Friday, December 01, 2006

Chapter 6: The Invisible Hand

Chapter Six relates the remainder of Lew’s time in Chicago, and brings the fair to a close, ending with its abandoned buildings occupied by the homeless and hungry—certainly not the elect.

Basnight is assigned to shadow the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination would be the spark that ignited the conflagration early 20th century historians and journalists labeled the great war. In this early part of the book we are moving from World’s Fair to World War. In this narrative with the Austrian Archduke, Pynchon returns to the Balkans, which he mined in writing his first novel, V.

Basnight befriends Max Khäutsch, his counterpart in Hapsburg security, a Trabant, which is German for “satellite,” servant of a high ranking person. The Archduke is an irresponsible child, ditching his bodyguards. Basnight rescues him from a Negro bar in Chicago’s South Side. The Duke is a selfish Sod, wants to hunt big game—the American Buffalo—with his Mannlicher—a real German rifle, and one of those irresistible words Pynchon can’t resist.

The Duke also wants to rent the stockyards for some midnight fun which sounds suspiciously like a hunting expedition where the prey will be stockyard workers, detritus of the Hapsburg Empire. “‘Hungarians occupy the lowest level of brute existence’” (46) notes the Duke. With the Austrian’s version of the Negro, the gulf between the elect and the preterite and the damned is huge.

Basnight’s next assignment is shadowing anarchists, including “the traveling Anarchist preacher the Reverend Moss Gatlin” (49). After watching the Reverend, and listening to the huge crowd sing from “the Workers’ Own Songbook” (49), a song adapted from Blake’s “Jerusalem,” we see that Basnight is becoming sympathetic to the Anarchist’s cause.

Privett transfers Lew to Colorado to be “Regional Director” (51) for White City Investigations’ work against Anarchists in the West. During his final flight with the Chums, Professor Vanderjuice warns Lew that “the Western frontier we all thought we knew from song and story was no longer on the map, but gone, absorbed—a dead duck” (52). From the gondola of the Inconvenience, the group observes that the twisted labyrinth of the stockyards (think Borges) is the terminus point for the Oregon trail, that all routes narrow to this one path (think the opening scene of GR again), and that at this terminus point America is nothing but a giant killing machine. Capitalism (the reference to Kinsley’s famous Chicago steakhouse on page 56 is no accident) has managed to absorb the strange anarchist era of the old West. Instead of a True West with True Cowboys, we are left with Buffalo Bill’s Traveling Show, in all its market driven, Barnumesque splendor.

A long, brilliant chapter!


Post a Comment

<< Home