V.

ISBN: 0060930217
ISBN 13: 9780060930219
By: Thomas Pynchon

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About this book

The wild, macabre tale of the twentieth century and of two men -- one looking for something he has lost, the other with nothing much to lose -- and "V.," the unknown woman of the title.Pynchon's V. won the coveted William Faulkner Foundation's First Novel Award when it appeared in 1963, and was hailed by Atlantic Review as "one of the best works of the century".

Reader's Thoughts

matt

** spoiler alert ** Alright, I admit it.I DID read it, but with a problem. I didn't get it, I know I didn't.After all the overlapping narratives I lost track. I reread the first 100 pages and their sheer jolt of electricity just got to me. And it picks up!Benny Profane is one of my favorite characters ever. It seems funny to be writing that since it literally just popped out at me but there it is. Schlub!I think I understood it, maybe, I dunno....I FEEL like I did. I don't know! I don't know! I don't know!alright since I feel this way I definitely did.the butler did it, right?

Rayroy

Friday in the A.M. while on the Trolley, a little before nine, before I would be delivering packages all day downtown, I noticed a woman doing the New York Times Cross Word Puzzle, And I thought Thomas Pynchon does crossword puzzles in the time it takes him to brush his teeth, later I was going to pick up “Against The Day” between deliveries, so Pynchon was one my mind. His vocabulary and knowledge is so vast. Pynchon’s first novel is “V.” and it seems written by someone late in his writing career and not early. The novel one of my most beloved is about so many things and their connections and at times I was lost. In “V.” There are naval officers, and beatniks (one beatnik paints only cheese danishes) and a near endless cast of people some very strange. Sewer Alligators, Malta, poor bombed out Malta, World War Two pilots and plastic surgery, a chick that gets intimate with car’s gear stick, fear of open spaces and inanimate objects, are a small part of “ V.” Levi’s!

Max

This book won me over completely. Its unhinged prose captures the Twentieth Century in its entirety better than anything I have ever encountered - and it was written barely halfway through the century! Pynchon has a reputation for being difficult, and this book is certainly no exception, but if you lean back in your seat, trust him, and let him take the reins, you won't find it difficult at all. I find that you have to read Pynchon with a kind of soft focus, unclenching certain parts of your mind that you never realized were contracted. Don't get me wrong, the details of every minor character he brings into this twisted narrative are all brilliant, and each one of his multitudinous sentences is mind-blowingly immaculately composed, but the gestalt of the book is its own art, something that can only be appreciated in blurred impressions generated by the insanely precise prose. Some might be frustrated by the elusiveness of the titular woman/thing/concept and the book's narrative drive in general, but I think that Stencil himself puts it best when asked why he pursues V. so intently:"Why not?...His giving you any clear reason would mean he'd already found her. Why does one decide to pick up one girl in a bar over another. If one knew why, she would never be a problem. Why do wars start: if one knew why there would be eternal peace. So in this search the motive is part of the quarry.""Why not?" indeed.

Mk Tantum

From this book I learned that:a) Thomas Pynchon may be the smartest man alive.b) Pynchon's vocabulary is one of the most extensive I've ever come across.c) Reading Pynchon is tedious and often unpleasant.Even with the companion and a book discussion group, reading this novel was like wading through a bog. Every time I grasped the plot, I'd lose track of Pynchon's message, and every time I caught a glimpse of the message, I lost the plot.No wonder the man's a recluse. Talking to him must be like spending an afternoon with Stephen Hawking.

Lane Wilkinson

EDIT: I give up again. 'V' is a travesty of juvenile puns, unconvincing dialogue, and (my own pet peeve) characters with impossibly trite names. Seriously, what gives? EDIT: I decided to try reading it again.have you ever had the feeling that an author is simply trying to bludgeon you over the head with abstruseness? have you ever read one of those books that all of the "serious readers" swear is an infallible masterpiece, despite its meat-fisted appropriation of the stylistic innovations of Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Woolf, et al.? If you haven't, then read 'V'. (seriously, though, 'V' is a great book. i just read it too soon after my Ezra Pound phase, and it sort of rang hollow and derivative. i'm sure i'll love it when i read it again in a few years.)

oriana

There is an image that I will always remember from this book. The main gal, V, wears spike heels all the time, and lives in NYC, right? And so there's this scene where she is described as the kind of girl who can walk over sewer grates in these heels, and always lands square on the intersection of the beams in the grate, you know? So she never falls in or fucks up her shoes.

Dave-O

Reading Thomas Pynchon's first novel is like plunging head first into a room with very little light. As the novel progresses, Pynchon regulates that light sometimes letting the reader see very clearly, narratively speaking, and other times enveloping the reader into near darkness.The two main characters are discharged Naval officer Benny Profane the self-described "schlemiel" and Stencil, the hunter of the elusive woman/idea known only as V. Though not exact opposites, their destinies do not intersect until the last part of the book. Profane's story is the more traditional narrative of the two as he passively wanders into alligator hunting, bar brawls, and an enigmatic security job. Profane with his friends known as "The Whole Sick Crew" could be Pynchon's alter ego and could be also an amalgamation of Naval and literary figures.The breadth of Pynchon's encyclopedic knowledge comes through with the emergence of Stencil as he wanders through time and multiple identities taking up his father's mission to find V. V wanders time and space (presumably though- its never clear) showing up in 19th century British Egypt, as a rat in a New York City sewer, and (in a very difficult chapter) as a "bad preist" mangled by children in the ruins of World War II. Pynchon's strokes are most broad in sub-stories regarding a German colony in South Africa and later in another chapter surrounding an impaled ballerina that entrances V.The connections are not often clear but the indictments of colonialism and war ring true. V is a challenging must-read postwar American whirlwind that remains consistent in its aggressively cubist tone.

Jonathan

Is it worth it to commit to a book or movie through to the end, even if you're not enjoying yourself during the journey? I once had an opinion that if I paid for something, I'd sit through it - no matter how mind numbing it was. After all it could get better, right? There might be something I'm not seeing, right?I was handed this book by a coworker who had tried multiple times to get into it, but couldn't. So I gave it a try. Pynchon's "stream of conscious" writing style, I have determined is not *my* favorite, and after several attempts I have given this book a pass. It's not for everyone, and requires a lot of concentration to get through, much less makes sense of the naming conventions for his characters and other abstract qualities of the work. Obviously, some of you love it, so it can't be all bad, but it's definitely not for me, and I no longer have the time or patience to sit something out hoping it will get better. You either win me over immediately, or lose me for good, and I'm afraid this book (and consequently the author) has lost me.

Nicole

I tried, lawd knows I tried.“It is something less than heavenTo be quoted Thesis 1.7Every time I make an advance;If the world is all that the case isThat’s a pretty discouraging basisOn which to pursueAny sort of romance.I’ve got a proposition for you;Logical, positive and brief.And at least it could serve as a kind of comic relief:[Refrain]Let P equal me,With my heart in command;Let Q equal youWith Tractatus in hand;And R could stand for a lifetime of love,Filled with music to fondle and purr to.We’ll define love as anything lovely you’d care to infer to.On the right, put that bright,Hypothetical case;On the left, our uncleft,Parenthetical chase.And that horseshoe there in the middleCould be lucky; we’ve nothing to lose,If in these parenthesesWe just mind our P’sAnd Q’s.If P [Mafia sang in reply] thinks of meAs a girl hard to make,Then Q wishes youWould go jump in the lake.For R is a meaningless concept,Having nothing to do with pleasure:I prefer the hard and tangible things I can measure.Man, you chase in the faceOf impossible odds;I’m a lass in the classOf unbossable broads.If you’ll promise no more sticky phrases,Half a mo while I kick off my shoes.There are birds, there are bees,And to hell with all your P’sAnd Q’s.And by the time Profane finished his beer, the blanket covered them both.”The songs have been my favorite part of reading Thomas Pynchon’s V. Really, I have enjoyed some of the reading, but as I’m typing this and feeling the urge to justify and push myself to like it, I realize that I’m just not that into it. I’m dropping it. My bookmark is on page 302-303 of the 1963 edition. I like his naming: Profane, Stencil, Mafia, The Sick Crew. I like the geography; I’ve dreamt of Florence and Cairo since the reading. But I’m not excited, I’m not finding why I should continue reading.Maybe it’s because I’ve been apart of a Sick Crew; I’m not in wonder about it.***********Finished reading the chapter “V. in love” with really the same reaction as the my last reading of the previous chapters. Things I really enjoyed: the number obsession in the first few paragraphs, the rich visual descriptions of Melanie’s clothing and costuming and her occupation with herself in them, the discussion of fetish and otherness and even tourism which I always find rather interesting as a person who travels. But I’m still just not that excited. I didn’t feel like I wanted to continue reading again although this was a much more interesting chapter to me than many of them. But fetish and otherness have been done much better by others, and having Melanie be a victim of sexual abuse that he then killed off at the end leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Still, pretty interesting to read.****Couldn't finish it, not interested.

Justin Evans

I've read four Pynchon books, and the only one I was healthy for was Lot 49, which barely counts. For Gravity's Rainbow I was not only violently ill, but also on a cross-country road trip with my also violently ill father and my long-suffering mother, who could do little more than look on while we fought over things like whether it was acceptable to order dessert. For Inherent Vice, I was recovering from having my wisdom teeth removed. And now for V, not only did I finish it with Hurricane Sandy knocking limbs from trees outside my windows, but I was at the depths of a comparatively mild cold. The lesson is that one shouldn't read Pynchon when doped out on legal drugs, because all I remember of GR is an octopus, and I don't recall much from IV, either. On the other hand, I remember nothing from 49 despite having read it twice, and I suspect that's because it just isn't that good. This whole trend worries me some, but the good news is I won't be forgetting V any time soon, because it's a flat out masterpiece and, I suspect, better than GR. 'V,' in ascending order of abstraction, is a person with a robot eye, is a Utopia that large numbers of people think actually exists, probably stands for 'vagina' as in the source to which a large number of people wish to return, is a way of symbolizing reflection, either with reference to the mirror stage or reflection theories of vulgar materialism ('culture is simply the reflection of economics'), and is the convergence of two strands of the plot. The two strands follow, respectively, Stencil, a paranoid obsessive, whose story should, according to the paranoid perspective, be perfectly coherent but is in fact an endless search for an indefinable x (V). The second follows a picaro (Profane the schlemihl) whose story, as with any good picaresque, should have no coherence whatsoever but is, in fact, a fairly good illustration of the twentieth century decadence ("falling away") that 'V' chronicles, and the despair that decadence can induce. Various characters have various ways of coping with this decadence: different religions, art, drunkenness/hedonism, dentistry, and so on, but none of them can hold a candle to the disasters that follow everybody, like colonialism, war, unemployment, deracination and general ennui. The human beings slowly giving way: a nose job here, a belly ring there, becoming more and more object and less and less subject, more and more merely what "is the case" and less and less that which cannot be said(there's much play with early Wittgenstein here), more and more cyborg, less and live alive. The two narrative strands converge in Malta; the guiding metaphor is siege (Malta, which was besieged by the Ottomans, French under Napoleon, and the Axis powers in World War II). The human being is under siege, and neither the paranoid truth seeker nor the schizoid schlemihl can cope. Those who can and do cope (e.g., Schoenmaker) are manifestly dehumanizing evil bastards. But the book's manic energy makes it much less depressing than this sounds, and after all, there's still wine, wo/men and song. Including song about Wittgenstein. Books of which 'V' weirdly reminded me: Vile Bodies (decadence); Siege of Krishnapur (siege & colonialism); Graham Greene & Javier Marias for the spy thriller aspects; Roth for the 'Jews in America' aspects; Rilke for the ambivalent drive to become pure matter. Many reviewers say this is a really hard book, but I think maybe they're over-reacting: once you know or work out that there are two narrative strands, one of which is 'present day' and one of which is historical narrative, you can make your way through this book pretty easily. Particularly if you eschew all the 'V moves through time' nonsense. V does not move through time. Stencil's paranoia connects a number of things that need not be connected, just as my paranoia has linked together many aspects of the novel. The difficult aspect of the novel is to read it not as another dull pomo pastiche, but as the late modern masterpiece it is, dealing with difficult psychological concepts and historical realities. You can only read this book with paranoia: the urge to connect and seek order. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Mike

In keeping with Pynchon's penchant for songs, I wrote one as the review for this book (and perhaps Pynchon in general). As I do whenever I come across songs in his books, you'll have to make up a melody and sing it yourself:You don't come for the plot, cos its tied in a knot,you don't come to escape, cos your mind will get raped,[Refrain]:but you do........come for.........the fun!!!!There's a whole lotta fun, on-a every page,songs and insights, Tommy earns his wage![Refrain]:and your eyes........roll back........in your head!!!![Bridge]:So many themes, I just can't describe 'em,the letter V is just one, but the rest ain't hidin',so jump on in, you won't get ouuuuttt.....Oh you'll shake your face from side to side,as you give yourself... into the ride![Refrain]:no you won't........be able........to summarize!!!!

Jan

I was utterly confused and I LOVED it. Of all the books that I've read, this was one of the select few that had me biting my fingernails on one hand, as I cradled its spine with my other. What had me so nervous was not the suspense in the plot, or a concern for the characters, but the thought, "Can he keep this up? Can he write 600 pages of prose that is so stupefyingly beautiful, so unctuous, so enveloping?" The answer is yes, that Pynchon's style continued to deliver on the promises made in the beginning of the book.The prose wasn't the only reason I was biting my nails, however. I also had to wonder how I could possibly put down the book and be myself again. I felt like my personality was stopped dead in its tracks by Pynchon's treatment of his two main characters: Benny Profane and Herb Stencil. One is a discharged sailor living in the Beat Generation; the other is an old adventurer looking for something that he doesn't quite understand. They don't have much to do with each other, and they seem to intersect only by chance, and neither is an antagonist or a protagonist. The author is neither unsympathetic or sympathetic; he simply coldly observes them, all the while dragging out a whirlwind of profane but enchanting detail.V., besides being a candidate for Great American Novel, is simply the best book related the Beat Generation, as Pynchon's detachment is preferable to Kerouac's proselytization; and he admits to there being a hidden, frustrating world that can't simply be seen directly from the Road. For that reason, his imagination is more refreshing than Kerouac's as well.It's a shame that Pynchon eventually grew so unfocused and insane; if he had been able to set aside some of the twists and turns of his later plots, he might have been able to leave some 500 pages of pure and (still unpolished) brilliance like V. again.

Jeremy

V. is like some weird, half dreamed dispatch from a mind that is hermetically sealed off from the world. It's a book that seems to revolve more around a specific set of images and motifs, clocks, yo-yo's inanimate objects, Malta, espionage, etc. than around a set of characters, though the characters are often compelling and weirdly poetic in their own ways. It's hard to believe that this book is almost 50 years old. The way it tries to tie together so many odd, all but forgotten historical threads and to make you puzzle over them feels incredibly ahead of its time. Which probably goes to show just how widely influential Pynchon actually is. I feel like you could actually move into this book and drown in it.

Marius Hancu

While reading V. by Thomas Pynchon, you may want to see my questions related to it as answered in the alt.usage.english (AUE) Usenet newsgroup. My thanks to the participating AUE members.Highly recommended, but be careful, this is a great and original brain at work, so don't be surprised if you're not getting everything. "The novel eschews continuity, muddles the relationship between cause and effect, and calls very much into question the tendency to seek evidence of the operation of reason in the events out of which historical accounts are fabricated." [Clark]One of the reasons is Pynchon was an engineering physics student first at Cornell, before getting into Navy and English, and he's using a lot of his physics knowledge in his works, more or less approximately. Two major principles of physics ground this particular novel:The first: the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa (Heisenberg's uncertainty principle). In other words, knowing has its inherent limits. The more you attempt to grasp something, the more it eschews you. The second: the entropy (a measure of disorder) of a given isolated system can only increase (the 2nd law of thermodynamics). For the purpose of the novel: the death is the total disorder, lack of organization, so it is the natural tendency of the man or the human society. The extension of the second principle to the human society, to the world, is debatable, as it is not a closed/isolated system (among others, as it receives energy from the Sun), but it was certainly used by Pynchon in this work, in which many characters or communities (think of the Germans in Namibia) proceed from the animate to the inanimate. They lose their sensitivity, their souls, or their guide in life, and they lose their bodies, which become more and more prosthetic. It's a dark feeling. Now, leaving this prognosis aside, when I find writing this poetic, of this quality, I can't but recommend it:---"Then you have been there," she said.He had been there. Fifteen years ago. And been fury-ridden since. Even in the Antarctic, huddling in hasty shelter from a winter storm, striking camp high on the shoulder of some as yet unnamed glacier, there would come to him hints of the perfume those people distill from the wings of black moths. Sometimes sentimental scraps of their music would seem to lace the wind; memories of their faded murals, depicting old battles and older love affairs among the gods, would appear without warning in the aurora."You are Godolphin," she said, as if she had always known.----Or because he's able to put together a simple sentence like this:----The wind came in, lorn now of rain, over the wall.---- containing all the weight of a slightly obsolescent word, "lorn," and its unspeakable poetry. Or see this great para, so cosmic:---"I am Hedwig Vogelsang," she informed him, "and my purpose on earth is to tantalize and send raving the race of man." Whereupon the musicians, hidden from them in an alcove behind a hanging arras, struck up a kind of schottische; Mondaugen, overcome by the sudden scent of musk, brought in a puff to his nostrils by interior winds which could not have arisen by accident, seized her round the waist and wheeled with her across the room, and out, and through a bedroom lined with mirrors round a canopied four-poster and into a long gallery, stabbed at ten-yard intervals down its length by yellow daggers of African sun, hung with nostalgic landscapes of a Rhine valley that never existed, portraits of Prussian officers who'd died long before Caprivi (some even before Bismarck) and their blond, untender ladies who'd nothing now but dust to bloom in; past rhythmic gusts of blond sun that crazed the eyeballs with vein-images; out of the gallery and into a tiny unfurnished room hung all in black velvet, high as the house, narrowing into a chimney and open at the top, so that one could see the stars in the daytime; finally down three or four steps to Foppl's own planetarium, a circular room with a great wooden sun, overlaid with gold leaf, burning cold in the very center and round it the nine planets and their moons, suspended from tracks in the ceiling, actuated by a coarse cobweb of chains, pulleys, belts, racks, pinions and worms, all receiving their prime impulse from a treadmill in the corner, usually operated for the amusement of the guests by a Bondelswaartz, now unoccupied. Having long fled all vestiges of music Mondaugen released her here, skipped to the treadmill and began a jog-trot that set the solar system in motion, creaking and whining in a way that raised a prickling in the teeth. Rattling, shuddering, the wooden planets began to rotate and spin, Saturn's rings to whirl, moons their precessions, our own Earth its nutational wobble, all picking up speed; as the girl continued to dance, having chosen the planet Venus for her partner; as Mondaugen dashed along his own geodesic , following in the footsteps of a generation of slaves. ---So, plunge into it, you'll be changed.

Ian Vance

These days I find the task of reviewing a "difficult" Capital-L lit book rather daunting. In my 20's I might have popped off with some smarmy hyper-referential, multi-clause/multi-syllabic para-block, like some of my amazon reviews from ye olde days; no more. I usually find my time better served in reading thoughtful reviews by thoughtful reviewers here on goodreads, or in focusing my writing time on my own fiction (probably resulting from the specter of old age; not enough time / too many words; but what am I doing, then, browsing aimlessly some afternoons? please, the goad:) -- --all that wankery aside, this 'review' will be exactly that: a review of some of the passages I marked down as exceptional or memorable from Pynchon's V., a book I will never again read in full (too many tedious sections) but certainly deserving a periodic survey across its dozens of brilliant points.My favorite sections include the descriptions of the priest converting the rats of NYC sewers (assigning them the role of the meek; engaging in a torturous Catholic-guilt ridden affair with one; arguing fruitlessly with a rascally Marxist vermin); and the horrific sections concerning Imperialist malaise in Africa. The callback to "Under the Rose" (from Slow Learner) with altered scenes / POV is sort of cool, if suffering from the original stories' same guidebook-regurgitation.The quotes below are from the original hardback edition, acquired through interlibrary loan and read in the beginning of 2013. Apologies for any misspellings or transcribing mistakes. ---For that moment at least they seemed to give up external plans, theories and codes, even the inescapable romantic curiosity about one another, to indulge in being simply and purely young, to share that sense of the world’s affliction, that outgoing sorrow at the spectacle of Our Human Condition which anyone this age regards as reward or gratuity for having survived adolescence. For them the music was sweet and painful, the strolling chains of tourists like a Dance of Death. They stood on the curb, gazing at one another, jostled against by hawkers and sightseers, lost as much perhaps in that bond of youth as in the depths of the eyes each contemplated. (p. 201)That night, April 15, David Ben-Gurion warned his country in an Independence Day speech that Egypt planned to slaughter Israel. A Mideast Crisis had been growing since winter. April 19, a cease-fire between two countries went into effect. Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monoco the same day. The spring thus wore on, large currents and small eddies alike resulting in headlines. People read what news they wanted to and each accordingly built his own rathouse of history’s rags and straws. In the city of New York alone there were at a rough estimate five million different rathouses.So much for Art. What of Thought? The Crew had developed a kind of shorthand whereby they could set forth any visions that might come their way. Conversations at the Spoon had become little more than proper nouns, literary allusions, critical or philosophical terms linked in certain ways. Depending on how you arranged the building blocks at your disposal, you were smart or stupid. Depending on how others reacted they were In or Out. The number of blocks, however, was finite. “Mathematically, boy,” he told himself, “if nobody else original comes along, they’re bound to run out of arrangements someday. What then?” What indeed. This sort of arranging and rearranging was Decadence, but the exhaustion of all possible permutations and combinations was death. It scared Eigenvalue, sometimes. He would go in back and look at the set of dentures. Teeth and metals endure. (p. 297)O Malta of the Knights of St. John! History’s serpent is one; what matter where on her body we lie. Here in this wretched tunnel we are the Knights and the Giaours; we are L’Isle-Adam and his ermine arm, and his maniple on a field of blue sea and gold sun, we are M. Parisot, lonely in his wind-haunted grave high above the Harbour; battling on the ramparts during the Great Siege—both! My Grandmaster, both: death and life, ermine and old cloth, noble and common, in feast and combat and mouring we are Malta, one, pure and a motley of races at once; no time has passed since we lived in caves, grappled with fish at reedy shores, buried our dead with a song, with red-ochre and pulled up or dolmens, temples and menhirs and standing stones to the glory of some indeterminate god or gods, rose toward the light in andanti of singing, lived our lives through circling centuries of rape, looting, invasion, still one; one in the dark ravines, one in this God-favoured plot of sweet Mediterranean earth, one in whatever temple or sewer or catacomb’s darkness is ours, by fate or historical writings or still by the will of God.…The dog days have ended, the maijstral has ceased to blow. Soon the other wind called the gregale will bring the gentle rains to solemnize the sowing of our red wheat. Myself: what am I if not a wind, my very name a hissing of queer zephyrs through the carob trees? I stand in time between the two winds, my will no more than a puff of air. But air too are the clever, cynical arguments of Dnubietna. His views on marriage—even Maratt’s marriage—blow by my poor flapping ears unnotices. For Elena—tonight! O Elena Xemxi: small as the she-goat, sweet your milk and your love-cry. Dark-eyed as the space between stars over Ghaudex where we have gazed so often in our childish summers. Tonight will I go to your little house Vittoriosa, and before your black eyes break open this small pod of a heart and offer in communion the St.-John’s-bread I have cherished… (p. 310)For a matter of months, little more than “impressions.” And was it not Valletta? During the raids everything civilian and with a soul was underground. Others were too busy to “observe.” The city was left to itself; except for stragglers like Fausto, who felt nothing more than an unvoiced affinity and were enough like the city not to change the truth of the “imressions’ by the act of receiving them. A city uninhabited is different. Different from what a ‘normal’ observer, struggling in the dark—the occasional dark—would see. It is a universal sin among the false-animate or unimaginative to refuse to let well enough alone. Their compulsion to gather together, their pathological fear of loneliness extends on past the threshold of sleep; so that when they turn the corner, as we all must, as we all have done and do—some more often than others—to find ourselves on the street… You know the street I mean, child. The street of the 20th Century, at whose far end or turning—we hope—is some sense of home or safety. But no guarantees. A street we are put at the wrong end of, for reasons best known to the agents who put us there. If there are agents. But a street we must walk. It is the acid test. To populate, or not to populate. Ghosts, monsters, criminals, deviates represent melodrama and weakness. The only horror about them is the dreamer’s own horror of isolation. But the desert, or a row of false shop fronts; a slag pile, a forge where the fires are banked, these and the street and the dreamer, only an inconsequential shadow himself in the landscape, partaking of the soullessness of these other masses and shadows; this is 20th century nightmare. (p 323)“Nothing surprises me,” answered Porcepic. “If history were cyclical, we’d now be in a decadence, would we not, and your projected Revolution only another symptom of it.” “A decadence is a falling away,” said Kholsky. “We rise.” “A decadence,” Itague put in, “is a falling-away from what is human, and the further we fall the less human we become. Because we are less human, we foist off the humanity we have lost on inanimate objects and abstract theories.” … “Your beliefs are non-human,” he said. “You talk of people as if they were point-clusters or curves on a graph.” “So they are,” mused Kholsky, dreamy-eyed. “I, Satin, Porcepic may fall by the wayside. No matter. The Socialist Awareness grows, the tide is irrestible and irreversible. It is a bleak world we live in, M. Itague; atoms collide, brain cells fatigue, economies collapse and others rise to succeed them, all in accord with the basic rhythms of History. Perhaps she is a woman; women are a mystery to me. But her ways are at least measurable.” “Rhythm,” snorted Itague, “as if you listed to the jitterings and squeaks of a metaphysical bedspring.” (p. 405)…This is a curious country, populated only by a breed called “tourists.” Its landscape is one of inanimate monuments and buildings; near-inanimate barmen, taxi-drivers, bellhops, guides: there to do any bidding, to various degrees of efficiency, on receipt of the recommended baksheesh, pourboire, mancia, tip. More than this it is two-dimensional, as is the Street, as are the pages and maps of those little red handbooks. As long as the Cook’s, Travellers’ Clubs and banks are open, the Distribution of Time section followed scrupulously, the plumbing at the hotel in order… the tourist may wander anywhere in this coordinate system without fear. War never becomes more serious than a scuffle with a pickpocket, … depression and prosperity are reflected only in the rate of exchange; politics are of course never discussed with the native populations. Tourism this is supranational, like the Catholic Church, and perhaps the most absolute communion we know on earth: for be its members American, German, Italian, whatever, the Tour Eiffel, Pyramids, and Campanile all evoke identical responses from them; their Bible is clearly written and does not admit of private interpretation; they share the same landscapes, suffer the same inconveniences; live by the same pellucid time-scale. They are the Street’s own. (p. 408)Here were the borders of this city’s Disruptable Quarter; Stincle looked around with much curiosity. It was all the same. What a warped idea of cities one got in this occupation……Massive public buildings with characterless facades; networks of streets from which the civilian populace seems mysteriously absent. An aseptic administrative world, surrounded by an outlying vandal-country of twisting lanes, houses of prostitution, taverns; ill-lit except for rendezvous points, which stand out like sequins on an old and misused ball-gown.Strada Stretta; Strait Street. A passage meant, one felt, to be choked with mobs. Such was nearly the case: early evening had brought to it sailors ashore from HMS Egmont and smaller men-o-war; seamen from Greek, Italian and North African merchantmen; and a supporting case of shoeshine boys, pimps, hawkers of trinkets, confections, dirty pictures. Such were the topological deformities of this street that one seemed to walk through a succession of music-hall stages, each demarcated by the curve or slope, each with a different set and acting company but all for the same low entertainment. Stencil, old soft-show artist, felt quite at home. (p. 468)He indeed was visited by dreams in which he had shrunk to submicroscopic size and entered a brain, strolling in through some forehead’s pore and into the cul-de-sac of a sweat gland. Struggling out of a jungle of capillaries there he would finally reach bone; down then through the skull, dura mater, arachnoid, pia mater to the fissure-flooded sea of cerebrospinal fluid. And there he would float before final assault on the gray hemispheres: the soul. (p 471)They worked their way thus round Marsamuscetto in near-darkness. Reeds whistled in the fens. Behind them the illuminated city seemed tilted toward them, like some display case in a poor souvenir shop. And how quiet was Malta’s night. Approaching or leaving other capitals one always caught the sense of a great pulse or plexus whose energy reached one by induction; broadcasting its presence over whatever arête or sea’s curve might be hiding it. But Vallette seemed serene in her own past, in the Mediterranean womb, in something so insulating that Zeus himself might once have quarantined her and her island for an old sin or an older pestence. So at peace was Valletta that with the least distance she would deteriorate to mere spectacle. She ceased to exist as anything quick or pulsed, and was assumed again into the textual stillness of her own history. (p 474)

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