Friday, November 24, 2006

Against the Blog: 1-2

Although this section has more or less the same tone as the first, the opening section suggests a certain amount of unraveling around the edges. "As they came in low over the Stockyards, the smell found them, the smell and the uproar of flesh learning its mortality" (10)--not what you'd expect of the nominal genre. It goes on like that for a few paragraphs.

After some mechanical difficulties, during which Randolph freaks out a bit, they end up docked at Chicago. It seems they aren't the only nineteenth-century aeronauts--there are lots of other groups' balloons and airships floating around, described in a nicely evocative paragraph (14).

That evening, Chick and Darby are on guard duty, while Miles and Lindsay are granted "ground-leave." The former two have a conversation in which Chick expresses angst over having been abandoned by his father. Then some members of a fellow flying club, the Bindlestiffs of the Blue A.C. show up and hang out with them for a while. The Bindlestiffs (who, we learn, are a highly egalitarian group) are lead by one Penelope Black, on whom Darby "had had a 'case' for as long as he could remember'" (18) They all have an amiable visit, during which we learn that mysterious things have been happening in the sky--strange lights, sounds, voices. "'Somebody out there,' Zip said solemnly. 'Empty space. But inhabited'" (20). There's also this bit of political commentary with no relevance whatsoever to the modern world:

As the [Siege of Paris] went on, it became clear to certain of these balloonists...how much the modern state depended for its survival on maintaining a condition of permanent siege--through the systematic encirclement of populations, the starvation of bodies and spirits, the relentless degradation of civility until citizen turned against citizen, even to the point of committing atrocities like those of the infamous p├ętroleurs of Paris. (19)

A recurring theme in this section is that of burgeoning sexuality, which seems to me to be a counterbalance to the asexuality of the kind of stories that Pynchon is parodying. Near the beginning, the crew skies a nekkid lady on the ground below, prompting immediate avid interest. "Say, Randolph," Darby remarks, "you look like you're going over to meet a girl!" (16). "I had not been aware that fellow of your years recognized any distinction between the sexes" (ibid), Randolph replies. And, most humorously, a double entendre in the song the Chums sing after dinner: "The Chum of Chance is a plucky soul/Who shall neither whine nor ejac-u-late" (15). I would not be surprised to see this explored in more depth later on.

Word I had to look up: Fata Morgana

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