Against the Day Weblog

November 21, 2007

Against the Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — basileios @ 7:25 am

I have thought about this for quite a bit and I have decided to join the band of Pynchonians in next years Pynchon Week in Munich. Aiming high, I decided to do a paper as well on Against the Day on the scientific and textual instances of Light in Against the Day. Here is the abstract, so if you have any comments I would love to hear them.

Against the Light:

The scientific and textual importance of Light in Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Against the Day’

Light plays a very special role in Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel Against the Day. It is not simply a part of physics that is used extensively in Against the Day as a running theme from chapter to chapter but Pynchon uses light both as a metaphor and as a protagonist in parallel to all the events that are narrated in Against the Day. Any analysis of Against the Day that neglects the importance of light and its manifestations is bound to be incomplete so it is important to uncover both the scientific and metaphoric roles of light in Against the Day as a starting point to all analysis of this important work. Light, seen in context of the period that Against the Day takes place, is the physical element that undergoes the most important and ground breaking shift in the eyes of the scientists and the common public: from a ‘simple’ electromagnetic wave as part of the aether theories, via Special Relativity – whose absence is more than remarkable in the book – to the most important physical element, the measure of all things. Since that time period time, space, velocity, and many other physical quantities are measured with respect to this absolute maximum velocity of light – or a number derived by it. Moreover, the particle/wave duality of light introduced by photoelectric effect in the early 20th century starts a rather paradoxical state of affairs that will be followed and expanded by quantum mechanics for all matter. At the same time light, in the form of the electromagnetic wave, becomes the medium, the carrier for the majority of human communications from that point onwards, and the emission and handling of electromagnetic radiation becomes one of the most important technological aspects of the 20th century. Pynchon in Against the Day focuses his attention on Light as a medium of change that represents the scientific revolution that will eventually shape the new Physics of the 20th century and as a result of all the revolutions (political, artistic, social, technological) in the tempestuous times of the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, Light appears in Against the Day as a textual metaphor that seems to correlate the narration in the form of an expanding light wave that is eventually focused on specific themes, and stories. The present paper explores the instances of light in Against the Day, analyzes their scientific and technological nature and status and discusses the textual implications under the context of this ‘Pynchonian Science’.

Update 2 Jan. 08. Sadly the abstract was not accepted for the Pynchon Week. I will still do the article though, so stay tuned as I will place it on the blog at some point.

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