The Mother Conspiracy (Gravity’s Rainbow)

Otto is earnestly explaining his views on the Mother Conspiracy. It’s not often a sympathetic girl will listen. The Mothers get together once a year, in secret, at these giant conventions, and exchange information. Recipes, games, key phrases to use on their children. “What did yours use to say when she wanted to make you feel guilty?”

“‘I’ve worked my fingers to the bone!’” sez the girl.

“Right! And she used to cook those horrible casseroles, w-with the potatoes, and onions—”

“And ham! Little pieces of ham—”

“You see, you see? That can’t be accidental! They have a contest, for Mother of the Year, breast-feeding, diaper-changing, they time them, casserole competitions, ja—then, toward the end, they actually begin to use the children. The State Prosecutor comes out on stage. ‘In a moment, Albrecht, we are going to bring your mother on. Here is a Luger, fully loaded. The State will guarantee you absolute immunity from prosecution. Do whatever you wish to do—anything at all. Good luck, my boy.’ The pistols are loaded with blanks, natürlich, but the unfortunate child does not know this. Only the mothers who get shot at qualify for the finals.

Here they bring in psychiatrists, and judges sit with stopwatches to see how quickly the children will crack. ‘Now then, Olga, wasn’t it nice of Mutti to break up your affair with that long-haired poet?’ ‘We understand your mother and you are, ah, quite close, Hermann. Remember the time she caught you masturbating into her glove? Eh?’ Hospital attendants stand by to drag the children off, drooling, screaming, having clonic convulsions. Finally there is only one Mother left on stage. They put the traditional flowered hat on her head, and hand her the orb and scepter, which in this case are a gilded pot roast and a whip, and the orchestra plays Tristan und Isolde.

From Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow.

Read an excerpt of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s psychomagical memoir at BOMB Magazine

BOMB has published an excerpt from filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s new memoir Where the Bird Sings Best. An excerpt of the excerpt:

In those good old days, Salvador Arcavi, the first of a long series of Salvadors—traditionally all his descendants had the same name—though respectful of the Holy Book, decided he was not to going to be a prisoner to its letters. Following the prophecy Jacob made to his son (“Your hand will be on the neck of your enemy. Your father’s sons will bow down to you. Judah is a young lion.”), he became a lion tamer. His way to draw nearer to God was to study those beasts and to live an itinerant life, giving performances in which his union with his animals surpassed the limits of reality and reached the miraculous. The lions jumped through flaming hoops, balanced on the tight rope, danced on their hind legs, climbed up on one another to form a pyramid, spelled out the name of a spectator by choosing wooden letters, and, the greatest test, accepted within their jaws without hurting it the head of the tamer, then dragged him through the sawdust to draw a six-pointed star.

My ancestor had a simple method for making the beasts love him: he never forced them to do anything, and he made their training into a game. Whenever they wanted to eat, he fed them, and if they decided not to eat, he did not insist. If they wanted to sleep, he let them, and if they were rutting, he let them fornicate without distraction. He adopted the rhythm of the animals with care and tenderness. He let his hair grow into a mane, he ate raw meat, and he slept naked in the cage embracing his lions.

“Fern” — Jean Toomer


from Cane

by Jean Toomer

Face flowed into her eyes. Flowed in soft cream foam and plaintive ripples, in such a way that wherever your glance may momentarily have rested, it immediately thereafter wavered in the direction of her eyes. The soft suggestion of down slightly, like the shadow of a bird’s wing might, the creamy brown color of her upper lip. Why, after noticing it, you sought her eyes, I cannot tell you. Her nose was aquiline, Semitic. If you have heard a Jewish Cantor sing, if he has touched you and made your own sorrow seem trivial when compared with his, you will know my feeling when I follow the curves of her profile, like mobile rivers, to their common delta. They were strange eyes. In this, that they sought nothing—That is, nothing that was obvious and tangible and that one could see, and they gave the impression that nothing was to be denied. When a woman seeks, you will have observed, her eyes deny. Fern’s eyes desired nothing that you could give her; there was no reason why they should withhold. Men saw her eyes and fooled themselves. Fern’s eyes said to them that she was easy. When she was young, a few men took her, but got no joy from it. And then, once done, they felt bound to her (quite unlike their hit and run with other girls), felt as though it would take them a lifetime to fulfill an obligation which they could find no name for. They became attached to her, and hungered after finding the barest trace of what she might desire. As she grew up, new men who came to town felt as almost everyone did who ever saw her: that they would not be denied. Men were everlastingly bringing her their bodies. Something inside of her got tired of them, I guess, for I am certain that for the life of her she could not tell why or how she began to turn them off. A man in fever is no trifling thing to send away. They began to leave her, baffled and ashamed, yet vowing to themselves that some day they would do some fine thing for her: send her candy  every week and not let her know whom it came from, watch out for her wedding-day and give her a magnificent something with no name on it, buy a house and deed it to her, rescue her from some unworthy fellow who had tricked her into marrying him. As you know, men are apt to idolize or fear that which they cannot understand, especially if it be a woman. She did not deny them, yet the fact was that they were denied. A sort of superstition crept into their consciousness of her being somehow above them. Being above them meant that she was not to be approached by anyone. She became a virgin. Now a virgin in a small southern town is by no means the usual thing, if you will believe me. That the sexes were made to mate is the practice of the South. Particularly, black folks were made to mate. And it is black folks whom I have been talking about thus far. What white men thought of Fern I can arrive at only by analogy. They let her alone.

Anyone, of course, could see her, could see her eyes. If you waked up the Dixie Pike most any time of day, you’d be most likely to see her resting listless-like on the railing of the porch, back propped against a post, head tilted a little forward because there was a nail in the porch post just where her head came which for some reason or other she never took the trouble to pull out. Her eyes, if it were sunset, rested idly where the sun, molten and glorious, was pouring down between the fringe of pines. Or maybe they gazed at the gray cabin on the knoll from which an evening folk-song was coming. Perhaps they followed a cow that had been turned loose to roam and feed on cotton-stalks and corn leaves. Like as not they’d settle on some vague spot above the horizon, though hardly a trace of wistfulness would come to them. If it were dusk, then they’d wait for the search-light of the evening training which you could see miles up the track before it flared across the Dixie Pike, close to her home. Whereever they looked, you’d follow them and then waver back. Like her face, the whole countryside seemed to flow into her eyes. Flowed into them with the soft listless cadence of Georgia’s South. A young Negro, once, was looking at her, spellbound, from the road. A white man passing in a buggy had to flick him with his whip if he was to get by without running him over. I first saw her on the porch. I was passing with a fellow whose crusty numbness (I was from the North and suspected of being prejudiced and stuck-up) was melting as he found me warm. I asked him who she was. “That’s Fern,” was all that I could get from him. Continue reading

A Rather Interesting Tale (From Barthelme’s The Dead Father)

It is rather an interesting tale, said the Dead Father, which I shall now tell. I had been fetched by the look of a certain maiden, a raven-haired maiden —He looked at Julie, whose hand strayed to her dark dark hair.

A raven-haired maiden of great beauty. Her name was Tulla. I sent her many presents. Little machines, mostly, a machine for stamping her name on strips of plastic, a machine for extracting staples from documents, a machine for shortening her fingernails, a machine for removing wrinkles from fabric with the aid of steam. Well, she accepted the presents, no difficulty there, but me she spurned. Now as you might imagine I am not fond of being spurned. I am not used to it. In my domains it does not happen but as ill luck would have it she lived just over the county line. Spurned is not a thing I like to be. In fact I have a positive disinclination for it. So I turned myself into a haircut —A haircutter? asked Julie. A haircut, said the Dead Father. I turned myself into a haircut and positioned myself upon the head of a member of my retinue, quite a handsome young man, younger than I, younger than I and stupider, that goes without saying, still not without a certain rude charm, bald as a bladder of lard, though, and as a consequence somewhat diffident in the presence of ladies. Using the long flowing sideburns as one would use one’s knees in guiding a horse —The horseman is still following us, Thomas noted. I wonder why.

— I sent him cantering off in the direction of the delectable Tulla, the Dead Father went on. So superior was the haircut, that is to say, me, joined together with his bumbly youngness, for which I do not blame him, that she succumbed immediately. Picture it. The first night. The touch nonesuch. At the crux I turned myself back into myself (vanishing the varlet) and we two she and I looked at each other and were content. We spent many nights together all roaratorious and filled with furious joy. I fathered upon her in those nights the poker chip, the cash register, the juice extractor, the kazoo, the rubber pretzel, the cuckoo clock, the key chain, the dime bank, the pantograph, the bubble pipe, the punching bag both light and heavy, the inkblot, the nose drop, the midget Bible, the slot-machine slug, and many other useful and humane cultural artifacts, as well as some thousands of children of the ordinary sort. I fathered as well upon her various institutions useful and humane such as the credit union, the dog pound, and parapsychology. I fathered as well various realms and territories all superior in terrain, climatology, laws and customs to this one. I overdid it but I was madly, madly in love, that is all I can say in my own defense. It was a very creative period but my darling, having mothered all this abundance uncomplainingly and without reproach, at last died of it. In my arms of course. Her last words were “enough is enough, Pappy.” I was inconsolable and, driven as if by a demon, descended into the underworld seeking to reclaim her.

I found her there, said the Dead Father, after many adventures too boring to recount. I found her there but she refused to return with me because she had already tasted the food-of-hell and grown fond of it, it’s addicting. She was watched over by eight thunders who hovered over her and brought her every eve ever more hellish delicacies, and watched over furthermore by the ugly-men-of-hell who attacked me with dreampuffs and lyreballs and sought to drive me off. But I removed my garments and threw them at the ugly-men-of-hell, garment by garment, and as each garment touched even ever-so-slightly an ugly-man-of-hell he shriveled into a gasp of steam. There was no way I could stay, there was nothing to stay for; she was theirs.

Then to purify myself, said the Dead Father, of the impurities which had seeped into me in the underworld I dived headfirst into the underground river Jelly, I washed my left eye therein and fathered the deity Poolus who governs the progress of the ricochet or what bounces off what and to what effect, and washed my right eye and fathered the deity Ripple who has the governing of the happening of side effects/unpredictable. Then I washed my nose and fathered the deity Gorno who keeps tombs warm inside and the deity Libet who does not know what to do and is thus an inspiration to us all. I was then beset by eight hundred myriads of sorrows and sorrowing away when a worm wriggled up to me as I sat hair-tearing and suggested a game of pool. A way, he said, to forget. We had, I said, no pool table. Well, he said, are you not the Dead Father? I then proceeded to father the Pool Table of Ballambangjang, fashioning the green cloth of it from the contents of an alfalfa field nearby and the legs of it from telephone poles nearby and the dark pockets of it from the mouths of the leftover ugly-men-of-hell whom I bade stand with their mouths open at the appropriate points —”

What was the worm’s name? Thomas asked.

I forget, said the Dead Father. Then, just as we were chalking our cues, the worm and I, Evil himself appeared, he-of-thegreater-magic, terrible in aspect, I don’t want to talk about it, let me say only that I realized instantly that I was on the wrong side of the Styx. However I was not lacking in wit, even in this extremity. Uncoiling my penis, then in the dejected state, I made a long cast across the river, sixty-five meters I would say, where it snagged most conveniently in the cleft of a rock on the farther shore. Thereupon I hauled myself hand-over-hand ‘midst excruciating pain as you can imagine through the raging torrent to the other bank. And with a hurrah! over my shoulder, to show my enemies that I was yet alive and kicking, I was off like a flash into the trees.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel The Dead Father.

“How to survive a household fire, 1905″ (Jason Schwartz)


From Jason Schwartz’s forthcoming novel John the Posthumous, which I am trying to write about at present.

“…the amazing, world-reversing night of Fourth of July Eve 1899″ (Pynchon’s Against the Day)

For years after, there were tales told in Colorado of the amazing, world-reversing night of Fourth of July Eve 1899. Next day’d be full of rodeos, marching bands, and dynamite explosions—but that night there was man-made lightning, horses gone crazy for miles out into the prairie, electricity flooding up through the iron of their shoes, shoes that when they finally came off and got saved to use for cowboy quoits, including important picnic tourneys from Fruita to Cheyenne Wells, why they would fly directly and stick on to the spike in the ground, or to anything else nearby made of iron or steel, that’s when they weren’t collecting souvenirs on their way through the air—gunmen’s guns came right up out of their holsters and buck knives out from under pants legs, keys to traveling ladies’ hotel rooms and office safes, miners’ tags, fencenails, hairpins, all seeking the magnetic memory of that long-ago visit. Veterans of the Rebellion fixing to march in parades were unable to get to sleep, metallic elements had so got to humming through their bloodmaps. Children who drank the milk from the dairy cows who grazed nearby were found leaning against telegraph poles listening to the traffic speeding by through the wires above their heads, or going off to work in stockbrokers’ offices where, unsymmetrically intimate with the daily flow of prices, they were able to amass fortunes before anyone noticed. .

A passage from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Against the Day.


“Exotic smoking practices around the world, of great anthropological value!” (Pynchon’s Against the Day)

Observers of the Fair had remarked how, as one moved up and down its Midway, the more European, civilized, and . . . well, frankly, white exhibits located closer to the center of the “White City” seemed to be, whereas the farther from that alabaster Metropolis one ventured, the more evident grew the signs of cultural darkness and savagery. To the boys it seemed that they were making their way through a separate, lampless world, out beyond some obscure threshold, with its own economic life, social habits, and codes, aware of itself as having little if anything to do with the official Fair. . . . As if the halflight ruling this perhaps even unmapped periphery were not a simple scarcity of streetlamps but deliberately provided in the interests of mercy, as a necessary veiling for the faces here, which held an urgency somehow too intense for the full light of day and those innocent American visitors with their Kodaks and parasols who might somehow happen across this place. Here in the shadows, the faces moving by smiled, grimaced, or stared directly at Lindsay and Miles as if somehow they knew them, as if in the boys’ long career of adventure in exotic corners of the world there had been accumulating, unknown to them, a reserve of mistranslation, offense taken, debt entered into, here being reexpressed as a strange Limbo they must negotiate their way through, expecting at any moment a “runin” with some enemy from an earlier day, before they might gain the safety of the lights in the distance.

Armed “bouncers,” drawn from the ranks of the Chicago police, patrolled the shadows restlessly. A Zulu theatrical company reenacted the massacre of British troops at Isandhlwana. Pygmies sang Christian hymns in the Pygmy dialect, Jewish klezmer ensembles filled the night with unearthly clarionet solos, Brazilian Indians allowed themselves to be swallowed by giant anacondas, only to climb out again, undigested and apparently with no discomfort to the snake. Indian swamis levitated, Chinese boxers feinted, kicked, and threw one another to and fro.

Temptation, much to Lindsay’s chagrin, lurked at every step. Pavilions here seemed almost to represent not nations of the world but Deadly Sins.   Pitchmen in their efforts at persuasion all but seized the ambulant youths by their lapels.

“Exotic smoking practices around the world, of great anthropological value!”

“Scientific exhibit here boys, latest improvements to the hypodermic syringe and its many uses!”

Here were Waziris from Waziristan exhibiting upon one another various techniques for waylaying travelers, which reckoned in that country as a major source of income. . . . Tarahumara Indians from northern Mexico crouched, apparently in total nakedness, inside lathandplaster replicas of the caves of their native Sierra Madre, pretending to eat visionproducing cacti that sent them into dramatic convulsions scarcely distinguishable from those of the common “geek” long familiar to American carnivalgoers. . . . Tungus reindeer herders stood gesturing up at a gigantic sign reading SPECIAL REINDEER SHOW, and calling out in their native tongue to the tip gathered in front, while a pair of young women in quite revealing costumes—who, being blonde and so forth, did not, actually, appear to share with the Tungus many racial characteristics—gyrated next to a very patient male reindeer, caressing him with scandalous intimacy, and accosting passersby with suggestive phrases in English, such as “Come in and learn dozens ways to have fun in Siberia!” and “See what really goes on during long winter nights!”

“This doesn’t seem,” Lindsay adrift between fascination and disbelief, “quite . . . authentic, somehow.”

An early episode from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Against the Day; here, the Chums of Chance have flown to Chicago to visit the “World’s Columbian Exposition recently opened there;” Lindsay Noseworth and Miles Blundell fearlessly go beyond “the fabled ‘White City,’ its great Ferris wheel, alabaster temples of commerce and industry, sparkling lagoons, and the thousand more such wonders, of both a scientific and an artistic nature.”