SCA talk

A man making doppas in Kashgar

I’ll be giving a talk about Xinjiang to the Scotland China Association on Tuesday 9th March in Edinburgh. It will be in the library of The Friends Meeting House on Victoria Terrace (at the foot of the lane down from the Lawnmarket, at the top of the stairs down to Victoria Street). From 7-9 p.m.

Inherent Vice, Chapter 16

PLOT- Doc and Penny hook up again. The detective killed by Adrian Prussia turns out to be Bjornson’s old partner. Doc also finds a photo of Prussia in front of the Golden Fang. When he returns his office he finds Clancy Charlock and Tariq Khalil going at it on the floor. Tariq tells Doc about the arms deal Glen Charlock did with the WAMBAM. Later, Doc has a stoned conversation with Thomas Jefferson.

p. 278

When Doc needs to look at someone’s file, he says,

Ancient history, but it’s still under seal. Like till 2000?

There something disorientating about having a reference to the distant past with a projected event in the narrative future, which is actually our recent past. I’m not sure that we, as readers, can reconcile these different time periods, since one is imagined and the other is history, and maybe that’s the point. Whatever we take to be history, it isn’t a cohesive, continuous narrrative, but one of conflicting, contradictory accounts.


Further temporal distortion: when Doc and Penny are having sex, ‘for an untimably short moment Doc believed it was somehow never going to be over, though he managed not to get panicked about that.’


Further differentiation of the FBI and local cops, with the idea that the FBI are beyond the law. Then a long passage about ways of pereceiving and understanding from a supposedly addled state.

The clock up on the wall, which reminded Doc of elementary school back in San Joaquin, read some hour that it could not possibly be.

What matters here, I think, is disbelief- it is not that the situation (1970s America, or that of the present) was impossible, or even implausible, more that ‘we’ told ourselves it was. Such denial of the we-did-not-think-it -could-ever-possibly-get-this-bad variety is of course a contributory factor.

The passage continues:

Doc waited for the hands to move, but they didn’t, from which he deduced that the clock was broken and maybe had been for years.

Another interpretation would be that that time (as a index of change) has stopped. If the hands are not moving, it is thus not because the clock is broken, just that there is nothing for it to measure. This ties in with the whole idea (which I don’t have much use for) that there is a ‘crisis of historicity’.

Yet another interpretation is that it is ‘the time’ (i.e. society) which is broken. However, there is still the possibility of learning something from what seems to be broken (as there is from a paranoid supposing).

Which was groovy however because long ago Sortliege had taught him the esoteric skill of telling time from a broken clock. The first thing you had to do was light a joint… After inhaling potsmoke for a while, he glanced up at the clock, and sure enough, it showed a different time now, though this could also be from Doc having forgotten where the hands were to begin with.

Thus the means by which this knowledge is gained contaminate the answer.

p.283 Further reference to ‘ancient history’ (at least the third- the other being a reference to The Flinstones’ theme song).

p.286 In the photo of Adrian Prussia, the Golden Fang is described as ‘riding calmly at anchor in some nameless harbour, slightly out of focus as if through the veils of the next world’. This latter reference may refer to the future, and also our present.

Sauncho freaks out when he watches The Wizard of Oz on a colour TV, what is partly a stoner over-reaction, but also a commentary on the distorting effect of TV.

-the world we see Dorothy living in at the beginning of the picture is black, actually brown, and white, only she thinks she’s seeingit all in colour- the same normal everyday color we see our lives in. Then the cyclone picks her up, dumps her in Munchkin Land, and she walks out the door, and suddenly we see the brown and white shift into Technicolor. But if that’s what we see, what’s happening with Dorothy? What’s her ‘normal’ Kansas colour changing into? Huh? What very weird hypercolor?


In the previous chapter I wrote that Pynchon is rarely cynical about love. However, when Petunia says ‘Oh, Doc. Love is the only thing that will ever save us’, his only response is ‘Who?’ It is not love that is the problem- more  the notion of ‘us’- and the questions of who can we trust, and what constitutes a bond.


The commodification of resistance and murder.

I been seein these T-shirts and shit? Like Manson’s mug shots with Afros airbrushed onto them, that’s real popular.

There is thus the suggestion that these are equivalent, in their status as icons, and that this matters more than what they stand for. This is certainly true of the variations of Che Guerava seen on T-shirts.

p.293 also has a too long to type out passage of paranoia (or dead on commentary) which, after a long list of paranoid supposings, asks

And would this be multiple choice?

It is thus not necessarily a question of only one of these terrible supposings being true. That could even be the best we can hope for.


Thomas Jefferson (also appears in Mason & Dixon, p.385) speaks to Doc:

So! The Golden Fang not only traffick in Enslavement, they peddle the implements of Liberation as well.

Though this is a reference to guns, it can also be a reference to drugs- the depressing thing being that both of those, whatever their revolutionary potential, are just further commodties.

‘Non-buyers of carrots and turnips’

From left: Erik Ross, Lillian Ross, Matthew Salinger, J. D. Salinger, and Peggy Salinger, in Central Park.

The first rash of obituaries for J.D. Salinger seemed to add little to what we had known for years. That he had removed himself from the world (at least, the literary one) for decades, only emerging to defend his privacy, albeit sometimes at the cost of it. That he had been writing…  something during this time, but what this was, and whether we might dare to hope to see it, was no more certain than it had been for the last four decades.

However, now that the news cycle has moved on slightly (and perhaps also now that it is clear that this is not a hoax), people who had known Salinger are starting to come forward. Some of these are fairly minor, as one might expect from people who only had glancing, professional contact with Salinger (such as  Tim Bates, who corresponded with Salinger whilst working at Penguin, in the far distant days before he was my agent for a brief time. About this, let it merely be said that, like Salinger, I too remember him in my nightly prayers) whilst others are from people with a deeper connection, such as Lilian Ross of the New Yorker, who talks of his love for Emerson’s dictum that

“A man must have aunts and cousins, must buy carrots and turnips, must have barn and woodshed, must go to market and to the blacksmith’s shop, must saunter and sleep and be inferior and silly.” Writers, he thought, had trouble abiding by that, and he referred to Flaubert and Kafka as “two other born non-buyers of carrots and turnips.”

Ross’ piece is the first one to make me recall what I prize most in Salinger- not the talk of phonies and fakes, but the unswerving belief in innocence. What I would like to be able to call Goodness. There are whole clusters of feelings  we spend most of our adult lives avoiding, because of the risks they involve, because we lack the opportunity, or courage- these are what Salinger gives voice to. These are why it is worth reading (and re-reading) Franny & Zooey, Seymour: an introduction, and For Esme with Love and Squalor.

J. D. Salinger holding Lillian Ross’s son, Erik, and perhaps a little tiger too

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