Hi, I’ve been reading War of the Encyclopaedists. I finished it last week but I’m attempting to blog each chapter. So far it’s link to Frank Herbert’s Dune series is pretty weak but I’m enjoying it so far.
I’ve had some time to think about it and I realized that all the drug use in this book is actually the strongest link to Dune so far. In fact, it’s possible that this book is some kind of prequel, but it must be like 8,000 years before the events of Dune so it seems like kind of excessive. Drugs also serve a much different purpose in War of the Encyclopaedists in that whereas the Spice Melange extends like and expands consciousness, the drugs (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, paxil) is used purposefully to reduce consciousness. It’s a daring reversal on the authors’ part.
We open Chapter 3 on Corderoy’s obvious alcoholism.
Over the next two months, Corderoy took extra tutoring shifts and drank a bottle of wine each night.
He keeps himself busy so as to not think about Mani.
I’ve developed a theory about Mani: she doesn’t exist. Seriously, in a Tyler Durden kind of way. I’ll go into that a little later.
This kept him from imagining Mani’s hypothetical futures.
Which is odd because he then imagines hypothetical futures.
She healed miraculously, say, and fell in love with her doctor–they moved to Aruba, where he became the personal physician of Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard van Oranj-Nassau, and Mani taught diving lessons.
Beatrix Wihlemina Argard van Orani-Nassau is the queen of the Netherlands. I find this significant because it’s exactly a bit of information that wikipedia is great for. I like that this book is augmented with details from wikipedia, kind of plays into the importance of wikipedia in the relationship of the Encyclopaedists.
The novel, I assume through Corderoy, continues to generate possible futures for Mani despite explicitly saying Corderoy was doing everything he could to avoid doing that. So I’m not sure what’s going on, because it seems like Corderoy is actually failing to do the thing that the book said he was doing.
Each day he thought about visiting her in the hospital. Each day he rejected the idea. Tomorrow’s hangover was punishment for failing to stamp that thought into nothingness.
There’s such a desperate level of escapism involved with Corderoy it’s actually kind of impressive. He seems capable of generating enormous amounts of angst and agony powered only by his obsessions. It actually feels really human to me.
Meanwhile Montauk is doing his thing.
One important thing though is that he thinks he saw Mani but dismisses it as seeing things.
The idea of Mani as a mirage almost is part of my theory that Mani in fact doesn’t exist.
The Mani-centric guilt plagues Montauk.
He soothed it with constant recreation.
Which is kind of interesting and shows that Montauk deals with things in a different way than Corderoy and arguably in a much healthier way because he throws a barbecue, goes kayaking, goes to see a band (Mountain Goats), and hiking. All of these activities involves a lot more socializing and physical exertion that I think Corderoy could take advantage of. I guess this might hint at the major difference between the two, the stress of Mani Guilt drives Corderoy into a spiral of self-destruction, where Montauk is driven into doing constructive things. It makes sense that Montauk remains much more grounded than Corderoy throughout the book because Montauk is literally more present in the now, even in an escapist way, than Corderoy.
Corderoy and Montauk end up avoiding each other because Corderoy finds excuses to not hang out with Montauk.
But then we come down to the part of the book that bothers me most: the Encyclopaedists (the characters) are not funny.
Chapter 1, page 1:
They had no real artistic talent but they had a knack for carrying stupid jokes to their absurd conclusions.
Now in Chapter 3, page 31:
The few times they’d spoken on the phone, the absurdist riffing that had cemented their friendship was noticeably willed.
My issue is that there’s no real examples of this absurdist riffing in the novel. Seriously, I think I’ve gone all the way to the end. The closest example is the parties they throw in the beginning but they pretty explicitly state that they’re throwing ridiculous parties to get laid so… what? My question is where are the stupid jokes and their absurd conclusions? The two characters, Corderoy and Montauk, aren’t really funny. The distinction is that the novel is funny, but not these two despite the implication that they’re funny.
Corderoy and Montauk meet at the airport, which I assume is SeaTac, and have an awkward encounter.
There’s a great example of an exchange that I’m not sure is supposed to be funny:
“Stay away from the Fens, I heard that’s where the hookers hang out.”
“Yeah? Is that where your mom’s from?
Montauk smiled in relief. “No, she just works there.”
I mean it’s not “ha ha” funny. It’s just a congenial exchange between two bros.
Oh man, then this exchange happens:
“I’m just going to school. You’re going to war. I should be seeing you off.”
“That’s what a sweetheart is for. You’re not my sweetheart, dickface.”
Seriously, this is going to really be part of my Mani discussion.
Montauk says that he can neither confirm nor deny updating the updates Encyclopaedists’ article on wikipedia. I find this interesting because ambiguity is the world these two people seem to be caught in.
So they talk some more, Corderoy leaves for Boston. Montauk goes home and finds Mani.
The chapter then cuts to the wikipedia article. Some quotes from that are pretty interesting.
See, we can write anything, since no one else cares to define us for us.
Which seems like empty bravado since they don’t seem intent on defining themselves more than just distracting themselves from themselves.
I have some ideas about the part about the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
And for nearly 250 years Britannica was the gold standard of racism, sexism, factual inaccuracies, and the bourgeois-bias.
My current theory is that this Millennial Malaise is grounded in the skepticism that both forces a recognition of the true state of the world (and how messed up it is and our complicity in it) but also strips away any of the possible mental defenses against the cognitive dissonance. How do you deal with the fact that the world is racist, sexist, and crazy without the shield of being racist, sexist or crazy?
Just my current running theory.
OK, so I’m going to discuss Mani a little.
I don’t think Mani exists. I think she is a Tyler Durden style phantom at best. I think she’s the physical manifestation of the homosexual attraction of Corderoy and Montauk, who are both too repressed to actually accept that they might be attracted to someone of the same gender.
Mani is this exotic artistic super sexy lady. Her sexiness comes up a lot. Corderoy spends a lot of time on her physical form and the reasons she loves him. But what piqued my suspicions is that when we jump to Mani’s point of view she only once describes ONE thing she loves about Corderoy:
He [Corderoy] 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.
I’m pretty sure this is the only thing she mentions EVER in the book. She doesn’t mention that he’s physically attractive or really funny or … anything really. The only thing she likes about him is ability to imagine out elaborate fictional lives of people.
Like, that seems so implausible to me. I had to ask myself what is a girl like Mani doing with Corderoy when seriously the only thing she likes about him is that he’s kind of a narcissist?
Then there’s the fact that this book is called War of the Encyclopaedists. Who are the Encyclopaedists? I define it as the characters who met in Rome years ago and became best friends. There are only two characters who did that, so who the hell is Mani?
The only way I could think of her qualifying as an Encyclopaedist is what IF SHE WAS BORN IN ROME IN THE MEETING BETWEEN THE TWO? She’s sort of the child of the minds of the Encyclopaedists. Corderoy’s mother asks about a possible romantic relationship between them and they both have a good laugh. But they never explicitly say no, right?
The fact that we have a viewpoint from her and an elaborate backstory is that I think Corderoy and Montauk have psychic powers and that Corderoy is generating her backstory with his amazing ability to imagines lives of people. Kind of a stretch, but I think I’m on to something.
On some level, they were aware that through booze and conversation, they were holding down the lid of a black trunk, about the size of a woman, which could not be locked, and which they would eventually have to leave unguarded.
Mani’s bond to them both is that she’s their repressed homosexual feelings for each other given physical form.
I think the wikipedia article on the Encyclopaedists is a red herring. I think the real medium through which they express their true feelings is Mani.
Oh, and at the airport you’ll note that Montauk is playing the role of Corderoy’s sweetheart. They try to undercut that by being casually insulting, but it’s interesting, no?
I’ll try and work on the thread more as I go along.