Saturday, August 30, 2008

Best Victory at Last (Expounded)

(I started writing this post almost two weeks ago when I just got Collin's computer [which will soon be returned to its master] and I'm trying to finish it tonight. I'm not changing the beginning. Any paragraph is a triumph, these days)



And to commemorate my recomputering I will begin not with a post of food photos or brothertales but with the Against the Day assessment I threatened you with a week ago. I slew this 1083 page beast with a million legs and a thousand eyes and now my reward is I get to talk about it.

When friends and family saw me with that tome in hand the first question was of course, obviously "what is it about?" and my response was usually "I don't...really know" (and this was even when I had about 200 pages left to go). But now that I've finished and reflected I can say that if Against the Day was "about" anything, meaning, if it had a primary plot the reader was to follow, I would say that would have been the story of Anarchist Webb Traverse being killed by men hired by Industrialist Scarsdale Vibe and the tale of Traverse's children attempting to avenge his death.

But really it's hardly about that at all, the book, like all the other Pynchon I've read (they are two), is really about Thomas Pynchon unwinding his taletelling and seeing where it takes him. This massive volume (sorry, I'll try to quit mentioning how long) was his sandbox and each unofficial chapter the idea which entertained him for a time that he now shares with us. Like when I read V. I slowly began to get my Against the Day characters straight (there are many featured players (dozens?) and many more background characters that you never know if they'll turn out to be important or not) and began to remember each characters motivations and interests. The characters come and go...some stick around for chapters then disappear for a few hundred pages, some appear at the beginning and reappear at the end when you've just about completely forgotten about them. And like when I read V., during the last hundredish pages of the book it starts to kind of come together...or at least I began to recognize the shape of the thing in front of me...and at this point I began to wonder if I should read the book again now that I've had a look at the roadmap (See Important Footnote).

A few weeks away from having read this book, let me tell you what I remember from it, off the top of my head:

A group of boys called the Chums of Chance who travel the world in an airship, taking on adventures assigned to them by mysterious employers; the Chicago World's Fair; a photographer running for cover; sneaking into the world's fair; the less-popular nations at the World's Fair; a psychical detective; dynamite; anarchists; children of Anarchists; Yale; Industrialists; Industrialists shooting an old lady in the leg with their cane-gun (I think); Industrialists' aids; Cowboys; old west towns; Cowboy's Christmas; electricity; Tesla; realizing a major character had been murdered but not sure when or how this happened; a man with a daughter; the daughter was adopted or something; all these awful, lawless Old West towns; Utah being mentioned here and there and wondering if Mormons would be mentioned soon, too; a fantasy world hidden within this hollow earth (minor plot point, it turns out);Iceland Spar; Not knowing what Iceland Spar was; not realizing that lots of magical things were happening in the book and that I needed to accept that; magicians; cruise ships; mathematicians; scientific and mathematical theories and things that I wasn't sure if they were made up or real; people running into just the person they had been looking for as they turned the corner or walked into a bar ALL THE TIME; this section set in the New York Vaudeville scene that I wish I remembered better; a red-haired girl; Venice; Vienna; me mixing up Venice and Vienna all the time; that tower in Venice getting knocked down and me wondering if that really happened in history or not; a group of Russian kids like the Chums of Chance; wondering if the Chums of Chance were getting older or not and thinking it was neat that they weren't; a dog; a cook; people taking walks; time travel; time travel seeming like it was going to be an important part of the story but then not really; a really deadly weapon that seemed like it was going to be important; not hearing again about the deadly weapon after a while; trying to keep all the brothers and uncles and sisters straight; wishing I had a dictionary; wishing I knew a translator; wishing I had an encyclopedia; a sort of submarine that traveled beneath the desert through the sand; rooftops; realizing that Kit was maybe an important character; a little dog; female counterparts to the Chums of Chance that I think were Mexican or maybe just appeared in Mexico; uhm...there was a lot more.

To close: While I was reading Against the Day what was bugging me was that I had the strong feeling that conquering this book would not provide any benefit beyond my reading it...Gravity's Rainbow is the book Pynchon is famous for, it's the book that I haven't read but gets name-dropped at work and referenced on the Simpsons–Pynchon apparently still has it in him to craft a mighty tale, but I don't see this book being held in terribly high regard down the line...so mostly I can, who know, here or there say, "Oh, yeah, I read Against the Day" when I'm in a little Pynchon conversation (it happens sometimes, really) and I heard Willie DeFord read it, too, so someday maybe we can talk about that or nod in respect to each other. BUT that's how I felt when I was reading it, now that I read it I remember it fondly (for some reason) and am glad that I tackled it and I do realize I miss its company, the weight of it in my bag, the thickness of it in my hand while waiting for an opportunity to open it on the subway.

Important Footnote: But I don't have to reread it! Just after finishing the book I discovered this great blog, The Chumps of Choice, where the book is summarized and discussed chapter-by-chapter (except the book doesn't really have chapters). I try to read a chapter summary as often as I can (not very often) and let it be said that this blog is an excellent resource for use while reading the book, after reading the book, or in place of reading the book.

Ok, that's it.

1 comment:

MARK said...

nice read....Against the Day will be more and more talked about as the World unfolds....if the world lasts (a theme of ATD).....

Wonderful that you read it wtihout the pynchon wiki, it seems....

W.A.S.T.E, the pynchon reading list where we have just finished our first reading of it since pub....so much analysis and connection....join.