30 April 2008

The Light Over the Ranges

"What better place for the keepers of the seals and codes to convene?"

I've reached the half-way point of Against the Day. This last line of p. 542's section gives me as good an excuse as any to celebrate the achievement by posting my scribblings thus far. Since reading Janet Malcolm's Two Lives, I've often thought of how she took a kitchen knife to The Making of Americans (in order to make it more manageable) and have considered following her example with Against the Day. But this sage hardback is too lovely--I couldn't bring myself to do it. So my progress is slow...but it is progress!

What follows are musings from the first of its five parts:

~ From the very beginning, with his Thelonious Monk epigraph ("It's always night, or we wouldn't need light") Pynchon lets the reader in on the extended riff that awaits--a jazz-like work of digressions upon multiple themes (the nature of reality, existence, and truth being just the beginning).

~ As I mentioned many moons ago, the first page's mention of the "World's Columbian Exposition" in Chicago made me go back and reread Henry Adams' "The Dynamo and the Virgin" (from The Education of Henry Adams). Does anyone know if any comparison of this work has been made to Against the Day? It would make a fascinating essay (or even book!). Electricity would only be the beginning... (I've just discovered this Adams group discussion. In the introductory post, Jennifer Schuessler remarks that "Adams’s ideas of inertia and entropy profoundly influenced Thomas Pynchon". Ah ha! I'll put any further developments into another post.)

~ p. 19: Zip:
"There's lights, but there's sound, too. Mostly in the upper altitudes, where it gets that dark blue in the day-time? Voices calling out together. All directions at once. Like a school choir, only no tune, just these--"

"Warnings," said Riley.
~ p. 20: Penny:
"Nobody saw any projectiles, but there was...a kind of force...energy we could feel, directed personally at us...."

"Somebody out there," Zip said solemnly. "Empty space. But inhabited."
~ p. 24: Miles' confession:
"Sometimes [...] these peculiar feelings will surround me, Lindsay...like the electricity coming on--as if I can see everything just as clear as day, how...how everything fits together, connects. It doesn't last long, though. Pretty soon I'm just back to tripping over my feet again."
~ p. 33: Tesla is bound up in this, of course--his "World-System" of free energy gets the usual reaction:
The Professor was literally having an attack of nausea. Every time Tesla's name came up, this was the predictable outcome. Vomit.
(This reminds me that I should try to read Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else soon. Her interview at Bat Segundo's was fun to listen to.)

~ p. 34: Of course, Edison's name isn't far behind--also,
"Bankrolling Tesla has given Morgan's access to all Tesla's engineering secrets. And he has operatives on the spot [...]".
~ p. 48: The hilarious (previously cited) scuffle with Franz Ferdinand.

~ pp. 49-50: William Blake's Jerusalem makes a logical appearance as an adapted hymn out of "the Workers' Own Songbook." A former professor of mine has a personal theory about Blake pre-envisioning quantum physics in some of his more complex (esoteric?) work. So it makes perfect sense to me that Pynchon generously includes him here. Makes me think that there's much more method to his "madness" than this sprawling novel divulges at first glance.

~ p. 58: Tesla's experimentation linked to "the luminiferous Æther"? The substance "'which can vibrate light...be sheared into positive and negative electricity'" and takes the form of a "religious question."

~ p. 60: Interesting to compare Lew and the Anarchists and their "church" (and Blake hymns) with Merle and the Ætherist community--"maybe as close as Merle ever came to joining a church."

~ p. 73: Merle becomes "sidekicks" with a "ball lightning" named Skip. Light communicating...

~ p. 97: Kit Traverse works for Tesla and considers himself a "Vectorist."

~ p. 99: Kit sees into
the Invisible, and a voice, or something like a voice, whispered unto him, saying, "Water falls, electricity flows--one flow becomes another, and thence into light. So is altitude transformed, continuously, to light."
This becomes a life-altering experience and the
vectoral expressions in the books, surface integrals and potential functions and such, would henceforth figure as clumsier repetitions of the truth he now possessed in his personal interior, certain and unshakable.
The faith-like language Pynchon uses suits the work perfectly. It blends well with the idea of "Word" being at the beginning of existence--Word and Light both taking on continuous reverberations of meaning in Pynchon's universe.

~ p. 104: Tesla to Kit:
"The same began happening to me also at your age," Tesla recalled. "When I could find the time to sit still, the images would come. But it's always finding the time, isn't it."

"Sure, always something.... Chores, something."

"Tithing," Tesla said, "giving back to the day."
~ p. 108: "As, no longer named, one by one the islets vanished from the nautical charts, and one day from the lighted world as well, to rejoin the Invisible."

~ p. 110: Miles drifts...
Wandering corridors of the spectral, Miles had begun, increasingly, to alarm his shipmates. Mealtimes too often were apt to revert to exercises in deep, even mortal, uncertainty, depending where Miles had been that day to procure his ingredients. Sometimes his cooking was pure cordon bleu, sometimes it was inedible, due to excursions of spirit whose polarity was never entirely predictable from one day to the next. Not that Miles would deliberately set out to wreck the soup or burn the meat loves--he seldom got that overt, tending more to forgetful omissions, or misreadings of quantity and timing.
~ p. 114: The first mention of Iceland spar:
Ordinary light, passing through this mineral, was divided into two separate rays, termed "ordinary" and "extraordinary," a property which the Japanese scientists had then exploited to create an additional channel of optical communication wherever in the layered structure of the pearl one of the thousands of tiny, cunningly-arranged crystals might occur. When illuminated in a certain way, and the intricately refracted light projected upon a suitable surface, any pearl so modified could thus be made to yield a message.
I hope to post on part two ("Iceland Spar") later this week--more bread crumbs to help me find my way back to present meaning.

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