Exasperatingly Endless

This footnote has a number of words with the same letter next to or in close proximity to each other. Here is the footnote arranged to emphasize those. Perhaps it will spark some thoughts on solving a code that will get us somewhere in this exasperatingly endless search.


Is This the Original Cover to the Night Palisades?

Karen Royer (@ArundelainDumar) stumbled onto this book cover image on a single Czech website that has since been deleted. Using Archive.org, a copy of the page (with the image missing) shows that the image was posted on 11/21/2013 – just a few weeks after the release of “S”. You can see Google’s cached copy of the image by doing a google image search for “Night palisades – V.M. Straka – 1934”.

What it Means to Follow the Monkey


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Here is a beginning framework of what it means to follow the monkey.

It is only that. A framework. A beginning. An armature. We still need to work together to solve the remaining mysteries of S. It is my hope that an explanation of this armature helps us do just that.

To orient ourselves, here are a few previous blog posts that help set the stage.

It would also help before we continue to make sure we all understand the basics of  cybernetics (from the Greek word kybernetes, which means steersman or governor)along with its most basic concept: the feedback loop. The best summary on this subject I have seen is from a Wired Magazine article that says…

A feedback loop involves four distinct stages. First comes the data: A behavior must be measured, captured, and stored. This is the evidence stage. Second, the information must be relayed to the individual, not in the raw-data form in which it was captured but in a context that makes it emotionally resonant. This is the relevance stage. But even compelling information is useless if we don’t know what to make of it, so we need a third stage: consequence. The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead. And finally, the fourth stage: action. There must be a clear moment when the individual can recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act. Then that action is measured, and the feedback loop can run once more, every action stimulating new behaviors that inch us closer to our goals.

In summary, a feedback loop’s four stages explained in a way that are contextualized for S are

  1. An individual gathers new information.
  2. The irrelevancies of that data are stripped away and what matters is emotionally conveyed to the individual for rumination.
  3. Insights – creative leaps (as the author of Godel, Escher, Back would call them) – from the new information drive the individual to continue to write his/her  story with the new paths of choice that are illuminated.
  4. The individual selects one path of illumination, recalibrating his/her behavior accordingly. Then the feedback loop repeats.

Communications between two people always include feedback loops. The act of writing creates a feedback loop between author and reader. What we witness in the marginalia of Eric and Jen’s writing is a concrete example of cybernetics at play: continuous feedback as both Eric and Jen learn more about each other and about themselves with each new message between them.

There is a very special kind of feedback loop, though, that does something more that just illuminate paths that might be taken in the future. Sometimes information introduced to an individual – a new truth – forces what we call an epistemological crisis. An epistemological crisis occurs when new information – a new truth – arrives in the feedback loop that challenges everything we already thought we believed to be true, forcing us to rewrite our former story with a new schema.

Most of us who watched Sixth Sense experienced an epistemological crisis. We watched a story unfold and began forming a framework of understanding that story. And then, at the climax, we were presented with a truth that forced us to completely rewrite our understanding of the story we had just witnessed. All the events of the story were exactly the same, but their meaning changed entirely. It was a true Ship of Theseus moment. We had to ask ourselves, is it the same story, even though I just had to replace most if not all the parts of how I built the story in my head with completely new parts that integrated the new truth?

Probably the first story to every penetrate the modern psyche with the idea of epistemological crisis was Hamlet (which has many references in S), by William Shakespeare. As Alisdair MacIntyre explains in Crisis, Narrative, and Science, Hamlet is searching for a true and intelligible narrative that explains the death of his father, but he is overwhelmed with too many possible schematics that can explain it. He then embarks on a quest for the truth. MacIntyre goes on to explain…

When an epistemological crisis is resolved, it is by the construction of a new narrative which enables the agent to understand both how he or she could intelligibly have held his or her original beliefs and how he or she could have been so drastically misled by them. The narrative in terms of which he or she at first understood and ordered experiences is itself made into the subject of an enlarged narrative. The agent has to come to understand how the criteria of truth and understanding must be reformulated. He has to become epis- temologically self-conscious and at a certain point he may have to come to acknowledge two conclusions: The first is that his new forms of understanding may themselves in turn come to be put in question at any time; the second is that, because in such crises the criteria of truth, intelligibility, and rationality may always themselves be put in question – as they are in Hamlet – we are never in a position to claim that now we possess the truth or now we are fully rational. The most we can claim is that this is the best account which anyone has been able to give so far, and that our beliefs about what the marks of a “best account so far” are will themselves change in what are at present unpredictable ways

With all of this in mind, I believe that to follow the monkey is to embark on a journey as readers to identify the feedback loops that lead to epistemological crisis – to discover the new truths that cause us to rewrite our current understanding of S – until, after multiple iterations, we arrive at the best possible account – a true and intelligible narrative. Our Ship of Theseus is undergoing continual changes, sometimes with complete destruction and reconstruction, as we do our best to form the ship that S sees through the spyglass at the end. This is evident to us as S himself witnesses the ship undergo its changes, construction, and deconstruction. It’s also bared before us as S sits down in The Lady‘s cabin to read The Book of S and struggles to understand why it contains schematics for the ship’s construction along with a catalog of its changes.

The changes S’s ship endures are the changes our understanding of S goes through with each new truth we discover. Our schematics for explaining the story are continually changing.

Below is a catalog of the appearances of our monkey and a likely incomplete ilustration of how feedback loops and epistemological crises are hidden before us in plain sight to keep us following. (Keep in mind, all forms of communication between two people involve feedback loops).

The monkey spots S as he walks by the organ grinder and tone-deaf immigrant (8-9)

  • The tone-deaf immigrant and barrel organ owner struggle to communicate through their language barrier.
  • The barrel organs are ground – organ grinding – turning loops to make sounds.
  • The immigrant hides a truth about the money in the monkey’s pocket that will rewrite his peaceful escape.
  • The barrel organ owner hides a truth about which stack of money is more valuable.
  • The barrel organ owner suspects the truth about the immigrant holding out on him and that he intends to attack the immigrant later to determine the truth that the immigrant is hiding. All of this leads to S seeing the monkey later as he passes out.
  • In Fn2, p8, FXC reveals the truth about the note pinned to the monkey that accepted Straka’s award from Bouchard. This new truth requires rewriting the story of what everyone else thought happened before FXC’s reveal.
  • The marginalia reveals Jen and Eric attempting to determine the truth about Bouchard and the S organization. The truths are elusive.
  • This first time that we see the monkey, he is in a room full of barrel organs. The last time we see the monkey, he is releasing wine from barrels back to the earth.

S spots the monkey as he is about to pass out after being drugged and says Run, monkey. Run. (24-25)

  • S is obducted while attempting to communicate with Sola and arrive at truths that will help him successfully construct the narrative of his life – his identity.
  • Two life-long pursuits are born in S: Sola and The Archer’s Tales.
  • The Archer’s Tales – an archer uses literal feedback loops (the bull’s-eye target) to readjust his aim with the feedback he receives from the previous shot.
  • The drug makes it impossible for S to understand communications.
  • In the pocket of the monkey’s tattered red coat is money (truth) that would serve as a feedback loop to the suspicions of the barrel organ owner. The barrel organ owner’s sons are chasing the feedback they need, and S encourages the monkey to keep running. We, the readers, are chasing feedback to help us understand S. But that monkey is running ahead of us, with S’s encouragement, and therein lies the game we are all playing right now.

The monkey is rescued from the ghost ship and come’s aboard the xebec (54-56).

  • The feedback loop we long to know – is this the same monkey?
  • Maelstrom mentions the monkey. Maelstrom’s name means mill stream. A mill stream is a special diversion of water to drive a waterwheel – loops of water. Maelstrom once says that all I means t’ steer the ship. The word cybernetics means, literally, the one who steers.
  • S undergoes a brief epistemological crisis. He thinks the monkey is a baby for a moment, his heart sinking, and then he looks closer and realizes the truth.
  • Eric’s pencilled marginalia suggests the monkey is an iteration of S. To iterate is to repeat. A loop.
  • The insert in these pages is a telegram from Straka to Karst & Sons with new information – a feedback loop to the publishers. FXC is to take over henceforth as translator. Fn6, p55 references a Spider Prince and the marginalia has a drawn spider web. Spiders create their webs with loops.

The monkey flees the approaching waterspouts and goes down the hatch (62).

  • S’s vision of the waterspouts has a mysterious feedback loop (that we don’t yet understand) to Sola in the tavern drinking her drink. In the present, the monkey runs “down the hatch” – is this a deliberate connection?
  • The ship is destroyed by the waterspouts, but S survives. Here we have a metaphor for our schema of understanding being destroyed and later reconstructed after we undergo new experiences.
  • In the marginalia – Eric’s uncle doesn’t know the truth of why Eric backed out of the trip on the boat.
  • Jen writes that she knew something Eric said earlier here wasn’t the whole story. So it needs to be rewritten.

S spots the monkey on the resurrected xebec after his leap from the cave (200-201).

  • S undergoes a much larger epistemological crisis the moment he sees the ship: how is the ship all put back together? So soon? But it’s different now, but still the same ship.
  • S started in the water after leaving the ship and emerged in B__. Now he leaps from the cave and returns to water, where he once again finds the ship – one large loop.
  • The monkey is swinging loops in the halyard.
  • The postcard insert here presents us with a feedback loop inducing another important epistemological crisis: Not only is FXC alive – but Eric FOUND HER. FXC will give many new insights (feedback loops) to S to aid him in the story. Her words, her letters, and eventually her personal copy of the alternate ending to “S” that help Eric and Jen rewrite their narrative tha they are piecing together about FXC and Straka, about S and Sola.

S hears the monkey laugh after Maelstrom explains to S that he will willingly return from El H__ after he disembarks (219-220)

  • There is a feedback loop and epistemological crisis symbolized in S’s round trip to El H__. Before he leaves, he cannot possibly imagine returning, but Maelstrom explains that he will and you’ll be ‘hap to. It turns out to be true, but only after S experiences what he does in El H__ and sees why.
  • In Fn6, p219, a new truth (reinforced by Eric’s notes) explains confusion caused in Straka’s communications.
  • Maelstrom takes S’s nail, telling him not to deface the ship. S insists that the truth of the story about the nail and his carving is not defacing.
  • S struggles to rewrite the story of what is going on with his life when Maelstrom informs him that Vevoda “cogs yer venin.” This new truth is disturbing to S.
  • Jen secures a meeting with Ilsa but is concerned that she won’t understand the truth.
  • In the marginalia we witness several discussions of nended truth: what happened in Havana and when MacInnes left S.

The monkey runs circles around the female sailor (266-267)

  • S and the woman struggle to communicate.
  • The woman and the monkey struggle to communicate.
  • The monkey is running around the pouting sailor in loops.
  • S seeks Maelstrom: the one who speaks, the one whose name evokes thoughts of looping water, and who steers the ship (cybernetics).
  • We have an epistemological crisis in understanding whether or not the pouting sailor is also The Lady of Obsidian Island? And if she is, how?

The monkey is sitting on top of a barrel in the middle of the deck tossing pieces of ship biscuit into the wind. (272)

  • A barrel is made up of wooden loops formed by a cooper. Corbeau’s father was a cooper (123).
  • The crew is struggling understand Maelstrom’s communications. They pause, waiting to be sure they heard correctly. After the feedback loop is complete, they change their plans and head for Obsidian Island.
  • Whistles operate on the principle of feedback loops to create sound.
  • Lewis Looper is mentioned in the Fn on p270 as al this happens.
  • In the marginalia, we witness the very first mention of Eric/Jen having met in person. A brand new feedback loop is introduced.
  • Jen mentions a specific feedback loop that creates one of her own epistemological crises: she runs into her old college roommate and discovers that she was much more like her than she thought, but Jacob distracted her from noticing.

The monkey is sitting on top of the ghost-ship boy as S becomes part o’ the tradition. (297)

  • We see a crystal clear feedback loop and epistemological crisis for many. Maelstrom and his crew have one when they find S down in the orlop writing.“‘Ah, hell,’ Maelstrom seems to be saying, ‘it dint ness t’go li’ this.’ But now it does.” New information rewrites the story. S once hated the idea of even thinking of becoming on of the crew, and now he finds himself becoming one. Everything rewritten.
  • S’s lips are sewn together with loops of black thread.
  • The pouting sailor who was the one in the last monkey sighting with the mop, and may very well be The Lady of Obsidian Island, provides the fishhook with a snarl to Maelstrom, who sews S’s lips.
  • In the marginalia we find several small instances of feedback loops.

The monkey shrieks as Vevoda’s planes make the first actual entrance into the apparently hidden world of the ship at sea. (338)

  • Now that Vevoda’s planes have penetrated where ships like us were formered safe, the direction of the story must change. S gets his wish to go to The Territory after all.
  • Jen finds out her sister and Jacob are the reason Mom and Dad are coming for a visit. This new information enrages her.

On his way to assassinate the governor, S dreams that he is paddling in the stern of a steel canoe. In the bow, with a monkey on her back, is Sola. (341)

  • S struggles to communicate with Anca and Waqar.
  • S is in the middle of a loop between leaving the ship to find the Governor (cybernetics), realizing who the Governor is, and returning to the ship to find it destroyed.
  • Eric circles Nemec and writes discrepancy with original manuscript. This new information changes the story that Straka wrote. FXC changed the original to Nemec to reflect the new truth of who the traitor actually was.

Anca tells S to follow the monkey to find the governor, which turns out to be a symbol carved into a tree that leads him to the path. As S contemplates what it means to follow the monkey, he remarks to himself, Of course there is a monkey. There is always a monkey. Near the end of the path, S hears a howler monkey cry out in the distance. (352-353)

  • S, upon hearing birdsong that seems out of place, loops back through the thought of his friends when he catalogs the sounds (a Merlin, an Oystercatcher, a Raven, and a Magpie Tanager).
  • The monkey leads S to the biggest epistemological crisis of his life: the governor is Pfeifer. S has gone from the man who would risk his life to save Pfeifer to the man who would choose to end his life. Who S thought he was change in this loop from cave to hilltop. As he runs to escape the rifle of the guard, a magpie dies from a bullet wound. This and the destruction of the ship force S to rewrite his own narrative – he is who he is because of his actions, not because of his past that he does not remember. A man is no more and no less than the story of his passion and deeds (see insert on page 361).

When S is finally with Sola after his solace in the Winter City, he returns to the ship with her. There he finds the monkey, which seems much older now, curled up asleep. It awakens and makes a noise before returning to sleep. (401)

  • S completes the loop between the ship’s destruction, his time in the Winter City, and returning with Sola.
  • The ship is reconstructed. The monkey still alive. We don’t know yet but Maelstrom’s spyglass is underneath the blanket where S sees him sleep.
  • Jen completes the feedback loop with Jacob over his “betrayal” in involving her sister/parents.
  • Another Santorini man occurs, changing the story of whether the S is still active and the enemy is still in pursuit.

In the climax, the monkey is darting among the wine barrels, pulling out the bungs and draining the black wine. (452-454)

  • The feedback loop of the wine being “recycled” – settled.
  • S has a positive epistemological crisis with a feedback loop. After he feels the voices in his head go silent and settled when the wine in the barrels is released back into the earth and recycled, he no longer wishes to destroy his enemy. He rewrites the ending.
  • We hear the squeal of feedback from Edvar Vevoda VI’s microphone as he is apparently shot and dies on stage – while presenting truth to the crowd in an unscripted speech. Draw near, gentlemen, draw near, do not miss any of these words for this is Truth and it is a miraculous thing (445).
  • This is where FXC takes over with her version of the ending – where she rewrites the narrative based on her perceived truth. Jen says on p455 See. This whole final sequence was hers. From the monkey’s appearance on.
  • In the marginalia, there are discussions about the temperature of the apartment in Prague. They mention how cold it is, which hearkens back to page 447 when they talk about the thermostat – one of the most basic cybernetic systems with a feedback loop.
  • In the marginalia, we are presented with the unfinished narrative of what happened at the planetarium before Jen and Eric left the country for Prague.

S envisions how he will obtain Maelstrom’s spyglass from its hiding place in the chart room – under the blankets where the monkey sleeps and under the table from where Maelstrom examined his maps for feedback from the red color changes. (455-456)

  • The spyglass reveals another ship. The way things can and will be when the full truth is finally clear. Maelstrom often studied the maps, acted on the feedback loop of growing redness, and looking through the spyglass for more feedback.
  • Eric/Jen discuss how they now know FXC’s alt version started from the monkey’s appearance on.
  • Eric thinks FXC’s ending is ambiguous. Jen disagrees.
  • We now have the question of whether or not Jen/Eric are ok. OK is scratched out and we have the copy of their book.

Straka’s Original Ending

  • The monkey uses a raw piece of substance to release the wine from the barrels. The sounds are loud.
  • The monkey might as well be one with S.
  • The monkey kills Vevoda with the piece of substance.
  • The story ends from the perspective of the monkey. It knows Vevoda is dead. It knows S is transparent – and knows that S is unaware of this. It feels like there is something essential about the man that it has failed to understand. We are left with the search for the truth of understanding what essential something will help us rewrite the narrative, discover S’s name, understand Eric and Jen’s story, find out what really happened in Havana, whether Straka lived, etc.

Where do we go from here? We continue to follow the monkey – to search for those hidden truths that help us rewrite our current understanding of the story so that we can create the most true and intelligible narrative that we can.

Your Feedback

There are countless other examples of feedback loops, needed truths, and epistemological crises in S that either provide seed for thought in advancing the quest or illustrate the follow the monkey principle. Please leave your feedback in the comments section. Here are a few examples to get us started…

  • The first time S finds himself on the ship and wanders around to gain a sense of where – and what – he is, Jen writes in the margins that she has discovered a new truth: that FXC is a woman. Eric writes this changes everything (29).
  • In the chapter, The Drifting Twins, S watches in horror as the constellations drift in such a way that the stars no longer have meaning. New meaning must be made. New narratives created.
  • When S discovers the truth of the bomb in B, in advance of its detonation, this feedback forces him to abandon his quest to follow Sola and return to his newfound friends and explain the truth. Despite this, the townsfolk believe the newspaper accounts that these very same people who tried to stop the bomb are actually responsible for it. This false narrative, created by Vevoda and given momentum by fear, changes the story and makes our friends fugitives fleeing for their lives.
  • What begins at the water shall end there, and what ends there shall once more begin. This is a good way of describing a cybernetic system.
  • What else do you see?

Is Sola Deliberately Hiding Her Identity?


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Sola appears to be cloaking her identity (intentionally?) throughout Ship of Theseus. This presents an interesting counterpoint to S’s situation: S is searching for his lost identity, while Sola appears to be concealing her known identity.

Here are clues that seem to indicate this. Please discuss your own observations in the comments…

  • She goes by different names (Sola, Szalome, Samar)
  • She costumes herself as a man in El H__
  • She changes roles repeatedly
    • Wealthy traveler on the liner Imperia, appearing as a casual reader in the tavern
    • Factory worker in B__
    • Part of the resistance in El H__
    • Companion to The Lady on Obsidian Island
    • Traveler on a ship like S’s
    • She is the girl in the century-old picture in El H__. And Khatef Zelh, when describing Samar, describes at least six separate roles she was known to have possibly played. Is it because she played all of them and different people are describing the Samar that they knew at the time?
  • She somehow seems to keep up with S’s valise in an undercover manner.
    • Someone seems to have obtained Stenfalk’s valise between B__ and G__. S left it at the base of the limestone wall but notices that the agents don’t have it when they arrest and murder Stenfalk. Sola was last seen in B__. Did she follow the group and recover the valise?
    • After S receives what appears to be the same valise in El H__, he is stripped of it briefly by a would-be assassin. Sola returns it to him, costumed as a man.
    • Sola recovers the valise that S left in The Territory after his encounter with the Governor and returns it to him in The Winter City.
    • Sola ensures that all of S’s supplies in the valise are in order before he takes it to Vevoda’s chateau.
  • She somehow seems to be aware of and secretly spying on and/or working against Vevoda before S even knows who Vevoda is.
    • She is in the tavern in the Old Quarter, appearing to casually read a book but probably watching one of Vevoda’s agents/detectives who is there taking notes. (16)
    • She secures a job in Vevoda’s factory under the name Szalome, doing some sort of book work that Pfeifer didn’t think needed done before. (116)
    • She leads S to the two detectives next to the Central Power plant so that he can witness the bomb exchange. (100)
    • She (probably?) is the one who rescues Stenfalk’s valise from the posse of detectives. (172)
    • She obtains the map to Vevoda’s chateau, along with the intelligence about the gala nine months away and find’s S in the Winter City in order to help him confront Vevoda and write the ending. (401-402)
  • She and S both conceal their identities together while on Vevoda’s estate as they prepare to confront him and his guests.

Is Sola concealing her identity? If so, why? And why conceal it from even S, as in El H__ when she is costumed as a man when returning the valise? What are your thoughts?

Jen’s Blue Square on p10


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On p2, as Eric and Jen birth their marginalia relationship, Jen believes she has discovered the identity of Eric – Thomas Lyle Chadwick, PSU ID#3946608. By p5, however, Jen has investigated Chadwick further and discovered he is an undergrad in geology, which doesn’t line up with Eric’s story. Jen confronts Eric over this, and once Eric admits he allowed Jen to believe he was Chadwick, Jen gets upset and tells Eric to go to p10 for her response to this atrocity. And it is there that we find Jen’s response – a carefully drawn square with the thick borders in the upper left-hand corner. Eric struggles to understand her response, and we readers, like Eric, are left without a definitive answer.

What you will find here is also not a definitive answer, but a list of observations about the conversation leading up to and about this square that seem to carry a few common themes: nothing and three.


  • On the page where Jen “discovers” that Eric is Thomas Chadwick (p2), the page is blank. There is no print from the book. Just to the right of that, we are introduced to “S” – a man with no identity.
  • After Jen confronts Eric, she stops writing in the book for awhile. On p5 Eric says, It’s really disappointing to pick up the book and find nothing from you.
  • Jen tell’s Eric about the square on p5 by saying, Dear Mr. Not Chadwick, see p10 for my response.
  • Next to Jen’s square, after Eric first finds it, he writes, That’s your response?? Um, there’s nothing there.
  • When Jen finally does respond to Eric, she asks Aren’t you a student? Eric responds with I was. I got “expunged” in January. To be expunged is to be made nothing – erased completely from existence.
  • V.M. Straka’s third book is entitled The Square. It is first mentioned in Ship of Theseus on p70, where the main character Franzl is described by FXC in Fn1 as a man with no possessions. The last word in the text on p70 is nonetheless.
  • Eric’s pencilled marginalia refers to The Square on p75 and below that, bottom left, Jen says about a code she is trying to track that I’m getting nowhere with this.

Three (admittedly, this applies more to Straka’s book The Square than specifically to Jen’s drawing)

  • The Square is the third book in V.M. Straka’s bibliography of nineteen works.
  • On p75, when Eric mentions in pencil that a line has been taken verbatim from The Square, we are first introduced to the Zapadi Three.
  • The only footnote on p75 discusses three possible products manufactured at the factory where Vaclav Straka worked.
  • Eric highlights a section on p88 that these details were drawn from the square (a pun on a drawing of a square?) Within that section a clock strikes three separate hours: twelve, one, and two. The next hour, implied, is of course, three.
  • Again on p88, Pfeifer challenges the police with three men are missing! Probably dead! Why don’t you do your jobs and investigate? These three sentences are italicized in the book.
  • Again on p88, we are reminded that three men are walking along (Pfeifer, Ostrero, and S).
  • Again on p88, Jen underlines three words in a row for emphasis: I don’t need.
  • On p95, Eric notes in pencil that a scene in Ship of Theseus mirrors one in The Square. He also notes three pages from The Square and writes Three different views of the same gesture.
  • Again on p95, Jen underlines three words in a row for emphasis: special collections archive.
  • Again on p95, S spots Sola. S notes she is square-shouldered and while struggling to believe she could possibly be here thinks to himself Concidence be damned.
  • The entire scene that concerns the protest over The Zapadi Three takes place itself in a square (see p86) and closely mimics the central event in Straka’s book The Square over what happened in Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886.

What do you see when it comes to these, or even other, themes surrounding Jen’s blue square? If you need some ideas, here is another blog post about how truth may be connected to Jen’s blue square. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Agent #4 and His Travels


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All of Agent #4’s travels seem to occur just prior to major conflict in that area. It appears that the Agents of Vevoda are tasked with being an instigator or at least a catalyst to conflict in order to drive sales for Vevoda.

For example, Agent #41 (see p324)

  • He sent one of S’s wharf-rat confederates plummeting into a gorge (O, poetry!). (B–. October, 1906). See p175.
  • He torched the library at Leuven. (Leuven, Belgium. August, 1914)
  • He sold the Japanese on the Mukden plan. (Mukden – now Shenyang – China. September, 1931)
  • He has performed dozens of S-dispatches, spanning three decades.

It’s safe to conclude that all of the Agents may have travelled in order to ensure conflict that would drive sales of the Black Vine.

In addition to all of the sightings of Agent#4 we are about to examine, we know for certain that he was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 (see pp299-304). He was in Sarajevo shortly before the assassination, sitting in Schiller’s Delicatessen, urging a member of the conspiracy to get the job done. He then boarded a train for Budapest, where he met his untimely demise at the hands of S and his bottle of plum rakija.

With this in mind, let’s analyze the other known locations of Agent #4 and the potential conflicts he may have had a role in birthing. See pp261-262.

  • Danzig – Berlin, October, 1908. This particular notation relates to the photograph itself on the back of which the locations are written. Agent#4 is traveling from Danzig to Berlin, Germany. It was in Berlin in October 1908 that the Bosnian Crisis began. We can safely conclude that Agent #4 was there to ensure this crisis occurred.
  • Tangier, June 1905. The First Moroccan Crisis began in Tangier, Morocco in March of 1905 and peaked in mid-June of the same year, likely thanks to our friendly agent.
  • B—, October 1906. We have yet to discover the location of B—, but it seems clear that Agent #4 was present to ensure that the bomb provocation incident on the wharf (a plan the other agents knew about for days – see p104) took place. See p100-101 for S’s eyewitness account of Agent #4 handing the bomb to the Agent in the boiler suit, followed by p261 when S recognizes him as Agent #4 from the photograph.
  • Los Angeles, December 1910. The Magonista Rebellion surged after the release of The Magon brothers from a Los Angeles jail in 1910. Their rebellion, centered at this time from Los Angeles, is considered a large spark which began the Mexican Revolution.
  • Tripoli, September 1911. The Italo-Turkish War began in September, 1911, beginning as the Italian Fleet arrived at Tripoli and began bombing the port.
  • Salonika, March 1912. Salonika, today known as Thessaloniki, is the capital of Macedonia. In 1912, Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia abandoned their then differences with Macedonia and formed a coalition against the Ottoman Empire. This helped spark the First Balkan War, in which Thessaloniki had to surrender in October, 1912.
  • Sarajevo – Budapest, June 28, 1914. Agent #4 is a conspirator in the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, igniting World War I.

We can conclude then, that wherever B— is/was and whatever happened there in and shortly after October, 1906, was a major conflict – or simply Vevoda protecting his “venal self interests.”

Where on Earth is El-H—?


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Another one of our mysterious locations to discover is El-H—, an obviously Arabic city but with few other clues to help us find out where on earth it actuallly is. Below is a list of characteristics that may help us triangulate its location.

  • It borders open water/ocean on one side and desert on the other. Attacking armies must cross that desert in order to attack it by land.
  • It has ancient stone walls surround it, making it an ancient city.
  • There is a night suq – an Arabic marketplace.
  • The local currency is purple and blue.
  • Possible child charmers being sold for the amusement of one pasha or the other (see p147). Ostrero told a cautionary tale he was told when young about disobedient children that were carried across the straits to the Arab markets where they would be stuffed into baskets and charmed by flute players – just like what we see happening on p236 in the night suk. This seems to strongly imply that El-H– is across “the straits” from where Ostrero grew up, likely in Spain. So it seems there is a strong possibility that we need to concentrate our search in Morocco near the areas where it is closest to Spain. Maybe.
  • It’s not in Europe, because Samar might have fallen in love with a European sailor.
  • The name Khatef-Zelh is Arabic for the pied kingfisher. (Thanks, Osfour).
  • Musical instruments: drum, oud, spike fiddle.
  • Insects: locusts.
  • Flora: Date palms.
  • Fauna: finch, feral dogs, cats,.
  • Clothing: checheya, kaftan.
  • Food: lamb, cumin, cardamom, pepper.
  • Archaeology: Moorish archway, minarets.

Anyone else notice anything about El-H– that might help us pinpoint its name and location? Or see anything in those things mentioned that stand out?

The Name and Location of B–


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Below are details culled from Ship of Theseus that provide details about B– and its surrounding area that might help us discover its name and location. Please add your own additional details in the comments and perhaps we can discover B– together.

  • It is in a country with a capital city far away, accessible by train. (130)
  • It is a “modest burg” (73)
  • The country has a prince (152)
  • It is on an Eastern shoreline close to a mountainous region. Our fugitives head south out of B– toward G– (123) and when they later look northward, the coastline is to their right (151-152)
  • It is has a strong French influence. The newspaper refers to Pfeifer and Ostrero as Messrs. (119). Corbeau’s family is one of the oldest in the city of B–. (89)
  • The port town of G–, an 8 to 9-day walk to the south (123), is nestled inside a range of mountains shaped like a horseshoe that the fugitives must climb over from the other side (148).
  • It is south of where Stenfalk is grew up, probably Sweden – stenfalk is Swedish for merlin (145).
  • Flora: white oak, wild apple tree, pine, aspen, linden, hornbeam, silver birch, silver fir
  • Fauna: pine marten, chamois, jackdaw, vulture, blackscabbard fish, tree creeper, squirrels, chipmunks, fox, hawk, deer, bat, horse
  • Geology: granite, limestone suitable for a vast network of caves
  • Climate: capable of a light frost in late October
  • Available foods: licorice, salami, beer cheese, cranberry
  • A source of a major world conflict instigated by Agent#4.

The World Knows His Name


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This is a theory about how we might discover S’s name.

If you haven’t already, read this older post called Is S on a Fugue Walkabout? The post below is a sequel to it and reveals more about the song lines discussed there.

First, let’s walk through the following references that reveal a consistent juxtaposition of two things: the earth/world and letters/words/sounds/writing.

  • The first words of the book of the Foreword say WHO WAS V.M. STRAKA? The world knows his name.
  • The last page of the book contains the EOTVOS wheel, where different series of letters are associated with geographic coordinates around the world.
  • Page x in the Foreword: I saw the world through the eyes of his characters.
  • Twice in the Foreword on xiii, FXC uses the phrase mundanely literal (Fn11). Mundane means world. Literal means of or belonging to letters or writing. 
  • On page xiii of the Foreword: If his remains are in the ground anywhere, they have become part of the earth in its entirety.
  • Translator’s Note and Foreword: Is this a pun? Translate means to relocate – to move from one place to another – like moving around the world. Note could mean a musical note. Foreword could be a pun on forward. Does Translator’s Note and Forward mean, literally, Musical Movement Forward Around the World?
  • The orlop is a key place on S’s ship where mysterious writing takes place when you are part o’ the tradition. Orlop means, literally, overloop. Letters/words/stories being written in the overloop by the crew and eventually S himself as the ship loops its way around the world.
  • S. returns to the world, to the literal space of the secret room on the orlop deck (p297).
  • The cave in the Chapter Down and Out has the story of the K__ people told in images/writing painted onto the earth itself.
  • In the petroglyphs of The Territory – the symbol S was carved into the earth (p350). Anca says that these petroglyphs are our stories. Who we are and why we are here (p344). S is a story written into the earth.
  • Regarding The Tradition: For the first time, he understands the tradition,or at least recognizes the most essential of its constituent parts. The stories that move outside time—that divert, oppose, resist. His life of words, of pictures and sounds that contemplate what the world is or could be. (p404-405)
  • In the climax – S kneels down and touches the earth and all the voices in his head go silent. Settled. Voices and narratives, reabsorbed into the ground on which we walk. And this is the key, he realizes, the thing that makes the purpose of all that work on the ship… and in all of the places he’s visited …worthwhile.
  • There was a key in Zepadi’s window box, where earth/ground would have been present to help the flowers grow there (p109). The window above that box had two S-symbols etched into the scrollwork of the shutters (pp130-131).

Second, with all of this in mind about the earth, let’s remember that in the climax of the story of Eric Husch and Jennifer Heyward, our two friends are in the PSU planetarium when Moody apparently cuts the power to the projector and attacks Eric during some sort of important demonstration. Eric hits back and Moody likely flees into the steam tunnels. Jen comments that Serin may have had people there (p453). Eric and Jen then leave almost immediately for Prague – home to one of the world’s oldest and most famous astronomical clocks. Why would the planetarium be a location for the climax of a story about Eric and Jen’s search to discover the identity of Straka – and of S? And why on earth would Serin be there – unless the answer had something to do with planets? The earth? With that in mind, consider these references…

  • Arquimedes de Sobreiro is a sailor who travelled around the world on a ship – perhaps S’s ship. And his arrows fly around the world and land at his feet (p381). The author of The Archer’s Tales has two references to going around the world – sailing and arrows flying. Archimedes of Syracuse is known for creating the world’s first planetarium.
  • The barrel organ in Chapter 1, where we first meet the monkey, is a device that creates music when the organ grinder (root word ground) rotates it around a central axis. Highlighted portions of the drum translate into notes that play music as the drum is rotated.
  • The climactic story of the people who attend Vevoda’s gala in Chapter 10 revolves around Edvar Vevoda VI: He is the planet at the center of the gala, the axis around which the party whirls and time passes (p410).
  • The Chapter 10 cipher solution uses the EOTVOS wheel and locations around the world to translate letters on the wheel into a message.
  • As “the music plays” in the interlude Tocatta and Fugue in Real Time, S sails around the world poisoning people (p359). It’s as if we are to understand that S’s travels around the world are musical in some way.
  • Cruzatte (the name of the park where Jen wandered away from her parents when she was young) is certainly named after the fiddle player who accompanied Lewis and Clark as they traveled around their world of North America in search of a water route to the Pacific Ocean. The Territory, as S climbs the monkey path up to meet the Governor, is compared to Cruzatte on p351 by Jen. On that path that S travels, he catalogs many sounds, including a monkey and several birds: a Merlin (Stenfalk), a crow (Corbeau), an oystercatcher (Ostrero), and a magpie (S).
  • Birds sing – often as they fly – leaving a different note hanging in the air in different locations as they traverse the earth.
  • V.M. Straka’ S obituary, as it appears in the Baltimore Bugle-Dispatch on June 14, 1946, has an article whose headline has all but been covered up. Careful analysis reveals, however, that it is an early article suggesting that one day the earth could be orbited by hundreds of tiny moons – or satellites.
  • Calais (it all goes back to Calais) is the birthplace of the worldwide wired telegraph – where the first undersea cable connected two countries. From then on, letters/words/messages could be communicated across the earth. Literally, letters travelled around the globe.

So what does all this mean? Two last things to consider before we put it all together…

  • Bach, in The Art of the Fugue, left an obviously incomplete piece with his own name encoded musically in the final four notes. Written in the margins of this piece is a note by one of Bach’s son claiming that the author died while writing the piece. All of this sounds hauntingly familiar to V.M. Straka’s unfinished tenth chapter of Ship of Theseus, and his untimely death while trying to compete it while we try to determine his name. Did he also encode his name/identity in the name of S? What makes this even more interesting is that the latest theory concerning BACH’s mysterious piece is that he did not die while writing that piece, but instead deliberately presented this piece as an enigma that  ultimately points to The Harmony of the Spheres – a philosophical and spiritual belief that the planets create a form of music as they dance around the sun.
  • Doug Dorst once tweeted a clue – it was nothing more than the image of fingers forming a chord on a guitar. That chord turned out to be A-flat diminished, often written as AbDIM.
    AbdimChordThis turns out to be the name Abdim, musically encoded. Abdim is the character in Ship of Theseus that handed S the valise (p244-245).

Bach’s name was musically encoded in an unfinished manuscript that he is thought to have died while writing – a remarkable parallel to Straka. And a character in Straka’s novel is also musically encoded in a guitar chord by the meta-author, Doug Dorst.

Is Dorst just having a bit of fun with us or is our meta-author giving us a meta-clue?

Here is the theory.

  • S’s name is encoded musically within Ship of Theseus.
  • The letters/characters of his name are musical notes represented by locations on earth.
  • The musical staff is created by the lines of latitude.
  • The musical notes are determined by the differences in longitude.
  • The earth, in essence, is like a barrel organ. As it rotates, different points on the earth indicate the sound to be played in order to hear the music. The earth becomes a musical instrument revealing and promoting harmony on our own sphere.
  • The locations themselves are the yet undiscovered locations of B__, G__, El H__, P__ (Prague), The Territory, and perhaps other known/unknown locations, that S navigates on his journey.
  • The first location is Calais, France. Because It all goes back to Calais.

If we listen closely, perhaps we can hear the music and discover the song line that reveals the name of S and the identity of both he and V. M. Straka.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Pfeifer


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S reencounters Pfeifer after years of believing that he was dead. But not only is Pfeifer alive, he is the Governor of The Territory and works for Vévoda himself.

Between pp356-367, S has a lengthy conversation with Pfeifer. And several things that Pfeifer says are outright lies…

  • S calls Pfeifer by his original name, but Pfeifer corrects him and insists that his name is Nemec.
  • Pfeifer insists that there is no Château – that it is a fiction – but this itself is a fiction, of course.
  • On p360, Pfeifer insists that the guard by the road is old and shaky and has very little sense left. And on p365, Pfeifer explains that the executions that take place at 4pm are only for those involved directly in an attempted revolt – and those who failed to stop them. Yet we see later (p366) that the guard by the road stands, his hip cocked, perfectly steady as he fires three shots that manage to kill Anca, Waqar, and the baby from a great distance. And on p369 as S passes the Old Village he sees that it is entirely ablaze. This indicates that Pfeifer lied both about the guard and about who was being killed – every Old Villager was (apparently) killed.

So if Pfeifer obviously lied about these things, what else did he lie about? And what else can we conclude about Pfeifer?

  • Is Pfeifer telling the truth about being married? Having four kids? About Molybdenum and her sisters? About what he knows about S’s ship (p361). And the substance?
  • If Vevoda is leaving pages from The Archer’s Tales with the dead bodies of members of the S, how did he find out about S’s interest in that book at all? In fact, how did Vevoda know that S’s name was S? Vevoda referred to him as Agent X in Chapter 4. Only after Pfeifer survived the cave incident do we see Vevoda referring to him as S and using pages from The Archer’s Tales to intimidate him. The only way this could happen, it appears, is if Pfeifer told Vevoda about S.
  • Is it possible that Vevoda’s “ancient pistol” (454) is the same ancient pistol that Stenfalk gave to Corbeau who gave it to Pfeifer to defend himself in the caves (192)?
  • Is it possible that Pfeifer was a member of Vevoda’s team all along? Is he the reason that Vevoda’s men knew to track the fugitives through the hills? Was Pfeifer’s injury in the cave feigned in order to make enough noise for the hunters to find them?

Pfeifer is a liar. Is there anything else about Pfeifer that you see worth noting?

An Unsettling Theory


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In the climax of S, we find S kneeling down on the ground and placing his finger in the moist earth where the black wine and the ground meet. And when that moment occurs, all at once, the mad chorus of voices in his head goes silent. 

Settled….And this is the key…

The etymology of the word settled includes the following…

  • Come to rest
  • Long bench, seat
  • Alight (like a bird)
  • Decide (make a choice)
  • Sink down, descend, cave in
  • Setting of a heavenly body

Let’s look at where these etymological connotations surface in Ship of Theseus. They occur in conspicuously important moments, and most interestingly, in every case in the book where a key is involved, along with references to the ground.

  • S first sees Sola while sitting on a long bench that runs the length of the room in the tavern of the Old Quarter (15-16)
  • S first sees Khatef-Zelh as she goes to retrieve a portrait and then “settles herself onto the floor” and begins to cut the canvas free of the frame. The face in the portrait is Sola’s (242-243).
  • The first time S is with Sola in the orlop of the ship, he settled himself into the chair and reached for the hourglass (407).
  • Birds. Just…birds.
  • The descent into the caves. The way out was down. Is down.
  • The setting of multiple heavenly bodies in The Drifting Twins.
  • Choices. Think Obsidian Island and The Lady.
  • When the soon-to-be fugitives approach Stenfalk’s house, it has a mossy roof that looks on the verge of caving in. Stenfalk reaches up into a window box and produces a key” (109). The window box, which would be made of wood and have dirt in it, is also directly beneath the window where later S notices the S symbol and a mirror image of it in the scrollwork cuts of the shutters (131).
  • He kneels down and touches a finger to it, and all at once, the mad chorus of voices in his head goes silent. Silent. Settled. Returned to the earth and settled. Voices and narratives, re-absorbed into the ground on which we walk. And this is the key, he realizes, the thing that makes the purpose of all that work on the ship and in El-H— and on the Obsidian Island and in Budapest, Edinburgh, Valparaíso, Prague, Cape Town, Valletta, the Winter City, and a thousand others come into focus. All that ink, all that pigment, all that desperate action to preserve that which had been created—it is valuable because story is a fragile and ephemeral thing on its own, a thing that is easily effaced or disappeared or destroyed, and it is worth preserving. And if it can’t be preserved, then it should be released and cycled.To write with the black stuff is to create and, at the same time, to resurrect. We write with what those who’ve come before us wrote. Everything rewritten. Part o’ the tradition (450-451).
  • In the alternate version believed to be the “real” end to Chapter 10 written by V.M. Straka, S is struck by Vevoda’s bullet in the collarbone – the clavicle (which means little key). It is not until the pistol fires and pain rakes his collarbone that he realizes what his instantaneous reconnoitering did not reveal. Where is she? The bullet sails beyond, carrying his skin and blood. It ricochets off an earthen wall, punches through a barrel, and comes to rest in the liquid inside. 

All of this continued settling could be a reference to the ground of being – which is synonymous with Spinoza’s substance and gets at the core of identity. J.J. Abrams does not use keys often, and when he does, pay attention. Even our primary mandate to follow the monkey may be an intended pun.

What do you see in all of these unsettling thoughts? Comment below to get the discussion going. Together we might just find what mystery box that key unlocks.

There Is Only One Footnote in Chapter 9: Birds of Negative Space


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There is only one window in S’s apartment
(The opening line of Chapter 9 on p375)

There is only one footnote in Chapter 9. There is only one window in S’s apartment. And there is only one window in another aparment where our one footnote is born. S hears the voices of two people – one of them most likely the infamous Archimedes de Sorbreiro – just prior to Sobreiro falling nine stories from that window to his death.

Is this a clue to our missing Chapter 9 cipher – one window, one footnote? The footnote refers to Straka’s struggle with two lines in the book and which voice, male or female, should utter which line. The first sentence of Filomela’s footnote implies that both lines in the original manuscript contain numerous strikethroughs and handwritten corrections, and yet her second sentence says that she reproduced the line (singular) as it was originally typed. There is only one line reproduced. Is this an intentional mistake, as FXC so often includes, to lead us to a cipher?

Another thought. On pp386-387, S stands beneath the ninth story apartment window, looking up at it from the sidewalk. As he does, he kicks one foot against the ground, trying to chase away the numbing cold. As he does, he breaks through a layer of ice and discovers the corner of a brass plaque set into the sidewalk. He kicks more until the entire plaque is revealed.


Given the manner in which S discovered the plaque, is this a foot note? And what significance might we find in the use of five perfect squares represented?

  • 1 (January)
  • 2 (4 S symbols)
  • 3 (9)
  • 4 (16 in 1625)
  • 5 (25 in 1625)

The Interlude: Toccata and Fugue in Free Time


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Toccata and fugue: two separate types of music woven into one work. This seems to explicitly refer to Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, which of course has its own authorship controversy.

The entire chapter seems to do this same thing: have two of something that has become one. Below is an analysis of the chapter itself and then the footnotes, all with an emphasis on the number 2.

The Text

  • The title: Toccata and Fugue. A fugue in itself is a contrapuntal work: point and counterpoint.
  • The first footnote uses the word rumor twice. The second Fn refers to Princip. The 8th Fn reminds us that the original title for Ship of Theseus was the Principality of Rumor.
  • Each section of the Interlude includes two subsections: the assassination and the account of S on the ship.
  • Each section is S the assassin versus one of Vevoda’s agents (or two – #9/#41)
  • The last agent to die is Agent #2
  • The first agent to die is Agent #4 (or 2*2, 2+2, 2^2).
  • The wall writing emphasizes the differences between what S wrote and what he thought he wrote.

The Footnotes
300.1 “For a few years after the publication of Straka’s The Black Nineteen, a bloody tale of political intrigue in the Habsburg Empire, there arose a theory that Straka’s works had been written by “Apis’s Amanuensis”—the mysterious, rarely seen, never-photographed (and possibly not-real) aide to Dragutin Dimitrijevic (“Apis”), who led the Serbian secret military society the Black Hand. (Rumors flourished that the so-called amanuensis was really the brilliant, murderous tactician behind the group’s rise.) However doubtful it may be that this man wrote the Straka books, it is obvious that Straka is playing with that notion here in the Interlude. Strikingly, though, the author turns the tables on the Black Hand agent in this first section. But is this the Amanuensis-Straka killing off his past self? Rejecting a former ideology? A different Straka, killing off one of his rumored identities? None of these?

  1. Apis (Dragutin Dimitrijevic)
  2. Apis’ Amanuensis

The very word Amanuensis plays on the idea of an original and an assistant or copy

300.2 “An identical description of Princip, the real-life assassin of the archduke, appears in The Black Nineteen (p. 262 of Karst’s English-language edition).”

  1. Princip
  2. An identically-described character in The Black Nineteen

300.3 “The same might be said of Straka’s attitude toward distractions of any sort.”

  1. Agent #4’s dislike of the cultivation of trivial preferences
  2. Straka’s similar attitude toward any distractions

305.4 “See fn 8, Chapter 7.”

  1. Fn4, Interlude
  2. Fn8, Chapter 7

307.5 “This page of the manuscript, which is an inky mess, shows Straka agonizing over defining the musical mode in which these notes occur–a detail that, to me, seems less than trivial. This “tumble of notes” began as Phrygian, then became Mixolydian, then Locrian, then Dorian, then Locrian again, and it returned to being Phrygian just in time for printing. The tonal differences, he explained in a letter, were significant, and they were important to the “feel” of the detail. I confess I have a tin ear, and I think the detail would have worked just was well if he had made up a musical term for it, or if he had omitted mention of it entirely.”

A series of duos, as each mode goes from one to the other

  1.    Phrygian, Mixolydian
  2.    Mixolydian, Locrian
  3.    Locrian, Dorian
  4.    Dorian, Locrian
  5.    Locrian, Phrygian

Also, Filomela’s insistence that the detail would have worked just as well if Straka had…

  1.    Made up a musical term
  2.    Omitted mention of it entirely

308.6 “In my opinion, far too much has been made of the purported connections between Straka and the “Santorini Man” deaths. If you, reader, are interested, you will quite easily find a variety of sources full of spurious information on the subject.”

  1. Straka
  2. Santorini Man Deaths

311.7 “Interestingly, this section marks the only use of true second-person narration in Straka’s entire oeuvre. (He did, of course, make occasional use of the direct-address you.) In my notes to him, I suggested that he try his usual third-person here instead, but he was adamant. If I—or anyone—ever again advocated changing the point of view in this section, he vowed, he would pull the manuscript from the publisher and throw it into the closest fire.”

  1. Agent #26
  2. YOU

“Second person” – a definite allusion to two of something. Second person versus third person

316.8 “The Principality of Rumor was, I believe, Straka’s original title for this novel; he mentioned it in a 1944 letter to me, in which he said he was working on a suite of literary caprices and that he had no idea what shape it would eventually take.”

  1. Principality of Rumor
  2. Ship of Theseus

318.9 “This would appear to be a reference to the murder of Trotsky, whom Straka admired. There is no evidence of which I am aware, though, that the two men ever met or corresponded”

  1. S’s thoughts on one day being attacked with an ice-pick
  2. Trotsky’s death blow from an ice-axe

320.10 “Allow me to revisit an earlier observation: we cannot necessarily identify the real life models for characters based on textural details alone. Here, Straka chose clary sage as Sola’s scent, but he just as easily could have chosen rose-geranium or kaffir lime or bougainvillea.”

  1. Sola
  2. The unknown/unknowable model for Sola’s character

324.11 “Many of Straka’s characters find themselves confused by the notion, the feelings, the responsibilities, and the practical applications of love. As repellent as Agent #41 may be, this is a moment that reminds us that she has in her not just a bit of humanity but also a lost-child bewilderment about the world she imagines herself to have mastered.”

  1. Agent #9
  2. Agent #41

327.12 “This line is an echo of one uttered by the cruel Wineblood in Chapter 6 of Wineblood’s Mine. (Minus the Sunnydags.)”

  1. Maelstrom’s line from p327 Tha’s the world burnin’ Sunnydags
  2. The identical line from Wineblood’s Mine in Chapter 6 (minus the Sunnydags)

328.13 “Compare S.’s different responses to his experiences with “mediated writing.” In Chapter 7, he seems flummoxed by it, but one senses a bit of wonder in him as well. Here, though, we see S. resisting it, straining to overcome it, as if he is more certain of what he wants to say and cannot abide not being able to say it. Is it possible that Straka himself was grappling with a similar conflict—between artistic intention and execution? Between desire and the ability to express it? My correspondence with him offers no guidance on the matter, but as these seem like fairly commonplace struggles—the sort that beset many people, not just artists—I will venture to proclaim that it is more than possible; it is certain”

  1. What S wrote
  2. What S thought he wrote

Other Pairings

Do you see any other pairings or where these pairings may lead?

Let the Speculation Begin About the Number 7


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In the seventh footnote of the seventh chapter of “S”, FXC mentions seven candidates that Straka may have used to create his description of the pouting sailor. The footnote has 56 words (7×8). It’s on page 266 (7x19x2). FXC says “Allow me to prime the pump” – seven is a prime number.

The seventh word of the Fn is Straka.

This page also gives us the seventh appearance of the monkey. Here are those appearances in order…

  1. The monkey spots S as he walks by the organ grinder and tone-deaf immigrant (8-9)
  2. S spots the monkey as he is about to pass out after being drugged and says Run, monkey. Run. (24-25)
  3. The monkey is rescued from the ghost ship and come’s aboard the xebec (54-56).
  4. The monkey flees the approaching waterspouts and goes down the hatch (62).
  5. S spots the monkey on the resurrected xebec after his leap from the cave (200-201).
  6. S hears the monkey laugh after Maelstrom explains to S that he will willingly return from El H__ after he disembarks (219-220).
  7. The monkey runs circles around the female sailor (266-267).

What do all these sevens mean? Surely it points to another code or message? What do you think?

Agent X Marks the Spot


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Is there an emphasis/clue on the number 10 in Chapter 4, entitled Agent X?

  • X is the Roman numeral for ten
  • S is referred to as Agent X by the newspaper and jokingly by his fugitive friends.
  • The tenth footnote has a marginalia drawing of a large X. This is also the only self-referencing footnote in the book.
  • The Chapter 4 cipher uses ten words beginning with ex- (expressly, expatriate’s, extracting, exiling, explosives, explicitly, examination, experiment, exculpation, extraverts) to reveal the ten-word solution (AVOID GRAND CENTRAL KEY STOLEN ASSUME BAG GONE I FAILED)
  • Pfeifer regrets not making the diversionary fire ten times larger (139)
  • When the fugitives first notice Vevoda’s blasting site in the meadow, it is at least a ten-minute walk from where they stand.
  • The blast site is a double-quincunx – a cluster of ten overlapping holes. A quincunx is five dots that form the shape of the letter X, like the five on a domino. And the word quincunx ends in x.
  • P135 seems to have several references to the number 10…
    • Corbeau mentions that she worked at the factory for ten years
    • Fn8 mentions dime novels
    • Fn8 mentions the 1920s and 1930s – decades separated by ten years
  • On the last page of the chapter, Jen and Eric discuss Filomela’s middle name, which begins with X: Xabregas.
  • X often marks the spot where something is hidden. This chapter ends with Corbeau shouting We found it! We found a cave! As she says this, she is looking down at S (Agent X) and Stenfalk (whose name contains the word ten).
  • The last chapter of Ship of Theseus (Chapter 10) is entitled Ships of Theseus. The only difference between the book title and the Chapter 10 title is the letter S. And, of course, Chaper 10 begins and ends with the letter S.