- Consciousness without Borders:Narratology in Against the Day and the Works of Thomas Pynchon
Say Something Once, Why Say It Again? Eternal Return and Free Indirect Radicalism in Against the Day
As for Deuce, of course. . . .—Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day1
That this has all precisely happened before, but cannot be compared to anything now, is a proviso that applies as much to Pynchon's Against the Day (ATD) as to Gravity's Rainbow (GR). ATD is structured around a series of short-term and long-range repetitions through which characters iterate specific phrases the narrator has used and vice versa, and most characters, events, and speeches are revoiced and doubled. What is most striking about the narrative style of ATD—aside from the narrator's over-the-top addresses to the reader and references to an always already existing future—is its use of repetitive phrasing that echoes every few pages, every few chapters, and across Pynchon's works. In Pynchon, with a few critical exceptions, repetition tends to enforce not difference, but identity: such a way of reading can of course seem fatalistic or paranoid, but it sometimes offers a way to forge liberating connections. To answer David Byrne's question in my section title, if you say something once, it doesn't mean anything: you have to say it again.2
In exploring the issue of agency in Pynchon's works, critics have tended to look at forces—chemical, political, economic, linguistic, sexual, and historical—that determine individual and mass psychology, personal predilections, and even bodily functions, but rarely at narration itself. But in almost all ways, "narratology" exists prior to all these other forces because [End Page 91] it controls representation itself: these other forces appear to us only through the refraction of Pynchon's narrators or narrative structures. In Pynchon, these forces might at times even be the narrators. Pynchon's characters often imagine that they are being controlled by unseen historical forces, immanent interventions, and inexplicable repetitions and patterns. If "light might be a secret determinant of history" in ATD (431), what about invisible narrators? What if the real force is the one describing force? Narrators, of course, are filters who don't necessarily represent an authorial viewpoint, even when they seem to coincide—they double perception and representation in some way. Pynchon, however, makes more of these generic fissures than do most authors. The narrator of ATD is an invisible counterforce to be reckoned with. While "it might be difficult for an accidental observer—or say a clandestine one—to judge the level of innocence in the room," some more deliberate observer—or say some more obsessive one—might hint at his/her/their/its innocence or complicity with the events being described (502).
In The Culture of Redemption, Leo Bersani proposes that Pynchon structures GR around the premise "that everything is connected, everything in the Creation," but contends the "hidden doubles" of that text generate paranoia—that is, its connections and duplications create an order beneath the visible that subverts the possibility of an authentic text.3 In a discussion almost predictive of ATD, Bersani argues that
the paranoid double—the Real Text behind visible orders—is inaccurately and subversively replicated as serial doubles that ruin the very notion of Real Texts. The story of Slothrop narrativizes a more general process of replicative positioning throughout the novel. If we have such trouble keeping track of what's going on in Gravity's Rainbow, it is perhaps less because of the multiplicity of characters and events than because so much of what happens has almost happened already. . . . Psychological and dramatic particularities are blurred by parallelisms.4
In GR, "It all goes along together. Parallel, not series. . . . Mapping on to different coordinate systems."5 Events do not unfold in time, but in relation to one another. By contrast, in ATD, we are told such repetitions reflect "the genuine article, and the sub-structure of reality. The doubling of the Creation, each image clear and believable . . . its curious advent into the world occurred within only a few years of the discovery of Imaginary [End Page 92] Numbers, which also provided a...