The Incorporation of, Among Other Things, America in "Against the Day" - Université de Bretagne Occidentale Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2008

The Incorporation of, Among Other Things, America in "Against the Day"


"Chicago was the first expression of American thought as a unity; one must start there." So wrote Henry Adams in the "Chicago (1893)" chapter of his Education. To address the question of why Pynchon too chose to start there, I will be guided by yet another important book that opens with the World's Columbian Exposition, Alan Trachtenberg's The Incorporation of America. More precisely, the book opens with Frederick Jackson Turner's speech on the end of the Frontier, given during the World's Fair, and closes on the White City, after having delineated the process of incorporation which in the Gilded Age transformed the American geography, economy, and culture. We will follow the way in which these three strands are intertwined in Against the Day, focusing on the specific references to economic incorporation and linking them with the geographical and cultural incorporation of the West, for example with dime novels -- Against the Day is in some way a score of dime novels wrapped into one. More than just highlighting Pynchon's extraordinary mastery of yet 2 another Zeitgeist, this analysis may be a way to approach what must be one of the central if arduous interrogations at the heart of Pynchon's work, that of the relation between ideal and matter, a question that is also at the heart of America. The process of incorporation should not only be seen as a move towards the ideal of a single, transcendent economic entity, the subsuming of a diverse geography into a name, America, open to all misappropriations, or an organisation of annoyingly anarchic matter in the direction of an ideal cultural order. It is also, seen from another, symmetrical, angle, an incarnation of sorts, the embodiment of those ideals. To try to comprehend the two angles at the same time, the novel concerns itself with the various hinges between matter and concept, and in particular shows what we would think of as non-corporal, prominently light and maps, as being ghostly situated between matter and a concept at a further remove: æther in the case of light, a primeval "map of all maps" in the case of maps, model or invisible cities in the case of cities, the latent image in the case of photography. And "America" in the case of America Inc.. The Puritans saw the Old Testament as typological of the New, and both as a prefiguration for the American experiment. As the Frontier drew to an end, America had to turn to the world at large to continue fulfilling its destiny, becoming more and more an America of the mind -- but was it ever anything else?-- and the American experiment had to turn into the "capitalistic experiment". Likewise the first half of Against the Day seems to take stock of the end of the Frontier in America, before mapping out onto the larger context of the second part of the book. Thus each text is an incarnation of a text that came before it, and an ideal prefiguration of the one that comes after, and America itself is nothing more than its "manifest destiny," again a double-edged sword: all that takes place there is the manifestation of a destiny written beforehand, and is as well the manifest text of a future destiny. America is, to use the title of a chapter in Hubert Damisch's Skyline: the Narcissistic City, "the scene of life of the future". In probing this scenic quality, Damisch tries to follow to its utmost conclusions Trachtenberg's seminal work, and so does, I feel, Against the Day, apocryphal Bible-cum-dime-novel for a new century.


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hal-00742201 , version 1 (16-10-2012)


  • HAL Id : hal-00742201 , version 1


Gilles Chamerois. The Incorporation of, Among Other Things, America in "Against the Day". International Pynchon Week 2008, Jun 2008, Munich, Germany. ⟨hal-00742201⟩
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