Thursday, July 20, 2006

A NOVEL TITLE FOR PYNCHON. There's been another flurry of chatter about Thomas Pynchon's next novel, scheduled for publication on December 5, 2006. Last week a synopsis attributed to Pynchon appeared on, then vanished. What was the deal with that? Then there was also word that the book's title would be revealed this week.

This evening, AP and Slate seem to have gotten the scoop, claiming that the synopsis is, in fact, written by Pynchon, whose previous novels include Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon.
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
And good luck to you too, Tom.

As for the title: Against the Day. That's also the title of a 1998 book by Michael Cronin that, according to this website, imagines what might have happened had the Nazis successfully invaded the United Kingdom in 1940. And it's a phrase that turns up in a speech by William Faulkner. Here's how former Mississippi governor William F. Winter referred to it in a 2004 speech of his own:
When I was Governor of Mississippi in 1983 we had a dinner at the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson in honor of Mrs. Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers. I said to her on that occasion, "Mrs. Evers, we white folks owe your martyred husband as much as black folks do, for he helped free us, too."

All of us were prisoners of a system that enslaved us all and that dictated how we lived our lives. It caused us all to live in fear and mistrust and ignorance of each other.

The tragedy is that freeing ourselves of that bondage took so long and caused so much needless and useless suffering and violence. William Faulkner spoke of this at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association in Memphis in November, 1955. He and Dr. Benjamin Mays, then the distinguished president of Morehouse College, addressed an integrated audience at the Peabody Hotel, that in itself being a major breakthrough. The fever of massive resistance was rising in the South, and both of these celebrated figurers spoke eloquently on the evil of segregation:

Faulkner concluded with these words:
We speak now against the day when our Southern people who will resist to the last these inevitable changes in social relations, will, when they have been forced to accept what they at one time might have accepted with dignity and goodwill, will say, "Why didn’t someone tell us this before? Tell us this in time."
In the light of that haunting question, let us hope that the next generation of Southerners will not have to ask the same thing about us as we confront the new challenge of an increasingly multiracial society. Let us be reminded, therefore, that there is still much for us to do to complete the task of racial reconciliation.
Of course, the phrase "against the day" comes up in other contexts as well. In 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt said "The true conservative is the man who has a real concern for injustices and takes thought against the day of reckoning."

I've found other quotations too, many of them similarly apocalyptic in tone.

Previous Pynchon coverage.

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