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Discussion in 'Author Discussion' started by warm_enema, Mar 30, 2004.
Toronto Star Review
Gravity's Rainbow Wiki
Talk Radio discussion on Pynchon, particularly Against the Day
Finished ATD, am digesting
Well, that certainly did rock. Also did mineral a bit. Also it waltzed, and there were some two-steps and cakewalks and such. And – a Pynchon novel with heroes?! , that is, not anti- !?
I’m a little concerned because anything I say could be a spoiler, not of plot but of thought. Then again, if you’re not spoiled already, how could you read this book? How could it be written? Or something…
In Swedish idiom we call a huge book a “brick” novel, but this one was actually more of a four-brick novel. And of course I’m not at all certain I read Against the day. I might as easily (well…) have read a mirror image, refraction, twin, or life-size copy of Against the day… Not to judge a book by its cover or anything, but consider it: double refraction of the title (but isn’t it triple refraction?), but in different fonts. How’d that happen?
Makes sense, does it? Well, you get like this. ... I do.
“Us entropists,” eh? The struggle is (possibly) against entropy. Through (possibly) deconstruction. But that might just be my copy…
Music suggestions: “Let’s do the time-warp again”, “Those magnificent men in their flying machines”, “The ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”, just off the top of my head.
Oh, and Mr. P. has been watching Star Trek and reading Douglas Adams and Stephen King.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
“Never look into a mirror when there’s a lamp next to you.”
‘It’s always night, or we wouldn’t need light.’ / Thelonius Monk
The scary review
Warning: contains spoilage.
Light displays all the properties of being made of both particles and waves. So does this book.
There are a lot of particular characters, stories and maybe even plots, but they move like waves, floating in and out of each other and themselves, lapping against “reality” and fiction, occasionally retreating to show something on the bottom only to come crashing over again, carrying boats and seagulls and stuff… (When did I switch metaphors? Or did I?)
Among other things, we have here, somewhat surprisingly, a band of heroes. The courageous young lads The Chums of Chance travel the world in search of adventure in their airship The Inconvenience, doing what they hope are good deeds.
Then, of course, there is a large number of anti-heroes. Three recurring ones are brothers on a quest to avenge their murdered father, though they keep getting side-tracked. Furthermore we have dynamite-punctuated labour struggles in the Mid-West at the turn of the century, we have espionage intrigues in the Balkans before World War One, we have a monster attacking New York, we have the quest for Shambhala and the reasons for the Tunguska Event, we have time travel and mad or at the very least loopy scientists, we have alchemy, Anarchists’ Golf and the timelessness of the struck ukulele chord, we have mathematicians who feud for reasons no poor arts major will understand.
And then, of course, we have a huge historical conspiracy. At least one. And the secret societies to keep track of them. But it’s also possible that the conspiracy is History itself, time passing… Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. The world will end in the trenches in Flanders. The problem is (possibly) not that the light is waning but that it keeps coming back every morning, carrying time inexorably forwards. “As a crime (…), often of the gravest sort, committed in a detective story, may often be only a pretext for the posing and solution of some narrative puzzle (…)”
And all the time the light refracts and reflects, optical illusions are the order of the day. Please allow me to introduce the quote: “’imaginary’ shapes, though some preferred Clifford’s term, ‘invisible.’” If you think something is visible or invisible, it might just be a trick of the light. Or of your head. People are sawed in two – not in half, mind you: in two. They do it with mirrors. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout bilocation, transformation, double refraction, déjà vu…
There are cameos by among many others Star Trek, The Dark Tower, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, H. P. Lovecraft, and all of Mr P’s previous books. And dang, but I must have missed so much.
It’s possible that this is what it is: “an hombre who knows full well that something has happened to him, but for the life of him he just can’t figure what – you know that feeling? – sure, who don’t – and he’s tryin to work ‘at through, here on paper, how it was done to him, and better yet who did it.” It’s also possible that I’ve only read a refraction or twin or mirror image or - tho’ I wouldn’t credit it - a ‘copy’ of the “real” Against the day. In which case… er… I’ll probably have to read it again.
“’Holy Toledo, (…) that’s sure some wild ass stampede.’”
Music suggestions: “Let’s do the time-warp again”, “Those magnificent men in their flying machines”, and all that jass.
If Against the Day is even half as entertaining as your review, then I'm really looking forward to it.
Figured I'd post my very short review of The Crying of Lot 49 here.
The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon. 5/5 152 pages.
This was fun! Really neat book about paranoia and excess. About a lot more as well but I only finished last night and it's still percolating away. Much easier than V., perhaps because it's shorter? But also because it is certainly much more linear and cinematic than V.
And now I'm really going to have to find The crying of lot 49, last of everyone it seems... it's easy to get in Swedish but, especially after reading ATD, the idea of reading Pynchon in translation seems like picking your nose while wearing boxing gloves
And then I went to the cinema and saw The prestige - and Pynchon really should go see it, if he hasn't already... Not only does it have bilocation and doubles and optical illusions coming from all sides, it even has Nikola Tesla conducting experiments with electricity in Colorado... (And movies are tricks of the light, of course... and though they probably don't use silver any more, I suppose they use sand (silicon) which almost is even better...)
OK, I'm done.
Right, so let's give this a try.
Ever so slight spoilers ahead - more themes and interpretations than plot.
Ahem. "Against the Day" by Thomas Pynchon, as rev... about-written by beer good. Warning: core dump of brain in progress.
"Now single up all lines!"
That first line sounds like a call to battle, or like the last instruction of a band leader before he kicks into the intro of his newest composition. What it actually is is the command to launch the dirigible airship Inconvenience, manned by the boys' adventure book heroes The Chums Of Chance, forever young and Biggles-ishly intent on making the late-19th century world a better place from their vantage point on high.
The problem for them is that the band leader in question is Thomas Pynchon, who is to literature what a free jazz player with ADD (Anarchist Deconstruction Disorder) is to music. Just as we've gotten to know the Chums and their playful, Star Trek-like view of the world, the plot moves to someone else, the lines fray and the music starts getting chaotic. The boys' adventure book turns into a Steinbeck-on-acid-like novel about poor miners. The Steinbeck turns into a Wild West revenge tale. The Wild West revenge tale veers briefly into Lovecraft before turning into an HG Wells-ian time travel story and then a European spy thriller. The spy thriller becomes a love story, the love story becomes bisexual porn, the porn becomes a code cracker mystery, the code cracker mystery becomes a math textbook, the math textbook turns into vicious satire on the current state of the world which at the same time is a story of the search for a shangri la... etc etc. And obviously, all of these stories aren't so much sequential as they are simultaneous; they all interweave.
Pynchon is the ultimate post-modern madman; more enamoured with chance than Auster, more encyclopedic than Eco, more absurd than Vonnegut and with more bizarre guest spots (from Bela Lugosi to Elmer Fudd) and song numbers than a whole season of The Simpsons. (Yes, of course he drops a Simpsons joke or two in there.) But where Auster uses chance as the exception to the rule, the thing that jolts his character out of their lives, in Pynchon chance and chaos IS the rule. Where Eco lectures, Pynchon often seems to take for granted that his readers know as much as he does about Balkan history, advanced maths, dimensional theory or famous anarchists; if we don't, hell, look it up; every single reference he drops seems to suggest a story that could take off in another direction - like Bob Dylan once said that every line in "Hard Rain" could be turned into a song unto itself.
Which isn't necessarily in a direction we know. Against The Day is a tesseract; just like the pages of a novel are a two-dimensional representation of (hopefully) three-dimensional characters (note the overlaying fonts on the jacket of ATD), the characters of ATD are three-dimensional characters living in a four-dimensional world. Things happen which they cannot understand, just like a stick figure on a piece of paper cannot understand the three-dimensional pencil drawing him. As mankind learns to fly and conquers the third dimension and its possibilities for good and evil (Russian airships dropping bricks remarkably similar to Tetris blocks on their enemies - come to think of it, reading Pynchon is a lot like playing Tetris, you better keep up or the screen will fill up and you lose) people start to wonder what discoveries and weapons may lie in the next dimension.
And in a four-dimensional world, time is negotiable in the same sense that height is in a 3D world. When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Everything can exist at least twice; indeed, so much of the novel is about dualities, bilocations, doubles, mirror images that come to life, the way a good novel is a mirror of real life. Light refracts in a mirror, splits in two directions. Light as in progress. Light as in electricity. Light as in enlightenment. Light as in daylight. It can go either way. On the one side, we can build a better world. On the other, we're great at building machine guns, too. Prepare yourself against the day.
Five random thoughts:
1. Yes, of course Pynchon is still obsessed with secret societies, secret ways of communications, invisible train lines and stamps from post offices that never existed. You're telling me that's somehow not relevant in the Internet age? Why the hell is one of the main characters named Webb Traverse, d'ya think?
2. Ornette Coleman had a double quartet (!) when he recorded "Free Jazz".
3. There's something under Asia's deserts which is, apparently, worth going to war over. No one seems to know quite why we need it, but...
4. If everything exists in two versions, can there be a singularity? Can there be a third way?
5. "The sun would not have risen. A mere ball of flaming gas would have illuminated the world." (Terry Pratchett, Hogfather)
Reading ATD is hard work. It needs to be. Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun, it's exhilarating, and it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing, but it's so goddamn busy that it demands your undivided attention for 1085 pages straight. There were days when I was hard-pressed to manage five pages. I'm not sure if this is Pynchon's best novel. It's kinda hard to tell; it's frequently all over the place and while I'm pretty sure there's a point to all of it, I don't always see that point. Yet. If it's his last novel, it's a worthy farewell; there's enough reading here to rediscover and reinterpret more times than most readers are able to, and the logical conclusion to an authorship that has alwasy wanted to do MORE with fiction. It's chaotic, but there's method in it. Just like the difference between pure noise and really wild jazz; the swing, the humour, the flow, the way the theme suddenly pops up somewhere for a few seconds before leading into something new, the way you can almost dance to it without breaking a leg. The way one player will occasionally break away into something completely different and the others either follow him into this new and exciting tune or do everything in their power to stop him and force him back in line. And all the while, the balloon boys on board Inconvenience pop in and out of reality and the storyline like a naive jingle-jangle guitar pop song.
Mash it up, burn it down, start all over again.
And that's the only way I know how to explain it. Thus far.
Great review. I'm only up to page 200ish and I've already noted down 53 characters all with classic Pynchonian names and that's including Pugnax the dog; I'm sure there's plenty more to come. You really do need to take notes if you're going to keep up with this one.
You really really do. You know about PynchonWiki, right? Far from complete yet, but the page-by-page annotations are very useful... even if they do slow you down a bit. Man, this book is dense.
No didn't know about 'Pynchon Wiki'..........Amazing.........thanks
University of California vandalized by Pynchon fans?
So after about a month of researching beforehand, I started Against the Day last week, and since this past Friday, I've been stuck on page 62. Would anyone mind explaining to me some things...
Why does Merle think that Morley and Morgan are the same person despite their obvious aesthetic and alphabetical similarities?
I [think I] am aware that Lew and Morgan both have the ability of bilocation, which is also metaphorically explained in the book as the excursion of one half of a light beam from an interferometer (or a double-refraction, etc.), each half being the "invisible" bilocations of the the whole identity (Morgan or Lew in their unseparated states). Herein comes the next question:
If these select people are unable to be recognized as their "bilocated" selves, how was Merle able to get "glimpses" of Morgan when he "[was] coming and going [near the Hamilton Street establishment]"?--yet the police had no idea where he was even though they were in the very close vicinity.
It's to my knowledge that people here have already finished the book so help would be outrageously! appreciated. I've been researching my ass off for the past couple days about the Michelson-Morley experiment, bilocation, double-refraction, interferometry, Aether, etc., etc.... and I'm sure I understand those concepts, it's how they correlate with the book that I need some reassurance grasping.
Morgolemtheau: I don't have the book with me right now and it's been over a year since I read it, but did you check the Pynchonwiki?
Yes, it's almost manditory for me to read with that wikipedia page next to me. I guess it just never expounded on the questions I asked. Thanks for replying, though.
And by the way, I love the book so far, I started reading past where I was stuck last night.
I read Gravity's Rainbow 4 times, imho one of the Great Books. ATD seemed very much like Pynchon was trying to do the same thing again, paranoia, a zillion weird characters with weird names & sexual prefs - but without any punch at all, all cardboard. I certainly tried my best, but it just never grabbed me.
I didn't read more than a hundred pages or so, I admit. It struck me as The emperor's new clothes: "a humongous, bloated jigsaw puzzle of a story, pretentious without being provocative, elliptical without being illuminating, complicated without being rewardingly complex" - http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/20/books/20kaku.html - says it more eloquently than I could (and NYT used to be at least as great fans of Pynchon's writing as I was).
Separate names with a comma.