Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Player Piano: Chapter 6

Why Paul's wife, Anita? That's the question that popped into my head during this chapter where Anita won't let Paul sleep because she's anxious that he's going to lose the promotion to Pittsburgh and he doesn't seem to care. She's seen how Finnerty's arrival has done something to her husband that she doesn't like. The sad thing is that what Finnerty has done has uplifted Paul in some way; Finnerty's allowed Paul to see that he doesn't have to live the enervating simulacrum of a life he's been living. He's given Paul a glimpse that maybe life doesn't have to be the life everybody expects from you, and maybe the life you've always felt obligated to live. And maybe that's what Anita fears most. She isn't just worried about their social standing and Paul's lack of ambition; she realizes that she is also part of that life Paul felt forced into. She's losing him.

Anita comes off as a shrew and maybe that's a stereotypical wife trope that's lived way longer than it should have. I blame the Adam and Eve myth that generally puts the wait of the sin on Eve and allows Adam to be a passive instrument in her nagging and temptation. But Vonnegut's twisting the myth somewhat here. In this case, Finnerty is the snake in the garden tempting Adam. Eve desperately doesn't want her helpmeet to lose his innocence. She wants the lie of Eden to survive. Mankind has built a sham Garden of Eden where everybody is supposedly cared for and happy and Finnerty has just slithered on in to tear it all down.

This short chapter also deals with some of Paul's father issues which crept up last chapter concerning Kroner. He's the patriarch and mentor of the organization, so much so that everybody calls his wife "Mom." Paul feels inadequate around him and has an innate need to please him. But that need is what has driven Paul's life, that need to make his own father proud. I've always said that the reason I lack ambition is that I don't give a fuck what my father thinks of me. It's apparently a pretty serious driving force in a young man's life. Anita has tried to use this against Paul (or to help him succeed which is sort of the same thing since Paul doesn't really care about the idea of "succeeding"). Early in their marriage, she framed a picture of Paul's father to place in the bedroom. This is a man she had never met. But she admired his success and his drive and projected all of that onto Paul (as has Kroner and probably everybody else in Paul's orbit). So now he has to live up to that picture of his father in the bedroom too! Ghastly!

If Paul eventually tries to embezzle from the company and smashes some of its machines and winds up being happier on the Reconstruction and Reclamation Crew, I'm going to assume Mike Judge's Office Space is the movie version of Player Piano. Except for the wife part. Even in the late 20th Century, comedies, for some reason, needed to also be romantic meet cute films so Peter needed to be single. But we still get a brief glimpse of the Anita role when the movie begins and his Anita (whose name is Anne! So close!) spends a short amount of screen time in the movie trying to get Peter to care more about success and eventually breaking up with him when he stops caring about work completely. His obligatory drive to succeed didn't need a wife anyway because he lives in America where the Garden of Eden illusion of safety and happiness is built around the capitalist idea of making more and more money, no matter how unhappy you are. In this chapter, Paul wonders at Finnerty's ability to quit his job, a quality that seems so foreign to him. How does one simply upend one's life so easily? What kind of courage must that take?

When I saw Office Space, I was like, "Yep. That's the world!" But I don't remember having the same feeling after reading Player Piano. I'm fairly certain I've read a lot of books in my life where I just enjoyed them without thinking too much about them. Or, and this is probably more true, I just forgot how much I thought about them because I just moved on to other things without writing any of my thoughts down. Which is why I've begun all these blogs in my 40s. I need to remember this crap! Office Space was so viscerally true and yet I'd never had an office job. But what I had learned and understood (thanks to my Grandfather, no doubt) was that a person in debt was never actually free. I always avoided debt (and, yes, I was privileged in many ways to be able to avoid debt, having no accidents, a strong family safety net, and a state college degree from the early 90s (so inexpensive! Sorry, Millennials and those who came after. Us Gen Xers maybe haven't been granted the resources and capital of the greedy Boomers but we, at least, lived in a world where we could be apathetic bean bag sitters and not have to worry too much overall) mostly because I wanted the freedom to say "I quit" to any job that made me feel like, and ultimately expected me to just take it because I had to, a corporate wage slave.

Again, I want to boldface this: I was lucky enough to choose to not go into debt. Many, many people simply have it forced on them because of capitalism. My grandparents, who lived three houses down from my mom's house (more privilege, really!), were instrumental in showing me how to live, and allowing me in many supportive ways, my best life. They were the best people I've ever known and I was lucky enough to be related to them.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXIV

The first time through the book, not realizing what was coming up with Slothrop or how his life was being manipulated by Pointsman, I was living vicariously through Slothrop's paranoia. What was going on? Was he being set up? Or was it just Slothrop's nature to feel persecuted and manipulated? Although I did realize the octopus had definitely been trained to attack Katje so I knew a little more than Slothrop suspected. I just also didn't know enough. I was as lost as he was.

Bah! Who am I kidding?! I still don't know enough! Except maybe that, by nature, Pointsman is just a cruel man desperate to raise Pavlov's theories to some kind of ultimate answer to the meaning of life and why humans do the things they do. Wouldn't it be nice if you could discover that every reason behind every single thing a person does is because they've been conditioned to react in that way? What a breakthrough! And if you could prove that even a diseased personality like Slothrop reacts like one of Pointsman's dogs to different stimuli, you could change the world!

The chapter begins on Dr. Porkyevitch's boat, having recovered Grigori the octopus whom he had let loose earlier in the day, orders from Pointsman. Now he's done his part, he wonders: how will he still be useful to Pointsman? The war is nearing its end and funding is drying up all over The White Visitation. Except when it comes to Pointsman.

While wondering if Pointsman has any more use for Porkyevitch, he has a moment of existential dread that has something to do with his having fled Stalin's Russia. He was able to escape because of his love of science, because of his belief in Pavlov's physiological experiments. It gave him something to believe in other than the sanctity of Mother Russia. But he fears something he doesn't name. Possibly being sent back, exiled from his current exile back to his old home? Or hunted down for his part, true or not, in the Bukharin conspiracy against Stalin? Did Porkyevitch flee from the Great Purge and is now worried that he might not yet be completely free? He seems to think Pointsman is the type of man who would betray him (because of course he would!). I'm not clear on all the particulars of this opening bit but it seems like Porkyevitch does his part in the Slothrop experiment, gets worried that Pointsman has no use for him now (and no loyalty), and so he flees, to forget Russia and all, to live yet another new life, the last one post-Russia, this one post-Britain.

After running into Katje at dinner (where she asks him to meet her in her room after midnight), Slothrop heads to the bar with Tantivy to discuss conspiracies, particularly the one that involves an octopus and himself. Specifically, he wants to know what's up with Tantivy's friend Teddy Bloat.

Tantivy moans. "God, Slothrop, I don't know. I'm your friend too but there's always, you know, an element of Slothropian paranoia to contend with. . . ."

Tantivy reveals that Bloat has been receiving messages in code. Proof enough for Slothrop that Bloat and Katje are involved in some conspiracy against him. Tantivy reports he's also feeling the paranoia, the manipulation. He feels that Bloat no longer acts like his friend. Tantivy's now just a connection Bloat made at Oxford, to be used or redeemed for the benefit of the more underhanded party. I'm not sure what I felt for Tantivy the first time through the book but I feel sympathy for him this time. I like him and I'm sorry his and Slothrop's friendship doesn't continue. Slothrop could have used an ally he didn't have to constantly feel was using him for hidden reasons.

At 11:59 Slothrop turns to Tantivy, nods at the two girls, tries to chuckle lewdly, and gives his friend a quick, affectionate punch in the shoulder. Once, back in prep school, just before sending him into a game, young Slothrop's football coach socked him the same way, giving him confidence for at least fifty seconds, till being trampled flat on his ass by a number of red-dogging Choate boys, each with the instincts and mass of a killer rhino.

There's so much to this book that I often forget about parts of it that I should have constantly ready to reference at the front of my mind. But as Slothrop predicted, it would take only a small matter of time to forget about the rockets, just enough, in fact, for him to return to London to be completely petrified by the thought of them again. So I'd forgotten this book is about rockets—it's right there in the title!—until this line:

For a minute he lies coming awake, no hangover, still belonging Slothropless to some teeming cycle of departure and return.

Do the rockets, like human sleepers, forget what they are as they arc to their destination? Do they only remember their terrible purpose only as they're about to make impact? Or do they only remember after it's too late to remember, like the noise of their approach? Maybe I shouldn't be thinking too much of rockets here (although Pynchon is obviously referencing them) and I should just concentrate on the beauty of being "Slothropless" upon waking. We've all been there, often after waking from a nap that took us from daylight to dark, woke too suddenly from some alarm or loud noise, and thought, panicky, "Who am I? What time is it? What is happening?" A brief flurry of nearly unendurable seconds in which we know almost nothing, babes expelled from some dream posing as reality, exiled into fear and the unknown. Some beliefs and spiritualities concern themselves with total loss of ego and they must love those moments. They must be pure ecstasy. Aside from those waking moments, the only time I felt a loss of ego was when I took too many hallucinogenic mushrooms and found myself in the parking lot of a strip club in San Jose wondering if that had always been my life and the other life where I was a college graduate with plans to travel Asia in a few months was just a fantasy I engaged in to fill my empty life with meaning.

Oh! That moment of Slothroplessness takes place after Slothrop meets with Katje. After they fuck and they perform some Three Stooges/Marx Brothers/W.C. Fields slapstick routine (after which they fuck again). Slothrop might not be so concerned with Bloat's conspiracy if he just fucked Bloat too.

In the morning, Slothrop hears somebody in the next room stealing his clothes and he gives naked chase, eventually winding up wrapped in a purple sheet and falling out of a tree in front of Bloat and some general. It seems his night with Katje was a set up to steal all of his clothes, his papers, his identity. Everything. Even, he notices as Bloat takes him to his room for a British uniform to wear, Tantivy. No sign of Tantivy who had been rooming with Bloat. Just gone, overnight, when he should be returning well hungover and well fucked. But They've got to him too. They've got everything that connected Slothrop to who he was the night before he went to Katje's room. Like one of Spectro's patients that Pointsman lusted after, he's completely virginal. Pointsman's ideal subject.

Slothrop leaves Bloat to search for Tantivy. He winds up in the gambling hall of the casino but realizes the room was meant for something different, for something darker. It's the lodge of some secret organization whose dark purpose Slothrop can't begin to fathom, only knows that it involves him. It's as if the entire hotel were created for whatever purpose They have for him. Slothrop was not sent to a vacation spot on the Riviera; he was sent to some Masonic stage where every prop could be set just right and where every person plays a secret role. Slothrop has not been staying at a bed and breakfast; he'd been sequestered in a theater. Or, worse, a lab.

Being in a British uniform causes Slothrop to imagine all of his family's history in reverse until the first Slothrop who sailed to America was sucked back across the Atlantic by the reverse wind so that Slothrop never had an American ancestor. I mention this because it's just one of those nice "What the fuck is happening now?!" moments that Pynchon interrupts the story with on a near constant basis.

Lost and alone, having had everything of his taken from him, Slothrop can think of only one place left to go: Katje's room. And so he returns, not knowing if he's walking into salvation or suicide.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Player Piano: Chapter 5

The chapter begins with Paul Proteus concerned about impressing his colleagues and bosses but ends with Paul Proteus seeing Finnerty's point of view and seeing the ridiculousness of the entire system. Paul's wife, Anita, is not happy.

Paul's presentation to his co-workers is about the first and second Industrial Revolutions. The first one, he says, devalued muscle work. The machines created were much more efficient than man's muscles could ever be. They were stronger and could work longer hours. The second Industrial Revolution devalued mind-numbing, repetitive labor. Machines could now take over all the rote tasks with far fewer rejected units than a factory worker bored by the job and concerned with other aspects of their life, which left them prone to making mistakes. He doesn't get into the potential of the inevitable third Industrial Revolution because the checkers tournament against the machine at the end of the chapter puts a spotlight on that.

Paul is the Ilium Works checkers champion and it's tradition to play incoming engineers to defend his title. This year, the new recruits have brought in a checkers playing computer to beat Paul. At first Paul wants to concede, knowing that any machine built for a specific purpose will inevitably be better at that purpose than a human counterpart. But his pal Finnerty encourages him to play and makes bets with everybody there that Paul will win. Which he does because had seen, looking inside the machine, that it had a loose connection which causes it to catch fire. Finnerty's confidence wasn't that a man could beat a machine but that a machine will break down under the right conditions. I mean, a man will too! But a machine does it immediately and with lots of smoke and fire.

Everybody is upset that Finnerty didn't say anything about the loose connection but he couldn't give a shit about their concerns.

"'If Checker Charley was out to make chumps out of men, he could damn well fix his own connections. Paul looks after his own circuits; let Charley do the same. Those who live by electronics, die by electronics. Sic semper tyrannis.'"

We're going ever deeper into the philosophical question, "What is freedom?" At what point have the machines gone from freeing men to pursue their hopes, dreams, and happiness to enslaving man into roles as simple caretakers for the machines? And those who don't understand the machines? Well, they have to earn their reason for existence some other way. But since the machines are doing everything, their options are limited. Provide a reason for your existence as a citizen of your nation by either joining the army or filling potholes. An interesting note is that Vonnegut sees exactly the way America would wind up in a system where machines do all the work. It would still demand some kind of proof from everybody that they deserve to be "taken care of" by the government. Notably, Star Trek: The Next Generation bases their world in roughly the same environment but sees it differently. With machines and replicators available to do all the work, nobody needs to feel obligated to do anything they don't want to do. They are truly free to pursue any activity they want. In the Star Trek universe, everybody is taken care of when machines meet all needs. In Vonnegut's world (which is more realistic), the people in charge of the machines don't feel any obligation to provide for the people who don't own the machines and are no longer playing a part in the economic system. They're simply leeches and parasites who have to provide some service if they want any income at all. So it's the army or the Reconstruction and Reclamation Works.

Notably, there has yet to be any real discussion about artists and entertainment. Presumably, like the bartender, these careers still exist. Vonnegut still has two hundred pages to bring them up so I'm not yet going to assume they make the entire parable too messy. It's possible art has also been devalued by the efficiency of machines to the economy and it's just looked down upon as silly and a waste of time. If that's the case, I'm sure Finnerty's cohorts and revolutionaries will all be playwrights and poets.

Oh wait! I forgot this book is called Player Piano and there was that scene with the player piano! So Vonnegut has already shown how machines have, in at least some way, taken away the livelihoods of artists. And we saw that there was no connection between the artist and their audience; there was no crucial interaction or play between the art and the reaction, as you might expect with a piano player at a bar. Instead, it was just "five cents worth of joy" and the piano was done. It was a simple financial interaction; art had become a commodity.

Another theme in this chapter was how nepotism affected this new world. The guy who brought Checker Charley wasn't really smart enough to have become an engineer. But his father (who built the machine) was well known and well liked so Paul's boss went to bat for the kid, even if he was mostly a dumb jerk.

"Ordinarily, nobody would have hired him. But Kroner, who knew his bloodlines, had taken him on anyway and sent him to Ilium to be trained. The break had done anything but teach him humility. He took it as evidence that his money and name could beat the system any time and, paraphrased, he'd said as much. The hell of it was that his attitude won grudging admiration from his fellow engineers, who had got their jobs the hard way. Paul supposed, gloomily, that beaters of systems had always been admired by the conventional."

Reading something like this from 1952 by a fucking genius is depressing. This was America. This is America. This will always be America. What good is art that points out this bullshit if the "conventional" never read it, never learn from it, never fucking care? This is why all of my favorite books are the ones where the protagonists realize what Matthew Broderick realized in Wargames: the only way to win is not to play the game. You know, books like Catch-22 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and, more recently, Gravity's Rainbow. Although nobody really wins in Gravity's Rainbow; Slothrop just sort of disappears from everybody's sight and vanishes into legend. But the sentiment is still there because Pynchon still shows how Pirate Prentice and Katje and others all realize that they're still working for the system when they choose to fight against it.

One of the things I've always believed having grown up on the West Coast is that even though we think of history as people fighting against tyranny and changing the world, what history really was was people fleeing westward instead of fighting to set up their own systems. Then the people subjugated and oppressed by those systems fled west to set up their own systems. Until there was no more west to flee to and the West Coast had all the misfits and anti-establishment revolutionaries bottled up trying to figure out the best way to live together. But this is also why, eventually, we're going to need a huge fight. Because we have nowhere left to run and we can't live with this bullshit system for much longer.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Player Piano: Chapter 4

In this chapter, we meet Finnerty. Finnerty's buzzer has recently gone off although his red light's been blinking for years. Finnerty's only friend is Paul Proteus and, I think, Paul's only friend is Finnerty. Finnerty's friendly interest in Paul was stemmed by his ability to see Paul's red light flashing so many years ago, even when Paul couldn't rightly see it. Paul's need to fit in and live a normal life has finally worn away and he's beginning to see the cracks in the system and how he's always been a bit on the outside. It was the cat. The cat totally did it. Especially since it was his fault the cat died. He was just trying to give it a normal life inside the normal confines of society's normality by taking it out of the alley and putting it inside a warehouse full of machines. But the cat didn't belong there and the machines killed it. Just like they've been killing Paul; he just didn't see it until that damn cat.

But Paul is still not sure. He rebuffs Finnerty's call to skip the work conference and discuss what's next. Finnerty just quit his job and he's ready to change everything. But Paul's a bit too invested in his life yet. He's got the wife, Anita, who desperately wants him to rise in the ranks of his career and needs her peers to see how well they're doing. She is his ambition since Paul really doesn't seem to care. And Paul's got his job and his standing and the obligation to his father and his intelligence and to the rest of society. Plus this is just Chapter 4! He's just not ready yet! But the cat and Finnerty have spoken and Paul's red light is blinking a little bit faster and that buzzer is just dying to let people know Paul Proteus is finally broken.

Finnerty's ready to see the world burn. But Paul has dismissed him. For now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Player Piano: Chapter 3

Should we discuss the name of the protagonist, Paul Proteus? And by "we" I mean "I" and by "discuss" I mean "soliloquize." So protean means able to change easily or to transform. That's a pretty good name for a protagonist in a dystopian world, right?! Although this world isn't dystopian at first glance; we've been told it's efficient and perfect! By Paul himself! So I guess that's the change that's going to have to occur. Paul Proteus is going to transform the way he sees the world. And then he probably won't be able to accept the status quo anymore and he'll either rise up to bring it all down with an army of mice or he'll hang himself in a lonely motel room in New Mexico.

I've read this before but I can't remember which one he chooses!

Oh, I didn't discuss his first name, Paul. It probably has something to do with the apostle. And by "probably" I mean . . . wait, am I doing this tired joke again? I fucking hate myself. Anybody who knows anything about Saul of Tarsus gets why Paul Proteus is called Paul. He's all "These Roman machines are great and all these Luddites following that Messiah are nincompoops!" And then he'll be driving home from work one day and crash into a tree due to sudden onset blindness. Afterward, he'll be all, "Tear down the machines! They're vile temptresses destroying our souls!" That's the "I'm a total moron" take. Somebody with more ambition and a higher intelligence could probably make a nice academic paper out of this (and probably already has!).

In this chapter, we learn that Paul is as responsible a gun owner as modern day gun owners.

"He had had the car at the time of the riots, and among the bits of junk in the glove compartment—match cards, registration, flashlight, and face tissues—was the rusty pistol he had been issued then. Having a pistol where some unauthorized person might get at it was very much against the law. [. . .] Paul didn't want the pistol but was forever forgetting to turn it in. Over the years, as it had accumulated a patina of rust, he'd come to regard it as a harmless antique. The glove compartment wouldn't lock, so Paul covered the pistol with tissues."

I bet that pistol kills somebody before this is over! For maximum drama, maybe it'll be a young person, or a dog!

Paul is the most highly paid man in Ilium and yet he continues to drive an old clunker of a car. That means he's connected to the past and, in some deeper way, refuses to truly accept this newfangled future. His wife makes excuses for him and his car to her peers so as to not feel embarrassed by this outward sign of poverty, or his lack of caring about the accoutrements of their social and financial standing. Paul does not seem to care about impressing the other wealthy people. But when he goes across the river to purchase whisky, he changes into an old leather jacket. He seems embarrassed not by some old car driven in a wealthy neighborhood but by any show of wealth among those who don't have as much. Probably because he and his machines are a big part of the reason they don't have as much.

Paul stops at a bar on the way home to pick up a bottle of whisky for an old friend. While in the bar, the reader gets a glimpse of another profession that hasn't been taken over by machines: the bartender. Besides managers and engineers, a few other professions have remained because they're just not economical enough to be done by machines. Or, as almost certainly is the case of the bartender (evidenced by a short memory from Paul about trying to set up an automated bar and failing), people just can't seem to make the transition to dealing with machines in certain venues. Who wants to lose the camaraderie of a neutral participant in their mostly monologued conversation when out drinking alone? How is a machine going to play lightweight psychiatrist to the lost and the damned? It's just not the same.

Paul is recognized by one of the clientele. It's Rudy Hertz, the man whose lathing skills were translated to tape to be used by the Ilium Works machines. Rudy is a man whose skills were needed and so a corporation took those skills and disposed of Rudy. Rudy doesn't seem to be filled with resentment though; those years are far distant in his past and he's maybe grown a bit senile. He makes a big deal of knowing the great Doctor Paul Proteus which attracts the attention, and resentment, of the other clientele. Most of them are old enough to remember their lives before the machines took over; most of them see in Paul the reason they lost their livelihoods and their passions, their stability and income.

One man raises a toast to their sons and speaks directly to Paul. His son just turned eighteen and was not able to secure one of twenty-seven places available at the college. His future choice is now that of simply the army or government work in the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps. Basically no decision at all. He wants more for his son but, with the machines and limited space for engineers and thinkers, there isn't any. The machines have taken all the more there was.

The punctuation of the chapter comes with Rudy Hertz playing a tune, in celebration of meeting his old friend Doctor Paul Proteus, on the player piano.

"'See—see them two go up and down, Doctor! Just the way the feller hit 'em. Look at 'em go!"
    The music stopped abruptly, with the air of having delivered exactly five cents worth of joy. Rudy still shouted. 'Makes you feel kind of creepy, don't it, Doctor, watching them keys go up and down? You can almost see a ghost sitting there playing their heart out.'"

And that's the book! Twenty-eight pages in and we've got it, Kurt! Thanks! Do I need to read the other 270 pages?! You blew your load with the scene that suggested the title way too early! I mean, most of us got the idea from Paul checking out the tape on the lathe machine in the first chapter. But that was just a hint at the idea! This is just pulling your dick out and showing us!

That's okay though. I trust Kurt Vonnegut to tell me lots of other things I should be angry about in an entertaining way that makes me cry while asking, "Am I happy? Sad? Angry? Why are these tears happening?!"

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Player Piano: Chapter 2

If somebody were curious about Kurt Vonnegut and had never read anything by him before, I'd probably have them read Chapter 2 of Player Piano to decide if maybe they'd want to read more. It's like mainlining Vonnegut. For those ideological conservative thinkers, it stands as a stark warning that the things they believe will be brutally and effectively criticized. Do they want more of that? They probably think they don't but I'd say they damn well do need more of it.

The scene consists of Doctor Halyard, a member of the U.S. State Department, showing the Shah of Bratpuhr around New York in a limousine. The Shah is described as rich and fat, almost certainly off the backs of the six million people he's said to be leader of. They pass by a road crew and the Shah asks whose slaves they are. Halyard proceeds to explain capitalism to him and merely winds up convincing the Shah that "citizen" means "slave" and that capitalism is communism. The only differences are the words used to describe the machinery of it all.

To me, the only problem with the Shah thinking Halyard's U.S. is communism is that capitalism actually does communism's job much better. Convince people they're free to choose their jobs and to do what you choose and they'll fight like hell to keep up the illusion. Convince them that a mortgage and kids are the American dream and now they need the constant stream of income that only the great and miraculous job providers can promise them. Maybe tie their health care to the job so they can't leave the job without putting risk to their family and their family's finances. And then maybe, when you've convinced them that taxes are out of control so that they support the highest tax brackets dropping to almost nothing which then makes more sense for business owners and management to give themselves even more of the profit in personal salaries and bonuses instead of putting that money back into the company, you can even take away the free healthcare and the pension and every other promise of a middle class capitalist life. Next, convince them that all of these things were unearned benefits that people shouldn't expect to get by constantly using manipulative language and calling those things entitlements. Get the media to use your language so that it just becomes another fact of life. Pensions, health care, and living wages all become things you have to work hard and fight for (yet again because fighting for them the first time, well, that was ancient history and probably it was an un-American thing to do at the time. Damn anarchists!). But don't fight the corporations and the government! Fight your fellow workers as you struggle to keep your shitty job so charitably given to you by the great and magnificent job provider. As corporations take control of the government, the most important thing is to keep people dependent on the ever shittier jobs offered to them. Every program which the government might have in place as a safety net against poverty or as a means to make life better for everybody must be shut down because if they exist, people will actually feel free enough to not accept work contracts on the worst terms. Corporations need citizens working without a safety net or else the citizen might actually have the ability to choose jobs that offer a real chance at living.

Predatory college tuition has wound up working the same way. If you can't control the educated masses in the same way you control the non-college working class, you just come up with basically the same system! Saddle them with debt so they're forced into the labor force on your terms. They don't come out with a leg up because of their education. They begin life loaded with debt. Yes, a percentage of them will find the exchange worth it. But what can you do? You can't funnel everybody into the slave-labor class! Some are going to get away and get actual jobs they love that provide them with everything they need in every sense. But just label them the elite and "other" the fuck out of them so the working class people think of them as the enemy. How dare they feel fulfilled in their easy ivory tower cushioned offices where they, I don't know, make money by reading Tolstoy or some shit? Have they ever actually had a callous?! Probably not! So un-American! But the others who don't come out of college with a well-paying job are your real targets! The ones who go to college, get loads of debt, and then come out the other side without any real prospects for a lengthy and fulfilling career. You'll have them by the balls, by gum!

A college education is something I think everybody should have, for loads of various reasons. But at this point in time . . . with this cost? I'm no longer sure. Maybe we should just hand out a syllabus of mandatory reading to all graduating high school students and say, "Take a year off. Live at home (like you'd probably do anyway!). Read all of these. Take them in. Absorb them. Don't think of them as a means of escape and entertainment. These are your training manuals. Digest the fuck out of them and learn to fight. Because America isn't giving you shit anymore. America sees its citizens as parasites. If you don't have the money to establish a lobbying firm, America sees you as nothing put a pest in its garden. So take these books and read them, learn from them, and be angry."

America has not been what it purports to be for some time. No longer are we the land of the free and the home of the brave. Now, America is where we signal our virtue while not actually doing anything to make the country better. We praise our troops while not actually caring for them or avoiding unnecessary wars. We praise our economy and laud stock market growth while letting people fall into poverty and starve. We celebrate a (not really but a lot of people think it's true) Christian nature while putting our hand on Jesus's face as we push him back and mutter, "Not now, Messiah." For anybody wondering what America actually is, we should simply remind them that our government decided to start calling French fries "Freedom Fries" when they got annoyed with France for not doing what they wanted them to do. That's about the extent of our bipartisanship ability to get things done.

In the world of Player Piano, those whose jobs have been taken over by machines now must either work for government labor crews or join the armed forces. That's the freedom allowed by privatization of everything. Although that's still a better world than what America is becoming because at least in Vonnegut's world, the machines and the incomes of the wealthy are taxed enough to pay the salaries of everybody else. In our current America, it's nearly the same thing except the wealthy aren't taxed and the poor are told they're lazy fuckers who feel entitled to life, liberty, and happiness which, according to the part of the Declaration of Independence that apparently never gets read, is only for those who work hard at shitty jobs and shut the fuck up about maybe making things better for everybody.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Player Piano: Chapter I

It's been a few decades since I first read Player Piano. I'm re-reading it—as well as all of Vonnegut's other novels, in order—because I've gotten older and I've forgotten everything from when I was younger. It's like, why even read books if you're going to forget so much about those books when you're older and then have to re-read them again just to remember if you liked them or not? The main thing I remember about Vonnegut's early novels like Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan, and Cat's Cradle is how different in style they are compared to Vonnegut's later books. They seem more like pulp science fiction than his informal stories that are also kind of chats with his readers while also sort of being essays at the same time. Reading a Vonnegut book is sometimes like watching a movie for the first time with the director's audio commentary playing. Was he the forerunner of audiences enjoying watching other people watch things? I wouldn't know because I don't know about everything. But it seems like Vonnegut definitely is a voice within a lot of his own books commenting on his books as he's writing them.

Or maybe I'm just remembering things poorly. Remember how I don't remember anything?!

Player Piano begins, ostensibly, with the protagonist, Paul Proteus, making sure a cat is comfortable. I don't know if I'm supposed to root for this man or if he'll become a monster or what the story will be but I can say that, from the beginning, Vonnegut manages to get me to love him, at least just a little bit, because he is caring for a cat, even when he, himself, is nervous and anxious. He must be a good person, right?

Right from the start, the cat seems an odd and unlikely part of Paul Proteus's world. He's brought it to the Ilium Works to hunt mice and rats who sometimes chew through wires. Since just about everything is run by machines, seen over by managers and engineers, keeping them up and running is crucial. The world has been at peace for over a decade and the know-how of engineers and their machines have made it possible. But Paul, like farmers across thousands of years, still needs a few cats. Machines allow everybody to live a work-free life of luxury in a world where war has been extinguished and yet it can all fall apart from a few stupid rats. Machines do the work while sensors alert managers to problems and managers send engineers to fix the issues. But cats? Cats prevent any of that from happening in the first place.

What the novel supposes is an automated world created by man that can't completely divorce itself from nature and natural cycles. Man has come up with a machine for everything but he still hasn't invented a better mousetrap.

One side effect to having a world run so efficiently is ennui. Paul knows the people who risked their lives in the war to give the engineers time to make the world more efficient are absolutely certain the world is a far better place, but he, having not seen the horrors of war firsthand, can only take their word for it. All he sees is that the world is improved, it has become more efficient, and he's got less to do with it now than a stray cat.

At one point, the cat is terrified by a sweeping machine that passes through the office just after Paul looks at an old photograph from after Edison had the first building built many decades previous and notes that even the sweeper beams with pride. I think there's a lot of thematic stuff going on there that I'd discuss if they were more subtle!

In contemplating a piece of tape that houses the machine code for lathing shafts, he remembers the man whose movements the tape's commands were recorded from. A man who was proud to be chosen for the assignment with little understanding that he was destroying the source of his pride. A man who, though he had been close to retiring, almost certainly wasn't ready for the skills he had learned to never again be needed by another man. A man who loved The Bible and loved a dog and never had any children. A man who probably no longer existed. At any rate, a man who was definitely no longer needed.

And then the cat is killed. I don't want it to be. I want it to live forever, even if it's fictional. But it is both literally and figuratively chewed up and spit out by this modern technology. These machines grind up anything natural and dispose of it as useless, organic garbage. Like Rudy the lathe operator before it. A cat might be able to help with the mice but it simply can't exist among these machines. There is no room for it. There is only machines and codes and the occasional blinking red light to call forth a single human to tweak some loose bolt or lost nut. The cat survives the garbage chute but is killed trying to escape over an electrified fence and found by a guard in a armored and machine-gun-laden car. The fence and armored car has been put there to keep disgruntled Luddites from sabotaging the machinery. Laws have also been enacted to enforce the safety of the Ilium Works. And so with the death of the cat, we get a first glimpse at how this perfect, efficient world might be simply an expensive mirage to keep the status quo. So what if people, maybe, aren't completely happy or fulfilled? So what if the occasional cat is killed by the system? Things are running smoothly. And besides, it was just a cat. And, you know, people.

Paul doesn't want to leave the cat but doesn't know what to do with it. There's feelings of guilt and responsibility; something in Paul feels the need to do right by the cat. But by the end of the chapter, he's been overwhelmed with his upcoming speech, a possible job promotion, an old friend coming in to see him, and his wife's rote and shallow conversation full of agenda and manipulations. He has Katharine, his secretary, just get rid of it.

The chapter ends discussing the machine whose blinking red light had sent Paul out of his office but, in reality, is talking about Paul.

"'Beyond help,' he said. Lathe group three, Building 58, had been good in its day, but was showing wear and becoming a misfit in the slick, streamlined setup, where there was no place for erratic behavior. 'Basically, it wasn't built for the job it's doing anyway. I look for the buzzer to go off any day now, and that'll be the end.'
        In each meter box, in addition to the instrument, the jewel, and the warning lamp, was a buzzer. The buzzer was the signal for a unit's complete breakdown."

I don't want to read a whole lot of novels that deal with the death of a cat but if Vonnegut is going to use it as the impetus to knock his protagonist out of complacency with the status quo, I suppose I'll allow it.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXIII

Part XXIII begins Chapter 2, "Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering". I didn't know what that meant (I mean, I knew what five-sixths of it meant! It was the "perm'" part that was stumping me!) so I had to look it up. It means "A Furlough at the Hermann Goering Casino." And that's exactly what this chapter is about! It's about Tyrone Slothrop's furlough at the Herman Goering Casino in France. But being that everything in this book isn't exactly what it seems, it's also "L'expérience au Casino Hermann Goering"!

The quote used to open this chapter is

"You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood." — Merian C. Cooper to Fay Wray

How does this relate? Is calling King Kong the tallest, darkest leading man the Hollywood equivalent of calling Poinstman's experiment on Tyrone Slothrop a furlough?

Slothrop is on furlough with his office mate and friend Tantivy Mucker-Maffick and Teddy Bloat, Tantivy's friend who has been spying on Slothrop. So already, it's feeling like a bit of a set-up for Slothrop. Not that I'm going off just those clues! I just read nearly two hundred pages of Pointsman drooling like one of his dogs over getting Tyrone Slothrop as a test subject!

This initial scene of Slothrop first laying eyes on the Casino, and the first morning as he looks out over the ocean in the cold morning weather is just lovely and tranquil. And that it's punctuated by a feeling deep within him that his day can't actually start until he hears a rocket explode is just fucking ugh. Yes, that's right. I just described something as "fucking ugh." That's why I'm such a great critic of intelligent literature. I know how to really deconstruct this shit.

Bloat comes into Slothrop's room "gnawing on a smoldering pipe" and now I can only think of him as Aarfy from Catch-22. And not just Aarfy. I'm picturing him as Charles Grodin from the film. So now my mental image of Bloat is that of a hipster Charles Grodin with Aarfy's psychotic demeanor.

Slothrop is immediately suspicious of Bloat. Perhaps because he should be suspicious of him! But mostly it's just because Slothrop is a paranoid personality and Bloat is basically a stranger to him. But also, I mean, he's right to be paranoid about him! I guess that's just the life of a paranoid. You're going to be paranoid and suspicious of everything and everyone and, occasionally, you'll be proven right. Which will just make you dig in your heels believing all the paranoia you were wrong about as well.

As Slothrop shaves and gets ready for the day, Tantivy begins yelling out the window at some French lasses. He looks back at his mates and says, "J'ai deux amis, aussi, by an odd coincidence. Par un bizarre coincidence, or something, oui?" Yeah. Or something is right, Tantivy. The word "coincidence" is the paranoiac's least accepted rationale. Nothing is coincidence. Which, when you're writing situations for characters in a novel, is ultimately true. Obviously nothing that happens to Slothrop or any of the others is a coincidence! As a writer, you can't actually write coincidences! So a character in a book should be a paranoiac! What does that do to a novel like Gravity's Rainbow? Ultimately it's a book about a guy who is trying to discover why his life is the way that it is and who made it that way. It's not all random and while, yes, he's paranoid, he's ultimately correct to be paranoid. But this is a novel. Even if Pynchon wrote a book where Slothrop wasn't correct to be paranoid, how would that be any different? Because Slothrop is still, as a character being written into situations by an author, being manipulated by some greater Them. Does Gravity's Rainbow ultimately not work or is its inability to cope with coincidence and conspiracy the entire point?! Or maybe it's just that none of us have any real free will because we're ultimately slaves to our kinks and desires and anxieties which force us to make the decisions we make. Like not being able to not write Gravity's Rainbow. Ultimately, Pynchon's ability to not write this book was hampered by his needs and desires in absolutely the same way Brigadier Pudding can't help gulping down Katje's fecal emissions.

Slothrop decides to wear a Hawaiian shirt on their picnic with the French lasses because that's a fashion option now thanks to the war in the Pacific! Man, couldn't we have defeated the Japanese before American GIs decided to go all-in on Hawaiian tourist culture? Although I guess it gave boring suburban white people a way to show they were loosening up and really getting wild by wearing Hawaiian shirts and lighting tiki torches in their backyards. Plus now they could euphemistically serve hot dogs in pineapple rings as oer d'oeuvres. Très chic!

Slothrop begins to feel that maybe he doesn't have to feel paranoid. The day is too lovely. The picnic too sensual. The company divine. But then comes the moment where it will all change. It begins with Bloat pointing to a woman standing by the sea and outright asking Slothrop if she's a friend of his. A mistake. A huge mistake, Bloat. When trying to get somebody to witness a thing you've manipulated so that they'll witness it, you cannot be the one to point it out to them. You must let them discover it themselves or it will mar the entire manipulation. If Slothrop had witnessed this woman (and the subsequent attack by an octopus which I've yet to mention) without Bloat pointing it out, perhaps later, Slothrop would not have begun to dissect every part of the interaction. Like how did Bloat just happen to have the crab to drive the octopus away? And how did Bloat know exactly how to drive the octopus away in the first place? And how come it was Bloat who pointed out the woman just before the attack anyway? And what was that thing that was said back at the hotel about coincidences?!

My friends and I used to go messing around in the Santa Cruz hills at night, hiking and junk. We eventually found an old abandoned set of buildings up there, unguarded. So we concocted a plan to take one of our other friends who didn't know about it up there where we would stumble upon a Satanic ritual. Some of our friends dressed up in black robes and set up candles and painted arcane symbols around one of the abandoned rooms. The plan was to have our friend, Bon Rowman, stumble upon it as we searched around the abandoned complex. But one friend, Bason Jeymer (our only actor friend, by the way!), took it upon himself to lead Bon Rowman to the building with the ritual, discover the Satanic ritual himself and then called Bon over in hushed words. "Bon! Bon! Come look at this! What's going on?!" As if it were nothing! As opposed to having Bon lead the way, stumble into the ritual, and be completely freaked out! As soon as Bason calmly called him over to check it out, the prank was ruined. Bon didn't buy it for a second. Anyway, that's the experiential veneer through which I interpreted this scene!

As Slothrop watches, Katje is attacked by the octopus which Pointsman trained to be enamored of Katje. Slothrop fails to save Katje until Bloat produces a crab and explains the octopus is just hungry. Slothrop uses the crab to lure the octopus away and Katje is saved.

Slothrop immediately becomes suspicious. Between Bloat having the crab and Katje's ID bracelet and one of the dancers speaking to the just-saved-from-the-octopus Katje in some language other than French, Slothrop can't help but be consumed by paranoia. Something isn't right here and he's right to think it isn't.

"So it is here, grouped on the beach with strangers, that voices begin to take on a touch of metal, each word a hard-edged clap, and the light, though as bright as before, is less able to illuminate . . . it's a Puritan reflex of seeking other orders behind the visible, also known as paranoia, filtering in. Pale lines of force whir in the sea air . . . pacts sworn to in rooms since shelled back to their plan views, not quite by accident of war, suggest themselves. Oh, that was no 'found' crab, Ace—no random octopus or girl, uh-uh. Structure and detail come later, but the conniving around him now he feels instantly, in his heart."

Subtly, during the rest of the picnic, Ghislaine, the woman who seems most associated with Bloat, gives off clues that Bloat is the master behind some grand manipulation here. And on the way back to the Casino, she nearly states it outright, suggesting the octopus was staged and that Slothrop should be very careful. Her revelation gives me goosebumps so I imagine it made Slothrop shit his pants. And then Katje tells Slothrop she thinks they were maybe destined to meet and that's it. Paranoid Level Alpha. His entire life's a set-up and, well, it's come to this . . . whatever this is!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXII

The first chapter ends on a scene with Roger and Jessica spending Boxing Day with Jessica's sister's family. The perspective begins with Penelope, Jessica's niece, in a kind of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland montage of previous themes and characters hinted at in the details of the day. Penelope's sister Claire received a Goliwog for Christmas evoking the Schwarzkommando and Operation Black Wing. The two fish Penelope watches at the beginning taking the shape of Pisces, reminding the reader of both The White Visitation's PISCES (Psychological Intelligence Schemes for Expediting Surrender) and the abundance of astrological references recently made in the Peter Sascha/Leni Pökler sections. The pantomime they have gone to see was Hansel & Gretel which reminds us of Katje and Gottfried and Weissman's game (they even hint at the gender swapping often engaged in by the group). Of course the rocket hits reminding us of Slothrop and everything else, really. The war and all that. After the rocket hits, Gretel sings a song that mentions "We can fly to the moon, we'll be higher than noon in our polythene home in the sky" alluding to Imipolex and Jamf's obsession with plastics and chemical structures (as well as living on the moon which is Franz and Leni's daughter Ilse's fantasy). We're reminded of Carrol and Peter and their experiments with and connections to the afterlife by Penelope's visit from the ghost of her father. I'm sure there's more but that's all my memory of the first reading of the book will allow for now!

After the perspective shifts from Penelope's view to Roger's, the narrative becomes a bunch of whinging and grousing on Roger's part about how he suddenly knows Jessica will soon leave him. He thinks it's because Jessica is being infected by the War but I think it's because of his "skinny, 20-pushup arms." Maybe try improving your body instead of just pushing pins in a map all day! I bet Beaver has thick, masculine 25-pushup arms! That's how many pushups gives you big biceps like mine, right?

"If the rockets don't get her there's still her lieutenant. Damned Beaver/Jeremy is the War, he is every assertion the fucking War has ever made—that we are meant for work and government, for austerity: and these shall take priority over love, dreams, the spirit, the senses and the other second-class trivia that are found among the idle and mindless hours of the day. . . . Damn them, they are wrong. They are insane."

I take back that bit about Roger whinging and grousing because in actuality, I love him very much. I love poor heartsick Roger and his romantic view of the world and I hate the War and everybody who would tell Roger that he is being silly or irrational or nonsensical or immature. Fuck those guys. Fuck them right in their boring holes because they're so boring they probably wouldn't like it at all.

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXI

I really shouldn't be so hard on myself for not truly understanding large aspects of this book. I'm only on my second reading of the book which is, ultimately, the true first reading. It's the first time you can actually follow the relationships between characters, or see the importance of certain experiences each has during their journey. But more than that, it's important to come to a work of literature first through your own eyes and your own experiences. One of the themes Pynchon comes back to often is how everybody experiences something differently based on their motivations, education, past trials and travails, and their general emotional demeanor. We're all going to first get something different from the book than everybody else. Different parts of the text will stand out due to our own personal philosophies, hobbyhorses, and crotchets. Some people will want to go beyond that and try to ferret out what the author meant, specifically, with his choices and characters and metaphors based on Hansel and Gretel. What was happening during the time Pynchon was writing the novel that he might have been commenting on? What historical moments did he work with, and why, and how did he fictionalize them to express whatever it was he was trying to express? This won't lead anybody to one secret text which exposes the entire novel, flayed open and dissected for goggle-eyed students in lab coats to gawk at as they take notes on cradled clipboards. The texts will be varied, concentrating on different themes and ideas. Just as everybody approaches the novel from a different angle based on who they are.

What I'm saying is I'd like to establish my own relationship with the novel before I read any academic studies of it (which I almost certainly will). That's what this blog (and my Against the Day blog are meant to do. They aren't great insightful documents for other people. They're just my thoughts codified and left out for anybody to read. Enjoy them or not. But don't expect me to explicate every last bit of a book I'm only really just getting to know.

This probably would have been a good way to start my discussions on Chapter Two! But I was just thinking about it after the last section of the book which blew my mind wide open. So it goes here a bit early, two sections before starting Chapter Two. What can I do? (Aside from copy and pasting it and saving it for Part XXII (which I totally don't want to do))

This section finds Pointsman alone over Christmas but excited about his experiment with Slothrop. He's so excited that he keeps getting boners thinking about it! So is Slothrop's boner the stimulus now for Pointsman's boner? That's gay, right? Anyway, it allows Pointsman to start making puns which leads him to state this joke from the mainstream (so not smart and probably not funny because it's told by non-academic dolts): "What did the Cockney exclaim to the cowboy from San Antonio?" He doesn't give us the punchline but my guess is that it's either simply "'owdy pardner!" with a Cockney accent or whatever the rhyming slang for "Howdy partner" is. Eva Gardner, maybe? No wait. I get it. He gives the stupid answer before asking the riddle since he's spending time punning on the word "cortex" and how it can be translated to "bark" from Latin to English. So that's it. It's just "Cor, tex" (as in "Cor blimey! Me tea jus' up an kippered me pants at the car boot sale, ya berk!"). It's basically more of the Kenosha Kid way of reading things.

Maud Chilkes, a woman Pointsman has mentioned previously in his inability to flirt with her, blows him at The White Visitation Christmas party. I only mention this because it's hot and also because of this line in a paragraph that follows: "Maude knows something's up all right, the finances of PISCES pass through her hands, nothing escapes her." Hee hee. Right-o! Cor blimey!

We learn Gwenhidwy is still alive and get a bit of an update on how he's doing. Mostly it's singing and drinking. I love this bit: "He is descended directly from the Welshman in Henry V who ran around forcing people to eat his Leek." Plus he has a theory that the Big Bang was a masturbatory experience. I'm totally on board with that since it's how I described the creation of the universe in the DC Mythos based on Krona's observations of The Big Bang (see whatever comic book blog post in which I discussed this. Don't worry. There are only like 4500 of them. You'll find it in no time).

Gwenhidwy, who spends his time treating those the rockets have injured or displaced, has a paranoid theory about the city and how it grows like a living organism that has somehow chosen for the poorest, most abused of society, to be the expendable front in its defenses. The minorities and the poor have all been shunted to the east and south sides of the city because those were the places the City most feared danger or attack. From the sea or across the continent, from some Other place that is not England. That's where the east and south of London face and so that's where the City has chosen to place those it deems most expendable.

Gwenhidwy has another theory about the babies being born over the last year and how they fall, like the rockets, in a Poisson distribution. Is he suggesting they're Slothrop's kids? Probably not, right? But, I mean, why bring it up? Is it just Gwenhidwy's optimism, to point out that the constant state of universal randomness that can be measured by Mexico's statistics not only works for death but life as well?

The section ends with an allegory of bugs chewing away at the hay in Jesus' manger. Just getting on, their actions sometimes causing the other bugs to stumble and fall, with Jesus' cries off in the distance, sometimes heard and acknowledged as existing but of no real consequence to the lives below, chewing hay and getting on with it.

Harley Quinn

I'm not claiming that my blog, Eee! Tess Ate Chai Tea, is entirely responsible for the atmosphere that has led to the awesome Harley Quinn cartoon but there was an awful lot of finger banging talk in Season One, Episode Two.

So, I mean, you're all welcome.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XX

This section is about Leni, Franz's wife, Peter Sascha's lover, Ilse's mom. She's just left Franz and living in a crappy broken down building no better than a skip with a bunch of other dissidents. She has a thought which pulled me out of reading to come here and transcribe it:

"Franz is just the type they want. They know how to use that. They know how to use nearly everybody. What will happen to the ones they can't use?"

I mean, chills, right? In a way she doesn't yet realize, she's also talking about her daughter Ilse. When Ilse can't be used, she's in a camp. But when they figure out a use for her, designed to get Franz back under control when he seems to be slipping his bonds, they let her out. But those who they can't even find this small use for? Like I said, chills.

One of the aspects of Gravity's Rainbow narration style is how it almost exclusively mentions those things the character whose perspective the story is currently being told through would know. So we don't get much blatant and forthright discussion of the German death camps. We get maybe one mention of the atomic bombing of Japan. But we get reference after subtle reference to the existence and/or possibility of these things. The novel is informed by these tragedies while never really looking directly at them.

This section broke part of my mind because I realized that this book was written in 1973. So a lot of it is about 1973. Which isn't something I really thought about during the first read through and wasn't anything I thought about until reading this section. It's a commentary about the youth anti-war revolution of the 60s, right? And maybe the heart of what it's getting at is the writing on the wall: "AN ARMY OF LOVERS CAN BE BEATEN." So my mind broke because I began to realize, "I'm too far past 1973 to truly understand, on my own, without any guides, some major aspects of this book." So the part of me that sees the futility of truly understanding the majority of Pynchon's themes starts breaking in to say, "Yeah. Duh! That's why you're supposed to be making immature jokes about what you're reading! To camouflage your lack of understanding!" And then the truly stupid part of me that constantly forgets that says, "Oh yeah! Other people can point out how this section parallels the anti-war movement! Somebody else can explain who Rosa Luxemburg is and why she's mentioned! Some huge nerd can point out that Triangle D isn't a dirty reference but a Greek letter and math notation! You just enjoy the book as best you can, dumby."

There's that moment (after all the masturbation talk and then the sex with a Jewess talk that leads to masturbation (by other readers, I mean! Ahem)) when she meets with her old school friend Richard Hirsch, surprised to find he didn't die out on the front in France, which reads almost exactly as if it were a young American woman running into a friend she'd thought lost in Vietnam. The section is rife with astrology, something Leni wholeheartedly believes in. It might as well be the 60s moving on into the 70s.

Going back to the above quote, I suppose the question "What will happen to the ones they can't use?" can also be viewed in terms of the 1960s and 70s anti-war movement. How many Kent States did the politicians and soldiers actively long for? We see that even now with how much they want to run down protestors or send in the military to quash any protest criticizing police and government. It's so disturbing to see how many Americans have terrorist mindsets, especially now that so many of them have been inundated with so much propaganda.

That's not to totally let everybody off the hook though! As we'll see later, Pynchon sees in the overarching conspiracy how both sides simply wind up fighting for the rich and powerful. The bit where Pirate discovers he's working for Them whether he's with them or against them seems prophetic in this day and age and how corporations and government have infiltrated and manipulated the Green Movement for their own personal gain. Even when fighting for a better world, money and power manages to climb on top and direct the conversation.

"'Not produce,' she tried, 'not cause. It all goes along together. Parallel, not series. Metaphor. Signs and symptoms. Mapping on to different coordinate systems, I don't know . . .' She didn't know, all she was trying to do was reach."

Is this not an explanation for how to read Gravity's Rainbow itself? Every section seems almost a short story that can be read out of context with the rest of the book. Sure, it all sort of tells a linear story. But so, in a way, do all of Roger Mexico's pins in his map representing rocket strikes. There's data to be analyzed, something to be learned. But the order of the strikes doesn't really matter, do they? If only we, as readers, could read every section in parallel rather than in a series. Would something more come together?

"But he said: 'Try to design anything that way and have it work.'"

Ha ha! Did it work, Tom? Has it worked? I don't think I'm smart enough to say.

I still don't know what the significance of the colors "magenta and green" are but they stealthily poke up their heads in this chapter too in the description of the destroyed paint factory Franz worked at before moving on to rockets: ". . . paint cans exploded in great bursts of crimson and bottle-green. . . ."

We learn the history of Franz and how he came to be working on the rockets (after the paint factory burned down and he began putting up advertisements for movies that turned out to be maybe not movies at all but times and dates for the meeting of revolutionaries?) and how Leni came to leave him and went to let Peter Sascha know. In this part, we get a bit about assassinations which reminded me of the moment Omar is killed in The Wire:

"The moment of assassination is the moment when power and the ignorance of power come together, with Death as validator."

Only somebody who is ignorant of who the powerful is, of what he represents, can muster the nerve to murder them. Nobody dared go after Omar until somebody who didn't know anything about Omar decided to. It's probably exactly what happened between Caesar and Brutus too! The subject of assassination comes up because that night, Peter Sascha is trying to contact a man named Walter Rathenau, a former minister who was assassinated and whose import to one of the main themes of Gravity's Rainbow will probably be lost on first time readers. And also second time readers (which would normally be me but, well, sometimes I notice things?).

"Rathenau—according to histories—was prophet and architect of the cartelized state. From what began as a tiny bureau at the War Office in Berlin, he had coordinated Germany's economy during the World War, controlling supplies, quotas and prices, cutting across and demolishing the barriers of secrecy and property that separated firm from firm—a corporate Bismarck, before whose power no account book was too privileged, no agreement too clandestine."

A large part of the conspiracy that everybody lives under is that of The Firm, or the generalized "They." I'm pretty sure that entire conspiracy is the corporations coordinating to manipulate everything—the war, the economy, people's lives—simply to increase profits. Before this account of Rathenau, there's a minor story about how one corporation built a weapon that would blind people in a ten mile radius but they were censured by the rest of the corporations because a bomb like that would destroy the dye industry post-War. So you see, the war must be waged in a way that profits everybody, during and after!

The section ends with Rathenau's words through Peter Sascha. I don't know what it means, what any of it means! Something about the creation of plastics, maybe? It ends with this "You must ask two questions. First, what is the real nature of synthesis? And then: what is the real nature of control?" Hmm. Maybe I should think about reading a book about Gravity's Rainbow instead of Gravity's Rainbow! Because then instead of exclaiming after each paragraph, "Duh!", maybe I'll be able to exclaim, "Aha!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XIX

Carroll Eventyr finally gets his own section. Or part of a section seeing as how Pynchon loves to start a section from one character's point of view and then slip into the memory of another character when the first character remembers an experience they had with that new character and then that character has a memory of another character whose point of view we wind up slipping into.

That's a thing that happens, right? I'm not just a terrible reader? Am I?!

Well, that question is answered almost immediately as the point of view shifts to Nora Dodson-Truck observing Carroll in the memory of Carroll's medium powers first expressing themselves. She didn't quite catch who was coming through, nor remembered exactly what was said, but she recognized something spiritual happening because she immediately took a sidewalk artist's ochre chalk and drew a pentagram around her and Carroll.

Back to Carroll, he suspects that, perhaps, his sudden psychic powers expressed themselves as a way to keep Nora close to him (apparently they were engaged in an affair). Had he felt her slipping away and in an effort to keep her close, he called up "the control" (Peter Sascha, the voice, or spirit, on the other side that helps facilitate meetings with certain people passed on).

Carroll's drama with Nora, simply hinted at in the beginning of this short tale, careens into descriptions of the paranormal characters at The White Visitation. These general descriptions of the powers of the various people eventually focuses on Gavin Trefoil and his ability to change his skin color from albino white to a dark, purplish black. Speculation on how this could work scientifically turns into a mini-play (written by Rollo Groast to his father? Or just imagined by the narrator? Or by us, the readers?) about how the cells in the Central Nervous System react to becoming cells in the epidermis. It becomes an allegory of life and death on the human level, and the possibility of ascending to a heaven, an old home to be called back to. But which, ultimately, must remain theoretical, a dream, a fantasy, because no messages are ever sent back by those who pass on.

And now we see them, Nora and Carroll, together in their intimacy, in Nora's power, in Carroll's fear. Nora uses all those at The White Visitation as windows to something past the world we know. She tries to see something, some "Outer Radiance," but gets back nothing, time and time again. She has become empty in that search. Maybe, once, she used them for hope. But now she just uses them, cynically, to reiterate the Zero, to show her, again and again, that no matter what their powers profess to explain, she witnesses nothing. Nothing at all.

This is a complicated section featuring characters we never really learn a whole lot about. So I'm speculating wildly here with what textual evidence I'm able to comprehend!

Nora can't believe but it doesn't keep each of them from trying to convince her, to impress her with their abilities. Cherrycoke, the psychometrist, speaks of visions he sees when touching objects owned by other people. Over and over, he tells Nora things he should not know about her and yet she expresses her denials, no matter how accurate his guesses.

But Cherrycoke does get visions. His visions of St. Blaise's encounter with an angel on a bombing run the most substantial proof of his gifts. Nobody but St. Blaise and his wingman knew of this event but Cherrycoke picked up on it. St. Blaise believed it was a trick, Cherrycoke's divination of this event. But he couldn't have known from anybody else because the wingman was dead. And so Carroll Eventyr decided to reach out across the gap to this dead man, to certify what Cherrycoke had discovered.

The wingman's name is Terence Overbaby. Does anybody in academia know definitively how Pynchon picked his characters' names because this is getting ridiculous!

When Carroll tries to contact Terence, we, the readers, get a short biography of Peter Sascha, Carroll's spirit control. A medium himself, killed in 1930 by a blow from a police man, he used to do readings and séances for high ranking officials. One of them was Weissman, just back from Africa with his Herero aide (Enzian). Also at these functions, for his drugs (used in various paranormal ways, I suppose?), was Wimpe, the chemist who "befriends" Enzian's half-brother, Tchitcherine. These are connections I absolutely would not have made the first time reading this book.

During this scene at Sascha's séance, a man named Walter Asch has something happen to him. As each of the people at the event watch, they all interpret it in various ways. This theme, that we all interpret a "text" based on our own biases and experiences, we've seen previously in the way the members of The White Visitation viewed Slothrop's ability to predict rocket impacts with his hard-on. In these interpretations, we first experience a point of view through Enzian's eyes.

A new moment now, an interaction between Roger Mexico and Edward Treacle about needing to study death and the afterlife in order to understand life, since they are two sides of one conversation. Edward brings up the Herero as a culture who take it as gospel that they constantly speak with their dead.

Finally, we learn that Peter Sascha was in love with Leni Pökler, separated wife of Franz Pökler who worked on the rocket with Weissman, mother of Ilse, the young woman who would spend her life in a camp, only allowed short visits to go with her father to Zwölfkinder (if it was actually Ilse at all, of course!).

And that's it! Once again, just a lot of plot summary as I try to wrap my head around as much of this stuff as I can. Mostly so it's all in there when I need it for later sections when all of this information is referenced!