The War of the Encyclopaedists: A Chapter 1 review

I recently bought a copy of War of the Encyclopaedists, so I thought, “hey, maybe I’ll read this.” So here we are, my first chapter by chapter book review. I had a rule for a while that I wouldn’t read any non-Dune novel, but I suppose this could be some kind of secret Dune novel.

I’m not sure how to format this yet so there’ll be some experimentation. Chapter 1 introduces the characters of Halifax Corderoy and Mickey Montauk, two twentysomethings (their word) reveling. Also there’s Mani, Corderoy’s girlfriend. She revels too.

The book opens in Seattle, in the party scene.

“..the twentysomethings of early-millennium Seattle were celebrating alcohol as they had done every Friday since time immemorial”

Drugs has an interesting role to play in the book it turns out. It’s Bacchanalia, I suppose, drunken revelries are hardwired into our bones, perhaps. So the immemorial comment is actually true (from a certain point of view). It’s good that drugs and history are big in this book because otherwise it would be the worst possible Dune novel.

Then we meet the Boys.

“They had no real artistic talent…”

What IS real artistic talent to these guys? The character Mani paints and draws charcoals, and judging from Halifax Corderoy’s reactions to that, it seems like that’s one of the legitimate arts.

The Boys throw wild and weird parties which include:

“and a video loop of the burning eye of Sauron.”

This drew my eye (get it?) and seems to establish at what level we’re going to reference pop culture. Baseline at the moment is fantasy novels by English professors who tried to make up a language for trees. Sauron is obviously the evil figure eclipsing everything in the book, I’m not sure if that’s tied to anything.

“They both got laid, which was reason enough”

This felt like an important thing, as important as drugs. Motivation constantly seems to be unknown to the protagonists, when it seems like the most primal of motivations are clearly stated on the first page. Drugs and Sex, the old Dionysus one two combo. I wonder if that in the search for twentysomething meaning, you accidentally fall back into the purest drivers of all.

“Corderoy was six-one (though a mere one hundred and fifty pounds, with a posture reminiscent of Gumby”

For some reason my mind immediately goes to Holden Caulfield, from Catcher in the Rye. I suspect it’s not a bad comparison. There’s an air of angst to Corderoy that I think is of a similar ancestry as Caulfield’s. Gumby, by the way, pushes us up to claymation animated character, in pop culture references.

“Take your hands out of your pockets…”

and

“‘Hands out of your pockets.’

‘Sorry. Can I just take my jacket off so I’m not tempted to do that?’

‘No.'”

This is an exchange between Corderoy and a cop. The pockets thing strikes me as so petty but I think also taps on something as old as the Bacchanalia, Bureaucracy, the original party killer. The pettiness of laws seems to be at the heart of what the twentysomethings are rebelling against perhaps, and this is just wild speculation, but the important thing here is that this avatar of the MAN is basically enforcing rules that are essentially insane. If you think I’m reading too much into it, you don’t know me at all.

Also Corderoy essentially asks himself why he agrees to take risks for Mani.

“Because you’re hot”

Sex is reason enough.

“… Braiden and Phil were pot dealers and they routinely smoked out Steph, who was flirtatious enough to get her pot for free.”

Drugs and Sex, man. The flirting got Steph drugs for free.

After the Cop Encounter, Corderoy meets a prophet, pretty old school Oedipus style.

“I’m looking out for you, man. Get rid of that girl. She’s trouble.”

“I know,” Corderoy said.

“Seriously.” He leaned in closer and spoke softer. “She’s a thief. Ditch the bitch.”

I seriously interpret this as Corderoy meeting up with an oracle. Phil, the speaker, is a pot dealer after all, rendering him as the most revered mystical figure in that universe of Seattle: the guy you know who can get you high.

“Corderoy resented that. Whatever else Mani was, she wasn’t a bitch.”

Out of curiosity, what is a bitch? In this context I mean? I suspect that it would be a woman who has a shrewish and argumentative personality.

Corderoy was convinced she was a much better person than he.

Also interesting because this is tied into her generosity. I just made a note that Corderoy thus implicitly states he is NOT generous, though he has been explicitly supporting Mani. There seems to be an inherent generosity to that, but this ties into Corderoy’s Caulfieldian blindness. Also, he does things because she’s hot and he thinks she’s also too good for him?

Later Corderoy is facing a dilemma about Mani smoking in the car which seems to end up being kind of a theme in the chapter. He decides not to think about it. Avoidance before confrontation, external confrontation and internal confrontation, seems to be a huge motivator.

Later he describes Mani:

this beautiful girl, who excited him, who was dangerous, whom he couldn’t be mad at.

I was just finding it interesting that he couldn’t be mad at her. I wonder if it’s her moral superiority (from Corderoy’s perspective) or her sexual appeal (or both maybe) that makes it impossible to get mad at her.

Corderoy turned the AC up a notch.

I immediately wondered how hot it was there because earlier he opened the windows but then I realized that he’s trying to passively minimize the smell of cigarettes.

… if not for one problem: Corderoy loved Mani-maybe…

This grabbed my eye because there appears to be an uncertainty to Corderoy’s love, and that makes sense since they’ve only dated for two months. But I find it interesting that “love” is a problem whereas sex and drugs, I assume, are the answer to all questions. What’s the meaning of life? Not 42.

Moving on there’s a section on the party.

… and the cops would shut them down for good.

I am kind of interested to see where cops come into play. The twentysomethings dive into these drunken revelries in the face of an omnipresent faceless authority that will punish them severely for doing the thing they have dedicated themselves to.

It turns out that Montauk has a problem and he should bring it up with Corderoy.

It wasn’t the right time to bring it up.

A-ha! Avoidance! Aversion to conflict. The solution? Partying.

Also the theme of the party is “conspiracy” which is great since all the major players are trapped in secret dramas they are constantly procrastinating on.

But the issue of where Mani would sleep that night went unmentioned.

See?

I also really zoomed in on this:

Did he actually love this girl enough to invite her to move in with him?

The concept of degrees of love is interesting, like what love score is the threshold for communal living?

My guess at this is: you have to love them enough to want to live with them.

Bam. It took me 34 years to figure that out.

… he avoided Montauk because he needed Montauk’s help

Seriously, all the major players are actively trying to not deal with their problems, which I suspect might be the defining trait of “millennials”.

Corderoy imagines Mani sleeping with him forever, physically pressed against him. So there’s that. She’s sexy and it’s clearly weighting the scales a lot because SEX IS REASON ENOUGH.

The only problem I think is that Corderoy doesn’t know that sex is reason enough.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter

Oh. Oh shit. That makes sense. Corderoy’s reverence of Yoda (Star Wars! Update your pop culture bingo card) ties into the reason why sex isn’t reason enough. It’s because Corderoy thinks of the base reality, the real world, as crude and that we are something higher, something purer.

So he can’t be at peace with his carnal self because that’s not what matters. The luminous being is what matters.

This is why Corderoy loved Mani:

What follows is a list. Corderoy wasn’t certain before, but is certain now. He doesn’t really have a number, but he loves her because of these traits. Corderoy’s quantum state of both being love and not being love seems really human.

Corderoy reminisced with her about the video games of his youth (Mega Man 2, Castlevania)

Two classical games with near perfect clarity of purpose. Defeat Dr. Wily, defeat Dracula. How is a person so exposed to purity of motive (as one would be from such video games) be so indecisive? No seriously, I want to know… errr… for a friend!

Corderoy can’t figure out Mani because she doesn’t fit into any of his boxes consistently. The fact that she’s Iranian ethnically makes me wonder if she’s some kind of stand in for an Eastern seductress, you know the Cleopatra type, that says things like, “To seduce a conqueror, you must give him the impression that there is always more of you to conquer.”

It was from a Cleopatra miniseries. Not as good as HBO’s Rome but I enjoyed it.

The cops arrive at some point in the party which was weird because it’s such a given, they basically are just another facet of the party scene, the extra edge of danger to give all the sex and drugs that extra oomph.

Later in the party Corderoy throws a used condom away blindly after having sex. That’s just gross. There’s probably some symbolism there but let’s just say Corderoy’s extremely inconsiderate and move on.

Corderoy eventually gets around to asking Montauk for help and he presents Corderoy with a boolean answer: marry her or dump her.

Which is obviously not the only things he can do, which is probably why Montauk adds:

‘Look, you can love her and still leave.’

He goes on to say any REAL thing will survive such an action.

If there’s anything real there, it will still be there.”

REAL love would overcome that. But we’ve established that Corderoy’s love is in fact, extant, but it seems like a fragile thing. So basically we immediately know it’s not going to work, right?

Skipping ahead there’s a line:

By an absurd and, they would later say, fateful coincidence

You see I’m really reaching for classical symbolism and Shakespearean shit, and in that lens things are interesting. If there is fate, then Corderoy and Montauk can just relax. If anything is real, it will still be there, after all. Greek tragic heroes only get in trouble when they try to defy their fate.

The two met in Rome (WHICH IS CLASSICAL AS HELL) and get high (drugs), then drink cheap Chianti (drugs). Later, Corderoy quits his job at a GameStop (which makes me wonder if I should be on the lookout for games references) and spends his time drinking cheap Chianti (drugs) and playing Everquest (POP CULTURE REFERENCE). The Everquest thing is significant I realize because Everquest is basically just another drug, albeit one that’s not in any Greek tragedies. So DRUGS!

It turns out that Corderoy has highly developed powers of willful ignorance which oddly enough would probably have saved Oedipus had he just not paid attention to things. There is a sense that Corderoy CAN affect his fate, but won’t, and in a sense gets pulled along for more fate-related shenanigans.

The last section of the chapter is on Mani who has been taking prozac (DRUGS) and dealing with a skipped period that she’s keep secret from Corderoy. It’s not a bit part of the chapter, but it is nice to get an insight into her. Mani is unhappy and drugs, the obvious answer, aren’t the answer. Neither is sex apparently. In fact sex is a potential problem because of a potential unwanted pregnancy.

It’s ok, Sex & Drugs, you can’t win them all. That’s Chapter 1. I dig it so far, it’s not really on another planet, and there aren’t any sandworms (yet), so it’s pretty weak as a Dune novel.

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