Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, July 15, 2010

_Against the Day_ (IV)

THE TITLE CAN be taken in at least three ways. For one, the novel participates in the same neo-Zoroastrian children-of-light vs. children-of-darkness opposition that figures often in Pynchon, so one may say the novel is about those who are making war on the day. (The principal child of darkness, Scarsdale Vibe, has the best Pynchonian villain-name since Brock Vond.) Second, the resistance, the children-of-light, are in a confrontation with the hegemonic powers, with things-as-they-are, so they are "against the day" in the sense of opposing the prevailing temper of their times. ("'Sometimes,' said Virgil, 'I like to lose myself in reveries of when the land was free, before it got hijacked by capitalist Christer Republicans for their long-term evil purposes...'." Amen.)

Third, we have the idea of providing for the future, anticipating some eventuality, preparations. The novel insists that the 20th century we had was not the one we had to have, that unrealized hopes did not go unrealized because they were impossible, unattainable -- that we need to remain loyal to those hopes, to keep imagining another world is possible. This is uncharacteristically sunny stuff from Mr. Entropy, and William Logan in the VQR got a bit snarky about it -- "The final pages of the novel offer a frazzled sentimental tale of coupling and growing old" -- but I'm old enough or long-coupled enough to have found these pages convincing, even moving. I was moved by this, for instance, the birth of Yashmeen Halfcourt's & Reef Traverse's daughter:

The baby was born during the rose harvest, in the early morning with the women already back from the fields, born into a fragrance untampered with by the heat of the sun. From the very first moment her eyes were enormously given to all the world around her. What Cyprian had imagined as terrifying, at best disgusting, proved instead to be irresistible, he and Reef to either side of the ancient bed, each holding one of Yashmeen's hands as she rose to meet the waves of pain, despite the muttering women who plainly wanted the two men elsewhere. Hell, preferably.

I witnessed the births of both my daughters, and I would say that Pynchon got something absolutely right here. (My daughters were not born during rose harvests, but even that seems utterly spot on.) That bit about the eyes... perfect.

Or take this subjunctive-mood vision of happily-ever-after he conjures up for Kit Traverse and Dahlia Rideout:

May we imagine for them a vector, passing through the invisible, the "imaginary," the unimaginable, carrying them safely into this postwar Paris where the taxis, battered veterans of the mythic Marne, now carry only lovers and cheerful drunks, and music which cannot be marched to goes on uninterrupted all night, in the bars and the bals musettes for the dancers who will always be there, and nights will be dark enough for whatever visions must transpire across them, no longer to be broken into by light displaced from Hell, and the difficulties they find are no more productive of evil than the opening and closing of too many doors, or of too few. A vector through the night into a morning of hosed pavements, birds heard everywhere but unseen, bakery smells, filtered green light, a courtyard still in shade...

Yes, in twenty years the Wehrmacht will be marching into this paradisal Paris -- but we need to keep contemplating that music that cannot be marched to -- it too goes on.

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