Against the Day Title

Note: please keep this analysis general and spoiler-free.


David Hockney: "Contre-jour in the French Style - Against the Day dans le style français". Paris 1974. Oil on canvas [1]


Contre-Jour is French for "against the day" or "against the daylight" and is a photographic term, as well, a technique where the photographer shoots into the light so that the subject is in silhouette. This seems particularly relevant given that photography and light are major themes.

Wikipedia has this as contre-jour and that article suggests other reasons for the title. In particular, this technique exaggerates the contrast between light and dark in the picture and emphasises outlines.

Title References Oblique and Otherwise

  • "He tried to make out, against the daylight flowing in off the plain, what he could of her face veiled in its own penumbra" p. 205
  • "Against what looms in the twilight of the European future, it doesn't make much sense, this pretending to carry on with the day, you know, just waiting. Everyone waiting." p. 543
  • "...within the daylit and obvious and taken-for-granted has always lain, as if in wait, the dark itinerary, the corrupted pilgrim's guide, the names Station before the first, in the lightless uncreated, where salvation does not yet exist." p. 566
  • "return to daylit America [...] its steadfast denial of night" (Cf. Thelonious Monk epigraph, "It's always night, or we wouldn't need light."!) p. 732
  • "and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucination, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day" p. 805
  • "In the Orphic story of the world’s beginning, Night preceded the creation of the Universe, she was the daughter of Chaos, the Greeks called her Νύξ, and the old Thracians worshipped her as a deity. For a postulant in this order, 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.” p. 959
  • "the boys expressed wonder at how much more infected with light the night-time terrains passing below them had become [...] they felt themselves in uneasy witness to some final conquest, a triumph over night whose motive none could quite grasp" p. 1032

Other books of the same title

Against the Day is also the title of a book by Michael Cronin, dealing with an alternate history of World War II.

Biblical connotations

In his review of Against the Day in the Wall Street Journal, Alexander Theroux (author of Darconville's Cat and the upcoming Laura Warholic; or The Sexual Intellectual) traces the title of Pynchon's novel back to the Bible, 2 Peter 3:7.:

(5) For this they willfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and amidst water, by the word of God;
(6) by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
(7) but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
(8) But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

(Source: American Standard Bible)

Theroux's review can be found in The Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2006, Page W8. (The website is only accessible for subscribers.)

Romans 2:5

"Against the Day" is a fairly common phrase and probably not limited to one meaning, but this passage from the King James Bible is particularly resonant, especially considering the great amount of religious and pseudo-religious imagery in the book:

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans 2:5 "But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (King James Bible)

The bookends of the word "wrath" around "against the day" make this particularly suggestive of judgement day or the day of wrath. The passages around this one and around Matthew: 6:34 where Webb's "Sufficient unto the day" (p.96) appears dwell on judgement: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. 7:2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

Proverbs 21:31

"The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD" (KJV) is another possibility, considering the novel's ominous context of impending war.

Job 38

Perhaps one of the most interesting occurrences of the phrase in the Bible is in Job 38, since that whole chapter of the Bible contains many of the themes of AtD. God (speaking out of a whirlwind)is basically asking Job who does he think he is - was he there from the start, does he know all the secrets of nature? E.g.:

"Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war? By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?"

Mormon Sources

The phrase "against the day," which provides the novel's title, appears on page 805 of the U.S. edition, and while it may carry biblical overtones, it perhaps is more directly derived from The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Specifically, Pynchon embeds "against the day" in a larger phrase, "prepare them against the day," which appears in Section 85 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Verse 3: "It is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration, agreeable to his law, which he has given, that he may tithe his people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning, should have their names enrolled with the people of God."

Section 85 is part of a response by Joseph Smith to one W. W. Phelps "to answer questions about those saints who had moved to Zion, but who had not received their inheritances according to the establish order in the Church."

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 85

Other potential Doctrine and Covenants sources include Section 29, Verse 8 ("the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked") and Section 109, Verse 46 ("Therefore, O Lord, deliver thy people from the calamity of the wicked; enable thy servants to seal up the law, and bind up the testimony, that they may be prepared against the day of burning").

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 29 and Doctrine and Covenants, Section 109

The themes of the book

The title, Against the Day, contains references to many of the primary themes of the novel: light, opposites, mirror imagery... Travel backward through time is quite literally traveling "against the day"; the idea of such surfaces frequently in the book. The search for eternal life might also be considered a literal struggle "against the day", or the inevitable effects of living through any measured length of time.

Another great writer full of Biblical allusions, William Faulkner, used the phrase in a 1955 speech: “We speak now against the day when our Southern people who will resist to the last these inevitable changes in social relations, will, when they have been forced to accept what they at one time might have accepted with dignity and goodwill, will say, "Why didn't someone tell us this before? Tell us this in time?"

That it is all too late for America, that we the people might feel that we should have been told before, told in time, might describe a Pynchon theme throughout all his work. See The Education of Henry Adams and its relationship to Gravity's Rainbow.

Thinking literally, what is up against "the day"? The two most common words conjoined with or against "day" are "daylight" and "daytime"--light and time, arguably its central themes.

Appearances of "against the day" in other Pynchon works

Gravity's Rainbow

The cover art of the first edition of Gravity's Rainbow is an image of what is presumably a London cityscape pictured very nearly contre-jour, though the "sun" is an ambiguous spiral which may also be intended to suggest a rocket.

Mason & Dixon

p. 125

Mason nods, gazing past the little Harbor, out to Sea. None of his business where Maskelyne goes, or comes, — God let it remain so. The Stars wheel into the blackness of the broken steep Hills guarding the Mouth of the Valley. Fog begins to stir against the Day swelling near. Among the whiten'd Rock Walls of the Houses seethes a great Whisper of living Voice.

p. 683

[...] till the Moment they must pass over the Crest of the Savage Mountain, does there remain to them, contrary to Reason, against the Day, a measurable chance, to turn, to go back out of no more than Stubbornness, and somehow make all come right [...]

In other literature

GoogleBooks returns over a thousand occurrences of this phrase, mostly quoting the Bible texts above: GoogleBooks

Two occurences in Milton's Paradise Lost are particularly interesting:

About the Son of God:
"About his Chariot numberless were pour'd / Cherub and Seraph, Potentates and Thrones, / And Virtues, winged Spirits, and Chariots wing'd, / From the Armoury of God, where stand of old / Myriads between two brazen Mountains lodg'd / Against a solemn day, harnest at hand, / Celestial Equipage ..." (vii.197-203).

About Sin and Death entering Eden:
"So saying, with delight he snuff'd the smell / Of mortal change on Earth. As when a flock / Of ravenous Fowl, though many a League remote, / Against the day of Battle, to a Field / Where Armies lie encampt, come flying, lur'd / With scent of living Carcasses design'd / For death, the following day, in bloody fight" (x.272-278).


  1. Hockney Pictures Website
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