When I saw Marvy’s Mothers, it was hard not to pass up the connection to Zappa and his band. But oh, what album to pick? (He released like 40). I chose the one released in the same year as Gravity’s Rainbow.
It also happens to be full of all kinds of sex (imagine that).
It opens with “Camarillo Brillo” the kind of simple, catchy song that Zappa seems to whip out very easily. I assumed that the title was some kind of sexual slang (not a bad assumption), but Wikipedia suggests it has something to do with an insane asylum (Camarillo) and the crazy hair they often had, which makes sense given the crazy lyrics. It starts kind of trippy with inscrutable lyrics. And then the bridge, “she was breeding a dwarf” is pretty insane. It also features a very funny sequence that was oft-quoted in MST3K–“Is that a real poncho or a Sears poncho.”
“I Am the Slime” is a funky (a great Zappa riff) diatribe against TV (because it makes you buy crap you don’t need and makes you listen to the government). “Dirty Love” is a perverse song with lots of guitar solos. There’s some kind of bestiality in this song (which also ties in with parts of this section).
“Fifty-Fifty” features the vocals of Ricky Lancelotti (in a screaming style that would later be used a lot by Terry Bozzio). It’s about an ugly guy who is crazy enough to sing to us. The songs seem to be more about solos though, as there’s a keyboard solo an electric violin solo (from Jean-Luc Ponty) and some crazy guitar solos.
I don’t know what “Zomby Woof” is about, but it has some wicked guitar soloing and horns playing Zappa’s staccato riffs up and down the scale.
“Dinah-Moe Humm” is a song perfectly suited to this book–it’s a song in which a woman bets the narrator that he can’t make her have an orgasm. The melody is twinkly and silly. It’s shockingly explicit. But it’s even funnier to know that the backing vocals are supplied by The Ikettes (Ike and Tina were recording in the next room). They got paid almost nothing and when Ike heard the song he called it “shit” and asked that their name be removed from the credits.
It also plays around with hippy slang. “Kiss my aura Dora/It’s real angora/Would you all like some more-a/right here on the floor-a/and how about you fauna/You wanna?”
He also starts talking about Zircon encrusted tweezers, which come back in “Montana.” “Montana” is about moving to Montana to raise dental floss (really). It features some wonderful fast pizzicato notes that are more or less Zappa’s signature. The middle section is hugely difficult and very impressive for the backing vocalists (Tina apparently was really impressed that one of her girls could do it).
Zappa packs a lot of music into 35 minutes, and this album seems to be a turning point in his desire to cram sex and craziness into his commercial music. Just about every song on this disc was played a lot live and this album has become something of a classic.
[READ: Week of March 19] Gravity’s Rainbow [3.1-3.5]
This week’s read has been the most challenging for me so far. I enjoyed Section 2 very much. The Slothrop scenes were funny and wild and even advanced the plot. I never expected that Section 3 would introduce a ton of new characters, more or less ignore the old charterers and stay with these new characters so that by not paying close attention to them in the beginning I was just confused by the end.
I do admit that while skimming again for this post, I was able to focus on the new characters more and found it far less confusing. It’s just that on a first read, suddenly there’s this whole new sequence of people and their histories to deal with! Wow.
It was especially surprising because Section 3 begins with Slothrop (so it’s not like in 2666 where a new section means a new cast). But he meets new characters and then we flash all the way back through each person’s life. And yes, it was quite interesting once I actually paid attention, and the connections were pretty awesome. But it was still pretty surprising on the first read through.
Section 3 is called In the Zone. And the Zone is mentioned quite a lot, although I never figured out where it is meant to be exactly.
Section 3.1 opens in May and is set in the city of Nordhausen in the very north of Germany. And in comes Slothrop, barefoot and blistered. His shoes were stolen by some DP on the train ride from the Swiss border. They left a red tulip between his toes (which makes him think of Katje).
And speaking of freight cars, Slothrop ran into his very first African on top of one the other night (who turns out to be Enzian). They had small talk about the departure of Major Duane Marvy (these are two of those newly introduced characters who will play a huge role in this section).
Slothrop hops a train following clues about Imipolex G. He has a doll that he had stolen from a child’s play house. The doll’s owner was there and told him the hair belonged to a Russian Jewess (I find this detail really gut wrenching). A music box starts playing. He and the girl dance. He believes it’s Katje, and when he turns to the girl to ask if it is really her, she is gone. [I suspect that the girl is part of a “delusion,” he seems to have many of these in this section].
He is still Ian Scuffling war (peace?) correspondent in British uniform. He is looking through the files on Imipolex G and it points to Nordhausen. The engineer in the Imipolex G contract was Franz Pökler (who you’ll remember is the guy who played with rockets, the ex-husband of Leni, the woman who left him for Peter Sachsa, Eventyr’s medium).
There’s no word about where Franz went when the SS Mittlewerk plant where he worked was evacuated in February and March, but, being the intrepid reporter, Slothrop/Scuffling will find out.
Slothrop also has information on Laszlo Jamf. He was on the Grössli Chemical Corporation board as late as 1924. One of the documents shows contact with a Lyle Bland of Boston, Mass. Slothrop knows the name Lyle Bland, who was involved in the Hugo Stinnes operation in Germany. Stinnes [a real person] was a whiz kid of finance and built up an empire of steel and gas which eventually grew to include shipyards and hotels and even had an influence on international currency (he was intent on destroying the Germany Mark so Germany could be absolved of its war debts). And he was personally blamed for Inflation.
Jamf supplied Bland with fake currency called Notgeld (nice) and “Mefo bills” (don’t get that one) to use in the Wiemar Republic. The banknotes were contracted out to a Massachusetts paper mill called Slothrop Paper Company (!) and Lyle Bland was on the board. When Slotrhop reads this he gets nauseous and a hardon at the same time.
He smells the Forbidden Wing. Once something was done to him in a room while he lay helpless….
Slothrop recalls “Uncle Lyle,” a fair-haired hustler who picked up Tyrone and swung him by his feet. Bland either saw the Stinnes crash coming or was generally nervous and bailed in 1923. In the terms of the Bland’s agreement, “seller agrees to continue surveillance duties until such time as Schwindel operative can be relieved by purchaser equivalent” (286). According to Jamf’s diary, Schwindel is Hugo Stinnes and Schwarzknabe (“black boy”) is listed as T.S. (Tyrone Slothrop or Tough Shit). Through this, Schwarzknabe received a pass to Harvard University at a time when every one else around him (including his family) had no money. These terms were agreed upon by Schwarzvater (“black father”) who is listed as B.S. (Broderick Slothrop or Bull Shit).
Has Slothrop been under surveillance since he was born?
Although he doesn’t have proof yet, he puts 2+2 +2 together and decides that that haunting smell is from Imipolex G (which explains the hardons during the rockets!). He’s also had a recent dream that when he looks in a technical German dictionary, the entry for JAMF reads: I.
Slothrop is on a train with thirty other displaced person, all singing a song about the train. Pipes are passed around. He feels queasy, so he climbs onto the roof. Where he encounters Major Marvy (of Marvy’s Mothers) “the meanest ass technical intelligence team in the whole fuckin’ Zone, mister (287).
Marvy, who is nice to Slothrop and is also on the way to Mittelwerk, is a horrible racist. He is especially nervous about the South West African/Kraut jungle bunnies in the next car. These would be the Schwarzkommando which Marvy says was Hitler’s plan for setting up a Nazi empire in Africa (which got terminated after Patton kicked Hitler’s ass). The Schwarzkommando stayed in Germany and learned ordnance. He says that all of the Schwarzkommando are headed for Nordhausen. “You can’t trust them with rockets. They’re a childlike race. Brains are smaller” (288).
Out of the darkness come a voice. “But our patience is enormous…though perhaps not unlimited” (288). The speaker, a large African picks up Marvy and hurls him from the car and down the embankment. [And I swear to God I nearly cheered]. His name is Oberst Enzian. [Pay attention to him, capiche].
Enzian is about to reveal a secret about who is more dangerous than Marvy, but stops when he sees that Slothrop is a war correspondent.
Slothrop goes into town, a largely deserted town, where he sees a girl playing the balalaika, named Geli Tripping. The balalaika belongs to a Russian named Tchitcherine [this named simply will not go away in Section 3, after the lowly beginning here, he becomes very important to this section]. Tchitcherine maintains a harem in every rocket town in the Zone.
Slothrop and Geli are drinking Nordhäuser Schattensaft (Shadow juice) and soon they are together, with her fantasizing about Tchitcherine the whole time. This bothers Slothrop but doesn’t stop him. Then Geli’s owl (!) Wernher flies in. She tells Slothrop (who feeds Wernher a Baby Ruth) that Wernher only comes when Tchitcherine shows up. Slothrop leaps out of bed with a “softoff” (ha!).
But Geli invites him back, asking if he wants information about Tchitcherine or perhaps about Rocket 00000–the one rocket out of 6000 that carried the Imipolex device. She also teases him with information about the Schwarzgerät…the S-Gerät…the S-G.
Then comes Paranoid proverb 5:
Paranoids are not paranoid because they’re paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations (292).
And she knows all of this because she reads Vaslav’s mail. So Slothrop stays for the information.
Geli reveals that she posed for a rocket insignia as a witch. He asks if she is a real witch to which she replies she has witch tendencies and asks if he has been to Brocken yet because she has been up there every Walpurgisnacht (the May Day Festival) since she had her first period.
Slopthrop asks again for the information when Tchitcherine comes crashing through the window with a Nagant blazing in his fist. He judo chops Slothrop, he drives a tank into the room and blasts Slothrop with a 76 mm shell. [This would be another delusion].
Slothrop is nervous but he stays because she tells him that the S-G is for sale for half a million Swiss francs from a man in Swinemünde. Slothrop guesses the man is Blodgett Waxwing but she doesn’t know his name.
Slothrop says that Swinemünde is in the Soviet zone but she argues that zones don’t exist anymore.
She entices him back to bed where they go at it animalistically until Wernher claws him and Slothrop declares that she is a witch. But despite all the craziness, he falls asleep in her arms.
Section 3.2 opens with Slothro wearing Tchitcherine ‘s massive boots. He hitches a ride to the Mittelwerk, where they assume he’ll have no troubling getting it. It’s all American Army Ordance taking parts for A4 rockets (before the Russians take over). Tchitcherine calls this the Interregnum.
There’s all kinds of scams–renting confiscated cameras, Yellow James has a food truck. Nick De Profundis, former lounge lizard is now a suave businessman selling A4 souvenirs. And “micro” Graham lurks in the Stollen telling visitors what really went on here. He takes them on passages to Dora, the secret prison (which he knows is haunted). There’s also the Raumwaffe spacesuit wardrobe designed by couturier Heini of Berlin–including space helmets made from skulls. You can even visit the Schwarzkommando room and see where Enzian had his wet dream when snuggling with a rocket (the spot is freshened every day). The whole Raketen Stadt (Rocket-City) is designed to be asymmetrical and terror inducing.
The soldier tells him things are sweet here, he can get Slothrop women and booze. Although “One of the sweetest fruits of victory, after sleep and looting, must be the chance to ignore no-parking signs” (298).
And then we move on to parabolas.
The Albert Speer touch. Albert Speer was in charge of New German Architecture and later became Minister of Munitions. The parabola that Slothrop is looking at was created by Etzel Ölsch. Ölsch liked the shape and also learned that it was the trajectory of the rockets. Etzel also designed the plant to look like a Nazi SS only stretched out–they are tunnels driven into the mountain. There are 44 ladderlike rungs or Stollen that link the two main ones. The SS design is also the symbol for double integral which there’s a lot of explanation about but which I don’t fully understand. But it centers around Brennschluss and the Brennschluss Point [from Wkikipedia: Brennschluss: The moment in the trajectory of a rocket when the fuel burns out, after which it continues with its own momentum for some distance and then begins to succumb to gravity; all-burnt, burn-out.]
Another meaning for the shape of the tunnels is the rune that stands for the yew tree (eiwhaz). Or lovers curled asleep (which is where Slothrop wishes he were). Slothrop wants to be with Katje and wonders if They will let him. Then there’s this interesting sentence that I’m still trying to parse:
It’s not the gentlemanly reflex that made him edit, switch names, insert fantasies into the yarns he spun for Tantivy back in the ACHTUNG office (302).
Does that mean the whole Poisson distribution map is false?
Slothrop shows his forged pass and gets in past the guards. Since we’ve had just about every other bodily fluid in the book, Slothrop notices some time later that there is dried snot on his pass.
Oh, and for David Foster Wallace fans we get this wonderful quote…
but these are the urban fantods here, that come to get you when you are lost or isolate inside the way time is passing, (303). [While I knew that DFW didn’t coin “howling fantods,” I had no idea fantods was so old. World Wide Words says “It was a favourite of Mark Twain, as here in Huckleberry Finn: “These was all nice pictures, I reckon, but I didn’t somehow seem to take to them, because if ever I was down a little they always give me the fan-tods.”
Slothrop realizes he is alone and hungry and has a delusion about sexy women in short lab coats commencing an orgy with him. Just how much of this story is real?
Stollen 20 is the A4 part of the factory–traffic is heavier and more and more components of the rockets are visible—different parts are kept in different Stollen and Stollen 41 was final assembly. He sees and hears Americans and Russians partying with a keg and singing Rocket Limericks (about Doing It with the A4). He wants in on the food and fun, but the only way down is by zipline. He has a delusion about falling to his death only to make it safely (if ungainly) into the crowd. Someone gives him a beer and says “He’ll be along any minute. The “he” turns out to be Major Mary—it’s his going away party sponsored by General Electric.
And as soon as Marvy sees Slothrop, hijinx ensue—he orders all of his men to get the limey wot threw him off the train. One of the Mothers shoots the keg and beer gushes out so there is slipping and sliding; they can’t fire in the darkness and Slothrop escapes. He slips in some paint, puts on a coverall and clips his moustache (now you look like Hitler!) and is helped to escape by Glimpf, Professor of Mathematics of the Technische Hochschule. He has a plan which involved a racial epithet aimed at Marvy. And they escape on a train designed to show visitors the tunnel (that would be a wonderful-to-film movie sequence of crashing and lights out). And yet the Mothers are still in hot pursuit (you can tell because they have not stopped their limericks). They gain on Slothrop and Glimpf. Slothrop hides behind a warhead which he pushes off the train. Various crashes signals that they are safe and they cruise out to a waiting Mercedes… which they steal.
They escape to the mountains and into a dilapidated castle that contains Zwitter’s laboratory. And when they see Slothrop (T.S.), the mood changes.
Section 3.3 opens with a quote from the book Tales of the Schwarzkommando by Steve Edelman. In the quote, Enzian implored the scientists to listen to the Rocket above all when it comes to specs. Section 3.3 proves to be a history of Enzian.
Enzian is from Bleicheröde and the soldiers from the Schwarzkommando are known as Zone-Hereos (it’s no longer a military title. The Hereos are in exile from German South-West Africa [and since I’m keeping track of these things, this is a real issue as well, one which Pynchon explores in V, evidently]. There is a history of the peoples: Rhenish missionaries brought them back as specimens of a possibly doomed race where they were experimented upon or used as servants (by soldiers in the Herero uprising of 1904-1906). In 1933, the Nazi party (who never admitted this) brought over the present day leadership to set up shadowy juntas capable of taking over British and French colonies in Africa.
The communities around Bleicheröde and Nordhausen are known as Erdschweinhöhle (aardvark hole—since they eat from the earth) which was a symbol of fertility and life, although in the Zone that’s not so clear.
The Schwarzkommando are turning into a cult of sterility and death, rather than fertility. They are Empty Ones who are dead to the tribe—Otukungurua (a bit of African history here—it should be Omakungurua but “oma” applies to the living and “otu” is for the inanimate, which is how they see themselves). They want a negative birth rate. To finish the extermination the Germans began in 1904. A simple choice between tribal death and Christian death.
Enzian is concerned. He is their Nguarorerue—not exactly a leader, but one who has been proven. He is also known as Otyikondo, the half –breed, because father was European (although this is not uncommon). Whites in Africa were concerned too—as they would be about dying cattle. And they were perplexed by the choice of death over Christianity. There’s a nice wicked quote about colonies as well: 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” (317).
All of this discussion of sex as a non reproductive act (and all of hedonistic “perversions” that accompany it) ends with a song called Sold on Suicide. The song is a list of things one doesn’t want to do, since he is sold on suicide, but the notes helpfully point out that as you spend more and more time thinking of things to add to the list it prevents you from actually committing suicide.
Enzian finds the name Bleicheröde close enough to “Blicker” the nickname Germans gave for Death. It was later Latinized to Dominus Blicero (!). Weismann (Enzian later became a protégé to him) took it as his SS Code Name.
Then we get a brief history of Enzian’s birth—born to a black mother by a Russian soldier out of wedlock. Then left for dead among the refugees—60 percent death of the tribe. Eventually Weismann brought him to Europe where he would learn to understand the Rocket which would help him understand his Manhood.
Since the surrender, there have been skirmishes between German civilians and freed prisoners—Poles, Czechs, Russians, but no one knows how to feel about the Schwarzkommando—are they SS or Moroccans or maybe Indians?
The Schwarzkommando communicate via shortwave with an occasional German word thrown in. If anyone bothered to monitor them they’d get some useful technical specs. Andreas hears that there is trouble in Hamburg. Enzian says he is going to check it out. It could be a trap though—maybe the Russians and Tchitcherine. Enzian and Andreas briefly talk about Slothrop. Can Eznian trust him? He was talking to Marvy and he’s with Tchitcherine’s girl right now in Nordhausen. (So everyone is spying on Slothrop!). But they also know that Marvy is chasing him, so the verdict is out.
The section ends with the revelation that Enzian is Tchitcherine’s half brother, although they have never met. And tis will become very significant soon.
Knowing how important Enziand and Tchitcherine are to this section made the second read-through of this section much more enjoyable.
Section 3.4 returns us to Slothrop and Geli Tripping standing on Brocken, amidst the remnants of the recent May Day festival. He doesn’t know what happened, because he knows very little about witches (even if there was a Salem Witch in his personal history—named Amy Sprue–I love all of these amusing anecdotes about Slothrop’s ancestors).
He didn’t know what to think of Sprue, if he bothered to at all, although he never thought of her like the witch is portrayed in Germany—6 toes and hairless down there (at least according to the pictures of them on the transmitter tower on Brocken–and the GErman government wouldn’t lie about that).
But Slothrop and Geli are there for the magnificent shadows cast when the sun hits them on the top of Brocken. Their shadows cast all over Seesen and Goslar known as the Brockengespenst. They are God Shadows—his fingers as big as cities.
But during this diversion he knows that Marvy is still after him. He has to wonder if he’s in it with the Rolls Royce guys. He imagines the connections that are possible and even assumed he would have been caught with Geli if they had not come up to the mountain. Geli tells him he should hop in a balloon to Berlin. [I’m picturing this in a whiny voice: Slothrop—“But I don’t want to go to Berlin.”] The balloonist is named Schnorp and he is carrying cream pies [which any slapstick fan knows means that slapstick hilarity will be forthcoming]. He tells Slothrop, to relax nobody bothers a balloon.
Slothrop feels his heartstrings tug as he leaves Geli (and calls himself a sap) and then they are aloft. After sharing a bit of pie (oboy oboy), they hear it again…the drunken limericks—they are being chased by the Mothers (these few are my favorite limericks of them all—especially “Ritter” and “Decatur”). The balloon drifts into the clouds, and the plane pursues (with engines cut). And then they fling pies at the engine. One hits Marvy in the face, the other gums up the engine and they can’t restart the plane.
The balloon floats to safety—no sign of the plane. And there’s a neat bit of physics about the Earth which I like even if I don’t fully understand it:
“Look. You can see the edge of it. At this latitude the earth’s shadow races across Germany at 650 miles an hour, the speed of a jet aircraft…. The farther south you go,” Schnorp continues, “the faster the shadow sweeps, till you reach the equator: a thousand miles an hour. Fantastic. It breaks through the speed of sound somewhere over southern France–around the latitude of Carcassonne.”(336).
Slothrop comments, “Southern France…that’s where I broke through the speed of sound” (336).
Section 3.5 begins by informing us that the Zone is in full summer. But it is not quiet. Cows are pulling plows, because all of the horses have been killed. But cows don’t know from minefields and the explosions continue all the time.
From them on it’s all about Vaslav Tchitcherine. At this point he is more metal than anything else—steel teeth, a silver plate, gold wirework in his right knee joint (an operation he undertook with no painkillers). He officially reports to TsAGI (Central Aero and Hydrodynamics Institute in Moscow, although his unofficial mission is to destroy the Schwarzkommando “and his mythical half-brother, Enzian” (338).
During the early Stalin days, Tchitcherine was stationed in a remote village and had come to give the tribesmen an alphabet—the New Turkish Alphabet. The NTA runs all through this section, often hilariously so.
He is taken with the schoolmarm Galina, and her friend Luba.
There is also a traveling “native” schoolteacher, Džaqyp Qulan” Džaqyp’ is the Kirghiz and his father was killed by the Russian Imperial Minister of War Kuropatkin in 1916. He doesn’t know if he can trust Tchitcherine. But because of current dispensations, Džaqyp has gained power as a kind of martyr. Džaqyp seems to be telling Tchitcherine to leave his half brother alone (through silent looks). Live and let live.
At least that’s how Galina, a master of silences takes it. She is originally from the city and moved to the hinterlands and can’t imagine going back. Luba says that Tchitcherine is a soldier. By his first mission at the Eastern Front, Tchitcherine will have gained a reputation as a suicidal maniac.
[The relationships of Galina and Luba are a little confusing to me].
Another rumor tells of Tchitcherine’s connection to Wimpe (a name that keeps popping up in this book and which we’ll finally see explained). He was head salesman for a subsidiary of the IG (who are really German spies reporting back to Berlin’s NW7). But realistically if Wimpe and Tchitcherine were connected, Tchitcherine would not have been spared. But they could be connected. They were in the same place at the same time on several occasions. And Tchitcherine has a way of bonding with undesirables.
Wimpe’s expertise is in opium alkaloids. And he tried to sell to the Russians by describing the molecules like pieces on a chessboard. Tchitcherine would have been intrigued by this. And Wimpe’s hotel room would have been full of opium, morphine, codeine. If Tchitcherine had tried some of these that would make a soldier fearless and painless.
Wimpe explains the details as reported by Laszlo Jamf (on loan to the Americans to study the morphine molecule—coinciding with The Great Synthesizer Carothers at Du Pont (who you’ll remember created nylon). The goal seems to be to cure intense pain without addiction. Of course, that’s not really possible as there is always a parallelism between analgesia and addiction.
When Tchitcherine hears of this plan from Wimpe he asks if Wimpe is really that evil—trafficking in pain? Wimpe responds that “doctors traffick in pain and no one would dream of criticizing their noble calling” (349).
And then there’s Chu Piang, introduced on 339 as a “comical Chinese swamper,” it’s finally on 346 that he is given a biography. Chu Piang is a monument to the classic hustle (like this, at the same time, succinct and offensive example):
This classic hustle is still famous, even today, for the cold purity of its execution: bring opium from India, introduce it into China—howdy Fong, this here’s opium, opium this is Fong—ah, so, me eatee!—no-ho-ho, Fong, you smoke, smoke, see? Pretty soon Fong’s coming back for more and more, so you create an inelastic demand for the shit, get China into a couple-three disastrous wars over the right of your merchants to sell opium, which by now you are describing as sacred. You win, China loses. Fantastic. (346).
Tourists come to stare at him and he stares at them as if they are dreams. They amuse him. He tries not to smoke any hash—he wants the opium. The fact that Tchitcherine likes opium too makes Chu very happy. And sure enough eventually, scandalizing everyone, they meet. Chu with the opium, Tchitcherine with the pipe.
But back to Enzian. Tchitcherine has been to the Krasnyy Arkiv and saw the diaries and logs of Admiral Rozhdestvenski. In December 1904 (during the Russo-Japanese War) Rozhedestvenski and his 42 ships steamed into the South African port of Lüderitzbucht on route to the pacific. But Admiral Togo was laying in wait to destroy the fleet and “hand Rozhdestvenski’s ass to him” (350). Only 4 ships made it to Vladivostok.
Tchitcherine’s father was aboard a ship that was pummeled on the rocks. He went AWOL onto the island. He met a woman who’d lost her husband in the uprising against the Germans. He’d never cheated on his wife before—he even had a young baby at home in Saint Petersburg. But he settled down with the Herero woman for a time–they even learned words in each others’ languages. But ultimately he went back to the fleet, leaving her pregnant. He had given her his name and the Germans recorded it. In 1926, Enzian received a visa for German citizenship.
After he found all this out, Tchitcherine was sent to a plenary session of Vsesoyhzhyy Tsentral’nyy Komitet Novogo Tyurkskogo Alfavita and assigned to the ƣ Committee [I got this character here] ƣ seems to be a kind of G, a voiced uvular plosive. The distinction between it and your ordinary G is one Tchitcherine will never learn to appreciate. [You can also copy a picture of the symbol here].
Weird Letter Assignments were left for ne’er-do-wells like him. Shatsk (the Leningrad nose-fetishist who has actually stroked the noses of officials) is banished to θ Committee (which is pronounced Œ not F). While practical joker Radnichny has pulled the schwa ə. Tchitcherine would love to get transferred to Ņ or just plain N or M.
No one here seems right in the head, and Tchitcherine believes he may really be in a nut ward in Moscow. There is a crisis over which kind of g to use in the word “stenography.” There is a lot of emotional attachment to the word around here.
These ne’er-do-wells bond over foolish schemes—Radnichy wants to convert an oil derrick into a penis. So when Igor Blobadjian who tries to steal ƣs from Tchitcherine’s Committee and change them to Gs, Tchitcherine gets angry. The two men sneer at each other across the banquet table. After all of Tchitcherine’s pencils were stolen, Tchitcherine and Radnichy sneak in to Blobadjian’s room with hacksaws and rearrange Blobadjian’s typewriter. But later, two dozen men in a conference room crash to the floor–their chair legs have been sawed off and sealed with wax—is Radnichy a double agent?
The final insult comes when Tchitcherine transliterates the opening sura of the Holy Koran into the proposed NTA and has it circulated under the name Igor Blobadjian. But this is more than blasphemy; it is akin to Holy War. And Blobadjian is chased through the halls by irate Arabists.
Blobadjian is pulled into a closet and taught to change his index of refraction, and he settles on a pale banded onyx effect [boy I hope we see this again as I can’t even imagine what that means]. He says he wants revenge of Tchitcherine but the unnamed person tells him “you’re no part of what he’s got coming” (355).
The unnamed speaker then starts comparing molecules to the alphabet. “These are our letters, our words: they too can be modulated, broken, recoupled, redefined, co-polymerized one to the other in worldwide chains that will surface now and then over long molecular silences, like the seen parts of a tapestry” (355). Blobjidjian is a changed man, actually feeling sorry now for Tchitcherine who will never see this.
Earlier in the section we saw Tchitcherine and Džaqyp ride into the backlands. Tchitcherine is on an Appaloosa horse named Snake. Snake is a crazy horse: sometimes docile, sometimes wild. Snake has gone after Džaqyp but not Tchitcherine so far. But it’s not until page 356 that we catch up with them again. They rode into a village to hear a singing duel–you trade four line stanzas–first, second and last have to rhyme. It is tricky and often insulting.
The duel they are witnessing is between a boy and a girl. The insults are mean at first but soon gentler and funnier—comic cooperation between vaudeville comedians. The partying continues until the Aqyn, the wandering singer, begins his tune. And Tchitcherine is there to get it down with stenography. He rests in the Kirghiz Light. But in the Zone, the Rocket is waiting…
This Section has completely thrown of my expectations of what is going to happen in the book. The war is over. We seem to have put the pieces together between Slothrop and Imipolex G. Those were the plot points, correct?
Now there’s new characters, a race war and no sign at all of anyone in London. I guess it’s good there are still over 300 pages left.
For ease of searching, I include: Pokler, Grossli, Schwarzgerat, Swinemunde, Bleicherode, Olsch, Erdschweinhohle, Dzaqyp Qulan, Lüderitzbucht.