DePugh recalls a Sermon he once heard at a church-ful of German Mysticks. “It might have been a lecture in Mathematics. Hell, beneath our feet, bounded,— Heaven, above our pates, unbounded. Hell a collapsing Sphere, Heaven an expanding one. The enclosure of Punishment, the release of Salvation. Sin leading us as naturally to Hell and Compression, as doth Grace to Heaven, and Rarefaction. Thus— ”
Murmurs of,” ‘Thus’?”
“— may each point of Heaven be mapp’d, or projected, upon each point of Hell, and vice versa. And what intercepts the Projection, about mid-way (reckon’d logarithmickally) between? why, this very Earth, and our lives here upon it. We only think we occupy a solid, Brick-and-Timber City,— in Reality, we live upon a Map. Perhaps even our Lives are but representations of Truer Lives, pursued above and below, as to Philadelphia correspond both a vast Heavenly City, and a crowded niche of Hell, each element of one faithfully mirror’d in the others.”
“There are a Mason and Dixon in Hell, you mean?” inquires Ethelmer, “attempting eternally to draw a perfect Arc of Considerably Lesser Circle?”
“Impossible,” ventures the Revd. “For is Hell, by this Scheme, not a Point, without Dimension?”
“Indeed. Yet, suppose Hell to be almost a Point,” argues the doughty DePugh, already Wrangler material, “— they would then be inscribing their Line eternal, upon the inner surface of the smallest possible Spheroid that can be imagin’d, and then some.”
“More of these . . . ,” Ethelmer pretending to struggle for a Modifier that will not offend the Company, “curious Infinitesimals, Cousin.— The Masters at my Purgatory are bewitch’d by the confounded things. Epsilons, usually. Miserable little,”— Squiggling in the air, “sort of things. Eh?”
“See them often,” sighs DePugh, “this Session more than ever.”
“What puzzles me, DeP., is that if the volume of Hell may be taken as small as you like, yet the Souls therein must be ever smaller, mustn’t they,— there being, by now, easily millions”“there?”
“Aye, assuming one of the terms of Damnation be to keep just enough of one’s size and weight to feel oppressively crowded,— taking as a model the old Black Hole of Calcutta, if you like,— the Soul’s Volume must be an Epsilon one degree smaller,— a Sub-epsilon.”
“ ‘The Epsilonicks of Damnation.’ Well, well. There’s my next Sermon,” remarks Uncle Wicks.
“I observe,” Tenebræ transform’d by the pale taper-light to some beautiful Needlewoman in an old Painting, “of both of you, that your fascination with Hell is match’d only by your disregard of Heaven. Why should the Surveyors not be found there Above,”— gesturing with her Needle, a Curve-Ensemble of Embroidery Floss, of a nearly invisible gray, trailing after, in the currents rais’d by Talking, Pacing, Fanning, Approaching, Withdrawing, and whatever else there be to indoor Life,— “drifting about, chaining the endless airy Leagues, themselves approaching a condition of pure Geometry?”
“Tho’ for symmetry’s sake,” interposes DePugh, “we ought to say, ‘almost endless.’ ”
“Why,” whispers Brae, “whoever said anything had to be symmetrickal?” The Lads, puzzl’d, exchange a quick Look.”
From Ch. 49 of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon.
The passage steps outside of the story that Reverend Cherrycoke is telling—a representation of Mason and Dixon—and into the “real” time of the narrative. Map and territory, spirit and substance. This particular passage echoes a complaint in Ch. 42 that “too much out here [i.e., the “New World”]” fails to “mark the Boundaries between Reality and Representation.” Pynchon’s novel, I think, strives to measure (and break) the boundaries between reality and representation.
I picked up My Sister’s Hand in Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles mostly because I couldn’t find a stand-alone version of the novel Two Serious Ladies. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have, y’know, all of her stuff (or really most of her stuff), but I’m not really a fan of omnibus editions. My interest in Two Serious Ladies was piqued by Ben Marcus, whom I interviewed by phone earlier this month (still transcribing that one; hope to run it in January). He spoke highly of the book and includes it on his writing syllabus.
“Lud wishes to know,” Whike relays at last, “Mr. Emerson’s Cousin’s Views, upon the Structure of the World.”
“A Spheroid, the last I heard of it, Sir.”
“Ahr Ahr ahr, ’ahr ahhrr!”
“ ’And I say, ’tis Flat,’” the Jesuit smoothly translates. “Why of course, Sir, flat as you like, flat as a Funnel-Cake, flat as a Pizza, for all that,— ”
“Apologies, Sir,—” Whike all Unctuosity, “the foreign Word again, was . . . ?”
“The apology is mine,— Pizza being a Delicacy of Cheese, Bread, and Fish ubiquitous in the region ’round Mount Vesuvius. . . . In my Distraction, I have reach’d for the Word as the over-wrought Child for its Doll.”
“You are from Italy, then, sir?” inquires Ma.
“In my Youth I pass’d some profitable months there, Madam.”
“Do you recall by chance how it is they cook this ‘Pizza’? My Lads and Lasses grow weary of the same Daily Gruel and Haggis, so a Mother is ever upon the Lurk for any new Receipt.”
“Why, of course. If there be a risen Loaf about . . . ?”
Mrs. Brain reaches ’neath the Bar and comes up with a Brown Batch-Loaf, rising since Morning, which she presents to “Cousin Ambrose,” who begins to punch it out flat upon the Counter-Top. Lud, fascinated, offers to assault the Dough himself, quickly slapping it into a very thin Disk of remarkable Circularity.
“Excellent, Sir,” Maire beams, “I don’t suppose anyone has a Tomato?”
“Saw one at Darlington Fair, once,” nods Mr.”“Brain.
“No good, in that case,— eaten by now.”
“The one I saw, they might not have wanted to eat . . . ?”
Dixon, rummaging in his Surveyor’s Kit, has come up with the Bottle of Ketjap, that he now takes with him ev’rywhere. “This do?”
“That was a Torpedo, Husband.”
“That Elecktrickal Fish? Oh . . . then this thing he’s making isn’t elecktrical?”
“Tho’ there ought to be Fish, such as those styl’d by the Neopolitans, Cicinielli. . . .”
“Will Anchovy do?” Mrs. Brain indicates a Cask of West Channel ’Chovies from Devon, pickl’d in Brine.
“Capital. And Cheese?”
“That would be what’s left of the Stilton, from the Ploughman’s Lunch.”
“Very promising indeed,” Maire wringing his Hands to conceal their trembling. “Well then, let us just . . .”
By the Time what is arguably the first British Pizza is ready to come out of the Baking-Oven beside the Hearth, the Road outside has gone quiet and the Moorland dark, several Rounds have come and pass’d, and Lud is beginning to show signs of Apprehension. “At least ’tis cloudy tonight, no Moonlight’ll be getting thro’,” his Mother whispers to Mr. Emerson.”
From Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon.
Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon (incomplete)
The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy (abandoned)
Life A User’s Manual, Georges Perec (abandoned with intentions to return)
An Armful of Warm Girl, W.M. Spackman
Dockwood, Jon McNaught
The Laughing Monsters, Denis Johnson
The Trip to Echo Spring , Olivia Laing (incomplete)
An Ecology of World Literature, Alexander Beercroft (incomplete)
The Age of the Poets, Alain Badiou (incomplete)
Wittgenstein’s Nephew, Thomas Bernhard
Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor
The Habit of Being, Flannery O’Connor (incomplete)
I, Little Asylum, Emmanuelle Guattari
Matt Summell’s debut is Making Nice. Christine Schutt compares it to Barry Hannah and James Dickey. Keep meaning to dip into it. Publisher Henry Holt’s blurb:
A gut-punch of a debut about love, grief, and family; the arrival of a brilliant, infectious new voice for our age
In Matt Sumell’s blazing first book, our hero Alby flails wildly against the world around him—he punches his sister (she deserved it), “unprotectos” broads (they deserved it and liked it), gets drunk and picks fights (all deserved), defends defenseless creatures both large and small, and spews insults at children, slow drivers, old ladies, and every single surviving member of his family. In each of these stories Alby distills the anguish, the terror, the humor, and the strange grace—or lack of—he experiences in the aftermath of his mother’s death. Swirling at the center of Alby’s rage is a grief so big, so profound, it might swallow him whole. As he drinks, screws, and jokes his way through his pain and heartache, Alby’s anger, his kindness, and his capacity for good bubble up when he (and we) least expect it. Sumell delivers “a naked rendering of a heart sorting through its broken pieces to survive.*”
Making Nice is a powerful, full-steam-ahead ride that will keep you laughing even as you try to catch your breath; a new classic about love, loss, and the fine line between grappling through grief and fighting for (and with) the only family you’ve got.