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The uncleansably rich, and other practitioners of forgetfulness

Thomas Pynchon has published a new book, Against the Day.

What the ghost still doesn’t get is what the rest of the book is trying to tell us, in more ways than I have yet managed to count: that anger is only one mode of resistance, that resistance itself is not always the right term for whatever takes us out of the day or sets us against it.

In fact, there is no one in this book, not a spy or a rebel or killer, not a mathematician or cowboy or dippy aristocrat, who doesn’t have some intimation of a world beyond the familiar world. Sometimes it’s a matter of remembering the dead, or what might have been; often it’s a sense of a second life being lived even now, some form of bilocation; more often still it’s an attempt to get beyond time. ‘Watches and clocks are fine,’ one character says, ‘don’t mistake my meaning, but they are a sort of acknowledgment of failure, they’re there to glorify and celebrate one particular sort of time, the tickwise passage of time in one direction only and no going back.’ And finally there is the remote possibility of an accommodation with time, what Pynchon calls ‘agreement, even occasions of intimacy, with Time’. This would not free us from tickwise time, but it would allow us some movement among the other sorts, even if the promise is only ‘a propaganda of memory and redemption’. Some people will never reach this agreement: ‘salesmen, tourists, the resolutely idle, the uncleansably rich, and other practitioners of forgetfulness’. But some troubled and negatively privileged people will see faces, hear voices in the dark, travel to past and future. Who are these people? Who could they be except the permanent residents of Pynchon’s novels, those who can’t speak, at least not about what matters to them, those who are not saved, and those whose business is never finished: ‘fugitives, exiles, mourners and spies’. Against the Day adds another term, both early on and as its last word: ‘grace’. But this would have to be a grace that only the graceless child can find, or even look for.

from “Humming Along”, Michael Wood’s review in the London Review of Books of Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day

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