Thomas Pynchon - Against the Day

BareBones

wheezy
I've been reading this on-and-off for about a year now. What are people's thoughts on it? I keep going through phases - i'll get really into certain parts and devour a hundred pages in a couple-three days*, which i'm doing now, then my interest will wane and it will go on the back burner for a a couple of months while i read other stuff. I absolutely love Pynchon, he's probably (well, certainly) my favourite author, and while i think some of this is definitely up there with his best stuff, some of it is kinda passing me by... The prose in itself is, as ever, stupendous though.

(Sorry if there's already been a discussion on this, couldn't find a dedicated thread. Maybe this could've gone in the steampunk thread but it's never about the one thing with pynchon, is it...)

*i think i read pretty slowly...?
 

craner

Beast of Burden
What makes him your favorite author? I ask out of interest. I've read The Crying of Lot 49, 100 pages of V, about 150 pages of Gravity's Rainbow (I am usually a determined book-finisher) and I just cannot understand what pleasure (or pain) you'd get out of Pynchon (apart from, maybe, a dry logophilic high, or the dubious joy of postmodern games). I had tutors at KCL infatuated with the man. One of these guys was convinced he'd been picked up by Pynchon in a New York cab - mainly because his driver spent the whole journey going on about ballistics in a dense, lyrical manner. He told me this in a weird, tremulous tone. It was bizarre. I didn't consult him very often after that. But what am I missing?
 

faustus

Well-known member
What makes him your favorite author? I ask out of interest.

i'll have a think and try and answer this. but this: "a dry logophilic high, or the dubious joy of postmodern games" i don't recognise at all

not going to start against the day any time soon tho!
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
I read Gravity's Rainbow earlier this year, and it was...tough. But not unrewarding. A lot of pain for a lot of gain, you might say, but the two didn't necessarily coincide - I thought some very worthwhile bits were (relatively) easy to read, while others were just pretentious, self-indulgent and frankly a chore to plough through. On the whole, though, I'm glad I read it, and wouldn't mind checking out some of his other books. But there are other authors I've got on higher priority at the moment.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I didn't actively dislike the book; I just didn't get much more from it than a slight "ha ha! clever! amusing!" low-level buzz. Although faustus' response ("i don't recognise at all") makes me wonder whether I am missing a major point or two. I'm not sure I have enough life left to revisit these tomes, however.

Anyway, it wasn't that funny. I don't think my sense of humour is especially off here.
 

vimothy

yurp
Yeah -- Maybe I could never really decide whether I was laughing with Pynchon or at him. But I kind of dug the silly punk-nihilism and sheer pointlessness of it. One long recursive loop: you find out nothing and get dumped out right back where you started. It reminds me of the Cohen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, where, ultimately, nothing really happens and yet it happens (that is, nothing happens) on multiple levels.

I just thought it was fun at the time, if trivial. Not sure I could ever be bothered trying to read anything longer, though.
 
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luka

Well-known member
Staff member
yeah ive read pretty much what youve read oliver! they look impressive on my book shelf though. so thick! so heavy!
the prose is ok. the jokes are less good. id rather read burroughs any day. better jokes, better ideas, better images.
but i too have this vague insidious suspicion that i might be missing something.
there is a pynchon thread incidently. our man jenks loves him.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I thought that The Crying of Lot 49 was fucking funny, in parts at least, the unbelievably violent play had me laughing out loud. Other bits too were good I thought.
I think that the thing that's interesting about Gravity's Rainbow or V is the scope and the number of ideas that are in there - unlike some others who are fans I wouldn't say that I especially like his prose, seems a bit kind of pernickety and fiddly at times to me.
 

BareBones

wheezy
I know what all (or most) of you are getting at, there's been a lot of times i've been halfway through one of his novels and it's seemed more of a chore than a pleasure - you get lost in his dense, labyrinthine sentences, constantly have to read back on yourself, you lose track of the ridiculous number of characters - not to mention the amount of maths and science involved which often goes totally over my head (the guy's actually a rocket scientist, for chrissakes) etc etc. There probably hasn't been one novel of his where i haven't experienced the feeling that it's an exhausting slog at least once. And i know (well, from what i've read) that most dissensers are pretty much over with post-modernism, so i can understand why they'd find the mass jumble of stuff going on a bit tiresome.

But... there's just so many things I love, too many to mention, and unfortunately i suspect that all the reasons i love his stuff are going to be exactly the same reasons why you guys don't...

I love his prose, which i think sometimes is just as beautiful as Nabokov's - for instance the passage in Crying of Lot 49 where he's describing LA from above at night, comparing it to a computer circuit board (can't remember the exact quote sadly)... i agree with Idlerich that it can be pretty fiddly at times, but that's exactly one of things i love about it. I love the characterisation and dialogue, the silly humour and puns, the songs, the kazoos, the vast range of styles he moves through (i know, i know, pomo), the ridiculously detailed research that goes into it and all the obscure references (there was a bit about "the real Inspector Sands" in Against the Day recently, and a Tetris moment earlier in the novel), the historical settings, the amazing synthesis of science/science fiction, fantasy/reality... i know i'm just listing stuff here and not actually providing any meat to back myself up, but i could really just prattle on all day if i'm not careful. I even love his essays and articles, which i definitely recommend reading if you haven't done so -- the introduction he wrote in a recent edition of 1984 was really good.

I think my favourite of his stuff is Mason & Dixon, and that's kinda unique in relation to the rest of his stuff, in that it follows just two central characters - and i think they're definitely his most 'fleshed-out' characters. An amazing book... and short enough that you can finish it (fairly) easily!
 
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IdleRich

IdleRich
"I love the characterisation and dialogue, the silly humour and puns, the songs, the kazoos, the vast range of styles he moves though"
I'd say I like most of that stuff - with the possible exception of the songs, in fact it's not that I don't like them it's that there are too many of them, in Gravity's Rainbow my heart sank at times when yet another one came into view.
Never read Against The Day - sounds interesting though, think I might give it a go when I've got a chance.
 

BareBones

wheezy
i am really enjoying Against the Day on the whole, especially the western-style storyline involving the Traverse family of anarchist dynamiters... and it's really funny too - one bit that made me laugh out loud recently was when this sexy female character called Yashmeen is skinny-dipping in a lake, and one of a group of boys seeing her says "Now that is of which I speak!" (ie, an early 1900s version of "That's what I'm talking about!"). It's interesting if you've read Vineland too, as some 1960s ancestors of the Traverse family appear in that.

If you haven't read Mason & Dixon though i'd recommend reading that first - it's all written in this 18th century style which can take a while to get used to, but it's a beautiful read.
 

vimothy

yurp
I know what all (or most) of you are getting at, there's been a lot of times i've been halfway through one of his novels and it's seemed more of a chore than a pleasure - you get lost in his dense, labyrinthine sentences, constantly have to read back on yourself, you lose track of the ridiculous number of characters - not to mention the amount of maths and science involved which often goes totally over my head (the guy's actually a rocket scientist, for chrissakes) etc etc.

Er, I quite like that sort of thing!
 

BareBones

wheezy
Er, I quite like that sort of thing!

sorry dude, didn't mean to insinuate you didn't! I love it too, i just wish i was better at understanding all the thermodynamics/vectorism/geometry/electromagnetism/entropy etc.... it's the one thing that's really missing in my experience of reading his novels, and though they're still hugely enjoyable, i get the sense that i'd get so much more out of them with a deeper mathematical/scientific understanding.

I've found this has been a big help during my reading of Against the Day http://www.scientificblogging.com/a...mind_bending_novel_i_against_the_day_i_part_i

plus the Pynchon wiki is great for keeping track of all the characters.
 
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vimothy

yurp
Right, right -- I wasn't remonstrating. And I don't understand much science either. Bit of maths maybe. I just like reading dense, possibly even slightly pretentious, type books.

Labyrinthine -- that's the stuff!
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
I'd say I like most of that stuff - with the possible exception of the songs, in fact it's not that I don't like them it's that there are too many of them, in Gravity's Rainbow my heart sank at times when yet another one came into view.

Urgh, the songs, the songs! :eek:
 

BareBones

wheezy
haha, yeah it is quite hoity-toity, but it's underpinned nicely by all the silly jokes, i think - it never becomes too high-brow. His sentences are as labyrinthine (or is it labyrinthian?) as his plots, conspiracy-theories etc
 

jenks

thread death
yeah ive read pretty much what youve read oliver! they look impressive on my book shelf though. so thick! so heavy!
the prose is ok. the jokes are less good. id rather read burroughs any day. better jokes, better ideas, better images.
but i too have this vague insidious suspicion that i might be missing something.
there is a pynchon thread incidently. our man jenks loves him.

Dunno about loving all of him but there are lots of reasons to read him. I agree that there are moments that I get quite lost - particlularly GR. My favourite is actually Vineland. I like the fact that, like Vonnegut, he is keenly interested in the history of dissent in the US.

Not read Day and comments here are not making me rush to it (still battling with Cylonopedia, grrr....)

I think what I really do love is the influence of Pynchon - it's not a great leap from him to people like DFW, for whom i have unreserved admiration.
 

BareBones

wheezy
Been meaning to read Infinite Jest for ages, and the DFW thread on here has convinced me... think i'll give it a go after i've finished Against the Day...
 
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