If you were a vector, mademoiselle, you would begin in the ‘real’ world, change you length, enter an ‘imaginary’ reference system, rotate up to three different ways, and return to ‘reality’ a new person. Or vector.
The Anarchists and Socialists on the shift had their own mixed feelings about history. They suffered form it, and it was also to be their liberator, if they could somehow survive to see the day.
…for we’re only passing through, we’re already ghosts.
This book is brilliantly imagined and written and is a monsterous, glorious mess. There’s material enough for 3 novels covering the time period between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 to the deceptively idyllic years between world wars, but there’s also a consistency of theme, so maybe Pynchon said, what the hell, and wove it all into one. I hope he got his editor a really really nice thank you gift.
Science fiction, historic, crime thriller, pre-war comic books are part of an incomplete list of genres Pynchon plays with while ultimately converting into Pynchonian. The cast of characters runs into the hundreds, but each is unique and complete:
Professor Heino Vanderjuice, inventor and nemesis of Nicola Tesla; Lew Basnight, lost soul working off his unknown (possibly unknowable) debt with White City Investigations, a p.i. firm tasked with guarding Francis Ferdinand during a trip to Chicago; Scarsdale Vibe, a stand-in for the robber barons, and Foley Walker, his bodyguard and alter ego; the Traverse family, Webb and Mayva and their children Frank, Reef, Lake, and Kit, not to mention the explosive family business/destiny/curse, a character in its own right; Neville and Nigel, twits and members of T.W.I.T., a secret society that may be bent on world domination, based on tarot cards; Yashmeen Halfcourt, who may or may not have the supernatural powers that T.W.I.T. seeks to coopt for its own gains…
Floating above them all in their skyship Inconvenience, the Chums of Chance, Rudolf St Cosmo, Lindsay Noseworth, Darby Suckling, Miles Blundell, Chick Counterfly, along with Pugnax (literary cousin to the talking dog in Mason & Dixon) keep uneasy watch on Earth/not Earth. (I love Pynchon’s names: Deuce Kindred, Wren Provenance, Clive Crouchmas, Wolfe Tone O’Rooney, Merle Rideout, the Reverend Lube Carnal, just to list a few more.)
The structure of Against the Day is rooted in history, but Pynchon, playing off the dualities ever present in history, keeps shifting the plot a half step into another dimension, which is related to but not quite reality, which to Pynchon is simply one of any number of possibilities which may or may not have happened. Most of us exist in the everyday, unaware of any alternate. But some folks, like the Chums of Chance, slip in and out of visibility, “aeronauts of dual citizenship of the quotidian and the ghostly.” Some, like Lew Basnight, accidentally fall into this bifurcated existence, and some, like Yashmeen Halfcourt, may have the ability to go in and out at will, bending space along the way. Depending on the character (and plot line) these shifts are explained scientifically, mathematically, spiritually, or supernaturally, but always with one foot relatively firmly in history.
Their motto was “There, but Invisible.”