The religious and political vision of Pynchon's Against the Day.
I argue that Against the Day represents a new departure for Pynchon. Not only is this his least paranoid novel, (2) but in it he also articulates a stance on both politics and religion. He does so often enough and with sufficient prominence that the statements do not disappear into the background, even though he overwhelms us with an untidy tangle of plots and a grotesque number of characters. If one approaches Against the Day expecting just another Pynchon blockbuster, one can read right over the politics of violence and the religion of penance. Of the thirty-some major reviews electronically available, only six get beyond plot summary when dealing with the anarchist dynamiting, and even those reviewers basically brush aside the book's apparent commendation of industrial terrorism as practiced during the book's time period, 1893 through 1922. (3) I too failed to register the seriousness with which Pynchon appears to support political violence because of my hostility to terrorism, but second and third readings persuade me that Pynchon is more aggressive here than in earlier novels, if only out of despair over lack of effective peaceful alternatives. (4) When D. L. and Frenesi engaged in acts of violence in Vineland, they were incompetent and ridiculous, or undercut with slapstick; Against the Day's Webb Traverse is not thus compromised. Pynchon's support--at least within the novel--for violence has been ignored, perhaps because those politics and the religious views do not mesh well with postmodern relativism, possibly because they contradict our previous understanding of Pynchon novels as essentially ambiguous and infinitely complex, and probably because the reviewers do not wish to contemplate either a serious call to violence or a life of penance. His changed sense of what should (and should not) be explicit and unambiguous appears to reflect intensified personal convictions or increased desperation over the direction America is taking. (5)
I would like to try to disentangle Pynchon's presentation of religious and political positions in Against the Day, and articulate the vision I understand him to be offering in this novel. Its political program appears to favor attacking industrial infrastructures as the way to slow or derail capitalism, and he intertwines this program with a Christian and often specifically Catholic set of doctrines. (6) If I am correct, for this novel we are no longer dealing with the infinitely scriptible Pynchon, whose many luscious phrases can be arranged to harmonize with most of his readers' ideologies. Certainly this anarchist and Catholic Pynchon would not be my choice were I constructing a Pynchon congenial to my reading of his earlier works, and that very discrepancy makes me think that something new has developed. Catholic anarchism bears some kinship to Marxist-inflected liberation theology from Latin America, which combines social revolution (sometimes with violence) and Catholic doctrine. Catholic anarchism also has a history in the U.S. that includes the non-violent 1930s communities of Dorothy Day and the anti-Vietnam-war protest of the Berrigan brothers. Pynchon's combination of anarchist-Luddite dynamite and a penitential vision of life is his own extension of that tradition--more individual-oriented than is usual in Marxist ideology, and more industrial and technological in its targets than was the case in the American anti-war activism. Amid the many forms of spirituality present in Against the Day, Pynchon foregrounds three modes of religiously inspired engagement with this world. His via media has been a fugitive but relatively stable element of his vision since V., but his two contrasted extremes in this novel are newly explicit for him--entering a convent and becoming a dynamiter. (7)
THE POLITICS OF AGAINST THE DAY
Because Pynchon's religious leanings operate in tandem with his politics in this novel, let me outline the politics as background to his religious message. The political positions that critics extracted from his earlier novels were Leftist, but Pynchon mostly limited himself to exposing inequities rather than recommending direct action. V. shows the modern process of the living becoming machine-like. In The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Maas exposes dark capitalist forces and many marginalized people, but she is more worried about her own sanity than about what she might do to change the political landscape. In Gravity's Rainbow, Tyrone Slothrop's dropping out seems the only alternative to becoming a minion of the corrupt and all-encompassing empires of plastics, drugs, and arms that have taken over the World-War-II world. Zoyd Wheeler definitely gives Vineland a hippy-Left slant, though Pynchon treats the IWW members of the previous generation more respectfully than he does the political activists of the 1960s generation, the founders of The People's Republic of Rock and Roll. Brock Vond, the novel's villain, embodies totalitarian stereotypes that gain luster from the Orwellian 1984 setting. Mason &Dixon decries slavery, and sees nothing beneficial about the line cut by the surveyors through the colonial American wilderness. How, though, should we respond to these negative representations of government, capitalism, industry, and empire? The texts do not show very effective oppositional responses, especially given that his most fully articulated alternative, The People's Republic of Rock and Roll, is not presented as politically admirable, let alone practical.
In Against the Day, values emerge from a chorus of characters and from the narrative voice. (8) One character announces that anyone not insulated by wealth is obliged to be a socialist by the injustices of the world (32). Capitalism is hostile to and destructive of magic (79). Capitalism produces "wealth without conscience" (83). The bourgeois cannot be innocent: "If you are not devoting every breath of every day waking and sleeping to destroying those who slaughter the innocent as easy as signing a check, then how innocent are you willing to call yourself?" (87). "The secret backlands of wealth" eventually depend "on some act of murder, seldom limited to once" (170). Yale, as a bastion of capitalism, reveals "toxic layers beneath" and concerns itself little with learning, "much less finding a transcendent world" (318). "All mathematics leads, doesn't it, sooner or later, to some kind of human suffering" (541). Kit Traverse hears of a central Asian city that lives and operates although covered with sand, and it might be "Shambhala, as close to the Heavenly City as Earth has known, or Baku and Johannesburg ... unexplored reserves of gold, oil, Plutonian wealth, and the prospect of creating yet another subhuman class of workers to extract it. One vision, if you like, spiritual, and the other capitalist. Incommensurable, of course" (631). Frank Traverse is the focalizing consciousness through which the railroad is decried for dividing landscapes and nature (930). A member of the Foreign Service deserts the British government, having found that he was only "the servant of greed and force" (974). When the Chums of Chance ascend to the counter-Earth in their airship, they find "an American Republic ... irrevocably into the control of the evil and moronic" (1021)--a phrase sounding like Leftist Iraq War rhetoric. Furthermore, one character laments the rime "when the land was free, before it got hijacked by capitalist Christer Republicans for their long-term evil purposes" (1058). Reef Traverse heads westward, hoping to find some distant town not governed by "the capitalist/ Christer gridwork" (1075). A schoolboy sums up being American as meaning "do what they tell you and take what they give you and don't go on strike or their soldiers will shoot you down" (1076).
Simply put, the workers are good, the owners are bad. (9) The higher the technology, the greater the oppression it imposes on the working class and the more damage it does to Earth. America is hopelessly enslaved to and complicit with the evil and moronic. Finally, in spite of the novel's investment in Christianity, which will be discussed later, the narrative disparages the spirituality of Christer/Republicans. Some of these phrases sound shrill, but I detect no irony in these pronouncements, and sense no suggestion that we are to resist such judgments.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PENANCE AND ATONEMENT
Pynchon's novels have always presented multiple spiritualities--Christian, Orphic, Shamanistic, Buddhist, and Kabbalistic, to mention some that have been analyzed. I argue that in this novel, Pynchon foregrounds the Christian without eliminating any of the others, partly by being more doctrinally explicit. The characters most responsible for making Christian issues visible in Against the Day are Lew Basnight, Cyprian Latewood, and the brothers Reef, Frank, and Kit, sons of the dynamiter Webb Traverse, though other characters have their moments of insight or transcendence as well. Some of the episodes seem specifically Catholic, some more generally Christian, and some just spiritual and only semi-compatible with Christian doctrine. These less dogmatic spiritualities fit the community- and Green-orientation of contemporary postsecular religion. (10) Pynchon's emphasis on penance and atonement drew my attention, partly because of their Catholic rather than Protestant or indeterminate spiritual valence, and partly because they signal a more prominent presentation of Christianity in his writing.
We meet penance early in the novel when introduced to the detective Lew Basnight. Lew's past is mysterious; he has no memory of having done anything wrong, but all of a sudden, he becomes the object of moral horror, the "Upstate-Downstate Beast" (37). An associate attacks him in the street, and his beloved wife refuses ever to be under the same roof with him. In a strange dream state, he wanders into an alternate Chicago, where "Remorse without an object is a doorway to deliverance" (39), and penitents stay at a rickety residential hotel consisting of ladders, catwalks, and non-vertical elevators. Lew is Presbyterian by background, which may influence the message he receives: no correlation, he is told, exists between the amount of sin and the length of his penance. His destiny is to do penance. One morning, while on a streetcar, he experiences "grace," and sees all his companions in the vehicle in the banality of their everyday actions, scratching, sneezing, reading, sleeping. Nonetheless he feels luminosity and "understood that things were exactly what they were. It seemed more than he could bear" (42). Later, in London, Lew decides that the many Catholics he has met may be right that life should consist of penance, and he remembers a point from his Chicago lessons: "Being unable to remember sins from a previous life won't excuse you from doing penance in this one. To believe in the reality of penance is almost to have proof of rebirth" (689). While rebirth (in the world) is Buddhist rather than orthodox Christianity, it does appear in early heresies (such as the Bogomil founders of Cyprian's Balkan nunnery), and Pynchon's stress on the word penance has a Christian ring.
For another such strangely handled conversion to the need for penance, consider Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin, a British member of European high-life who sexually and touristically crosses the paths of Kit and Reef Traverse. She attends a concert of Ralph Vaughan Williams' sacred music in Gloucester Cathedral, where she levitates "halfway to the vaulting, where, tears running without interruption down her face, she floated in the autumnal light above the heads of the audience for the duration of the piece. At the last long diminuendo, she returned calmly to earth and reoccupied herself, never again to pursue her old career of determined pest" (896). She concludes, "Somehow, I alone, for every single wrong act in my life, must find a right one to balance it" (896). Her levitation is not visible to her companion, which suggests that the levitation involves her spirit only, despite the melodramatic anti-realist phrasing. Nothing in her prior actions leads us to expect this penitential transformation, so it stands out, tantalizingly unexplained. Given her hitherto obnoxious behavior, one might whimsically conclude that God must exist for her to undergo so astonishing a change.
Penance and atonement also appear in the warp and woof of smaller events, not just in big set pieces. During a peyote vision in Mexico, for instance, Frank Traverse sees a cave full of falling water that is located in a desert, and learns that the desert was created to serve as the penance for those who became greedy for water (393). Cyprian sees a map, and on it is written the lesson "that pleasures would have to be paid for in later years again and again" (937). Whereas Pynchon presented the idea of penance in Buddhist karmic terms in Vineland, he now describes it in a more Catholic or at least Christian vein.
MYSTIC EXPERIENCES: LIGHT AND HOLY CITIES
Spirituality with Christian overtones appears in two overlapping image clusters--images representing transcendent realities in terms of light, and images of sacred cities. That light should signal spiritual material is conventional; many forms of mystic experience, including Christ's Transfiguration, use light as the closest word we can find for invoking divine presence. We find the two images combined when Miles Blundell, one of the airship crew, claims his aeronaut friends are on a pilgrimage in Venice. Their journey is likened to their doing the Stations of the Cross; it has taken them through the world, a "circuit of humble images reflecting a glory greater than we can imagine--to save us from the blinding terror of having to make the real journey, from one episode to the next of the last day of Christ on Earth, and at last to the real, unbearable Jerusalem" (251). Here we see a reality beyond the material world identified as blinding, and we find Venice loosely linked with the Holy City. Mystic experience is recognized by most religions, but this allusion makes explicit reference to Catholic practice.
Even physical light acquires religious overtones. A meteorite exploded above Siberia in 1908, producing light and a massive shock wave, but in Against the Day, this Tunguska blast and other explosions produce light with mystic associations and effects. Characters experience that blast from a great distance, or they undergo similar violent experiences with light at places of sacred power (770), or worry about such an effusion of light caused by a mysterious weapon in the Balkans (954), or they are affected by dynamite blasts (185). Those living near the meteorite's explosion reported seeing "a figure walking through the aftermath, not exactly an angel ... a consoler" (785). Pynchon jokes that reindeer rediscover flight and "epidermal luminescence at the red end of the spectrum, particularly around the nasal area" (784). More seriously, reindeer miraculously prove able to talk for a while after the Tunguska blast; in folk tradition, animals talk at midnight on Christmas eve, but talking animals are also known to Siberian shamanism. A talking white stag insists on leading Kit to where he needs to go across the tundra (786).
Light with a less obvious material source accompanies a voice heard by Reef Traverse while he escapes from the room of a woman whose husband has returned unexpectedly. He saw "an evening sky which had refused the dusk, chosen a nacreous glow instead, an equivalent in light of the invitation to attend that Reef was now receiving from the overhead voice--'Really Traverse you know you must abandon this farcical existence, rededicate yourself to real-world issues such as family vendetta, which though frowned upon by the truly virtuous represents even so a more productive use of your own precious time on Earth ... [than] death by irate Hungarian.'" Reef runs along the street in this "queer illumination.... for his life, or anyhow the resumption of it" (802). During the outbreak of World War I, Reef experiences light "so saturated with color, brought hovering to such tension, that it could not be borne for long, as if it were dangerous to be out in country filled with light like this, as if anyone beneath it were just about to be taken by it, if not over into death then some transformation at least as severe. Light like this must be received with judgment--too much, too constantly, would exhaust the soul" (963). Likewise, Frank sees whirling colored lights in his peyote vision, and they suggest to him "mythic cities at the horizon" (394).
Pynchon gives us light at many levels of seriousness. For the Manichaeans, everything of this world is a trick of darkness, and to be shunned lest it "distract us from seeking union with the Light." Chick's response: "That's the choice? Light or pussy? What kind of choice is that?" (438). Pynchon also gives us Lightarians, who live on nothing but light. They serve "fried light, fricasseed light, light a la mode" (60). Kit finds himself supported by light when crossing wills with Scarsdale Vibe (330). Ruperta's levitation is accompanied by luminosity. Merle Rideout enjoys the company of talking ball lightning (73-74). Light also underlies many tangential allusions to film and cinema. Pynchon celebrates light in all forms, but defuses any tendency to idolize it or take it for God by joking about it as well as expressing wonder.
If red-nosed reindeer and talking ball lightning represent his jeux d'esprit, other versions of light are more serious. The light that bolsters Kit when facing Vibe is the sort that Pynchon sometimes mentions when characters are on the edge of a revelation. Later in that scene, Kit feels "one pure and steady light he kept well within--the certainty that one day this would have to be put right--the moment his to choose, details such as how and where not as important as the equals sign going in the right place" (331). Kit knows he is being bribed to forget his father's murder by the man who paid for it, and Kit realizes he will have to surfer for having let himself be bought. Lew learns that "We are light, you see, all of light--we are the light offered the batsmen at the end of the day, the shining eyes of the beloved, the flare of the safety-match at the high city window, the stars and nebulae in full midnight glory, the rising moon through the tram wires, the naphtha lamp glimmering on the costermonger's barrow" (687-88). That light in the highest sense should be all of the things listed, including the lowest, most artificial and ordinary, is paralleled in Cyprian Latewood's "Cosmic Revelation," that love is "more like the 333,000 or however many different forms of Brahma worshipped by the Hindu--the summation, at any given moment, of all the varied subgods of love that mortal millions of lovers, in limitless dance, happened to be devoting themselves to" (848). Cyprian had earlier reached a similar revelation about Christ being in all the most ordinary people attending a church service, however bored or distracted they may seem. The least form of light or love is connected to all the highest forms.
Light is one of Pynchon's images for signaling spiritual breakthrough. Visions of cities are another--somewhat oddly, given the degree of control that cities demand. True, San Narciso provides Oedipa with a mystic moment of vision in The Crying of Lot 49 (13). Most of the cities in Gravity's Rainbow, however, were described in terms of street grids, and those straight lines relate to the eponymous line in Mason &Dixon, a line excoriated for its destruction of the mythic and the ebullient in colonial America. Cities seem less negative in Against the Day; several provide points where the boundary between two worlds grows thin. Wandering the streets of Chicago, Lew Basnight found himself in "another" Chicago. The Chums of Chance hear of a Turkish Corner in New York (431) where you can pass straight from New York to Asian desert. Strange ice formations called "Venice of the Arctic" (136) might permit transit to the real Venice. Frank Traverse sees a city both in a wound-fever dream and in his second peyote vision. Its plazas show folks on pilgrimage, temples, stables, mule trains. Frank in his vision confers with the priests as to whether "this is a city not yet come fully into being, but right now really just a pausing point of monochrome adobe, for this gaudy, bright city they hope to find someday" (925-26). While Frank's vision fits in with Mesoamerican shamanism made famous by Carlos Castaneda, he decides that he must remember his vision "if he was to have even an outside chance of saving his soul" (928)--a phrase with a Christian sound. Frank's concern with the city's futurity sounds rather like Hebrews 13:14: "For we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come."
Some characters seek Shambhala, a holy city in central Asia. While the name belongs to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition rather than Christian, the quest is Christianized for the aeronaut Miles Blundell, who thought in terms of Stations of the Cross and who "was being tormented by a prefiguration, almost insupportable in its clarity, of the holy City" (550-51). He senses that they approach a sacred place, and can hardly talk or sleep or carry out his chores. Miles does not find the city because the airship is mysteriously translated to Belgium, where Miles nonetheless glimpses light breaking into "suggestions of a city hidden behind what was visible here" (551). The fact that neither of these fugitive visions solidifies for him does hOt lessen Miles's Christian convictions that he has approached the Holy City that is part of the Christian millennial landscape, and Pynchon shows no disdain for his assumptions. Evidently in Pynchon's world, sacred locations resonate for the seeker in the seeker's own religious terms. Pynchon thus emphasizes the Christian tradition here without denying Shambhala the role it may play for Buddhists.
Kit Traverse likewise sees cities that offer salvation. He chases after Shambhala. He goes through a monstrous natural gate and suffers a mighty release of light and sound (770), which may be the Tunguska event or may be an outpouring of sacred power in this location. (11) He experiences a visionary moment on Lake Baikal. Later, in a hallucination, he sees Baikal again: "From this precise spot along the shoreline it was possible to 'see' on the far shore a city, crystalline, redemptive." When Kit sees this redemptive city, he finds himself thinking compulsively about his wife, Dally, "aware that they'd separated, but unable to remember why" (1080). Having plighted his troth, he unconsciously intuits that his salvation must be worked out with her and will not be available if he truly abandons her. Pynchon suggests this connection earlier through the disparaging comment about Kit and Dally's final arguments that "salvation was the last thing on anybody's mind" (1074). Having made a commitment to marriage, Kit cannot now ignore that bond. (12)
Chick's vision of "a giant airship of the future" serving as a kind of ark for resurrected bodies "from all periods of the past two millennia" (413), a refugee camp that he must administer, foreshadows the final metamorphosis of the airship in this book. (13) The Chums of Chance plot, a Tom Swiftian pastiche kidding American positivism, is an unlikely source for a serious commentary on the future. However, the Chums all marry female aeronauts (who are first seen "dressed like religious novices" ), and they multiply. "The ship by now has grown as large as a small city. There are neighborhoods, there are parks. There are slum conditions" (1084). "Inconvenience, once a vehicle of sky-pilgrimage, has transformed into its own destination." They sense the presence of "good unsought," however, and anticipate its arrival. "They will feel the turn in the wind. They will put on smoked goggles for the glory of what is coming to part the sky. They fly toward grace" (1085).
Those last words of the novel make the quest distinctly Christian and millennarian, and the unit of human activity is now a small city. Even though the airship city replicates terran cities down to slums, its inhabitants benefit from being detached from the world below; they see how the straight lines lead to slaughter (10), and their floating city lets them avoid joining in the carnage of battlefields.
Pynchon seems to see in the ship and in the small city the possibility for sharing, for cooperation, for socialism and anarchism, or maybe just for the piety that emerges from a need for community. In Gravity's Rainbow, he argued that any degree of organization inevitably resulted in hierarchy and control, and only temporary black-market arrangements remained free. He seems to be backing down from that monadic extreme, and via Tertullian, expresses the possibilities for salvation to be found as part of a group of ordinary people. Tertullian's credo quia impossibile est resonates in the description of Cyprian's religious awakening. (14) Cyprian glimpsed that "precisely because of its impossibilities, the disarray of self-important careerists and hierarchy-obsessed functionaries, the yawning and fidgeting town-lad choristers and narcotic sermonizing--it was possible to hope, not so much despite as paradoxically because of this very gnarled web of human flaw, for the emergence of the incommensurable mystery, the dense, unknowable Christ, bearing the secret of how once on a hilltop that was not Zion, he had conquered death" (497). Somehow the city, by offering a melange of human types and behaviors, now gives some Pynchon characters faith, and gives Pynchon's visionary cities some potential for good in human organization that was lacking in Gravity's Rainbow. (15)
Beyond cities and light, Pynchon also uses disembodied voices to signal transcendent realities. While voices, like visions, might signal schizophrenia or epileptic seizure, what these voices say makes sense, and they almost all have an obvious moral point to make. None of the characters actually identifies the voice as God's, but they treat it as if it might indeed be. Almost all of the voices are accompanied by strange light. I have already cited Reef's extended parley with this higher power as he flees an irate husband. Yashmeen, Kit, and Gunther visit a mathematics museum near the Brocken. These three young mathematicians, all of them about to abandon their studies, muse on their desire for "that terrible ecstasy known to result from unmediated observation of the beautiful" (635). They have sought transcendence in mathematics (318, 675, 749, 942), and have ignored as best they can human suffering that mathematics can cause (541). As they leave the museum, a disembodied voice tells them that the museum might not be the same when they return, and when asked who he is, the sourceless voice responds, "You know who I am" (636).
Other characters hear similar voices. Foley Walker, henchman of the plutocrat Scarsdale Vibe, hears a voice reminding him of his past in the Civil War, telling him that "at Cold Harbor, [you] lay between the lines three days, between the worlds, and this is what you were saved for? this mean, nervous, scheming servitude to an enfeebled conscience?" (335). (16) Reef's first encounter with a voice chides him for smoking a cigar he cannot afford on the basis of any honest work he has done, for abandoning his (common-law) wife and child, and for giving up on avenging Webb. The voice calls him "a promising young dynamiter, your father's son, sworn to alter the social terrain, and now you're hardly much better than the people you used to want to blow up" (660). Not all voices are to be trusted: Lew hears one voice suggesting suicide, and sensibly decides that it may be his own (688).
The hearers do not question the validity or reality of these voices, partly because the voices' stance on moral issues seems right, and partly because the auditors always feel that they know or half-know the voice. Like many characters throughout Pynchon's novels, those in this book long to transcend the world we live in. Whereas that desire was expressed most infamously by Weissmann in Gravity's Rainbow and has been seen as life-denying, even murderous, most of the main characters in Against the Day long to go beyond the material world to something higher and finer, and they sense that higher reality through mathematics, light, vision, peyote, a geographical sacred place, or floating in an airship. (17) A voice seemingly from that further realm may be welcome as sign of the realm's existence.
Pynchon makes us notice the importance of the spiritual by making it physical. The landscape itself forces sojourners to feel irruptions of the sacred. One geographic feature that carries spiritual weight is a rock gateway. Kit passes through one such gateway, the astonishing Tushuk Tash (764), also now known as Shipton's Arch. "Some spoke of the colossal gate as a precipice, a bridge, an earthen dam, a passage between high rock walls ... for others it was not a feature of the landscape but something more abstract, a religious examination, a cryptographic puzzle" (769, ellipses in the original). Sometimes in his dreams thereafter, Kit becomes that thousand foot high arch or bridge. In the last such dream, "A voice he knew he should recognize whispered, 'you are released'" (771). Beyond that gate supposedly lies Shambhala. Pynchon produces a similar piece of spiritual geography with the Halkata (955), the Balkan ring-shaped arch near which Cyprian finds his convent. Frank likewise passes through such an arch in a vision (993). He reached his vision while staring at a tree full of luminous, blinking beetles, which are explained to him in Christian terms: "they all went to make up a single soul, really, in the same way that light was indivisible. 'In the same way,' amplified Gunther, 'that our savior could inform his disciples with a straight face that bread and wine were indistinguishable from his body and blood'" (991-92). Evidently, such arches link to light, sacred places, and mystic insight; they reflect the possibility of transition to a different mode of life; and they seem to be located in regions where the population lives traditional low-tech peasant lives. (18)
Strange geographies relate to religion in other ways too. Frank finds himself in a region of Mexico known for its meteorite fragments. He picks up an odd rock and takes it with him, and every time he touches it, he hears a voice asking "What are you doing here?" (984). The notion of a distant and hidden holy city is found in various parts of the world; Frank finds his in Mexico while Kit searches Asia and sees his personal version of it as a vision across Lake Baikal. Shambhala is sensed by Miles Blundell as a prefiguration of "the holy City, separated only by a slice of Time" (551). Pynchon's characters find landscapes or objects that seem imbued with the sacred in the arctic, in the tundra, and in the desert--all areas of low-tech human activity and life. Some kind of pilgrimage with its associated hardships increases the likelihood of an ordinary mortal's sensing the sacred, and Pynchon sees sacred places as a means of sensing the world beyond the material. In this, he agrees with the Dalai Lama, who points out that "In the Buddhist tradition, the goal of pilgrimage is not so much to reach a particular destination as to awaken within oneself the qualifies and energies of the sacred site, which ultimately lie within our own minds." (19)
PYNCHON'S THREE PATHS OF LIFE: THE VIA MEDIA, THE CONVENT, AND DYNAMITE
Pynchon's via media is a life pattern that most people can aspire to. It demands the minimum of psychic and spiritual investment while encouraging right behavior. He illustrates this path aboard the Inconvenience, the airship grown to city size that is flying toward grace at the end of the novel. We find no saints among those characters, but enough faith and enough decency to make them a functioning community. We see a similar level of spirituality among several of the main characters down on Earth. Yashmeen and Reef go to the Church of St. Spiridion in Corfu to offer candles and prayers in thanks for their escape from the Balkans (972). Pynchon treats marriage as indissoluble for Kit, and will not let him off the hook when he and Dally have parted ways. Above all, Pynchon values the birth and nurture of children in a family; such nurture was foregrounded in Vineland and it remains an unquestioned value in Against the Day.
What seems most puzzling about airship life is that it is hardly low-tech. The novel's solution is to make the airship as ecological as possible. In the early part of the novel, the aeronauts had used engines that were helped by wind; by the end, they have developed ways of coasting not only on light but on darkness too. The airship thus represents a least-destructive technology, albeit one involving wishful thinking in current terms. This mode of transport is declared good by contrast to the railroad: "It penetrated, it broke apart cities and wild herds and watersheds, it created economic panics and armies of jobless men and women, and generations of hard, bleak city-dwellers with no principles who ruled with unchecked power, it took away everything indiscriminately, to be sold, to be slaughtered, to be led beyond the reach of love" (930). The airship avoids such divisive and destructive effects. Its nomadic drift from assignment to assignment does resemble the black market dealings that Pynchon upheld in Gravity's Rainbow, though Slothrop managed without the huge contracts now used (1084). While the ship is not as free of organization and hierarchy as Slothrop functioning as a lone agent, Pynchon seems to agree that some organization is needed for larger populations, and has reconciled himself to that compromise. Organization need not destroy community. Where earlier the airship was "a vehicle of sky-pilgrimage," it has become its own destination (1085). Living there, rightly conceived, is pilgrimage towards grace but also life fully led and experienced in the community. This is more the religion of dwelling than of seeking. (20) For all that Pynchon's terms are somewhat different in this latest novel, his via media seems much like the memorable line in V.: "keep cool, but care" (406).
A new ideal for Pynchon emerges in the final destination of the spy Cyprian Latewood. He is arguably is the most fully developed religious character in any of Pynchon's novels, and he reaches his spiritual breakthrough not as transcendence but by means of complete submission. Cyprian, for much of the novel a homosexual who craves to be dominated, and one who enjoyed cross-dressing, becomes a nun in a Bogomil/Manichaean/Orphic/Kabbalistic nunnery in the Balkans, Orpheus' home territory. Cyprian had already found Christ through the very ordinariness of the people at a Church of England service. His sexual submissiveness, however, proves a prelude to his total submission to the divine, an interesting change for Pynchon, who in Gravity's Rainbow (737) suggested that S and M were inherent in the state's relation to its subjects and the key to totalitarian power. (21) In Against the Day, total submission leads Cyprian to a luminous clarity of mind. He experiences freedom from desire for the first time in his life, an "unexpected delight" as sharp as that of first orgasm. "He had not even been imagining desire.... The imbalance he was used to experiencing ... was, somewhat mysteriously, no longer there--it was occupied by something else, a clarity, a general freshening of temperature" (839). He and Yashmeen and Reef, who had been living in a torrid sexual triangle, come to a natural rock arch; Reef and Yashmeen and their baby walk under it, and Cyprian learns from the locals that they will therefore love each other forever. Anyone who walks through unaccompanied, however, "turns into the opposite sex" (955). Although we do not see Cyprian walk through, he is greeted with "Welcome home" when he comes to the convent of nuns. Here, Cyprian is sure, he will find "no more of these tiresome gender questions" (958).
As a postulant, his discipline involves remaining "acutely conscious, at every moment of the day, of the nearly unbearable conditions of cosmic struggle between darkness and light proceeding, inescapably, behind the presented world" (957). This program sounds remarkably like Pynchon's own in his writing. Cyprian's being termed a "postulant" refers us back to a recent dream of Reef's, in which he sees his dynamiter father in "a procession of miners in their long rubber coats.... Like postulants in habits" (887). That dream reminds Reef of his father's unremitting struggle against what he saw as the darkness of capitalism. In discussing light prior to taking his vow of silence, Cyprian discusses the Shekhinah, "the feminine aspect of God," "Moon to his Sun. Nobody can withstand pure light, let alone see it. Without her to reflect, God is invisible. She is absolutely of the essence if he is to be at all operative in the world" (960). This Kabbalistic transformation of gender to make God visible to humans gives us a kind of precedent for the otherwise implausible or disturbing implications of a man becoming a nun.
While the theology of Cyprian's convent is not one of our readily recognizable orthodoxies, it claims to be Bogomil, a Gnostic form of Christianity, and he willingly gives himself over to a convent in a geographical region that will soon be torn by a particularly brutal war. He knows what will happen to overrun convents, but remarks that the rites of this particular one entail that not Christ, but "Night is one's betrothed, one's beloved, one seeks to become not a bride at all really, but a kind of sacrifice, an offering, to Night" (959). Given my bald description of Cyprian's vocation, one might think the episode parodic, particularly given the idea of a submissive male homosexual becoming a nun. However, Pynchon's handling avoids irony; Cyprian's earnestness, his sacrifice, his thoughtfulness, his pain at parting from his lovers, all seem to be presented without undercutting. Pynchon is famous for excessive and tasteless jokes, but this situation does not call forth that antic spirit. Cyprian's moving beyond gender is treated as a spiritual desideratum, not the beginning of a bawdy fabliau.
If entering a convent is one extreme in Pynchon's spectrum of religious activity, the other extreme is a life dedicated to overthrow of the capitalist order, by violence if necessary. While this could be called merely political, Pynchon seems to see Webb Traverse's martyrdom as literal rather than figurative. Though not a likeable man, Webb is treated as an austere Labor saint at the intersection between religion and politics. Scarsdale Vibe hires a pair of murderers to wipe Webb out. Vengeance and dynamite are not the usual tools of Christianity, but the voice that might be God's seems to enjoin both dynamiting and vendetta on the sons of Webb when they stray too far from the path of political righteousness. While the voice admits that vendetta is not admired by those with high spiritual standards, it also states that such action makes better use of Reef's potential than do his casual amours. By linking Cyprian as postulant with Webb looking like a postulant, Pynchon seems to be setting up two exemplary paths of life: one the submissive worship and withdrawal from the world to monastic and convent life, the other action in the world, fighting the forces of capitalism, empire, slavery, expansion, and technology. While Pynchon seems to respect Cyprian, Webb appears throughout the book more frequently and repeats his message more often. If repetition indicates importance, then Webb offers the more significant example. (22) If everyone of high morality and spiritual strength withdraws from the world, those left in charge will quickly destroy that world; if people willingly devote their lives to making society better--either by damaging the capitalists or trying to care for those in need, then perhaps the world too can be saved, not just the individual souls.
RELIGION IN AGAINST THE DAY
I have argued that Pynchon foregrounds Christianity more in this book than in his others. He invokes pilgrimage, doing the Stations of the Cross, grace, penance, monastic vows of silence, lighting candles in thanksgiving for escape, honoring marriage vows as indissoluble, and mystic visions. Taken together, these point to a Catholic-inflected Christianity--whether traditional or postmodern. Such formal elements of a religious life seem more central to this book than to his others, but this does not mean that he denigrates other forms of enlightenment. He complicates spirituality with Manichaean, Orphic, and Kabbalistic references, with allusions to Islam, and with an extensive Buddhist subtext. Nonetheless, Christianity marks the overall tonality of the book and not just the lives of individual characters.
This claim is controversial, but Gravity's Rainbow and Vineland do not seem nearly as signposted with Christian terms, although they certainly explore spirituality. The faith in Against the Day could be called postsecularist or "weak" religion (Vattimo's term) in that it does not demand that dogma be treated as absolute truth; it also seems postsecularist because of Pynchon's focus on Green values and life lived as part of a community and family.
The Christianity that Pynchon promotes in this novel is, among other things, a form of opposition politics. Fairness to fellow humans demands that any true spirituality fight capitalist injustices. While the most radical liberation theologians may condone violence, many would not go as far as Pynchon appears to. I believe, though, that Pynchon is exploring such violence, at least within the framework of this novel. Dynamiting capitalist structures is worthy of a particular kind of saint in Against the Day's spiritual economy. Webb tries to avoid killing bystanders, but doubts that they are truly innocent.
Fairness also seems to Pynchon to demand as much technological devolution as possible, and this is another reason for Pynchon to support blowing up industrial infrastructure. William Burroughs reached similar conclusions about the need for devolution in Cities of the Red Night, where he states that the self-sufficient pirate communes were rendered impossible as an ideal way of life by the industrial revolution: "The chance was there. The chance was missed. The principles of the French and American revolutions became windy lies in the mouths of politicians.... In England, Western Europe, and America, the overpopulation made possible by the Industrial Revolution leaves scant room for communes.... There is simply no room left for 'freedom from the tyranny of government' since city dwellers depend on it for food, power, water, transportation, protection, and welfare." (23) Pynchon's reasons for wishing devolution differ from Burroughs', but they both see costs to out overdevelopment.
Pynchon seems to think well of low-tech peoples in his novels: they often seem wise, and sacred sites are located in their realms, not near cities. He does not, though, examine their cultural patterns for fairness or recognize any unpleasant drawbacks to low-tech life. The airship and what little we see of low-tech peoples seem symbolic ideals rather than practical proposals. He knows we live in a technological world. While he wishes us to diminish our reliance on technology, he does not expect us to wait for that to happen before we may seek the transcendent world. We must quest within the world we have inherited; hence, the apparent contradiction of some characters finding their breakthroughs by means of math or technology and the new acceptability of cities as places for valid community living.
If the airship is an allegorical rather than a practical answer, possibly we should focus on its nomadic qualities. Nomads must limit their possessions to what they can carry. Pynchon may have been reading Bruce Chatwin and his speculation on nomadism as humankind's most natural form of life; Pynchon suggests this with Ljubica's complete adaptation to that life. (24) "Reef was delighted at how easily this baby took to being out on the road. Ljubica cried for the reasons any baby would, but no more, as if she knew her trooper's destiny and saw no point in delaying her embrace of it" (954). Those characters who show any sort of enlightenment triggered by a religious experience tend to live somewhat nomadically in this novel, and try when possible to do some good in the world. Stray, a former girlfriend of Reef and eventually Frank's wife, exemplifies this. "It wasn't exactly a religious experience, but somehow, a little at a time, she had found herself surrendering to her old need to take care of people. Not for compensation, certainly not for thanks. Her first rule became 'Don't thank me.' Her second was 'Don't take the credit for anything that turns out well.' One day she woke up understanding clear as the air that as long as a person was willing to forgo credit, there were very few limits on the good it became possible to do" (976). She works supporting anarchist movements, getting medical supplies for them. Reef and Yashmeen, Frank and Stray, and their assorted children, are shown leading simple, relatively rootless but reasonably contented lives.
Pynchon's physical world continues to be ontologically unstable in recognizably postmodern fashions: an old head wound lets Foley Walker predict what horse will win the race (101-2); ingesting a hallucinogenic mixture of cyclopropane plus dynamite permits precognition of dynamite explosions (184); airships can sail under sand (434); an ocean liner splits into two ships, one military, one passenger (515-16); photographs of a corpse can be run back in time to show who killed it or a portrait can be run forward to show what an old friend is doing now (1048-49). Since such a fictional world lacks any stable reality, readers tend to assume such a world to be empty of spiritual content, if only because such a fantastic realm resists granting any special truth to dogma. (25) Pynchon avoids a clash between this world and traditional Christian claims to theological truth by presenting spirituality in a postsecularist, undogmatic form. Doctrines are embedded in the text but not insisted upon. This spirituality lets him mesh his postmodern worlds with Catholicism, not in ways that the Pope would approve, but in ways upheld by postsecularist Catholic theorists. He also brings religion into his world as grounds for political action. The secular underpinnings of much postmodern criticism seem to have blinded us to the ease with which a non-realistic world accommodates religious concepts of reality. If we waive our resistance to Chiapas Indian telepathy (992-93) or photographs run backwards or forwards in time, then why not do the same for miracles and divine splendor? (26) Indeed, some of Pynchon's postmodern departures from standard reality are so strange that hearing a voice that may be God's or experiencing a blast of divine light seems familiar and less disturbing by comparison.
Although Pynchon does not trumpet forth religious doctrines, enough seem present to suggest a Catholic vision. Characters speak of penance as a general necessity, but do not discuss it as a sacrament. Hence, we may interpret it in Catholic terms, or in more general spiritual terms. Pynchon hints at marriage being a sacrament not to be laid aside, but does not spell this out; we see it implied when Kit starts seeking Dally after his vision. The airship flies toward grace, but what grace consists of is unspecified. We have the choice: to acknowledge the terms' religious meanings, or treat them as signs of non-specific spirituality. Cumulatively, though, such terms suggest a Catholic-inflected vision, and in this novel, Pynchon has joined that to a Luddite, anarchist program to subvert the capitalist world. Enthusiasts for the ambiguities of postmodernism have had no trouble with Pynchon's use of Buddhism. Those same postmodern values, however, make many academics hostile to Christianity in literary contexts. Pynchon, though, has always been concerned to re-sacralize and re-enchant the modern world. Since history aligns Protestantism with the rationalizing processes of modernity and science, Pynchon's turn to a Catholic perspective makes sense as a step in restoring the magic destroyed by the Enlightenment project. (27)
My argument that religion and politics are more overt in Against the Day can be clarified through reference to Gravity's Rainbow. There, a minor character, significantly a Jesuit, argues in favor of violence against Them (the Elect, plutocratic owners of technologies and industries): "Once the technical means of control have reached a certain size, a certain degree of being connected one to another, the chances for freedom are over for good" (539). Father Rapier fears that They have gained immortality, and urges that They be killed (540). This passage, however, is framed. We see it only fleetingly, as if through a peep-hole. The priest's call for violence against the powerful is the sermonizing of an apparent crank; after all, even half a century since World War II, plutocrats still die. Pirate Prentice overhears an extended fragment of this sermon while passing through a nightmarish exhibition with booths and galleries and fantastic pastry carts. Given the distractions and anxieties of the situation, Pirate hardly remembers what he overheard, and readers likewise may not give it full attention. While many commentators have cited the line about freedom being over for good, my impression is that fewer have cited the passage about the immortal few needing to be killed. The fantasy of immortality renders it less urgent than the warning about freedom. Pynchon does not generalize Father Rapier's view or multiply it often enough throughout the novel to affect the overall tonality of Gravity's Rainbow. Offering a major statement as a half-heard spiel in a grotesque carnival does not showcase it as the philosophy either of the author or of the whole novel.
Against the Day, in contrast, does not veil the religion or frame the politics so that they are only glimpsed and forgotten. Looking back over the earlier novels, I now notice numerous Catholic references that failed to hold my attention, and suspect that Against the Day will affect future readings of earlier works. Religious and Luddite messages do appear in earlier novels, but they are fugitive and veiled compared to their treatment in Against the Day. This new urgency and clarity makes Against the Day politically and artistically revolutionary for Pynchon.
The Pennsylvania State University
I am deeply grateful to David Cowart, Jeffrey Gonzalez, Philip Jenkins, John McClure, Brian McHale, Sean Moiles, and John Whalen-Bridge for arguments, for disagreements, and for very helpful suggestions.
(1) Disentangling and articulating the Luddite elements of Pynchon's vision in Mason & Dixon demanded detailed observation and careful readings, possibly because the extremism of Luddite views does not appeal to most contemporary readers. David Cowart presented the argument for Luddite politics in "The Luddite Vision: Mason & Dixon," American Literature 71 (1999): 341-63. He ends by claiming that Pynchon is not a "perfect Luddite," but rather an "apologist for balance" (361). The anti-enlightenment elements are presented by Victor Strandberg in "Dimming the Enlightenment: Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon" in Pynchon and "Mason & Dixon, "ed. Brooke Horvath and Irving Malin (Newark: U. of Delaware Press, 2000), 100-111.
(2) Scarsdale Vibe is not the demonic head of dark conspiracies; he is merely ruthless, and when he is shot, he dies.
(3) See http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/popus/pynchon.htm. Those reviews most attuned to this political subplot in the novel are those in the Financial Times, the LA Times, the New Statesman, New York Review of Books, the International Herald-Tribune, and the Washington Post. Pynchon's famous discussion of the Luddite philosophy appeared in "Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?" New York Times Book Review, 28 October 1984, pp. 1, 40-41.
(4) Critics have noted in previous novels Pynchon's apparent sense that the Counterforce "doesn't have the wherewithal to make available solutions work." That summation is Peter Cooper's. The failures of the opposition are elaborated upon for Vineland by M. Keith Booker and for Mason & Dixon by Brian Thill. See Peter Cooper, Signs and Symptoms: Thomas Pynchon and the Contemporary World (U. of California Press, 1983), 105; M. Keith Booker, "America and Its Discontents: The Failure of Leftist Politics in Pynchon's Vineland," LIT 4 (1993): 87-99; Brian Thill, "The Sweetness of Immorality: Mason & Dixon and the American Sins of Consumption," The Multiple Worlds of Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon" (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2005), 49-75. Harold Bloom analyzes Counterforce frustration as a kind of Romantic agony in his introduction to Thomas Pynchon: Modern Critical Views, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1986), 1-9.
(5) Pynchon despairingly describes world leaders as "the succession of the criminally insane who have enjoyed power since 1945"; see Pynchon's introduction to his collection of stories, Slow Learner (1984; New York: Bantam, 1985), xxix.
(6) The only publicly available information on Pynchon's religious convictions comes in Jules Siegel's "Who Is Thomas Pynchon ... and Why Did He Take Off with My Wife?" Playboy 34 (March 1977), 97, 122, 168-74. Although the objectivity of the piece may be doubtful, we have no further evidence on which to question the statement that as an undergraduate, Pynchon was a mass-attending Catholic. I admit that Pynchon's extensive knowledge of Buddhism, the Kabbalah, and colonial Protestantism all undermine any easy assumption of continued Catholicism, whether traditional, postmodern, or non-institutional. For an early study of Pychon's religious imagery (basically in V., and very scantily for Gravity's Rainbow), see Victoria H. Price's Christian Allusions in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon (New York: Peter Lang, 1989). James Nohrnberg deals with a religious dimension of The Crying of Lot 49 in "Pynchon's Paraclete "Pynchon: a Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Edward Mendelson (Englewood Cliffs,' NJ: Prentice Hall, 1978), 147-61. In that same collection (112-46), Edward Mendelson contributes "The Sacred, the Profane, and The Crying of Lot 49." In Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon, ed. George Levine and David Leverenz (Boston: Little Brown, 1976), see Catharine R. Stimpson's "Pre-Apocalyptic Atavism: Thomas Pynchon's Early Fiction," 31-47, and W. T. Lhamon Jr.'s "Pentecost, Promiscuity, and Pynchon's V.," 69-86. Dwight Eddins casts Pynchon's religious interests in terms of Gnosticism, Earth religion, and Orphic naturalism in The Gnostic Pynchon (Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1990). Pynchon's use of Buddhist and other Eastern spiritualities is discussed by Joseph Dewey, "The Sound of One Man Mapping: Wicks Cherrycoke and the Eastern (Re)solution," Pynchon and "Mason & Dixon, "112-31; see also Kathryn Hume, "Books of the Dead: Postmortem Politics in Novels by Mailer, Burroughs, Acker, and Pynchon," MP 97 (2000): 417-44.
(7) Samuel Thomas's Pynchon and the Political (New York: Routledge, 2007) came out too late to discuss Against the Day, but his page on it at the very end does comment on "an ever-deepening understanding of the real 'price' of capitalism, an ever-more unflinching and sophisticated engagement with violence, with legitimacy, and with the reformulation of the public sphere" (156). David Thoreen identifies some of the nexus of religion and politics in his article "In which 'Acts Have Consequences': Ideas of Moral Order in the Qualified Postmodernism of Pynchon's Recent Fiction," American Postmodernity: Essays on the Recent Fiction of Thomas Pynchon, ed. Ian D. Copestake (Bern: Peter Lang, 2003), 49-70. Thoreen responds seriously to the violence of the anti-Reagan sentiments of Vineland in "The Fourth Amendment and Other Modern Inconveniences: Undeclared War, Organized Labor, and the Abrogation of Civil Rights in Vineland," Thomas Pynchon: Reading from the Margins, ed. Niran Abbas (Madison-Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson U. Press, 2003), 215-33. Another critic to note Pynchon's increasingly engaged, active politics is Christy L. Burns, "Postmodern Historiography: Politics and the Parallactic Method in Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon," Postmodern Culture 14 (2003), http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/postmodern_culture/v014/14.1burns. html. Against all of these claims for a Pynchonian stand, one might put Thomas Schaub's argument for the essential ambiguity of Pynchon's writing; see "Open Letter in Response to Edward Mendelson's 'The Sacred, the Profane, and The Crying of Lot 49'," boundary 2 5 (1976): 93-101. Though beautifully argued, I think that Pynchon and our definitions of postmodernism's limits have changed over the years, and such ambiguity need not characterize every issue for Pynchon still to be seen as postmodern.
(8) Quotations come from Against the Day (New York: Penguin, 2006). Other novels cited include V. (1963; New York: Harperperennial, 2005); and The Crying of Lot 49 (1966; New York: Bantam, 1967); and Gravity's Rainbow (New York: Viking, 1973). Both V. and Gravity's Rainbow exist in several editions, each with its own pagination.
(9) Reviewer Steven Moore for the Washington Post (19 November 2006, BW10) notes, "A good warm-up exercise for reading this is the 'Robber Barons and Rebels' chapter of Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States; Pynchon shares Zinn's populist viewpoint."
(10) For a lucid analysis of postsecularism in contemporary fiction, see John A. McClure's Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison (Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press, 2007). Drawing on Gianni Vattimo, McClure sums up postsecular religion, including postsecular Catholicism, as avoiding "absolute assertions and totalizing schemes" (that is, truth claims for doctrine) while stressing human finitude and fallibility, and emphasizing the practice of charity over assertions about afterlife (12-13).
(11) Kit's thoughts about the strange landscape make this a very Tibetan Buddhist passage, similar to comments in Ian Baker's The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place (New York: Penguin, 2004). This extended mystic experience, however, ends with Kit's seeing himself as having taken "a step toward salvation" (778), not enlightenment.
(12) Oddly, Lake Traverse, Webb's daughter who married one of his killers, also dreams of a city that is somehow linked to her marriage (1056).
(13) So too does the dream of Yashmeen. She ascends, as she says, "to a great skyborne town and a small band of serious young people, dedicated to resisting death and tyranny, whom I understood at once to be the Compassionate" (749). The letter that includes this vision, however, is couched in mixed Muslim and Tibetan Buddhist terms (750).
(14) Tertullian's actual phrase is certum est, quia impossibile est. Pynchon, though, echoes the popular misquotation.
(15) For cities in Gravity's Rainbow, see Kathryn Hume, "Views from Above, Views from Below: The Perspectival Subtext in Gravity's Rainbow," American Literature 60 (1988): 625-42. Pynchon's softening towards this aerial city seems illogical if one applies the values of Gravity's Rainbow, given that the vulnerability of anything airborne demands a strong command. Evidently salvation reached through community is more important to Pynchon in this novel than freedom from hierarchy and from the inevitable compromises demanded by organization.
(16) Walker has also heard voices telling him what stocks to buy and the outcome of sporting events, not usually the concern of deity; these voices, though, are plural; they do not deal with morality in the fashion o(the one voice. Pynchon thus does not narrow voices to one phenomenon any more than he narrowed light to a single kind.
(17) Brian McHale points out that in Mason &Dixon transcendence becomes horizontal, the push toward the West and to the subjunctivity of wishes and desire. See "Mason Dixon in the Zone, or, A Brief Poetics of Pynchon-Space," Horvath and Malin, Pynchon and "Mason & Dixon, "43-62.
(18) While Pynchon clearly prefers low-tech lives, and thinks sacred geography more likely to exist where people live lightly on the Earth than in a Western city, he shows his characters becoming aware of transcendent reality through any means, including such technologies as photography and airships.
(19) See Baker's The Heart of the World, from the Introduction by His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, 1-2.
(20) McClure explains these terms in Partial Faiths, 192. Postsecular faith involves "open dwelling," something anchored in the community and lived, not something absent that is sought with ascetic practices and self-denials. One is not, however, bound by vows of stability never to leave a closed community.
(21) Pynchon's positive handling of Cyprian and of the triangle suggests that he is trying to work free of the prejudices against deviant sexualities seen in Gravity's Rainbow. That this is a conscious, ongoing attempt by Pynchon is argued by Julie Christine Sears, who shows Pynchon's first steps in that direction in Mason & Dixon. See her "Black and White Rainbows and Blurry Lines: Sexual Deviance/Diversity in Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon," in Abbas, Reading from the Margins, 108-21. Cyprian's role as a spy reflects Pynchon's love of Cold War spy fiction;: see Kyle Smith, "'Serving Interests Invisible': Mason & Dixon, British Spy Fiction, and the Specters of Imperialism," also in Abbas, Reading from the Margins, 183-98.
(22) Apart from his scenes while alive, Webb enjoys several memorable postmortem appearances. Reef must travel with the body slung over a horse, and each night, he reads aloud to it (reminiscent of ritual use of the Tibetan Book of the Dead) and talks to the corpse (214); Webb comes back through a spiritualist seance channeled through Reef and witnessed by Kit, and admits that he wasted his politically and morally precious anger yelling at the wrong people (his family); Kit then sees him in dreams (672-74, 887). In all of these appearances and others, Webb is the man he was, hectoring his sons for not contributing to the anarchist program, not distorted by dream nonsense.
(23) William S. Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night (1981; New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982), xiv-xv.
(24) See Bruce Chatwin's "The Nomadic Alternative" and "It's a nomad nomad world," Anatomy of Restlessness: Selected Writings 1969-1989 (New York: Viking, 1996), 85-99, 100-106. Note, for instance, "The golden-brown babies of the Kalahari Bushmen hunters never cry and are among the most contented babies in the world" (102).
(25) Postmodern theology avoids making such truth claims and downplays strong doctrinal assertions. See Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo in The Future of Religion, ed. Santiago Zabala (Columbia U. Press, 2005).
(26) An exception to this critical blindness is McClure, Partial Faiths, which describes the program of postmodernism not just as ontological destabilization, but specifically as juxtaposition of worlds (which does destabilize our sense of what is real). McHale, "Mason Dixon in the Zone," certainly talked about juxtaposition, but his narrowed definition permits McClure to recognize a strain of postmodern fiction for which one of those worlds is spiritual. What makes the novels McClure discusses religiously postmodern is the refusal to make absolute demands for doctrinal belief, and the emphasis on charity and local community. McClure quotes Alasdair MacIntyre on the development of local religious communities toward the end of the Roman Empire and the new postsecular attitude that the larger political world may be unsalvageable, but local community may provide a way of living morally (21). Some of McClure's arguments are advanced in his article "Postmodern/Post-Secular: Contemporary Fiction and Spirituality," Modern Fiction Studies 41 (1995): 141-63, esp. 149-150. For McHale, see his Postmodernist Fiction (New York: Methuen, 1987).
(27) For a discussion of what magic can mean in modern activities and world view, see Randall Styers, Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World (Oxford U. Press, 2004).
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