Thomas Pynchon

The Crying of Lot 49

'I came,' she said, 'hoping you could talk me out of a fantasy.'

'Cherish it!' cried Hilarius, fiercely. 'What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don't let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be.'

Oedipa, perverse, had stood in front of the painting and cried. No one had noticed; she wore dark green bubble shades. For a moment she'd wondered if the seal around her sockets were tight enough to allow the tears simply to go on and fill up the entire lens space and never dry. She could carry the sadness of the moment with her that way forever, see the world refracted through those tears, those specific tears, as if indices as yet unfound varied in important ways from cry to cry. She had looked down at her feet and known, then, because of a painting, that what she stood on had only been woven together a couple thousand miles away in her own tower, was only by accident known as Mexico, and so Pierce had taken her away from nothing, there'd been no mistake. What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey. If the tower is everywhere, and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?

Oedipa resolved to pull in at the next motel she saw, however ugly, stillness and four walls having at some point become preferable to this illusion of speed, freedom, wind in your hair, unreeling landscape--it wasn't what the road really was, she fancied, was this hypodermic needle, inserted somewhere ahead into the vein of a freeway, a vein nourishing the mainliner L.A., keeping it happy, coherent, protected from pain, or whatever passes, with a city, for pain.

But did it matter now if he'd owned all of San Narsico? San Narsico was a name; an incident among our climatic records of dreams and what dreams became among our accumulated daylight, a moment's squall line or tornado's touchdown among the higher, more continental solemnities-- storm-systems of group suffering and need, prevailing winds of affluence. There was the true continuity, San Narsico had no boundaries. No one knew yet how to draw them. She had dedicated herself, weeks ago, to making sense of what Inveraity had left behind, never suspecting that the legacy was America.

Gravity's Rainbow

The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as a spectacle, as diversion from the real movements of the war. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught history as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death's a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try 'n' grab a piece of the Pie while they're still here to gobble it up.

Proverbs for Paranoids:

1. You may never get to touch the master, but you can tickle his creatures.

2. The Innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.

3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers.

4. You hide, they seek.

5. Paranoids are not paranoids because they're paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.

There was no difference between the behavior of a god, and the operations of pure chance.

He knows he is seeing Mickey Rooney, though Mickey Rooney, wherever he may go, will repress the fact that he ever saw Slothrop.

People who dress up in bizarre costumes have a savoir vivre--not to mention the sort of personality disorder--that he admires.--Tchitcherine pondering Slothrop's outfit ...

Taking and not giving back, demanding that "productivity" and "earnings" keep on increasing with time, the system removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity--most of the world, animal, vegetable, and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The system may or may not understand that it's only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to begin with, of no value to anyone, or anything but the system, which sooner or later must crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life. Living inside the system is like riding across the country in a bus driven by a maniac bent on suicide...

Fickt nicht mit dem Raketemensch!

It means this war was never political at all, the politics was all theatre, just to keep the people was being dictated instead by the needs of a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the energy-burst of war, crying, "Money be dammed, the very life of [insert name of Nation] is at stake," but meaning, most likely, dawn is nearly here, I need my night's blood, my funding, funding, ahh more, more...The real crises were crises of allocation and priority, not among firms--it was only staged to look that way--but among the different Technologies, Plastics, Electronics, Aircraft, and their needs which are understood only by the ruling elite.

Go ahead, capitalize the T on technology, deify it if it'll make you feel less responsible--but it puts you in with the neutered, brother, in with the eunuchs keeping the harem of our stolen Earth for the numb and joyless hardons of human sultans, humane elite with no right at all to be where they are...

He is crying for persons, places, and things left behind: for Scorpia only a few minutes away by underground but lost to Pirate now for good, no chance for either of them to turn again...for people he had to betray in the course of business for the Firm, Englishmen and foreigners, for Ion so naive...for nights up in partisan mountains when he was one with the smell of living trees, in full love with the at last undeniable beauty of the night...for his dead mother, and his dying father, for the innocent and the fools who are going to trust him, poor faces doomed as dogs who have watched us so amiably from behind the wire fences at the city pounds...cries for the future he can see, because it makes him feel so desperate and cold...finding out one day how long ago, how early in the game the contract on his own life, was let.

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

How could there be a winter--even this one--gray enough to age this iron that can sing in the wind, or cloud these windows that open into another season, however falsely preserved?

But, its only a reprieve. Isn't it. There will indeed be others, each just as likely to land on top of him. No one on either side of the front knows exactly how many more. Will we have to stop watching the sky?

It was one of those great iron afternoons in London: the yellow sun being teased apart by a thousand chimneys breathing, fanning upward without shame. This smoke is more than the day's breath, more than dark strength--it is an imperial presence that lives and moves.

But every true god must be both organizer and destroyer.

It's nothing he can see or lay hands on--sudden gases, a violence upon the air and no trace afterward...a Word, spoken with no warning in your ear, and then silence forever. Beyond its invisibility, beyond hammerfall and doomcrack, here is its real horror, mocking promising him death with German and precise confidence, laughing down all of Tantivy's quiet, no bullet with fins, Ace...not the Word, the one Word that rips apart the day. 26 gr

His reluctance is not Pirate's own over the machinery of Operation Black Wing. It looks more like shame. Wasn't Mexico's face tonight, as he took the envelope, averted? eyes boxing the corners of the room at top speed, a pornography customer's reflex...hmmm. Knowing Bloat, perhaps that's what it is, young lady gamming well-set-up young man, several poses--more wholesome than anything this war's ever, at least.... 35

Once Roger and Jessica might have stopped. But they're both alumni of the Battle of Britain, both have been drafted into the early black mornings and the crying for mercy, the dumb inertia of cobbles and beams, the profound shortage of mercy in those days...By the time one has pulled one's nth victim or part of a victim free of one's nth pile of rubble, he told her once, angry, weary, it has ceased to be that personal...the value of n may be different for each of us, but I'm sorry: sooner or later... 42

How many times before it's washed away, these iterations that pour out, reliving the blast, afraid to let go because the letting go is so final how do I know Doctor that I'll ever come back? and the answer trust us, after the rocket, is so hollow, only mummery--trust you?--and both know it...Spectro feels so like a fraud but carries on...only because the pain continues to be real...

And those who do let go at last: out of each catharsis rise new children, painless, egoless for one pulse of the Between...tablet erased, new writing about to begin, hand and chalk poised in winter gloom over these poor human palimpsests shivering under their government blankets, drugged, drowning in tears and snot of grief so real, torn from so deep that it surprises, seems more than their own.... 51

Roger really wants other people to know what he's talking about. Jessica understands that. When they don't, his face often grows chalky and clouded, as behind the smudge glass of a railway carriage window as vaguely silvered barriers come down, spaces slide in to separate him that much more, thinning further his loneliness. She knew their very first day, he leaning across to open the Jaguar door and so sure she'd never get in. She saw his loneliness: in his face, between his red nail-bitten hands... 58

How can Mexico play so at ease with these symbols of randomness and fright? Innocent as a child, perhaps unaware--perhaps--that in his play he wrecks the elegant rooms of history, threatens the idea of cause and effect itself. What if Mexico's whole generation have turned out like this? Will Postwar be nothing but "events," newly created one moment to the next? No links? Is it the end of history? 57

Scientist-neutrality. Hands that--she shivers. There are chances now for enemy shapes out of the snow and stillness. She drops the blackout curtain. Hand that could as well torture people as dogs and never feel their pain. 59

...Yes there is something sadistic about recipes with "Surprise" in the title, chap who's hungry just wants to eat you know, not be surprised really, just wants to bite into the (sigh) the old potato and be reasonably sure there's nothing inside but potato, you see, certainly not some clever nutmeg "Surprise!", some mashed pulps all magenta with pomegranates or something.... p.81

It was widely believed in those days that behind the War--all the death, savagery, and destruction--lay the Fuhrer-principle. But if personalities could be replaced by abstractions of power, if techniques developed by the corporations could be brought to bear, might not nations live rationally? One of the dearest Postwar hopes: that there should be no room for a terrible disease like charisma...that its rationalization should proceed while we had the time and resources. 82

"Want the Change," Rilke said, "O be inspired by the Flame!" To laurel, to nightingale, to wind...wanting it, to be taken, to embrace, to fall toward the flame growing to fill all the senses and...not to love because it was no longer possible to act...but to be helplessly in a condition of love. 99

Under its tamarind glaze, the Mills bomb turns out to be luscious pepsin-flavored nougat, chock-full of tangy candied cubeb berries, and a chewy camphor-gum center. It is unspeakably awful. Slothrop's head begins to reel with camphor fumes, his eyes are running, his tongue's a hopeless holocaust. Cubeb? he used to smoke that stuff. "Poisoned..." he is able to croak. 120

Together they are a long skin interface, flowing sweat, close as muscles and bones can press, hardly a word beyond her name, or his. 123

What's a colony without its dusky natives? Where's the fun if they're all going to die off? Just a big chunk of desert, no more maids, no field-hands, no laborers for the construction or the mining--wait, wait a minute there, yes it's Karl Marx, that sly old racist skipping away with his teeth together and his eyebrows up trying to make believe it's nothing but Cheap Labor and Overseas Markets... Oh, no. Colonies are much, much more. Colonies are the outhouses of the European soul, where a fellow can let his pants down and relax, enjoy the smell of his own shit. Where he can fall on his slender prey roaring as loud as he feels like, and guzzle her blood with open joy. Eh? Where he can just wallow and rut and let himself go in a softness, a receptive darkness of limbs, of hair as woolly as the hair on his own forbidden genitals. Where the poppy, and the cannabis and coca grow full and green, and not to the colors and style of death, as do ergot and agaric, the blight and fungus native to Europe. Christian Europe was always death, Karl, death and repression. Out and down in the colonies, life can be indulged, life and sensuality in all its forms, with no harm done to the Metropolis, nothing to soil those cathedrals, white marble statues, noble thoughts... No word ever gets back. The silences down here are vast enough to absorb all behavior, no matter how dirty, how animal it gets...." (GR 317)

Women avoid him. He knows in a general way what it is: he's creepy. He's even aware, usually, of the times when he's being creepy--it's a certain set to his face-muscles, a tendency to sweat...but he can't seem to do anything about it, can't ever concentrate for long enough, they distract him so--and next thing he knows he's back to radiating the old creepiness again... and their response to it is predictable, they run uttering screams only they, and he, can hear.

"That's for you to work out. If you prefer to call this a liaison, do. I am here for as long as you need me. You don't have to listen. You think you'd rather hear about what you call 'life': the growing, organic Kartell. But it's only another illusion. A very clever robot. The more dynamic it seems to you, the more deep and dead, in reality, it grows. Look at the smokestacks, how they proliferate, fanning the wastes of original waste over greater and greater masses of city. Structurally, they are strongest in compression. A smokestack can survive any explosion--even the shock wave from one of the new cosmic bombs"-- a bit of a murmur around the table at this--"as you all must know. The persistence, then, of structures favoring death. Death converted into more death. Perfecting its reign, just as the buried coal grows denser, and overlaid with more strata--epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city. This is the sign of Death the impersonator.

"I meant flying outward?" He means alone and forever separate: Pointsman knows what he means. So, by surprise, something in him is touched. He feels the Christmas snow now at crevices of his boots, the bitter cold trying to get in. The brown wool flank of Gwenhidwy moves at the edge of his sight, a pocket of color, a holdout against this whitening day. Flying outward. Flying . . . Gwenhidwy, a million icepoints falling at a slant across his caped immensity, looking so improbable of extinction that now, from where it's been lying, the same yawing drunk chattering fear returns, the Curse of the Book, and here is someone he wants, truly, with all his mean heart, to see preserved . . . though he's been too shy, or proud, ever to've smiled at Gwenhidwy without some kind of speech to explain and cancel out the smile. . .

"Here, don't you know there's a war on?" Thus Pointsman receives, with his cup, a terrible scowl. In truth, he is hoping with nitwit irrelevancies to discourage Gwenhidwy from going on about his City Paranoiac. Pointsman would rather talk about the rocket victims admitted today to the hospital down there. But this is exorcism man, it is the poet singing back the silence, adjuring the white riders, and Gwenhidwy knows, as Pointsman cannot, that it's part of the plan of the day to sit inside this mean room and cry into just such a deafness: that Mr. Pointsman is to play exactly himself--stylized, irritable, uncomprehending. . . .

In their brief time together Slothrop forms the impression that this octopus is not in good mental health, though where's his basis for comparing?

But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice--guessed and refused to believe--that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children. . . .

"Holy shit." This is the kind of sunset you hardly see any more, a 19th century wilderness sunset, a few of which got set down, approximated, on canvas, landscapes of the American West by artists nobody ever heard of, when the land was still free and the eye innocent, and the presence of the Creator much more direct. Here it thunders now over the Mediterranean, high and lonely, this anachronism in primal red, in yellow purer than can be found anywhere today, a purity begging to be polluted ... of course Empire took its way westward, what other way was there but into those virgin sunsets to penetrate and to foul?

"That's what they--Peter can't you see, they want a great swollen tit with some atrophied excuse for a human, bleating around somewhere in its shadows. How can I be human for her? Not her mother. 'Mother,' that's a civil-service category, Mothers work for Them! They're the policemen of the soul..." her face darkened, Judaized by the words she speaks, not because it's out loud but because she means it, and she's right.

Slothrop knows this place. Not so much from maps he had to study at the Casino as knowing it in the way you know someone is there. . . .

A market needed no longer be run by the Invisible Hand, but now could create itself--its own logic, momentum, style, from inside. Putting the control inside was ratifying what de facto had happened--that you had dispensed with God. But you had taken on a greater, more harmful illusion. The illusion of control. That A could do B. But that was false. Completely. No one can do. Things only happen, A and B are unreal, are names for parts that ought to be inseparable.

At the images she sees in the mirror Katje also feels a cameraman's pleasure, but he knows what he cannot: that inside herself, enclosed in the soignée surface of dear fabric and dead cells, she is corruption and ashes, she belongs in a way none of them can guess cruelly to the Der Kinderofen.

Mason & Dixon

It took me till I was lying among the Rats and Vermin, upon the freezing edge of a Future invisible, to understand that my name had never been my own, -- rather belonging, all this time, to the Authorities, who forbade me to change it, or withhold it, as 'twere a Ring upon the Collar of a Beast, ever waiting for the lead to be fasten'd on...

O children, I even dream'd in those Days,--but only long after the waking traverse was done.

One reason Humans remain young so long, compar'd to other Creatures, is that the young are useful in many ways, among them in providing daily, by way of the evil Creatures and Slaughter they love, a Denial of Mortality clamorous enough to allow their Elders release, if only for moments at a time, from Its claims upon the Attention.

...Blows whose personal Malevolence was more frightening even than their Scale, --the Ship's hoarse Shrieking, a great sea-animal in pain, the textures if its Cries nearly those of the human Voice when under great stress.

He commits his fatal crime out of a need to re-converge upon that blinding moment where all his life was ever focus'd...

This Christmastide of 1786, with the War settl'd and the Nation bickering itself into Fragments, wounds bodily and ghostly, great and small, go aching on, not ev'ry one commemorated,--nor, too often, even recounted.

'After years wasted,' the Revd commences, 'at perfecting a parsonical disguise,--grown old in the service of an Impersonation that never took more than a Handful of actors tricks,--past remembering those Yearnings for Danger, past all that ought to have been but never had a Hope of becoming, have I beach'd upon these Republican Shores,--stoven, dismasted, imbecile with age,--an untrustworthy Remembrancer for whom the few events yet rattling within a broken memory must provide the only comfort now remaining to him--...'

'Mason, pray you,--'tis the Age of Reason,' Dixon reminds him, 'We're men of Science. To huz must all days run alike, the same number of identical Seconds, each proceeding in but one Direction, irreclaimable...?'

Oh, one may, if one wishes, find insult at ev'ry step,--from insolent Stares to mortal Assault, an Orgy of Insult uninterrupted--yet how does one proceed to call out each offender in turn, or choose among 'em, and in obedience to what code? So, one soon understands it, as yet another Term in the Contract between the City and oneself,--a function of simple Density, ensuring that there never be time enough to acknowledge, let alone to resent, such a mad Variety of offer'd Offense.

Wrapt tightly, as within Vacuum-Hemispheres, lies the Unspoken,--the concentration of Terror and death of but two afternoons ago, transpir'd without one word, in brute Contempt for any language but that of winds and masses, cries and blood. Impenetrable, it calls up Questions whose Awkwardness has only increas'd as the Astronomers have come to understand there may be no way of ever finding the Answers.

'As if...there were no single Destiny,' puzzles Mason, 'but rather a choice among a great many possible ones, their number steadily diminishing each time a Choice be made, till at last 'reduc'd' to the events that do happen to us, as we pass among 'em, thro' Time unredeemable,--much as a Lens, indeed, may receive all the Light from some vast celestial Field of View, and reduce it to a single Point.'

How is any of this going to help restore me to the "ordinary World"?--the answer, which I am yet too young to see, being that these are the very given Conditions of the "ordinary World."

Is ours not the Age of Metamorphosis, with any turn of fortune a possibility?

In Johanna's intrigue to bring together Mason and her senior slave, however, 'tis the Slavery, not any form of Desire, that is of the essence. Dixon, out of these particular meshes, can see it,-- Mason cannot. Indifferent to Visibility, wrapt in the melancholy Winds that choir all night long, persists an Obsession or Siege by something much older than anyone here, an injustice that will not cancel out. Men of Reason will define a Ghost as nothing more otherworldly than a wrong unrighted, which like an easy spirit cannot move on,--needing help we cannot usually give,--nor always find the people it needs to see, or who need to see it. But here is a Collective Ghost of more than household Scale,--the Wrongs committed Daily against the Slaves, petty and grave ones alike, going unrecorded, charm'd invisible to history, invisible yet possessing Mass, and Velocity, able not only to rattle Chains but to break them as well. The precariousness to Life here, the need to keep the Ghost propitiated, Day to Day, via the Company's merciless Priesthoods and many-Volum'd Codes, brings all but the hardiest souls sooner or later to consider the Primary Questions more or less undiluted. Slaves here commit suicide at a frightening Rate,--but so do the Whites, for no reason, or for a Reason ubiquitous and unaddress'd, which may bear Acquaintance but a Moment at a Time. Mason, as he comes to recognize the sorrowful Nakedness of the Arrangements here, grows morose, whilst Dixon makes a point of treating Slaves with the Courtesy he is never quite able to summon for their Masters.

...And then Eight more years till the next, and for this Generation last, Opportunity,--as if the Creation's Dark Engineer had purposely arrang'd the Intervals thus, to provoke a certain Instruction, upon the limits to human grandeur impos'd by Mortality.

What enchanted Mason about these Girls, Dixon comes to realize, with some consternation, is their readiness to seek the Shadow, avoid the light, believe in what haunts these shores exactly to the Atom,--ghosts ev'rywhere,--slaves, Hottentots driven into exile, animals remorselessly Savage,--a Reservoir of Sin, whose weight like that of the atmosphere is borne day after day unnotic'd, adverted to only when some Vacuum is encounter'd,--a Stranger in Town, a Malay publicly distraught, an hour at the Lodge,--into which its Contents might rush with a Turbulence felt and wonder'd at by all.

If the Cape of Good Hope be a Parable about Slavery and Free Will he fancies he has almost tho' not quite grasp'd, then what of this Translocation?

'We are the Doings of Global Trade in miniature!' cries the Post Surgeon, who tries never to stir too far from the deepest rooms of the Fort, where the Wind may oppress him least, and is careful to include it in each daily Prayer, as if t'were a Deity in itself, infinitely in Need, ever demanding...

"What happens to men sometimes," his father wants to tell Charlie, "is that one day all at once they'll understand how much they love their children, as absolutely as a child gives away its own love, and the terrible terms that come with that,--and it proves too much to bear, and they'll not want it, any of it, and back away in fear. And that's how these miserable situations arise,--in particular between fathers and sons. The Father too afraid, the Child too innocent. Yet if he could but survive the first onrush of fear, and be bless'd enough with Time to think, he might find a way through..." Hoping Charlie might have look'd at him and ask'd, "Are you and I finding a way through?"

"Time, ye see," says the Landlord, "is the money of Science, isn't it. The Philosophers need a Time, common to all, as Traders to do a common coinage.

We who rule must tell great Lies, whilst ye lower down need only lie a little bit. This is yet another thankless sacrifice we make for you, so that you may not have to feel as much Remorse as we do,--as we must. Part of noblesse oblige, as you might it so strange that the son of a lawyer who bought and then destroy'd in shame a once-honorable Title, should seek refuge in stargazing? They betray us not, nor ever do they lie,--they are pure Mathesis. Unless they be moons or Planets, possessing Diameter, each exists as but a dimensionless Point,--a simple pair of Numbers, Right Ascension and Declination...Numbers that you Men of Science are actually paid, out of the Purses of Kings, to find.

"What charms as it frightens us plain folk," he goes on, "is how Jesuits observe Devotions so transcendent, whilst practicing Crimes so terrestrial,--their Inventions as wondrously advanced as their use of them is remorselessly ancient. They seem to us at once, benevolent Visitors, from a Place quite beyond our reach, and corrupted Assassins, best kept beyond the reach of."

His Lordship, as Mason relates, requir'd a People who liv'd in quite another relation to Time,--one that did not, like our own, hold at its heart the terror of Time's passage,--far more preferably, Indifference to it, pure and transparent as possible. The Verbs of their language no more possessing tenses, than their Nouns Case-Endings,--for these People remain'd as careless of Sequences in Time as disengaged from Subjects, Objects, Possession, or indeed anything which might among Englishmen require a Preposition.

The Business of the World is Trade and Death, and you must engage with that unpleasantness, as the price of your not-at-all-assur'd Moment of Purity.--Fool.

If Chimes could whisper, if Melodies could pass away, and their Souls wander the Earth...if Ghosts danced at Ghost Ridottoes, 'twould require such Musick, Sentinment ever held back, ever at the Edge of breaking forth, in Fragments, as Glass breaks.

As Savages commemorate their great Hunts with Dancing, so History is the Dance of our Hunt for Christ, and how we hare far'd.

"What Machine is it," young Cherrycoke later bade himself goodnight, "that bears us along so relentlessly? We go rattling thro' another Day,--another Year,--as thro' an empty Town without a Name, in the Midnight...we have but memories of some Pause at the Pleasure-Spas of our younger Day, the Maidens, the Cards, the Claret,--we seek to extend our stay but now a silent Functionary in dark Livery indicates it is time to re-board the Coach, and resume the Journey. Long before the Destination, moreover, shall this Machine come abruptly to a Stop...gather'd dense with Fear, shall we open the Door to confer with the Driver, to discover that there is no Driver, Horses,...only the Machine, fading as we stand, and a Prarie of desperate Immensity.


Some of us are afraid of dying; others of human loneliness. Profane was afraid of land or seascapes like this, where nothing else lived but himself.

Somehow, there--dreams are not closer to the waking world, but somehow, I think, they do seem more real.

Ten million dead. Gas. Passchendaele. Let that be now a large figure, now a chemical formula, now a historical account. But dear lord, not the Nameless Horror, the sudden prodigy sprung on a world unaware. We all saw it. There was no innovation, no special breach of nature, or suspension of familiar principles. If it came as any surprise to the public then their own blindness is the Great Tragedy, hardly the war itself.

There were enough instances of that in history, all regarded by Waldetar with terror and a sense of his own smallness. Noah's warning of the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea, Lot's escape from annihilated Sodom. Men, he felt, even perhaps Sephardim, are at the mercy of the earth and its seas. Whether a cataclysm is accident or design, they need a God to keep them from harm. The storm and the earthquake have no mind. Soul cannot commend no soul. Only God can.

...what sort of world is it when they must let children suffer?

How could you say they were people: they were money. What did he care about the love affairs of the English? Charity--selfless or erotic--was as much a lie as the Koran. Did not exist.

All of which went to support his private thesis that correction--along all dimensions: social, political, emotional--entails retreat to a diametric opposite rather than any reasonable search for a golden mean.

That ghost fills the walls of this cafe and the streets of this district, perhaps everyone of the world's arrondissements breathes its substance. Cast in the image of what? Not God. Whatever potent spirit can mesmerize the gift of irreversible flight into a grown man and the gift of self-arousal into the eyes of a young girl, his name is unknown. Or if known then he is Yahweh and we are all Jews, for no one will ever speak it.

A decadence is a falling-away from what is human, and the further we fall the less human we become. Because we are less human, we foist off the humanity we have lost on inanimate objects and abstract theories.

As a youth I believed in social progress because I saw chances for personal progress of my own. Today, at age sixty, having gone as far as I'm about to go, I see nothing but a dead end for myself, and if you're right, for my society as well. But then: suppose Sidney Stencil has remained constant after all--suppose instead sometime between 1859 and 1919, the world contracted a disease which no one ever took the trouble to diagnose because the symptoms were too subtle--blending in with the events of history, no different one by one but altogether--fatal. This is how the public, you know, see the late war. As a new and rare disease which has now been cured and conquered forever.

'Is old age a disease?' Mehemet asked. 'The body slows down, machines wear out, planets falter and loop, sun and stars gutter and smoke. Why say a disease? Only to bring it down to a size you can look at and feel comfortable?'

Assume, then, a prospect of chaos in the streets, joined by every group on the island with a grudge. This would include nearly everyone but the OAG and his staff. Doubtless each would think only of his own immediate desires. But mob violence, like tourism, is a kind of communion. By its special magic a large number of lonely souls, however heterogeneous, can share the common property of opposition to what is. And like an epidemic or earthquake the politics of the street can overtake even the most stable-appearing of governments; like death it cuts through and gathers in all ranks of society.

...her face betrayed no emotion. It was as if she saw herself embodying a feminine principle, acting as complement to all this bursting, explosive male energy. Inviolate and calm, she watched the spasm of wounded bodies, the fair of violent death, framed and staged, it seemed, for her alone in that tiny square. From her hair the heads of five crucified also looked on, no more expressive than she.

Whatever the reason, he began to discover that sleep was taking up time which could be spent active. His random movements before the war had given way to a great single movement form inertness to--if not vitality, then at least activity. Work, the chase, for it was V. he hunted--far from being a means to glorify God and one's own godliness (as the Puritans believe) was for Stencil grim, joyless; a conscious acceptance of one unpleasant for no other reason than that V. was there to track down.

She knew instinctively: he will be as fine as the fraternity boy just out of an Ivy League school who knows he will never stop being a fraternity boy as long as he lives. But who still feels he is missing something, and so hangs at the edges of the Whole Sick Crew. If he is going into management, he writes. If he is an engineer or architect why he paints or sculpts. He will straddle the line, aware up to the point of knowing he is getting the worst of both worlds, but never stopping to wonder why there should ever have been a line or even if there is a line at all. He will learn how to be a twinned man and will go on at the game, straddling until he splits up the crotch and in half from the prolonged tension, and then he will be destroyed.

They wouldn't share the boss's pride but they could feel guilty about making what he felt a lie, having learned through no very surprising or difficult schooling, that pride--in our patrol, in yourself, even as a deadly sin--does not really exist in the same way that, say, three empty beer bottles exist to be cashed in for subway fares and warmth someplace to sleep for a while. Pride you could exchange for nothing at all. What was Zeitsuss, the poor innocent, getting for it? Chopped down was what. But they liked him and nobody had the heart to wise him up.

On the way downtown on the subway he decided that we suffer from great temporal homesickness for the decade we were born in. Because he felt now as if he were living in some private depression days: the suit, the job with the city that would not exist after two weeks more at the most. All around him were people in new suits, millions of inanimate objects being produced brand-new every week, new cars in the streets, houses going up by the thousands all over the suburbs he had left months ago. Where was the depression? In the sphere of Benny Profane's guts and in the sphere of his skull, concealed optimistically by a tight blue serge coat and a schlemiel's hopeful face.

Perhaps history this century, thought Eigenvalue, is rippled with gathers in its fabric such that if we are situated as Stencil seemed to be, at the bottom of a fold, it's impossible to determine warp, woof or pattern anywhere else. By virtue, however, of existing in one gather it is assumed there are others, compartmented off into sinuous cycles each of which come to assume greater importance than the weave itself and destroy any continuity. Thus it is that we are charmed by the funny-looking automobiles of the '30s, the curious fashions of the '20s, the peculiar moral habits of our grandparents. We produce and attend musical comedies about them and are conned into a false memory, a phony nostalgia about what they were. We are accordingly lost to any sense of a continuous tradition. Perhaps if we lived on a crest, things would be different. We could at least see.

What sort of age is this where a man becomes one's enemy only when his back is turned?

But why? Have you never harrowed yourself halfway to--disorder--with that single word? Why?

Did he owe it to them, the lovers of skins, not to tell about Vheissu, not even to let them suspect the suicidal fact that below the glittering integument of every foreign land there is a hard dead-point of truth and that in all cases--even England's--it is the same kind of truth, can be phrased in identical words?

For that moment at least they seemed to give up external plans, theories and codes, even the inescapable romantic curiosity about one another, to indulge in being simply and purely young, to share that sense of the world's affliction, that outgoing sorrow at the spectacle of Our Human Condition which anyone this age regards as gratuity for having survived adolescence. For them the music was sweet and painful, the strolling chains of tourists like a Dance of Death. They stood on the curb, gazing at one another, jostled against by hawkers and sightseers, lost as much perhaps in that bond of youth as in the depths of the eyes each contemplated.

"There are nights," he mused, "nights, alone, when I think we are apes in a circus, mocking the ways of men. Perhaps it is all a mockery, and the only condition we can ever bring to men a mockery of liberty, of dignity. But that cannot be. Or else I have lived."

Politics is kind of engineering, isn't it. With people as your raw material.

Till we've done it, we're taught that it's evil. Having done it, then's the struggle: to admit to yourself that it's not really evil at all. That like forbidden sex it's enjoyable.

When a man wants to appear politically moral he speaks of human brotherhood.

Except that the shape of Mondaugen's "conspiracy" with Vera Meroving was finally beginning to come clear to him. She apparently wanted Godolphin, for reasons he could only guess at, though her desire seemed to arise out of a nostalgic sensuality whose appetites knew nothing at all of nerves, or heat, but instead belonged to the barren touchlessness of memory.

Her eyes, rimmed in black after Foppl's 1904, needed something less hermetic than this empty corridor to frame them: palazzo's façade, provincial square, esplanade in the winter--yet more human, perhaps only more humorous than, say, the Kalahari. It was her inability to come to rest anywhere inside plausible extremes, her nervous, endless motion, like the counter-crepitating of the ball along its roulette spokes, seeking a random compartment but finally making, having made, sense only as precisely the dynamic uncertainty she was, this that upset Mondaugen enough to scowl quietly and say with a certain dignity no, turn, leave her there and return to his sferics.

The lieutenant ground his teeth solicitously.

These were the mass deaths. There were also the attendant maimed, malfunctioning, homeless, lorn. It happens every month in a succession of encounters between groups of living and a congruent world which simply doesn't care. Look in any yearly Almanac, under "Disasters"--which is where the figures above come from. The business is transacted month after month after month.

Time of course has showed the question up in all of its young illogic. We can justify any apologia simply by calling life a successive rejection of personalities. No apologia is any more than a romance--half a fiction--in which all the successive identities taken on and rejected by the writer as a function of linear time are treated as separate characters. The writing itself even constitutes another rejection, another "character" added to the past. So we do sell our soul: paying them away to history in little installments. It isn't so much to pay for eyes clear enough to see past the fiction of continuity, the fiction of cause and effect, the fiction of a humanized history endowed with "reason."

Now memory is a traitor: gliding, altering. The word is, in sad fact, meaningless, based as it is on the false assumption that identity is single, soul continuous.

All the while only in the process of learning life's single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane.

Though Stencil knew the difference between "political gathering" and "mob" is fine indeed. Anything might touch it off.

Nostalgia and melancholy...Hadn't he bridged two worlds? The changes couldn't have been all in him. It must be an alien passion in Malta where all history seemed simultaneously present, where all streets were strait with ghosts, where in a sea whose uneasy floor made and unmade islands every year this stone fish and Ghaude and the rocks called Cumin-seed and Peppercorn had remained fixed realities since time out of mind. In London were too many distractions. History there was the record of evolution. One-way and ongoing. Monuments, buildings, plaque were remembrances only; but in Valetta remembrances seemed almost to live.


'Hey, so, Mr. Wheeler,' Isaiah at last, 'how you doing?'

'What's this "Mr. Wheeler' what happened to "You lunch meat, sucker'?" this line having climaxed their last get-together, when from a temperate discussion of musical differences, feelings had swiftly escalated into the rejection, on quite a broad scale, of most of one another's values.

Upstairs, in the Ninjette Coffee Lounge, the Head Ninjette, with a mug of coffee in her hand, slowly emerged, as they conversed, from invisibility. It seemed to the girl that this must be a magical gift. She learned later that Rochelle had memorized, in this room, all the shadows and how they changed, the cover, the exact spaces between things...had come to know the room so completely that she could impersonate it, in its full transparency and emptiness.

We are digits in God's computer, she not so much thought as hummed to herself to a sort of standard gospel tune, And the only thing we're good for, to be dead or living is the only thing He sees. What we cry, what we contend for, in our world of toil and blood, it all lies beneath the notice of the hacker we call God. could have been about the only way she knew how to use the word love anymore, its trivializing in those days already well begun, its magic fading, the subject of all that rock and roll, the simple resource we once thought would save us.

Against the Day

As the ordeal went on, it became clear to certain of these balloonists, observing from above and poised ever upon a cusp of mortal danger, how much the modern state depended for its survival on maintaining a condition of permanent siege--through the systematic encirclement of populations, the starvation of bodies and spirits, the relentless degradation of civility until citizen was turned against citizen, even to the point of committing atrocities like those of the infamous petroleurs of Paris. When the Seiges ended, the balloonists chose to fly on, free now of the political delusions that reigned more than ever on the ground, pledged solemnly to one another, proceeding as if under a world-wide, neverending state of siege. 19

...On the face of it, all mathematics leads, doesn't it, sooner or later, to some kind of human suffering. 541

For dynamite is both the winner's curse, the outward and audible sign of his enslavement to mineral extraction, and the American working man's equalizer, his agent of deliverance, if he would only dare to use it...Every end of some chain of accountancy to dollar sums no miner ever saw, there will have to be a corresponding entry on the other side of God's ledger, convertible to human freedom no owner is willing to grant [...]

...Being born into this don't automatically make you innocent. But when you reach a point in your life where you understand who is fucking who--beg pardon, Lord--who's taking it and who's not, that's when you're obliged to choose how much you want to go along with. If you are not devoting every breath of every day waking and sleeping to destroying those who slaughter the innocent as easy as signing a check, then how innocent are you willing to call yourself? It must be negotiated with the day, from those absolute terms. 87

He was trying to pass on what he thought they should know, when he had a minute, though there was never the time. "Here. The most precious thing I own." He took his union card from his wallet and showed them, one by one. "these words right here"--pointing to the slogan on the back of the card--"is what it all comes down to, you won't hear it in school, maybe the Gettysburg Address, Declaration of Independence and so forth, but if you learn nothing else, learn this by heart, what it says here--'Labor produces all wealth. Wealth belongs to the producer thereof.' Straight talk. No double-talking you like the plutes do, 'cause with them what you always have to be listening for is the opposite of what they say. 'Freedom,' then's the time to watch your back in particular--start telling you how free you are, somethin's up, next thing you know the gates have slammed shut and there's the Captain givin you them looks. 'Reform'? More new shouts at the trough. 'Compassion' means the population of starving, homeless, and dead is about to take another jump. So forth. Why, you could write a whole foreign phrase book just on what Republicans have to say. 93

So the city became the material expression of a particular loss of innocence--not sexual or political innocence but somehow a shared dream of what a city might at its best prove to be--its inhabitants became, and have remained, an embittered and amnesiac race, wounded but unable to connect through memory to the moment of injury, unable to summon the face of their violator. 153

The bleeding edge

Maxine can't avoid feeling nauseous at the possibility of some stupefied consensus about what life is to be, taking over this whole city without mercy... (71)

How right-wing, Maxine wonders, does a person have to be to think of the New York Times as a left-wing newspaper? (138)

"No, I meant late capitalism is a pyramid racket on a global scale, the kind of pyramid you do human sacrifices up on top of, meantime getting the suckers to believe it's all gonna go on forever." (207)

Every Fairway bag full of potato peels, coffee grounds, uneaten Chinese food, used tissues and tampons and paper napkins and disposable diapers, fruit gone bad, yogurt past its sell-by date that Maxine has ever thrown away is up in there someplace, multiplied by everybody in the city she knows, multiplied by everybody she doesn't know, since 1948, before she was even born, and what she thought was lost and out of her life has only entered a collective history.... (212)