" Mrs Quoad waving at him a marbled conglomerate of ginger root, butterscotch, and aniseed, "you see, you also have to enjoy the way it looks. Why are Americans so impulsive?"
     "Oh try this," hollers Darlene, clutching her throat and swaying against him.
     "Gosh it must really be something, " doubtfully taking this nasty-looking brownish novelty, an exact quarter-scale replica of a Mills-type hand grenade, lever, pin and everything, one of a series of patriotic candies put out before sugar was quite so scarce, also including, he notices, peering into the jar, a .455 Webley cartridge of green and pink striped taffy, a six-ton earthquake bomb of some silver-flecked blue gelatin, and a licorice bazooka.`
     "Go on then," Darlene actually taking his hand with the candy in it and trying to shove it into his mouth.
     "Was just, you know, looking at it, the way Mrs. Quoad suggested."
     "And no fair squeezing it, Tyrone."
     Under its tamarind glaze, the Mills bomb turns out to be a luscious pepsin-flavored nougat, chock-full of tangy candied cubeb berries, and a chewy camphor-gum center. It is unspeakably awful. Slothrop's head begins to reel with camphor fume, his eyes are running, his tongue's a hopeless holocaust. Cubeb? He used to smoke that stuff. "Poisoned . . ." he is able to croak.
     "Show a little backbone, " advises Mrs. Quoad.
     "Yes, " Darlene through tongue-softened sheets of caramel, "dont you know there's a war going on? Here now love, open your mouth."
     Through the tears he can't see it too well, but he can hear Mrs. Quoad across the table going "Yum, yum, yum," and Darlene giggling. It is enormous and soft, like a marshmallow, but somehow - unless something is now seriously wrong with his brain - it tastes like gin. "Wha's is" he inquires thickly.
     "A gin marshmellow," sez Mrs. Quoad.
     "Awww . . . ."
     "Oh that's nothing, have one of these- " his teeth, in some perverse reflex, crunching now through a hard sour gooseberry shell into a wet spurting unpleasantness of, he hopes it's tapioca, a little glutinous chunks of something all saturated with powered cloves.
     "More tea?" Darlene suggests. Slothrop is coughing violently, having inhaled some of that clove filling.
     "Nasty cough," Mrs. Quoad offering a tin of that least believable of English coughdrops, the      Meggezone. "Darlene, the tea is lovely, I can feel my scurvy going away, really I can."
      The Meggezone is like being belted in the head with a Swiss Alp. Menthol icicles immediately begin growing from the roof of Slothrop's mouth. It hurts his teeth too much to breathe, even through his nose, even, necktie loosened, with his nose down inside the neck of his olive drab T-shirt. Benzoin vapers seep into his brain. His head floats in a halo of ice.
     Even an hour later, the Meggezone still lingers, a mint ghost in the air. Slothrop lies with Darlene, the Disgusting English Candy Drill a thing of the past, his groin now against her warm bottom. The one candy he did not get to taste - one Mrs. Quaod withheld - was the Fire of Paradise, that famous confection of high price and protean taste - "salted plum" to one, "artificial cherry" to another . . ."sugared violets" . . "Worchestershire sauce" . . . "spiced treacle" . . any number of like descriptions, positive, terse - never exceeding two words in length - resembling the descriptions of poison and debilitating gases found in training manuals, "sweet and sour eggplant" being perhaps the lengthiest to date. The Fire of Paradise today is operationally extinct, and in 1945 can hardly be found: certainly nowhere among the sunlit shops and polished windows of Bond Street or waste Belgravia. But every now and then one will surface, in places which deal usually other merchandise than sweets: at rest, back inside big glass jars clouded by the days, along with objects like itself , sometimes only one candy to a whole jar, nearly hidden in the ambient tourmalines in German gold, carved ebony finger finger-stalls from the last century, pegs, valve-pieces, threaded hardware from obscure musical instruments, electronic components of resin and copper that the War, in its glutton, ever-nibbling intake, has not yet found and licked back into its darkness . . . . Places where the motors never come close enough to be loud, and there are trees outside along the street. Inner rooms and older faces developing under light falling through a skylight, yellower, later in the year.

My favorite Pynchon novel, the one I would take to a Deserted Island if I could only take one, is Against the Day. Of all Pynchon's characters I love Cyprian Latewood best:

The now-famous yearly Candlebrow Conferences, like the institution itself, were subsidized out of the vast fortune of Mr. Gideon Candlebrow of Grossdale, Illinois, who had made his bundle back during the great Lard Scandal of the '80s, in which, before Congress put an end to the practice, countless adulterated tons of that comestible were exported to Great Britain, compromising further an already debased national cuisine, giving rise throughout the island, for example, to a Christmas-pudding controversy over which to this day families remain divided, often violently so. In the consequent scramble to develop more legal sources of profit, one of Mr. Candlebrow's laboratory hands happened to invent "Smegmo," an artificial substitute for everything in the edible-fat category, including margarine, which many felt wasn't that real to begin with. An eminent Rabbi of world hog capital Cincinnati, Ohio, was moved to declare the product kosher, adding that "the Hebrew people have been waiting four thousand years for this. Smegmo is the Messiah of kitchen fats.


     Cyprian came with them as far as the river. Above them cloud had begun to enfold the convent and church, as if denying them second thoughts. The morning seemed to be darkening toward some Balkan equivalent of transformation.
     She handed Ljubica to Cyprian, and he held her ceremoniously, and kissed her loudly on the stomach as always, and as always she squealed. "Don't remember me," he advised her. "I'll see to the remembering." Back to Yash's arms, she beamed at him calmly, and he knew he had only minutes before regret would force him into a mistake of some kind. "Go safely. Try to stay out of Albania."
     As if seized by something ancient, Yashmeen cried, "Please - don't look back."
     "I wasn't planning to."
     "I'm serious. You mustn't. I beg you, Cyprian."
     "Or he'll take you below, you mean. Down to America."
     "Always makin with em jokes," Reef in a hollow chuckle.
     And none of them looked back, not even Ljubica.
     And Cyprian was taken behind a great echoless door.

symptomatic sent me (thank you), from Gravity's Rainbow:

He does smile, crookedly as a man being theatrical about something for the very first time. Knowing it for a move there's to be no going back from, in the same terminal class as reaching for a gun, he turns his face upward, and looks up through all the faintly superimposed levels above, the milieux of every sort of criminal soul, every unpleasant commercial color from aquamarine to beige, desolate as sunlight on a day when you'd rather have rain, all the clanging enterprise and bustle of all those levels, extending further than Pirate or Katje can see for the moment, he lifts his long, his guilty, his permanently enslaved face to the illusion of sky, to the reality of pressure and weight from overhead, the hardness and absolute cruelty of it, while she presses her own face into the easy lowland between his shoulder and pectoral, a look on her face of truce, of horror come to a detente with, and as a sunset proceeds, the kind that changes the faces of buildings to light gray for a while, to an ashy soft chaff of light bleating over their outward curves, in the strangely forgelike glow in the west, the anxiety of pedestrians staring in the tiny storefront window at the dim goldsmith behind his fire at his work and paying them no attention, afraid because the light looks like it's going to go away forever this time, and more afraid because the failure of light is not a private thing, everyone else in the street has seen it too . . . as it grows darker, the orchestra inside this room does, as a matter of fact, strike up a tune, dry and astringent. . . and candelabra have been lighted after all . . . there is Veal Florentine ripening in the ovens tonight, there are drinks on the House, and drunks in the hammocks,

      And all the world's busy, this twi-light!
      Who knows what morning-streets, our shoes have known?
      Who knows, how many friends, we've left, to cry alone?
      We have a moment together,
      We'll hum this tune for a day ...
      Ev'ryone's dancing, in twi-light,
      Dancing the bad dream a-way. . . .
   And they do dance: though Pirate never could before, very well. . . they feel quite in touch with all the others as they move, and if they are never to be at full ease, still it's not parade rest any longer ... so they dissolve now, into the race and swarm of this dancing Preterition, and their faces, the dear, comical faces they have put on for this ball, fade, as innocence fades, grimly flirtatious, and striving to be kind. . . .


  1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
  2. The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.
  3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.
  4. You hide, they seek. 
  5. Paranoids are not paranoids because they’re paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.   

Eat at Ed's, find the Pynchon tag, lots more stuff. ADDED THIS YEAR 2016 THREE PYNCHON BOOKS TO START PYNCHON. I'm stealing some of his Mason & Dixon excerpts, it's due for it's biennial rereading this Fall (Update 2017: I'm slumped, now jinxed).

One day, the Meridian having been closely enough establish’d, and with an hour or two of free time available to them, one heads north, one south, and ’tis Dixon’s luck to discover The Rabbi of Prague, headquarters of a Kabbalistick Faith, in Correspondence with the Elect Cohens of Paris, whose private Salute they now greet Dixon with, the Fingers spread two and two, and the Thumb held away from them likewise, said to represent the Hebrew letter Shin and to signify, “Live long and prosper.” The area just beyond the next Ridge is believ’d to harbor a giant Golem, or Jewish Automaton, taller than the most ancient of the Trees. As explain’d to Dixon, ’twas created by an Indian tribe widely suppos’d to be one of the famous Lost Tribes of Israel, who had somehow given up control of the Creature, sending it headlong into the Forest, where it would learn of its own gift of Mobile Invisibility.
“And . . . do you folk wear Special Hats, anything like that?” inquires Dixon.


The Ascent to Christ is a struggle thro’ one heresy after another, River-wise up-country into a proliferation of Sects and Sects branching from Sects, unto Deism, faithless pretending to be holy, and beyond,— ever away from the Sea, from the Harbor, from all that was serene and certain, into an Interior unmapp’d, a Realm of Doubt. The Nights. The Storms and Beasts. The Falls, the Rapids, . . . the America of the Soul.
Doubt is of the essence of Christ. Of the twelve Apostles, most true to him was ever Thomas,— indeed, in the Acta Thomæ they are said to be Twins. The final pure Christ is pure uncertainty. He is become the central subjunctive fact of a Faith, that risks ev’rything upon one bodily Resurrection. . . . Wouldn’t something less doubtable have done? a prophetic dream, a communication with a dead person? Some few tatters of evidence to wrap our poor naked spirits against the coldness of a World where Mortality and its Agents may bully their way, wherever they wish to go. . . .
— The Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke, Undeliver’d Sermons


“Lud wishes to know,” Whike relays at last, “Mr. Emerson’s Cousin’s Views, upon the Structure of the World.”
“A Spheroid, the last I heard of it, Sir.”
“Ahr Ahr ahr, ’ahr ahhrr!”
“ ’And I say, ’tis Flat,’” the Jesuit smoothly translates. “Why of course, Sir, flat as you like, flat as a Funnel-Cake, flat as a Pizza, for all that,— ”
“Apologies, Sir,—” Whike all Unctuosity, “the foreign Word again, was . . . ?”
“The apology is mine,— Pizza being a Delicacy of Cheese, Bread, and Fish ubiquitous in the region ’round Mount Vesuvius. . . . In my Distraction, I have reach’d for the Word as the over-wrought Child for its Doll.”
“You are from Italy, then, sir?” inquires Ma.
“In my Youth I pass’d some profitable months there, Madam.”
“Do you recall by chance how it is they cook this ‘Pizza’? My Lads and Lasses grow weary of the same Daily Gruel and Haggis, so a Mother is ever upon the Lurk for any new Receipt.”
“Why, of course. If there be a risen Loaf about . . . ?”
Mrs. Brain reaches ’neath the Bar and comes up with a Brown Batch-Loaf, rising since Morning, which she presents to “Cousin Ambrose,” who begins to punch it out flat upon the Counter-Top. Lud, fascinated, offers to assault the Dough himself, quickly slapping it into a very thin Disk of remarkable Circularity.
“Excellent, Sir,” Maire beams, “I don’t suppose anyone has a Tomato?”
“A what?”
“Saw one at Darlington Fair, once,” nods Mr.”“Brain.
“No good, in that case,— eaten by now.”
“The one I saw, they might not have wanted to eat . . . ?”
Dixon, rummaging in his Surveyor’s Kit, has come up with the Bottle of Ketjap, that he now takes with him ev’rywhere. “This do?”
“That was a Torpedo, Husband.”
“That Elecktrickal Fish? Oh . . . then this thing he’s making isn’t elecktrical?”
“Tho’ there ought to be Fish, such as those styl’d by the Neopolitans, Cicinielli. . . .”
“Will Anchovy do?” Mrs. Brain indicates a Cask of West Channel ’Chovies from Devon, pickl’d in Brine.
“Capital. And Cheese?”
“That would be what’s left of the Stilton, from the Ploughman’s Lunch.”
“Very promising indeed,” Maire wringing his Hands to conceal their trembling. “Well then, let us just . . .”
By the Time what is arguably the first British Pizza is ready to come out of the Baking-Oven beside the Hearth, the Road outside has gone quiet and the Moorland dark, several Rounds have come and pass’d, and Lud is beginning to show signs of Apprehension. “At least ’tis cloudy tonight, no Moonlight’ll be getting thro’,” his Mother whispers to Mr. Emerson.”


     "No," cutting into a denunciation of Pointsman when Milton Gloaming's name comes up, "it's a minor item, but stop right there. Pointsman didn't send him. We sent him."
     "You're a novice paranoid, Roger," first time Prentice has ever used his Christian name and it touches Roger enough to check his tirade. "Of course a well-developed They-system is necessary -  but it's only half the story. For every They there ought to be a We. In our case there is. Creative paranoia means developing at least as thorough a We-system as a They-system -"
     "Wait, wait, first where's the Haig and Haig, be a gracious host, second, what is a 'They-system,' I don't pull Chebychev's Theorem on you, do I?"
     "I mean what They and Their hired psychiatriasts call 'delusional systems.' Needless to say, 'delusions' are always officially defined. We don't have to worry about questions of real or unreal. They only talk out of expediency. It's the system that matters. How the data arrange themselves inside it. Some are consistent, others fall apart. Your idea that Pointsman and Gloaming takes a wrong fork. Without any contrary set of delusions - delusions about ourselves, which I'm calling a We-system - the Gloaming idea might have been all right -"
     "Delusions about ourselves?"
     "Not real ones."
     "But officially defined."
     "Out of expediency, yes."
     "Well, you're playing Their game then."
     "Don't let it bother you. You'll find you can operate quite well. Seeing as we haven't won yet, it really isn't much of a problem."
     Roger is totally confused. At this point, in wanders who but Milton Gloaming with a black man Roger recognizes now as one of the two herb-smokers in the furnace room under Clive Mossmoon's office. His name is Jan Otyiyumbu and he's a Schwarzkommando liaison man. One of Blodgett Waxwing's apache lieutenants shows up with his girl, who's not walking so much as dancing, very fluid and slow, a dance in which Osbie Feel, popping out of the kitchen now with his shirt off (and a Porky Pig tattoo on his stomach? How long has Feel had that?) correctly identifies the influence of heroin.
     It's a little bewildering - if this is a "We-system," why isn't it at least thoughtful enough to interlock in a reasonable way, like They-systems do?
     "That's exactly it," Osbie screams, belly-dancing Porky into a wide alarming grin, "They're the rational ones. We piss on Their rational arrangements... Don't we, Mexico?"

Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, The Counterforce, Second Square.

1 comment:

  1. 1)

    i would add to my comments last year about the raspberry-flavored candy my piano teacher would give me, in falls church, virginia, in the 1950s


    that i was quite satisfied with the product i ordered through amazon this last september - they were what i remembered

    Red Raspberries, Filled Hard Candy, 2 Lbs.

    i probably wouldn't have ordered these had it not been for reading and commenting on the relevant pynchon passage


    and speaking of influencing ingestion behavior - the new yorker's article on inhaling nicotine as an aerosol is very informative and thought-provoking - i consumed it by reading it this morning, but you can also listen to it - that take would take three quarters of an hour



    i read about vaping after reading jane mayer and ronan farrow's article about the former attorney general of new york and his intimate interactions with women

    as bruce springsteen put it in one of his songs, 'everybody's got a hungry heart'


    in general -

    how's x?
    compared to what?