Sunday, January 28, 2007

Chapter 32: The Road to Shambhala!

Reviewer Allegra Goodman writing her “The Year in Books” column in New York Magazine states “The Wild West anarchist-revenge tale at the heart of Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day—cut out the other 600 pages and you’ve got the best novel of the year” (

As great as the revenge novel is, I wouldn’t want to be without the comic relief of the Chums of Choice narrative. Furthermore, as I’ve argued before, each of the narratives build upon each other, as well as upon the narratives of the previous novels.

Take, for example, the theme of “light” vs. “darkness,” a thematic subject predating Shakespeare’s frequent use of the metaphor where light equals knowledge. The chapter begins with Lindsay Noseworth journeying from the looney B.I.N. (Biometric Institute of Neuropathy) to meet his unit in the Asian desert. Meditating along the way, the narrator notes that:

“To tell the truth, he’d been growing doubtful about starlightarching Academy Harmonica Band” (418).

The presence of th in any practical way, having lately been studying historic world battles, attempting to learn what lighting conditions might have been like during the action, even coming to suspect that light might be a secret determinant of history” (431).

In Pynchon, ideas seem to connect, layer upon layer, meaning upon meaning, attracted to some gravity of linkages which build until they finally collapse, like neutron stars, under their own weightiness. A simple revenge narrative, no matter how well-told, is not enough.

In this chapter, aboard a desert submarine, Pynchon compares sand to light, even to the point of noting sand’s existence as both particle and wave. The boys think they are on a mission to find the mysterious Buddhist lost city—Shambhala—a city of lost knowledge, but in fact the ship’s mission may be more mundane—oil exploration. By the end of the chapter the boys leave the ship before the undersand theatre erupts in a war of competing powers, ostensible fighting over oil rights.

How 21st century!


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