Against the Day
With this chapter and the last, we see the Event from a number of perspectives. This chapter (number 56 for those who’ve been counting) is divided into eight sections (with a notable parallel between the opening and closing lines of this chapter: “through the day” and “against the day”.)
We begin with the Chums, who appear for the first time since about page 556. Back then, to other characters, they were growing indistinct and nearly invisible. When we saw them briefly a few pages ago, they were little more than a shadowy presence.
Last night, they anchored above a hermetic city sealed off from the sky by seamless rooftops. Darby has the 4-8 watch, and Miles is making breakfast. Pugnax, like any other animal before a storm, is anticipating the Event: on the bridge, stock still, looking east. The sky changes, and it is only with the arrival of the sound shock that the Chums themselves know where to look for its source.
The city beneath them has been utterly transformed. It is now wide open, brimming with gardens and fountains and “cheerful commotion.” The Event has “torn the veil separating their own space from that of the everyday world” (793:13-14). We would do well to recall that “apocalypse” means an unveiling. But what does it mean for us, for Shambhala, for the Chums, that the membrane between their meta-universe and ours has been rent?
Linsay sez it was the Trespassers. Maybe, sez Randolph, but: if it’s true that the Chums had traditionally been sent on missions to oppose the Trespassers from entering the Chums’ “time-regime” (see 415:27-29), and since the Chums were not, this time, “sent here,” then this suggests that the Trespassers may not be responsible. The others aren’t convinced by Randolph’s argument (assuming I even understand his point) but just then, Vanderjuice calls from Tierra del Fuego, confirming what we’ve already been hearing about on page 784: Siberian and Fuegan stuff has swapped places. Sublime wackiness. (Does anyone else think it’s curious that Vanderjuice just happens to be in antipodal opposition to the Event and the Chums? This is more than a little like that other time on page 109, when the Chums were sent to the antipode of Telsa’s Colorado experiments.)
And, indeed, Tesla is another prime suspect. Vanderjuice suggests that the Event might be some sort of power burst sent from Tesla’s Wardenclyffe station, up to Peary’s base on Ellsmere Island. The geography works out, even if the chronology and blast patterns don’t: a straight trajectory from Wardenclyffe over Ellsmere Island does in fact leave you within 170 miles of the Event itself, so it wouldn’t take much of a miscalculation to land the energy blast at the Event’s coordinates. But: (1) Peary won’t arrive at Ellsmere until the summer of 1909 and (2) the butterfly patterns of downed trees suggest the blast came from the south not the north.
The Chums meet up with the Bol’shaia Igra over Semipalatinsk, which is a tad over a thousand miles southwest of the Event, for a confab. The Bol’shaia Igra crew have known about the Trespassers since Venice (circa page 243) — earlier than the Chums, who first met them during their sojourn at Candlebrow (around page 415). So a better question might be, why hadn’t Padhzi told the Chums sooner?
The Russian government thinks Japan (or at least China) was responsible. Padhzi asks about what the US govt thinks. The Chums don’t know: they work for themselves now. “You — balloonboys — are large American corporation?” “…not quite yet.” Did anyone else find this a little creepy? especially given Pynchon’s longstanding suspicion of corporations?
I love the paean to wireless communication. As an erstwhile computer tech and IT guy m’self, that was a laugh-out-loud moment. And the Chums’ concern for encryption parallels the exchange between Cyprian and Bevis will have below.
The section closes with a stunningly surreal series of visions, with the “axes of Creation” having been jolted. Notable is the gridwork of rail has appeared: not a heartening sign, given what the railroad stands for both in this book and in Pynchon’s ouvre. The skyful of unmanned balloons is another, which is overthetop bizarre. Any/all thoughts (except spoilers) welcome.
I’ll gloss this dense section, since I’m pressed for time, and say only: I find it ironic that the humans find the so-called “simultaneousness” of the Event’s repercussions and aftershocks so remarkable, when Pugnax actually anticipated it. A protagonist from another book may or may not come to mind…
4 thru 7
The next four sections are brief tranche de vie scenes: Dally in Venice, Cyprian in Trieste, Reef in Marienbad, Yashmeen in Vienna. In each of these passages, we see the Event break in upon them as they have been moving thru their lives. A strange menace runs thru each, reflecting the menacing sandstorm at the beginning of this chapter. Dally’s “diagreeable gent” telling her “I’m coming for you.” The deliciously named Bevis Moistleigh decyphering a message and uncovering only the Albanian word for “disaster.” Reef nearly caught in flagrante delictu, balancing on a window ledge as the unreal light grows in the sky. Yashmeen entangling with her old school chum Noellyn, who may be “here at the behest of TWIT. Or someone even more determined” (803:38).
This last passage is so unbearably lovely. It could justify a week of exegesis all to itself. It captures vividly both anticipation and forgetfulness, terror and calm. How we can be swept up in the promise of revolution, but then fall imperceptibly, inexorably back into grooves of habit and mindless pleasures. And, of course, we encounter the sentence that arguably supplies the book with its title. In this context, the phrase implies that the day is an implacable adversary whose quotidian onslaught we must ever be steeled for.
Qs & Obs
It might be fruitful to remark upon which characters we don’t see in this chapter. Frank, for instance, and Lew. Is there anything conspicuous in their absence? At first, I thought it’s a European thing, but: Lew is still in London, isn’t he?
After the scavenger hunt thru the last 800 pages for all the variations on, echoes of, approaches to “against the day,” it is a little jarring to see it here at last, intact. And how does it affect the Monk quote, which after all speaks of night and light, rather than night and day.
That’s all for the nonce.
I certainly agree that either meaning is an appropriate reading. Indeed, my first impression of the phrase was that of the archaic sense — esp. given all the other archaic/KJV-style phrases and cadences that seem to appear regularly throughout ATD (most recently being the “as above, so below” a few pages ago).
I think, though, that given the menace and portent (sound & fury signifying etc) in the preceding sections of this chapter increasingly suggested to me that the more modern meaning of “against” is also quite applicable.
Oh, also: there’s that lovely verb “fetch.” And also also, the cumulative effect of the whole passage evokes for me the rolling of the planet, and that we are all passengers, sheltering ourselves (cowering, even) beneath the wild skies and heavenwide forces playing over us… I came away from this chapter (and the previous) with the impression of massive and capricious powers that may or may not prove utterly, impersonally destructive to us. Along the lines of “as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods” from King Lear…
Thanks for the kind words, foax. And “quotidian”? Shucks: I use that word every day!
Anyway, I’ve just posted an Additional Discussion post, despite their having been mothballed a month or so back. Apostasy’s just in my blood, I guess. (No pressure on upcoming Mods to reinstate it, unless of course there’s a groundswell of demand — grassroots letter-writing campaign, petition tables outside organic food stores, late-night drunken YouTube entreaties, sort of thing.)
Oh! I just remembered something.
Y’all remember when the Vormance Expedition brought back that thing, and apocalyptic mayhem ensued? Okay, and then Sr. Villamar found this as a possible historic correlation. Check out the date: eight years to the day.
By Way of Explanation, 28 June 2020
I hosted four times, with one additional “side” post. In the interest of owning your own content, I have dredged the following five posts from the Chumps Blogspot archives to give them a new, permanent home here.
Here are links to the five ATD posts:
- Light and Pain pp 189–219
- “We Shall Pretend to Know Nothing” pp 318–335
- Against the Day pp 792–805
- Mindless Pleasures
- What I Tell You Three Times is True pp 976–999
And they all share the tag Chumps.