Forty-Four: Shame on You for Thinking

04.18: Gravity’s Rainbow

In which, despite efforts by Them to stop us, we continue our work on Gravity’s Rainbow with a look at Book Three, episode five – the Tchitcherine episode.


Here’s an example of Kyrgyz script. When writing was first developed, a Latin alphabet was used. So “A screaming comes across the sky” would have looked like this:

Bir jini asmanda bolot

Around 1920, the Arabic alphabet was adopted. The words themselves didn’t change, but how they were written changed dramatically. Most notably, Latin is written from left to right, whereas Arabic is written from right to left. So the same sentence would look like this:

بىر جىنى اسمانادا بولوت

Finally, in the early 1930s, Russia began to impose a Cyrillic alphabet onto the Kyrgyz people. Pynchon has Tchitcherine working on this project. Once again, the words didn’t change but how they were written did:

Бир жини асманда болот

If you would like to learn more about Gödel’s Theorem, here’s a nice explanation at Scientific American. And here’s a write-up at the Guardian about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

On chess outcomes and the number of atoms in the universe:

Claude Shannon – a mathematician and cryptographer called “the father of information theory” – put the lower boundary for the possible outcomes of a game of chess to be 10120. (This is called the Shannon number.) Victor Allis, a Dutch computer scientist working in the field of artificial intelligence, put the upper bound at 5×1050. He also estimated the game-tree complexity to be at least 10123, assuming a branching factor of 35 and an average game of 80 moves.

The estimate of atoms in the known universe is often put between 4×1079 and 4×1081.

9 thoughts on “Forty-Four: Shame on You for Thinking

  1. Just to say, I love the theme song. I look forward to listening to it.

    When my kids were little, we’d listen to audiobooks of “A Series of Unfortunate Events”.
    Each one had a musical intro by a deep-voiced singer, with an accordion and a ukelele.
    Turns out it was Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields) and the author. We liked the theme songs better than the books.

    1. While I would never equate myself with Mr. Merritt (interestingly, I did create a version of his “The Book of Love” for my wife and I to dance to at our wedding), I love it when people say they love our theme song. I love it too…though I made it so obviously I’m biased.

      In Against the Day, the Chums actually sing this as a ukulele choir. I actually came up with this version so I could then record a ukulele-choir version. I haven’t gotten around to that yet (partially because I like this one so much), but I will when we start covering that book.

  2. Literary resonances: the Tchicherine/Enzian black/white brother combination echo the half-brothers in Eschenbach’s Parzival. Parzival meets a knight Feirefiz, son of his father and a Moorish queen. Rather than all black, Feirefiz is mottled with Vitiligo, piebald, like a magpie (or, presumably, like Michael Jackson without his make-up). The TV show “Northern Exposure” introduced a black character Bernard as a half-brother to Chris, the DJ.

    Also, y’all mentioned addiction as a commodity. It reminded me of the afterword of “Naked Lunch,” an essay of Wm. Burroughs called “The Algebra of Need.” Haven’t read it (or GR) since the seventies, but in my memory the two are very similar. Pynchon may have drawn on it as a source.

    1. Tim, can we share these insights on the capstone episode of this season? If so, how would you like to be credited?

      1. Sure, I’m Tim Szeliga (sell-league-uh), a weatherman in Minnesota.
        Most of what I know came from reading Mendelson in Mindful Pleasures and reading GR three times (but not lately).

        At a Natl Marijuana Day rally in Central Park, I ran into Wavy Gravy, the clown who catered Woodstock. Thus began my habit of having celebrities autograph whatever book I happen to be carrying around at the time. He signed my paperback of Gravity’s Rainbow “Wavy Gravy — TEETH.” I have no idea what that means.

        I also had Tom Wolfe sign Hugh Kenner’s “The Counterfeiters” and Garrison Keillor sign Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer.” Donald Barthelme stared me down and shamed me into buying his thirty dollar doorstop of a book.

  3. “More metal than man” is a HUGE thing in V with multiple characters (only catching this because I *just* re-read V right before discovering this podcast).


    The biggest example is V herself who gains more and more prosthetic body parts as the timeline moves forward, most notably a clockwork eyeball. Her death scene involves being “looted” / dismembered by a pack of children.
    The character Chris is thinking of, though, is “Old Godolphin” who was in the air force with Esther’s plastic surgeon and receives some primitive WWI-era reconstruction from a rival surgeon, which his face later rejects. There’s also Bongo-Shaftsbury in Stencil’s “flashbacks” who installs an electric switch on his arm to scare children, S.H.R.O.U.D. the (sentient?) crash-test-dummy (but used to test radiation exposure) who mocks Benny Profane, Fergus Mixolydian who — I’m forgetting specifics, but — turns himself into some kind of human alarm clock. There’s probably more examples.

    I really hope V eventually gets covered on this podcast, as the seeds for Gravity’s Rainbow are all over this book. In particular, the titular V is a romantic consort of Blicero/Weissman in a very long digression (narrated by Mondaugen) about colonialism in the West Africa.

    1. We will cover V at some point, yes. The intent is to cover all of his books, assuming the continued longevity of the podcast team, the internet and earth itself.

  4. I think this whole Khirgiz light episode is very intriguing. Kind of reminds me of the light weapon from Against the Day. I wonder if it might be a real phenomenon like the Brockengespenst from the previous episode? I’ll probably will never find out since this damn Tschitcherine has killed of the oral tradition…

    1. The phenomenon in AtG is a real historical event, though right now I don’t remember what it was. I’m not sure if it’s the same as the Kyrgyz light or not. Given the number of years between the two events (at least 20), I assume not.

      Thanks for listening!

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