Thursday, August 22, 2002

...from a letter to a fellow pynchonoid today:

Not to boast, but it's a fact, I had the most books checked out on a library card in the history of the Camp Howze library (6 clicks along the MSR from Panmunjom, R.O.K., helping the mechanized infantry roll out on the frontier of freedom, land of the morning calm), stretching back to the '50s (I think, that's the factoid I recall anyway, this foggy Bay evening). Not that there were ever very many customers, so it wasn't much of a competition. It was the only place on base that was air conditioned, which made it a very attractive spot during the warm and humid months (there were many; I was there from early January until nearly Christmas 1973), but that was, apparently, a well-kept secret, or maybe nobody was interested, not hard to understand given that the standard barracks reading fare (Playboy, comic books) had no place in the library. The library was almost always empty, quiet and cool (and this was a base where it was generally pretty easy, and common, to sneak away from work and goof). I managed to get down there everyday, on the pretext of running some errand or other -- I was Company Clerk, plenty of reasons to be cruising around the base. I was a draftee, too, and therefore not expected to take things very seriously from the get-go.

I still kick myself for not stealing the copy of GR I found there. Crisp and new, it appeared on the shelf around mid-summer, late June or July, which meant it was more or less hot off the press, a first edition worth a lot of money now. But who knew? That was my first introduction to Pynchon . So I left it there when I came stateside again. For all I know, it may still be there. I haven't been back.

That summer -- in the heat, dodging mosquitos, flying on cheap weed and O.J.'s, Gravity's Rainbow spoke to me. I had the experience I've heard other Pynchon lovers describe, that peerless voice talking to me in a way that no other author had before (or since), in my time and place, about so many things that seemed real and vital to me. Part of what Pynchon does for me is to capture much of the particular experience of growing up early in the Boomer years, getting across in his books -- Gravity's Rainbow especially -- a lot of the feeling of the late 30s and especially the 40s (when he was a kid) that I got by osmosis ( listening to them talk and their music, and the movies they loved, etc.) with my parents (father born in '22, mother in '33) , then the '50s I know myself from when I was a kid (born in '52), but he puts it through a '60s kaleidoscope that really brings it home to me in a perspective that reverberates with some of my own coming-of-age experiences -- being in the military, especially, peacetime, more or less, Army, and ever-grateful that they stopped sending draftees to Vietnam about the time I was finishing boot camp at Fort Ord, Monterrey, California -- although the day I shipped out to Korea, a crew came through Oakland Army Base where we were waiting for the bus to Travis Air Force Base, looking for clerks, cooks, and carpenters to send to Vietnam that day, so I spent the day hiding in the bathrooms,one step ahead of getting shanghai'd...

...but, that's another story altogether...

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Heard a thought-provoking (fleeting though the thoughts -- triggered by the notes of sadness and creative joy in Mda's voice as he talked about his work and its origins -- prove to have been, washed away in the flood of work on my own, far-less-interesting, unfortunately, book today) interview with Zakes Mda, author of the new novel, The Heart of Redness , on NPR's Morning Edition this morning. Echoes of Heart of Darkness, and Gravity's Rainbow.

Monday, August 19, 2002

Kekulé's nightmare:

A cobra bit a sleeping woman. She sank her teeth into it and threw it away. The snake went limp and died.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Of these cool Pynchon pix, I still like Pynchon the sailorman the best.

"Later on their bones were fished up again and made
into charcoal, and charcoal into ink, which Angelo,
having a dark sense of humor, used in all his subsequent
communications with Faggio, the present document
The Crying of Lot 49

"In January, two investigators from the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights had argued their way into the nearby Sheberghan prison. What they saw shocked them. More than 3,000 Taliban prisoners—who had surrendered to the victorious Northern Alliance forces at the fall of Konduz in late November—were crammed, sick and starving, into a facility with room for only 800. The Northern Alliance commander of the prison acknowledged the charnel-house conditions, but pleaded that he had no money. He begged the PHR to send food and supplies, and to ask the United Nations to dig a well so the prisoners could drink unpolluted water.

But stories of a deeper horror came from the prisoners themselves. However awful their conditions, they were the lucky ones. They were alive. Many hundreds of their comrades, they said, had been killed on the journey to Sheberghan from Konduz by being stuffed into sealed cargo containers and left to asphyxiate. Local aid workers and Afghan officials quietly confirmed that they had heard the same stories. They confirmed, too, persistent reports about the disposal of many of the dead in mass graves at Dasht-e Leili.

[...] How many are buried at Dasht-e Leili? Haglund won’t speculate. “The only thing we know is that it’s a very large site,” says a U.N. official privy to the investigation, and there was “a high density of bodies in the trial trench.” Other sources who have investigated the killings aren’t surprised. “I can say with confidence that more than a thousand people died in the containers,” says Aziz ur Rahman Razekh, director of the Afghan Organization of Human Rights. NEWSWEEK’s extensive inquiries of prisoners, truckdrivers, Afghan militiamen and local villagers—including interviews with survivors who licked and chewed each other’s skin to stay alive—suggest also that many hundreds of people died.

[...] The killings illustrate the problems America will face if it opts to fight wars by proxy, as the United States did in Afghanistan, using small numbers of U.S. Special Forces calling in air power to support local fighters on the ground. It also raises questions about the responsibility Americans have for the conduct of allies who may have no —interest in applying protections of the Geneva Conventions. The benefit in fighting a proxy-style war in Afghanistan was victory on the cheap—cheap, at any rate, in American blood. The cost, NEWSWEEK’s investigation has established, is that American forces were working intimately with “allies” who committed what could well qualify as war crimes."

The Death Convoy of Afghanistan, Newsweek magazine, 26 August 2002