24 May 2008


Notes on the third part of Against the Day (see also Part One and Part Two).

~ p. 431: Light as a "secret determinant of history"

~ p. 437: Using Iceland spar to read by...and the polarization of light in time as well as space

~ p. 438: The Manichæans make an appearance:
"Everything you appreciate with your senses, all there is in the given world to hold dear, the faces of your children, sunsets, rain, fragrances of earth, a good laugh, the touch of a lover, the blood of an enemy, your mother's cooking, wine, music, athletic triumphs, desirable strangers, the body you feel at home in, a sea-breeze flowing over unclothed skin--all these for the devout Manichæan are evil, creations of an evil deity, phantoms and masks that have always belonged to time and excrement and darkness."

"But it's everything that matters," protested Chick Counterfly.
Indeed. I could go on about how the Manichæan heresy has invaded fundamentalist Christianity, causing many "Christers" to miss the entire point of the Incarnation and the holiness of day-to-day existence...but I won't. Chick said it all.

~ p. 452-53: On the nature of Time (beneath a whirling tornado)

~ p. 456: Roswell and Merle discuss the lure of light--and its future in the movies, "'the whole idea of a movie projector being built like a clock,'" how Time is "'vulnerable to the force of gravity,'" and the need of making gravity "'impervious to time.'" Merle asks why, and
Roswell shrugged. "It's that one-way business again. They're both forces that act in one direction only. Gravity pulls along the third dimension, up to down, time pulls along the fourth, birth to death."

"Rotate something through space-time so it assumes all positions relative to the one-way vector 'time.'"

"There you go."
~ p. 458: The connection to "'all those Æther folks'" is pointed out: "'We were all probably on to somethin then, didn't know it.'"

~ p. 471: Pynchon draws an interesting parallel between the mothers Mayva and Erlys (who ran off with a magician):
"All the time we were growing up," Frank said, "you wanted to run away and join the carnival?"

"Yes, and there I was with all o' you, right in the carnival, and didn't even know it." And he hoped he'd always be able to recall the way she laughed then.
~ p. 476 & 503: He has "Wall o' Death, Missouri, built around the remains of a carnival, one of many inspired by the old Chicago Fair" where our story begins. Have things come full circle? On p. 503,
The world, since the Chicago Fair of 1893, had undergone a sudden craze for vertical rotation on the grand scale. The cycle, Yashmeen speculated, might only seem reversible, for once to the top and down again, one would be changed "forever." Wouldn't one.
~ p. 498: Yashmeen's preoccupation with Riemann's "Zeta-function problem" has proven to be one of the most thought-provoking elements of the book. I know virtually nothing about higher math, but Pynchon has got me thinking that I'm capable of filling in the blanks of explanations he all but spells out. There are certain connections that I'm just not making...but then, Yashmeen herself is on the verge of understanding as well:
[S]he was not quite able to ignore the question, almost as if he were whispering to her, of why Riemann had simply asserted the figure of one-half at the outset instead of deriving it later.... "One would of course like to have a rigorous proof of this," he wrote, "but I have put aside the search...after some fleeting vain attempts because it is not necessary for the immediate objective of my investigation."

But didn't that then imply...the tantalizing possibility was just out of reach...

...and suppose that at Göttingen [...] he had actually been unable not to go back to it, haunted as anyone since, back to the maddeningly simple series he had found in Gauss and expanded to take account of the whole "imaginary" mirror-world which even Ramanujan here at Trinity had ignored until Hardy pointed it out to him--revisited, in some way relighted the scene, making it possible to prove the conjecture as rigorously as anyone might wish...
(And it's only now that David Leavitt's The Indian Clerk goes into my TBR list...)

~ p. 525: Around the time I reached this page, I heard a reference made to Quaternions on Futurama and realized (I'm embarrassed to admit) that Pynchon did not just make them up. In fact, most of the fun of posting these notes comes from the discoveries of the real personalities and concepts that Pynchon writes about. It's been quite an education. I'd really love to read a mathematician's take on this novel.

~ p. 534: A Quaternioneer's lament:
"Actually Quaternions failed because they perverted what the Vectorists thought they know of God's intention--that space be simple, three-dimensional, and real, and if there must be a fourth term, an imaginary, that it be assigned to Time. But Quaternions came in and turned that all end for end, defining the axes of space as imaginary and leaving Time to be the real term, and a scalar as well--simply inadmissible. Of course the Vectorists went to war. Nothing they knew of Time allowed it to be that simple, any more than they could allow space to be compromised by impossible numbers, earthly space they had fought over uncounted generations to penetrate, to occupy, to defend."
~ pp. 535-36: There is no way I can not quote this:
"Heaviside was once termed 'the Walt Whitman of English Physics'--"

"What...excuse me...does that mean?"

"Open question. Some have found in Heaviside a level of passion or maybe just energy, beyond the truculence already prevailing among the different camps in those days."

"Well if Heaviside's the Whitman," remarked a British attendee nearby in a striking yellow ensemble, "who's the Tennyson, you see?"

"Clerk Maxwell, wouldn't you say?" suggested someone else, as others joined in.

"Making Hamilton I imagine the Swinburne."

"Yes and who'd be Wordsworth then?"


"I say, what an amusing game. And Gibbs? The Longfellow?"

"Is there an Oscar Wilde, by any chance?"

"Let's all go to the Casino!" someone invisible screamed.
~ pp. 538-39: More of Pynchon's little jokes:
"Cambridge personality Bertie ('Mad Dog') Russell observed," observed Barry Nebulay, "that most of Hegel's arguments come down to puns on the word 'is.'"
Due to its "'altogether disquieting square root of minus one,'"
"If you were a vector, mademoiselle, you would begin in the 'real' world, change your length, enter an 'imaginary' reference system, rotate up to three different ways, and return to 'reality' a new person. Or vector."
From one who practices this:
"Each time I become somebody else. It is like reincarnation on a budget, without the element of karma to worry about."
~ p. 543: The phrase "against the day" has a variety of meanings and interpretations, depending on when it appears in the story. This seems to be a central one:
"It's a peculiar game we all play. Against what looms in the twilight of the European future, it doesn't make much sense, this pretending to carry on with the day, you know, just waiting. Everyone waiting."
~ p. 554: Ryder Thorn visits Miles from the future and tells him that
"Flanders will be the mass grave of History."


"And that is not the most perverse part of it. They will all embrace death. Passionately."

"The Flemish."

"The world."
The foreshadowing of WWI runs all through the novel, but this is one of the more specific moments.

~ p. 558: The inevitable next step emerges: "'A weapon based on Time.'"

~ pp. 564-5: The terrible weapon is described and it involves light, lenses, and calcite (Iceland spar).

~ p. 571: Luca Zombini's process of creating doubles is a result of a three-dimensional mirror:
"We pass from a system of three purely spatial axes to one with four--space plus time. In this way time enters the effect. The doubles you report having produced are actually the original subjects themselves, slightly displaced in time."
~ p. 577: Hunter Penhallow agonizes:
"Political space has its neutral ground. But does Time? is there such a thing as the neutral hour? one that goes neither forward nor back? is that too much to hope?"
~ pp. 579-80: Penhallow on art (to Dally):
"The body, it's another way to get past the body."

"To the spirit behind it--"

"But not to deny the body--to reimagine it. Even"--nodding over at the Titian on the far wall--"if it's 'really' just different kinds of greased mud smeared on cloth--to reimagine it as light."
This leads into a discussion of a story about Jesus from the "Infancy Gospel of Thomas" that reminds Dally of "that Pentecost story in Acts of the Apostles":
"Apostles are meeting in a house in Jerusalem, you'll recall, Holy Ghost comes down like a mighty wind, tongues of fire and all, the fellas come out and start talking to the crowd outside, who've all been jabbering away in different tongues, there's Romans and Jews, Egyptians and Arabians, Mesopotamians and Cappadocians and folks from east Texas, all expecting to hear just the same old Galilean dialect--but instead this time each one is amazed to hear those Apostles speaking to him in his own language."

Hunter saw her point. "Yes, well it's redemption, isn't it, you expect chaos, you get order instead. Unmet expectations. Miracles."
~ p. 596: Is this describing the coin shown on the jacket cover and the page preceding Part One?
Today [Yashmeen] wore an ancient coin, pierced and simply suspended from a fine silver chain around that ever-fascinating neck.... "It's an Afghani dirhan, from the early days of the Ghaznivid Empire. He gave it to me, for luck."
Is Pynchon slipping us a good-luck charm against the day?

~ p. 613: Lamont Replevin and his religious persuasion:
"They worship it, this empty space, it's their highest form of worship. This volume, or I suppose nonvolume, of pure Akaša--being the Sanskrit for what we'd call Æther, the element closest to the all-pervading Atman, from which everything else has arisen--which in Greek obviously then becomes 'Chaos,' and so down to van Helmont in his alchemist's workshop, who being Dutch writes the opening fricative as a G instead of a Chi, giving us Gas, our own modern Chaos, our bearer of sound and light, the Akaša flowing from our sacred spring, the local Gasworks. Do you wonder that for some the Gas Oven is worshipped at, as a sort of shrine?"
~ p. 616: Yashmeen:
"Lenin himself is said to be writing a gigantic book now, attempting to refute the 'fourth dimension,' his position being, from what I can gather, that the Tsar can only be overthrown in three."
~ p. 633: Another joke at Bertrand's expense--a certain mural depicts: "a mischievously hydrophobic Bertrand Russell actually entering and departing the scene, depending on the viewer's position and velocity." Yes, that's right--rabid Russell.

~ p. 675: Vectors fail Kit: they "had not shown Kit, after all, a way to escape the world governed by real numbers."

~ pp. 678-79: "At the moment the two were on their way to see the comic operetta Waltzing in Whitechapel, or, A Ripping Romance, based loosely, and according to some reviews tastelessly, on the Whitechapel murders of the late '80s."

~ p. 681: This, of course, brings up a whole government conspiracy that links Franz Ferdinand's ascension to Jack the Ripper,
"working under contract. Considering that he disappeared from London around November of '88, and Mayerling was at the end of January '89--time enough for Jack to get to Austria and become familiar with his target, yes?"

"They were shot, Max," protested Werfner with exaggerated gentleness, "not butchered. Jack was not a firearms person, the only similarity is that the list of suspects in the 'Ripper' case is also long enough to populate a small city [...]. Hundreds, by now thousands, of narratives, all equally valid--what can this mean?"

"Multiple worlds," blurted Nigel, who had floated in from elsewhere.

"Precisely!" cried the Professor. "The Ripper's 'Whitechapel' was a sort of momentary antechamber in space-time...one might imagine a giant railway-depot, with thousands of gates disposed radially in all dimensions, leading to tracks of departure to all manner of alternate Histories...."
~ pp. 685-86: The Truth about Renfrew and Werfner. Despite all of the clues, I didn't see it coming. The answer to the mystery is even the title of this section of the book (!). And Light is at the heart of it all.

~ pp. 687-88: This extends into the Cohen's explanation:
"We are light, you see, all of light--we are the light offered the batsmen at the end of the day [...]. When we lost our æthereal being and became embodied, we slowed, thickened, congealed to"--grabbing each side of his face and wobbling it back and forth--"this. The soul itself is a memory we carry of having once moved at the speed and density of light."
He explains how they try to regain
"that condition of light, to become once more able to pass where we will, through lantern-horn, through window-glass, eventually, though we risk being divided in two, through Iceland spar, which is an expression in crystal form of Earth's velocity as it rushes through the Æther, altering dimensions, and creating double refraction...." He paused at the door. "Atonement, in any case, comes much later in the journey."
This is a key to understanding Yashmeen's pseudo-corporeal condition, and reminds me of the Genesis story of man being made "in the image" of God. If he is light, so are we. But it seems that all threads of this novel lead back to this--the fascination with light and its uses (for both good and evil). Again, science and religion weave in and out of the ideas expressed--some supernatural, some science fiction. But Pynchon makes the "fiction" bit seem very possible.

I was also strongly reminded of lines from Edgar Lee Masters' poem, "Emily Sparks":
That all the clay of you, all of the dross of you,
May yield to the fire of you,
Till the fire is nothing but light!...
Nothing but light!
~ p. 689: The railroad as the key to the "gigantic ten-miles-to-the-inch wall map of the Balkans," as it defines
"patterns of flow, not only actual but also invisible, potential, and such rates of change as how quickly one's relevant masses can be moved to a given frontier...and beyond that the teleology at work [...]."


Brook said...

you are insane.

amcorrea said...

Thank you--I'll take that as a compliment. :P