ATD 1-25

Revision as of 14:34, 28 April 2009 by WikiAdmin (Talk | contribs) (Page 15: add Hawaii link)

Please keep these annotations SPOILER-FREE by not revealing information from later pages in the novel.

cover text

An alphabet viewed through Iceland spar ('birefringence')

Words viewed through the translucent crystal known as 'Iceland spar,' look like this-- with multiple 'ghost' images. Note that here, the ghost images appear in multiple typefaces. The combination of traditional serif fonts with modern sans-serif fonts suggests the themes of time, past/present, etc.

cover seal

The seal is written in Tibetan. Someone going by the name 'Ya Sam' posted on the Pynchon-l message board:

"I contacted the Tibetan Cultural Centre with the request to translate the mysterious legend on the AtD seal. They were kind enough to forward my request to the Tibetan tranlsator Tenzin Namgyal to whose generosity we owe the solution of one more ATD related mystery.

It is the Tibetan language, alright, and it means ...... Tibetan Government Chamber of Commerce.

Read their response below:

Dear Ya Sam,
I showed the seal you sent to our Tibetan translator, Tenzin Namgyal. He says the word to word translation is: Tibetan Government Commerce Chamber in other words: Tibetan Government Chamber of commerce. Why Pynchon has chosen to place this on the cover of his book is anyones guess. Reading the book reviews gave no insight into the reason. Perhaps after one has read it?
Best wishes,
Sandy Belth
Tibetan Cultural Center"

The seal also bears some resemblance to the doubloon in Moby-Dick that Ahab nails to the mainmast as a prize to the first crew member to sight the white whale. Melville's description runs thus:

"It so chanced that the doubloon of the Pequod was a most wealthy example of these things. On its round border it bore the letters, REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR: QUITO. So this bright coin came from a country planted in the middle of the world, and beneath the great equator, and named after it; and it had been cast midway up the Andes, in the unwaning clime that knows no autumn. Zoned by those letters you saw the likeness of three Andes' summits; from one a flame; a tower on another; on the third a crowing cock; while arching over all was a segment of the partitioned zodiac, the signs all marked with their usual cabalistics, and the keystone sun entering the equinoctial point at Libra." (Ch.99, "The Doubloon")

copyright page

The copyright page states that Against the Day is published by Viking Penguin, but on the title page and elsewhere we can read that the book is published by Penguin Press. The copyright pages of other books from Penguin Press state "Penguin Press" as the publisher, as could be expected, and it seems likely that the substitution of "Penguin Press" with "Viking" is one of many typographical errors in the book (see errata). I have confirmed from inside Penguin Press that this is a copyediting mistake. Here is a direct e-mail answer about the Viking Penguin listing: "this was a copyediting mistake that will be corrected. There was never a Viking contract for this book."


Most of Pynchon's novels contain dedications-- Mason & Dixon ("For Melanie, and for Jackson") , Vineland ("For my mother and father"), and Gravity's Rainbow ("For Richard Fariña")-- but not so Against the Day, as published. Advance reading copies of the book did contain the words "Dedication TK" in italics, but this is simply publisher-speak for "dedication to come." It is unknown whether Pynchon ever considered inclusion of a dedication or whether the publisher simply left the page open just in case, but the ultimate lack of a dedication may suggest that Pynchon feels he's thanked everyone he needs to thank.


"It's always night, or we wouldn't need light." - Thelonious Monk
Jazz and particularly bebop seem to be a lifelong interest of Pynchon’s, appearing in some form in all his works and what biographical snippets exist. As a college student, Pynchon “spent a lot of time in jazz clubs, nursing the two-beer minimum,” by his own admission (Slow Learner, Introduction). The Chumps of Choice blog notes that: 1) in his youth, Pynchon allegedly referred to Monk as a "God"; 2) the character McClintic Sphere in V. takes Monk's middle name, Sphere; and 3) "It's always night, or we wouldn't need light" was apparently something Monk was given to saying, rather than something he once said. For more on McClintic Sphere and Monk, see Charles Hollander's essay Does McClintic Sphere in V. stand for Thelonious Monk?. On page 732: "...daylit America ... its steadfast denial of night."

Page 1

"Now single up all lines!""
Pynchon was in the Navy for a spell and "single up all lines" is a common nautical term. Ships are docked with lines doubled -- that is, with two sets of ropes or chains holding the vessel to the dock. To "single up all lines" is to remove the redundant second lines in preparation to make way.

But the opening line has many possible connotations.

The Modern Word's Quail writes that "it is simultaneously a self-directive and a call to the reader; suggesting that Against the Day is a culmination of his previous work, and also charging the reader to find meaning within its twisting labyrinth. It may also be a sly, preemptive joke on the book’s initial critics, as the novel begins with the launch of a bloated gasbag bearing a somewhat provocative name."
"single up all lines" is used in its normal nautical context in V., p.11; The Crying of Lot 49, p.31; Gravity's Rainbow, p.489; and Mason & Dixon, pp.258 and 260. Perhaps we can understand this "line" as a text-string linking Pynchon's novels together (all but Vineland?) — in preparation for a voyage to...?

Also, in the very first sentence, Pynchon introduces the concept of doubling (with the word "Single"!) — "single up all lines" as a call to journey, to movement and expansion, a beginning. Then, on page 10: "only in straight lines and at right angles and a progressive reduction of choices, until the final turn through the final gate that led to the killing-floor." Thus, a progressive singling or reduction of all lines/paths, a rationalization/routinization unto death. Both represent "a progressive reduction of choices" — a collapsing of many possibilities into one "reality." See also annotation, page 585 and more on Routinization of Charisma.

The missing quotation mark indicates continuation. Are we holding in our hands the latest boy's adventure tale featuring our favorites, "the Chums of Chance."?

Henry Veggian in his paper entitled "Thomas Pynchon Against the Day" makes the same point:

"The novel begins quietly, almost without irony, with a typographical lapse. A set of quotation marks are missing before the first lines of Against the Day." Veggian playfully intimates that it is the authorial "hot air" which takes the "Inconvenience" aloft.
The "missing quotation mark" is not a typo or any sort of Authorial Intention; it's simply the publisher's style for the large-font first letter of each section to stand outside the punctuation and font style. On page 588, there is no quotation mark before the "S" in "Smells" and on page 318 the "T" in "Tengo" is not italicized whereas the rest of the word is. Veggian's interpretation is a great example of reading a bit too much into Pynchon's work. I'm surprised that he missed something that seems to me fairly obvious. WikiAdmin 11:55, 4 April 2009 (PDT)

The Light Over the Ranges
"Range" is defined in the Oxford American Dictionary as "a line or series of mountains or hills : the coastal ranges of the northwest," so "range" or "ranges" can be used to denote a number of mountains.
Some other connotations may include:

'Ranges' may also refer to farms, homesteads and ranches in 1893 America. America was predominantly that in 1893. Cf. "Home, home on the range".
"celebrating in song the wider range of life..." Thomas Pynchon on Helen Waddell's The Wandering Scholars, p. 8, Introduction to Slow Learner, 1984.
In addition, light over ranges is an issue throughout the novel: exploitation and development of electrical and electronics was a concern of the Raymond, Pynchon & Company and Pynchon and company, an investment firm run by yacht enthusiast George M. Pynchon. Pynchon & Company invested in Edison's work.
I wonder whether "light over the ranges" could refer to space-time along the line of the theories of general relativity, particularly since the voyage of inconvenience appears at times to take place under that conceptual framework. In addition, keeping in mind Pynchon's educational background, I would add to the above definitions and considerations that "range" is also a mathematical concept.

Page 3

"Now single up all lines!"
Pynchon was in the Navy for a spell and "single up all lines" is a common nautical term. Ships are docked with lines doubled -- that is, with two sets of ropes or chains holding the vessel to the dock. To "single up all lines" is to remove the redundant second lines in preparation to make way.

But the opening line has many possible connotations.

The Modern Word's Quail writes that "it is simultaneously a self-directive and a call to the reader; suggesting that Against the Day is a culmination of his previous work, and also charging the reader to find meaning within its twisting labyrinth. It may also be a sly, preemptive joke on the book’s initial critics, as the novel begins with the launch of a bloated gasbag bearing a somewhat provocative name."
"single up all lines" is used in its normal nautical context in V., p.11; The Crying of Lot 49, p.31; Gravity's Rainbow, p.489; and Mason & Dixon, pp.258 and 260. Perhaps we can understand this "line" as a text-string linking Pynchon's novels together (all but Vineland?) — in preparation for a voyage to...?

Also, in the very first sentence, Pynchon introduces the concept of doubling (with the word "Single"!) — "single up all lines" as a call to journey, to movement and expansion, a beginning. Then, on page 10: "only in straight lines and at right angles and a progressive reduction of choices, until the final turn through the final gate that led to the killing-floor." Thus, a progressive singling or reduction of all lines/paths, a rationalization/routinization unto death. Both represent "a progressive reduction of choices" — a collapsing of many possibilities into one "reality." See also annotation, page 585 and more on Routinization of Charisma.

"Cheerly now...handsomely...very well!!"
Cheerly means "heartily," and was traditionally used as cry of encouragement among sailors. Handsomely (in nautical context): carefully, in good order, unhurriedly.

Pynchon uses nautical language in most of his novels. Mason & Dixon: "Cheerly. Cheerly, then, Lads..." (54).

"Windy City, here we come!"
The nickname for Chicago, of course. The earliest known references to the "Windy City" are from 1876. Origin of name "Windy City" at Wikipedia

Randolph St. Cosmo, the ship commander

Ex voti of Wax, from Isernia
Historically, there are two versions of the 3rd century CE figure St. Cosmo (aka St. Cosmas): the "randy" St. Cosmo, aka the "modern Priapus," and the saintly martyred St. Cosmo of Church lore. Pynchon, it seems, is connecting Randolph St. Cosmo to the former. "Randy," as astute observers will note, is an adjective which means, well, "horny." There's a distinct sexual thread woven throughout Against the Day (See the beginnings of exploring this angle...) — a-and Heartsease, St. Cosmo's mate, is the first to get pregnant! — so this seems to fit right in. Read more about the historical St. Cosmo...; and Wikipedia entry; More on Randolph St. Cosmo

In Mason & Dixon, Pynchon has the Veery brothers, Cosmo and Damian, who are professional effigy makes in Philadelphia! And, just to make it interesting, "He's a rare Wax Artist, our Cosmo is." (p. 290) (Note: Wax phallus effigies were offered by the women to St. Cosmo at the festivals held in his name, as shown above.) Read more about the historical St. Cosmo; Wikipedia entry

The commander's name also evokes Randolph St., a main thoroughfare in Chicago. Perhaps also saint(liness) and cosmos?

Now secure the Special Sky Detail
When a naval vessel is departing from port or returning to port, a specially trained team is put in charge of the complicated process. The command is, "Now set the Special Sea Detail." 'Once the ship is aloft and clear of ground obstructions, the command comes, "Now secure the Special Sky Detail," meaning disband the team for the time being and all return to regular duties.

"scuttlebutt" . . . thousand . . . wonders
A most vigorous campaign [to host the Columbian Exposition] was then inaugurated, the three other cities making a common cause against Washington, whose claim was based on the fact that the proposed exposition was to be held under auspices of the national government, and hence that the capital was the most appropriate place.... By each of the claimants every advantage was urged, and by each of their rivals every defect was exaggerated. Congressional committees accorded a hearing to the several delegations, that of Chicago being represented, among others, by DeWitt C. Cregier, Thomas B. Bryan, and Edward T. Jeffery. from "Book of the Fair" by Hubert Bancroft, 1893.

"Scuttlebutt" is a very close equivalent to "water-cooler gossip." Here is a glossary of nautical terms with some of the etymologies.

Pynchon's fictional navy includes the USS Scaffold, Impulsive, and the Susanna Squaducci (V.), and the John E. Badass (GR). Chumps of Choice blog notes that the British Royal Navy has a long tradition of warships with names like Impulsive, Incendiary, Inconstant, Indignant, etc.

In other Pynchon novels: 1) In Mason & Dixon, the H.M.S. Inconvenience is the ship of Fender-Belly Bodine. More. 2) In Mason & Dixon, the word is applied to the difficulties of an Other, other human beings as we act, interact. See citations at the M & D wiki. 2) In Gravity's Rainbow: "the gift of Daedalus that allowed him [Pokler] to put as much labyrinth as required between himself and the inconveniences of caring. [Italics mine] They had sold him convenience, so much of it, all on credit, and now They were collecting." (435)

patriotic bunting
TRP reminds again that this is a very American skyship.

AtD has many echoes of Doctorow's "Ragtime": Doctorow fictionalises the same era, including anarchists, bombings, and early Hollywood.

It has been suggested that Pynchon relied to the Britannica 11th as a major reference for his treatment of early aeronautics. 11th on Aeronautics

five-lad crew
Randolph St. Cosmo (ship commander), Lindsay Noseworth (master-at-arms), Miles Blundell (handyman apprentice), Darby Suckling (factotum and mascot), and Chick Counterfly.

The Chums of Chance
To be chummy with chance might mean lucky, fond of gambling, fond of chaos, irrational, adventurous, or anarchist. Or maybe they became chums by accident.

The names of the Chums may also be derived from famous Jazz musicians: Miles (Davis), Chick (Corea), Darby (Hicks), (Boots) Randolph, and (Vachel) Lindsay (a stretch here?), notes the Chumps of Choice blog.

Cameraderie and isolation are two recurring topics in Pynchon's works. The Chums are a band of heroes like those commonly featured in the 19th century boys' fiction that Pynchon evokes, but also recall Pynchon's high school fictions, Voice of the Hamster and The Boys, in which the teenage Pynchon lovingly portrayed his group of high school chums, known as, simply, "The Boys."

The Chums are reminiscent of two comics of the early 20th century, Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Windsor McCay, and The Explorigator, by Harry Grant Dart. "The Explorigator" was the name of a fantastic airship that traversed the universe. It was manned by Admiral Fudge, a youthful adventurer and inventor, accompanied by a group of friends, also children his age (around nine or ten): Detective Rubbersole, Maurice Mizzentop, Nicholas Nohooks, Grenadier Shift, Teddy Typewriter, and Ah Fergetitt. More on The Explorigator

It has been suggested that Pynchon relied on the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a major reference for his treatment of 1890s Chicago. 1911 Britannica entry on Chicago

World's Columbian Exposition
also called The Chicago World's Fair, was held in Chicago in 1893, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World. Chicago bested New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Louis, Missouri, for the honor of hosting the fair. The fair had a profound effect on architecture, the arts, Chicago's self image and American industrial optimism. The International Exposition was held in a building which for the first time was devoted to electrical exhibits. It was a historical moment and the beginning of a revolution, as Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse introduced the public to electrical power by providing alternating current to illuminate the Exposition. Wikipedia entry. This World's Fair was enveloped in optimism for the future. "The thousand or more such wonders which awaited [the Chums] there." p.3. See also the 2004 bestseller, The Devil in the White City, a non-fiction work that details the building of the Fair, the growth of Chicago, and the first serial murderer in America.

Called "manropes" on sailing ships. Ropes running fore-and-aft above the gunwales to prevent sailors getting blown overboard. They were held up by short stanchions inserted into holes in the rails. Source: The Ashley Book of Knots, 1944.

as my faithful readers will remember
Pynchon here is immediately inserting this story into a larger canon of Chums of Chance fictions, titles of which are mentioned in subsequent pages.

The English word 'mascot' has its origin in the late 19th cent.: from French mascotte. The spelling may also be a tribute to the Dutch brand of rolling papers. Wikipedia

Page 4

Randolph St. Cosmo is called Professor. "Professor" was a common title for early hot-air balloonists. [EC]

"Turn to"
a shipboard expression, "put your back into it". Evokes the "Go to!" of Majistral and compatriots, V., chapter 11.

Perhaps its familiarity... rendered it temporarily invisible to you."
Perhaps an admonition from the author that familiar things will be easily overlooked? I think the fact that they were picnic baskets matters... TRP perhaps saying, as he seems to suggest elsewhere, that we overlook the simple pleasures too often.

There's more to this, as becomes apparent shortly. Here are more opposites; things seen vs unseen, visible vs. invisible.

Chick Counterfly
Rich with meaning or just another goofy Pynchon name? Some possibilities include: (1) A counter fly is an annoyance in (say) the butcher's shop. (2) Chick always speaks "counter" to anyone else's "flight" of imagery. (3) The only non-AtD-related uses of this word that I've found came in patents describing mechanisms; "the counterfly direction" means contrary to the direction everything else is flying in, hence this character counters the flying of the craft? (4) He is the only Chum we know who was "rescued" from the "real" world. Meaning there? To be counter to flying is to be earthbound, where he started and he is the one with whom the conversation about relanding on a different "earth" happens.

Page 5

Having the nature of a pickle, i.e, a boy who is inclined to mischief.

'Pugnax' is Latin for, "combative, fond of fighting, stubborn, contentious" (i.e. one who is pugnacious). Pugnax's fantastic intelligence recalls another intelligent Pynchon dog, the Learned English Dog (referred to as "LED") in Mason & Dixon. Perhaps Pugnax is the Chums's sixth "lad": "Learned American Dog." His manner of speech is somewhat reminiscent of the mystery-solving cartoon dog Scooby-Doo, and members of PYNCHON-L have speculated that his eyebrows and reading habits allude to Gromit, from the Wallace and Gromit claymation films.

Perhaps, in keeping with a very strong "bird" theme (the original aeronauts!) in Against the Day, Pynchon may have named Pugnax after a bird called the Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) which is a medium-sized wader. Note that Pugnax's first "utterance" is "Rr Rff-rff Rr-rr-rff-rrf-rrf"... You can even make a semiserious case that the Aeronauts are named for a bird, the white-throated swift, Aeronautes saxatalis (mentioned on p. 266).

"...during a confidential assignment in Our Nation's Capitol (see The Chums of Chance and the Evil Halfwit)..."
This could be seen as a criticism of an American President, present or past. President Bush is a candidate, considering the Pynchon-authored book description which included "With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred."

The Chums "rescued Pugnax, then but a pup"--an innocent, a child creature--"from a furious encounter..between rival packs of the city's wild dogs". The wild dogs equal both political parties?

lavatorial assaults
recalls jokes and urban legends regarding frozen waste from leaky airplane lavatories (i.e., "you can still be hit by an icy B.M.")

Loosely reminiscent of the V-2 rockets in Gravity's Rainbow, "from the sky, which no one can "begin to try to record, much less coordinate reports of"... That is, pee from the sky is "folklore, superstition, or perhaps...the religious" in ATD compared to rockets screaming across the sky and the destruction in GR.

Page 6

Princess Casamassima
The Princess Casamassima is an 1886 novel by Henry James. It is the story of an intelligent but confused young London bookbinder, Hyacinth Robinson, who becomes involved in radical politics and a terrorist assassination plot. The novel certainly does have notable relevance in today's climate of terrorism and political violence. While the book's details are not directly applicable to current issues, the central theme — admiration for the beautiful if imperfect world vs. a desire to change it through terrorism — will seem all too familiar to contemporary readers. Wikipedia Discussion of The Princess Casamassima

Placing . . . an emphasis
Lapse of authorial control? Surely the creator of the Chums novels would not write such a Pynchonian sentence fragment!

Pugnax sniffed . . . as always this scent eluded him
It is unclear so far why Pugnax would detect no scent from Lindsay.

Erupted 1883. Wikipedia entry.

Heino Vanderjuice of New Haven
Scientist who designed the Inconvenience's hydrogen engine. "Vanderjuice" is a Dutch-sounding name suggesting "fond o' juice," "wonder juice", and "wander juice". "Heino" is a man's given name meaning 'home' in German, Dutch, Finnish, and Estonian. Perhaps an allusion to the German pop star, Heino.

no better than a perpetual-motion machine
A perpetual-motion machine is not just one that runs forever, but one that performs work forever without any input of energy. All PM machines ever invented have been either hoaxes ("secret free energy source the government doesn't want you to know about") or mistakes. The hydrogen generator/engine is neither, which is why the disdainful phrase "no better than" is crucial.

By the way, how does one generate hydrogen? In high school chem lab we used zinc filings and hydrochloric acid, but that seems unsuitable with Miles around. Is it possible Vanderjuice has invented a photovoltaic electrolysis cell?

Miles, with his marginal gifts of coördination, and Chick, with a want of alacrity fully as perceptible
Like the old gag: The food in this restaurant isn't any good, but the service is awful. Miles and Chick's telepathic intercourse during Bitches Brew era.

ratlines and shrouds
Inconvenience is rigged like a sailing ship of the period, though it's hard to see why she needs to be. Shrouds fan out from a masthead down to a rail; ratlines run horizontally to join them. The whole affair serves the sailors as a ladder.

". . . anemometer of the Robinson's type"
Cup anemometer invented in 1846 by Dr. John Thomas Romney Robinson. Cup anemometers are still commonly used to measure wind speed because of their simplicity and reliability in a variety of environmental conditions. pic

how rapidly the ship was proceeding
But you can't measure the craft's progress by measuring wind speed at a point on the craft itself. All you get from the anemometer is a speed relative to the air, which is in variable motion. Since the craft is moving at the speed of the wind plus the speed of its propulsion device, the speed found by the anemometer is basically useless.

Page 7

Porfirio Díaz
President of Mexico 1876-1880, 1884-1911. Wikipedia

In most countries, the Interior Ministry (Ministry of Internal Affairs, Home Office, etc.) ran programs like secret police. Are the Chums working for forces of conservativism?

"beside a black-water river of the Deep South".
Blackwater River is in lower central Florida, pretty deep south; but there are numerous rivers in swampy areas that run black with organic matter.
Given that it was founded in 1997, and is military-related and in the South, see Blackwater USA, a private military company founded by Erik Prince and Al Clark.[1] Thousands of news stories in September/October 2007.

a bitter and unresolved "piece of business"
Rather than give a proper reason for the Chums to be in the Deep South, the narrator cops out by pleading that it's "not advisable" to specify.

It's not a cop-out, it sets the question of what is going on in the mysterious organization to which the Chums belong.

"the Rebellion of thirty years previous"
The South called the Civil War "the war between the states" to emphasize both their right to secede from the union and that this was a war between sovereign states; the North called it "the Rebellion" and thus the soldiers were "rebels" or "rebs." The official papers of the war have the title of "Official Records of the War of Rebellion," emphasizing that the South had no right to secede.

"one still not advisable to set upon one's page"
The American Civil War, that "rebellion of thirty years previous," has not yet become a suitable subject for an adventure tale such as the Chums' series.

Means to move away quickly, usually to avoid capture. Apparently a mock-Latinate formation, "to go off and squat somewhere else." A brief article on the history and etymology of "absquatulate."
The word is used in Vineland.

"Crackerjack!" exclaimed Chick.
Cracker Jack, the food, was first sold at the Chicago Exhibition of 1893, though it did not bear its present name. As one word here, however, it is not the candy: "Crackerjack" entered English first as a noun referring to "a person or thing of marked excellence," then as an adjective. The foodstuff gained its present name, according to the official Cracker Jack website, in 1896. The OED lists the first written use of "crackerjack" as 1895, two years after the present scene. It is by no means impossible, however, that the term would have been current in the spoken language in 1893.

to approach the gates of the Penitentiary
A genuine saying. Matthew Quay, a political kingmaker of the 1880s and 90s, said of Benjamin Harrison's squeaker victory over Grover Cleveland in 1888 that Harrison would "never know how many Republicans were compelled to approach the gates of the penitentiary to make him president."

posse comitatus
What Western movie fans know as a "posse," i.e., citizens conscripted by a sheriff to assist in law enforcement. (See the Wikipedia entry on Posse Comitatus.) Remember that the Chums author gets paid by the word.

Page 8

a pocketful of specie
Specie means coins as opposed to paper money.

the town of Thick Bush
Aside from whether this phrase might apply to some political figure of the past or present, "thick bush" is the literal meaning of the Spanish Matagorda, the name of many towns in Latin America and one on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

"which directs us never to interfere with legal customs of any locality down at which we may happen to have touched"
Like the Prime Directive in Star Trek. Lindsay's fussy syntax echoes Winston Churchill's exasperated "This is the kind of carping criticism up with which I will not put."

legal customs
Legal = pertaining to law, in this case lynch law. The Chums are interpreting their Prime Directive pretty broadly here.

Katie bar the door
An expression that means that there's trouble brewing. (See this article about the expression's etymology.)

Ku Klux Klan
Reminiscent of the Klan encounter scenes in the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou.

tupelo, cypress, and hickory
The trees are no help in locating the town; all three kinds like bottom land and grow all over the South.

speed . . . made it nearly invisible from the ground
Few people in 1893 had seen a manmade object moving at 60 miles an hour, and many thought such a speed was lethal anyway. The Chums author suggests such an outlandish speed would make Inconvenience just a blur in the sky. Of course you can read the fin numbers on an airliner landing at 150 knots, but he didn't know that.

Pedantry alert: In perfectly transparent air a ship flying a mile off the ground is visible about 125 miles away. If its flight path takes it right over your head, you can follow it for 250 miles. If it is making a groundspeed of 60 miles per hour, it takes 4 hours and change to go from horizon to horizon. In typical "clear" air (visibility say 30 miles), you will see the ship in your sky for a solid hour. These rough figures show how wrong the narrator is about speed.

way better than a mile a minute
The Chums' point of departure is unknown, but they arrived in Chicago after catching a southerly wind (pg 3), southerly meaning "wind blowing from the south." The Chums surpass 60 miles an hour here, but as their previous speed was unknown, it's difficult to know where they were leaving from. (New Orleans to Chicago is 834 miles, slightly less than 14 hours at 60 miles/hour, so a possibility.)

Page 9

On board ship, any cabinet with a door or lid.

"Do not imagine, that in coming aboard Inconvenience you have escaped into any realm of the counterfactual..."
This may be Pynchon directly addressing the reader. Given that his book description proclaims the world of AtD as "what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two," this paragraph seems to indicate that Pynchon, like all great fantasy or sci-fi writers, does not intend to create a world where anything goes. Rather, he will create a world that differs from ours but then obey the rules and constraints he's already established.
Cf. Pynchon's own relevant words in the introduction to Slow Learner. He remarks that in non-realistic fiction, he had to learn that not anything went.

A-and it must mean, coming from the commander, that all aboard the Inconvenience are also subject to the 'facts' of the world. "The World is All that is the Case", from Wittgenstein. [2]

"Going up is like going north."
Air gets cooler as the ship ascends into higher altitudes, and therefore like travelling northward. This page also suggests some further mystery of the Chums may be revealed to Chick and the reader in time.

North is not a positive place in Pynchon's world. It is associated with anti-life — coldness as here — compared to the South.

Page 10

rationalized into movement only in straight lines and at right angles and a progressive reduction of choices, until the final turn through the final gate that led to the killing-floor.

See p.3 entry, above for a comparison of this passage with "single up all lines." The Rationalization/Routinization of Charisma is a common trope in Pynchon, particularly in Gravity's Rainbow.

Page 11

In the real world, this might be bad physics, as closing the valve wouldn't slow the descent. Objects in a fluid medium like air float if their weight is less than the weight of the fluid they displace (hence why one fills a balloon with a light gas such as hydrogen or helium). Once the Inconvenience loses its buoyancy, it will continue to fall, unless its weight is reduced to what a lesser amount of hydrogen could support. The Inconvenience, however, has a hydrogen producing apparatus that could kick in, slow, and eventually stop their descent.

bear a hand
Nautical: help out.

Page 12

Liverpool Kiss
A head butt.

Herr Riemann
Riemann, Georg Friedrich Bernhard (1826-1866) (pronounced REE mahn or in IPA: ['ri:man]) was a German mathematician who made important contributions to analysis and differential geometry, some of them paving the way for the later development of general relativity. Wikipedia entry.

Mr. Noseworth
Lindsay insisting on proper naval forms: an ensign, lieutenant (junior grade), lieutenant or lieutenant commander in the U.S. navy is correctly addressed as "Mister Surname."

"topological genius"
Riemann's differential geometry goes beyond the Cartesian grid. See conic sections and dimensionality above, page 10.

Page 13

There was an "eager stampede" to the rail
Why is eager stampede in quotation marks? The sentence reads fine without it. Does it seem to show ironic knowingness on the part of the narrator? If so, why and who is the narrator?

I suspect this is a stylistic device from the turn of the century light literature that Pynchon is emulating-- placing a novel term in quotation marks. Bleakhaus 01:35, 23 December 2006 (PST)
insightfully true, I suspect, but it still shows 'narratorial knowingness', yes?
Cf. Flaubert's use of quotations in Madame Bovary to isolate what he deemed the contemptible argot of the bourgeoisie.
Apparently not a cliche: GoogleBooks

"...among the brighter star-shapes of exploded ballast bags..."
Recalls the opening line of Mason & Dixon: "Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr‘d the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins..."

"...quite as if were some giant eyeball, perhaps that of Society itself, ever scrutinizing from above, in a spirit of constructive censure."
This is strikingly reminiscent of Odilon Redon's 1882 Lithograph L'Oeil, comme un ballon bizarre se dirige vers l'infini (The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity). At MoMa's Online Collection Notice that society = censure, if constructive. Gamboling nude on a summer day was OK until the Inconvenience, as eyeball, appeared.

The Odilon Redon lithograph appears on the cover of the 1998 Vintage paperback edition of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, whose first unforgettable chapter triggers the novel with a ballooning incident leaving the reader dangling over the edge of suspense and suspension.

Page 14

charmed into docility
If it took only one small lad to moor the ship, she was indeed docile. A wiki contributor once saw a Goodyear blimp in Houston, Texas, landing. The craft had half a dozen long falls of rope hanging from her nose, and a ground crew of nearly two dozen men ready to take hold of them. The blimp approached nose-low, the crew took the ropes, and a gust of wind suddenly moved the ship. The crew chief gave a safety command and all the men let loose their ropes at once. On the third pass, all hands working together managed to stop the ship and get her moored. If Inconvenience was a fraction as changeable and hard to control, Darby made a great job of getting the ship staked out by himself.

Used here as "a marine ladder of rope or chain with wooden or iron rungs" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged) but is suggestive of Jacob's ladder in Genesis:

Genesis 28:12 And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. (King James version)

a giant sack of soiled laundry
Perhaps freshly soiled during the great hydrogen valve disaster.

The narrator has turned the French phrase vol-à-voiles (gliding) into a verb (removing the s).

gold-beaters' skin
Very thin vellum (membrane taken from the caecum or blind stomach of an ox). To prepare gold for gilding, it was placed between sheets of vellum and hammered thin.

Evening Quarters
Naval practice of mustering the crew at the end of the day's work.

Page 15

Ukuleles (and Hawaii references) also appear in Gravity's Rainbow, Vineland, and Mason & Dixon. According to Jules Siegel's article, "Who is Thomas Pynchon, and why did he take off with my wife?", Pynchon himself played the ukulele in college.

Vagabonds of the Void
The song performed by the Chums of Chance reflects the Rock and Roll attitude of the group towards the groundworld upon arrival. It's also the first time in the book we truly encounter the hipness of the group with some sort of Nine Inch Nails fronting edge to it.

Macassar Oil. An Oily Puff for Soft Heads
Beaufort Scale

A scale for measuring wind strength, developed 1805.

"Let the lightning lash ~ And the thunder trash"
Again, the Chums are rock stars, the coolest cats in town.

"...forty-four for each State of the Union."
Wyoming was the 44th state admitted to the union in 1890.

port section of the crew
The half of the crew permitted to go freely ashore this time. The other half tomorrow. "Port" and "starboard": are these simply either/or words that sailors remember easily?

Macassar oil
Macassar oil is an oil used primarily by men in Victorian and Edwardian times to smooth their hair. It was advertised as containing oil from Macassar, which is the former name of Ujung Pandang, a district on the island of Celebes in Indonesia. Wikipedia entry
This is why the ornamental doily-like linen cloths on the upper backs and arms of upholstered furniture were called antimacassars.

Page 16

About the fringes,' Randolph reminded the liberty-goers, 'of any gathering on the scale of this Exposition, are apt to lurk vicious and debased elements, whose sole aim is to take advantage of the unwary.
Indeed, the Chicago World's Fair was haunted by one of America's more prolific and original serial killers, H.H. Holmes. Born in 1861, Holmes came to Chicago as a pharmacist and built an office building that was eventually dubbed 'The Castle'. Consisting of commercial stores on the first floor, and offices and apartments on the upper floors, the building also housed hidden rooms where Holmes murdered his victims, chutes that conveyed the bodies to the basement, and a chamber of horrors in the basement where he destroyed the corpses. Holmes took advantage of the World's Columbian Exposition to lure victims, primarily females who had come unaccompanied to Chicago, to the Castle for torture and murder. It is estimated that he killed over 200 people at the Castle while the Exposition was in operation. Two very good books about Holmes are The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson and Depraved by Harold Schechter. It is doubtful that Pynchon was thinking explicitly of Holmes when he wrote this passage, although he must be aware of the story. Randolph could not have known about Holmes since Holmes was not captured until after the Fair was over. Wikipedia entry

This also sets up oppositions between dark vs light (of the White City), order vs disorder; good vs evil.

tension of the gas
I.e., the pressure in the bag.

Page 17

"as if it were something the stripling had only read about, in some boys' book of if that page of their chronicles lay turned and done"
The narrator makes us aware that Darby's adventures are as if/will be written down...the 'reality' of almost killing all of them is now just words on a page.

"and the order 'About-face' had been uttered by some potent though invisible Commandant of Earthly Days, toward whom Darby, in amiable obedience, had turned again."
Is this just a metaphor from the narrator to describe what it is like for Darby, or is it also self-referential to all the adventures of the Chums?. Another Q: Is the Commandant of Earthly Days the invisible presence from whom the chums get their orders?

Related Q: Do the Chums receive their orders from the author of their books?

we were usually out the door and on the main road
Dick and Chick knew the judge was more likely to order them out of town than into the lockup.

Chinese foofooraw
Also spelled foofaraw, a great deal of fuss, or useless frills. Cf folderol. However, why Chinese?

Chick's father tried to sell Mississippi to a Chinese syndicate.

The name for the berry and for the oil obtained from the unripe berry of the East Indian climbing shrub P. cubeba. The dried fruits are sometimes used as a condiment or are ground and smoked in cigarette form as an herbal remedy. The Free Dictionary Also appears in Gravity's Rainbow, page 118.

"...goldurn Keeley Cure"
A treatment for alcohol, nicotine and narcotic addiction involving injections of "bichloride" or "double chloride" of gold, and also known as the "gold cure". Named for Dr. Leslie E. Keeley, who opened the first of many Keeley Institutes in Dwight, Illinois, not far from Chicago, in 1879.

Page 18

Description vaguely reminiscent of "Madame Bovary". [notes]

eclipse green
Apparently an actual shade. [cite]

Bindlestiffs of the Blue A.C.
Bindlestiff means hobo; hence, the Hoboes of the Sky Aeronautical Club.

("Penny") Black
The Penny Black was the world's first official adhesive postage stamp, issued by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1840. Wikipedia entry; See also p.231.

French for "gypsy". Also a piece by Ravel. Wikipedia entry

Little Egypt is the southern area of the state of Illinois in the United States of America. Named so because it has a considerable river delta and a metropolis called Cairo (KAY-roe). The region is and was sometimes called simply "Egypt," especially in the 19th century. Wikipedia entry

Page 19

goin all blue from the light of that electric fluid
Their ship was beset by St. Elmo's fire, a low-energy electrical discharge often seen on surface vessels and occasionally on aircraft. Electric charge does behave in some respects like a fluid and was long described in such terms.

Voices calling out together
There is no reason to doubt they heard the voices, but an aural hallucination is not out of the question: a chorus of voices is one of the easiest effects to produce with a synthesizer.

Garçons de '71
Garçons de '71

French: The Boys of '71; During the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871, balloons were manufactured within railroad stations in Paris. The balloons were used to get mail and passengers out of Paris. The Garçons de '71 are a (probably) fictional cadre of young men who operated such balloons Read on...

a condition of permanent siege
Surely no one has failed to notice what a "wartime president" is allowed to get away with. "No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred."

pétroleurs de Paris
An early form of Molotov cocktail thrower during the Siege of Paris. There were pétroleurs and pétroleuses.

Page 20

they'll fly wherever they're needed
While the Chums obey orders from above, the Garçons de '71 follow a different imperative.

energy we could feel, directed personally at us
Someone may be trying to influence what the Bindlestiffs do, or keep them away from the Garçons' work of mercy.

Page 21

admissions gate
Apparently a break in the fence, capitalized on by freelance impresarios.

fifty-cent pieces
Odd. According to this remarkable Columbian Exposition site, regular admission was just half a dollar. Maybe Lindsay and Miles could have negotiated with the midget.

Page 22

The word Kodak was trademarked in 1888, and the first Kodak camera was sold with the slogan, "You press the button - we do the rest." In 1891, the company released the first daylight-loading camera, so film could be changed without a darkroom. Kodaks would have been a novelty at the fair in 1893.

half-light . . . in the interests of mercy . . . the safety of the lights
Interesting contrast suggesting a tradeoff between comfort/solace in the shadows and safety in the bright light.

Isandlwana is an isolated hill in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. On January 22, 1879, it was the site of the Battle of Isandlwana, where over 20,000 Zulu warriors defeated a contingent of British soldiers in the first engagement of the Anglo-Zulu War. Almost the entire column of about 1,200 British soldiers was killed. [Wikipedia] You will find a chapter on Isandhlwana in any book that has the words "military" and "blunders" in the title.

Page 23

Indian tribe of Northern New Mexico, in the Sierra Madres, known for cave-dwelling in the late 19th century. About the Tarahumara. [Wikipedia]

A geek's act comprised things no one would do who had not sunk all the way to the bottom of the carnie world: eating live creatures, throwing fits, and so forth. Much like the television show "Fear Factor," but sad rather than stultifying.

Three-card monte.

Page 24

the curse of Scotland
A term used in poker, bridge and various other card games for the nine of diamonds. Dates from 1710. [Wikipedia]

like the electricity coming on... how everything fits together, connects. It doesn't last long, though.
From something as random as calling out a card trick comes this extremely profound quote by Miles Blundell (full quote edited here). The heart of this quote/thought seems to be crucial.

What Miles describes is also the symptoms of a mild seizure - could he be epileptic? Epileptics were often credited with shamanic or prophetic powers, and many sightings of religious figures have been attributed to seizures. On page 4, Miles is also said to suffer from "confusion in his motor processes", which may be related.

Although seizures are electrical discharges from the brain, epileptics rarely describe sensing electricity. They see altered light, hear altered sounds, or feel auras, though usually described as inside of themselves, not around them. They also feel confusion, not clarity. The full description seems to better represent that of a "peak experience", or a transcendental state. I also wonder whether, "Pretty soon, I'm just back to tripping over my feet again", refers to more earth-bound means of attaining mind-altered states.

This is one of several early suggestions that Miles and Lew Basnight experience similar states.

Cracker Jack
First sold at the at the first Chicago World's Fair in 1893. [Wikipedia]

New Levee district
Chicago's redlight district c1890. [cite]

Epworth League
A Methodist youth organization founded in 1889. [cite]

Page 25

Haymarket bomb
The Haymarket Riot on May 4, 1886, in Chicago may be the origin of international May Day observances and in popular literature inspired the caricature of "a bomb-throwing anarchist." The causes of the incident are still controversial, although deeply polarized attitudes separating the business class and the working class in late 19th century Chicago are generally acknowledged as having precipitated the tragedy and its aftermath. Wikipedia entry.

if the Governor decides to pardon that gang of anarchistic murderers
In May of 1886, 350,000 workers, including 70,000 in Chicago were taking to the streets to rally for the eight hour work day. After four workers were killed by the police on May 3, the anarchist leaders in Chicago called for a meeting in Haymarket Square. Although the rally was peaceful, the police came in on horseback to break it up and an unknown individual in the crowd hurled a homemade bomb into the air. After the explosion, which killed a policeman, the police opened fire on the crowd. Subsequently, the anarchist leaders deemed responsible for the rally were arrested and tried for the murder of the policeman. The Eight men were convicted of the bombing and seven of them sentenced to death. Governor Richard J. Oglesby commuted two death sentences to life. Four were hanged and a fifth committed suicide. A later governor, John P. Altgeld, pardoned the three survivors on June 26, 1893, concluding that all eight of them were innocent. The last words of anarchist August Spies before he was hanged were 'The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.' Two very good books on the Haymarket Riot and the events surrounding it include The Haymarket Tragedy by Paul Avrich and Death In The Haymarket by James Green.

mixture of contempt and pity
This is definitely not from one of the Chums' adventure stories.

Convexity of body; what used to be called a "prosperous" look.

duck soup
Meaning "an easy task," but also the name of a Marx Bros. movie. Perhaps relevant, given the cameo by Groucho promised on the book sleeve. Many of the Marx Brothers early movies had animal references in the title: Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup. The titles usually had nothing at all to do with the plot, although they contributed to the lunatic nature of the comedy. The expression 'Horse Feathers' is used a few times later on in Against The Day.


Annotation Index

Part One:
The Light Over the Ranges

1-25, 26-56, 57-80, 81-96, 97-118

Part Two:
Iceland Spar

119-148, 149-170, 171-198, 199-218, 219-242, 243-272, 273-295, 296-317, 318-335, 336-357, 358-373, 374-396, 397-428

Part Three:

429-459, 460-488, 489-524, 525-556, 557-587, 588-614, 615-643, 644-677, 678-694

Part Four:
Against the Day

695-723, 724-747, 748-767, 768-791, 792-820, 821-848, 849-863, 864-891, 892-918, 919-945, 946-975, 976-999, 1000-1017, 1018-1039, 1040-1062

Part Five:
Rue du Départ


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