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Christine Stole My Title

(The longer this continues, the more I think we’re cosmic brain twins.)

A tsunami of work blew up in my face this week and sucked all the time right out my lungs, but like Carlotta Campion, I’m still here (skip ahead to 24:36 if you must).

Wow, we had a doozy of a reading for this week. I feel like I have so many things to say that they’re almost fighting for my attention and my words. It’s like Three Stooges Syndrome (illustrated at right), only with thoughts instead of germs. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that we’ve got some very dense sections this week. There’s so very much that I know I’ll leave out something I had planned to cover. One of the benefits of being Jeff-come-lately, though: Daryl and Christine have already covered some of it.

I want to look mostly at the Katje section (1.14), although the points that interest me the most also come up in the Christmas section (1.16). Okay but first, on the level of pure plot: The message that Pirate Prentice, um, revealed in 1.11—that was the order to extract Katje, right? Or, since rockets ostensibly launched from the occupied Netherlands would make for an awfully inefficient way for the Allies to transmit orders among themselves, was it instead a request from Katje herself? (If this is a spoiler thing, just tell me as much; I can be patient.)

I’ve called it the Katje section because she bookends it (being secretly videotaped for some kind of conditioning experiment on an octopus?), but it’s really got a number of centers of gravity: the S/M-drag-kinky-Hansel-and-Gretel setup with Blicero, Blicero’s own experience in Südwestafrika, Gottfried, and Frans van der Groov and the dodos. Like I said, too much going on, so I want to focus on the thread of expansionism that runs through the whole thing. I actually sideswiped at this idea in my first post, and then this week it jumped up at me.

It took me a couple times through to figure this out, but the house where Katje, Gottfried, and Blicero play out their little game is in the Netherlands (it’s just outside the Hague, near Wassenaar and the Duindigt racecourse). Katje thinks of how to behave “in a conquered country, in one’s own occupied country.” The whole explanation for their setup—from her end, anyway—is that it’s about “formalizing” (better, say stylizing) the experience of extralegal subjugation as a way of coping through control. As Christine and Daryl both discuss, Blicero’s getting something else from it, and Gottfried seems to need the domination (incidentally, from what I’ve been able to find about conscription in the Wehrmacht at the time, Gottfried’s probably 17—not the child I originally thought), but for Katje it’s explicitly a strategy of living through military expansion into her home country.

As for Blicero, much of how he now relates to the world seems to have been formed by “his own African conquest.” The mere existence of German South-West Africa is obviously tied to colonialism, but more specifically, imperial Germany’s treatment of the Herero offers a premonition of Nazi policies toward the Jews. Rape, slave labor, and confiscation of land and property led the Herero to revolt; Germany’s response was the first genocide of the twentieth century, complete with concentration camps, corporate collusion, and medical experimentation. Blicero visits twenty years later and…falls in love? There’s obviously a huge amount of exploitation built into the situation (look for the narration calling Blicero “the white man” and “the European,” not to mention the likely pedophilia), but Blicero gives the boy a German name (power play, like renaming the towns and cities) from his beloved Rilke and calls him “Liebchen.” And then plays out the pattern again, but debased (further?), with Gottfried and his “doubleganger” Katje.

And then Frans van der Groov. I was boggled by this bit at first. (Love your reaction, Daryl, because it’s so close to mine.) But it turns out to be another story about expansionism, exploitation, and genocide. The Dutch went to Mauritius and found a strange bunch of birds with the audacity to not fear them. The dodos apparently deserved what they got because they were stupid, ugly, and not very tasty. Obviously they ought then to be extinguished. And for what? Nothing, as it turned out: “The enterprise here would have lasted about a human lifetime.” That’s a horrible enough story (and I found it surprisingly affecting that Frans forbore firing on the egg he found, but it didn’t make a difference since the dodos all died anyway), but then Frans turns it into a religious fantasy about bringing all the natives of wherever to God (“It is the purest form of European adventuring”), and suddenly it ties back to Enzian’s asking Blicero to make Ndjambi Karuna.

I was also going to talk about the Jamaican countertenor in 1.16, but it’s dinner time on Sunday; I think I’m late enough as it is. So let me just remark this:

These are not heresies so much as imperial outcomes, necessary as the black man’s presence, from acts of minor surrealism—which, taken in the mass, are an act of suicide, but which in its pathology, in its dreamless version of the real, the Empire commits by the thousands every day, completely unaware of what it’s doing. . . .

Seems to me to say that imperialism programs its own death the same way that Blicero looks to act out a story that inevitably ends with his.

  1. March 12, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Rather disturbing, all of it, and I must say, rather heavy handed (of Pynchon, not you, Jeff) to have colonialism tacked on colonialism, stacked on colonialism, bracketed by rapes and extinction. The 1970s, though, were the beginning of questioning colonialism and orientalism, so it was not, at the time, beating a dead horse. In fact, for that era, linking Nazis with colonialist mass extinctions would have been shocking and effective.

    Interesting, though, that all this going-forth-and-abusing-the-locals uses Katje as its tether.

    Sorry that “interesting” is the best I have right now. Daylight Savings Time is a Pointsmanesque torture for parents of small children. I can barely spell my own name, let alone dissect Pynchon right now.

    Since I don’t know anything about spoilers, I will say: I don’t think the rocketed message on which Pirate used his magical ejaculate was about Katje. She escaped and found him, to repay a debt. His distraction at her presence (his face darkening with embarrassment, his stuttered replies to her) suggest she surprised him.

  2. March 12, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I think that the Mauritius episode is telling since it explicitly points to a Calvinist determinism that permeates the book. I see various groups building belief structures on the indeterminacy of reality. Once a value system is established one can begin to view everything within that system and sort out the inevitable winners and losers. Such belief systems begin to justify the status quo and can be used to manipulate the preterite. This is a common theme when speaking of religion, but Pynchon is expanding that to all belief systems, including science. So far, only Mexico seems to have avoided such tendancies.

  3. March 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Ohmigosh I can’t believe I opened my post that way on the actual anniversary of the Japanese tsunami. Accidental, but inappropriate. I’m sorry.

    • March 13, 2012 at 1:41 am

      Is it terrible to say that the word didn’t even strike me with Sumatran or Japanese connotations? How distressing that it’s already returned to its basic “overwhelming wave” meaning without any of the *gasp* it should entail this decade.

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