Friday, February 23, 2007

Pynchon's Prose

Here is a paragraph from Thomas Pynchon's new novel Against the Day. (It's from pp. 359-360). I want to discuss Pynchon's prose in this novel, which differs, subtly but distinctly, from that of his previous books.

First the post, then I'll come back tomorrow and make a few comments. You don't have to wait for me to go first.

This passage is set in the Rocky Mountain region around Colorado, just about a hundred years ago. Stray (Estrella) and Reef are a young couple.

"This was how for years, all through that quarter of the continent, they had fought, fled, beckoned, resumed . . . . If you took a map and tried to follow them over it, zigzagging town to town, back and forth, it might not have been that easy to account for, even if you recalled how wild, how much better than "wild" it'd been not all that many years ago, out here, even with the workdays that had you longing for the comforts of territorial prison, yes hard as that, when whatever was going to become yours--your land, your stock, your family, your name, no matter, however much or little you had, you earned it, with never no second thoughts as to just killing somebody, if it even looked like they might want to take it. Maybe a dog catching their scent coming down the wind, or the way some trailhand might be wearing his waterproof, that could be enough--didn't matter, with everything brand new and the soldiering so hard, waking up each day never knowing how you'd end it, cashing 'em in being usually never too distant from your thoughts, when any ailment, or animal wild or broke, or a bullet from any direction might be enough to propel you into the beyond . . . why clearly every lick of work you could get in would have that same mortal fear invested into it--Karl Marx and them, well and good, but that's what folk had for Capital, back in early times out here--not tools on credit, nor seed money courtesy of some banker, just their own common fund of fear that came with no more than a look across the day arising. It put a shade onto things that parlor life would just never touch, so whenever she or Reef pulled up and got out, when it wasn't, mind, simple getting away in a hurry, it was that one of them had heard about a place, some place, one more next-to-last place, that hadn't been taken in yet, where you could go live for a time on the edge of that old day-to-day question, at least till the Saturday nights got quiet enough to hear the bell of the town clock ring you the hours before some Sunday it'd be too dreary to want to sober up for . . . . So in time you had this population of kind of roving ambassadors from places like that that were still free, who wherever they came to rest would be a little sovereign piece of that faraway territory, and they'd have sanctuary about the size of their shadow."


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