Meowy Wowy Puddin' and Pie

Kitty eats a Word Salad

PYNCHON AND THE EMPTY THIMBLE

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this is a response i wrote to brendle on his b&n thing.  the link to the original is here; brendle’s post is the OP with the embedded pictures: here. anyways, i dont think brendle even bothered to look at it, lol.  it was pretty assholish to write a thing 3X the length of his original piece.  but, i had fun writing it anyways, and thats good enough for me.  it was good enough to convince my good friend L.V. (infrateal) to finally pick gravity’s rainbow, so it was worth my troubles.  i hope that book’ll end up being one of his favourites!

Edits I’ve made: I broke up paragraphs 2 & 3 from the original on the suggestion of Myf, who thought they were too dense for their length.  TY for the suggestion myffy

Good Point, Katty S.  If symbols are empty, then how could an empty power have such influence over our lives?  Besides, even if a symbol ain’t got no power in-and-of itself, that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t have some sort substance. Hell, even a black hole contains substance, and I’ll *prove* that you later, or my name ain’t German Joey! However, I don’t think symbols are so empty, and I don’t think Tom P. did, either, when he wrote all them books. But ole’ M. Brendle, I’ve got to give it to him, he’s got a pretty good point too. So. I think its only fair to you, Monsieur B., to explain why I, would disagree with you and all them froggy friends of yours!

J. Lacan explains that the symbol is empty because the Symbolic and the Real Orders do not have any direct connection between them. If I’m following correctly, that means that because the symbol operates in the Symbolic level of our sub-conscious mind, on relative differences between connections, and not on the level of absolute factual connections as in the Real, it’s thus not really possible to “understand” a symbol in the conscious sense. As a discrete symbol in the Real is thus only an icy simulacrum, a mere reflection of some aspect of the true symbol itself, pickin’ it apart reveals only the sources from which the symbol is derived, not the true nature of the symbol itself. (That is to say, the picture of the world in your mind is not the same as the representation of the world in your mind, so symbolically scribbling with a sharpie marker won’t put whiskers on a kitten… although try telling that to the Counterforce!)

Were the symbol to be truly empty, then it would have no *intrinsic* substance of its own, existing only as the sum of indirected power. Logically, were it possible to summon forth every part of this sum to the forefront of the conscious mind, the symbolic representation would dissolve the symbol entirely. *deep breath* Or, so to say, as if beheld to some sorta metaphysical quantum observer effect, the symbol should lose all meaning and substance at the instant its existence is acknowledged!

Such conscious control of the sub-conscious is not really possible in Reality, however.  That’s why I don’t think the Lacanian explanation of the empty symbol is quite right.  A possible path leading to a more complete solution could be to show that it is *never* possible to comprehend the *complete* dimensionality of a prospective symbol in the conscious mind. That is, to enforce an analytical constraint that sez that the symbol works in *and* through the Symbolic order, communicating directly only from Symbolic to Symbolic. While this could make sense in the case of one, the whole matter is pretty confusing, however, when you factor in the case of the Other.  If the creation of a symbol is shared among a multitude, then is the Symbolic order of the Other’s sub-conscious mind understood by via the one’s Real or the one’s Symbolic? It would have to be both! Boy, what a pickle! If common space were virtually shared across both dimensions, then a contradiction arises as the total separation between the Symbolic and Real Orders is now in violation.  So maybe that path isn’t quite so right either.

Another possibility is that a symbol isn’t empty, which means that it must have substance and meaning *intrinsic* to itself, beyond that of a sign shorn of its signifier, beyond that of a parameterized mirror reflecting back the sum of what it has been shown. A positive entity existing in a negative landscape.  But if that’s the case, is that not a contradiction with the pre-supposition that the Symbolic operates only on the level of the relative differences between connections?  Seems like we wouldn’t have something we could call a symbol at all any more! What a symbol *is* and how it carries power is not so clear. I think that one of the central struggles of Tom P.’s work has been to try ‘n figure this sucker out.

In his earlier novels, P. doesn’t seem to quite know what to make of the matter, although that doesn’t mean he didn’t try. The beginning of his fascination with the empty symbol and its interpretation might’ve started through the influence of his one-time professor at Cornell, V. Nabokov. It’s a connection worth consideration, at least. Although it seems that P. himself escaped the great novelist’s notice during class, V.’s wife, V. Nabokov (can you imagine it? V. & V., sittin in a tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G.!  If I could embed pictures, I’d embed this one that I found via GIS: http://tinypic.com/r/2j2i4j6/6), could clearly remember, many years later, grading P.’s papers in particular because of that goofy cell-blocked handwriting of his.  At any rate, its clear that P. still felt like he owed a thing or two to ole V. anyway, paying a tribute to Lolita in the opening diddy of Chapter 6 of C., where Serge laments about losing one of his very best nymphets to one of them “Humbert Humbert cats.” (not that an actual cat would anything so despicable, of course).

While I’m not sure how V. felt about Lacan, or if he was even aware of his existence, I do know that he *loathed* Freud – old Freud he called him – penning what is perhaps the most world’s most resolute anit-Oedipal manifesto in his masterpiece Pale Fire as an ultimate refutation of a world driven by and formed of symbolic sexual frustrations.  A favourite pastime of V. was clowning all over them frumpy psychoanalysts with silly word games embedded within his prose, just to mess with ‘em. (an accessible yet still blatent example of which is his short story “Signs and Symbols”) But while P. certainly shared a love of this hobby, he didn’t share V.’s hatred of Freud, as can be seen in numerous explicit references to the work of ole’ Siggy throughout P.’s books. P. understood the power of symbols and the power of the sub-conscious mind alright, but his take on ‘em went *beyond* a straightforward implementation as avatars of the pleasure principle. No, for P. symbols have power because they give mass and momentum to those patterns existing in our sub-conscious mind, acting as an impetus on our perspective of being. Symbols are representative of the *will* to power, (if I could embed pictures, I’d embed this one, which I found on GIS: http://tinypic.com/r/xuhc3/6) that which cross-cuts through all aspects of being, from the conscious mind to every order of the sub-conscious, like one of them fu[king bullsh1t blue turtle shells from Mario Kart, (nice job working for a website with a maple-story style profanity filter, btw) forever flowing in and out of mental feedback circuitry.  It’s this interaction between conscious will and the feedback network formed between symbolic connections that is important because feedback inherently implies some sort of memory.  *That* is the substance in the Symbolic Order that can be driven by will.

How else could White Witch G. Tripping, that scrumptious lil thwawbahwy thortcake whose adorable doe eyes and angelic essence is, in my eyes, reminiscent of Myffy Magriff, stop her lover V. Tchitcherine’s mad quest of revenge against his half-brother Enzian, in the penultimate chapter of G., except by masturbating to the echo of her own voice intoning the dirtiest curse words imaginable? (Literally-potty-mouthed sh1t that made me reel and gag and clutch the floor.) It is the ancient magic of the will, that which transcends the borders of the Euclidianly geometric Orders, that can affect the External – those portions of one’s symbolic order are collectively and culturally shared – by acting on its intersection with the Internal. In G., now stripped of divine trappings, it manifests as a sort of hysteron protecteron, binding V. to G. as fast as flame. It is a form of rebirth for V., his being transformed into a noble but primitive state.  He’s ready to be a father now, embodying a Strong Man that can live *for himself and others instead of just *because* of others. His eyes, once veiny and lusting for blood, now find solace as they peer at the potential placenta in the depths of her womb. (and just goes to show you that when it comes to magic, the difference between white and black is a delicate matter, even if the form of transaction is fundamentally the same… Remember back to when inexperienced Black Witch K. Borgejesus tried the same trick earlier, invoking the same names and the same structures of power? A silly error in the geometry of the spell, which I guess couldn’t have been more than an inch or two, mixed up everything, well, I guess it gives new meaning to the phrase “ass-backwards,” and what did manifest instead was a sort of hysteron defecateron… and the last we ever saw of poor ole’ Pudding were a few faint glimpses into that deep, drowning darkness… a pair of flailing limbs, a head between them, gasping for breath… a lost soul drawn ever downward into that all-encompassing, soul-sucking whirlpool of the GOATSE MAN.) Anywhoo, Redeemed V. meets E. as gather rather than hunter, all thanks to G.’s redemptive sacrifice of a *fully* self-committed love.  Thanks G!

Oh and, oh yeah, by the way, speaking of Otukungurua Enzian… what the hell was ‘e doing in that rocket, anyways? Well, he was trying free his people from their spiral down towards racial suicide, of course. How else could E. hope to manage such a feat except through yet another one of them redemptive sacrifices? J. Baudrillard speaks of symbols in terms of lost knowledge and hollow motion, but E.’s Herero’s suffer more of a problem of a lost heart and a hollow home. (maybe I got that backwards, although when all you’ve got left is, effectively, “empty is where the empty is,” I guess it doesn’t really matter. What more can you hope to do but fall apart?) The lost symbol in question here is that of the mandala, the hallowed blueprint of the Herero home. Four clovered quadrants, drawn in  a single looping line, form the spiritual aegis to a central region, a concave diamond, where the Sacred Cattle are kept. The rest of the village is arranged around the pens according to proper rules of balance. Women are to the north. Men are to the south. The Omuhona (that’s Herero for Chief, chief) is to the west.  The Omuhona’s wife is to the east. Opposing forces held balanced by equipurpose, one of the prevailing motifs in G. The stability of the structure works on multiple levels, the base level of which can be understood through another of the book’s key devices, this one deriving from Jungian psychology, that leftward movements move the self towards the conscious mind, while rightward movements move the self towards the unconscious. (which, as a side note, is a term I outright refuse to use, preferring instead “sub-conscious” because “unconscious” is related too strong to a pretty bad memory of mine. When I was 7 years old, playin’ Smear The Queer with my boy scout troop, my head got fu[king split open on a jagged rock thanks to my best friend Greg, who thought it would be so hilarious to sneak around the yard and saq me from behind. It’s not the worst memory I ever had, especially since after a couple months of hospital visits and a couple of successful operations, my dear-ole dad got the idea of stickin’ a feather in my head-cast, telling all my friends that I was Yankee Doodle for Halloween. That cheered me up pretty well, but still – fu[k “unconscious”) All this might sound a bit tenuous, like a bunch of gooey-kablooie, but as it’s a fairly prevalent theme in the novel, noticeable especially in most of the musical numbers, for instance Wales’ Tails and that one with those adorable little kids spinning in rose-circles, at the very least P. thought it was an important matter. Anyways, traversing the edge of a *clovered* mandala keeps that left and right movement in balance, as any movement in the leftward direction will soon become rightward and, before long, leftward again as the smooth, continuous loop is traced. Were the border of that Order to break down – say, into crude arcs that serve only protect the cattle from prevailing winds – then the balance of the Herero culture would get thrown outta whack.

The similarities between the Herero sickness and Blicero’s sickness, best summed up with a direct quote from tha book: “The Oedipal situation in the Zone these days is terrible,” were not lost on the Schwartzkommando, both having to do with fu[ked-Up arcs, after all. (if I could embed pictures, I would embed this one that I found on GIS: http://tinypic.com/r/2ppin9u/6) Everybody might be disoriented because the war has shifted the phase of the mandala to that of its shadow, (i.e. its derivative, moving from sine to cosine, I believe), which is undeniably a big problem, but, after all, balance is balance, so eventually ya just gotta cope and deal with what ya got. The A4 series rockets were fired towards the Reich’s enemies in the West and East (whose landing patterns, holding to the Poisson distribution, resemble the lobe of a clover). B.’s perverted attempt to escape death by breaking the cycle of life meant that his rocket, the 00000, targeted north, into the sea.  The payload, B.’s corrupted son, enslaved and broken into an indescribable “thing” (well, indescribable only in the positive sense, as we know that in the negative sense that whatever he was, he was *not* a man, and could not even pretend to be a man) has no hope to strike land. So what better way to stop a collective suicide than to provide a CounterForce to the true-death rocket with one of true-life? The Herero’s romp through the zone, trackin’ and cajolin’ all them rocket engineers to rework their calculations, wasn’t just about adjusting the 00000’s capacity for payload weight in consideration of E.’s size compared to G.’s. Enzian’s redemptive sacrifice, in the fertile 00001, launching with arms wide open towards the African heartland, hollering for joy (Hallelujah!), was about restoring balance to the sacred mandala. There’s no question to whether he succeeded.

And so that’s what I see P. being all about. His quest is not to destroy or mock the symbol, to lay bare its empty substance and illusions of power. Going back to your example, its not that O. Maas, is clueless and that we should laugh at her for her stupid quest and her stupid stupidity (although contrast that with proper behaivour towards certain O.Mars that we know), but that her *quest* for the meaning behind symbols both ancient and dead is important for her to understand the context who she truly is. I was talking to my good pal NOTcatfish (as a bit of a special case, I’d like to clarify that I’ll call him ~C. in my twizted system of logic from now on) last night about this, and he was particularly insightful on the matter. He explained that the true absurdity of Pynchon is that all them goofy song n’ dance numbers, all that pervasive paranoia, the madcap sexual adventures, the psychedelic horrors, and even the elaborately staged irreverent puns – ya can’t do without them and still have Gravity’s Rainbow, ya can’t do without ‘em and still have V. Could we, as a reader, understand these unobservable phenomena that make up the essence of our world, whatever the hell they are, however the hell they happen to work, without so much seemingly superficial symbolism and indirect reference? I think he hit the nail *BAM* right on the head. Whether their true name is Will to Power, Dasein, or Desiring Machines, P.’s point is not to label what these forces are, but the process by which we are to understand what they are. In the same spirit as J.J.’s notion of epiphany, or Herzog’s notion of ecstatic truth, these matters are not something you can truly describe directly, in the realm of positive space. Their fundamental substance must be communicated, for the most part, on the level of the *Symbolic* Order, not the Real and not through conscious logic. The best you can hope to do is describe the situation around it (hence P.’s pervasive use of structural hysteron proteron in his books) and hope that the reader is able to understand these concepts as applied to the characters though a sort of categorical imperative.

Whether you consciously notice all this crap that P. has painstakingly worked to weave into his narrative or not, or even care about it, I don’t think that’s really the most important thing. What Pynchon is really hoping for, I think, what he’d really love to write directly, but perhaps is impossible to describe, is that you might still have a moment, when you sit back, reminiscing “meowy wowy, puddin’ and pie, that book’s so pretty that it made me cry,” that you’ll casually flip through the pages for a bit, skimming amoungst your favourite parts, before coming at last back to that striking first line: “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there’s nothing to compare it to now.” and that now before you can even have a chance to stop and think BAM! in a flash BOOM! without a chance to ask wait a sec-” KABLAMMO! -ond, whose scream was tha KABLOOIE! – instantaneously, without a chance to understand that you understand, as sure as snuff, that you’ll understand.  And whatcha do then is up to you.

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Written by meowywowy

June 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm

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