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Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Against the Day (edition 2006)

by Thomas Pynchon

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2,585453,413 (4.08)164
Title:Against the Day
Authors:Thomas Pynchon
Info:The Penguin Press (2006), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 1085 pages
Collections:Your library

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Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

  1. 03
    Bioshock Infinite by Irrational Games (alaskayo)
    alaskayo: A video game that takes its nods where it wants to from Pynchon's latest monsterwork. An involving story with revolutionary AI and character development in another steampunk'd, quantum mechanix'd reimagining of the original Chicago World's Fair and all the tropes that came with the times.… (more)

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English (43)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
(original review, 2006)

Art is a social medium, a material medium, an intellectual medium, an economic medium: it consists of a great deal more than surfaces. Art that consisted only of surfaces - if such a thing were possible - would be of no larger significance than a crossword puzzle. This is true even of painting - the only art whose medium can be credibly represented as being 'all surface'. I'll also point out that apart from having entered the language in the form of the term 'Rabelaisian' - now merely shorthand for 'characterized by coarse humour or bold caricature' - Rabelais himself is little read outside the academy and, like Shakespeare, often quite painfully unamusing.

There is nothing more vulnerable to the passage of time than a style of humour; even slang can be footnoted. What has protected Pynchon so far is the fact that so many of his readers are male Americans of a certain age and style of education, whose humour has become generalised as the public style of a generation. There are already clear signs that this is changing as that generation ages and dies off, and as women claim equality in literary opinion-forming. I fear for Pynchon's reputation in twenty-five years' time. On a sentence by sentence level Pynchon is amazing entertainment if you like pop satire. He's the Warhol of literature - his work appears to be all surface or cartoon or shallow but for clever reasons beyond my own powers of expression he's a genius.

Against the Day is one of his best in fact. The guy can sing. He reminds me of Mel Brooks or Twain - a great American comedian. His long, list-like sentences offer a heady mixture of shamanic incantation, encyclopedic knowledge and radical politics . . .Sounds good to me then.

As much as I love Pynchon, there are a number of sexually precocious children in his books ("repeated child-rape scenarios" is hyperbolic nonsense which does some reviewers no favours though). The Vroom daughters in "Mason & Dixon" and Dally Rideout in "Against the Day" spring to mind (Dally does also have a near-miss brush with molestation at a party New York). I've got a rule: never avoid the books based on the elements of moral repugnancy, but we can't pretend they're not there.

Pynchon has his rabid fans but he also has readers. As does Foster Wallace. I'm one (a reader). Although I register and part-agree with some reader's annoyance at the hero worship of both; I don't think I have to choose between worship and rejection. ( )
  antao | Sep 29, 2018 |
I initially encountered Thomas Pynchon when Gravity’s Rainbow was reviewed in the Science book section, a rare event for fiction (the only fiction I remember making such an appearance was Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series). Pynchon’s novels are full of mathematical references – Gravity’s Rainbow includes the Poisson distribution definition in the text (since it describes V2 impact sites). Against the Day not only includes the Riemann zeta function, but a major plot element is conflict between quaternion enthusiasts and vectorists over which is the best technique (including a love affair between proponents of the opposing camps). Both Pynchon and I attended Cornell (Pynchon initially majored in Engineering Physics but, after a stint in the Navy, returned and graduated with a degree in English), both of us have a weakness for puns (one of the characters in Against the Day is a Uygur rabbit hunter named Al Mar-Fuad, who mispronounces “r” as “w”). Pynchon also is a Star Trek fan; the later novels usually include some reference – characters in Mason&Dixon and Against the Day find occasions to give a hand gesture with the palm raised and the second and third fingers spread, and there’s a series of references in Vineland to a science fiction television series where the entire spaceship crew is black except for the red-headed communications officer, Lieutenant O’Hara. The Star Trek franchise has apparently returned the favor; detailed freeze-frame examination of some of the engine room equipment on the Enterprise shows the logo of Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems, after the fictional aerospace company Pynchon invented for V. and The Crying of Lot 49.

Pynchon does interesting sex scenes, running through an almost complete gamut of perversions (gang rape in V., adultery in The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow; coprophagia, necrophilia, underage sex, S&M, bestiality (with an octopus) and stocking fetishism in Gravity’s Rainbow (as an example of his mathematical bent, Pynchon notes that the curve described by the top of a stocking held up by a garter belt is a catenary); and transvestitism, spanking and gay and Lesbian S&M in Against the Day. I have to say though that none of the sex scenes are there for the titillation value; in every case there’s a sound plot reason for the characters to do what they do and nothing seems forced (although I will say that character’s in Against the Day probably engage in an anachronistic amount of sex for the time, but the novel is obviously not intended to be historically accurate). Gravity’s Rainbow was rejected for the Pulitzer even after an unanimous recommendation by the jury because the Pulitzer board found it “obscene”; the objectionable passage is tiny part of a long book.

My most recent exploration of Pynchon is the aforementioned Against the Day; this is his longest novel (so far) and, although the jacket blurb describes it as “his most accessible”, is as complicated and confusing as the rest of them – but also as fascinating. It has all the normal Pynchon problems – an immense number of characters, many of whom don’t seem to have much to do with the plot – what there is of it – and lack of character depth (I can form very little mental image of what any of Pynchon’s characters look like. To be fair, I can’t imagine any of Jane Austen’s, either, and there’s nothing wrong with her novels). He’s also experimenting with his own variation of “magical realism”, in this case what you might call science fiction realism; the novel starts in 1893 but includes a number of futuristic elements. One of the subplots follows The Chums of Chance, a sort of Horatio Alger/Tom Swift bunch of boys who fly around the world in an airship, communicating with headquarters by a Tesla transmitter; the British navy operates a sort of mechanical mole vessel in the Central Asian desert; there’s a plot interlude involving a sort of Mountains of Madness adventure in the high Arctic; and there may or may not be some sort of quaternion weapon (the Q-gun; this might be yet another obscure science fiction reference as a “Q gun” appears in the “Doc” Smith Lensman series) that might or might not be responsible for the 1908 Tunguska event.

That brings us to another Pynchon characteristic – leaving plot questions unresolved. In V., we never learn who “V” is; The Crying of Lot 49 ends before we learn who bids on the counterfeit postage stamps; I’ve read the last third of Gravity’s Rainbow three times without being able to figure out what’s going on; the exact mission of the schooner Golden Fang never gets explicated in Inherent Vice, and Against the Day finishes without the Traverse family resolving their vendetta against their father’s murderers (although the Chums of Chance do get to hook up with a group of flying girls in the end).

Keeping track of plot and characters in Against the Day is difficult but challenging and worth the effort. Aside from the aforementioned lack of denouement – which is, after all, part of Pynchon’s style – my only minor criticism is the anachronistic insertion of 21st century politics into a book set across the turn of the 20th century. Pynchon has his Traverse family heroes make a couple of references to “Republican Christer capitalists”. Not only is “Christer” rather pejorative and highly out of time, but the people who would be most accurately described by that term at the time of the novel were mostly Democrats – William Jennings Bryan, for example. There’s not a lot of this; just enough to cause a twinge or two – but it represents an annoying trend of people projecting modern politics back into history (I’ve mentioned before a modern Marxist historian who decided that because the Earp brothers were Republicans and the Clantons were Democrats, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was an example of Wall Street oligocrats violently dispossessing progressive pastoralists).

I haven’t yet read Pynchon’s most recent, Bleeding Edge; of the others, Inherent Vice is probably the funniest; The Crying of Lot 49 and Mason&Dixon the most accessible; V., Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day bedside labyrinths; and Vineland the least interesting although still very good. I think I have to recommend them all. ( )
1 vote setnahkt | Dec 31, 2017 |
Absolutely pointless and not worth anyone’s time, this is a novel by a man entirely self-absorbed. It says nothing about any particular era, has no characters more three dimensional than a sheet of paper and has no plot to speak of. It wanders aimlessly across the planet sometime around the beginning of the 20th century and contains nothing memorable short of some rather gruesome and vacuous sex scenes.

He doesn’t even include a single chapter to give his poor readers a break as they struggle against the interminable tide of prose for over 1,000 pages.

Avoid. ( )
  arukiyomi | May 6, 2017 |
Not my favorite Pynchon, but it has its moments. Of course, any 1,000-page book is bound to have its moments. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
This book sits on my bookshelf, having only read about a hundred pages. Lost interest and gave up, but hope to return to it one day.
  Tracy_Tomkowiak | Sep 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Thomas Pynchon's new behemoth of a book, "Against the Day," is likely to have readers responding in one of two ways; either they will think it is one of the greatest novels ever written, or they will see it as a vainglorious head trip from an author notorious for being difficult to read. The truth of the matter actually lies somewhere in between. "Against the Day" is probably the most brilliant book most people will never read. The reason it will probably fail to garner much of an audience is that at almost 1,100 pages it is, to put it bluntly, the novel as literary whirlwind, cryptically dense and unrelenting in its demands on the reader.
IN “Against the Day,” his sixth, his funniest and arguably his most accessible novel, Thomas Pynchon doles out plenty of vertigo, just as he has for more than 40 years. But this time his fevered reveries and brilliant streams of words, his fantastical plots and encrypted references, are bound together by a clear message that others can unscramble without mental meltdown.
On the American literary scene – that hodgepodge – a new book by Thomas Pynchon is unarguably a major event, and here he comes again. His sixth novel, “Against the Day,” runs to 1085 pages, but never creeps and assuredly never drags. Though he has a disciple here and there, most notably David Foster Wallace, no novelist has proven more sui generis than Pynchon since his debut with “V.” in 1963.
"Against the Day" -- the phrase seems to allude to the apocalyptic conditional: In the familiar scriptural locution, the day itself was the eventual one of "judgment and perdition of the ungodly men." But let's not make too much of it. There is simply too much going on in this wide-ranging, encyclopedic, nonpareil of a novel to reduce it all to something as small as the apocalypse.
There is a striking moment in Thomas Pynchon’s enormous new novel that threatens to get lost, like many of the striking moments in his novels, in all the other moments: of overly wrought prose, of names so memorable that you can’t remember them, and of quasi-historical accounts of science and politics that the diligent book reviewer and his fact checker would like to substantiate but that are mainly unsubstantiable.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159420120X, Hardcover)

Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them. Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.

-Thomas Pynchon

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:01 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A tale spanning the years between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the end of World War I features characters who are caught up in such events as the labor troubles of Colorado, the Mexican revolution, and the heyday of silent-movie Hollywood.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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