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xml:lang="en" lang="en" dir="ltr"> Binarisms Discussion - Thomas Pynchon Wiki | Against the Day

Binarisms Discussion

As with most Pynchon novels, Against the Day is studded with binarisms, perhaps the most obvious in this case being Light and Dark. I've tried to arrange the binarisms so that all the elements that might be construed as being of the "Light Side" appear first, followed by those on the "Dark Side." This grouping is not meant to be absolute, and elements in the book may partake in both light and dark signifiers. For example, Telluride is elevated (Light Side), but is associated with Hell (Dark Side). I've only listed a few characters, mainly because they often seem to have different doubles in different parts of the book and because they appear sometimes to switch sides, Anakin Skywalker style. Please feel free to expand. Also, any elements that I remain uncertain of, either as fully intended binarisms or regarding which side they ought to appear on, I've marked with question marks. In not much of a particular order:

Page 472:

"Each meandering river presented a distinction between the two sides, prosperity or want, upright or immoral, safe as Heaven or doomed as Sodom, sheathed in certainty or exposed in all helplessness to the sky and a tragic destiny."

Page 473:

"Wild West or decadent East..."

Light - Dark
Up - Down
Out - In
Peace - War
Life - Death
Heaven - Hell
Cold - Heat
Air - Earth
Linear Time - Cyclic Time
Linear Systems - Parallel Systems
Singular - Multiple
Cigars - Opium (?)
Coffee - Chloral
Mouth - Anus
Shoes - Hats (?)
Germany - England
America - Mexico
Japan - China
West - East
North - South
White - Black
Green - Red
Yellow - Purple
Blue - Orange
Sun - Stars / Moon
History - Myth
Fact - Fiction
Past - Future
Space - Time Vision - Scent / Sound / Smell / Touch
Vectorism - Quaternionism
Pearl - Diamond
Gold - Silver
Glacier - Volcano (?)
Pearl - Diamond
Innocence - Experience
Male - Female
Waking - Dream
Industry - Gambling (?)
Shininess - Luminescence (?)
Melody - Harmony
Werfner - Renfrew
Vibe Family - Traverse Family
the Inconvenience - the Bol'shaia Igra
Clicks - Rests (in Morse code)


Page 845:

"I.M.R.O. is split between the Deltchev people and others who are nostalgic for the short-lived 'Big Bulgaria' as it was before the Treat of Berlin"

Page 957:

"The Manichæan aspect had grown ever stronger — the obligation of those who took refuge here to be haunted by the unyielding doubleness of everything."

Apologies for the dismal formatting. Anyone out there with better HTML skills than mine is welcome to have at it.

I think one of the most crucial binarisms re light is "natural" vs. 'man-made"....also I would argue for Day---Of/For vs. Against and, maybe Anarchy --- Violent vs. Non-Violent. [User Mkohut, 2/11/07]


Byal Bulgaria on the Black Sea: Binarism in Names

Another is the white/black Manichaian binarism found in geographic and personal names. The follow was cut wholesale from notes on Byal Sredets to clean up the Annotations by Page area.

As mentioned above,p.768 in Chinese "bai" means "white."*** The word may have followed the Turkic-Hun-Mongolian migration westward and acquired an ending labial in the process. Thus, Byal, meaning "white" is an example of a "white- location" in AtD; Belgrade (meaning "White Fortress," Serbo-Croation "beo" or "bijel" for white); and Albania. A counter example that does not appear (as far as I remember) in AtD is Belarus (White Russia).


Moving from locations to other possible examples, Bela Lugosi.

There is a Manichaen, black/white element to these examples. Byal, Bulgaria sits on the Black Sea (white city/black sea). Belgrade was the capital (in a manner of speaking) for Montenegro (white fortress/black mountain). Albania borders Kosovo ("Kosovo" from the Serbo-Croation, Kosovo Polje meaning Field of Blackbirds).

Bela Lugosi stared in White Zombie, but also The Raven, The Black Cat, and The Black Sheep (his last film), and of course, Dracula, the "Prince of Darkness."

Finally, the Chinese word "bai"/"white" -- is written 白. The Chinese character for "day" is 日 (ri). Note that one little pen stroke ...ahemmm..."against the day"... turns "day" 日 to "white" 白. Whatever that means....

That covers the "eastern" division of bai/byal/beo white. AtD has quite a few "English" white places as well: "The White City" of Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition, Whitehall and Whitechapel.

And at least in two cases there is a repetition of the Manichaen division of white and black. The Chicago's White City, which opens AtD, was set up in contrast to the Midway Plaisance with its "primitive" African and "Third World" villages. As tensions between the White City and the Midway Plaisance made clear, the World's Columbian Exposition reflected broader struggles in American society over the future course of American society and culture. Concerns about the power of the exposition to shape the future were also apparent in the struggles fought by African Americans and women over their representation at the fair. [3]

Whitechapel is the "haunt" of Jack the Ripper.

Whitehall -- well, are the halls of British government black??

Robert Whitehead: creator of the self-propelled torpedo.

White-sheeted night riders (i.e. KKK)

The Chinese origin for this word is, um, shaky. The American Heritage Dictionary (not free of controversy itself) identifies an Indo-European root bhel- with meanings like 'shine, flash, bright-colored, burn, fire.' Common I-E roots can't arrive as late as Mongols and Huns or even Sino-Roman contacts. To make a long entry short, some of the English and other derivatives are bald, Beltane (Celtic), bel (Slavic: white, pale), blue, flavus (Latin: golden yellow), bleach, flame, phlegm. The name Blicero comes in here too. And here's a nice Manichaean snapper at the end: by way of the "burn" meaning, an early Germanic word blakaz, yielding black in English. (Volver)
Point taken. These are not the opinions of a professional linguist. However, between China and Bulgaria/Balkans is an intervening language family, the Ural-Altaic languages, spoken throughout Central Asia and Turkey, and Old Bulgarian is grouped in this family. Over time Bulgarian and Indo-European Slavic languages fused to varying degrees. Thus, the bai idea definitely begins to break down by the time one gets to "Albania," though that area, like most of the Balkans was dominated for at least half a millennium by Turkish speakers. Also, having studied Chinese and travelled extensively in Turkey, I was struck by similarities in some words (apparently cognates) and even sentence structure. Again, these are not the opinions of a professional linguist, more a theory based on limited exposure to some of these languages. So yes, please take with a grain of salt. Then again, Baikal does NOT fall into this pattern and I can only concluded that while this pattern may not be scientific fact, in a fictional setting like a novel, some imaginative leeway may be allowed(?). In any event, the white/black Manichaen theme seems pervasive throughout AtD. (Sideming)
Sideming, I didn't mean that contribution (bhel-) to be argumentative, any more than I thought you were claiming to have an unassailable point. AtD ranges so widely in language, geography and ethnicity that it's worth scrutinizing many hypotheses; in terms of white/black (in both AtD and GR, by the way) Pynchon plays a deep game. I hope you didn't think I was suggesting there was no use exploring the bai connection. —Volver
I'm doing something wrong here. Your Chinese examples display as little squares. Do I have to install a new character set? Volver
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