Das Kapital!

Underworld's Epilogue


Phoenix, mid-1990s

Jeff [Shay] has jobs on and off, waits on tables in a food court somewhere, and spends tremendous amounts of time with his computer. He visits a website devoted to miracles....

He enters seventeen characters and then "dot com miraculum." And the miracles come scrolling down. At dinner one night he tells us about a miracle in the Bronx. Jeff is shy about the Bronx, shy and guilty. He thinks it is part of the American gulag, a place so distant from his experience that those who've emerged can't possibly be willing to spend a moment in the room with someone like him. But here we are at the table, sharing a meal, and he tells us about a miracle that took place earlier in the decade and is still a matter of some debate, at least on the web, the net. A young girl was the victim of a terrible crime. Body found in a vacant lot amid dense debris. Identified and buried. The girl memorialized on a graffiti wall nearby. And then the miracle of the images and the subsequent crush of people and the belief and disbelief....He is shy. He feel he doesn't have the credentials to relate a tale of such intensity, all that suffering and faith and openness of emotion, transpiring in the Bronx. I tell him what better place for the study of miracles.

Myron Lounsbury


Keystroke 2--Sister Edgar in Cyberspace

There is no space or time out here, or in here, or wherever she is. There are only connections. Everything is connected, All human knowledge gathered and linked, hyperlinked, this site leading to that, this fact referenced to that, a keystroke, a mouse-click, a password--world without end, amen.

But she is in cyberspace, not heaven, and she feels the grip of systems. That is why she is so uneasy. There is a presence here, a thing implied, something vast and bright. She senses the paranoia of the web, the net. There's the perennial virus of course. Sister knows all about contaminations and the protective measures they require. This is different--it's a glow, a lustrous rushing force that seems to flow from a billion distant net nodes.

When she decides on a whim to visit the H-bomb home page, she begins to understand. Everything in your computer, the plastic, silicon and mylar, every logical operation and processing function, the memory, the hardware, the software, the ones and zeroes, the triads inside the pixels that form the on-screen image--it all culminates here.

Myron Lounsbury


Cyberspace: Sister Edgar & Language

Is cyberspace a thing within the world or is it the other way around? Which contains the other, and how can you tell for sure?

A word appears in the lunar milk of the data stream. You see it on your monitor, replacing the tower shots and airbursts, the detonations of high yield devices set on barges or dangled from balloons, replacing the comprehensive text displays that accompany the bombs. A single seraphic word. You can examine the word with a click, tracing its origins , development, earliest known use, its passages between languages, and you can summon the word in Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and Arabic, in a thousand languages and dialects living and dead, and locate literary citations, and follow the word through the tunneled underworld of its ancestral roots....

Peace.

Myron Lounsbury


South Bronx: The billboard miracle They gather....onto a traffic island in the bottmmost Bronx where the expressway arches down from the terminal market and the train yards stretch towards the narrows, all that old industrial muscle with its fretful deolation--the ramps that shoot tall weeds and the waste burner coughing toxic fumes and the old railroad bridge spanning the Harlem River, an openwork tower at either end, maybe swaying slightly in persistent wind....

[Sister Edgar and Grace] follow the crowd's stoked gaze. They stand and look. The billboard is unevenly lighted, dim in spots, several bulbs blown and unreplaced, but the central elements are clear, a vast cascade of orange juice pouring from top right into a goblet that is handheld at lower left--the perfectly formed hand of a female caucasian of the middle suburbs....And the six-ounce cans of Minute Maid arrayed across the bottom of the board, a hundred identical cans so familiar in design and color and typeface that they have personality, the convivial cuteness of little orange-and-black people....

The train....

The headlights sweep the billboard and she hears a sound from the crowd, a gasp that shoots into sobs and moans and the cry of some unnameable painful elation. A blurted sort of whoop, the holler of unstoppered belief. Because when the train lights jot the dimmest part of the billboard a face appears above the misty lake and it belongs to the murdered girl. A dozen women clutch their heads, they whoop and sob, a spirit,a godsbreath passing throught the crowd.

Esmeralda.

Myron Lounsbury


Nick Shay on an airplane, heading to Kazakhstan, 1990's

I tell Viktor there is a curious connection between weapons and waste. I don't know exactly what. He smiles and puts his feet up on the bench, something of a gargoyle squat. He says maybe one is the mystical twin of the other. He likes this idea. He says waste is the devil twin. Because waste is the secret history, the underhistory, the way archaeologists dig out the history of early cultures, every sort of boneheap and broken tool, literally from under the ground.

Myron Lounsbury


Nick Shay, Museum of the Misshapens, Kazakhstan, 1990's

{Victor Maltsev] takes us to a place he calls the Museum of the Misshapens. It is part of the Medical Institute....Viktor is a man who likes to deepen the texture of an experience. The fetuses, some of them, are preserved in Heinz pickle jars. There is the two-headed specimen. There is the single head that is twice the size of the body. There is the normal head that is located in the wrong place, perched on the right shoulder....

Viktor gives directions to a radiation clinic on the outskirts of the city, and we drive out there in a mood of some disgruntlement....

Every time he has gone to the Polygon he comes here. This is a man who is trying to merchandise nuclear explosions--using safer methods, no doubt--and he comes here to challenge himself he is not blind to the consequences. It is the victims who are blind...It is the dwarf girl who wears a T-shirt advertising a Gay and Lesbian Festival in Hamburg, Germany....It is th woman with features intact but only half a face somehow, everything fitted into a tilted arc that floats above her shoulders like the crescent moon.

She is wearing a T-shirt like the dwarf's and Viktor says this is the result of a marketing ploy gone awry. A local businessman bought ten thousand T-shirts without knowing they were leftovers from a gay celebration in Europe. Very crazy thing, Viuktor says, bringing these shirts into a place where Islam is stronger every day.

But this part of the same surreal, isn't it, that started on the forty-second floor of that Moscow tower.

Myron Lounsbury


Bronx, 1951-52, Father Paulus and Mr. Bronzini on the game of chess

Paulus sat upright in his chair, formally withdrawing, it seemd to a more objective level of discourse.

"Theories about the psychology of the game, frankly leave me cold. The game is location, situation and memory. And a need to win. The psychology is in the player, not the game. He must enjoy the company of danger. He must have a killer instinct. He must be prideful, arrogant, contemptuous and dominating. Willful in the extreme. All the sins, Albert of the noncarnal type.'

Myron Lounsbury


Bronx, 1951-52: Bronzini and family, taking a bath

Bronzini lay beaming in the massive bath, a cast-iron relic, raised on ball-and-clawfeet, only his head unsubmerged.

Salt crystals fizzed all around him.

His wife leaning against the door frame, Klara, with their two-year-old affixed to her leg, the child repeating words that daddy issued from the deeps.

"Tangerine," Albert said....

"Do you know the old painting, he said, "that shows dozens of children playing games in some town square?"

"Hundreds actually. Two hundred anyway, Bruegel. I find it unwholesome. Why?"

"It came up in conversation."

"I don't know what art history says about this painting. But I say that it's not that much different from the other famous Bruegel, armies of death marching across the landscape. The children are fat, backward, a little sinister to me. It's some kind of menace, some folly. Kinderspielen. They looked like dwarves doing something awful."

Myron Lounsbury


Bronx, 1951-52: Sister Edgar Teaching

Sister prowled the space between her desk and the blackboard, moving in a rustle of monochrome cotton, scrubbed hands flashing. She recited questions from the Baltimore Catechism and her students responded in a single crystal voice.

Matty believed in the Baltimore Catechism. It had all the questions and the answers and it had love, hate, damnation and washing other people's feet, it had whips, thorns and resurrections, it had angels, shepherds, thieves and Jews, it had hosanna in the highest....

He liked the way the response to each question repeated the question before delivering the answer.

Sister said, "What do we mean when we say that Christ will come from thence to judge the living and the dead?"

"The class replied in unison. "When we say that Christ will come from thence to judge the living and the dead, we mean that on the last day our Lord will come to judge everyone who has ever lived in this world."

Myron Lounsbury


Bronx, 1951-52: Mr. Bronzini Teaching

Bronzini stood before his class, forty-four stoical souls in general science. Most sixteen years old, a few older, even eighteen, the dopier ones, the discombobulates, left back at some point in the long alpine march to knowledge....

"We can't see the world clearly until we understand how nature is organized. We need to count, measure and test. This is the scientific method. The observation and description of phenomena. Phenomena. Things perceptible to the senses. The seasons make sense. At a certain time the cold diminishes, the days grow longer. It happens at the same time every year....The planets move in an orderly fashion. We can predict their passage across the skies. And we can admire the mathematics involved. The ellipsoid passage of the planets around the sun. Ellipse. A slightly flattened circle. Here we detect form and order, we see the laws of nature in their splendid harmony. Think of the rhythm of waves. The birth of babies...Carrying the fetus to term. Nine months. Seven pounds two ounces. We need numbers to make sense of the world. We think in numbers. We think in decades. Because we need organizing principles. Alfonse Catanzaro, yes, to make us less muddled."

A voice piped up in the back of the room.

"Call him Alan."...

"Don't call me Alfonse. Call me Alan. I want to be an actor in the movies."

Myron Lounsbury


Little Italy, Martin Scorsese, late 1940s (Mary Pat Kelly)

The young Queens immigrant found two refuges, both huge, dim, quiet buildings where miraculous dramas unfolded--Loews cinema on Second Avenue and old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street. First came the movies.

Martin Scorsese: During the first five or six years of my life, I was mainly in the movie theater. I had asthma as a child and was not able to participate in children's games or sports of any kind, so my parents took me to the movies. My brother did too. It became a place to dream, to fantasize, to feel at home.

Mr. Scorsese: I took Marty to the movies a lot. Marty was more for cowboys and Marty, the first time he saw...what's that one? My little Rosebud. "Citizen Kane," that's it. "Citizen Kane," he went crazy for that. And John Wayne. Forget about it!....

Martin Scorsese: I became enamored of the church when I was seven. We had Italian priests and Irish nuns. I went to Catholic school and the nuns taught us that this terrific thing happens; at 10:30 every morning God comes to the altar, and it's great...

My feeling about God was a good feeling. Of course there were always fears, like, if you see the face of God you're going to die, or the story about the man who tried to save the Ak and touched it, and died on the spot. We always had those fears as kids. But the sense of God was loving and great, really wonderful. Especially Jesus, the incarnation. What he did. I became an altar boy because I loved the ritual, the chance to be close to that special moment when God came down to the altar.

Myron Lounsbury


Jonas Mekas, Hudson River, August 6,1950

Took a boat up the Hudson.

On the upper deck a group of teenagers sat and sang, accompanied by two guitars. Somebody beat a bongo drum. On the lower level, downstairs, a piano played and was very crowded. People danced, drank beer and whiskey, and the piano player, and everybody was very exuberant, in shirtsleeves, the girls in swimsuits. I stood leaning against the rail, on the steps leading down, and watched them. They danced, and the dances were unfamiliar to me, American and Latin dances.

Yes, this was life. They lived--I thought. They pushed each other, and it was crowded, very crowded, and they kept excusing themselves, and they danced and hummed tunes and words I didn't know. A few pairs sat under the stairs. I don't know whether they were lovers or had just met there a few minutes before, but they were very close, the girl didn't pay any attention to the people around and was in a trance of kissing and I was an invisible observer of all this. What could I be but a voyeur. A displaced person as Voyeur. Immigrant as Voyeur. A good title for my life, right now.

Myron Lounsbury


Now that I have read much of the novel, I can definitely see a continuity and unity in it. It is not apparent right away, but there are connections that become apparent - not only with the book characters, but with what we've studied. The Bobby Thomson home run ball that Manx tries to sell becomes Nick's. Ishmael the graffitti artist in part 2 shows up again in part 4 connected to Klara Sax 's life - by way of her friend Esther. As for connections to what we've studied, I see many. The fact that Klara goes to see a viewing of Eisenstein's Potemkin is the clearest connection to the class, but others connections are how her friend Acey stays at the Chelsea Hotel for a while, and the discussion of Marilyn Monroe reminds me of the Warhol portrait of Monroe we saw earlier.

Maryellen Armour


One movie clip that stands outs in my mind is the black and white boxing scene where one fighter was being demolished by the other fighter. Our classes dislike for this scene reminded me of a similar response to Scorses seven minute film The Big Shave in which most heads of the class turned to the back of the classroom.

A few days after this clip, I read the chapter in Underworld in which Nick hits his close friend, Brian Glassic for his illustrious affiar with his wife. I imagined the two of them partaking in a similar boxing event - Nick demolishing Brian due to intense internal hostility and Brian's tired and weak demeanor.

Amy Eichenwald