Sunday, January 14, 2007

Against the Blog: 3-7

This is a kind of math-heavy section, so there will no doubt be a lot I miss. Fair warning.

What are quaternions? I didn't know before, and now that I've read the Wikipedia article, I REALLY don't know. But the point is, this article is chock full o' quaternionists.

So Kit arrives at Ostend and tries to figure out what to do next. He ends up in a bar where he encounters a big ol' quaternionist convention which has been going on for some time. They recognize him, somehow, and invite him over, lead by a fellow named Barry Nebulay, from the University of Dublin. They are stationed at the Grand Hôtel de la Nouvelle Digue. Barry notes that the situation is so confused and chaotic that no one's really paying attention on who is or is not registered, and that he can therefore probably just mingle and stay for free.

Adjacent to this gathering, there lives "a cell of Belgian nihilists--Eugénie, Fatou, Denis, and Policarpe, styling themselves 'Young Congo'" (527), in whom The Authorities are taking a keen interest. They more or less sit around, talking about how Africa is going to rise up and overwhelm Europe, and how they ought to assassinate Leopold II. They're definitely more talk than action. And they're big absinthe enthusiasts.

Young Congo recently forged an alliance with "a pair of Italian naval renegades, Rocco and Pino" (529), who have stolen top secret plans for a manned torpedo, which they plan to assemble and then use to go after Leopold's royal yacht. It's not, theoretically, a suicide mission; the idea is to bring the torpedo into contact with the target, start a timer, and then get away as fast as possible.

Why are there no "lady quaternionists," here? Kit wonders, plaintively. They are not common, notes Barry, but points out one "Miss Umeki Tsurigane, of the Imperial University of Japan" (531). She is drinking excessively to no apparent ill effect. Barry introduces them; they talk about math and stuff. As I said, there's a LOT of math in this section, which I am more or less glossing over, because it frightens and bewilders me.

Whaddaya know, he meets Root Tubsmith again, who came to be here in a manner unspecified. There's a conversation about what mathematicians correspond to what poets. Whee! In the casino, he meets an enigmatic woman named Pléiade Lafrisée. She is skeptical about this math stuff, but then Root uses Quaternion devilment to win he ten thousand francs.

At dinner, a quaternionist named Dr. V. Ganesh Rao climbs on the table and "commenced a routine which quickly became more contortionistic and now and then you'd say contrary-to-fact" (539), which culminates in him disappearing, and then reappearing with a somewhat different physiognomy. He confesses that he is unable to reverse the process, and that every time he does it he becomes someone a little different. I can't help thinking that this must be a metaphor for something.

Pléiade has a rendezvous with a shady character named Piet Woevre, formerly of the Belgian Force Publique--a brutal fellow. "His targets in Belgium were not, as newspaper politics might suggest, German so much as 'socialist,' meaning Slavic and Jewish" (540). Woevre is deeply suspicious of this gathering of mathematicians. And Kit in particular, apparently, though I couldn't quite say why. He wants Pléiade to keep him busy that night so they can look through his room. Is the fact that I'm instinctively referring to her by first name and him by last name evidence of some sort of sublimated sexism on my part? It is a mystery!!!11

So Kit, "having against his better judgment accompanied Pléiade to her suite," is baffled to find that she has disappeared, leaving her negligee standing, ghostlike, as if she just dematerialized out of it. He returns to his room, and finds that it's been gone through. By the political police, Eugénie tells him.

Some time later, Kit runs into Pléiade at a café, wearing a hat that really gets him going--he has a hat fetish, we learn. And man, you've gotta feel for him, because judging by a quick google search, there ain't much out there that panders to this particular vector of desire.

She deflects his question about wtf happened to her the other night, and instead lectures him about the history of mayonnaise. As you would expect. It was invented during the reign of Louis XI, she tells him, "as a new sensation for jaded palates at court" (545). She asks him to meet her that night out at the Mayonnaise Works--"and you shall perhaps understand things it is only given to a few to know" (545). So he does. But she's nowhere to be seen. And why are there no workers? Suddenly--oh no!--disaster strikes: the factory starts filling up with mayonnaise, six inches, a foot, and rising! He's gonna drown in this stuff if he doesn't do something! He manages to get to a window and kicks at it, but falls down again. Fortunately for him, the mayonnaise-pressure does the rest of the work, breaking it open and sending him shooting out, landing in a canal, where he is picked up by Rocco and Pino, who are out taking their torpedo for a test drive. They head back and drop him off at Ostend. Phew!



Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

fyi quaternions are like an extension to complex numbers. A complex number x+iy can be thought of as a vector in 2D (on the plane) with its end on the origin and its front on coordinates (x,y). Imagine taking this vector out of this plane - while keeping the end in the origin so like placing it in 3D. Thats a form of a quaternion.

Sadly, it was a bit of a dead end maths.

3:38 AM  

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