CHAPTER 8

DL takes Prairie to her secret retreat, the Sisterhood of Kunoichi Attentives. We get a brief history of the order. We meet head Ninjette Sister Rochelle. Prairie takes over the kitchen. Rochelle reveals that the SKA computer has a file on Frenesi. Prairie checks it out, and a long series of flashbacks begins. We learn that during the sixties Frenesi was a member of a radical Bay Area filmmaking collective called 24fps. A nested flashback focuses on DL: During the sixties DL was a tough (presumably lesbian) motorcycle babe who met Frenesi during a street riot. A sub-nested flashback reveals that before that, DL was an Army brat who got into martial arts, went to Japan with her dad, and met a martial arts teacher (Inoshiro Sensei) who taught her a series of secret fighting techniques called ninjitsu (the discipline of the ninja--plus certain forbidden extensions). The flashbacks dissolve gracefully back to the present, with Prairie and DL talking. Prairie asks DL about her partner Takeshi.

 

p. 107 "Sisters of Kunoichi Attentives"    This is a nice satire on Esalen-type self-realization outfits. The acronym, SKA, also refers to Jamaican pre-reggae pop music from the early sixties, like Prince Buster, and the Skatallites.

p. 107 "pepinares" = cucumbers. See also the Cucumber Lounge. Why so many cucumbers?

p. 109 "Can you cook?"    The Head Ninjette's first words to Prairie are not sexist, but a desperate plea made in hope of repairing the sisterhood's food karma, which is badly out of balance. Prairie actually does the job, largely via corny, middle-American preterite classics like spinach casserole and bologna glazed with grape jelly!

p. 111 "Cream of mushroom soup" = Universal Binding Ingredient. Great gag, maybe even a true insight (Campbell's cream of mushroom soup being the central, and not-so-secret, ingredient of the ubiquitous, and often despised, "family dish" tuna noodle casserole). All stated in Pynchonian mock-technoese.

p. 111 "memorizing the shadows"    Nice touch. Making use of the shadows is a ninja specialty -- supposedly, simulates invisibility to the rest of the world.

p. 112 "gaga little twits...lookin' for spiritual powers on the cheap. Thinking we'll take 'em through the spiritual car wash, soap away all that road dirt ... everybody hangin' around the Orange Julius next door go 'Wow!'..."   Terrific, angry description/destruction of get-wise-quick spiritual scams.

p. 113 "casseroles beginning to redline"    A clever application of racing slang (redline = engine about to blow up from revving too fast) to cooking (casserole about to burn).

p. 114 "24fps"   fps = frames per second. Motion picture film is projected at 24 frames per second. The radical filmmaking group seems to be based on a real "revolutionary film collective," sf newsreel -- right down to the lower case letters. It's also a subtle echo of Jean-Luc Godard's famous dictum that "Cinema is truth 24 times a second."

p. 114 "peripheral whiteness...of her mother's ghost..."   Lovely writing. The ensuing discussions of computer ghostliness may or may not have a bearing on the "what is a Thanatoid" question. In addition, consider Pynchon's previous connections with whiteness (see note for page 37).

p. 115 "...a sound chip playing the hook from the Everly's..."   The computer notices that Prairie is drifting, and plays the riff from "Wake Up Little Susie." Cool! Where can we buy this utility?

p. 115 Computer says, "Why good night yourself..."   This sudden, right-angle turn into whimsy is a rare false note. In a way it's a relief to know that Pynchon, like Lawrence of Arabia [1962] "isn't perfect."

p. 115 "Back down in the computer library, in storage, quiescent ones and zeros scattered among millions of others, the two women...continued on their way across the low-lit campus, persisting, recoverable..."    This gorgeous bit of writing provides a sensational transition between Prairie's computer research and the continuation of the flashback. It also leads into one of the flashiest sequences in the book (i.e., one with particularly flashy writing) -- and continues the binary metaphor initiated two chapters previous.

p. 115 "double-cross whites" = amphetamine tabs marked by a cross.

p. 116 "Tetas Y Chetas" = Probably something like "tits and ass" in Chicano slang.

p. 116 "ECO stock"    Ektachrome Commercial, a very slow (32 ASA), very fine grain 16mm film stock that was bread and butter for educational and industrial filmmakers. Experimental filmmakers liked it too; it was easy to derange, producing weird images. No longer available.

p. 116 "...she could still begin to smell them, the aftershave, the gunmetal in the sun..."   Street-scene and riot are precisely drawn. These details don't come from a Baedecker. One can't help thinking that Pynchon must have been there. This sequence is beautifully written, and highly sensual thanks to Pynchon's employment of a profusion of smells (including, as the capper, on p. 118, the smell of DL's "pussy excitation.")

p. 116 "the basic stone bowelflash..."    Another example of the visceral fear reactions Pynchon seems big on in this work. See also pages 10, 45, 207, 299.

p. 116 "Che Zed" = DL's Czech CZ motorcycle.

p. 117 "drops of separating ketchup and fat..."   Self-satire? We suspect it might be, as indicated by the concluding em-dash as Pynchon restrains himself and makes a conscious (and public) decision to end his detailed description of the flying drops and continue the narrative. ("Sorry, folks!")

p. 118 "world-class burgers, jukebox solidarity..."   Cool!

p. 120 "so it couldn't've been Kansas anymore."   This reference to The Wizard of Oz (in which Dorothy says, "I don't think this is Kansas anymore, Toto,") is especially clever given DL's not-so-distant departure from Leavenworth, Kansas. Pynchon used this currently fashionable phrase in Gravity's Rainbow as well.

p. 121 "...cutting Moody's orders for Japan..."   This Japanese episode includes a number of gentle take-offs on William Gibson, the cyberpunk novelist who borrowed a lot of his schtick from Pynchon. Gibson often writes about Japanese punks and small-time underworld types.

p. 122 "spheriphagous tulips" = ball-catchers in a pachinko game. Spheriphagous = sphere-eating.

p. 122 "You eat soba?"    soba = Japanese noodles. Noburu's first words to DL really mean, "Can you handle some Japanese identity?"

p. 122 "You buyin'?"    DL's reply is impeccably cool.

p. 122 "Shodan potential"    Shodan = a high degree, or black belt, in the martial arts.

p. 122 "Inoshiro Sensei"    DL's martial arts teacher. Probably named after Inoshiro Honda, the director of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, et al.

p. 122 "assukikaa" = Jive Japlish (like Faque French) for "ass kicker."

p. 123 "like vacationing on another planet and losing her traveler's checks."   This description of DL's puberty and adolescence is fine writing, and a telling insight.

p. 123 "the modernized crash course"    Sensei offers DL the cyberpunk version of the full martial arts program -- the technique without the spirituality.

p. 124 "on through suppertime, primetime..."   In the authoritarian world ("the truancy squad was now in her face") TV shapes even the rhythms of the day.

p. 124 "a personalized coffee mug wired permanently to his right index finger"  A precisely captured image of a Navy lifer, retired in place. Pynchon must have seen many of these in his short experience in the service.

p. 126 "kobun" = Yakuza retainer; button man; bodyguard.

p. 126 "one more view of Edo."    Sounds like a line from a famous haiku, or the title of a painting. Edo is, of course, the old name for Tokyo.

p. 126 "Yamaguchi-gumi" = one of the major Yakuza families.

p. 126 "Relax! Only testing you!"    Here Inoshiro Sensei becomes a cross between Toshiro Mifune and Mr. Natural.

p. 126 "giri" = obligation. Very important in Japanese (and particularly Yakuza) culture; note that Takeshi's musical cards are called "giri-chits."

p. 127 "original purity...subverted...once eternal techniques now only one-shot and disposable..."   Also: "This is for all the rest of us down here with the insects, the ones who don't quite get to make warrior, who...fail to get it right...this is our equalizer, our edge...because we have ancestors and descendants too..."   A moving restatement of Pynchon's concern for the preterites, as well as an excellent discourse on the difference between a samurai (the eternal purity of the warrior) and Inoshiro's version of ninjitsu (the one-shot pragmatism of the assassin, martial arts without Zen).

p. 127 "The Nosepicking of Death"    Funny list of martial moves. Gojira no Chimpira = The Gangster of Godzilla.

p. 128 "...better just hand [your body] over to those who are qualified, doctors, and lab technicians and by extension coaches, employers, boys with hardons, so forth..."   Pynchon's attitude towards authority is pretty well spelled out in DL's feminist monologue on schoolrooms.

p. 128 "She and Prairie were out taking a break..."   Fabulously smooth cross-fade out of flashbacks back to DL and Prairie talking at SKA.