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, April 02, 2007

Additional Discussion, pp. 374-396

Monstro's comment from a couple of days ago struck me as extremely apt:

I think these metaphoric systems are being chosen for a reason. It isn't just that Pynchon is being "trippy" but that he is trying to find simpler ways to describe something and to offer as many metaphors as possible to show that this "trend" in the way things actually work isn't really all that unusual at all. But then, what is he going for finally. What are these the echoes of? That's what's got me right now, because the second you start using politics, religion, and the nature of reality as metaphors for something REALLY important, you have to ask: what's more important than those?

Oh, indeed...

Here's some commentary from another source that I thought was relevant to this topic. My dear wife, Wonder Woman, bought me for Christmas the volume of Zak Smith's drawings of Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow. A quite stupendous thing, which I intend fully to have at my side when next I foray into that unforgettable masterwork. From Zak's Foreword:
[This is] the real-world unity of the Pynchonish style of thought: go off looking for the answer to some maybe-meaningless question, collect and connect the obscure clues, find out that the world is weirder and wider than you'd imagined and so are you.

Or, to put it another way, Pay attention to everything interesting because everything is connected.

People often call this style of thinking "paranoid," but that word connotes something pathetic rather than something that might be creative or useful. Gravity's Rainbow in particular seems to have been written by someone who began with no other project than to observe, write esssays about, and know the history of nearly everything that interested him in the one-eyed hope that, in the end, it would all be connected -- the hope that after 760 pages some thread connecting warfare, behaviorism, and bad limericks would emerge and that this thread would be relevant, if not to the entire world, then at least to the life of the author.
Oh, please do discuss...


At Thursday, April 05, 2007 7:54:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

Alright, I'll start.

I would really like to quote the editors of P-Notes who saw fit to not publish my article on Gravity's Rainbow because of its "audacity," but I shant. I think the metaphor in Gravity's Rainbow is the movie. In other words, I think that all of Gravity's Rainbow is happening on a big screen in front of an audience and that at the end of the book, characters from within the movie launch a rocket at the people watching the movie.

Meaning? Meaning that by turning cold war terror into a Midnight Movie, we are trivializing it and thereby muting our fears about nuclear annhialation.

Meaning also? Meaning also that when unrelated crap happens in a movie we do not bat an eye, we do not call the movie unrealistic. We watch movies in the mode of a paranoid, and this is a good metaphor for how we actually live our life.

My feelings about Pynchon and Paranoia are quite simple. If you believe that your life is a story in which you are the main character then you are religious, if you believe that someone is telling the story. If you do not believe that someone is telling the story, if it is a story without a narrator, then you are paranoid. There's no such thing as a story without a narrator and so you must imply one, you must have a secret someone who controls the various nothing moments of your life. This is what Pynchon probably got from Borges, I imagine.

Nonetheless, what we have is a a group of systems which echo one another in the same way that a snail's shell echoes the shape of spiral galaxies. You think, hmmm, there must be some similar principle at work here, though every expert will tell you no. There's a bunch of things in the universe, two of them happen to look alike, one's a snail shell, the other's a spiral galaxy. But still, the vast coincidence of it all (never mind how many times those probabilities are played) seems to suggest a mystical connection.

But Pynchon isn't saying no like those experts, he's saying yes. He's saying money is like light is like chemistry is like war is like showbiz is like history is like fiction is like....

And I ask why? What is the underlying principle/thing/idea/notion/ethic that combines all these things. In GR, it was life is like a movie. Here it's "life is like ________" with a thousand different things you could use to fill in the blank, and they're all supposed to be synonamous.

I've written too much on this as it is, so I'll stop. But this is the thread I see throughout the book, and I'm really hoping it comes to something.

At Friday, April 06, 2007 7:40:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

"What are these the echoes of? That's what's got me right now, because the second you start using politics, religion, and the nature of reality as metaphors for something REALLY important, you have to ask: what's more important than those?"

I think it is more like he is using politics, and religion and storytelling styles and patterns as metaphors for the underlying causes/sources of these phenomena and the way they play out accordng to certain common patterns. The patterns are either religious fictions or personal fictions or cultural fictions or scientific fictions or political fictions . They all require a beginning middle and end. A problem , heroic struggle and resolution. We are steering uselves and our planet toward an unneccesaary end because our inner and outer story structure requires it.
The heroic counterforces are Pynchon point to in ATD are anarchism and Buddhism which are active and contemplative ways of confronting and stopping the propagation of fictions and living with the real.

Anyway, that closely approximates the way I am seeing ATD now. What is wonderful is the historical and personal elaboration of the ideas. To me it is as though TP spent the first half of his writing carreer focusing on and defining the nature of organized predation and showing the relative hopelessness of the victims and the second half sketching out the power and failure and razor thin possibilities of resistance. I think He also poses the possibility of karmic forces that can level the playing field in unexpected ways.(these might also be seen as the self destructiveness and insufficency of some forms of predatory empires and religions).

I supose this will be regarded as a rather too hopeful reading. I like monstro's movie metaphor.

At Saturday, April 07, 2007 8:25:00 AM, Blogger sfmike said...

I like both of your metaphors/explanations.

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