From the first page's mention of the World's Columbian Exposition, I'm thrown back to my old fascination with Henry Adams' "The Dynamo and the Virgin". Rereading it seems to be great groundwork for the discussion of the theories and forces that come into play with the Chums of Chance, et al--"physics stark mad in metaphysics" indeed:
Historians undertake to arrange sequences,--called stories, or histories,--assuming in silence a relation of cause and effect. These assumptions, hidden in the depths of dusty libraries, have been astounding, but commonly unconscious and childlike; so much so, that if any captious critic were to drag them to light, historians would probably reply, with one voice, that they had never supposed themselves required to know what they were talking about. [...]And then there is light, sound, the luminiferous Æther, and Miles' admission of "peculiar feelings" that sometimes surround him...
Satisfied that the sequence of men led to nothing and that the sequence of their society could lead no further, while the mere sequence of time was artificial, and the sequence of thought was chaos, he turned at last to the sequence of force; and thus it happened that, after ten years’ pursuit, he found himself lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new.
"...like the electricity coming on--as if I can see everything just as clear as day, how...how everything fits together, connects. It doesn't last long, though. Pretty soon I'm just back to tripping over my feet again."Then there are invocations of the great Edison vs. Tesla "war," William Blake's "Jerusalem," and my suspicion that Lew's storyline will get tangled up with Vanderjuice's out in Colorado. Merle's affinity with the Ætherists resembles Lew's inexplicable feeling for the "Anarchists"--and the fact that Pynchon uses comparisons of "church" for both perhaps alludes to what will take place further along. The tug of community on the alienated and displaced individual resonates strongly. Throw in "a keen sympathy for the invisible" and the vanishing of the American frontier, and you have a remarkable novel that pinpoints the American condition in the uncannily accurate way that Pynchon does so well. And all this in only the first 70 pages!
Meanwhile, this is what happens when Archduke Franz Ferdinand is set loose in "the heart of the vaudeville and black entertainment district" in ca. 1893 Chicago:
"What here are you looking at, you wish to steal eine...Wassermelone, perhaps?"
"Ooooo," went several folks in earshot. The insultee, a large and dangerous-looking individual, could not believe he was hearing this. His mouth began to open slowly as the Austrian prince continued--
"Something about...your...wait...deine Mutti, as you would say, your...your mamma, she plays third base for the Chicago White Stockings, nicht wahr?" as customers begin tentatively to move toward the egresses, "a quite unappealing woman, indeed she is so fat, that to get from her tits to her ass, one has to take the 'El'! Tried once to get into the Exposition, they say, no, no, lady, this is the World's Fair, not the World's Ugly!"
"Whatchyou doin, you fool, you can get y'ass killed talking like that, what are you, from England or some shit?"
"Um, Your Royal Highness? Lew murmured, "if we could just have a word--"
"It is all right! I know how to talk to these people! I have studied their culture!"