The Chumps of Choice

A Congenial Spot for the Discussion of Against the Day, by Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Cornell '59, and Any Other Damned Thing That Comes Into Our Heads. Warning: Grad Students and Willie-Wavers will be mocked.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Additional Discussion, Pages 121-155

Discuss This Segment in Relation to Other Pynchon Novels

Chumps: Here's where we discuss the above section (pp. 121-155) as it may relate to other Pynchon novels. Flights of fancy, speculation, the Interconnectedness of All Things...

Please click on the image to go to an annotated web album of images related to this section of AtD.


At Sunday, January 28, 2007 9:21:00 AM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

Response to Rene from other thread.

You've stated some kind of comparison that critics are making between this book and the other books. I think this book is the most put together of Pynchon's works. Just as "Entropy" the story is sort of the immature version of The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow, so too does ATD matrue Pynchonian themes.

The idea that there are echoes across human experience is there, for instance, in Crying of Lot 49 with its eleven murders by the side of the lake, but it's so hard to wrap your head around because, and I'm being blunt here, it's not very well articulated.

Having taught that book, my students get to the part about Mucho Maas and "Rich Chocolaty Goodness," and they ask me what it means. It takes me twenty minutes to explain and leaves them wondering how in the hell they were ever supposed to make that connection. In ATD, those kinds of connections are laid bare.

So, too, with V. which seems to be a proto-ATD in its epic sweep. Except in V. everything is related because things start with the letter V. That's...tenuous at best. It's interesting, but it doesn't boggle the mind at the nature of interconnectivity. Gravity's Rainbow, I think, tries to do the same kind of thing during the Counterforce sections, but because the fictional elements it chooses are so specific (Weimar theater silent movies), it becomes a commentary on how all life is like a Weimar silent movie. Okay...? I mean, that's interesting, again, and I love the book absolutely, and if you meditate on it for a while, it's really f-ing deep, but it isn't laid out for you to get.

ATD does. It's not weirdness for weirdness sake. It wants you to see what it's doing.

That being said, I can see why critics think that the book isn't about anything. They never think Pynchon's books are about anything..and they get tenure for saying that kind of bullshit. Do you have any idea how many times I've heard Pynchon compared to James Joyce? It's ridiculous. The critic doesn't understand either author and all of a suddent they're working in the same mode.

Don't trust critics.

At Friday, February 02, 2007 10:38:00 AM, Blogger David Cásseres said...

OK, about the portrait of Constance Penhallow, described on p. 127:

When required she could pose with the noblest here against the luminous iceblink, as if leaning anxiously out of some portrait-frame, eyes asking not for help but understanding, cords of her neck edged in titanium white, a three-quarters view from behind, showing the face only just crescent, the umbra of brushed hair and skull-heft, the brass shadow amiably turned toward an open shelp of books with no glass cover there arranged to throw back images of a face, only this dorsal finality.

So first we hear about the eyes asking for understanding, then we learn that we can't see her eyes. What the fuck? Wait, she's leaning out of a picture frame. Birefringence? No, it's that contra jour device, where we see her from behind, in the foreground, but if we were in the picture, we'd see the eyes. I guess. This is a mighty mysterious painting, and set in the context of those walls of green ice on one side, and on the other side Harald Hårdråde, having come about just in time, understood, from that moment of unsought mercy, with the end of the world now at his back, more than perhaps he cared to about desire, and the forsaking of desire in submission to one's duties to history and blood.

With the end of the world now at his back, eh? Eh? Who's facing which way, here, against which day?

Meanwhile, over in Gravity's Rainbow, on p. 222, we have this:

Katje turns her head and sinks her teeth in his forearm, up near the elbow where the Pentothal needles used to go in. "Ow, shit–" he lets go the arm he's been twisting, pulls down underwear, takes her by one hip and penetrates her from behind, reaching under to pinch nipples, paw at her clitoris, rake his nails along inside her thighs, Mister Technique here, not that it matters,they're both ready to come – Katje first, screaming into the pillow, Slothrop a second or two later. He lies on top of her, sweating, taking great breaths, watching her face turned 3/4 away, not even a profile, but the terrible Face That Is No Face, gone too abstract, unreachable: the notch of eye socket, but never the labile eye, only the anonymous curve of cheek, convexity of mouth, a noseless mask of the Other Order of Being, of Katje's being – the lifeless non-face that is the only face of hers he really knows, or will ever remember.

I quote the whole paragraph for context, and because it is again some of Pynchon's best writing.

Now, I haven't sorted out the correspondences and contradictions between these two scenes in any detail, and I suspect a good grad student could chew on them for a long time, but you have to know that Our Boy, having written the Katje one, must have had it very much in mind when he wrote the Constance one. That three-quarters-from-the-rear image being so central to both, and I can't think of another place where he uses it.

And if he had it in mind, I have to assume that he wanted his readers to sit up and pay attention, even though some haven't read GR (but by the time they re-read AtD, many of those will have read GR).

So I just wanted to put the two passages side by side, and would like very much to hear what anyone else thinks about the poignant, suspended mystery of Constance (perhaps facing her duties to history and blood) v. the raw terror of fucked Katje, who faces one way only, into the end of the world with no coming about.

At Friday, February 02, 2007 8:53:00 PM, Blogger David Cásseres said...

One more thing: that 3/4 rear view of the face is often seen in comic books. Probably because it's easy to draw, but also because it easily portrays at least three dramatic actions: rushing away from us, us pursuing, us pushing forward.

At Friday, February 02, 2007 8:55:00 PM, Blogger David Cásseres said...

And one more: ice-blink, used repeatedly, sounds like German eisblick, which translates as "ice view."

At Saturday, February 03, 2007 7:10:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

Yes to montro's observations, both his sense that there is intended meaning and that the articulation which directs the reader toward his intentions is at a new level of maturity, and gracefulness. I think Pychon is keeiping his encyclopedic layering, but trying to point more precisely to the structure, connections and major themes. Also, while the narrative threads are discontinuous, and the chums add a new dimension, I found the narrative easier to follow than GR and more psychologically and emotionally engaging than anything else he has written. But the ideas keep ATD in the realm of the most difficult and mysterious books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

GR does have an intensity, and a directional arc of youthful genius at its most passionate. Also it takes on the sentimentalization of WW2 and reveals its darker elements.

I am also happy to hear someone else insist that the books are about something . I have come to see the corrupting influence of the colonial mentality as a major theme running consistently through all his works. We see it in comic relief in the recently discussed vormance expedition particularly the scientific conference where they took up the pros and cons of colonizing time.

I am one of those Pynchon readers who likes a wide variety of fiction, and non-fiction, and have a limited appetite for experimental writing, and I think the critical reception of ATD says more about the limited number of astute critics than about what is clearly a master work of global scope, quantum precision and hilarious finesse.

At Saturday, February 03, 2007 8:28:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

Constance and Katje ? 2 things come to mind for me. One is the Chums dispute over the figurehead for the inconvenience in which the youthful Cick and Darby want a curvy maiden, but the crew settles on the mature draped woman. I see a strange similarity along with a stark contrast between V ,the seductive and deadly machine woman and the flying women at the end of ATD. I think one could find an increasing respect for the maternal over the course of P's writing, marked by increasingly positive roles, and hopes for the future.

Roy Lichtentsein explored this pose in a couple of his benday comic book style paintings. It seems to reverse the subject as object to be studied and directs the viewer to ask what the subject is seeing and thinking.

In a way I think GR and ATD give us 2 ways of looking at the same thing. Both look beyond the end of the world, but one is bounded by dissolution, violence, and gravity and the other is a world buoyantly freed from dimensional limits.

At Sunday, February 04, 2007 8:58:00 PM, Blogger David Cásseres said...

Yes, I've seen the Roy Liechtenstein paintings with that 3/4-from-behind face. But I'm also pretty sure it's common in the comic books he took his inspiration from, and I bet P. read the same comics.

You're quite right about the evolution of women in Pynchon's books. As if he came to know women better over time.

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