Against the Day Weblog

January 3, 2007

Pynchon’s View on History

Filed under: General — basileios @ 10:24 am

“Who’s to say,” Kit carefully, “we couldn’t get it done quicker by just standing back, letting the forces of History roll on over him”

page 739

I think there is a lot to be said about the Pynchonian view of History as seen through Against the Day (already some discussion about this is in a previous post). In a sense it feels that Pynchon follows a neo-Marxian approach of ultimate paranoia under which History is not changeable by the small individual acts of people (otherwise known as ‘heroes do not exist’ – I would even place the ‘don’t go for the head shot’ paragraphs mentioned earlier in the book under this umbrella). I hereby call this in my humble opinion the core point of Against the Day and the whole underlining of the book an essay on how this applies in the difficult and changing times of the beginning of the 20th century. The book can be analyzed in so many ways based on this idea which came to me rather late (after page 500) that has already made me think that I have missed many points in the early stages of the book. Mental note: second reading (at least), mandatory.

As for the book reviews that keep on popping up about Against the Day, I ‘ve read so many calling it a ‘revenge story’. Calling Against the Day a revenge story is like calling Moby Dick a revenge story.



  1. Hey, fellow Vagabond of the Void, oddly enough my post today notes a certain paranoia.


    Comment by Steelr — January 3, 2007 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

  2. Um, first time poster, within 20 pages of the end (posting on weblogs to postpone the day):
    I don’t see a marxian inevitability, nor do I see the calvinist determinism; in fact I see it refuted. The individuals start out as manifestations of a principle or archetype, yet through doubling (maybe tripling?)become switches of a rail line, or different refractions through iceland spar. I’m pulling this out of my ass, and would need time to build a textual case, but there exist symbolic relationships among the presented characters. Webb Traverse becomes Kit, Reef, and Frank; Dahlia is Yasmeen, but slightly different. Renfre and Werfner are the most obvious example of this phenomenon, but the same principle applies: characters are doubled, or tripled (or…) as the metaphor demands. These different aspects of the same thing may well represent its choices, or, as in the blurb, “what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two.”

    Regarding optimism, as much as I’d like to, I just don’t see it. On (almost) first reading I see only progression towards brute chaos. Remember, “if going up is like going north, with the common variable being cold, the analagous direction in Time, by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, ought to be from past to future, in the direction of increasing entropy.” And, as chick mentions earlier, “So…if you went up high enough,you’d be going down again?” Turning and turning in the tightening gyre, if you ask me, but what the hell do I know?

    Comment by foolishmortal — January 4, 2007 @ 7:48 am | Reply

  3. Um, I may have erred: there can be, and I believe there is, an inevitabilty in the text. I just don’t think it is marxian, as it imho recapitulates, regressively, until the day. And if that makes any sense, you’re drunker than I am.

    Comment by foolishmortal — January 4, 2007 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  4. Some preliminary thoughts from p 800+. This is a metaphysical snapshot of the Belle Epoch. If one can’t write a complete history of mankind why not settle for encapsulating a moment in history then refract it either backwards or forwards through similarities (like a Mandlebrot fractal portrait of a tiny segment predicts the total structure). Iceland spar being the medium. In this way ATD becomes a history of our own time with the obvious bits being the anarchist “enemy” and the campanille (sp?) collapse a pre-reflection of the world trade center.

    It’s a wonderful balls to the wall Edwardian contraption about the spirit of invention and its consequent subjugation by Big Biz.

    Has anyone discussed the Chums of Chance in terms of representing the evolving zietgeist of the times?

    Comment by ShakespearesChimp — January 16, 2007 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

  5. That is an interesting perspective – pun intended 😉

    I somehow feel though that Pynchon is trying to point to the similarities of the changing times as well, in present future and past. Change works as a chaotic environment of utmost complexity. In spite of this the laws and ‘strange attractors’ seem to be acting in similar fashion in past and future irrespective of the individual actions of the molecules …oops! I mean people!

    This makes Against the Day a far more difficult and ambitious project than any other Pynchon book, but at the same time I feel he has filled in all the gaps in his work. I am in the final 200 pages of the book now, and I am sad cos deep inside I have the hunch that this will be his last work. ‘there are no more books to be written’.

    Comment by basileios — January 16, 2007 @ 4:36 pm | Reply

  6. It’s hard not to carry the book around in your head.

    There’s a “Groundhog’s Day” element to the narrative where the hope is one day we’ll get it right. Forces of greed may through some quirk of history be cut off at the pass and the spirit of wonder that creates the great innovations will somehow remain intact and not be corrupted or torpedoed by fat cats with boiled shirts and bibbed goiters.

    Can anyone explain in plain English the relationship of vectorism to Quatrion (sp) theory? I’ve googled it a bit but come out more confused than ever.

    Comment by ShakespearesChimp — January 16, 2007 @ 6:43 pm | Reply

  7. Quaternions are like vectors in 3D space (in a similar fashion to complex numbers being vectors in 2D space). They are not really used that much these days (although I vaguely remember some papers that were associating them with spinors, the spin of elementary particles and 3D rotations).

    Comment by basileios — January 16, 2007 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

  8. Does fractal geometry and Quaternions have a relationship? I’m thinking out loud that my impression of Pynchon’s belle epoch history as a working fractal for all history might find some support in either vector or quad theory.

    BTW the seal on the cover I read somewhere on line is the seal of the Tibetan chamber of commerce. It certainly bears a resemblance to what is on the Tibetan CofC website. I took the symbol as the passport seal to Shambala so glad to see I wasn’t that far off. And I’d like to think that the Tibetan C of C is thusfar unpolluted by Carlyle Group money.

    Comment by ShakespearesChimp — January 16, 2007 @ 11:00 pm | Reply

  9. […] talked about what appears to me the most important aspect of Against the Day, the power of history over human society but it appears that Pynchon is more of an optimist than I thought. Or […]

    Pingback by He’s an optimist after all… « Against the Day Weblog — January 11, 2008 @ 6:52 am | Reply

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