The War of the Encyclopaedists: A Chapter 2 review

Note: I’m enjoying the book so far. The characters annoy me but the annoyance comes from the fact that their plights resonate with me, not that they’re poorly written.

So here we are again. I’m actually on Chapter 6 right now but I’m intent on doing these in order so let’s dive into what I am still hoping is a secret Dune novel.

Montauk found the Roswell aliens, his housemates Nick and Ian, still up and playing through the final level of Halo.

Halo is an old XBox game, and I assume this means that the two are playing co-op. Montauk either knows that they’re on the final level of Halo because they (a) told him or (b) played it himself. Most likely it’s (a) since as we get to know more of Montauk he sees himself as above video games. That’s not a criticism of him as a character, just the depth of the nerd ocean he occupies.

“Did you killl that entire eightball?”

I didn’t know what an eightball is but luckily there’s Urban Dictionary. According to that it’s 3.5 grams of meth or cocaine. Judging by the characters we’ve met I’m betting it’s cocaine. I’ve known people on Capitol Hill in Seattle during this era and cocaine seemed pretty popular in some crowds. So we’re back to drugs (both in the chemical and video game sense). In fact, one of the roommates had killed the bag of cocaine and was now playing Halo. Look, guys, I’ve played Halo and one thing the first game in that series is known for is the painfully repetitive and boring campaign level design. Being coked up would, I assume, not really help with that.

So what I’m getting at is that Nick and Ian are actually probably playing multi-player Halo. No guys, I’m serious.

You should’ve come down sooner.

One roommate says that to Montauk and I like to imagine it as a double meaning about how maybe Montauk should sober up about life.

Anyway Montauk finds some of Marni’s stuff and goes to Roommate Designate “Ian”. Ian’s way into Halo though.

A plasma grenade landed near him and exploded with a flash of purple light. As the level reloaded, he swiveled his bloodshot gaze toward Montauk.

I’m a big believer in prophetic foreshadowing, so I can’t help but notice that the character bound for The War is watching a friend play a war game and callously die. The observed levels of unreality (he waits for a reload) is interesting too since I think the detachment from reality of the Big Three seems rather potent.

It turns out Marni got hit by a car (which happened between chapters).

Then Montauk does a thing where he drinks some coffee (again, drugs) and gazes at his copy of The Odyssey. Ah, Homer’s classic tale of a man’s desperate and cursed journey to return to his homeland from a distant war.

Can’t read into anything on this one guys. Sometimes a banana is just a banana. Nope. Nothing there.

But why think about that when he could be thinking about Odysseus, how careless he was to allow his men to slaughter the oxen of the Sun God. How he was doomed never to return home…

Montauk is an officer. So he’ll be leading men. And he’s going overseas for war. I JUST WISH THERE WAS SOME CONNECTION BETWEEN THIS AND THE ODYSSEY GUYS.

And really, was it all that bad an offense? It was absurdly easy to offend a god back then.

Implicitly our gods are more jaded and calloused now. I think there’s something to this, because I think on some levels at least Montauk and Corderoy view themselves as having offended a nebulous god concept. What do I mean?

They are two guys who are so dedicated to avoiding their relative fates that they bring this down from thinking about it moment to moment. Montauk can only process his situation by abstracting it to The Odyssey. The gods are offended by them and what is their offense? I would argue it’s their passivity. They see that their fates suck, but they march on, obstinately refusing to challenge their fates like the great heroes, and hating themselves because they know they’re failing to follow in footsteps they know to be better.

I mean, they’re not going to accidentally have sex with their moms (I think), so really they could put up a little fight.

But no, they surrendered without a fight and suddenly there’s no tragedy or heroism. There’s just that play about people no one read because nothing happened.

That’s my hypothesis at the moment anyway.

Later Montauk and his boy, Corderoy, are hanging out and Corderoy is tormented by the torments of a man hours out of a shitty breakup.

“Should I go?”

“I don’t know. Don’t see her if you don’t want to.”

But like some dude cursed not to see, Corderoy is cursed with an inability to parse his many and opposing desires. Montauk responds pretty evenly all considered, as a person can who is watching a crappy situation from five feet away.

When they go to the hospital they find her either asleep or drugged unconscious.

or drugged unconscious

Which is basically what I would call the first two chapters of this novel at least.

What is there to fear in consciousness? What do they flee from so desperately? It’s like watching a Jaws movie and everyone is trying as hard as they can to not get into the water. The water is being conscious.

Corderoy has feels.

feeling as if he were heading for a cliff in a car with no brakes and no one in the driver’s seat.

Kind of a situation where everyone in the car refuses to get in the driver’s seat and grandpa, the only guy who was driving and let’s everyone know that he’s so much better at driving, is dead.

Anyway, the point is Corderoy has a pathological lack of decisiveness that would force me to toss this book aside except … well, I get it. Like, been there, bro. I don’t want to hang out with Corderoy, but I see where he’s coming from.

That town, where he’s coming from, sucks. Guys, it sucks.

Like any Holden Caulfield clone, Corderoy is desperate for condemnation.

“She could have been trying to get hit. She’s super unstable.”

I mean, who is stable? Corderoy never mentioned her instability before, is he lying or is he just remembering something the book forgot? Beats me.

“I said she might have been crying.”

Corderoy demands certainty, he demands position and velocity, but Montauk refuses to really give him that. It’s interesting I suppose, I think the point is that Montauk is more comfortable with uncertainty but I think it’s still mostly that Montauk is simply  having the advantage of being an outsider.

“Let’s go to Linda’s and get some breakfast.”

Isn’t it funny how all real locations in books become fictional? By that I mean, you can go to Seattle in 10 years and you probably won’t find Linda’s. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who remembered it probably. It might have never existed. Linda’s existed by the way. I ate breakfast there. It’s pretty true that two hipsters with hangovers and guilty consciences would go there.

“You hate everything,” Montauk said.

Corderoy doesn’t dispute that, though obviously last chapter he loved Mani enough to ditch her. I think he just hates himself.

Oh yeah, there’s a lot of self-loathing here.

In fact, that’s probably tied in the refusal to look at their lives, they just despise themselves too much.

He’d taken Montauk’s affiliation with the armed forces as nothing more than a social trump to all the graphic designers and bartenders who populated the world of post-college twentysomethings…

Oh yeah, Corderoy saw Montauk’s military career as an affectation to establish himself higher in sexiness hierarchy. Which, I think in later chapters, kind of turns out to be true.

The jab at graphic designers seems a little specific. It’s as if the writers knew a graphic designer who was a super hipster… something to think about surely.

“Somebody’s thirsty,” the waitress said

I just found out that “thirst” can be an idiom for desperation. So the waitress just said, “Someone is overcome with powerful desperation.” Which, hey, it’s true. I doubt that’s the intention of the authors, but no author can predict where the languages will go. So now it’s some deep shit from a waitress.

They order whiskey because I think either the novel wants us to think that they are cool, or that the Big Two are actually cool, but I think it’s that the novel wants to beat into us that the Big Two are super into being super cool dudes, and that it kind of secretly hates them for that.

So they drink because they’re awake.

Montauk says something relevant for novels:

It’s something real. I mean, everything we do … the Encyclopaedists and all that… it’s bullshit.”

He’s talking about deployment but it really brings us back around to realness. The Big Two aren’t real artists, if Mani & Corderoy are real then ditching her won’t matter, only luminous beings are real  not this crude matter. For two guys intent on existing in a drunken stupor there’s a surprising obsession with what is real.

“You’re saying my life is bullshit,” Corderoy said.

Which is really just Corderoy saying his life is bullshit because he secretly believes that and so hears that in Montauk when Montauk is trying to speak to the emptiness of existence. It has to be a personal assault on his secret fear, not Montauk trying to struggle with something inside Montauk.

a classic rite of passage that most of his coddled generation was denied.

Montauk is still talking deployment. Note that there’s this reverence for the past, the lionization of those that come before, and the unconscious contempt of those around him. Oh, if only they had lived in the days of heroes like Nestor? They could throw really big rocks back then.

This is some serious Lord of the Rings stuff here guys. Montauk’s narrative is that the supermen of the ancient ages were purified from the corruption of modernity. Montauk is a proto-grandpa in training.

Corderoy pulls out a pack of cigarettes and they smoke because they can’t seriously not be doing drugs of one kind or another.

The viewpoint shifts to Mani who is in the hospital. She reflects that Corderoy is a coward. This is true, agrees the audience, but he’s so in to being a coward.

She imagines a better Corderoy:

Maybe he waited for hours, sitting in that chair inventing silly backstories in his head for all the hospital staff.

A fantasy that her brain can’t sustain for minutes since it’s obviously way too implausible.

He wasn’t curious about other people’s lives so much as he enjoyed letting his imagination run ahead of him, and she loved him for it.

THAT’S why she loves him? Because that sounds awful. Like serious sophistry. We wiped out the sophists years ago because they were annoying and then killed Socrates, who killed the sophists, because jesus christ was Socrates annoying.

The point is, Mani’s love for Corderoy is tied to the fact that he’s really not that in to other people’s stuff. Like, isn’t he hot? Because he doesn’t sound hot when you listen to him. Is he funny? He doesn’t seem that funny. The book promised some jokes but I guess they’re later in the chapters.

So he’s narcissistic. THAT’S hot.

Mani is on a morphine drip because what the hell. Mani definitely doesn’t want to be sober either.

And her not doing so had given Hal the opportunity to be an asshole and a coward.

Inaction is the primary action of all the players, and clearly the source of their downfall. Inaction is the sin that offends the gods, after all.

More morphine for Mani. Then she has like a pregnancy scare again. She goes off the morphine and the pain is like super crazy and it’s a great metaphor for why the Big Three are on drugs all the time. Reality hurts.

Now this is where we get at a personal theory of mine: childhood in one of the major ways define adulthood. The Big Three exist in this limbo between childhood and adulthood because they cannot cross the border to adulthood. Corderoy is a giant man boy because he can’t find a way to be a man man. Mani secretly wants a child because it would mean freedom from a life that she’s afraid is without meaning.

The idea of being pregnant pushes her into awful awful sobriety, something we haven’t seen the other Big Two do yet. It’s because, unlike everything else from their perspectives, it matters. A child is real in the Encyclopaedist sense.

Corderoy and Montauk watch Seinfeld. I’m cool with that. Though you’ll note that Seinfeld is populated by horribly narcissistic people, so perhaps there’s a template that there that molded the later generations. Maybe Seinfeld was just a vision of the future. Man, I just blew my own mind.

Corderoy has some books: Livy, Virgil, and Herodotus.

Like, that’s just too easy. Like really. It’s so easy. Virgil is a pretty funny one though.

Did you know that they met in Rome, the Fated Two? I mean Herodotus is Greek, but whatever, it’s the Classical world.

This is significant stuff. Go write an English paper on it.

Corderoy introduces Montauk to wikipedia and Montauk is pretty dismissive and they get a beer because drugs. If it’s getting repetitive I just want to say it’s not my fault. It’s the book’s.

They’re drinking PBR by the way. That’s some attention to detail. PBR is exactly what these two dudes would be drinking in 2004.

“Or ‘Hal’s video game addiction and its effect on his ignorance of geopolitical events.'”

This is Montauk’s comment to a suggestion by Corderoy. Here’s where Montauk’s snobbishness shows again, I think, in that he takes a moment to needle his friend for being lessened by video games, in response to a rather benign suggestion from Corderoy. Because clearly they’re both addicts.

Then comes some stuff they pump into a wiki on wikipedia and it’s probably the theme of the book so I’ll actually read it and pull some quotes.

the Encyclopedia is Truth, insofar as Truth exists, which it doesn’t.

and

See we can write anything, since no one else cares to define us for us.

I didn’t catch it before but this book is pretty into nihilism, and the horror or nihilism. I think it’s one of those “so brave” moments where they declare they will write anything as a challenge to the zero people reading their wiki. These two guys claim that they’ll define themselves but seriously, they’re doing everything possible to avoid looking in a mirror figuratively speaking. The problems stem, I suspect, from their lack of definition that they refuse to form.

“Huh,” Montauk said, “I feel weird.”

“Like we didn’t really exist until just now?”

Yeah, another one of those parts that clearly can’t be read into. There’s nothing in this one… or WAIT maybe we’re circling back on what’s real again. They aren’t real unless something says their real, unless the Stranger in this case, says they’re real. Reality is defined by others?

They listen to Ice Cube and Wu-Tang Clan (So we’re finally getting into music specificity). Anyone? You realize Corderoy plays Everquest all day, right? I mean it’s believable, I think the two represent a new breed of nerd, one with broader selections in the subjects of their nerddom.

The chapter ends on a metaphor about Mani in a box, struggling to get out. They both have Mani on the mind, if you will, and both obviously can’t say anything about it, so bury it under anything they can.

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