Thomas Pynchon - Against the Day

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Ha, I used to worship the shit out of Terry Pratchett when I was about 13. Poor fucker's got Alzheimer's now :(

The Qwghlm archipelago in Cryptonomicon could be straight out Discworld, it has to be said.
 

tryptych

waiting for a time
Worth re-reading, some of those early Pratchett novels I reckon - there's plenty of good stuff I missed as a teenager.
 

D84

Well-known member
My five cents

Against the Day is the first Pynchon book I've ever read and I loved it.

Sure it felt like a bit of a chore every now but then he'd hit you with a passage so beautiful it breaks your heart, or with some awesome science fiction concept, or he'd slip in a joke when you least expect it etc etc.

I took all his wacky names etc as part of his showing off his skill as a writer, eg. "yeah I can give all these guys dumb names but it's not gonna detract from the quality of my writing." I guess it is kinda post-modern too in that he makes you aware of the artificiality of the form etc, which isn't a bad thing, but there's nothing post-modern about writing phenomenally well (IMO) and over-flowing with brilliant ideas.

I guess I loved this book too because it reflects a lot of the things I'm interested too. The Colorado stuff seems to be an extension of the themes touched on in Deadwood about the rise of American Capitalism (I'm thinking in particular of that episode "Amalgamation and Capital") and its agents the menacing Pinkertons: I never realised that Private Investigators were originally intended to sniff out unionists and often assassinate them. It also touches on those that the show did not such as US working class attepts at resistance to the bosses etc: those "anarchists".

Perhaps the clincher for me book is also chock full of amazing SF/Fantasy/Steampunk ideas, monsters, machines, other worlds and the occasional derring-do which is just nuts to me having read so much SF/Fantasy etc.

It is kinda hard going. It took me ages to read too. But if you stick with it it starts to make sense and every chapter has at least one or two bits that made me at least go "wow." And it's not hard work because of the prose, which is actually quite straight forward, but mainly because he just packs so much in.

In comparison I recently read Gibson and Sterling's The Difference Engine which is written in a far more straight forward manner and touches on some similar or contiguous themes. It was a great read and I recommend it, but I just didn't come away as satisfied or amazed as I did finishing Against the Day.

Michael Moorcock's review pretty good btw.
 

catalog

Well-known member
I had a magic moment with 'Against the day' last night, it was a brilliant spell of 10 pages or so.

At least 4 different bits of what I considered to be stunning prose and even his habit of jump cutting and introducing even more characters seemed to work and not go against the flow.

Like the guy above says, there's a section about 200 pages in where it gets very much like 'deadwood' , or maybe something like 'there will be blood'. Even made me think of that Clint Eastwood film, where he paints the town red and renames it hell. Sam Peckinpahs brutal vision of the West, on paper.

Afterwards, my head was buzzing, like I'd smoked a spliff.

Here's one of the highlights:

"There was also a telephone instrument mounted on the wall, pretty constantly in use. But one day it rang while Reef happened to be right next to it, and he knew it was for him, and that it was bad news.

This was part of the strangeness of telephones in those early days, before the traffic became quite such a routine affair. As if overdesigned to include all sorts of extra features like precognitive alarms."

It reminds me of ithell colquhoun talking about electricity in 'The Living Stones' :

"I also toyed with the idea of installing electricity, but Vow cave was 'four poles' away from the nearest house, and the cos was prohibitive.

Since then I have sometimes wondered whether this absence of electric current was not a blessing in disguise: does not a dwelling without it breathe more freely? Some of the tension of modern life is due, I think, to the fact that people surround themselves day and night with the pulsations of electricity in one form or another, and these tend to disturb the subtle body."

From here to luke talking about the 5G towers....

When they built the 5G towers on my roof things got a lot worse. I started having bad headaches and I couldn't sleep etc. Felt like I was under constant psychic attack.

It also made me wonder whether the uptick of interest in psychedelics is perhaps a way to commune with spirits, cos our tech has got rid of a lot of previous means and we need that component?
 

catalog

Well-known member
That particular quote is page 206 in the edition I've got, it's the jonathan Cape hardback, 2006. The few pages immediately after that are well worth a read, I was gonna post some more from them in a bit.
 

catalog

Well-known member
The other paragraph i really liked was this one from page 208:

“The brothers traveled as far as Mortalidad, the stop nearest Jeshimon, then, because of who might or might not be looking, they said goodbye with little more than the nod you give somebody who’s just lit your cigar for you. No gazing back out the window, no forehead creased with solemn thoughts, no out with the pocket flask or sudden descent into sleep. Nothing that would belong to the observable world.”

I love that last line, it reminds me of Joyce’s ineluctable modality of the visible, although maybe thats a totally different thing.

But it just made me think about that idea of the power of leaving no trace, keeping something secret from visibility.

So hard nowadays to achieve this, with the nonstop recording of almost everything, the constant surveillance.

A different spin: it makes me think of the scene in Lost Highway - “I like to remember things my own way”


And how when you sometimes find something, you can actually lose it. Like when i “found” the sample source of this Dean Blunt tune from the Narcissist ii


In this Ashanti video


somehow it meant i was less into it afterwards. Why is that?

Dean Blunt:

"People wonder why nothing is interesting, it's because they try to get a fucking answer to it, to everything," he replies. "There are things you can't articulate. There's that 'thing' in the world – music has it, every kind of art has it. And people talking about it can destroy it."

 

catalog

Well-known member
I'm at about 350 pages now, with Dally in New York.

It all feels quite straightforward so far, the various characters and their relationships are a bit confusing, but nothing overwhelming.

It seems very well thought out and plotted to me. A big map. Wide rather than deep.

And not very chaotic or crazy at all really.

It's different to gravity's rainbow in that respect, more about epic sweep and people in different places at the same time, rather than about a load of mad stuff happening.
 

catalog

Well-known member
600+ pages into it now - it's really good.

Two bits in particular have been outstanding:

Painting:

Dally in Venice with the painter, Hunter, who is painting the same street corner day after day, trying to capture the light right. It's quite close to some reading/writing I've done around smog in london "causing" Impressionism in the 1890s, cos of what it did to the light.

So Monet and Whistler there, who he mentions.

But interestingly, Pynchon latches onto the fog in Venice and makes this genius connection with all his maths talk:

"In Venice we have a couple of thousand words for fog: Nebbia, Nebbieta, Foschia, Caligo, Sfumato. And the speed of sound being a function of the density is different in each. In Venice, space and time, being more dependent on hearing than sight, are actually modulated by fog."

I was inspired to think about the effects of smog cos I was going to loads of gigs, particularly at the white hotel but also Dean Blunt ones, where the room is just filled with smoke, so full it's disorienting. A lot of red light:

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And I thought about how it would concentrate your attention on the music, but I love what Pynchon says about it actually affecting sound, and had not thought that before.

And he's got a lovely poetry when talking about the "noise" in the sky which affects the light, the "sky scatter".

I love this from him as well:

"It's as if these Venetian painters saw things we can't see anymore"

in reference to Dally and Hunter looking at this painting by Tintoretto.

Accademia_-_St_Mark%27s_Body_Brought_to_Venice_by_Jacopo_Tintoretto.jpg


It reminds me of when Levi-Strauss is in the Amazon jungle and the tribe are pointing out Sirius to him, and he can't see it. But they can, their eyes are attuned to it, whereas his aren't.

And then a bit later on, they are talking to this other painter, Tancredi:

"To reveal the future, we must get around the inertia of paint. Paint wishes to remain as it is. We desire transformation. So this not so much a painting as a dialectical argument."

I looked up Tancredi, he's real, but from the 50s. So he's come back in time I think, cos it's the early 1900s at latest, is before WW1.

And it seems to be based on what he was actually doing, using splatters and then working them up.

tancredi_untitled-7of9.480x0.jpg


Gas:

"Connected by gas for emotional reasons"


There's this character Replevin, who is using gas as a means of communication. He gets investigated cos there's a suspicion he knows the secret location of Shambhala, which is one of the subplots.

So this guy goes over on a pretence of selling him some insurance and finds him hanging upside with his head in an oven - gas mask on.

And Replevin says:

"Via the medium of gas a carefully modulated set of waves travels from the emissions facility to us through the appropriate hoses to the receiving mask you have seen, which one must of course wear over ears, nose and mouth."

And also:

"Smell can be a medium for the most exquisite poetry."

It gets better - he goes onto explain how in India, there are temples where empty space is worshipped. Pure "Akasa" which can be thought of as "Ether" is the 5th element.

So he talks about how this "nothing" contains "everything" - "Atman".

But then explains that from the Sanskrit "Akasa", the Greeks derived "Chaos", which then becomes "Gas" because the alchemist working on it was Dutch, so the Greek "Ch" gets rendered as "Gas".

"Our own modern chaos, our bearer of sound and light, the akasa flowing from our sacred spring, the local gasworks. Do you wonder that for some the gas oven is worshipped at, as a sort of shrine".

Genius stuff.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"It's as if these Venetian painters saw things we can't see anymore".
I wonder about this - and the opposite of course. I remember an article about Homer and the Odyssey and it was saying about how often he describes the sea as "the wine dark sea" which sounds kinda strange to us in that the sea tends to be blue-ey or greeny whereas dark wine is red. Yeah, they're both dark so it sort of makes sense but it's probably not the comparison that someone writing now would use. And he did have a point, that phrase had stood out to me when I was reading it, I'd thought it was a nice phrase and slightly unusual, but I'd just thought that that uncomfortableness which was the result of it not being the obvious word was just a bit of added texture, almost like a hook to grab you in, something you noticed it was almost, or arguably, wrong.

But the author of the article went in a totally different direction, he claimed that basically, in that time (at least in that culture - or maybe universally I can't remember) they made no distinction between dark blue and dark red - in fact he said that they couldn't see a difference between those two colours or shades or whatever they are. Now personally I find that very hard to believe, I guess he did have some other reasons for thinking it but I wasn't convinced. Of course I can well believe that different people see differently and that the culture you're in can affect that, but I found it hard to swallow what he was saying whole. I think we can never have anything approaching a definitive answer on that - it's hard enough to work out right now what two different people might be seeing when they look at the same thing, it seems extraordinary to extrapolate back thousands of years and then generalise to a whole civiliisation on the basis of a few textual fragments.

But, it seems relevant in that it claims that "we're seeing things that the ancients couldn't" - the inverse of the Pynchon quote, although I wonder if he meant that they saw more or simply that they saw some things that we can't and in exchange for that, we see some things that they can't?

Another literary example that seems relevant here is one from - I think it was - Guy de Maupassant. Just a short story (I forget which one) but there was a bit about a painter, a student painter in fact, an educated man basically, travelling round rural France and staying in farmhouses or whatever, I guess in the middle of the 19th century sometime, and the point that's relevant to what you said above, is that he would set up his easel and draw scenery or at times he would draw people, and, GdM claimed that when the rural poor looked at the easel they would say "What's that?" why have you put all those colours and shapes on that bit of paper. Ultimately he was saying that a French farmhand, maybe even a French farmer, in the 19th century had not been educated in how to look at a painting and so, as a result, they couldn't understand that it was a representation of a flower or a valley or a person or whatever. Do you believe that? Arguably it's a more far-reaching claim than that the Greeks couldn't see red (or is it actually? I dunno) but it does have the advantage of being made by someone who there was there at the time, not just someone who read a few texts from the era.
To me it seems just about possible, for us there are certainly pictures (or photos for that matter) where you can't see what it is at first and then it kinda clicks into place and we get it. That's exploited in creating optical illusions but it can also happen by accident - could it have been that until pictures were commonly displayed and your average person could rely on having seen thousands before they were fully grown we experienced all representational art in that way?
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
Though seemingly they didn't have any problems recognising the Lumiere Brothers' train when it came at them.
 

catalog

Well-known member
I think it's totally plausible.

Perspective as a technique was invented at a certain time and place and became standardised.

They don't do it the same way in China.

Any system of representation requires some kind of suspension of disbelief.

There's always got to be a blind spot.

With the wine... I mean one thing that's interesting about blue and red is that although they are at opposite ends of the spectrum, they do come round and meet in purple... They're eventually next to one another. You can even see a blue tint on very fresh wine maybe?

That guy de maupassant story, whilst I've not read it, sounds similar to the story of Van Gogh painting in the countryside. It's in the recent film about him. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_Eternity's_Gate_(film)

A load of school kids along with their teacher come and look at him painting when he's out in the countryaide.

He's doing all his mad splashes of colour and they are like, what are you doing. That's not art. And then the teacher even says that what he's doing is not art, he gets all upset and they topple his easel over...

I'm into this idea, of people having different eyes.

I think it can be stretched to a point where it becomes pointless, but there's definitely something in it.

It's a different version of de Saussure's sign/signifier idea, so it's the bedrock for all structuralist/post-structuralist thought.

I really like the way Pynchon put it.

You can make the world totally different.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I find both plausible. I mean it seems pretty likely that we see and/or describe things differently from Homer did - what I have an issue with is someone claiming to have identified the exact way in which he saw things differently and then categorically stating it as though they are certain on the basis of a few quotes.
With the GdM thing, more plausible that he's right, cos yeah he was writing about his contemporaries.
@catalog were we talking about My Name is Red one time? I have a feeling it was you, but just in case it wasn't, then it's really interesting on the different techniques of Islamic artists compared to the newly developing ideas of the renaissance artists. Well, the main idea is not about the techniques but rather about the different philosophies that determine what they want to paint/illustrate and then how that should be done - so technique of course features but as something that arises from thought and reflects back to it. Or something.
 

catalog

Well-known member
That's the poets licence isn't it I suppose? You have the belief and then fit the world to it.

Don't think it was me talking about that book with you but it sounds pretty interesting and up my street.

Islamic art is a good case in point, with the representation of figures haram so to speak, so you get all the abstract mosaics and calligraphy. Utterly fascinating.

Im expecting Pynchon to tackle it soon.

Honestly, this book is brilliant, was just reading another thing last night where they're talking about tunnelling through a Swiss mountain, which seems to be a preoccupation of his. Seem to remember this being a major plot point in Gravity's rainbow as well.

So one of the occupational hazards is coming across these "Tatzelworms" which sound horrendous:

"It's a snake with paws. Four legs and three toes on each paw, and a big mouth full of very-sharp teeth."

And then the characters start talking about how these worms are peculiar to Europe:

"In Europe, the mountains are much older than in America. Whatever lives in them has had more time to evolve toward a more lethal, perhaps less amiable, sort of creature."

And then this is the bit I like most, and is quite typical of what is going on in this book. The next guy says:

"It is also a good argument for Hell, for some primordial plasm of hate and punishment at thd center of the Earth which takes on different forms, the closer it can be projected to the surface. Here under the Alps, it happens to become visible as the Tatzelworms."

I like how he pushes his ideas to his limits, often using conversations between various people to do it. And it's so wide ranging, but not as chaotic as Gravity's rainbow, so you don't feel too lost, even though there's loads of characters and he keeps introducing new ones.

So I'm looking forward to what's gonna happen with the Tatzelworms now.
 

catalog

Well-known member
Yeah, I was thinking ill be giving another a go before long. I like the sound of V and first novels are often interesting just cos of being the first.

Won't be for a while though. After this, I got the tempest and then molloy by beckett. And I need to fit Ishmael Reed in somewhere.

But the gold keeps coming with against the day, more really strong bits at the very end of the "Bilocation" chapter, where he talks about people being in 2 different places at once, you go to sleep in one place and you are awake in another place as someone else.

And there's a good bit where he compares mountains to cathedrals as well.
 
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