Friday, December 31, 2004

A.Word.A.Day--pinguid

pinguid (PING-gwid) adjective

Fat; greasy; unctuous.

[From Latin pinguis (fat).]

"But after losing two stones, he (Andrew Roberts) has shucked off his old nickname of 'the pinguid Thatcherite historian'." Sholto Byrnes; Pandora; Independent (London, UK); Feb 12, 2003.

"Turner always said that the news had to be the star for CNN to flourish--though he had a curious loyalty to pinguid idolator Larry King." Phil Rosenthal; What the Bleep?; Chicago Sun-Times; Feb 10, 2003.

This week's theme: words to describe people.

See also: Peter Penguid in The Crying of Lot 49


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

round up the usual octopus quotes

It was a May-December romance that really had legs: Young Aurora, a female giant octopus and her aging cephalopod suitor J-1 were thrown together for a blind date seven months ago by aquarists who hoped the two would mate. By all appearances, their fling was a success, and Aurora began dribbling long strings of eggs down the sides of her tank the following month. Though her sweetheart died of old age in September, the pitter-patter of tiny tentacles seemed close at hand.
.... read it all: Octopus Doesn't Give Up on Motherhood

Random octopus graphic:

"Octopus - The River
from their mega-rare debut album, Restless Night, released in 1970"

See also: 14 references to octopus in Gravity's Rainbow and octopus porn.

Friday, December 03, 2004

the haunted mansion of an underground past

from: Growing Up in the Weather Underground: A Father and Son Tell Their Story Democracy Now!, 3 December 2004:
THAI JONES: Well it starts on a night that my parents were arrested. We were sitting around, it was World Series time, we had just had dinner and the telephone in the apartment rang and because we were underground, no one had that number. That phone had basically never rung in about the six months we had lived there. And Jeff picked it up and it was an F.B.I. Agent and he said, “We have the building surrounded. We have sharpshooters on the rooftops and in a few seconds, the F.B.I. Is going to knock on your door.” So Jeff turned to Eleanor and said, “We are busted.”

AMY GOODMAN: Eleanor is your mom?

THAI JONES: Eleanor is my mom. The next thing I knew, there was banging on the door. About 20 fully armored swat, F.B.I. And police officers with M16's and shotguns stormed you this the house. They took Jeff out into the hallway and made him crawl down the hallway. What I remember is that there was a moment in all this sort of craziness when people had forgotten about me and I went down to my little bedroom at the end of the hall and I was sort of looking through my belongings to see if I could find some way to help out. And I just had this feeling of, you know, I had like a cowboy hat, I had some stuffed animals, I had a little pair of child's safety scissors, so I just remember feeling helpless and I went back out and just stood with Jeff in the hallway. And I had no idea what was happening. I had no idea that our family was different. I mean I knew that we had had different names but I had never questioned that. And so this book is sort of about exploring how that came about.

Vineland, p. 114:
So into it and then on Prairie followed, a girl in a haunted mansion, led room to room, sheet to sheet, by the peripheral whiteness, the earnest whisper, of her mother's ghost.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

that duck



Vaucanson's Duck



From The Guitarist Is Metal. No, Not Heavy Metal by Michael Beckerman, New York Times, 30 November 2004:
GuitarBot claims its ancestor not in the golem - which, after all, has decidedly human characteristics - but in the ingenious automated machines of the last three centuries. In the mid-18th century, the Maillardet brothers created an astonishing writer-draftsman that could write poetry and do amazing drawings of ships and buildings. Around the same time, Jacques de Vaucanson created his famous defecating duck, which could eat, digest and all the rest. He also created a flute-playing android, which offered 12 tunes, perhaps an ancestor of the robot that recently conducted Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in Tokyo. While audiences may be titillated by the prospect of seeing such devices and their descendants do "human" things, Mr. Singer and Mr. Adamson have something else in mind. Mr. Adamson, in particular, is more concerned with technical issues and the ability of machines to do things that humans cannot accomplish.

Mason & Dixon, p. 374:
"Agreed, you must consider how best to defend yourself,-- wear clothing it cannot bite through, leather, or what's even more secure, chain-mail,-- its Beak being of the finest Swedish Steel, did I mention that, yes quite qable, when the Duck, in its homicidal Frenzy, is flying at high speed, to penetrate all known Fortification, solid walls being as paper to this Juggernaut.… One may cower within, but one cannot avoid,-- le Bec de la Mort, the…'Beak of Death.'"

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

black/white

From review of Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experience of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans and African Americans in the Nazi Era by Clarence Lusane:
Lusane investigates Nazi policy towards blacks, the Nazi sterilization program directed at blacks, black captives of the Nazis, Nazi propaganda against blacks, the Nazi response to jazz, their reaction to black athletes, and blacks in the resistance movement. Several recurring themes inform these chapters. First, Lusane stresses the Nazis' differential treatment of differently situated black groups and individuals. Though many blacks tried to leave and some Africans and other expatriates succeeded, the Nazis confiscated Afro-Germans' passports, and the British prevented natives of Southwest Africa from returning because they had fought with Germany in World War I. However, blacks in Germany were never targeted for elimination or even systematic harassment. In general, Africans were better treated than Afro-Germans, since the Nazis foresaw they would need African assistance should Germany regain its colonies. The Nazis also employed Afro-Germans in the German film industry to portray Africans in colonial propaganda films made mostly between 1938 and 1943. Lusane can document the presence of blacks (imprisoned for other reasons) in concentration and labor camps as well as black GIs in POW camps. Otherwise, Afro-Germans were mobilized for the war effort like the rest of the German population. Some even belonged to the Hitler Youth and served in the German army--but were also compulsorily sterilized. Lusane declares, "the preference to address the problem by sterilization of some would be as coherent as the Nazi policies ever got regarding Afro-Germans and Africans" (p. 99). Since Nazi sterilization law, promulgated in 1934, did not allow sterilization based solely on race, the Nazis undertook the sterilizations in secret. At least 385 Rhineland children were sterilized between 1935 and 1937, a gradual strategy that, Lusane argues, nonetheless "sought to erase any future blackness on German soil" (p. 142).

[...] Hitler's failure to shake hands with victorious African American athletes, including Jesse Owens, in the 1936 Olympics was cited by the U.S. press as evidence of racial views that Americans should oppose (though, as the black press pointed out, the black athletes confronted similar racist views in the United States). Though, because they considered it both Jewish _and_ black, the Nazis opposed and prohibited jazz on principle, its popularity compelled various Nazi concessions, including unsuccessful attempts to create more acceptable German jazz and "swinging" German radio music. German swing movements and jazz clubs constituted a form of cultural, though rarely political, resistance to the Nazis. Lusane can also document that jazz was performed at Auschwitz, Flossenburg, and Theresienstadt as well as at some POW camps. Lusane has perused many black U.S. newspapers of the period and reveals the black press's attentiveness to developments in Germany, its concern about the rise of National Socialism, and its condemnation of Hitler's policies towards Jews and blacks.

Finally, Lusane seems committed to saving little-known figures of the black diaspora from historical oblivion by recounting their individual encounters with National Socialism. These figures range from Hans Massaquoi, son of the Liberian ambassador to Germany who survived the Nazi era to become an _Ebony_ editor, to the "enigmatic" (p. 122) Lonnie Lawrence Dennis, mixed-race U.S. writer, diplomat, and businessman, who seems to have admired Hitler, embraced anti-Semitism, and advocated for fascism. William Marcus Baarn, a black nightclub singer from Dutch Guinea, even served as a Nazi spy. Some blacks, like the composer Elmer Spyglass in Frankfurt (perhaps protected by his African American affiliation), lived comfortably in Germany throughout the Nazi period. Other blacks in Germany opposed the Nazis. Joseph Bile of Cameroon published a letter in a black U.S. newspaper pleading for black U.S. solidarity with blacks in Germany. Hilarius Gilgus was an Afro-German labor organizer and an early Nazi victim, killed by the SS in Düsseldorf at the age of twenty-four. Mohamed Husen from German East Africa served with the Germans in World War I, appeared in numerous colonial films, but was eventually convicted of _Rassenschande_ and sent to Sachsenhausen, where he died in 1943. Jean Johnny Voste from the Belgian Congo was active in the Belgian resistance movement and survived Dachau. Joseph Nassy from Surinam, a black Jew, was captured in Belgium and sent to an internment camp in Bavaria where he could teach art and also produce sketches, drawings, and paintings now in the holdings of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Johnny Williams, son of an Alsatian father and a mother from the Ivory Coast, discovered his "splendid voice" (p. 165) in the Neuengamme camp and went on to a successful singing career after the war. Johnny Nicholas, originally from Haiti, was captured as an Allied spy in France and sent to various camps, where he survived by working as a doctor. Lusane regrets he has little information about black women but does try to reconstruct the story of the jazz trumpeter Valaida Snow, who may have been interned in a Nazi camp in Denmark. It is not exactly clear what can be concluded from these disparate experiences, but Lusane has certainly successfully documented a black presence in Germany and Europe during the Nazi era and pointed the way towards many potentially fruitful research areas.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 62:
We want to talk some more about Boston today, Slothrop. You recall that last time we were talking about the Negroes, in Roxbury. Now we know it's not all that comfortable for you, but do try, won't you.

consider the miserable life of the pig




From A.Word.A.Day today:
There's a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig -- an animal easily as intelligent as a dog -- that becomes the Christmas ham. -Michael Pollan, professor and writer (1955- )


Gravity's Rainbow p. 555:
William must have been waiting for the one pig that wouldn't die, that would validate all the ones who'd had to, all his Gadarene swine who'd rushed into extinction like lemmings, possessed not by demons but by trust for men, which the men kept betraying … possessed by innocence they couldn't lose … by faith in William as another variety of pig, at home with the Earth, sharing the same gift of life.…



Monday, November 29, 2004

the new temperance

This passage from The New Temperance: The American Obsession with Sin and Vice, by David Wagner, quoted in a MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) email today, reminds me of the way certain reactionary elements on PYNCHON-L critique Vineland, demonizing the novel's portrayal of '60s counter-culture from the same Reagan Administration perspective that the novel undermines so thoroughly:
Demonizing the 1960s

It is not coincidental that advocates of the New Temperance have so strongly attacked behavior that they claim was at the heart of the "excesses" of the 1960s. The war on drugs and on many forms of sexuality has been fought as much for its symbolic value (i.e., as part of a strategy of eradicating the mythologized "60s") as for any of its more manifest purposes. Writing late in his life, Richard Nixon forcefully pointed us back to Woodstock as a symbolic reason for continuing the war on drugs: "Even today, when most of the prestige media have managed to crowd onto the anti-drug bandwagon, they could not help indulging in a revolting orgy of nostalgia during the twentieth anniversary of Woodstock. The smarmy retrospectives glossed over the fact that Woodstock's only significant legacy was the glorification of dangerous illegal drugs.... To erase the grim legacy of Woodstock, we need a total war against drugs."

Similarly, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was fond of attacking the sexual doctrines of the 1960s, holding promiscuity and free love responsible for the AIDS epidemic and the widespread child sexual abuse reported during the 1980s: "We are reaping what was sown in the 1960s. The fashionable theories and permissiveness claptrap set the scene for a society in which the old virtues of discipline and self-restraint were denigrated."

The historical events of the "60s" (in actuality including much of the 1970s) have been repainted in dangerous and frightening hues. Consider this vitriolic comment by conservative historian Joseph Conlin regarding the "60s" lifestyle: " [L]ife in the New Age communes of the 1960s and 1970s . . . [was like living in] 'garbage dumps' and 'hells': children smeared in their own filth for days, hysterical under the LSD given to
pacify them.... [V]enereal infection, pneumonia, influenza, and the unprimitive affliction of hepatitis reached disastrous proportions."

For many people alive at the time of the 1960s counterculture, this sinister and bizarre reconfiguration of history has a clear agenda of vilification. Of course, not everything that occurred in this (or any other) time period was positive or worth repeating. But the presence of a few dirty and sick children on a commune somewhere by no means sums up the reality of this period, any more than conservatives of the time were correct in summing up the French Revolution as primarily about terrorism
and guillotine practice. The popular movie Forest Gump similarly portrays 1960s "long-hair radicals" as violent and misogynist, and the movie hero must save his girlfriend from their abuse. Perhaps there were a few more people of this sort than I was ever aware of in the late 1960s, but it is still absurd to portray "60s"-style radicalism in this way. If anything, the image of the peaceful hippie flashing a peace sign would be closer to the mood of the times. In short, the retrospective portrayal of the "60s" has little to do with veracity. Rather, it is an attempt to take the essence of the social and cultural revolution of the 1960s and convert it to one primarily of sin and vice.

[...] I make no claim of originality in drawing a connection between the mandatory drug testing of the current period and the McCarthyism of the 1950s. As early as 1986 a leader of the Civil Liberties Union called drug testing a "form of social McCarthyism aimed at getting rid of people who won't buy the line. It's a step away from an authoritarian society." In addition, writer Ellen Willis has observed a link between the drug test and the loyalty oath: "The purpose of this '80s version of the loyalty oath is less to deter drug use than to make people undergo a humiliating ritual of subordination: 'When I say pee, you pee."'

[...] The urine test - along with mandatory sentencing and other severe behavioral controls central to the drug war is a power strategy that mirrors the "personal is political" radicalism of the 1960s. It takes seriously the proposition that those who resist the dictates of power, whether or not such resistance is framed as "political" in the conventional sense, are enemies and are undermining production, public order, and rationality. Like the loyalty oath and the "naming of names," the policing of everyday lifewhich in schools, for example, focuses on behaviors such as smoking, speech, and sexuality requires Americans, from an early age on, to comply with the norms of the powerful without asking questions, and to accept the right of the state and corporate power to hold their bodies captive. Ultimately, it is not important whether drug testing finds traces of a drug in a student's urine or if locker searches turn up cigarettes or guns or pornographic literature. Rather, it is the policing itself that makes the point about who is in control.

Another key point about the role of the New Temperance in symbolically eradicating the "60s" is its constant use against members of the baby boom generation, particularly those who might be charged with having some relationship to the social movements of that period. It is not coincidental that Democratic Party politicians from Gary Hart to Bill Clinton have come under relentless questioning about their sexuality, prior drug use, and past participation in political demonstrations (although some Republicans such as former Supreme Court justice nominee Arthur Ginsburg have been caught in the net as well). Reminiscent of McCarthyism's "Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?" questions, political leaders (and many potential civic, corporate, and bureaucratic leaders) are now asked "Are you now or have you ever been a '60s'-style person?" That is, did you use drugs, engage in nonmarital sex, attend anti-war rallies, or burn a flag?

As in the ritualized hearings of the 1950s, most members of the 1960s generation either admit guilt and purge themselves of sin or minimize their past guilt ("I didn't inhale") and promise future clean living. To some extent, liberals and former leftists have been forced, far more than conservatives and moderate politicians born before the baby boom, to actively repudiate the 1960s. And like many liberals in the late 1940s and 1950s who dissociated themselves from communism, they have, for the most part, happily obliged. Some sociologists studying the drug war, for example, have observed that, in the election campaigns of 1986 and 1988, liberal Democrats hammered home the attack on drugs far more than Republicans did, and charged government leaders with being "soft on drugs."

The reason that Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gary Hart, George McGovern, Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, and other leaders or public figures must constantly answer McCarthyite questions about the 1960s, and reveal their views on issues like drugs and sex, is that their opinions on these issues and their distance from the tradition of the 1960s are considered a measure of their respectability and readiness to accept political, corporate, and civic leadership. Conversely, there is little reason to question the Bob Doles and Dan Quayles whose loyalty to dominant norms has never been in doubt. But among those who have had any association with the dreaded "60s," only a repudiation of both the politics and the culture of the times is deemed acceptable by the media and political elites as a measure of their potential to serve as responsible leaders.

Novelist Sol Yurick captures the sense of this constant need to repress the 1960s: "[T]he 60s, like some compulsive recurrent nightmare[,] still persists in the consciousness of the ruling elites. They must exorcise and reexorcise it, demand acts of contrition, to ask of its adherents that they confess that they were possessed by the devil.... We are asked to admit, once and for all, . . . [that we] were wrong, to make
penance and obeisance, to hypostatize those sins into those devils now on trial."

Vineland, p. 313:
"Just please go careful, Zoyd. 'Cause soon they're gonna be coming after everything, not just drugs, but beer, cigarettes, sugar, salt, fat, you name it, anything that could remotely please any of your senses, because they need to control all that. And they will."

Friday, November 26, 2004

werewolf

From Nazi Defendants Venting by William Grimes, New York Times, 26 November 2004, review of The Nuremberg Interviews: An American Psychiatrist's Conversations With the Defendants and Witnesses:
In 1946, Leon Goldensohn, an Army psychiatrist, was handed the assignment of a lifetime. Six weeks into the Nuremberg trials, he was put in charge of the 21 imprisoned defendants, responsible for assessing their mental health and determining, in the words of a colleague, "what made those Nazis tick." ....The evasive verbal maneuvers of Oswald Pohl, in particular, roused his blood. Pohl, who ran the concentration camp system, struggled mightily to explain that one could administer a system without actually being responsible for what occurred in it. "About the murder of the five million Jews, I had nothing whatever to do with it," he said. " The fact that I was in charge of all the concentration camps in Germany from 1942 until the end is beside the point."




"Blicero had grown on, into another animal . . . a werewolf . . . but with no humanity left in its eyes: that had faded out, day after day, and been replaced by gray furrows, red veins in patterns that weren't human." [Gravity's Rainbow, 486]

Monday, November 22, 2004

the ultimate rocket builder




Wernher von Braun with John Glenn, left (credit: NASA)

As part of the 35th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, NASA reprinted a small book titled Apollo: A Retrospective. It is a collection of documents relating to discussions and decisions made before and during the Apollo program, and serves as a reference to those who want more information about the thought processes of decision makers that led up to that day in July 1969. One document in particular, Wernher von Braun’s concluding remarks from an all-day meeting on June 7th, 1962, sheds light on an early, critical decision in the Apollo program: which method should America use to land humans on the Moon? The author captured the document in electronic format (the book version is typewritten with sections underlined by hand, and an Internet search did not reveal a copy on the Web. If there is one, don’t tell me), and it can be found here.

Imagine the scene: A smoke-filled room at Marshall Space Flight Center, with representatives of every specialty at Marshall present. Dr. Joseph Shea, the Deputy Director (Systems) of the Office of Manned Space Flight, has been hearing presentations for the last six hours. The American effort to reach the Moon has been scattered, with various centers pushing their own method of accomplishing President Kennedy’s goal, and the diffuse effort is hampering real progress towards that goal. Throughout the day, executives from Marshall present their ideas as to why Earth Orbit Rendezvous is the way to go to the Moon, despite a rising tide of opinion throughout NASA that there may be better, faster ways.

Wernher von Braun was a rocket builder. In many ways, he was the ultimate rocket builder.

Then, the time comes for Dr. von Braun to speak. Wernher von Braun, the German ex-patriot who ran the Nazi ballistic missile effort starting at 25 years of age. The man who, while always dreaming of building rockets and spacecraft for journeys to the Moon, put those dreams on hold while at the same time allowing them to come true as he worked to build the first large rocket, knowing that it would be used to rain terror on the people of London. After World War 2, seeing that exploration was not yet a priority, he stayed with military programs for the United States, building missiles to carry nuclear warheads for the next envisioned war in Europe. Once the US consolidated its peacetime space efforts under one agency, his goal came closer to reality.

Wernher von Braun was a rocket builder. In many ways, he was the ultimate rocket builder. When asked his opinion of how America should tackle the goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, his plans involved building many rockets to assemble a craft in Earth orbit (a plan known as Earth Orbit Rendezvous, EOR) or to build a massive rocket and blast directly to the surface of the moon (Direct Ascent).
...read it all: Decision point by Tom Hill, The Space Review

...But no mention in that glorifying account (nor in the 1962 meeting, pynchonoid bets) of von Braun's knowledge that slave labor - individual people who suffered and died - built the V2:
Pokler helped with his own blindness. He knew about Nordhausen, and the Dora camp: he could see--the starved bodies, the eyes of the foreign prisoners being marched to work at four in the morning in the freezing cold and darkness, the shuffling thousands in their striped uniforms. [Gravity's Rainbow, p. 428]

Sunday, November 21, 2004

flushing out Slothrop

While still under the influence of sodium amytal at PISCES, Slothrop imagines himself slithering down a toilet at the Roseland Ballroom in order to escape Malcolm X and a “dark gang of awful Negroes”[2] who are attempting to sodomize him.  However, while he avoids anal penetration at the hands of Malcolm X and his cohorts, Slothrop’s trip down the pipes forces him to face the byproducts of anal expulsion that fill the sewage lines.  Slothrop thus deflects the site of danger from his own “virgin asshole”[3] to the filth produced by the assholes of others—including his Harvard acquaintances and his African-American pursuers.  The racial images that pervade his dream indicate that Slothrop associates the proliferation of shit with the encroachment of social spaces he hopes to maintain as distinct.  However, the more Slothrop endeavors to avoid his drug-induced phantasms, the more he finds himself engulfed in excremental space.  He immerses himself in the realm of filth, and must contend with “toilet paper in his hair and a fuzzy thick dingleberry lodged up inside his right nostril.”[4]  His plunge generates both fears and desires:  the prospect of homosexual activity with the “awful Negroes” repulses and entices him, as we learn when the narrator muses that Slothrop’s vision in the sewage pipes may have arisen out of a latent wish “to be sodomized, unimaginably, by a gigantic black ape.”[5]  Furthermore, Pynchon portrays the blackness, disorder, and vulnerability that Slothrop discovers in the toilet as a potential site of refuge from the even more threatening triad of “Strength, Stability, and Whiteness”[6] that stands for the rocket cartel and its seemingly ubiquitous cohorts, who have initiated Slothrop’s psychological evaluation.  Shit opens a space of narrative chaos in GR that both overwhelms and beckons to Slothrop,[7]  who initially battles the excrementally-infused Other of his vision, and later locates in the chaotic world of blackness tentative possibilities for hope.

...read it all: Scatology and the Postmodern Subject: Tyrone Slothrop's Excremental Encounters in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. (Thanks to Dave Monroe for posting the link to PYNCHON-L.)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

going native

A search for "Pynchon" in a test-drive of the new Google Scholar service pulled up this interesting-looking article: "Going Native: Representations of Egypt in Thomas Pynchon's 'Under the Rose'" by Keita Hatooka. You can download a .pdf of the article, too. Many, many pages of "Pynchon" search results at the new site.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

aping the anonymous Pynchon

From What writer today can ape Pynchon and make a virtue of anonymity? by Cristina Odone, in the Guardian:
Yet which writer today can afford to ape J D Salinger and Thomas Pynchon, who have made a virtue of anonymity? When Jonathan Franzen refused to play the marketing media game and go on Oprah to sell his The Corrections, he was accused of intellectual snobbery and derided for his antiquated values. In a way his critics are right. Who would content themselves with reaching an elite few when, by playing the game, they can get their message across to the multitudes? From Simon Schama to David Starkey, contemporary intellectuals have enthusiastically embraced the challenge of reaching the widest possible audience - even while knowing that in so doing they compromise their academic integrity. The days when a clutch of intellectuals sat around the Academy and listened only to one another have long gone. Surely that makes it worth compressing your book into a 90-second plug?

Zappa & Pynchon



photo credit: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis


Camille Paglia's review, 'Zappa': Freak Out! of Barry Miles' new book, Zappa: A Biography in today's New York Times, highlights some possible intersections of the two artists.

According to Paglia's review, Zappa shares at least one musical interest with Pynchon (he has written about the "cheerfully deranged world" of Jones' music) :
Zappa was interested in sound for its own sake -- as in the cowbells and car horns of Spike Jones's recordings.
It would be interesting to know if Pynchon crossed paths with Zappa or any of these folks while he was in Lower California. Chances are if he had, somebody would have kissed and told by now. (The Amazon.com page for Miles' biography doesn't yet include the "Search Inside This Book" tool that would let a browser search for references to Pynchon in the text, or in the index, unfortunately.)
As Miles chronicles Zappa's serendipitous progress toward his first recordings, we get a fascinating panorama of the 1960's counterculture in Southern California, where folk music was cross-fertilizing with hard rock. The cast of characters includes the Byrds and the Doors as well as Grace Slick, Eric Clapton, Eric Burdon and Mick Jagger, who drop by or hang out to jam in the cabins and cottages in the overgrown canyons outside Los Angeles. Miles's description of the bizarre scene, with its squatters, transients and hordes of eager groupies, vividly captures that magic creative moment.

Like Pynchon in his early writings (as he admits in the introduction to his story collection, Slow Learner , Zappa apparently had his challenges when it came to the way he treated women:
Miles, who knew Zappa, often seems ambivalent about him. There is a gap between the ''juvenile and prurient'' Zappa he describes and the one we see in the book's sensational photographs, which show a man of burning magnetism and piercing intellect. Miles calls Zappa a ''cold nihilist'' who felt no real emotions for anyone. Along with ''cynicism and misanthropy,'' he detects Catholic guilt and ''deep-seated problems with women.'' Zappa was ''stuck in a 50's time warp'' -- yet the bold feminist Germaine Greer was a Zappa fan.

Then there's that S&M thread:
Whatever the meaning of the S-and-M and fetish imagery in his songs (a theme that makes Miles squirm), the picture painted here of Zappa's family life is troubling. When not touring (which he loved to do -- Miles calls him a ''road rat''), Zappa spent 10 to 18 hours a day holed up in his cavernous basement studio in his Tudor mansion in the Hollywood Hills. He was a born tinkerer and a groundbreaker in early digital production.

Pynchon and Zappa don't seem to share the same opinion re drugs, and Zappa doesn't seem to have enjoyed the same kind of relationship with his children that Pynchon is said to enjoy with his:
Addicted to black coffee and cigarettes (he was fiercely antidrugs), he slept during the day and saw little of his family. His second wife, Gail, said, ''Frank did not do love.'' When she was 13, Moon Unit slipped a note under the studio door to ''introduce'' herself and her ideas. The result was the hit song ''Valley Girl,'' a phenomenon when it was released in 1982. Because he thought formal education a waste of time, Zappa took his children out of school at 15 and refused to pay for college.

Link to First Chapter: Zappa: A Biography

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

don't miss the spectacular Toiletship exhibit!

7 November to 19 November 2004 - World Toilet Summit 2004

THE WORLD OF TOILETS CONGREGATE IN BEIJING, CHINA

The World Toilet Summit will be held in Beijing, China from 17th Nov. to 19th Nov. 2004. The theme of this Summit is: Human, Environment & Living. Centered on this theme, workshops will be organized on such hot topics as: humanized toilet, the popularization of the environmental toilet, toilet management and hygiene, toilet designing and energy-saving measures and so on. Visitors will be arranged to see the achievements of the toilet constructions in Beijing in recent years. We warmly welcome the participation of organizations, groups, individuals from various countries and regions of the world, who are dedicated themselves to the development of the world toilets. And discuss the trend of the world toilet development and show to the world the latest toilet technology. [...]

A Preview on World Toilet Summit 2004

Summit Highlights:

A Global Perspective - Relationship between Toilets & Quality of Human Life

World Class Tourism & Toilets

Entrepreneurship: Social & Economic Returns on Investments

Maintenance - Good Toilets Improve Heartland Community Living

Design - The Challenges and Considerations in Establishing the Code of Practice for Toilets.

Catering to the diversity of Culture - toilets for different cultures

Water Conservation: The Cost Effective Use of a Valuable Resource, Water

Toilet - The Past, Present and Future of Public Toilets in Beijing

Many more….

Wide ranging toilet-related topics covered by the Experts!

Benefit from an interesting mix of plenary sessions covering in-depth situational studies and invaluable experiences from not less than 25 international and
local speakers on Tourism, Design, Maintenance, Water Conservation, and Challenges and Considerations of the Toilet Code of Practice!

Network, exchange and share ideas, knowledge and skills with industry experts and your peers from around the world

Celebrate World Toilet Day on 19 November 2004!

In-depth situational studies?

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 448:
When emptied of people, the interior is steel gray. When crowded, it's green, a comfortable acid green. Sunlight comes in through portholes in the higher of the bulkheads (the Rücksichtslos here lists at a permanent angle of 23# 27'), and steel washbowls line the lower bulkheads. At the end of each sub-latrine are coffee messes and hand-cranked peep shows. You'll find all the older, less glamorous, un-Teutonic-looking women in the enlisted men's machines. The real stacked and more racially golden tomatoes go to the officers, natürlich. This is some of that Nazi fanaticism.

The Rücksichtslos itself is the issue of another kind of fanaticism: that of the specialist. This vessel here is a Toiletship, a triumph of the German mania for subdividing. "If the house is organic," argued the crafty early Toiletship advocates, "family lives in the house, family's organic, house is outward-and-visible sign, you see," behind their smoked glasses and under their gray crewcuts not believing a word of it, Machiavellian and youthful, not quite ripe yet for paranoia, "and if the bathroom's part of the house house-is-organic! ha-hah," singing, chiding, pointing out the broad blond-faced engineer, hair parted in the middle and slicked back, actually blushing and looking at his knees among the good-natured smiling teeth of his fellow technologists because he'd been about to forget that point (Albert Speer, himself, in a gray suit with a smudge of chalk on the sleeve, all the way in the back leaning akimbo the wall and looking remarkably like American cowboy actor Henry Fonda, has already forgotten about the house being organic, and nobody points at him, RHIP). "Then the Toiletship is to the Kriegsmarine as the bathroom is to the house. Because the Navy is organic, we all know that, ha-hah!" [General, or maybe Admiral, laughter.] The Rücksichtslos was intended to be the flagship of a whole Geschwader of Toiletships. But the steel quotas were diverted clear out of the Navy over to the A4 rocket program.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

he helped write the jokes

Sez the Orlando Sentinel, regarding the new season for The Simpsons:
For the Nov. 14 episode, the show repeats a coup from last season. It again has landed Thomas Pynchon, the secretive author of Gravity's Rainbow. '"We depict him with a bag on his head," Jean said. "He helped write the jokes. One reason he did the show is he has a son who's a fan."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

no problemo!



New Yorker, November 8, 2004

TRP is the subject of a cartoon by Roz Chast in the current issue of The New Yorker. Under the banner "Thomas Pynchon’s Evil Twin," a writer talks on the phone: "Mudwrestle on national TV in my underwear while holding up a copy of my new book? NO PROBLEMO!" Rich on Pynchon-L says his coffee cup says world’s greatest writer, but pynchonoid couldn't resolve that level of detail looking at the cartoon on the computer screen.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Boing Boing reports:
First a fellow named Andy Zebrowitz recorded himself doing a spoken-word-bananaphone interpretation of Raffi's childrens' song "Bananaphone", inna deadpan William-Shatner-styleee. Then, he posts this masterpiece online. Now, you can download it, and spew Red Bull through your nose laughing. Next, who knows -- some enterprising soul might just transform this file into spoken-word-Bananaphone ringtones. Or better yet, an extended hard trance remix.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 5:
Pirate has become famous for his Banana Breakfasts.


Friday, October 29, 2004

anarchic openness of the sky

We are obsessed with building labyrinths, where before there was open plain and sky. To draw ever more complex patterns on the blank sheet. We cannot abide openness…that first unscribbled serenity…that anarchic openness of the sky."
-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

...quoted in Public Art: The New Cartographers at NY ARTS.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

we hear many Tales of Gnomes, Elves, smaller folk



illustration byNational Geographic

Mason & Dixon, p. 740:
"Nothing to with your actual Appearance," Dixon said, "but all of thee have such a familiar look,-- up above, we hear many Tales of Gnomes, Elves, smaller folk, who live underground and possess what are, to huz, magickal Powers? Who'v min'd their way to the borders of our world, following streams, spying upon us from the Fells when the light of Day's tricky enough.... Is this where they come from, then?"

"They are we."

Once upon a time, but not so long ago, on a tropical island midway between Asia and Australia, there lived a race of little people, whose adults stood just three and a half feet high. Despite their stature, they were mighty hunters. They made stone tools with which they speared giant rats, clubbed sleeping dragons and hunted the packs of pygmy elephants that roamed their lost world.

Strangest of all, this is no fable. Skeletons of these miniature people have been excavated from a limestone cave on Flores, an island 370 miles east of Bali, by a team of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists. Reporting their find in today's issue of Nature, they assign the people to a new human species, Homo floresiensis.

....The little Floresians lived on the island until at least 13,000 years ago, and possibly to historic times. But they were not a pygmy form of modern humans. They were a downsized version of Homo erectus, the eastern cousin of the Neanderthals of Europe, who disappeared 33,000 years ago. Their discovery means that archaic humans, who left Africa 1.5 million years earlier than modern people, survived far longer into recent times than was previously supposed.

....The little Floresians not only survived long into the modern period but unlike most of the other archaic human populations managed to coexist with modern humans. They also demonstrate the adaptability of the human form and how readily humans conformed to the same pressures toward dwarfism that affected other island species.

.... Among today's Ngadha people of central Flores and the Manggarai of West Flores there are local stories of little people who lived in caves until the arrival of the Dutch traders in the 16th century.

...from New Species Revealed: Tiny Cousins of Humans by Nicholas Wade, New York Times, 28 October 2004

Monday, October 25, 2004

our limitless capacity for mass murder

From Our limitless capacity for mass murder by Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, Chicago Tribune, 25 October 2004:
Concentration camps. Pseudoscientific experiments that led to theories of racial superiority. The systematic killing of more than two-thirds of an entire population.

These images come not from the Holocaust, but from its lesser-known precedent: the 1904 genocide of the Herero people by the German army in what is now Namibia. Despite being conducted on an exponentially smaller scale than the destruction of European Jewry during World War II, the German campaign in Southern Africa provided many of the methods, racial beliefs and even personnel for the Nazi atrocities.

.... Heinrich Goering was the area's first imperial commander. The father of Adolf Hitler's eventual second in command, Hermann Goering, the senior Goering was expelled by the Hereros in 1888, returning briefly in 1890. Although Goering did not participate in the genocide, he contributed to the arming of the German settlers who later did the killing.

From Tim Ware's Web guide to Gravity's Rainbow:
Hereros
74; Ex-colonials from the Südwest (South-West Africa) living in Germany; "your dark, secret children" 75; "Ndjambi Karunga" = god or fucking, 100; 153; in exile in Germany for 2 generations, 315; "Last pocket of pre-Christian oneness" 321; "the village built like a mandala" 321; Gondwanaland, 321; 1904 Herero Rebellion, 361; Ovatjimba (aardvark) people, 403; almost wiped out by Germans in 1904, 452; washing-blue "abortifacient" 519; St. Pauli (washing-blue connection), 525; "An Introduction to Modern Herero" 536; "we had been passed over by von Trotha's army so that we would find the Aggregat" 563; 657; "built in mandalic form like a Herero village" 725

Thursday, October 21, 2004

thanatos to eros

LSD researcher, Myron J. Stolaroff's classic book, Thanatos To Eros, 35 Years of Psychedelic Exploration is online now at the MAPS site.

From the Foreword by Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin:
The search for a relationship with the universal reality about us is one of the most important goals in human life. It has to be conducted by two entirely distinct processes which, while concurrent, are totally different. The passage through your lifetime of eighty to a hundred years (give or take a few decades) involves learning relationships -- giving and taking -- with those who share your journey on this planet. And, at the same time, you play a role at this moment of human history. Living your own personal life in the immediate present, you are also, to an often unknowable extent, a contributor to the structure of the world about you. Myron Stolaroff has given us an autobiography, a tale of psychological and spiritual evolution that subtly brings together these two threads, these two roles; he is both the struggling seeker for wholeness in himself, and a discoverer of new paths to wholeness for others.

The story of Thanatos to Eros takes us through two marriages, over the course of the author's growth from a successful engineer to an independent business man, and eventually, we see his first steps and subsequent strides as a researcher and explorer of human consciousness. We move with him through the often intense and difficult changes that take place as he learns to use his chosen tools, the psychedelic drugs, beginning with LSD in 1956, and progressing to other powerful visionary plants and drugs over the subsequent years. He is trying to, in the words of Carl Jung, "make the unconscious conscious," as the way to attain realization of his ultimate self. We discover, along with him, that this is a hard goal to attain, and that it must be sought with complete inner integrity and fearless self-examination.

Spun into the narrative are reports of some extraordinary experiences, brought about by the use of appropriate psychedelic drugs. As Stolaroff learns himself, he gains in understanding of others who are suffering pain and self-rejection, and begins to guide friends who come to him in trouble, through carefully controlled and monitored psychedelic sessions. Needless to say, since the imposition of draconian laws in recent years, this kind of deep spiritual work, done with the aid of psychedelic materials, is no longer possible, and will remain forbidden until the public is better informed and directs its lawmakers to change such restrictions on these kinds of drugs.


Vineland, p. 313-314:
Well I still wish it was back then, when you were the Count. Remember how the acid was? Remember that windowpane, down in Laguna that time? God, I knew then, I knew. . . ."

They had a look. "Uh-huh, me too. That you were never going to die. Ha! No wonder the State panicked. How are they supposed to control a population that knows it'll never die? When that was always their last big chip, when they thought they had the power of life and death. But acid gave us the X-ray vision to see through that one, so of course they had to take it away from us."

"Yeah, but they can't take what happened, what we found out."

"Easy. They just let us forget. Give us too much to process, fill up every minute, keep us distracted, it's what the Tube is for, and though it kills me to say it, it's what rock and roll is becoming -- just another way to claim our attention, so that beautiful certainty we had starts to fade, and after a while they have us convinced all over again that we really are going to die. And they've got us again." It was the way people used to talk.



Wednesday, October 20, 2004

guest-starring as himself



Google Alert for: Pynchon
the futon critic Sunday, Nov. 14 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT), on the official 16th season premiere of THE SIMPSONS, actor James Caan and writer Thomas Pynchon guest-star as themselves. When Bart fishes Homer's vintage "Playdude" magazines out of the trash, he decides to adopt the ring-a-ding-ding lifestyle of the 1970s, as interpreted by a 10-year-old. Meanwhile, Marge stoops to sabotage to keep up with the other contestants during the Ovenfresh Bakeoff.

Monday, October 18, 2004

"autism, Pynchon, and the philosophical underpinnings of capitalism"

I was in high school or junior high when my sister, two years younger than me, brought home a book on autistic children for a school project. I didn't read it, but the pictures fascinated me at the time and stayed with me for years. They were drawings made by a boy named Joey, an autistic patient of Bruno Bettelheim's at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School in Chicago where Bettelheim treated autistic children during the 1950s and 60s. The drawings showed how Joey perceived himself and his bodily functions to be attached to machinery -- to be machinery in fact. This struck a primaeval chord in me somehow, as if Joey's experience had been mine in the distant and forgotten depths of childhood. Though I have never been autistic nor suffered from a serious mental disorder, it all seemed uncannily familiar, as if I had been through a morbid stage such as Joey's and forgotten it.

Years later I was writing my Ph.D. thesis on the works of American novelist, Thomas Pynchon, and in the course of reading Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, again I encountered a description of Bettelheim's patient, Joey. After reading The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self (1967) by Bettelheim, I came to see connections, not only between autism and the work of Pynchon, but between autism, Pynchon, and the philosophical underpinnings of capitalism. All three evoke disturbing evidence of a modern humanity subverted by machinery, with an underlying imperative of Cosmic Law driven by despair and paranoia.

Pynchon's first three novels describe a world in which technology and its corresponding capitalist structures are manifestations of what might be called a general autism, wherein society and its individuals act in ways similar to those of clinically autistic children. General autism is ruled by an imperializing Cosmic Law, a law which proclaims, as Bettelheim put it, "you must never hope that anything can change." This law spreads like an infection by means of its imperializing paranoia, inspired in the observers of the autist. Pynchon's novels constitute a critique of capitalism and its technological manifestations and suggest that a collective autism underlies the drive for materialistic and technological consumption in capitalist society.

...continues: Autism, Thomas Pynchon, and Capitalism as Cosmic Law by James W. Horton




Sunday, October 17, 2004

i was absolutely his butt boy




From the CNN Crossfire encounter in which The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, cleaned pugnacious right-wing prick, Tucker Carlson's clock:
CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you're accusing us of partisan hackery?

STEWART: Absolutely.

CARLSON: You've got to be kidding me. He comes on and you...

[CROSSTALK]

STEWART: You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.

[LAUGHTER]

STEWART: What is wrong with you?

[APPLAUSE] CARLSON: Well, I'm just saying, there's no reason for you -- when you have this marvelous opportunity not to be the guy's butt boy, to go ahead and be his butt boy. Come on. It's embarrassing.

STEWART: I was absolutely his butt boy. I was so far -- you would not believe what he ate two weeks ago.

[LAUGHTER]

[CROSSTALK]

Gravity's Rainbow, pp. 233-235. :
At her command, he crawls forward to kiss her boots. He smells wax and leather, and can feel fer toes flexing beneath his tongue, through the black skin. From the corner of his eye, on a little table, he can see the remains of her early evening meal, the edge of a plate, the tops of two bottles, mineral water, French wine. . . .

[...] Despite himself--already a reflex--he glances quickly over at the bottles on the table, the plates, soiled with juices of jmeat, Hollandaise, bits of gristle and bone. . . .

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Terrorbusters, Inc.



New York Times illustration

From Terrorbusters Inc. by Louis Uchitelle and John Markoff, New York Times, 17 October 2004:
Corporate America is spending heavily for protection. Private-sector outlays for antiterrorism measures and to guard against other forms of violence may now be as much as $40 billion to $50 billion a year, or two or three times higher than the annual rate before 9/11, according to estimates compiled by CQ Homeland Security, a daily Internet newsletter published by Congressional Quarterly. The federal government's contribution has also passed the $40 billion mark, double what it was before 9/11. As the spending soars, domestic security seems poised to become a significant factor in the overall economy, much the way military spending was during the cold war.

....If protecting one's employees is not adequate incentive to buy such products, there is also the insurance lure. Congress mandated in 2002 that insurance companies offer businesses protection against liability and property loss from terrorism.

"Anything you do to mitigate a terrorist attack on your property has a favorable impact on the premiums,'' said Robert P. Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute. He estimated that premium payments for this coverage now totaled at least $10 billion a year. "You make the workplace environment safer," he said, "and at the same time you serve your own interest by reducing your insurance cost.''

Government spending on domestic security is also huge, and growing fast. Federal outlays reached $41 billion during the just-ended fiscal year, up from $33 billion in fiscal 2003 and $21 billion in the year that ended days after 9/11, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (Those figures do not include spending by the Department of Homeland Security on activities unrelated to fighting terrorism.)

There may be a lot more on the way. If Congress goes along with President Bush's budget proposals, the federal contribution will rise nearly 15 percent, to $47 billion, in the current fiscal year, and that on top of the more than $7 billion that state and local governments have added from their own pockets since 9/11 for more police and fire department protection, Census Bureau data show.

"The need for homeland security, given the terrorist threat, is like a transaction cost,'' said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the director of the Congressional Budget Office. "So was the cold war spending. Anytime you have a transaction cost on a large-enough scale, you lower the return on productive investment and reduce to some extent economic performance. So as a nation, we have a clear incentive to keep the homeland security transaction cost as low as possible.''

As the overall cost approaches $100 billion, domestic security is beginning to take on the characteristics of military spending in the early years of the cold war. Just as an open-ended fear of Communism drove that spending surge, the open-ended terrorist threat is driving today's spending on domestic security.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 105:
Don't forget the real business of the War is buying and selling. The murdering and the violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

claim to fame: rejecting Pynchon's poetry

From: Cornell Reflects on Derrida's Legacy by By Professors Philip Lewis and Richard Klein, in the Cornell Daily Sun, where Klein writes:
I was remarkably well prepared to encounter Derrida in the late '60s. I was just finishing graduate studies in French (at Yale), but it was my Cornell undergraduate education (Class of '62) that had trained me. I had had seminars here and wrote an honor thesis with Paul de Man, who was then Chair of Comparative Literature. I had heard lectures by M.H. Abrams and Vladimir Nabokov. I had taken philosophy classes with Norman Malcom and John Rawls. I was an editor of the Cornell Writer and a budding critic who regularly rejected the poetry of his fellow student, Thomas Pynchon.


Thanks to Rich for bringing this to my attention on Pynchon-l.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

pynchon, thanatos & depleted uranium

From Of Pynchon, Thanatos and Depleted Uranium: Weapons of Mass Destruction Found in Iraq by Walter A. Davis:
....a way to understand the Nuclear Unconscious in its movement from 1945 to the present. As a history defined by what I call the Macbeth principle. To live with the guilt of a deed one repeats that deed until one is no longer troubled by it; or what amounts to the same thing, until nothing other than it exists. A world ruled by Thanatos.

....Converting DU into WMDs that we could deploy all over Iraq fulfilled another fantasy dear to the dream logic that informs capitalism. DU is pure waste. Shit, if you will. And like surplus production and the falling rate of profit it keeps piling up with no way to get rid of it. It's one thing when we only killed the poor bastards who had the bad luck to live downward of our reactors or the black inner city children to whom we shipped radioactively contaminated milk.[15] But now things are out of hand. We've got over 10 million tons of this useless crap. Eventually it'll seep into everything turning even our paradisiacal estates into nuclear cesspools. Unless we can find a way to really shit it out of our system. Any solution, however, must derive from the logic that informs the system--and fulfill the unconscious needs that fuel it. And then Voila! in answer to our prayers one day we see a way to turn our shit to gold. Nothing is ever lost. The deepest article of capitalist faith is fulfilled. There were no bad unintended consequences from our lengthy romance with the atom. We've found our own cunning of reason. Even our shit can be redeemed once we've developed the appropriate technology. With its discovery we seized a way to turn our waste to profit while fulfilling an even deeper need: to take a dump on everything that impedes the progress of global capitalism. Iraq is perfect. After all, the oil is the only thing there that has value. The rest of that landscape is nothing but a toilet; by relieving ourselves on it we get the true macho pleasure that comes from a good shit: the feeling that we're releasing all of our toxic matter on the Other-in this case those people of color committed to a religion that Samuel Huntington and others remind us stands unalterably opposed to the forward looking logic of modernism. The clash of civilizations and the making of world order requires no less than the shit storm that now rages all over Iraq.

The maximization of death under the reign of thanatos finds in Iraq one of its ghostliest embodiments. War in the 20th century witnessed the progressive erosion of all distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, military and civilian targets. Inflicting the greatest possible physical and psychological damage to "the enemy" became the object of military strategy. [16] Hiroshima was the first realization of that logic as a pure and unrestrained expression of thanatos as global terror. Iraq now serves to advance that logic in a new, and qualitatively different, way. Thanks to DU death is again released from all restrictions and extended over time in a way promises to bring about its omnipresence through its silent, unseen, inner working on all that lives. Death is everywhere now: in the air they breath, the food they eat, the water they drink, the shards radiating up at them from the DU debris that litters their cities, the sperm they transmit in the act of love, the cancers and birth defects, the violence to the DNA, in all the leukemias of body and of soul that will turn Iraq into one vast Thanatopolis, the city of the future, an oidos where all that lives will come to bear Death as its sole meaning, the visible and invisible sign that is present everywhere.

Friday, October 08, 2004

the glue factories of human connection

From a review of Enzo Traverso's The Origins of Nazi Violence by Shelley Baranowski:

Traverso opens by zeroing in on the products of the French and Industrial Revolutions, the guillotine, the prison, and the factory, including the abattoir. The guillotine serialized killing, transformed the executioner into a bureaucratic employee relieved of ethical responsibility, and de-sanctified capital punishment. While embodying the Enlightenment's hope of redemption, the prison, organized according to military standards, subjected prisoners to rigid discipline and constant surveillance, and transformed them into captive labor. Although factories, unlike prisons, employed free workers, they too adopted disciplinary and hierarchical practices, serializing and segmenting production, while alienating and dehumanizing workers. The abattoir, the methodical, mass-produced death factory for animals, became a cultural reference point for the systematic destruction of human beings.

....The death camps of the Third Reich embraced the worst aspects of factories, abattoirs, and prisons, combining purposeless and humiliating work, assembly-line murder, and the evaporation of morality, the glue of human connection.

From Is it O.K. to be a Luddite? by Thomas Pynchon:
By 1945, the factory system -- which, more than any piece of machinery, was the real and major result of the Industrial Revolution -- had been extended to include the Manhattan Project, the German long-range rocket program and the death camps, such as Auschwitz. It has taken no major gift of prophecy to see how these three curves of development might plausibly converge, and before too long. Since Hiroshima, we have watched nuclear weapons multiply out of control, and delivery systems acquire, for global purposes, unlimited range and accuracy. An unblinking acceptance of a holocaust running to seven- and eight-figure body counts has become -- among those who, particularly since 1980, have been guiding our military policies -- conventional wisdom.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Otto was the first on Pynchon-l to note that this year's Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Elfriede Jellinek translated the German version of Gravity's Rainbow.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

O, to be a fly on that wall

Fredricksburg, VA, USA. Central Rappahannock Regional Library:

A Loosely Knit Group: Learn to knit your way through a basic or more advanced project in the company of knitting enthusiasts. For all ages. 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Book Discussion Group: Discuss October's selection, "Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon. 7:30-9 pm.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 3:
No, this is not a disentanglement from, but a progressive knotting into--they go in under archways, secret entrances of rotted concrete that only looked like loops of an underpass . . .

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

the new Thanatoids

Ted Rall's latest comic: "What's the best way to die for Bush?"

Sunday, October 03, 2004

pynchon in the mainstream?

The annual speculation about Pynchon and the Nobel Prize has begun. An Agence France Presse story wonders if Pynchon might finally receive it, and includes this from Jonas Thente, described as literary critic for Sweden's largest daily Dagens Nyheter:
Thente said he would like to see "the great American postmodernist authors Don DeLillo or Thomas Pynchon" take home the prestigious award, but Weyler said he didn't think they had a chance. "They are great epic writers, but they are considered very mainstream. They're not very experimental, pushing the boundaries of literature," he said.

Minstral Island

From Pynchon-l: the new issue of Denver Quarterly (Volume 39, Number 1), edited by Paul Maliszewski, includes an essay, "A Portrait of the Luddite as a Young Man," by Rodney Gibbs about Minstral Island, the musical that Pynchon wrote with Kirkpatrick Sale while they were in college. Maliszewski notes that "According to UT's Ransom Center, which has the musical along with other papers from Faith Sale, Gibbs was the first, second, and third person to even look at the material. He did his research this spring."

Saturday, October 02, 2004

keep cool but care




Dave "DJ Flavor Dav" Monroe on Pynchon-l calls attention to this intriguing bit of intertextual and bibliographical play:

McClintic Sphere, in V., p.366:
Keep cool but care.
SHROUD, in V., p. 369:
Keep cool but care.
B.J. Liddell Hart, Deterrent or Defense: A Fresh Look at the West's Military Position , New York, Prager, 1960:
"Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save his face. Put yourself in his shoes--so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil--nothing is so self-blinding."
....as quoted in John F. Kennedy, "Review of B.H. Liddell Hart, Deterrent or Defense," Saturday Review, September 3, 1960, as cited in Averting "The Final Failure": John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings by Sheldon M. Stern, see p. 40, plus footnote No. 103.

In addition to the tantalizing possibility of a view into the origin of Pynchon's famous epigram, more evidence perhaps of Pynchon's concern with the threat of nuclear war and President Kennedy.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 65:
Gone away upstream, bas-relief Dumpster lost in the gray light as now Slothrop is going past the sign of Will Stonybloke, of J. Peter PItt, of Jack Kennedy, the ambassador's son--say, where the heck is that Jack tonight, anyway? If anybody could've saved that harp, betcha jack could. Slothrop admires him from a distance--he's athletic, and kind, and one of the most well-liked fellows in Slothrop's class,. Sure is daffy about that history, though. Jack . . . might Jack have kept it from falling, violated gravity somehow? Here, in this passage to the Atlantic, odors of salt, weed, decay washing to him faintly like the sound of breakers, yes it seems Jack might have. For the sake of tunes to be played, millions of possible blues lines, notes to be bent from the official frequencies, bends Slothrop hasn't really the breath to do . . . not yet but someday . . . well at least if (when . . . ) he finds the instrument it'll be well soaked in, a lot easier to play. A hopeful thought to carry with you down the toilet.

the little man

...from James Wolcott's blog yesterday:
The allusion in Tweet Smell of Success to "Reichian" refers not to Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, but Wilhelm Reich, renegade psychotherapist and founder of the Orgone Institute, who in his 1948 book Listlen, Little Man! addressed the reader:

"You let the powerful demand power 'for the little man.' But you yourself are silent. You provide powerful men with more power or choose weak, malignant men to represent you. And you discover too late you are always the dupe."

Not a bad description of Bush's "base."

From Pynchon's essay, A Journey into the Mind of Watts":
A lot of kids these days are more apt to be calling him the little man -- meaning not so much any member of the power structure as just your average white L.A. taxpayer, registered voter, property owner, employed, stable, mortgaged and the rest. The little man bugs these kids more than The Man ever bugged their parents. It is the little man who is standing on their feet and in their way; he's all over the place, and there is not much they can do to change him or the way he feels about them.


writers who disappear, God-like, behind their works

From 'The Curse of the Appropriate Man': What Women Want by Claire Messud, review of The Curse of the Appropriate Man by Lynn Freed:
In cinema, as we all know, there are actors and there are stars. The actors -- protean, endlessly versatile -- are personified by Alec Guinness or, more recently, by women like Cate Blanchett. The stars are always, inexorably, grandly, themselves: John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson. This division is not commonly applied to literature, but it can readily serve: Anton Chekhov, Eudora Welty, Alice Munro are, as it were, actors, writers who disappear, God-like, behind their works; Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, unforgettable in their insistent stylistic consistency, are stars. An underlying gender bias seems to follow upon this distinction, and the female literary star can seem a rare breed. Lynn Freed is such a writer, one whose work is characterized by its separation from her peers' and its similarity to itself.

Friday, October 01, 2004

divine essences in their pores

....from Review: Baroque Cycle concludes with a gilt trip, by Tom Dodge, in today's Dallas Morning News
Although Mr. Stephenson is now a big gun in publishing's arsenal of serious novelists, his name is printed smaller on the cover than the title. This is due to his introverted personality, his apparent graphomania and his obvious disdain for celebrity. He may be weary of questions about his "similarity" to Thomas Pynchon. His books are, like Pynchon's, capable of overpowering the normal brain. But perhaps their weightiness is due to divine essences in their pores.
Be sure to experience Stephenson's disdain for celebrity up close and personal on his book signing tour this month.

new Pynchon papers

Pynchon Notes editor, Prof. John Krafft alerted Pynchon-l participants to several recent articles from Pynchon scholars. Titles include:
History and Fiction: the Narrative Voices of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow

The Comet and the Rocket: Intertextual Constellations about Technological Progress in Bruno Schulz's "Kometa" and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow

A 'Patch of England, at a three-thousand-Mile Off-set?' Representing America in Mason & Dixon

Bouncy Little Tunes: Nostalgia, Sentimentality, and Narrative in Gravity's Rainbow
Complete bibliographic info here.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

strange are the dynamics of oil and the ways of oilmen




From Pynchon-l, links to an article on the history of the Soviet language reform in Central Asia: How alphabetic is the nature of molecules, continuing in part two. Excerpt:
The business about Kumiss-whisk, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, reminded me of Thomas Pynchon's treatment of Soviet linguistic imperialism in Central Asia. This is in Gravity's Rainbow (chapter 34, p. 338-359 in the 1995 Penguin edition). It's a long, typically strange mixture of obscure facts and wild inventions. I'll share some of it with you now, because mixed in with mentions of Pishpek, kumiss, an oil man from Midland, Texas with an interesting relationship to Saudi Arabia, and the development of a new alphabet for Turkic languages, there's an interesting meditation on the similarity between linguistics and the oil business.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 342:
Strange, strange are the dynamics of oil and the ways of oilmen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

not-so komical kamikazes



Shigeyoshi Hamazono, 1945

....from They've Outlived the Stigma by Bruce Wallace:

These are the dusky days of old age that kamikaze pilots like Shigeyoshi Hamazono were not supposed to see. Three times during the final months of World War II, Japanese officers sent Hamazono off to die, ordering him to crash-dive a single-engine plane stuffed with bombs into an American warship. Bad weather aborted the first mission, an oil leak the second. On his final attempt in April 1945, he encountered three American pilots over the sea off Okinawa. In the ensuing dogfight, Hamazono was burned and took shrapnel in his shoulder, but his plane limped home. You could call him the luckiest man in Japan, though Hamazono didn't see it that way at the time. "I was, of course, ready to die," says Hamazono, who instead has aged into a bent but dignified 81-year-old. Fate allowed him to see his hair turn wispy and gray. And fate made him part of one of history's strangest and most exclusive brotherhoods: "kamikaze survivors."

Most were still waiting for orders to fly when Japan surrendered to the Allies in September 1945. A few others were spared because they did not reach their intended targets — a failure Hamazono found intolerable at the time. He was on standby to fly a fourth mission when Japan capitulated. Denied the opportunity to redeem his honor, he felt disgraced. "I wished I had died," he says. In the postwar years, a traumatized nation treated the kamikaze survivors like pariahs. But in the last decade, their reputation has recovered. Publishers clamor for memoirs. Scholars pick over their backgrounds in search of an explanation for their willingness to die for a lost cause. Japanese nationalists buff and shine their memory like medals. "Kamikaze" has ceased to be a slur in Japan. If the Japanese still can't agree on whether the pilots were victims or heroes, brainwashed conscripts or volunteers, they are at least prepared to honor their spirit of sacrifice. Only the modern menace of the suicide bomber has emerged to spoil this sentiment. The survivors bitterly resent the world's appropriation of the term "kamikaze" — meaning "divine wind" and originally coined to describe the unexpected typhoons that saved 13th century Japan from invading Mongol ships — as shorthand for suicide bombers of every stripe. There are the "Al Qaeda kamikazes" who flew passenger planes into office towers, "Palestinian kamikazes" who blow up pizza parlors filled with teenagers in Jerusalem, and "female Chechen kamikazes" willing to detonate explosive girdles in the middle of school gymnasiums crammed with children. Japan's originals are insulted to be mentioned in the same breath.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 690:
Takeshi only had to go to Kamikaze School for two weeks, on Formosa. Ichizo had to go to Ohka school for six months, in Tokyo. There are as different as peanut butter and jelly, these two. No fair asking which is which. They are the only two Kamikazes out here at this air base, which is rather remote actually, on an island that nobody, well, really cares much about, any more.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004



Flag of the State Post Service (Reichs-Postamt), 1893-1921

From Pynchon-l participant, Mark Wright, this pointer to the German postal service flag from the Imperial period, with its Pynchonian-post-horn motif.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Pynchon & Coulter

Two names pynchonoid wasn't expecting to hear together (given Pynchon's scorn for the Bush Administration in his post-9-11 Playboy Japan interview and in his introduction for a recent edition of George Orwell's 1984), but there they are, in the context of a Mock Election 2004 debate between right-winger, National Review editor Rich Lowry and left-leaning The Nation editor David Corn, at Pynchon's alma mater:
Referring to conservative Cornellians (Wolfowitz is a 1965 Cornell graduate in mathematics), Corn showed his familiarity with university alumni when he said: "I was accepted at Cornell and nearly attended. Thank you for giving us both Thomas Pynchon and Ann Coulter." (Columnist Coulter, a 1984 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, was a founder of the conservative student paper, the Cornell Review. Noted and reclusive author Pynchon, a 1958 graduate, hasn't written for either Review, although he did work briefly as a technical writer for the military aircraft company Boeing.)
Given the way Pynchon depicts Reagan's 1984 America as a country either in the neofascist twilight or already consumed by neofascist night in Vineland, it's debatable that he merits the "conservative" label.



Shell's new premium gasoline carries a name, V-power, that recalls a memorable moment in Mr. Pynchon's best-known novel.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 241:
"I mean," Slothrop now working himself into a fuss over something that only disturbs him, dimly, nothing to kick up a row over, is it? "doesn't it strike you as just a bit odd, you Shell chaps working on your liquid engine your side of the Channel you know, and their chaps firing their bloody things at you with your own . . . blasted . . . Shell transmitter tower, you see."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

O when, O when, O when?

The Millions blog engages in a round of bootless speculation about the next Pynchon novel, offering up the various bits and pieces of rumors that have been aired many times on PYNCHON-L. Pynchonoid continues to expect TRP's next in the fall of 2005, according to a little bird who knows.

Monday, September 20, 2004

the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep



U-2 photo of Cuban missiles, USAF Museum


From a review of Alice L. George's Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced the Cuban Missile Crisis:
She then examines the United States's civil defense preparations for nuclear war. In such an event, the President, his Cabinet, and the Supreme Court justices could find shelter in Mount Weather, a massive underground complex, 48 miles from Washington, lavishly equipped with offices, a hospital, dining and recreation areas, and sleeping quarters. Congressmen had the benefit of their own bunker, located in West Virginia. Inevitably, the general public was not so well served, because in the 1950s neither the Eisenhower administration nor Congress had shown much zeal for a major outlay for civil defense. Planning was also haphazard at the state and local levels.

As a result of the Berlin crisis of 1961, the Kennedy administration increased spending on public shelters, but support for civil defense measures declined soon after. By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, existing shelters could only house about 60 million people--about a third of the population. Later, federal authorities decided to lower the standard for what constituted adequate "shelter" from the effects of radiation. Although this "doubled" the amount of protection for the general population, the measure was, in George's words, a mere "sleight of hand maneuver" that obviously did little for people's safety (p. 67).

George argues that the government's limited ability to provide the population's most basic survival needs led some citizens to respond to the threat of nuclear war with sheer panic, clearing retailers' shelves of bottled water, food, guns, and transistor radios. In the absence of adequate shelter provision, some city-dwellers responded by traveling to relatively safe, rural areas. Others refused to allow events to intrude on their daily lives, either out of conviction that nuclear war would not come or because they thought that any means of preparation was simply an act of futility.

....The gist of Awaiting Armageddon is that the domestic experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis represented "an often overlooked national passage that almost certainly contributed to changes in the American mind," and helped foster the growing social and political instability that would reach a crescendo in the late 1960s (p. 169). The emphasis on the longer-term as well as the more immediate results of the crisis deserves commendation. The focus on the domestic effects of the crisis, rather than the more customary diplomatic and strategic dimensions of the episode, is refreshing and original. Certainly, it resonates with our current preoccupations with homeland security....


Gravity's Rainbow, p. 760:
The true moment of shadow is the moment in which you see the point of light in the sky. The single point, and the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep ...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

mau-mauing the children of the surfing class




60s' revolution factional infighting, infiltration by FBI agents provocateurs: a recent review of Scot Brown's Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism may be of interest to Pynchon readers puzzling through the 60s revolution factional politics in Vineland. Excerpts from the review:
Moving beyond the "good sixties, bad sixties" narrative, scholars have begun to complicate the narrative of the Panthers and other proponents of Black Power, placing them in local, national, and historical contexts. Historians such as Komozi Woodard and Robert Self have broadened this approach beyond the Panthers, showing the place of cultural nationalism in the African-American freedom movement. Their work has begun to break down the misleading interpretation of Black Power as a declension from the earlier Civil Rights Movement. Self and Woodward instead argue that both ideologies were and are deeply intertwined expressions of African-American aspirations for liberation.

....Brown also provides an excellent analysis of the troubled relationship between US and the Black Panther Party (BPP). Both groups drew inspiration, politically and ideologically, from Don Warden, who founded the Afro-American Association in the Bay Area in 1962. Warden espoused a community-based ethos of activism that saw value in describing "the African American dilemma in cultural terms" (p. 28). Warden's critique of integrationism resonated with Karenga, who for a time became the group's LA representative. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who studied with Warden at Oakland's Merritt College, also soaked up Warden's critique of the non-violent civil rights movement, although they went in another direction.

According to Brown, "the rivalry between the two organizations set in motion a binary discourse grounded on false assumptions. The choice between African culture as represented by images of military resistance and a central value system and rituals is a manufactured one.... nuances of this sort were replaced by sectarian allegations as the US/Panther conflict became intensified" (pp. 115-16). This insight forms one of the book's major contributions to our understanding of the complexity of Black Power, and challenges historians to avoid the sectarian divisions that trapped the two groups in a vicious cycle of organizational jealousy and destructive violence.

Brown depicts the January 1969 shootout between members of the US Organization and the Black Panther Party, which resulted in the deaths of Panther activists Alprentice 'Bunchy' Carter and John Huggins, as the pivotal and tragic turning point for US. He does not provide a definitive answer as to precisely what transpired on the UCLA campus that day thirty-five years ago, but perhaps it is impossible to do so. What Brown does show is how the violence forced US to shift tactics, which limited the group's overall effectiveness. In defense of Karenga, US members closed ranks and virtually abandoned political organizing, as well as cultural and artistic programs.

The role of the FBI in this affair, though critically important, also remains unclear. During the 1960s and 1970s, the counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) undertook repeated efforts to disrupt organizations on the radical left. In the case of the US/Panther conflict, Brown uses previously published FBI documents to show how the FBI actively worked to sow discord between US and the BPP by drafting a letter, ostensibly from a member of US, stating that US planned to kill LA Panther leaders. The FBI intended that "this counterintelligence measure will result in an 'US' and BPP vendetta" (FBI file, quoted on p. 95). Brown is unable to determine the full extent of the FBI harassment, especially concerning the UCLA shootings. Was Maulana Karenga right to blame the struggles of US and his failing leadership on the stress caused by COINTELPRO (p. 126)? Brown, unfortunately, does not provide a clear answer to this question; thus, historians will continue to debate the role of the FBI in the demise of Black Power.

....Brown has made a significant contribution by placing Karenga's cultural nationalism in both historical and global context, reminding us that the ideologies of the Sixties had deep, often global roots. The author has also helped to reconfigure the Black Power declension narrative by showing how US was, at times, able to promote cultural identity and mobilize political action within a volatile but, at times, stable coalition. The fact that Afrocentricity and the holiday of Kwanzaa have not only survived but thrived suggests that Black Power was and is far more than a destructive outgrowth of the civil rights movement.


Vineland, p. 230:
Long might the automotive idyll have gone on had the PR3 Exterior Bureau, in its search for allies in the world at large, not initiated talks with the Black Afro-American Division, who all wore shiny black Vietnam boots, black-on-black camo fatigues, and velvet-black berets with the off-black wide-point stars on them ChiCom-style just to lounge around in, who showed up by invitation at the clifftop republic and got into an all-day argument with its indigenous, whom they kept referring to as children of the surfing class.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

insist on the miraculous

from Contrasting Concepts of Harmony in Architecture: The 1982 Debate Between Christopher Alexander and Peter Eisenman, An Early Discussion of the "New Sciences" of Organised Complexity in Architecture:
Up until about 1600, most of the world views that existed in different cultures did see man and the universe as more or less intertwined and inseparable ... either through the medium of what they called God or in some other way. But all that was understood. The particular intellectual game that led us to discover all the wonders of science forced us to abandon temporarily that idea. In other words, in order to do physics, to do biology, we were actually taught to pretend that things were like little machines because only then could you tinker with them and find out what makes them tick. That's all fine. It was a tremendous endeavor, and it paid off.

But it may have been factually wrong. That is, the constitution of the universe may be such that the human self and the substance that things made out of, the spatial matter or whatever you call it, are much more inextricably related than we realized. Now, I am not talking about some kind of aboriginal primitivism. I am saying that it may actually be a matter of fact that those things are more related than we realize.
And that we have been trained to play a trick on ourselves for the last 300 years in order to discover certain things. Now, if that's true -- there are plenty of people in the world who are beginning to say it is, by the way, certainly in physics and other related subjects -- then my own contribution to that line of thought has to do with these structures of sameness that I have been talking about.

from Is it O.K. to be a Luddite? by Thomas Pynchon:
In ways more and less literal, folks in the 18th century believed that once upon a time all kinds of things had been possible which were no longer so. Giants, dragons, spells. The laws of nature had not been so strictly formulated back then. What had once been true working magic had, by the Age of Reason, degenerated into mere machinery. Blake's dark Satanic mills represented an old magic that, like Satan, had fallen from grace. As religion was being more and more secularized into Deism and nonbelief, the abiding human hunger for evidence of God and afterlife, for salvation -- bodily resurrection, if possible -- remained. The Methodist movement and the American Great Awakening were only two sectors on a broad front of resistance to the Age of Reason, a front which included Radicalism and Freemasonry as well as Luddites and the Gothic novel. Each in its way expressed the same profound unwillingness to give up elements of faith, however "irrational," to an emerging technopolitical order that might or might not know what it was doing. "Gothic" became code for "medieval," and that has remained code for "miraculous," on through Pre-Raphaelites, turn-of-the-century tarot cards, space opera in the pulps and comics, down to Star Wars and contemporary tales of sword and sorcery.

To insist on the miraculous is to deny to the machine at least some of its claims on us, to assert the limited wish that living things, earthly and otherwise, may on occasion become Bad and Big enough to take part in transcendent doings.