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Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

reading notes

[Pynchon] was apparently thinking what he usually thinks, which is that modern history is a war between utopianism and totalitarianism, counterculture and hegemony, anarchism and corporatism, nature and techne, Eros and the death drive, slaves and masters, entropy and order, and that the only reasonably good place to be in such a world, given that you cannot be outside of it, is between the extremes. “Those whose enduring object is power in this world are only too happy to use without remorse the others, whose aim is of course to transcend all questions of power. Each regards the other as a pack of deluded fools,” as one of the book’s innumerable walk-ons, a Professor Svegli of the University of Pisa, puts it. Authorial sympathy in Pynchon’s novels always lies on the “transcend all questions of power,” countercultural side of the struggle; that’s where the good guys — the oddballs, dropouts, and hapless dreamers — tend to gather. But his books also dramatize the perception that resistance to domination can develop into its own regime of domination. The tendency of extremes is to meet, and perfection in life is a false Grail, a foreclosure of possibility, a kind of death. Of binaries beware.

– Louis Menand


the smell and the uproar of flesh learning its mortality—like the dark conjugate of some daylit fiction

There were steamers, electrics, Maxim whirling machines, ships powered by guncotton reciprocators and naphtha engines, and electrical lifting-screws of strange hyperboloidal design for drilling upward through the air, and winged aerostats, of streamlined shape, and wing-flapping miracles of or-nithurgy

“Back in the spring, Dr. Tesla was able to achieve readings on his transformer of up to a million volts. It does not take a prophet to see where this is headed. He is already talking in private about something he calls a ‘World-System,’ for producing huge amounts of electrical power that anyone can tap in to for free, anywhere in the world, because it uses the planet as an element in a gigantic resonant circuit. He is naïve enough to think he can get financing for this, from Pierpont, or me, or one or two others. It has es-caped his mighty intellect that no one can make any money off an invention like that. To put up money for research into a system of free power would be to throw it away, and violate—hell, betray—the essence of everything mod-ern history is supposed to be.”

–Scarsdale Vibe

“Many people believe that there is a mathematical correlation between sin, penance, and redemption. More sin, more penance, and so forth. Our own point has always been that there is no connection. All the variables are inde-pendent. You do penance not because you have sinned but because it is your destiny. You are redeemed not through doing penance but because it hap-pens. Or doesn’t happen

a keen sympathy for the invisible

It must have been that Austrian Archduke. Look after one royal, every-body starts making assumptions. Anarchists and heads of state being defined these days as natural enemies

Speculation began to fill the day. Once it had been enough to know the winds, and how they blew at each season of the year, to get a rough idea of where they might be headed. Presently, as the In-convenience began to acquire its own sources of internal power, there would be other global streamings to be taken into account—electromagnetic lines of force, Æther-storm warnings, movements of population and capital.

peripatetic picnic

we wander at the present moment through a sort of vortical-ist twilight, holding up the lantern of the Maxwell Field Equations and squinting to find our way. Michelson’s done this experiment before, in Berlin, but never so carefully. This new one could be the giant arc-lamp we need to light our way into the coming century.

Professor Edward Morley and Charles “Blinky” Morgan were one and the same person! Sepa-rated by a couple-three letters in name as if alphabetically double-refracted, you could say…

After going through all the possible silver compounds, Merle moved on to salts of gold, platinum, copper, nickel, uranium, molybdenum, and anti-mony, abandoning metallic compounds after a while for resins, squashed bugs, coal-tar dyes, cigar smoke, wildflower extracts, urine from various crit-ters including himself, reinvesting what little money came in from portrait work into lenses, filters, glass plates, enlarging machines

They lived for different futures, but they were each other’s unrecognized halves, and what fascination between them did come to pass was lit up, beyond question, with grace.

“Sort of the infernal side to the story, you could say.”

“Maybe capitalism decided it didn’t need the old magic anymore.”

The Anti-Stone. Useful magic that might go one better on the widely admired Mexican principle of politics through chem-istry.

Lately Merle had been visited by a strange feeling that “photography” and “alchemy” were just two ways of getting at the same thing—redeeming light from the inertia of precious metals.

The main difference he could see was that the Russian aristocracy, after centuries of believing in nothing but its own entitlement, had grown weak, neuræsthenic. “But American aristocracy is not even a century old, in peak of fighting condition, strong from efforts it took to acquire its wealth, more of a challenge. Good enemy.”

After 1893, after the whole nation, one way or another, had been put through a tiresome moral exercise over repeal of the Silver Act, ending with the Gold Standard reclaiming its ancient tyranny

They hired what they called “detectives,” who started keeping dossiers on persons of interest. The practice quickly became commonplace. As bureaucratic technique went, it wasn’t that much of a radical step even the first time, and sooner than any-body would’ve thought, it became routine and all but invisible.

Well, not always. But how many times did it take to stop being a coincidence and start being a pattern?

Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism of 1873, Heaviside’s more recent Electromagnetic Theory (1893), and so forth

a voice, or some-thing like a voice, whispered unto him, saying, “Water falls, electricity flows—one flow becomes another, and thence into light. So is altitude trans-formed, continuously, to light.”

voltaic frenzy and odd behavior human and animal

Wandering corridors of the spectral

“Explosion without an objective,” declared Miles Blundell, “is politics in its purest form.”

Through a highly secret technical process, developed in Japan at around the same time Dr. Mikimoto was producing his first cultured pearls, portions of the original aragonite—which made up the nacreous layers of the pearl—had, through “induced paramorphism,” as it was known to the artful sons of Nippon, been selectively changed here and there to a different form of cal-cium carbonate—namely, to microscopic crystals of the doubly-refracting calcite known as Iceland spar. Ordinary light, passing through this mineral, was divided into two separate rays, termed “ordinary” and “extraordinary,” a property which the Japanese scientists had then exploited to create an addi-tional channel of optical communication wherever in the layered structure of the pearl one of the thousands of tiny, cunningly-arranged crystals might occur. When illuminated in a certain way, and the intricately refracted light projected upon a suitable surface, any pearl so modified could thus be made to yield a message.

At first the “noise” seemed no more than the ensemble of magneto-atmospheric disturbances which the boys had long grown used to, perhaps here intensified by the vastly resonant space into which they were moving ever deeper. But presently the emission began to coalesce into human tim-bres and rhythms—not speech so much as music, as if the twilit leagues pass-ing below were linked by means of song.

Daily skir-mishes were now being fought, no longer for territory or commodities but for electro-magnetic information, in an international race to measure and map most accurately the field-coefficients at each point of that mysterious mathematical lattice-work which was by then known to surround the Earth.

Inter-Group Laboratory for Opticomagnetic Observation (I.G.L.O.O.)

The parallel organization at St. Petersburg, known as the Tovarishchi Slutchainyi, was notorious for promoting wherever in the world they chose a program of mischief, much of its motivation opaque

some crew member who proved to be spectral at best, the “extra man” of Arctic myth.

that was only one suspicion among many. It might not be about Iceland spar after all

For in the ancient Northmen’s language, “Gap” meant not only this particular chasm, the ice-chaos from which arose, through the giant Ymir, the Earth and every-thing in it, but also a wide-open human mouth, mortal, crying, screaming, calling out, calling back

Hotel Borealis

And what of colonizing additional dimensions beyond the third? Colonize Time. Why not?”

“Yet mappings in which a linear axis becomes curvilinear—functions of a complex variable such as w=ez, where a straight line in the z-plane maps to a circle in the w-plane,” said Dr. Rao, “do suggest the possibility of linear time becoming circular, and so achieving eternal return as simply, or should I say complexly, as that.”

real in every way, except for its being detectable.

“What cannot be resolved inside the psyche,” put in the Expedition alienist, Otto Ghloix, “must enter the outside world and become physically, objectively ‘real.’ For example, one who cannot come to terms with the, one must say sinister unknowability of Light, projects an Æther, real in every way, except for its being detectable.

Among the library shelves could be found The Book of Iceland Spar, commonly described as “like the Ynglingasaga only different,”

It’s the genuine article, and the sub-structure of reality. The doubling of the Creation, each image clear and believable…

For this is not only the geographical Iceland here, it is also one of several convergences among the worlds

Iceland spar is what hides the Hidden People, makes it possible for them to move through the world that thinks of itself as ‘real,’ provides that all-important ninety-degree twist to their light, so they can exist alongside our own world but not be seen. They and others as well, visitors from elsewhere, of non-human aspect

Throyle explained about the mysterious shamanic power known as bilocation, which enables those with the gift literally to be in two or more places, often widely separated, at the same time. “He says he has a message for us.”

this vernacular of unease and hallucination

“Not literally, then … but we do use one another, often mortally, with the same disablement of feeling, of conscience … each of us knowing that at some point it will be our own turn. Nowhere to run but into a hos-tile and lifeless waste.”

“Your whole Expedition got hypnotized by a rock? that what you’re asking us to believe?” The Board of Inquiry was meeting in upper rooms of the Museum of Museumology, dedicated to the history of institutional collect-ing, classifying, and exhibiting.

But with only dwindling moments of normal history remaining, where could any of them have found refuge in time?

other or co-conscious mind

“There are stories, like maps that agree … too consistent among too many languages and histories to be only wishful thinking… . It is always a hidden place, the way into it is not obvious, the geography is as much spiritual as physical. If you should happen upon it, your strongest certainty is not that you have discovered it but returned to it. In a single great episode of light, you remember everything.”

“What is the modern state,” Yitzhak declared, “but a suburban house-lot taken up to a larger scale?

it was as if physical appearance actually shifted,causing not only aliases to be inconsistently assigned but identity itself to change. Did something, something essential, happen to human personality above a certain removal from sea level?

black, silvered, full of shadows

There was always some Forty-seventh Street, always some legion of invisible on one side of the account book, set opposite a handful on the other who were getting very, if not incalculably, rich at their expense.

Then again, where else did he have to go to anymore, now that he’d crossed over what had just been revealed with such clarity as the terrible American divide, between hunter and prey?

“A second Moon, that you can’t tell how close or how dangerous… .”

This was part of the strangeness of telephones in those early days, before the traffic became quite such a routine affair. As if overdesigned to include all sorts of extra features like precognitive alarms.

The T.W.I.T., or True Worshippers of the Ineffable Tetractys

“Lateral world-sets, other parts of the Creation, lie all around us, each with its crossover points or gates of transfer from one to another, and they can be anywhere, really… . An unscheduled Explosion, introduced into the accustomed flow of the day, may easily open, now and then, passages to elsewhere… .”

–Nicholas Nookshaft, Grand Cohen of the London chapter of the T.W.I.T.

“Admittedly, ours is an odd sort of work… . There is but one ‘case’ which preoccupies us. Its ‘suspects’ are exactly twenty-two in number. These are precisely the cadre of operatives who, working in secret, cause—or at least allow—History upon this island to happen, and they correspond to the twenty-two Major Arcana of the Tarot deck.” Going on to explain, as he had times past counting, that the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana might be regarded as living agencies, positions to be filled with real people, down the generations, each attending to his own personally tailored portfolio of mis-chief deep or trivial, as the grim determinants appeared, assassinations, plagues, failures of fashion sense, losses of love, as, one by one, flesh-eating sheep sailed over the fence between dreams and the day.

no one ever speaks plainly. Whether it’s Cockney rhyming codes or the crosswords in the newspapers—all English, spoken or written, is looked down on as no more than strings of text cleverly encrypted. Nothing beyond. Any who may come to feel betrayed by them, insulted, even hurt, even grievously, are sim-ply ‘taking it too seriously.’

“In the grammar of their iniquity,” he was instructed, “the Icosadyad, or Company of Twenty-two, observe neither gender nor number.

Ren-frew at Cambridge and Werfner at Göttingen

Parsons-Short Auxetophone

the voice of an explosion, or at least the same abolition of coherence, the same rapid flying-apart…

It seemed that each British mystical order claiming Pythagorean descent had its own ideas about those taboos and bits of free advice known as akousmata

a gleaming clutter of burners and spectroscopes, funnels and flasks, centrifugal and Soxhlet extractors, and distillation columns in both the Glynsky and Le Bel-Henninger formats

For many of us, a cricket match is a sort of religious observance. Breathless hush in the close tonight sort of thing. ‘Innocent’ as it gets.

This person greeted the Cohen by raising his left hand, then spreading the fingers two and two away from the thumb so as to form the Hebrew letter shin, signifying the initial letter of one of the pre-Mosaic (that is, plural) names of God, which may never be spoken. “Basically wishing long life and prosperity,”

“Enlightenment is a dodgy proposition. It all depends how much you want to risk. Not money so much as personal safety, precious time, against a very remote long shot coming in. It happens, of course. Out of the dust, the clouds of sweat and breath, the drumming of hooves, the animal rises up be-hind the field, the last you’d’ve expected, tall, shining, inevitable, and passes through them all like a beam of morning sunlight through the spectral residue of a dream. But it’s still a fool’s bet and a mug’s game, and you might not have the will or the patience.”

The terrain is quite real, quite of this world—that, you may appreciate, is exactly the problem.

Sometime before the first report of it in 1669, calcite or Iceland spar had arrived in Copenhagen. The double-refraction property having been no-ticed immediately, the ghostly mineral was soon in great demand among op-tical scientists across Europe. At length it was discovered that certain “invisible” lines and surfaces, analogous to conjugate points in two-dimen-sional space, became accessible through carefully shaped lenses, prisms, and mirrors of calcite, although the tolerances were if anything even finer than those encountered in working with glass, causing artisans by the dozens and eventually hundreds to join multitudes of their exiled brethren already wan-dering the far landscapes of madness.

if one accepts the idea that maps begin as dreams, pass through a finite life in the world, and resume as dreams again, we may say that these paramorphoscopes of Iceland spar, which cannot exist in great numbers if at all, reveal the architecture of dream, of all that escapes the net-work of ordinary latitude and longitude…

This hasn’t been invented yet. I found it—it found me?—a fisher-man in the fog, casting his lines again and again into the invisible river, the flow of Time, hoping to retrieve just such artifacts as this

dual citizenship in the realms of the quotidian and the ghostly

“Bells are the most ancient objects. They call to us out of eternity.”

bowlers and deerstalkers, mantillas, lorgnettes, walking sticks, ear trumpets, spats, driving-coats, watch-chain ornaments, chemisettes and combinations, Japanese parasols, electrical bathtubs, patent devices for thunderstorm-proof mayonnaise, cherry-pitting machines, drill bits and car-bide lamps, ladies’ bandoliers rigged out expressly for .22-caliber rounds, not to mention bolts of jaconet, pompadour sateen, tartalan, dimity, grena-dine, crepe lissé, plain, striped, or in Oriental prints direct from Liberty’s of London

The loss of clarity and scale in the room was producing, for many, strange optical illusions, common among them that of a vast landscape swept by an unyielding fog. It became possible to believe one had been spirited, in the swift cascade of light-flashes, to some distant geography where creatures as yet unknown thrashed about, howling affrightedly, in the dark.

the entire scene doubled and, even more peculiarly, grown brighter

“there is a whole catalogue of things you’re not looking for.”

Vectors and wireless telegraphy, a silent connection.

Grassmann’s Ausdehnungslehre can be extended to any number of dimensions you like. Dr. Hilbert at Göttingen is developing his ‘Spectral Theory,’ which requires a vector space of infinite dimensions. His co-adjutor Minkowski thinks that dimensions will eventually all just fade away into a Kontinuum of space and time. Minkowski and Hilbert, in fact, will be holding a joint seminar at Göttingen next year in the electrodynamics of moving bodies, not to mention Hilbert’s recent work on Eigenheit theory

this exquisite stupor of assumption about who knew what, or didn’t, branching and rebranching, none of it ever stated aloud, all pregnant eyebeaming and circumlocution.

“My native land is not a country but an artifact of Habsburg foreign policy, known as ‘the Military Frontier,’ and to us as Granitza. The town was very small, above the Adriatic coast in the Velebit range, where certain places were better than others for … what would you call them? Visual experiences that might prove useful.”

I can never speak of that time of simply waiting.

Sometimes the real world, the substantial world of affairs, possessing greater inertia, takes a while to catch up

mirrors, crystals, pneumatic pumps and valves, electromagnets, speaking-trumpets, bottles that never ran empty and candles that lighted themselves, player pianos, Zoetropic projectors, knives, swords, revolvers and cannons

“We look at the world, at governments, across the spectrum, some with more freedom, some with less. And we observe that the more repressive the State is, the closer life under it resembles Death. If dying is deliverance into a condition of total non-freedom, then the State tends, in the limit, to Death. The only way to address the problem of the State is with counter-Death, also known as Chemistry,”

a partial vacuum in the passage of time

Giving in at length to parrot hysteria, sinister in its prolonged indifference.

“of scalenohedral habit.”

“You have fallen into the habit of seeing dead things better than live ones. Shabótshi all do. You need practice in seeing.”

exactly the mixture of nostalgia and amnesia to provide them a reasonable counterfeit of the Timeless.

the First International Conference on Time-Travel, a topic suddenly respectable owing to the success of Mr. H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine, first published in 1895, a year often cited as a lower limit to the date of the first Conference, although no one had yet agreed on how to assign ordinal numbers to any of the gatherings

A strewn field of conjecture, superstition, blind faith, and bad engineering

One assumes you have properly filled in your Finding of Unusual Circumstances Questionnaire?

Time did not so much elapse as grow less relevant.

“We are here among you as seekers of refuge from our present—your future—a time of worldwide famine, exhausted fuel supplies, terminal poverty—the end of the capitalistic experiment. Once we came to understand the simple thermodynamic truth that Earth’s resources were limited, in fact soon to run out, the whole capitalist illusion fell to pieces. Those of us who spoke this truth aloud were denounced as heretics, as enemies of the prevailing economic faith. Like religious Dissenters of an earlier day, we were forced to migrate, with little choice but to set forth upon that dark fourth-dimensional Atlantic known as Time.

The Trespassers had studied their targets closely

As early as 1899, the Professor had informed them, Roswell had grasped the principles of what would become the standard-issue Hypopsammotic Survival Apparatus or “Hypops,” revolutionizing desert travel by providing a practical way to submerge oneself beneath the sands and still be able to breathe, walk around, so forth.

“Abnormal? What’s abnormal in that? When have I ever kept it a secret that my governing desire in life is to be no longer one, but two, a two which is, moreover, one—that is, denumerably two, yet—”

But introduce to your sacred project the element of weaponry and everything changes. Now you need not only a destination but an enemy as well

lateral jumps from one continuum to another, metamorphosis from one form of matter, living or otherwise, to another—the one fact to remain invariant under any of these must always be light, the light we see as well as the expanded sense of it prophesied by Maxwell, confirmed by Hertz. Along with that went a refusal of all forms of what they defined as ‘darkness.’

From Kashgar to Urumchi, the bazaars were full of weapons, breathing units, ship fittings, hardware nobody could identify, full of strange gauges and prisms and electrical wiring which later proved to be from Quaternion-ray weapons, which all the Powers had deployed. These now fell into the hands of goat-herders, falconers, shamans, to be taken out into the emptiness, disassembled, studied, converted to uses religious and practical, and eventually to change the history of the World-Island beyond even the most unsound projections of those Powers who imagined themselves somehow, at this late date, still competing for it.

Russian nihilists with peculiar notions about the laws of history and reversible processes, Indian swamis concerned with the effect of time travel on the laws of Karma, Sicilians with equal apprehensions for the principle of vendetta, American tinkers like Merle with specific electromechanical questions to clear up. Their spirits all one way or another invested in, invested by, the siegecraft of Time and its mysteries.

Vectorists and Quaternionists in attendance reminded everybody of the function they had recently worked up known as the Lobatchevskian, abbreviated Lob, as in “Lob a,” by which, almost as a by-product, ordinary Euclidean space is transformed to Lobatchevskian.

Time no longer ‘passes,’ with a linear velocity, but ‘returns,’ with an angular one.

From here on, the alchemy, the tinkering, the photography would be relegated to day jobs of one kind or another. The nights, the flights and journeys proper to night, would be dedicated to the Mysteries of Time.

Eccentric inventors were then enjoying in America a certain vogue as long-shot opponents of the mills of Capital. They were expected to lose, poignantly as possible, though now and then an educated side-bet on one winning might pay off big.

“You know how there’s some have found Jesus? Well, that happened to me, too, only my Savior turned out to be more of a classical demigod, namely,” pretending to look furtively right and left, and lowering his voice, “Hercules.”

“You ain’t one of these Anharmonic Pencil folks?”

“this irrational worship of the Geneva movement, and the whole idea of a movie projector being built like a clock—as if there could be no other way. Watches and clocks are fine, don’t mistake my meaning, but they are a sort of acknowledgment of failure, they’re there to glorify and celebrate one particular sort of time, the tickwise passage of time in one direction only and no going back. Only kind of movies we’d ever get to see on a machine like that’d be clock movies, elapsing from the beginning of the reel to the end, one frame at a time.

“Make gravity impervious to time? Why?”

Minkowski was a young man with a pointed mustache and curly black hair brushed in a pompadour. He wore a black suit and high collar and pince-nez, and looked like a businessman out for some fun. He gave the lecture in German but wrote down enough equations so people could follow it more or less.

the silence and forced enigma of structures in their vanishing

“Of the flesh but not the world? How peculiar. How can that be? It sounds like maths, only more practical somehow.”

Gnaoua musicians invoked the mlouk gnaoui, calling upon the doorkeeper of the Seigneurs Noirs to open the door of good and evil.

Having been inseparable from the rise of the electromagnetic in human affairs, the Hamiltonian devotees had now, fallen from grace, come to embody, for the established scientific religion, a subversive, indeed heretical, faith for whom proscription and exile were too good.

“Are you authorized to speak for the gods of Chance?” inquired Eugénie. “Who can say what a ‘normal’ assassination rate is supposed to be?”

“Or, as we like to say, l’heure vertigineuse.”

“Not another Anharmonic Pencilist,”

Monopole de la Maison

vomiting into the pockets of strangers, getting into long, intensely hoarse disputes in fluent Esperanto and Idiom Neutral, the technical discussions being in large part impenetrable, the phatic or sociable chitchat tending to the only slightly less problematic.

“Imaginary axes, imaginary existence.” “Ghosts. Ghosts.”

“Of course we lost. Anarchists always lose out, while the Gibbs-Heaviside Bolsheviks, their eyes ever upon the long-term, grimly pursued their aims, protected inside their belief that they are the inevitable future, the xyz people, the party of a single Established Coordinate System, present everywhere in the Universe, governing absolutely. We were only the ijk lot, drifters who set up their working tents for as long as the problem might demand, then struck camp again and moved on, always ad hoc and local, what do you expect?”

“Maniacs,” cried Root, “every one of us! Fifty years ago of course more than today, today the real maniacs have gone into foundations work, set theory, all abstract as possible, like it’s a race to see who can venture out furthest into the borderlands of the nonexistent. Not strictly speaking ‘mania,’ not as we once knew it. The good old days! Grassmann was German and hence automatically among the possessed, Hamilton was burdened with early genius and in the grip of a first love he could never get beyond. Drinking a lot, though who am I to talk, didn’t help. Heaviside was once termed ‘the Walt Whitman of English Physics’—”

Electric lamplight kept the scene hard-focused and readable, all proceeding stepwise, by integers, little ambiguity allowed in the spaces between. And somewhere, that unanswerable wave-function the sea.

But our magic is more ancient, and the big advantage to being so outmoded is that nobody recognizes it when they see

“Cambridge personality Bertie (‘Mad Dog’) Russell observed,” observed Barry Nebulay, “that most of Hegel’s arguments come down to puns on the word ‘is.’ In that sense the thing about a Quaternion ‘is’ is that we’re obliged to encounter it in more than one guise. As a vector quotient. As a way of plotting complex numbers along three axes instead of two. As a list of instructions for turning one vector into another.”

“La Mayonnaise,” Pléiade explained, “has its origins in the moral squalor of the court of Louis XV—here in Belgium the affinity should not be too surprising. The courts of Leopold and Louis are not that different except in time, and what is time? Both monumentally deluded men, maintaining their power through oppression of the innocent. One might usefully compare Cleo de Mérode and the marquise de Pompadour.

“No more than ghosts may choose what places they must haunt… you children drift in a dream, all is smooth, no interruptions, no discontinuities, but imagine the fabric of Time torn open, and yourselves swept through, with no way back, orphans and exiles who find you will do what you must, however shameful, to get from end to end of each corroded day.”

“Time,” explained Dr. Rao, “is the Further Term, you see, transcending and conditioning i, j, and k—the dark visitor from the Exterior, the Destroyer, the fulfiller of the Trinity. It is the merciless clock-beat we all seek to escape, into the pulselessness of salvation. It is all this and more.”

October 16, the anniversary of Hamilton’s 1843 discovery of the Quaternions (or, as a disciple might say, theirs of him)

a pair of rays—one ‘Ordinary,’ the other ‘Extraordinary.

Double refraction appears again and again as a key element, permitting a view into a Creation set just to the side of this one, so close as to overlap, where the membrane between the worlds, in many places, has become too frail, too permeable, for safety…

he glimpsed how Ostend really might not be simply another pleasure-resort for people with too much money, but the western anchor of a continental system that happened to include the Orient Express, the Trans-Siberian, the Berlin-to-Baghdad, and so on in steel proliferation across the World-Island.

Isola degli Specchi appeared on some maps and was absent from others. It had seemed to depend how high the water was in the Lagoon from day to day. Also, perhaps, on a species of faith, for there were otherwise-knowledgeable Venetians who denied its existence categorically.

“Glass, calcite, custom silvering. We call it La Doppiatrice.”

It wouldn’t matter. Imagine that inside this labyrinth you see is another one, but on a smaller scale, reserved only, say, for cats, dogs, and mice—and then, inside that, one for ants and flies, then microbes and the whole invisible world—down and down the scale, for once the labyrinthine principle is allowed, don’t you see, why stop at any scale in particular? It’s self-repeating.

“Political space has its neutral ground. But does Time? is there such a thing as the neutral hour? one that goes neither forward nor back? is that too much to hope?”

Somehow the metal frame also acts as a receiving antenna, allowing dreamers to pick up traces of the dreams of whoever slept there just before them, as if, during sleep, we radiated in frequencies as yet undiscovered

“It’s as if these Venetian painters saw things we can’t see anymore,” Hunter said. “A world of presences. Phantoms. History kept sweeping through, Napoleon, the Austrians, a hundred forms of bourgeois literalism, leading to its ultimate embodiment, the tourist—how beleaguered they must have felt. But stay in this town awhile, keep your senses open, reject nothing, and now and then you’ll see them.”

This volume, or I suppose nonvolume, of pure Akaša—being the Sanskrit for what we’d call the Æther, the element closest to the all-pervading Atman, from which everything else has arisen—which in Greek obviously then becomes ‘Chaos,’ and so down to van Helmont in his alchemist’s workshop, who being Dutch writes the opening fricative as a G instead of a Chi, giving us Gas, our own modern Chaos, our bearer of sound and light, the Akaša flowing from our sacred spring, the local Gasworks.

They call themselves ‘Otzovists.’ God-builders. A new subset of heretics, this time against Lenin and his Bolshevists—said to be anti-Materialist, devout readers of Mach and Ouspensky, immoderately focused on something they call ‘the fourth dimension.’

the streamlined gondola suspended exactly at the Point of Infinity, for the Dirigible’s secret Name is the Riemann Ellipsoid

“He has come to believe that he is a certain well-known pastry of Berlin—similar to your own American, as you would say, Jelly-doughnut.”

It was not so much a conventional museum as a strange underground temple, or counter-temple, dedicated to the current “Crisis” in European mathematics

According to the design philosophy of the day, between the observer at the center of a panorama and the cylindrical wall on which the scene was projected, lay a zone of dual nature, wherein must be correctly arranged a number of “real objects” appropriate to the setting—chairs and desks, Doric columns whole and damaged—though these could not strictly be termed entirely real, rather part “real” and part “pictorial,” or let us say “fictional,” this assortment of hybrid objects being designed to “gradually blend in” with distance until the curving wall and a final condition of pure image.

an example of Lebesgue’s notorious “surface devoid of tangent planes,” an eccentric distant cousin of the family of functions, everywhere continuous and nowhere differentiable, with which Weierstrass, in 1872, had inaugurated the great Crisis that continued to preoccupy mathematics even to the present

“The antipodal journey from one end of human consciousness to its opposite.”

Everybody at their own pace went about relocating their everyday selves.

“It is comforting to imagine this as an outward and visible manifestation of something else,” chuckled one of the Austrians, puffing on a cigar stub. “But sometimes a Tatzelwurm is only a Tatzelwurm.”

People called them podpol’niki, underground men. Floors that had once been solid and simple became veils over another world. It was not the day we knew that provided the stranniki their light.”

“The Ripper’s ‘Whitechapel’ was a sort of momentary antechamber in space-time … one might imagine a giant railway-depot, with thousands of gates disposed radially in all dimensions, leading to tracks of departure to all manner of alternate Histories… .”

the strange and useful talent of being two places or more at once, known in the Psychical field for about fifty years as “bilocation.”

figure and ground were kept separate by an edge, overdefined and glimmering, between two distinct kinds of light… .

“You may not need to, it is after all quite common in these occult orders to find laity and priesthood, hierarchies of acquaintance with the Mysteries, se- cret initiation at each step, the assumption that one learns what one has to only when it is time to. No one decides this, it is simply the dynamic imperative operating from within the Knowledge itself.”

We are light, you see, all of light

eventually, though we risk being divided in two, through Iceland spar, which is an expression in crystal form of Earth’s velocity as it rushes through the Æther, altering dimensions, and creating double refraction…

“Best procedure when considering the Balkans,” instructed Renfrew, “is not to look at components singly—one begins to run about the room screaming after a while—but all together, everything in a single timeless snapshot, the way master chess players are said to regard the board.

When forces did begin at last in Europe to move in appreciable numbers, there would have to be a way to maintain the flow of information. Telegraph and cable lines could be cut. Wireless was too vulnerable to Ætheric influences. The only secure method, it seemed to Theign, was a small international crew of motorcyclists, fast and nimble enough to stay ahead of the game. “They’ll be designated R.U.S.H., that’s Rapid Unit for Shadowing and Harassment.”

We must tithe a certain number of lives yearly to the goddess Kali in return for a European history more or less free of violence and safe for investment, and very few are the wiser

“Electricity! the force of the future—for everything, you know, including the élan vital itself, will soon be proven electrical in nature.”

Beda Chanson’s “Ausgerechnet Bananen.”

Carl Czerny’s School of Velocity, op. 299.

“She always made me think of Hypatia. Before the Christian mobs of course.”

I’m only complaining in a recreational way, or do I mean therapeutic?

They didn’t all vanish at once. After a bit one began to notice this ominous vacuum.

everything that trade, in its strenuous irrelevance to dream, could never admit. The numbers of commerce were “rational”—ratios of profit to loss, rates of exchange—but among the set of real numbers, those that remained in the spaces between—the “irrationals”—outnumbered those simple quotients overwhelmingly.

“It’s not the price tag,” Tancredi cried, “it’s what comes after—investment, reselling, killing something born in the living delirium of paint meeting canvas, turning it into a dead object, to be traded, on and on, for whatever the market will bear. A market whose forces are always exerted against creation, in the direction of death.”

He was doing the one thing authority cannot abide, will never allow to pass, he was refusing to do as he was told.

Time could not, somehow, be taken for granted. It sped up and slowed down, like a variable that was dependent on something else, something so far, at least, undetectable.

midnight explosions, mysterious cases of hallucination, actual invisibility, and unannounced howling exits

What is to come will not occur in ordinary space. The Europeans will find great difficulty in drawing maps of this.

The journey itself is a kind of conscious Being, a living deity who does not wish to engage with the foolish or the weak, and hence will try to dissuade you. It insists on the furthest degree of respect

“That is the Rigpa Dzinpai Phonya, or Knowledge-Bearing Messenger, by Rimpung Ngawangjigdag, 1557. Directions for journeying to Shambhala are addressed by the author to a Yogi, who is a sort of fictional character, though at the same time real—a figure in a vision, and also Rinpungpa himself.

Notably, ‘Even if you forget everything else,’ Rinpungpa instructs the Yogi, ‘remember one thing—when you come to a fork in the road, take it.’

The Chinese remind us that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, yet they keep curiously silent about the step itself, which too often must be taken, as now, from inaccessible ground, if not indeed straight down into an unmeasured abyss.

“Out here pilgrimage is a matter of kind and wrathful deities. Timing. Guidance.”

“Shamanism. There isn’t a primitive people anywhere on Earth that can’t be found practicing some form of it. Every state religion, including your own, considers it irrational and pernicious, and has taken steps to eradicate it.”

What had been certain and mandated by Heaven was now as loaded with uncertainty as any peasant’s struggle with the day, and all,

“It is symmetrical, but not the ellipse of destruction one would expect.”

after the Event,

Since the visitation at the Stony Tunguska, he had noticed that the angle of his vision was wider and the narrow track of his life branching now and then into unsuspected side trails.

There was apparently a two-part structure to the narrative, part one being pleasant, visually entertaining, spiritually enlightening, and part two filled with unspeakable horror. The fungomaniacs did not seem put out at any of this, regarding one as the price of the other.

I have since learned of other cities, out here, secret cities, secular counterparts to the Buddhist hidden lands, more indelibly contaminated by Time, deep in the taiga, only guessed at from indirect evidence—unmanifested cargoes, power consumption—ancient before the Cossacks settled, before the Kirghiz or the Tatars.

No one could dare to say which was worse—that it had never happened before, or that it had, and that all the agencies of history had conspired never to record it and then, displaying a sense of honor hitherto unnoted, to maintain their silence.

via posts, pendulums, universal joints, slender glass threads writing on smoked paper rolls driven clockwork-slow beneath, via needles of light on coatings of bromide of silver


Raising to powers, calculating logarithms, converting strings of characters to terms of a series and finding the limits they converge to, and—

“Hitherto unprovided for in the future tense of any language. No matter what alphabet it’s written in. As we like to say, ‘High ~susceptiblity to primordial variables.’ ”

As nights went on and nothing happened and the phenomenon slowly faded to the accustomed deeper violets again, most had difficulty remembering the earlier rise of heart, the sense of overture and possibility, and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucination, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day.

Modern anti-Semitism really went far beyond feelings, had become a source of energy, tremendous dark energy that could be tapped in to like an electric main for specific purposes, a way to a political career, a factor in parliamentary bargaining over budgets, taxes, armaments, any issue at all, a weapon for prevailing over a business rival in a deal.

“Each campanile in Zengg is tuned to a different ecclesiastical mode,” said Vlado. “Listen to the dissonances.”

there is now an entire branch of spy-craft known as Applied Idiotics

the Modern Imperial Institute for Intensive Instruction In Idiotics—or M.6I., as it’s commonly known

But you are guests in Bosnia, and tradition says that guests are last to die.

Social Darwinists of the day were forever on about the joys of bloody teeth and claws, but they were curiously uncelebratory of speed and deception, poison and surprise.

she put her faith, like a good Emotional Anarchist, in the Law of Deterministic Insufficiency.

“The doges are gone, the curse remains. Some today, often in positions to do great harm, will never come to understand how ‘power’—lo stato—could have been an expression of communal will, invisibly exercised in the dark that surrounds each soul, in which penance must be a necessary term. Unless one has performed in his life penance equal to what he has exacted from others, there is an imbalance in Nature.”

On one of the outer islands in the Lagoon, which had belonged to the Spongiatosta family for centuries, over an hour away even by motor craft, stood a slowly drowning palazzo. Here at midnight between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday began the secret counter-Carnevale known as Carnesalve, not a farewell but an enthusiastic welcome to flesh in all its promise. As object of desire, as food, as temple, as gateway to conditions beyond immediate knowledge.

The composer was conducting two string orchestras set like cantores and decani facing each other across the chancel, with a string quartet between them.

He seemed convinced, so compelling was the vision of deck-designer “Pixie” Colman Smith, that one evening he would turn a bend in the landscape and there would be the same exact conjunction of earth and water, the tree on the knoll, the bird on the tree, and there for the moment oblivious to his presence, with the sweep of foothills and mountains behind her, this glorious naked blonde. Old Tarot hands had seen this condition of point-missing before, and even had a word for it—“Pixielated.” “The present occupant of that Arcanum might not even be female,”

Frieze creatures, upper-floor caryatid faces, mineral loneliness.

“There’s plenty of folks who deserve being blown up, to be sure,” opined Ewball, “but they’ve got to be gone after in a professional way, anything else is being just like them, slaughterin the innocent, when what we need is more slaughterin of the guilty. Who gave the orders, who carried ’em out, exact names and whereabouts—and then go get ’em. That’d be just honest soldiering.”

morose and case-hardened immunity to anything extraliteral

who at some point hadn’t come to hate the railroad? It penetrated, it broke apart cities and wild herds and watersheds, it created economic panics and armies of jobless men and women, and generations of hard, bleak city-dwellers with no principles who ruled with unchecked power, it took away everything indiscriminately, to be sold, to be slaughtered, to be led beyond the reach of love.

the Anarchist spa of Yz-les-Bains, hidden near the foothills of the Pyrenees

We’ve chosen more of a coevolutionary role, helping along what’s already in progress.

“So many of these mystical fellowships end up as creatures of their host governments.”

“A legacy, one finds, of these ancient all-male structures. Blighted the hopes of Anarchism for years, I can tell you—as long as women were not welcome, it never had a chance. In some communities, often quite famous examples, what appeared to be unguided and perfect consensus, some miracle of social telepathy, was in fact the result of a single male authority behind the scenes giving out orders, and a membership willing to comply—all agreeing to work in silence and invisibility to preserve their Anarchist fiction. Only after the passage of years, the death of the leader, would the truth come out.”

Anarchists’ Golf, a craze currently sweeping the civilized world, in which there was no fixed sequence—in fact, no fixed number—of holes, with distances flexible as well, some holes being only putter-distance apart, others uncounted hundreds of yards and requiring a map and compass to locate.

Industrial corporations, armies, navies, governments, all would go on as before, if not more powerful. But in a general war among nations, every small victory Anarchism has struggled to win so far would simply turn to dust. Today even the dimmest of capitalists can see that the centralized nation-state, so promising an idea a generation ago, has lost all credibility with the population.

“If the Earth were alive, with a planet-shaped consciousness, then the ‘Balkan Peninsula’ might easily map on to whatever in this consciousness most darkly wishes for its own destruction.”

Lydian. In the folk songs and dances of the Balkan villages, as it happens, although the other mediaeval modes are well represented, there is this strange and drastic absence of Lydian material—in our own project, to date, we’ve found none at all. Bit of a mystery for us. As if it were still forbidden, perhaps even feared.

Yz-les-Bains was in fact one of the few places on the continent of Europe where a sober Anarchist could find a decent Crocodile—equal amounts of rum, absinthe, and the grape spirits known as trois-six—a traditional Anarchist favorite

Bartok and Kodály in Hungary, Can-teloube in the Auvergne, Vaughan Williams in England, Eugénie Lineff in Russia, Hjalmar Thuren in the Farøe Islands

What are any of these ‘utopian dreams’ of ours but defective forms of time-travel?

some late reprieve, some hope of passing beyond political forms to “planetary oneness,” as Jenny liked to put it. “This is our own age of exploration,” she declared, “into that unmapped country waiting beyond the frontiers and seas of Time. We make our journeys out there in the low light of the future, and return to the bourgeois day and its mass delusion of safety, to report on what we’ve seen. What are any of these ‘utopian dreams’ of ours but defective forms of time-travel?”

Shaggy dogs came running out of sheep pasture barking homicidally.

Edison and Marconi both feel that the syntonic wireless can be developed as a way to communicate with departed spirits.

distortions, displacements, rotations … something else was there, just about to appear, something he understood had always been there, but that he had not been receptive to… .

‘Phosgene’ is really code for light. We learned it is light here which is really the destructive agent.

The convent belonged to a sect descended from ancient Bogomils who did not embrace the Roman Church in 1650 with most of the other Pavlikeni but chose instead to go underground. To their particular faith, over the centuries, had become attached older, more nocturnal elements, going back, it was claimed, to the Thracian demigod Orpheus, and his dismemberment not far from here, on the banks of the Hebrus River, nowadays known as the Maritza.

Part of the discipline for a postulant was to remain acutely conscious, at every moment of the day, of the nearly unbearable conditions of cosmic struggle between darkness and light proceeding, inescapably, behind the presented world.

as long as a person was willing to forgo credit, there were very few limits on the good it became possible to do.

hoping to slip through a loophole in the laws of chance.

Light, in any case, among these Indians of Chiapas, occupies an analogous position to flesh among Christian peoples. It is living tissue. As the brain is the outward and visible expression of the Mind

And if going up is like going north, with the common variable being cold, the analogous direction in Time, by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, ought to be from past to future, in the direction of increasing entropy.

They were on the Counter-Earth, on it and of it, yet at the same time also on the Earth they had never, it seemed, left.

“See, every photographic subject moves,” Roswell explained, “even if it’s standing still. It breathes, light bounces off, something. Snapping a photograph is like what the math professors call ‘differentiating’ an equation of motion—freezing that movement into the very small piece of time it takes the shutter to open and close. So we figured—if shooting a photo is like taking a first derivative, then maybe we could find some way to do the reverse of that, start with the still photo and integrate it, recover its complete primitive and release it back into action … even back to life …”

script consultants for the shadow-factories

She had stopped believing quite so much in cause and effect, having begun to find that what most people took for some continuous reality, one morning paper to the next, had never existed.

Amid a technical environment so corrupted by less-than-elevated motives, usually mercenary, for “setting forth against the Enemy Wind” (as early epics of time-travel described it), there must now and then appear one compassionate time-machine story, time travel in the name of love, with no expectation of success, let alone reward.

They were soon going so fast that something happened to time, and maybe they’d slipped for a short interval into the Future, the Future known to Italian Futurists, with events superimposed on one another, and geometry straining irrationally away in all directions

May we imagine for them a vector, passing through the invisible, the “imaginary,” the unimaginable

Their motto was “There, but Invisible.”

mnemonic frostbite

against_the_day.txt · Last modified: 2016/05/16 11:30 by nik