Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chapter 21: The Fall of the Tower

In this chapter, the Chums are in Italy, shadowed by their Russian doppelganger, Padzhitnoff and the Bol’shaia Igra. Their mission is to find “The Sfinciuno Itinarary,” a mysterious map to the secret Asian Jerusalem—Shambala. The secret to interpreting such a map is the use of an an/amorphosccope or a p/amorphosccope, “devices which when placed on or otherwise near a deliberately distorted picture, and viewed from the appropriate direction, would make the image appear ‘normal’ again” (249). Here again, we think of the medal on the cover of the novel, and the whole concept of “reading a map.” Pynhcon, once again, seems to be mocking his readers’ fervent search for clarity and meaning in his texts. Once again, he seems to be working against interpretation.

Their advisor on the ground, Professor Svegli, narrates a long passage, which seems to be the concept on which the “Chums narrative” is based: “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” (250). Of course, the chums have their own human paramorphoscope—Miles Blundell.

Science Officer Chick Counterfly seems a bit mysterious again. He spends time with Renata, a woman with mysterious cigarettes, and produces a radioactive cigarette lighter, a device surely out of its time. Is Chick some kind of time-traveler? On the other hand, he seems like another sailor about to miss movement.

The chapter ends in an incident in which the tower, “The Campanile in the Piazza” is destroyed—perhaps by a torpedo from the Inconvenience, perhaps by a masonry attack (yet another Tetris joke) from the Bol’shaia Igra, or perhaps by some sort of Tesla field. Historically, the Campanile di San Marco mysteriously collapsed 14 July 1902--Bastille Day. Now we know the story behind the picture on the AGD wiki.

Immediately before the incident, Renata reads the “Tarocchi or Tarot cards” (253) for Chick. The card drawn is “number XVI, The Tower” (253).


Blogger doubledeucesurf said...

Dad, do you think this could be another link to Stephenson via SnowCrash and the Tower of Babel aspects of his story.

8:15 PM  

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