Fuck Andre the Giant, Leonid Stadnyk is where it's at: 8' 6", homie.
Dedicated to classics and hits.
Monday, November 05, 2007
It took me over a year to read this book, and as I skimmed through some of the more “professional” reviews of Against the Day, many of which appeared roughly a year ago or even earlier, I can’t help but think, “Maybe they read it too fast?”
For there is much that is infuriating about Against the Day. Primarily, it’s the fact that at 1089 pages long, there is no way to minimize the effort required to read it. Second, the plot is maddeningly elliptical, and it takes close to 400 pages before you really grasp what, exactly, is going on. Third, Pynchon fills Against the day with digression- not exactly a new phenomenon when it comes to fiction, but after your fifteenth twenty five page exegesis on Balkan geography or Albanian culture or whathaveyou, it’s easy to see how a reviewer might be frustrated.
Balanced against this infuriating nature are counter-points which lead me to the opinion that Against the Day is not a sloppy mess but actually a superb, enjoyable novel. First of all, the plot isn’t that difficult to grasp:
Basically, anarchist coal miner Webb Traverse is killed at the behest of evil industrialist Scarsdale Vibe. He leaves behind three sons and one daughter. Most of the book involves the attempts by Webb’s sons to avenge their father’s death. In the process, they have many adventures in places like Mexico, Germany, the Balkans & Central Asia. They meet, marry and have kids during the course of their adventures. Along the way there is a lot of math, a lot of physics and a lot of mumbo jumbo.
Together with this basic revenge plot is the interwoven story of the Chums of Chance, a bunch of boy adventurers who circle the globe in their zeppelin. The Chums of Chance don’t really directly encounter the Traverse’s, but they figure in the background of many of the locations.
And that’s basically it, in terms of plot. Of course, with Pynchon, narrative focus is the least of his worries, and if you aren’t down for digression, then sir or madam, you have no business reading Thomas Pynchon. In order to enjoy the digressions, you need to have some idea of the mise-in-scene, so to speak- the backdrop- the current events that form the setting for Against the Day. The time and place is roughly the 1870s to the end of World War II- 1918 or thereabouts.
So if you want to get the most out of Against the Day, have a working familiarity with historical events like the Chicago World’s Fair, Labor History of the American West, Mexican politics in the 19th century, European Diplomacy in the Balkans before World War I, Theoretical Mathematics and Physics of the 19th century, The Cult of Pythagoreous in Greece, The “Great Game” i.e. Central Asian diplomacy in the 19th century/20th century & Pulp Adventure Novels from the early 20th century. Personally, I’m about 4/8 on that list, and that was just about enough.
It’s clear that one of the contributing factors to the enormous length of Against the Day is Pynchon’s fondness for the theme of doubling. Each character seemingly has a double, and many events seem to have their own double within the text. The doubling also appears as a species of Icelandic Rock that creates human doubles (instead of just reflecting them). In a certain sense, it’s fair to say that the obsessions with doubling turns a 500 page revenge yarn into a 1000 page novel that, if diagrammed, would look something like a modern conception of an atom, with all the particles whirling around the nucleus.
I was fortunate that I spent the year between purchasing and reading the book reading up on some of the background subjects, more or less by coincidence, but this is not a book to rush, and not a book you want to read “cold” or more likely as not, you won’t finish.
A few words on La Jolla... first of all, class segregation by the rich is ipso facto proof of the lack of sophistication among a ruling class. That's why the best estates are in the third world! Similarly, in the most sophisticated cities in the world, the wealthy live in relative proximity to the non wealthy. See: London, Paris, Berlin, New York City, San Francisco. If you want to see what makes a world class city, go to San Francisco and stand in the "Tender Nob" i.e. the intersection of the Tenderloin and Nob Hill. La Jolla embodies self-segregation by the rich. Economic integration of different classes is a key for success in western civilisation. The further away you get, the more out of touch you are.
The La Jolla MOCA is a very nice space, airy and fairly announcing its "post modernism" to anyone who'd care to look. I'm glad La Jolla has its own Modern Art Museum - you can hardly expect the wealthy to come downtown, the MOCA downtown is by a train station for chrissakes! how common!
I'll confess that I "married into" my Yo La Tengo fandom. A SF show at the Great American Music Hall some years ago was the locale of a first date with CDW. we then saw them again at "this ain't no picnic" in irvine in a 100 degree cowfield or something - I think they followed the blue man group (yikes!).
anyway, Yo La Tengo is one of the iconic independent rock bands of the past twenty years (they started out putting records in the late 80s?) Along the way they've scored film soundtracks, brought Hoboken back from artistic irrelevance and maintained a recording/touring schedule that has guarenteed both their lively hood and a certain level of artistic freedom. In short, Yo La Tengo is any indie role model, so I was avid about the prospect of the format last night: songs interspersed with q & a.
Did I mention there were seats? Yes. Key point.
Basically what happened was Yo La Tengo played a song or two and then took questions from the audience. It's like how I imagine an episode of VHI's storytellers or perhaps that "the craft" series that 94/9 does at the Belly Up. However, it was executed a lot more comfortably than I would have imagined. Several moments felt like an actual dialogue / anecdote sharing that you would experience with the band if you were just hanging out at some bar.
The audience had an average age well in advance of 30, with a sprinkling of college age kids and some young childen(!) In fact it was a girl of 5 who requested their current single "Mr Tough" eliciting a knowing chuckle from the lead singer, Ira Kaplan, "Most of our fans are too cool to ask for the new stuff."
The question and answer segments was cool, revealing the humor and history of the band. James revealed himself a big fan of the movie Pootie Tang, who isn't? And the band talked bout the making of their music, music comes first, lyrics later, lyrics draw heavily from "angst" (its a go-to spot for lyrics says Georgia) and their awkward, misguided youth (Ira).
The q and a did have a few awkward moments:
Q: What Do you think about Sonic Youth?
Ira: They are a band that shadows over everything we all do, that's how big they are.
Yikes! Is there a Sonic Youth/Yo La Tengo grudge somewhere back there in the mists of time? It makes a certain amount of sense- in the hierarchy of american independent rock from the 80s to the 00s, Sonic Youth has maintained an outsize presence on the landscape (despite low album sales), while Yo La Tengo has avoided the Manhatten spotlight, the clothing label forays with the Beastie Boys, the glitzy "Free Tibet" Cause o Thon.
The music itself was fantastic. Loved sitting down! Overall I was impressed both by the professionalism of the venue and the band itself. It was a great way to spend a sunday night. Too bad that museum is in La Jolla- it should be downtown (and yes, I know there's a branch of the MOCA downtown, my criticism remains the same).
- ► 2013 (176)
- ► 2012 (401)
- ► 2011 (298)
- ► 2010 (377)
- ► 2009 (100)
- ► 2008 (67)
- ▼ 11/04 - 11/11 (3)
- ► 2006 (85)