Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Notebook (A Nest of Ninnies, The Crying of Lot 49)

Looney Tunes, “The Blow Out,” 1936

Up out of the black pit of sleeplessness, its snakes and badgers, its grouch and finick, and proceeding thus chary into the mechanical world of ratchet and glare. There, the sun being winched up into place against my squint. There, the loud wheedling of compounded fatigue and downspout gush: rain all night. (Virginia Woolf: “The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure & being read the superficial.” And, rather sassily: “And if it comes to putting down talk, the truth is that, except in novels, people don’t talk.”) Rereading the Ashbery / Schuyler romp A Nest of Ninnies (1969), I think “how Pynchonesque!”—or I think, triggered by something like “Abel and the Antibodies,” rather, “isn’t The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) some kind of kin here—the same highly stylized speech, the same gaps in the semiotic fabric, the same stark revel in semi-esoteric refs, the same coincidence-gonged plot . . . recall for a moment “Mucho Maas, enigmatic, whistling ‘I Want to Kiss Your Feet,’ a new recording by Sick Dick and the Volkswagens (an English group he was fond of at that time but did not believe in), stood with hands in pockets . . .”? Ashbery / Schuyler:
      “Yes,” Madge said, “once again it’s the Volkswagen über alles.” She drained her glass and, turning to Victor, said, “Would you do the honors?”
      “Mais certainement,” replied Victor, whose cheeks were beginning to glow. “Another bottle of your pinard, Monsieur Duclos, s’il vous plait—‘with beaded bubbles winking at the brim.’”
      “That’s Keats, isn’t it,” the other teacher said. “I didn’t know Americans read Keats. I’m very fond of Dashiell Hammett,” he added quickly. Finding his overtures were not rebuffed, he continued. “I am Etienne Gilot, and this is my colleague, Marc Ducasse.”
      “Any relation to Isidor—the second most famous Palois of them all?”* Victor asked, with the air of one who has the ball and is running with it. Nadia gasped in admiration.
Or Pynchon:
      “What were you dreaming about him?”
      “Oh, that,” perhaps embarrassed. “It was all mixed in with a Porky Pig cartoon.” He waved at the tube. “It comes into your dreams, you know. Filthy machine. Did you ever see the one about Porky Pig and the anarchist?”
      She had, as a matter of fact, but she said no. “The anarchist is dressed all in black. In the dark you can only see his eyes. It dates from the 1930’s. Porky Pig is a little boy. The children told me that he has a nephew now, Cicero. Do you remember, during the war, when Porky worked in a defense plant? He and Bugs Bunny. That was a good one too.”
      “Dressed all in black,” Oedipa prompted him.
Ashbery / Schuyler:
      Coincidence, the real Dickensian thing, struck—again, of course. As so often before in the lives of these happy few, the lights went out. In the depths of the dining room a candlelit cake was seen, carried by an anxious girl in a chef’s hat. “Mia sorellina,” Giorgio said proudly. Someone struck up “Happy Birthday”; soon all had joined in; soon it was over. The lights came on.
      “Well!” was the consensus.
      The dead man, like Maxwell’s Demon, was the linking feature in a coincidence. Without him neither she nor Jesus would be exactly here, exactly now. It was enough, a coded warning. What, tonight, was chance? So her eyes did fall presently onto an ancient rolled copy of the anarcho-syndicalist paper Regeneración. The date was 1904 and there was no stamp next to the cancellation, only the handstruck image of the post horn.
      “They arrive,” said Arrabal. “Have they been in the mails that long? Has my name been substituted for that of a member who’s died? Has it really taken sixty years? Is it a reprint? Idle questions, I am a footsoldier. The higher levels have their reasons.”
Or, dipping freely: “‘Lord love a duck,’ summarized a boy holding a passkey . . .” (Pynchon). “‘Feet, do your stuff,’ Victor said with a loud laugh. ‘So long, Doc.’” (Ashbery / Schuyler). “‘You might have been one of Perry Mason’s spies,’ said Roseman. After thinking a moment he added, ‘Ha, ha.’” (Pynchon). “It seemed to Alice’s immediate neighbors that she muttered something like, ‘Precisely,’ but no one could be sure that she had spoken.” (Ashbery / Schuyler) . . .
* Isidore-Lucien Ducasse, the Comte de Lautréamont, of course. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay (1846), enrolled in the Lycée Louis Barthou in Pau in 1863. The “most famous Palois”: Henry IV of France (1553-1610).