Bilocated Identities: Taking the Fork in the Road in Against The Day

Abstract: Offering one of the first critical receptions on identity in Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel beyond the reviews, this paper seeks to show that bilocation, a fictional disposition affecting personal mobility in Against The Day, brings up the question of what we are by suggesting what we could be. It investigates how the novel redefines and enlarges concepts of identity by exploring several aspects of sameness and selfhood exposed to a very special kind of migration: Being in two places, countries, or worlds at the same time, a multiplicity of characters in Against The Day opt for the excluded middle when a fork in the road presents itself. The paper investigates these new forms of identity in the novel and explores their impact on philosophical concepts such as the notion of a seamless continuity of identity, the role of subjectivity for identity, and the concept of a narrative identity.

Tackling the forks in the road that people encounter on their personal path stands out as one recurrent theme of Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day. Whether the protagonists strive to transcend inner contradictions or to adapt personal and national narratives to new insights from traveling Pynchonite worlds, they frequently lapse into a certain mode of ‘double thinking’ that Pynchon has already declared universal in his foreword to Orwell’s 1984: “For Walt Whitman . . . it was being large and containing multitudes, for American aphorist Yogi Berra it was coming to a fork in the road and taking it, for Schrödinger’s cat, it was the quantum paradox of being alive and dead at the same time” (x). As the fundamental questions in Against The Day demand unusual answers, the baseball player’s Yogiism is found again in the novel:

Directions for journeying to Shambala are addressed by the author to a Yogi, who is a sort of fictional character, though at the same time real—a figure in a vision, and also Rinpungpa himself. . . . ‘Even if you forget everything else,’ Rinpungpa instructs the Yogi, ‘remember one thing—when you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ Easy for him to say, of course, being two people at once. (861)

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