Against Evil

“And the hard part is that she knows better, knows that beneath the high-cap scumscapes created by the corporate order and celebrated in the media, there are depths where petty fraud becomes grave and often deadly sin.”

~ Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge

Silicon Alley For the past twenty years, that’s the time we have been sheltering in this little corner of damp suburbia, I have owned and used a wonderful little petrol-engine lawnmower. It does, in all seasons, a jolly good job of keeping our patch of grass tidy, even, at times, depending on the vagaries of this island’s weather, delightful.

The small engine was designed and built by a US engineering outfit in Milwaukee, and I guess “they” have long sold off, or been declared bankrupt. Their product is clean, does not leak oil, is wonderfully sober. Through the year I probably use a mere three or four litres of unleaded, sometimes much less. I love the sound of the engine, a low purr that does remind me of old American cars, with big, friendly, low revving eight cylinders disposed in V. Yet, it is a small engine.

When I cut the grass I think of the people, in Milwaukee, who built the engine, and I praise them, and their skills, wherever they now are. The same feeling overcomes me when I read a Thomas Pynchon novel: I know that this voice is more powerful that the thousands of followers of the “pensée unique” that clogs up the web, those writers and journalists who have long given up thinking for themselves, and respecting their public.

In a Pynchon novel there are several co-centric stories, and like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Art de la Fugue, it takes several readings, indeed a lifetime of reading, to discover them. The central character is on a journey, or, better, a quest. Along his or her progress, often halted by external events of great, if hidden, significance, or smaller anecdotes whose meaning may remain obscure, evil lurks. In “Against the Day”, and now, in “Bleeding Edge”, this evil has a clear profile: the late capitalistic neo-liberal conundrum, responsible for atrocities and destructions perpetrated world-wide, in the face of God and Mankind.

One of the book’s theses is that evil well precedes its latest avatars. The story follows Maxine Tarnow’s gumshoe and sexed-up mother of two, who’s investigating that rarity, in early 2001, out of the ruins of Silicon Alley, a technology company – hashlingrz – that is successful and growing, but also engaged in obscure, and well protected, big money transactions with the Middle-East. For the technology sector has crashed, in the so-called dot com collapse of 2000. This is a pivotal moment in US history: the cranked up Y2K fallacy, the Nasdaq equity dive, and now those rumours about all things Arabic, and the rise of Bush Jnr. Maxine’s work is part funded by Igor, an ex-Spetnatz soldier-turned-entrepreneur, whose soul found its road of Damascus, when his umbrella failed to open over Chechnya.

Soon, the boss of hashlingrz, Gabriel Ice, comes into sharp focus: double or triple agent, engaged in a series of capital manipulations for the benefit of shadowy Gulf’s secret armies, and protected by equally shadowy US agencies. This is September 8, 2001 and “the market” is playing with airlines shares, fact that Maxine’s found again ex-husband and commodity trader, Horst, does not fail to notice and explain to their kids, while masked men play with Stinger missiles and sniper rifles on the roofs of New-York.

Maxine, above all caring for her two boys, Ziggy and Otis, proceeds to meet one operative, Nick Windust, mercenary in the pay of evil, assassin, presumed torturer, and well-hung enough to attract more than Maxine’s fraud examiners’ professional interest. Indeed our hero gets seduced by Mr I-don’t-do-foreplay-Windust, one evening, in the sinister flat the said Windust occupies, in an equally sinister part of the City. For this is New-York City, just before the fall.

When the outrage comes, to no-one’s real surprise, Maxine is momentarily lost, in fear for her boys. She has discovered DeepArcher, a piece of code constructed by survivors of the crash, and finds for a short while some solace in its depth, before it goes “open-source”. This virtual world is not without reminding us of that proto-metaverse: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992). So we have, at least, three stories: Maxine’s quest to uncover the truth about Mr Ice and his corporation, her infatuation for Windust – who will end up murdered by , presumably, his employers, and half eaten by wild dogs, and her reflections on 9/11 as viewed through the eyes of a true New-Yorker, who longs for the City of her childhood. Those reflections are enhanced by her travels through DeepArcher, the memories of her father, who is clear about what the Internet is, where it comes from, and where it is going: a tool – a toy? – of the Cold War, first designed to survive a nuclear blast, now magisterially transformed into instrument of manipulation and slavery, and a “chance” meeting with Windust’s once South-American wife, now strutting her stuff in US Academia.

Despite all, Maxine, who lost at some point her license of fraud examiner, manages to stay “on the honourable side of the ledger”.

As one of her friends says to her: “Guess I’m just a Yahoo! type of girl. Click in, click back out, nothing too far afield, nothing too… deep.”

One way to stay safe.

#WritersWednesday: the Secret Space, Near You

” But in the end we talked all night. Every story has a time to be told, I convinced her. Otherwise you’ll be forever a prisoner to the secret inside you.” ~ Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart 

Alone She longed to see him, to hold him as she used to. But he was no longer there, so she looked in other places. No-one can disappear forever, without trace… She tried to convince herself.

He must be somewhere, perhaps still looking after me, perhaps watching our place, smiling at me? Days after days she waited, searching, listening, expecting a sound, his footsteps, his voice. His voice: what would she have given to hear his voice?

One day she decided to go to the little town, the place of his childhood. It was a long journey. She had prepared herself, before entering the small cemetery. All soldiers there. Once they had visited, together, in the heart of an icy winter. She went to the grave.

Alone she stood. The grey stone held her gaze.

#FiveSentenceFiction: Moments

Pablo Picasso, Guernica Then she knew, soon he would have to go, to go East, and face his fate, the fate of a soldier.

Years later she would remember, his last letter from the front, the collapse, the ruins, the hunters in the streets…

Now she was smiling, for their son was there, a strong tall young man, with his father’s calm eyes, and hard fists.

He had done the pilgrimage once, to his father’s and his comrades tombs, far away, hard to find.

And he had captured the moment: when he lifted the steel helm, rusted by time, that now hung on the small wooden cross, one cross for four heroes.

#WW O m’a dit/2


O m’a dit/1

Corset RD – You say somewhere, about a man in a bar – it’s in the preface to Retour à Roissy – [Une Fille Amoureuse] a man of your age says: “Have you seen that man, in his fifties, how good he looks, I don’t understand that women are only interested in guys in their thirties.” Or something to that effect. And you did not tell him, but you thought: of course it is that type of men they are interested in. Why?

PR – I don’t know, one always looks for a father.

RD – So, one has practically always sought to make love to one’s father?

PR – Ah yes, surely, and at the same time without doing it.

RD – Without doing it? Incest exists.

PR – Oh, why not? Brothers and sisters who love each other, that must be a delight. And I read once a love story between father and daughter which impressed and troubled me, from a mediocre writer though, Claude Farrère. And you have not to have known any country doctor to ignore fathers making their daughters pregnant, it’s not that rare.

RD – You loved your father very much?

PR – I loved him much, and admired him a lot.

PR – Was he someone who kissed you, took you in his arms?

PR – Yes, of course.

RD – So there was some sensuality between you?

PR – Oh yes. He was a man who adored women, who was with women very kind and generous, not materially, for he was penniless, but the generosity of the heart and devotion! He was marvellous.

RD – He really listened to them?

PR – He was very attentive, very impassioned, very convincing. He was not handsome, short and thick, with a round head, stocky, sturdy, easily angered, a fighter. And me too incidentally, I don’t look the part, but as a child I was always fighting.

RD – You were a gang leader?

PR – Yes, I always had gangs when I was young.

RD – You ran fast?

PR – Very. I was a middle distance runner.

RD – Were you a sporting type otherwise?

PR – Only for running and a little tennis.

RD – You had a taste for competition in sport?

PR – No, not that much. To achieve a good time, that was all. Competition did not interest me. Only in the class room. If I was not first or second I went mad.

RD – And you were first?

PR – Sometime.

RD –  What religion were you brought up in?

PR – It’s a bit of a funny story. I had to be a catholic since the majority in France is catholic and it’s easier. Such was my mother’s view. My father would rather had me as a protestant. So, nothing was decided, but I was left with my father’s mum who was from Brittany, and she did not hesitate: catholic and Bretonne, she sent me to catechism, without telling anyone, for it was scandalous I was not baptised. One never admitted it, and when I came to the age of my private communion, seven year-old, she managed for me not to do it somehow. Then, at eight and then nine there had to be a solution. That was during the 1914 war [WW1]. She finally admitted I was not baptised. Scandal, horror, abomination. I was told, I had to be told since she could not show a baptism certificate, and hence could not do my first communion.  I had already confessed I don’t know how many times, had followed mass with passion, the month of Mary, I was very pious, everything one can imagine at that age, and suddenly, like a strike of lightning in a clear sky, I learned I wasn’t baptised. Do you know what it felt like? This was very funny. I was going to a college then, a state college – the town was too small to have a lycée [high school]. There were interns and sometime one sat at the interns’ s desks. I had lifted the top of one of the desks and found some beautiful writing paper, and I had stolen one sheet and an envelop. I must have committed other crimes in my long life, if none other than against love and friendship, and yet remorse is pursuing me about that sheet of paper and envelope, real remorse; and all I saw in the fact I was not baptised and I was going to be, was that my sins were going to be erased without having to confess I had stolen. And do you know why I did not want to confess? It was not for the shame of the story, not at all, but because I would be told to replace the paper and I no longer had it.

RD – What did you do with it?

PR – I can’t remember. But you have to admit it’s a weird story. Strange child’s reaction. So, I did my first communion alone, no white gown, almost in hiding (already clandestine). The same day, christening and first communion, with just my mother there, very annoyed she was, who found that very irritating, who could have done without it, and me too in a way, part from the erasure. That’ s it.

RD – So you did not admit the theft in confession?

PR – It was erased, I no longer had to say anything!

RD – You have noted the proportions that in our mind certain faults take, the disproportionate importance, the excessive remorse that peccadillos leave with us.

PR – Peccadillos yes.

RD – Why is that?

PR – Its weird, I don’t know. For me it was a serious thing. I still see the sheet of paper. It must have been light blue or grey.

RD – Was it pretty? 

PR – It was very pretty, with a doubled envelope. I have never seen any as beautiful.

RD – A man I know well tried once to explain to me how much self-control, and distance, add to the practice of eroticism according to him. For example, to decide one month ahead to  execute on such a day, on such hour, an act of debauchery, as they say, that one would in general execute only in a state of strong excitement. And thus to do it, almost inevitably, at what everyone would call a bad time. On order, and from cold.

PR – It’s the cold gaze Sade talks about. “He stared at me with the cold gaze of the true libertine.”

RD – I am not sure I was then a good pupil. I am not incapable of premeditation, but coldness is not my forte. But we were talking of writing…

PR – Yes, I had much read the minor erotic writers of the 18th century, who contrary to the 17th century ones, are extraordinarily decent in their expression. Crébillon, Les Hasards du coin du feu, it’s an exquisite piece and perfectly decent, whereas if you read Malherbe, his erotic writing is abominable in the terms. Les Priapées, it’s horrible!

RD – Ronsard’s erotic pieces are not better. I believe it’s also due to the epoch’s vocabulary which was very crude.

PR – The epoch’s vocabulary was the same in the 18th century. You find it, that vocabulary, just as crude in Casanova. It’s much cruder in Casanova than in Crébillon. It’s not that the vocabulary had changed, it’s because a concept of decency, precisely, had intervened. One can say anything, but one must say it decently. Otherwise it’s embarrassing, it’s gross, it’s vulgar. Mind you, I understand the utility of terms that are gross and vulgar, they have their value, their weight, their efficacy.

Why not the words one has placed on bugle’s soundings, the guards’s room songs, why not the limericks too, so funny and so gross? But for me, I was getting by better with decent terms.

RD – O does not like it when Sir Stephen talks about her in crude terms.

PR – No, it’s the thing that most humiliates her.

RD – But in fact she endures it, of course, as she endures the blows, the touching. She’s humiliated , but she accepts it, she seeks humiliation, so why not that one. Is it that for her, in her particular case, those words have the value, the efficacy you talked about, which is conceivable?

PR – Of course, but brutality in the terms, is another form of rape, a more subtle form.

RD – But you said it’s a humiliation; but why humiliation, it’s too much, it serves no purpose.

PR – Do you think so? O seeks destruction, and the deepest destruction is humiliation. One may kill someone, one must not humiliate her. One may execute a political enemy, but not insult him. I understand that one can execute someone when circumstances dictate, if one considers the person dangerous, to be got rid of. Kill him but don’t insult him, don’t torture him.

RD – On the other hand the death penalty does not appear to you unacceptable?

PR – No, there are things far worse than death.

RD – It’s certain, depriving someone of freedom being one of the most abominable things.

PR – Death, one always arrives there, and there are people, there are human beings for whom, alas, one can do nothing, and it is better for themselves and others, it is better if they are dead.

RD – So do you think that society should and can protect itself, precisely, by eliminating certain individuals?

PR – Without doubt, but one should not give oneself a good conscience for it.

RD – Well, now, one would rather give oneself a good conscience by not doing it.

PR – Let’s say that one does it when one cannot do otherwise. It’s a sad necessity, but one should not imagine it is justice, that is not true. It is obeisance, how to say that, to a need for self-protection, a reflex of self-defence, but one should not believe that is being fair. Justice, I don’t believe that exists. And yet it a thing I most believed in, that seemed to me essential. I foolishly believed, for a long time, in liberty and justice, I mean the possibility of liberty and justice. And I still feel injustice as a terrible thing. [Dominique Aury witnessed the horrors of the occupation of France, and then, at the Libération, the summary executions of collaborators, women shaven and paraded in the streets]

RD – When one is punished, when one punishes a child unjustly, it is atrocious, the child may not easily recover from it.

O PR – I remember bearing a deep grudge against my mother for punishing me once when I lied to her. I had lied to protect her young maid who dated a “fiancé”, as she told me: “Please don’t tell Madame”, and I said no, I would not tell. But that wrench told my mother I don’t know what tale, and my mother said: “You see, you lied to me, you said you were there and you weren’t.” I did not say anything, I let myself be punished with such a violent feeling of injustice and despair that I ran away to drown myself. It was near the sea, on holiday. I never had the courage for a whole hour to get in the water. I went back home. I never forgot. You know, in the English education system, of old, there was almost a rule: if a child was punished – probably beaten – for a fault he did not commit, and one realised it. He was told that he had only to bear the injustice and the blows without complaint, that was the way to learn about life. So, I was learning.

RD – Did you feel a desire of revenge towards the maid?

PR – Not even. Since I promised to her not to say anything, I said nothing. She did, well, she spoke. What appeared dreadful to me was that my mother believed her rather than me.

RD – Your mother did not trust you.

PR – No.

RD – It’s very important for you that you are trusted?

PR – Yes, even when I don’t deserve it. I try though to deserve it.

RD – What is it in life that brings most pain, in your view? Injustice?

PR – Oh no! One gets used to injustice. No. But being separated from those one loves. One is in hell. I am not sure there is paradise, but I know there is hell. It’s separation.

RD – Have you been often separated from people you loved?

PR – For a very long time, yes, very often, and many times.

RD – You seem to be loyal to your word, your friends, your commitments.

PR – I don’t know. I try.

RD –  But you don’t appear to have a concept of loyalty in love, of loving loyalty.

PR – No, this sounds absurd to me. I have been faithful to people I loved, never slept with another person when I was in love with someone. Sadly, by the way, I would have liked to have slept with someone else sometime, very often it happened to me to desire that and not do it because I had promised not to do it. It’s absurd to promise obeisance and loyalty.

RD – You never promised?

PR – Sometime. And kept my promise. But if I have been loyal, I am afraid I was never obedient.

RD – Yet for you, obedience is a beautiful thing.

PR – Yes, it is a beautiful thing.

RD – You praise its advantages in some cases, but not for you.

PR – No, I am not obedient.

RD – Do you like being obeyed?

PR – Not much. No, but I would be very obedient if I was in a military unit. Something entirely ridicule, that you don’t seem to appreciate, and it is very amusing you don’t see it, since for me it is evident, is that I suffer from a vexed military vocation. I like accepted discipline, the firm timetable, the chores. If I received an order in a unit, for example during the war, when I had something to do, when someone in the network told me to do it, I strictly complied. Meeting at such and such time, I was always there. [Dominique Aury joined the Résistance in 1942].

RD – The taste for uniform, is apparent in the way you dress.

PR – It makes life simpler.

RD – It is handing over one’s fate to other hands, as one hands over too heavy a load. It’s Lawrence [of Arabia] coming back as simple soldier in the army. A general once told me: “I have chosen to be a soldier, and obey, to be free.” But isn’ it a bit of a contradiction, your uniform, with the one you make O wear?

PR – Naturally.

RD – But clothing is very important in O’s story. Every detail of the clothes is chosen for its erotic value.

PR – Any garment can be erotic. The vast dominoes of masked balls, as much as the peplums with wet folds of antiquity. But there is a classical outfit (corset, suspenders, garters and black stockings), that is very troubling to wear. It’s a phantasm I no doubt share with many women. In the great erotic uniforms, there are also for me the 18th century dresses, with a long bust. If I was able to describe with so many details O’s outfits, it’s because I once studied the history of garments… I was fascinated by those long  corseted dresses that pull up the breasts. Those skirts that prove that one can wear them without any underwear. The nuns at the convent where my mother studied, an order founded in the 18th century, wore that kind of garment, wide skirts, underskirts, nothing underneath, and when they climbed a staircase to higher floors, their little pupils were watching at the bottom to see the white naked thighs, and were laughing secretly. This scandalised my mother forever. The verb to truss was invented for those skirts…

RD – And it is also a most troubling word. But O’s uniform…

PR – O’s uniform is a sign of acknowledgement, as is the way she dresses. If you want, in this story of acknowledgement and of uniform, there is part of romanticism of the secrete society. But it is a masculine thing generally. It’s men who create secrete societies and I have long dreamed of those. So, during the war, the resistance networks, it was perfect.

RD – You belonged there.

PR – It was ideal. Moreover one risked something.

RD – Moreover you risked your life. Was that something that pleased you?

PR – That pleased me, yes, very much so.

RD – But it was with the goal to stop something.

PR – Ah, that was to have these people go. [The German occupier]

RD – You did not like them? 

PR –  It’s not that I did not like them. No, I did not like them, that’s understood, but they had no business here. They only had to go back home. It’s the Go Home principle, all simple. For example I am a passionate anglophile; not anglophile, anglomaniac. But if the English came over as occupiers, I would have only one idea, to kick them out. [Dominique spells out the position of many French right-wing nationalists, unless they were convinced fascists, who opted for résistance to the German occupation]


#AtoZChallenge: April 30, 2013 ~ Zero



Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” Model 21 takes off from the aircraft carrier Akagi, to attack Pearl Harbor.

Well, this is the last post of this series, and I have succeeded in keeping slightly ahead of myself for the whole Challenge!

This last post is about aircrafts and engineering, and bravery.

The “Zero” was one of the finest fighters of WWII. It was the Mitsubishi A6M (Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter) in service in the Japanese Imperial Navy from 1940 to 1944.  In the early operations of the Pacific War it was considered as the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world, and gained a legendary reputation as a dogfighter, achieving a kill ratio of 12 to 1.  After 1942 US industrial might and engineering skills more than offset this advantage, with more powerful engines, better weaponry and manoeuvrability approaching the Zero.  War accelerates everything, technical progress, and the destruction of man.

#AtoZChallenge: April 24, 2013 ~ Uranium

Trinity You are the most fatal chemical element found on earth, only preceded by plutonium, the byproduct (“waste”) of nuclear reactors.  In nature you are mostly the stable isotope Uranium-238, but your brother, Uranium-235, is much sought after by the sorcerers of nuclear fission since it “only” requires low-energy neutrons to trigger the chain reaction.

Nuclear Fission was discovered in 1938, on the threshold of WWII, by German scientists.  The discovery was one of the outcomes of a series of  findings, both experimental (observations and measurements of interactions of sub-atomic particles) and theoretical (Quantum Mechanics), in nuclear physics, particularly the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick in 1932.  Artificial fission, as opposed to natural radioactive decay, and as obtained in nuclear reactors, or in nuclear explosives (atomic bombs), is the result of the bombardment of heavy elements by neutrons, which “transmute” the target element releasing enormous energy (E=mc2).  The physics of fission is relatively “simple” and well understood by physicists, but the control and engineering of its applications far more complicated.  Following the discovery of fission, fear that Nazi Germany could develop an atomic bomb prompted the Allies (USA, Canada and Britain) to launch their own program: the Manhattan project, led by Major General Leslie Groves, scientific Director J. Robert Oppenheimer (“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”).  Finally bombs were built, tested, and dropped on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at the very end of the WWII.

Later research led to the thermonuclear bomb (the “H” bomb), which is an application of nuclear fission and fusion of light elements (such as deuterium), triggered by a plutonium bomb.

In 1983, thirty years after the development of the extension of Quantum Mechanics named  Quantum Electrodynamics, Richard Feynman declared:

We physicists are always checking to see if there is something the matter with the theory.  That’s the game, because if there is something the matter, it’s interesting!  But so far, we have found nothing wrong with the theory of quantum electrodynamics.  It is, therefore, I would say. The jewel of our physics – our proudest possession.”

Oak Ridge

Shift change at the Y-12 uranium enrichment facility at Oak Ridge. By May 1945, 82,000 people were employed at the Clinton Engineer Works.

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

#FiveSentenceFiction: Abandoned

 It was night and it was winter, but I wanted to see the place, our place, once again.

So, alone, I followed the long road, lined with so many memories of you, of us, of time past, of dreams lost.

I found the old house, the air was frosty, there was no sound as I open the door, no ghost to welcome me.

I looked up, and through the mists of time I tried to see you, as you came down those stairs, a last time, so beautiful you were, and how close the war was to us then…

But I only see the ruins, the faded colours, and the faded halo of the gas light: there are replacing the street lamps in Berlin.


#FiveSentenceFiction: Purple

MemorialIn the dead of night I think of you.

The scenery often changes: from the sands of the desert to the snows on the high mountains peaks.

Often the shapes change too, and the sky from time to time: courage knows no colour, courage knows no gender, courage is simple.

Soon is your graduation, my son.

Purple hearts…