Wednesday, October 07, 2015

R is for Resolute

Thomas Pynchon's three novel-length detective stories (The Crying of Lot 49, Inherent Vice,  and Bleeding Edge) each describe investigations by intrepid if improbable investigators that tend to turn in unexpected ways, encountering strange people in strange situations, all the while gathering inconclusive evidence of increasingly obscure reliability or even relevance. The world becomes less clear through the steady accumulation of detail. We do, in fact, know more, we are perhaps even wiser (perhaps mostly wiser about our own persons), but we have not necessarily solved the mystery. Indeed, the exact nature of that mystery is postponed (N.O. Brown: "The dynamic of capitalism is postponement of enjoyment to the constantly postponed future.")

I think that this is a quality shared with all the best "tales of ratiocination" (as Poe had it): from Oedipus, Hamlet, and the death of Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter onward. The process of discovering, in each of these, is so much more vital and compelling than any actual discovery of a definitive or settled fact or detail.  Things continually resolve without necessarily ever getting any more clear.

Often, I think, music is compelling precisely because it is resolute, moving forward (La Monte Young: "draw a straight line and follow it"), without necessarily coming to a definitive resolution (perhaps better: "draw a meandering line and find yourself by getting yourself lost.")  We spend a lot of time in counterpoint and harmony classes learning about resolution, which is offered implicitly as a kind of restitution of tonal order or, — less morally loaded — as a return to comfort zones (sensory consonance being relatively comfortable) and always in the direction, as the term of art has it, of "dissonance resolving to consonance."  But this avoids the truth here, that without the relief of dissonance, consonance is not audible as anything in particular; they're just directions in continua, not absolutes.  (Tonal prolongation is, indeed, a form of postponement of enjoyment to some postponed future.)  It's all about moving along continua, oscillating between investigating the unknown and bopping back into the comfortable. Going places but not necessarily ever getting there.

1 comment:

Michael Strickland said...

Love those three books, and had never thought of them as the Pynchon Detective Trilogy, but of course you're right.