- Please keep these annotations SPOILER-FREE by not revealing information from later pages in the novel.
Her name was never far from the discourse of the day.
Another reference to something with respect to the day.
...seem a tad complex for her age, if this is just after she was first seen, when she is said to be four or five.
a couple of professors at the Case Institute in Cleveland, who were planning an experiment
The Michelson–Morley experiment, one of the most important and famous experiments in the history of physics, was performed in 1887 by Albert Michelson and Edward Morley at what is now Case Western Reserve University, and is generally considered to be the first strong evidence against the theory of a luminiferous aether. Primarily for this work, Albert Michelson was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907. Wikipedia entry
In oversimplified form: Michelson and Morley built an instrument that would signal any change in the speed of light traveling along its axis. They measured no change when the instrument was rotated. Now a wave in the æther should appear to go faster if you are moving against it, slower if you are moving with it (like ripples in a pond: walk beside the pond in the same direction as the ripples, and you catch up to them, finding a lower speed; walk the other way and they come toward you at a higher rate, seeming to move faster). By the theory that was then accepted, the instrument certainly should have reported a difference. After repeating the experiment many times, M&M concluded that the æther was somehow always moving the same way relative to the instrument, an absurd behavior, or that light was not, after all, a wave in the æther. And if the æther doesn't convey light waves, there is no justification for including it in physical theory.
the luminiferous Æther
This passage recalls Pynchon's discussion of the "soniferous aether" in Gravity's Rainbow (695).
- Michelson and Morley, in their original American Journal of Science article, spelled the word "ether." Aether and æther have hung on as minority spellings. Most people say EE-ther, but William Vermillion Houston, a venerable professor of mathematical physics in the middle 1960s, pronounced it EH-ther to avoid confusion with the anesthetic. Most writers don't capitalize the word.
one finds in the devout Ætherist a propensity of character evertoward the continuous as against the discrete
Particle or Wave? Aether is the medium that light would move in, if it were a wave. This enters the question of whether light is a particle or a wave into the discussion. Pynchon sets up the dichotomy: (aether/wave/continuous vs. empty space/particle/discrete) (also, see page 61)
Ammonium chloride. A solution served as electrolyte in storage batteries such as the Leclanché cell, which could be used to store the charge generated by the Toepler machine (next entry).
all those tiny whirlpools the theory has come to require
People still write articles and books about physics based on the æther. Many physics departments put such papers in the "crank file," but now the World Wide Web makes them available to everybody. One way of finagling the æther to accommodate "real" matter is to postulate vortices or whirlpools in the medium, corresponding to electrons and other particles.
Ætherism escaped the fate of Ptolemaic astronomy, which collapsed gradually—over a matter of centuries—as it had to grow in complexity to keep up with the technology of observation. Ideas about the æther, in contrast, could not be rigged up to fit Michelson and Morley's results: one experiment spelled the death of the theory, and it became untenable between a summer and the next spring.
Albert A. Michelson (1852-1931), American physicist. He was born in Strelno, Prussia (now Strzelno, Poland). His family emigrated to the US in 1854. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 1873. After some studies in Europe (Berlin, Heidelberg and Paris) he became Professor of Physics in Case School of Applied Science (1883-89), Clark Univeristy (1889-92) and University of Chicago (1892-1931). He invented an interferometer and an echelon grating, and did important experimental work on the spectrum, but is chiefly remembered for the Michelson-Morley experiment to determine æther drift, the negative result of which set Einstein on the road to the Theory of Relativity. In 1907 he became the first American scientist to win a Nobel prize "for his optical precision instruments and the spectroscopic and metrological investigations carried out with their aid." (Michelson.)
Maxwell Field Equations
In 1864, Maxwell advanced a set of four equations that would describe almost all phenomena involving electricity and magnetism. They not only explained the interrelationship of these two but also showed these two could not be separated. There was only a single electromagnetic field. These equations predicted the existence of electromagnetic radiation. By taking the ratio of certain corresponding values in the equations describing the force between electric charges and the force between magnetic poles one can calculate the velocity at which the electromagnetic wave would have to move. This ratio turned out to be precisely equal to the velocity of light. In 1865 Maxwell wrote that "light itself is an electromagnetic disturbance in the form of waves propagated through the electromagnetic field according to electromagnetic laws".
Although Pynchon says that the Michelson-Morley experiment was first carried out in Berlin, this is not completely correct; he first tried it there at the Institute of Physics but there was too much noise due to traffic so the interferometer did not produce any results. Therefore, in 1881, Michelson moved to the Astrophysical Observatory Potsdam on Potsdam's Telegraph Hill where he succeeded finally for the first time to show the Null event: no ether out there. Source In the basement of what is now Building A31, at the very place where Michelson had set up his experiment, one can find a reproduction of the instrument, though, for health reasons, without the original quicksilver lamp.
Harks back to Mason & Dixon's visit with George Washington.
Pynchon spends an inordinate amount of time in Ohio in Against the Day. Why? I don't know. An idea: in addition to the Mason & Dixon connection, Ohio dominated US politics from 1869 to 1923 producing 7 of the 11 presidents (counting Grover Cleveland -- who ironically was not from Ohio -- once). Most of them were riddled with scandal.
[What, pray, would be an appropriate amount of time for Pynchon to spend in Ohio? Is there something inherently unliterary about Ohio?] Of late, although Ohio has not dominated US politics, it has received a lot of attention as a "battleground" state in presidential elections. TRP In Against the Day, Pynchon seems to mention things that are connected with some of these presidents without naming the president outright. Spotting them is what is hereafter named the "Hidden Ohio President" -- sort of like "find the pope in the pizza." The only president mentioned by name (to the best of my recollection) is William McKinley -- an Ohio president, but not hidden.
This strip of Ohio due west of Connecticut
The Western Reserve of Connecticut.
bravos in blue
A bravo is defined as a villain, especially a hired killer. Definition Here, it's the men in blue who earn that sobriquet.
Northern Ohio Insane Asylum
Full of light enthusiastes who invented light-powered bicycles (see p 76), believe light to have consciousness and personality, and who eat light.
"Originally known as the Northern Ohio Lunatic Asylum, this was the second of 6 public asylums established in Ohio in the 1850's. In later years it was commonly known as Newburgh State Hospital because it was located in Newburgh Township as recompense for Cleveland having been awarded the location of Cuyahoga County Seat. The main building, containing 100 beds, was completed in 1855 on land in Newburgh" donated by the family of James Garfield, later US president -- who ironically was gunned down by a "delusional religious fanatic."
Hidden Ohio Presidents: this is the first (not) mentioned president from Ohio in Against the Day, James Garfield.
Could there exist some subtly altered version of the Northern Ohio Insane Asylum, filled with scientists? A university perhaps, from which physicists sometimes escape to wreak havoc upon the world? Surely, not: that would be Para-NOIA.
see Breatharians Wikipedia entry, who claim that it is possible to live without food.
Associations of light with "wind."
GR includes a character named Hillary Bounce.
The mentions of cosmic space, balloons, a US Bureau "in charge of reporting," and his occupation as a photograper seem to allude to the 1947 Roswell UFO incident, an alleged alien crash that the US government insisted was a downed weather balloon. Wikipedia entry
intervals of invisibility
When you blink, the world becomes invisible momentarily. Blinky - intervals of no light?
international scramble to corner light
Corner a commodity, or make a corner in it: to gain possession or just control of so much gold or silver, say, that you can dictate the price. In 1869 Jay Gould and James Fisk almost cornered gold; their success depended on the federal government locking down its gold reserves, but in the end it didn't. The whole market collapsed. In the 1970s the Hunt brothers nearly made a corner in silver.
Somehow Merle got the idea in his head that the Michelson-Morley experiment and the Blinky Morgan manhunt were connected.
Vaguely recalls the use of John Dillinger in Gravity's Rainbow, p. 741, insofar as they both read a surprising amount of metaphysical meaning into the death or final apprehension of a notorious criminal. It also ties the criminal underground (out of the light) with the properties of light.
Each of Blinky's eyes . . . a walking interferometer
The instrument used by Michelson and Morley (see annotations to page 58) was called an interferometer. It worked by leading light along two paths, then back to the source. Light also reaches Blinky by two distinct paths.
Blinky's damaged left eye indicates the 12th house in Vedic medical astrology, the house of invisible enemies, hospitals, insane asylums, imprisonment, bankruptcy, expenses, convents/monasteries, pleasures of the bedroom. The 4th, 8th (see Columbus below) and 12th form the triad of moksha houses, houses of final release and liberation. Being next to the 1st, the house of dawn and the day, the 12th is alongside the day, and a great place to disappear into.
Cf. Vera Meroving in V., p.237 has an artificial left eye the iris of which is encircled by the zodiac and seems to operate like a watch.
Cf. Gravity's Rainbow, p.18 where we first visit Tyrone Slothrop's desk among the items described are "lost pieces of different jigsaw puzzles showing parts of the amber left eye of a Weimaraner". Also, as Pudding makes his way to Katje he passes a tattered Tommy up on White Sheet Ridgewhose left eye is damaged.
A walking interferometer
Blinky Morgan is a walking interferometer.
Incidentally, while you may not be able to become a walking interferometer, you can apparently train yourself to see light polarity, whether the polarization is linear or circular and in which direction thanks to Haidinger's Brush.
In physics, the word birefringence describes a substance that refracts light differently as a function of its direction or polarization. If the difference has to do with color or wavelength, the term used is dispersion (a prism disperses white light into a rainbow).
Edward W. Morley (1838-1912), American chemist and physicist. He was born in Newark, N.J. He was a professor at Western Reserve (1869-1906) and conducted researches in the variations of atmosphere oxygen content, thermal expansion of gases, vapor tension of mercury, desities of oxygen and hydrogen. He was best known for collaboration with Michelson on æther effect experiment (1887).
goes somewhere else . . . where Blinky was when he was invisible
Suggesting that Blinky's mechanism for invisibility—and Lew's stepping "to the side of the day" as well—involves moving a little distance along some unconventional dimension, so that the light by which people would see him doesn't arrive with the rest of the light they perceive.
when Michelson and Morley were making their final observations
M&M's paper appeared in a November 1887 journal and reported observations dated January and July, presumably also 1887. (Publication lag was much shorter then than it is today.)
emerged from invisibility
Blinky "emerges from invisibility" thus dooming the existence of aether. Aether is then "Against the Day" undetectable, unknowable, invisible.
the moment he reentered the world . . . experiment was fated to have a negative outcome
The phrasing points to Schrödinger's infamous cat experiment, where the fate of the creature is not determined until the chamber is opened and the system inside it reenters the observer's world.
cults who believe the world will end on such and such a day
Such as the Millerites, who thought this would occur on October 22, 1844.
Perhaps a nod to Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995), an Indian-American physicist, astrophysicist and mathematician, known to the world as Chandra, who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics. He calculated and discovered the Chandrasekhar Limit which is the maximum mass possible for a white dwarf star (one of the end stages of stars that have exhausted their fuel) supported by electron degeneracy pressure, and is approximately 3 × 1030 kg, around 1.44 times the mass of the Sun. The initials O.D.C. refer to the novel "2001: A space odyssey" by Arthur C. Clarke, where Chandra is the inventor of the HAL computer system. In ATD p. 63 O.D.Chandrasekhar mentions akasa as the solution for the problems the aetherists have discussing implications of the Michelson-Morley experiment, akasa referring to space in hindu cosmology, alas O.D. is proposing space itself here as the medium for light.
O.D. may be named after Shiva, the destructive or transformative deity of the Hindu Trimurti. "Shiva bears on his head the crescent of the moon. Thus Shiva is known by the names of Somasundara and Chandrashekara."wiki
Chandra means moon. Punning, chandra "sekhar" might be "moon seeker."
According to a colleague from India, "sekhar" means "light."
So, O.D. Chandrasekhar means "o.d. on moonlight" or "o.d. on moonshine."
If we can explain . . . why keep it?
If Roswell doesn't engage his internal censor pretty quickly, he will be asking this question about God indeed.
directionless drift…Mia Culpepper…astrology…void of course…mid October
TRP is taking some poetic license with the term void of course. The moon is Void of Course when it does not make any major aspect with a planet from the moment of its last aspect to the end of the sign it is passing through. The moon passes through each sign approximately every 2.5 days. Thus, void of course is an astrological situation that can last from a few minutes to a day or two at most – not until “mid-October” which sounds like more than two days into the future. And as it says in the book, it is a period of directionless drift.
“Void of course” can also be a pun on the reality of the aether, it's void, of course, akasa.
Madge and Mia Culpepper
May be descended from the noted astrologer, botanist and original wildcrafter Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654),through his only surviving child, Mary.
They present another duality around light.
Madge derives from the Greek margaron meaning pearl or "child of light" and has some resonance if not relation to Magdalene. Madge as a pet-form of Magaret has been considered the national Scottish female name.
Mia, strictly speaking, is derived from the Hebrew Miryam meaning "the wished-for child." It might be traced back to ancient Egyptian, and is a form of Maria/Mary. Other interpretations are "rebellion" or "sea of bitterness." It might also simply be a pun on M.I.A. -- missing in action.
Maybe 'Mea Culpa'? or to expand 'Mea Maxim Culpa' as here
An inexperienced, awkward, or unsophisticated person.
Light tied to silver and chemistry and a bit of alchemy.
saw the image appear . . . out of the pale Invisible
The chemical processes of photography, a kind of alchemy, become the mechanism by which the visible becomes invisible (when the plate is exposed) and the invisible becomes visible (when it is developed). The chemistry of the silver salts may be the "dimension" Lew and Blinky move along.
As if light had been witched somehow into its opposite...
Darkness becomes light, and light becomes darkness. The essence of light is dark, and vice versa, and this might be a key hermeneutic for AtD.
Merle’s all-night illumination
Distant echo of Blundell’s quote from p. 24 with inspiration (Merle’s new found obsession with photography) being like physical electricity, here like a light bulb. A glowing that keeps him awake.
A street in Cleveland bordering both Case Western Reserve University and Little Italy.
A dip is a pickpocket. Merle has magic fingers for extracting information.
The Cleveland Public Library was founded in 1869, its mission, "to be the best urban library system in the country by providing access to the worldwide information that people and organizations need in a timely, convenient, and equitable manner." Wikipedia
The open-stacks system is deeply subversive and a great enabler of writers and other anarchists.
seeking admission to the hanging
This whole scene, with Blinky's Hanging memorabilia, people in town walking around in a trance, etc, strongly echoes the beginning verse of "Desolation Row" by Bob Dylan. "They're selling postcards of the hanging..."(Dylan's lyrics)
murders in Ravenna
Ravenna is the county seat of Portage County, Ohio (home to the famous Kent State University). Blinky Morgan and his gang broke into a train at the Ravenna Station to free a fellow gang member who was in-transit to be questioned regarding a recent robbery of a Cleveland area business. One officer was killed and another brought within an inch of his life [Encyclopedia of Cleveland History].
light of Heaven
By Merle ruining the plates of the hanging (where his photography obsession has led him) by over-exposure of physical light, his brain is lit up by a spiritual light.
If the U.S. was a person . . . and it sat down, Columbus, Ohio would instantly be plunged into darkness.
Merle stole this gag from Mason & Dixon.
Note that the bars in Columbus are said to close at 8 o'clock. In astrology (both Western and Vedic) the 8th house rules among other things, death, hemorroids, the anus and rectum.
The name of the 4th hexagram of the I Ching (Yi Jing) in the Wilhelm/Baynes translation. Mentioned in GR as well.
Greater Cleveland. [Wikipedia]
Beast Without Shame
Inexplicably recalls the epithet earlier used to denounce Lew Basnight on page 36: "the Upstate-Downstate Beast."
Given that Merle is involved with photography and that the ladies of indignation and male town folk are out to get him, one possibility, reading between the lines, is that Merle might be involved in risque photography, the late 19th century version of porn.
East Fullmoon, Iowa
The full moon (fool moon) is usually associated with lunacy and strange behaviour. The moon is full when it is in direct opposition to the sun (against the day, so to say), and east is the direction of ascendancy (lunar, solar, planetary, etc.). An east full moon would be big and bright just after sunset (the death of the day).
The moon also, traditionally in both western and eastern astrology, represents silver and the feminine -- the waxing moon, the growing young woman; the full moon, the pregnant mother; the waning moon, the mature woman becoming a crone; the new moon, the hidden cycle between death and rebirth/resurrection.
The eastern houses of an astrological chart are the 1st, 2nd, and 12th. Only the 1st and 12th are above the horizon.
Full moon in the first house, the ascendant, represents the rise of lunacy, anarchy, the growing importance of silver and the empowerment of women. This is when the moon is big on the horizon.
As the moon moves higher into the sky, its apparent size diminishes as it transverses the twelfth house, and so the moon in the twelfth represents the loss of silver and the disappearance of women and mothers, and here in East Fullmoon we see the disappearance of two women, Roxana and Erlys. The 12th being a house of loss, "there is little hope on the horizon...for any replacement." Venus is not rising on this particular night. However, "Lucky" Luca Zombini gets a replacement, while "Miserable" Merle Rideout does not.
tenor sax player from the pit band at the local opera house
The "opera house" is not a venue for opera, then.
- Actually, in opera, the orchestra plays in the pit in front of the stage. The use of "band" may just be colloqial, although tenor sax in an opera orchestra does seem a bit odd...
. . . have you ever felt that you wished to suddenly disappear . . . ?
While Merle is getting obsessed with revealing images from darkrooms and chemicals, Zombini comes and makes Erlys "disappear."
some larger plan
May be talking about writing Against the Day itself.
winter skies . . . Through the falling snow
Above the white space we're in winter 1887-88 (after Blinky Morgan's execution); below it, winter 1893-94 (after the Fair closed).
Pertaining to or used by the priestly class; used in connexion with sacred subjects. (From the same root as hieroglyphics.)
man-made bad times
The Panic of 1893 and the 1893-95 depression. The Wikipedia article goes into causes and effects.
This illusion, only with straight streets instead of straight planted rows, was described by the Chums author on page 10.
The skies were interrupted by dark gray storm clouds with a flow like molten stone, swept and liquid, and light that found its way through...
This whole paragraph is one majestic passage of sumptuous Pynchonian Poetry. Full of beauty, dignity and glorious sentimental value: nostalgic, evocative and yet so romantic. One of those things anyone will miss after vanishing from human existence. Yes! Life is worth fighting for. Its a Gift. The thing is people are too blind and stupid to see it. We wonder why? ($$$) Merle sees hope and life worth living through Dahlia presence. You could write millions of books from this little vessel ending:
They lived for different futures, but they were each other's unrecognized halves, and what fascination between them did come to pass was lit up, beyond question, with grace.
Immutable! The summer evening had begun to fold the world in its mysterious embrace ~ Mary, star of the sea James Joyce Ulysses passage comes to mind.
. . . herbs the wildcrafters knew the names and market prices of . . .
"Wildcrafting" here means the harvest of any plant parts from non-cultivated medicinal plants, plants which have essentially planted themselves in any location". (wildcrafting also contains a detailed explanation of the author's wildcrafting.)
Inner American Sea
The Great Plains.
Melville in Moby Dick likens the sea to the prairie:
Chapter 14: A Nantucker (sic) "lives on the sea, as prairie cocks in the prairie, he hides among the waves, he climbs them ...like the Alps."
Chapter 114: "in his whale-boat the rover softly feels a certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea; that he regards it as so much flowery earth; and the distant ship revealing only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forward, not though high rolling waves, but through the tall grass of a rolling prairie: as when the western emigrants' horses only show their erected ears, while their hidden bodies widely wade through the amazing verdure. The long-drawn virgin vales; the mild blue hill-sides; as over these there steals the hush, the hum; you almost swear that play-wearied children lie sleeping in these solitudes, in some glad May-time, when the flowers of the woods are plucked."
But perhaps Melville was only following common usage as travelers crossing the prairie often described their wagons as "ships upon the ocean," or ships on "rolling waves of green from horizon to horizon," or as resembling "dim sails crossing a rolling sea."
City in Iowa. [Wikipedia]
City in Minnesota. Hometown of Seaman Bodine from Gravity's Rainbow (710) and V..
before the sun had moved a minute of arc
Pedantry alert: The sun moves 1 minute of arc in 4 clock seconds.
Inlaid work of blocks of wood arranged in a geometric pattern, esp. in furniture and flooring.
brightly lit against the stormy days
Cf page 57.
Astringent distilled from leaves and bark of the witch hazel shrub (genus Hamamelis) and used as a skin care product.
An allusion to Thurn and Taxis?
calm as a sharpshooter
Allusion of camera as a gun. Also, perhaps the idea of breathing out when shooting to ensure calm when pulling the trigger (or pressing the shutter button).
There was always plenty of bell-hanger work
In this and the subsequent pages we see Merle getting involved, apart from his usual light-related job (photography), to sound-related and electricity-related jobs.
Can mean a technique in brick masonry. [source], but when referring to streetcars, "frogs" are the heavy metal flangeways that connect track to switches, diamonds, cross-overs and other track structures. Frogs guide wheels from one track structure to another. Pynchon may be confusing the term. (Frog-bonding here is probably the electrician's task of installing cables to link the frog and the tracks to either side of it, so that the car's front and rear wheels are at the same potential relative to the catenary wire.)
sal ammoniac battery
Wet storage cell using sal ammoniac (ammonium chloride) solution as electrolyte. A well-known form is the Leclanché cell. Prof. Vanderjuice got mixed up with such a battery on page 58.
Obviously recalls Byron the sentient lightbulb from Gravity's Rainbow. Also possibly the movie "Ghostbusters". Also recalls Insane Asylum where he is told light has "consciousness and personality." But Merle's "hitch as a lightning-rod salesman" also may be read as Pynchon's tip-of-the-hat (or the copper rod) to a certain nineteenth-century American predecessor, the author of a story called "The Lightning Rod Man" (1854). Come to think of it, Pynchon may be the one contemporary author able to match Melville in whimsy, satire, melancholia, encryption, Jehovah-like ambition, and periodic sentences that are light on their feet yet labyrinthine. Cf. M&D's link to Melville's Israel Potter (now, sadly, unread), or GR's line trailing back toward that book about a whale.... Cf. ATD, p. 123. This 'Skip' episode is not to be skipped or skimmed; it sets ATD's readers briefly aglow with sweetness and light and sadness.
Ball lightning reportedly takes the form of a short-lived, glowing, floating object often the size and shape of a basketball, but it can also be golf ball size or smaller. It is sometimes associated with thunderstorms, but unlike lightning flashes arcing between two points, which last a small fraction of a second, ball lightning reportedly lasts many seconds. There have been some reports of production of a similar phenomenon in the laboratory, but some still disagree on whether it is the same phenomenon. See Ball Lightning, Ball lightning explained and Anatomy of a lightning ball.
- Great balls of fire ! Sort of reminds one of that Jerry Lee Lewis song. Recall The Killer's 1973 tune Meat Man, and one Alonzo Meatman...
The equivalent of an absurdly generous $5 in today's money. [calculator] Merle's proposition to Dahlia echoes the old saw about marriage: if you put a penny in a jar for every time "you do it" in the first year of marriage and take a penny out for every time you do it thereafter, you'd never empty the jar.
A North American prairie grass Wikipedia
She watched the invisible force at work
This subchapter, in which we have watched Merle getting involved in jobs about sound and electricity, on top of his usual job about light, closes with an image of the blowing wind, the "invisible force". A couple of lines back, we have Merle saying "There's your gold, Dahlia", pointing to the wind "blowing in the high Indian grass" and Dally thinking "what an alchemist [he] was" (italics mine). It is the first allusion of Merle as an alchemist.
Dishforth's Illustrated Weekly
"dish" - gossip. Also, Dishforth is an English cricket club in the Nidderdale and District Amateur Cricket League.
some new kind of gravure process
In gravure (rotogravure, photogravure) printing, the ink is applied to the paper via tiny pits or "cells" in the metal gravure cylinder. The equipment costs way more than hot-lead or offset plant, but the image quality ranges from very good up to astounding and the cylinder is good for extremely long runs. Gravure differs from halftone in pits versus raised dots. At the time of the action, gravure was used for premium materials such as lifestyle magazines.
If anyone remembers the song "Easter Parade," the lines
The photographers will snap us,
And you'll find that you'rein the rotogravure,
refer to a gravure-printed fashion section in a newspaper.
The halftone, which became common in the 1890s, revolutionized magazines, no longer requiring more complex and expensive engravings. Pictures were finer, as explained in this section, as they were reduced to "a grain so fine" that the dots were almost invisible. Light and dark were therefore split into tiny atoms of ink, allowing for subtle gradations of tone. Article on the history of the halftone.
approach the gates of the laughing academy
Echoes "approach the gates of the Penitentiary" (used by the Chums author) on page 7.
charge slowly building up on a condenser plate
Condensers are now more often called capacitors. You store charge by taking electrons from one plate and depositing them on the other.
photographer's or, if you like, alchemist's stuff
Second allusion to Merle as an alchemist (see also previous and next page).
Electric Generator hooked to an old bicycle
Don't know if this is that important, but similar to Insane Asylum light-bicycle. (There was one in GR, too-- somebody giving a haircut.)
Equipment that definitely pertains to alchemy and metal fabrication more than photography. The alchemist who creates his/her own glassware (alembics, coils, etc.) has an annealing oven, in which newly made wares are allowed to cool very slowly (many hours) so that internal stresses are relieved. Unannealed glass shatters too readily. A similar treatment is applied to metal parts that have been made brittle by working (bending, hammering, etc.), and for a similar reason.
In darkroom times, very high-gloss prints got that way by being pressed against a bright, smooth, chrome-plated drum that was heated from the inside.
The character is introduced mere paragraphs after the description of spiderwebs "that when the early daylight was right cause you to stand there just stupefied." As "traverse" means to travel across or through, perhaps the character's name signifies his ability to navigate the complicated webs of so-called reality.
In law, to "traverse" means to deny, and a "traverse" to a pleading is a denial of its allegations. This appellation fits Webb Traverse, whose anarchism is a denial of industrial capitalism.
Mason and Dixon's survey was a traverse, as opposed to a triangulation.
See note on p.62 in regards to Traverse City, MI (Alpena's cross-peninsula rival). Significant, or not?
Webb Traverse's homophonic name paronomasia connects to the rhetorical idea of World-System in Page 33 and revolutionary internet geeks in pre-911 America at the turn of this century. Yeah, the ones who usually indulge good electronic downtown music and intellectually happy conversations.
to speak or write verbosely and windily (from Merriam-Webster)
A porous ceramic cup used in refining noble metals like gold. When the contents are melted, "base" metals oxidize and the material of the cupel absorbs them, leaving the gold in the cup.
the famous Philosopher's Stone
Not famous enough: When Scholastic Books acquired the Harry Potter series for U.S. publication, the company insulted American readers by changing the name of the first book from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The Sorcerer's Stone is not famous at all. Most likely they thought Americans would be scared off by anything involving "philosophy." Wikipedia on the Philosopher's Stone
- This guess is correct as I heard from colleagues in publishing.
In geology, a dark-colored, fine-grained igneous rock like basalt.
alchemists keep tryin, it's what we do
Photography as alchemy. Mercury and the Philosopher's stone.
Fulminate I believe it's called
Merle gets almost everything right (and a good thing, too these substances are lethal). Mercury fulminate was discovered in 1799 and came into use in detonators by 1814. Wikipedia has a good entry on silver fulminate and fulminating silver. Some fulminates are so sensitive that their own weight will cause them to detonate. Fulminic acid, discovered in 1824, is not the same as prussic (hydrocyanic) acid but does smell like it. Fulminating gold, not very closely related to these, is a material of alchemy.
Probably anticipates the atom bomb. See page 79 on "politics through chemistry"...."temples of Mammon all in smithereens".
This statement that Anti-Stone, if it is an allusion to the atomic bomb, "has another name that we'd just get into trouble saying out loud" reminds of Oppenheimer and what he said the detonation of the first atomic bomb "Trinity" in the New Mexico desert made him think of: "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that one way or another."
- The A-bomb is just not convincing. No one—not even proficient alchemists—knew until the 1930s that elements could be transmuted explosively. And at the time of the action (1890s) the only way to get into trouble by saying "atom bomb" would be to say it to a conservative English teacher. While using an atomic bomb does result in "smithereens," its action is not based on chemistry. If you dissect this conversation, going all the way back to "In Colorado they found a farm outbuilding," it seems more likely that Merle and Webb are thinking of a process that deconstructs gold and silver and turns plutocrats' fortunes into rubble. Two alternatives: (a) Just as triple-rectified mercury is a step along the way to the Stone, fulminating silver is a step along the way to the Anti-Stone, some ideal or essential chemical explosive. Or (b) what demolishes fortunes and turns gold into just a shiny metal: revolution and anarchy.
Anti-Stone seems to be a watchword. Merle and Webb are sizing each other up, looking for a "countersign" sniffing each other out as members of a conspiracy. Similar to Masonic (brick/stone) practice where signs and countersigns are used so that members may recognize one another in public without revealing themselves, "Anti-Stone" and "alchemist" stand in as coded references for "anarchist" -- a word, that if spoken, would get them in trouble.
If the Philosopher's Stone is a "figure of speech for God and salvation" in everyday, "Christian" society, "why then the other --" the Antichrist is the Anarchist, who seeks to overturn that social order. In a Calvinistic- Pynchonian world, the Philosopher Stone of God and Salvation represents the Elect, the "pre-saved" and the "other" is the preterite, totally depraved and ruined, common man.
From V., p.533: The Jesuit Father Fairing states: "Any tug in the direction of anarchy is anti-Christian." and a couple pages later: "In the matter of Caesar and God...there's no conflict of interests," implying that they are one and the same.
Handy Alchemy Dictionary
Compare Lapis Philosophorum and Infernal Stone
AntiStone might be thought of as the Infernal Stone which is an alkali hydroxide such as sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) used to make soap or potassium hydroxide aka potash. They are both alkali salts. Another alkali salt (but not an hydroxide) is calcium carbonate, better known as Iceland Spar.
What about Pro-Soul?
Extracting silver from its ore by combining it with mercury. (Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989.)
breathin in those fumes
Mercury fumes are what made hatters mad. Just like the smell of pesticide in subway stations near any ghetto of every single city in America.
Telluride . . . Hell with electric lights
The mountain town of Telluride was home to the world's first commercial-grade alternating-current power plant. The world "telluride" also means something in chemistry.
poor folks on the march, bigger than Coxey’s Army
Group of unemployed men who marched to Washington, D.C., in the depression year of 1894. Jacob S. Coxey (1854–1951), a businessman, led the group, which hoped to persuade Congress to authorize public-works programs to provide jobs. It left Ohio on March 25 and reached Washington on May 1 with about 500 men, the only one of several groups to reach its destination. It attracted much attention but failed to bring about any legislation Answers.com, Britannica
not the result of any idle drift but more of a secret imperative, like the force of gravity
Ties into the central scientific metaphor of GR, that the laws of physics and fate are somehow connected.
as if silver were alive, with a soul and a voice
. . . like Skip the ball lightning.
The Light Over the Ranges
Against the Day
Rue du Départ