Across Some Earthly Firmament – ‘Against the Day’

Today, Oomska begins an occasional literary series, ‘Across Some Earthly Firmament’, fired by an ambition which vaults no higher than merely sharing some arbitrarily selected prose passages which we feel are worth arbitrarily selecting.

We start with – and pinch the name for this series from – a short but pungent dollop of genius from Oomska’s favourite living author, the incomparable Thomas Pynchon. This passage, from Pynchon’s colossal 2006 novel, ‘Against the Day’, employs Pynchon’s gentle humour, rolling rhythms, and poetic elegance, to document the moment when the ‘Chums of Chance’, a group of dime-store ‘boy’s own’ story adventurers come to life, navigate their hot-air balloon down towards the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. This will be the boys’ first encounter with a pioneering photographer who will come to play a key role in their story, just as photography itself will provide a central theme for Pynchon’s omni-faceted novel. Thus we felt this passage was a doubly apt way to begin the series, as this week saw both the launch of Oomska’s ‘Future of Photography’ Q&A feature, plus the sad news that Kodak – a name synonymous with photography for much of the 20th Century – have declared bankruptcy.

“Across the herbaceous nap below, in the declining light, among the brighter star-shapes of exploded ballast-bags, running heedless, as across some earthly firmament, sped a stout gentleman in a Norfolk jacket and plus-fours, clutching a straw “skimmer” to the back of his head with one hand while with the other keeping balanced upon his shoulder a photographic camera and tripod. Close behind him came the female companion Blundell had remarked, carrying a bundle of ladies’ apparel, though clad at the moment in little beyond a floral diadem of some sort, charmingly askew among masses of fair hair. The duo appeared to be making for a nearby patch of woods, now and then casting apprehensive looks upward at the enormous gasbag of the descending Inconvenience, quite as if it were some giant eyeball, perhaps that of Society itself, ever scrutinizing from above, in a spirit of constructive censure. By the time Lindsay could remove the optical instrument from the moist hands of Miles Blundell, and induce the consequently disgruntled youth to throw out grapnels and assist Darby in securing the great airship to “Mother Earth,” the indecorous couple had vanished among the foliage, as presently would this sector of the Republic into the falling darkness.”

- Thomas Pynchon, ‘Against the Day’