Monday, January 8, 2007


3. The world is everything that is the case.
This line from Wittgenstein is played as a joke in Pynchon's first novel, but its implications extend throughout his fiction: the world of any of his novels is everything that he deems germane. AtD is more sprawling than any previous Pynchon novel (and that's saying something) because it moves about among more stories and "follows" more characters. GR, while more imaginatively sprawling perhaps in that each wild metaphor might at any time take on a life of its own, restricted its main narrative line to Slothrop, with some notable digressions -- Pökler, Mexico, Enzian, Prentice -- that were all tangential to that narrative. In AtD, the narratives of the four Traverse siblings -- Reef, Frank, Lake and Kit -- each takes center stage for a time but also gives way to various "spin-offs" or subplots that can for a time take on as much importance as the main game -- the adventures of Cyprian Latewood, of Dally Rideout, of Lew Basnight, and of the Chums of Chance being the most vivid examples. One of the mentally fatiguing aspects of AtD is just how spread out "the story" chooses to be. V. set the bar with the wide reach of enterprises in which lady V. (or someone like her) was, at least in Stencil's reconstruction, involved. But, again, the reconstruction of V.'s past was, ostensibly, of a single character by a single character.

In AtD, as with M&D, I get the feeling sometimes that TP, having decided to chart an itinerary for his picaresque characters, pursues it sometimes doggedly rather than inspiredly, which means at times sketching in backgrounds in the broad tones of the encyclopedia (not known for really opening up time and place). In M&D the decision to follow closely the duo's actual peregrinations, I felt, reined in TP's imagination too much -- though this is what perhaps makes the novel more accessible to those that find it so. In AtD there isn't so determinate a reason for where characters go (though I think it has to do with a global map that TP laid out and chose to follow) and what they get up to (so long as it involves some type of anarchist shenanigans). Colorado, Venice, the Balkans, and Mexico become the dominant locales, though Chicago, London, New York, Trieste, Geneva, L.A., finally Paris, and hosts of other places move in and out like soundstages in the old Hollywood.

Where we are and what's happening seem at times arbitrary -- also a point often delivered or perceived as a criticism -- an effect that, I would argue, is justified by the narrator's world view which I would describe as Manichaean: the two poles are the utterly random and the fated (i.e., controlled by forces unseen). Because the characters must themselves experience both sides of this pole, their adventures have to be such as to dismantle standard versions of cause and effect, probability, even self-identity. Such crutches must be thrown over by the reader as well and it seems that a deliberative wearing-down of our expectations of sequential and consistent events can only occur in a narrative of sufficient magnitude, like those paintings that only "work" on a colossal scale.

To be continued...

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