Channeling Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Burning Man, and the Matrix

There has been enough on Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon, to indicate the extreme likelihood that his latest work can be read in more ways than one. There is a debate, if a Wiki entry may be called a debate, a monolog, or hypothesis, or heck, a wiki entry, concerning the shadows dropped behind the title of the book (which was apparently released in two versions, and whose graphic translates: “The Tibetan Government Commerce Chamber”, an allusion, if an allusion can be performed visually, perhaps to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which deals I am sure with doubling, though I say so with absolutely nothing to go on but the obvious doubling that concerns the living and the dead, which is to say, I go by gut instinct that this work of historical fiction is also a work concerning the writing of a fictional accounting of fact, Pynchon being meta and all of that…)

There has been enough said to beg the question, What other tale may be buried herein? We know that Mr Pynchon is a fan of technology, is a fan of narrative arcs and of the rocket’s line of flight, as parable or parabola of life’s own arcing story, and arc also being that which bridges the gap between poles, two poles also suggesting bipolarity, the earth’s poles, or the anti-node from which our Chums of Chance sought to measure the electric communication of Dr. Tesla’s own arcing narrative.

To wit and a pro pole I couldn’t help but find myself aroused to a meta reading last night of the pages leading up to and around chapter two, Icelandic Spar, which seemed to me (and of lucid mind I must insist, I was) to suggest Don De Lillo, William Gibson, The Matrix, Hunter S. Thompson, and, and here is where it gets wonderfully sketchy, Burning Man.

To wit I submit a Chan-nelling of said authors and references, and solicit herewith fellow contributions.

And in all seriesnous, I must add, I do believe this to be a work of several arcs, each of which may be traced through points defined by the operation of differential and differentiating equation…. A work of several series, each a statement, a discursive curve, a Foucauldian diagram (See Deleuze on Foucault, the “new archivist” and the “new cartographer”) by which to map the Real….

From Wikipedia:
Doubling
“Pynchon makes much of a variety of calcite called Iceland spar, valued for its optical quality of double refraction; in Pynchonland, a magician can use it to split one person into two, who then wander off to lead their own lives”, Seligman writes. [16]

Sam Leith identifies the same theme:
“The book is shot through with doubling, or surrogacy. There are the palindromic rival scientists Renfrew and Werfner. [...] Events on one side of the world have an occult influence on those on the other. ‘Double refraction’ through a particular sort of crystal allows you to turn silver into gold. Mirrors are to be regarded with, at least, suspicion. It gets more complicated, and sillier. We’re introduced to the notion of ‘bilocation’ — where characters appear in two places at once — and, later, to that of ‘co-consciousness’, where someone’s own mind somehow bifurcates. ‘He wondered if he could be his own ghost,’ Pynchon writes of one character.”[19]

Reviewer Tom Leclair notes light in various flashy appearances: “God said, ‘Let there be light’; Against the Day collects ways our ancestors attempted to track light back to its source and replaced religion with alternative lights. There is the light of relativity, the odd light of electromagnetic storms, the light of the mysterious Tunguska event of 1908, when a meteorite struck Siberia or God announced a coming apocalypse. [...] the dynamite flash, the diffracted light of Iceland spar, the reflected light of magicians’ mirrors, the ‘light writing’ of photography and movies, the cities’ new electric lighting that makes the heavens invisible at night”.

Channeling now….

From Against the Day
Ref: More signs that the fair was Burning Man
“Rolling into city after city, St. Louis, Wichita, Denver, she caught herself each time hoping that somewhere in it, some neighborhood down the end of some electric line, it’d be there waiting for her, the real White City again, list up all spectral and cool at night and shimmering by day in the bright humidity of its webwork of canals, the electric launches moving silently through the waterways with their parasoled ladies and straw-hatted men and little kids with Cracker Jack pieces stuck in their hair.” p. 70, (boldface is mine)

From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), by Hunter S. Thompson
“What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create … a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody — or at least some force — is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.”

From Against the Day
At first she begged Merle, tearfully as she knew how, to please bring back, please, and he never quite found the way to tell her that the fairground was most of it surely burned down by now, pulled to pieces, taken away to salvage yards, sold off, crumbled away, staff and scantlings at the mercy of the elements, of the man-made bad times that had come upon Chicago and the nation…
p. 70

What is not burnt at the end of Burning man is disassembled and all of it taken away…

From Against the Day
“Planted rows went turning past like giant spokes one by one as they ranged the roads.” p. 70, (boldface is mine)

From Against the Day
“They pushed out into morning fields that went rolling all the way to every horizon, the Inner American Sea, where the chickens schooled like herring, and the hogs and heifers foraged and browsed like groupers and codfish, and the sharks tended to operate out of Chicago or Kansas City…” p. 71, (boldface is mine)

From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Vintage, 1971), pp 66-68 by Hunter S. Thompson
It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. …. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…. And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

From Against the Day
“Foley was ordinary-enough looking, not having yet taken on the more menacing aspect that the years in their peculiar mercy would provide him—what might’ve been exceptional was his idea of social or phatic conversation. “Took a Reb bullet for you, sir…” p. 100

…here now a description of Prince Polecat from Shelby Foote
“Later, a Union prisoner described Polignac’s Confederates as “charging demons,” moving forward “like a cyclone” as they bellowed their Rebel yells, and scorned every minie ball that whined around them……..” footnoted as from Shelby Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative: Red River To Appomattox, p. 44

…And if Foley Walker isn’t Shelby Foote, who died in 2005, it should have been….Listen to Foote’s phatic style, in perfect mason-dixon relief to that of his northern interviewer, Terry Gross, on Fresh Air.

[At 5:20 into the interview, Foote discusses the rifle and musket technologies of the time. The Minie Ball was made of lead, and did not find a place to rest in the human anatomy until after some amount of dul-headed back and forth.]

I now interrupt this exegesis to include this for comic relief…

IF GRANT HAD BEEN DRINKING AT APPOMATTOX -James Thurber

“General Lee will be here any minute now,” said the Corporal firmly, swinging the hammock again.
“Will you cut that out?” roared Grant. “D’ya want to make me sick, or what?” Shultz clicked his heels and saluted. “What’s he coming here for?” asked the General.
“This is the day of surrender, sir,” said Shultz. Grant grunted bitterly.
“Three hundred and fifty generals in the Northern armies,” said Grant, “and he has to come to me about this. What time is it?”. “You’re the Commander-in-Chief, that’s why,” said Corporal Shultz. “It’s eleven twenty, sir.”
“Don’t be crazy,” said Grant. “Lincoln is the Commander-in-Chief. Nobody in the history of the world ever surrendered before lunch. Doesn’t he know that an army surrenders on its stomach?” He pulled a blanket up over his head and settled himself again.
“The generals of the Confederacy will be here any minute now,” said the Corporal. “You really ought to be up, sir.” Grant stretched his arms above his head and yawned. “All right, all right,” he said. He rose to a sitting position and stared about the room. “This place looks awful,” he growled. “You must have had quite a time of it last night, sir,” ventured Shultz. “Yeh,” said General Grant, looking around for his clothes. “I was wrassling some general. Some general with a beard.”
Shultz helped the commander of the Northern armies in the field to find his clothes. “Where’s my other sock?” demanded Grant. Shultz began to look around for it. The General walked uncertainly to a table and poured a drink from a bottle. “I don’t think it wise to drink, sir,” said Shultz. Nev’ mind about me,” said Grant, helping himself to a second, “I can take it or let it alone. Didn’ ya ever hear the story about the fella went to. Lincoln to complain about me drinking too much? ‘So-and-So says Grant drinks too much,’ this fella said. ‘So-and-So is a fool,’ said Lincoln. So this fella went to What’s-His-Name and told him what Lincoln said and he came roarin’ to Lincoln about it. ‘Did you tell So-and-So was a fool?’ he said. ‘No,’ said Lincoln, ‘I thought he knew it.’” The’General smiled, reminiscently, and had another drink. “”That’s how I stand with Lincoln,” he said, proudly,
The soft thudding sound of horses’ hooves came through the open window. Shultz hurriedly walked over and looked out. “Hoof steps,” said Grant, with a curious chortle. “It is General Lee and his staff,” said Shultz. “Show him in,” said the General, taking another drink. “And see what the boys in the back room will have.” Shultz walked smartly over to the door, opened it, saluted, and stood aside.
General Lee, dignified against the blue of the April sky, magnificent in his dress uniform, stood for a moment framed in the doorway. He walked in, followed by his staff. They bowed, and stood silent. General Grant stared at them. He only had one boot on and his jacket was unbuttoned.
“I know who you are,” said Grant.’You’re Robert Browning, the poet.” “This is General Robert E. Lee,” said one of his staff, coldly. “Oh,” said Grant. “I thought he was Robert Browning. He certainly looks like Robert Browning. There was a poet for you. Lee: Browning. Did ya ever read ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’? ‘Up Derek, to saddle, up Derek, away; up Dunder, up Blitzen, up, Prancer, up Dancer, up Bouncer, up Vixen, up -’”.
“Shall we proceed at once to the matter in hand?” asked General Lee, his eyes disdainfully taking in the disordered room. “Some of the boys was wrassling here last night,” explained Grant. “I threw Sherman, or some general a whole lot like Sherman. It was pretty dark.” He handed a bottle of Scotch to the commanding officer of the Southern armies, who stood holding it, in amazement and discomfiture. “Get a glass, somebody,” said Grant, .looking straight at General Longstreet. “Didn’t I meet you at Cold Harbor?” he asked. General Longstreet did not answer.
“I should like to have this over with as soon as possible,” said Lee. Grant looked vaguely at Shultz, who walked up close to him , frowning. “The surrender, sir, the surrender,” said Corporal Shultz in a whisper. “Oh sure, sure,” said Grant. He took another drink. “All right,” he said. “Here we go.” Slowly, sadly, he unbuckled his sword. Then he handed it to the astonished Lee. “There you are. General,” said Grant. “We dam’ near licked you. If I’d been feeling better we would of licked you.”

…And now to return, on the blue pill (or is it the red pill), the hallucinatory series, in which Thomas Pynchon shrooms on the playa in Black Rock, Nevada, during the week of Burning Man, and, tripping, encounters Doctor Megavolt with his bipolar Tesla coil performance on a bus, sees visions of green pixellated screens rendered in the Matrix, pixels (quaternions) being a lossy way of storing the image when compared to vector-based flash files, De Lillo’s postcard section in White Noise now coming to mind, Webb Traverse now sounding a lot like Web TV, a Finnish street on webcam being a memorable point in that author’s dialog with memory, recollection, the image, and the real, a hyper-reality of Baudrillardian proportions now threatening to map the surface before there’s anything on it, Pynchon traversing the flat earth, pencil in hand, with a burning need to record, to write, to get it down as it is, the whole lossy storage of image now more than a matter of mere dithering…

From Against the Day
“Later in the shack, Kit came upon Telsa, frowning at a pencil sketch. “Oh. Sorry, I was looking for—”
“This toroid is the wrong shape,” said Tesla. “Come, look at this a moment.”
Kit had a look. “Maybe there’s a vector solution.”
How’s that”
“We know what we want the field to look like at each point, don’t we. Well maybe we can generate a surface shape that’ll give us that field”. p. 104

…Vector graphics are of course the faster, better way to draw a screen, store an image, and avoid the loss and artifacting of pixel-based file formats. Now a clearer image might solve that problem with the image we get in the Matrix, all green running-down pixels, wouldn’t you say? …

From Against the Day
“…in the sea’s reasserted emptiness, they had raised the volcano, dark and ruinous, which was their destination.” p.109

“Pallets and nails from opened crates soon littered the area.” p. 109

“Explosion without an objective is politics in its purest form” p. 111

….And does not Burning Man resonate, a boom to concuss the open mind across twelve square miles of inland sea, lakebedded flatland, if even as a raved-up historical after thought to the more explosive, surely more political, July Fourth trestle-blasting celebrations of the American Fin de Siecle?….

From Against the Day
“what does this suggest to you about the trajectories of your own lives?” p. 112

From Against the Day
“Electrodes sputtered and flared, and giant transformer coils droned afflictedly, almost in human accents, fed by electrical generators whose steam was being supplied by the local hot springs.” p. 112

….Well if that doesn’t sound like dr megavolt performing on the playa, call me mudd, or deaf, mudd, and blind. And of course, there are hot springs next to the black rock desert playa ….

From Against the Day
“mushrooms unknown… with new properties of visionary enhancement.” p. 115

From Against the Day
….Miles picks up communication from the tesla coil…. “There is traffic on the Tesla device” p. 117

From Against the Day
…the Chums of Chance are at the center of the earth now, picking up a call for help on the Tesla line “They are calling for help…” p. 116

….I picture Thomas Pynchon on the playa, the sky falling as if black rock city were now curtained by the northern lights themselves, imagining Morpheus, Trinity, Neo and the whole lot trying to find a landline by means of which to exit the Matrix…

From Against the Day
“They claim to be under attack by a horde or hostile gnomes, and have set out red signal lamps, arranged in concentric circles” p. 118

…At this point our author has clearly turned from the perimeter fence and made a bee-line to the Man, a light-seeking moth of a human, clod-hopping his flat-footed self across the playa, a mad jabber-jawing post-modernist packing genius, his hand in a bag of gibberish, propelled as if by the great thruster of Life itself on a vector for the center of the many-spoked wheel, only to stall in mid-flight Brenschluss as he comes upon what must have, surely was, Ishtar and it’s calamitous operatic unfolding, a pell-mell of half-clad fire dancers adrift in lurid imprecision as the orchestra tunes to two measures of loop and the whole gathering at large waits for Pepe, an E major, and the damn thing to please begin already….

From Against the Day
117: “the Chums swept through the interior of the Earth and at last out her Northern portal, which they beheld as a tiny circle of brightness far ahead..” 116

From Against the Day
Quaternions. “one who cannot come to terms with the one, one must say sinister unknowability of Light, projects an Aether, real in every way, except for its being detectable.” “Fairies under mushrooms…” p. 132-3

…pixels, pixies….

From Against the Day
“Earlier members of the Expedition had visited the great Library of Iceland behind the translucent green walls facing the sunlit sea. Some of these spaces were workshops or mess-halls some centers of operation…” p. 133

…yes, definitely in the Nebucadnezzar, Dozer at the helm, surrounded by green screens all dripping a pixellated view of the Matrix…

From Against the Day
“the subsctructure off reality. The doubling of the Creation, each image clear and believable….” p. 133 which “makes it possible for them to move through the world that thinks of itself as real…” p. 134

From Against the Day
134: Down where the the ‘Hidden People’ live, inside their private rock dwellings, where humans who visit them can be closed in and never find a way out again.” p. 134

….poor Zion…

Against the Day
“The sun came up a baleful smear in the sky….A silver-gray, odorless, silent exit from the upper world…. The sun might be visible from time to time, with or without clouds, but the sky was more neutral density gray than blue.” p. 134

and finally…
Neuromancer by William Gibson
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” opening line….

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