14. Juli 1902

Thomas Pynchon: Against the Day (New York, Penguin Press 2006), 255–259 [in der Übersetzung ins Deutsche S. 383–390]:

PEDESTRIANS BELOW were moving at their accustomed gaits, sitting at the tables in front of Florian and Quadri, if Francophile raising toasts to Bastille Day, feeding, photographing, or cursing the pigeons, who, aware of some baleful anomaly in their sky, stuttered wildly into the air, then, reconsidering, settled, only to sweep a moment later heavenward again, as if on the strength of a rumor.

Seen from the ground, the rival airships were more conjectural than literal—objects of fear and prophecy, reported to perform at speeds and with a manœuvrability quite unavailable to any official aircraft of the time—condensed or projected from dreams, estrangements, solitudes. In the moments just preceding those in which the Campanile came down, to whom was it given to see the fight in the sky but to certain lasagnoni, always to be found about the Piazza, recorded over the seasons by thousands of tourist-photographers and their images taken home in silent autumnal diaspora—blurry as bats at twilight, often scarcely visible as more than sepia gestures against the dreaming façade of the Basilica San Marco, or the more secular iterations of the Procuratie—because, it is said, of the long exposures necessary in the humid light of Venice, but in reality because of the aeronauts’ dual citizenship in the realms of the quotidian and the ghostly, it was to the lasagnoni that the clarity of sight to witness the engagement was granted. To them alone. Dream-blown as the notorious pigeon population, contemplating the sky, they became aware that morning of something else about to emerge from the sfumato, some visitation . . . something that was to transcend both Chums and Tovarishchi, for all at once there was a great stunning hoarse cry from the invisibility, nearly a material thing, a lethal impedance in the air, as if something malevolent were making every exertion to take form and be released upon the world in long, dry, cracking percussions, as if jarring the fabric of four-space itself. At each salvo the two skycraft slid away at angles almost impossible to read correctly, so distorted had become the medium up here through which light must pass.

A giddiness of judgment seemed to have possessed both crews. The weapons-sighting situation oppressed them all, like a curse, with the little-understood enigmata of the simultaneous. By a few degrees or even minutes of arc, their gunners were abolishing Time—what they saw “now” in the sights was in fact what did not yet exist but what would only be a few seconds from “now,” dependent on platform and target each maintaining course and speed—or idealizations of “course and speed,” since winds were acting to modify both in not entirely predictable fashion.

The Campanile flowed hugely past on a severe diagonal, pigeon-stained, blotched both pale and dark, visibly out of plumb, leaning in as if about to confide a secret, haggard as the town drunk. …
In the next instant, Padzhitnoff saw the ancient structure separate cleanly into a multitude of four-brick groupings, each surrounded by a luminous contour, and hang an instant in space, as time slowed and each permutation of shapes appeared, to begin their gentle, undeadly descent, rotating and translating in all available modes, as if endeavoring to satisfy some demented group-theoretical analysis, until the rising dust-cloud they collapsed into obscured all such considerations in a great raw-umber smudge of uncertainty.
Among their weapons the lads had been packing their own unique model of aerial torpedo, invented by Dr. Chick Counterfly for the purpose not so much of annihilating or even damaging an opposing airship as of “reminding it of its innate susceptibility to gravitation.” The normal complement was six projectiles—known to the Chums as “sky-fish,” and listed in Inconvenience’s armaments manifest as Contrabuoyancy Devices. The unspoken question, at the post-engagement critique held that day directly after midday mess, was whether it may have been one of these—fired at the Bol’shaia Igra without allowing for a number of critical factors, such as the humidity—that had toppled the Campanile.
“What stood for a thousand years,” Randolph pronounced, “what neither tempest not earthquake, nor even the catastrophic Napoleon Bonaparte could touch, we have bumblingly brought down in an instant. What shall be the next target of our ineptitude? Notre Dame? the Pyramids?”
“It was an accident of war,” Lindsay insisted. “And I am not so sure we did it anyway.”
“Then you did actually see something, Noseworth?” inquired Chick Counterfly.
“I regret,” sniffed Lindsay, “that seldom in the heat of engagement have I found sufficient leisure for scientific observation, though the well-known propensity of the other commander for attacking his targets with deciduous masonry would strongly if not inescapably suggest—”
“Yet being aloft, we were not at all in the path of the tower’s collapse,” pointed out Chick, patiently. “We had the weather-gauge. We were bearing down upon them.”
“—coupled with their swift departure,” Lindsay, oblivious, had continued, “as if in shame at what they had done—”
“Hey, Lindsay, you can still catch ‘em if you hurry,” taunted Darby.
“Or we might send in pursuit your maternal relation, Suckling, one glimpse of whom should prove more than sufficient fatally to compromise their morale, if not indeed transform them all into masonry—”
“Well, your mother,” riposted the readily nettled youth, “is so ugly—“

“Gentlemen,” implored Randolph, in whose voice it required little clairvoyance to detect a neuræsthenic prostration only with difficulty resisted, “we may have committed today a great wrong against History, beside which this petty squabbling shrinks to submicroscopic insignificance. Please be so kind as to save it for some more recreational moment.”
They arranged to meet with Captain Padzhitnoff and his officers on an all-but-deserted stretch of Adriatic beach over on the Lido, toward Malamocco. The commanders embraced in a curious mixture of formality and sorrow.
“This is so terrible,” said Randolph.
“Was not Bol’shaia Igra.”
“No. We didn’t think so. It wasn’t the Inconvenience either. Who then?”
The Russian aeronaut appeared to be struggling with an ethical question. “St. Cosmo. You are aware that something else is out there.”
“Such as …”
“You have seen nothing? Detected nothing unusual?”
“Over the Piazza, you mean.”
“Anywhere. Geography is irrelevant.”
“I’m not sure—“
“They appear out of … some other condition, and they vanish back into it.”
“And you believe it was they who knocked down the Campanile?” said Chick. “But how?”
“Vibrational rays, nearly as we can make out,” said Chick’s opposite number, Dr. Gerasimoff. “Adjustable to target’s exact sympathetic frequency, thereupon inducing divergent oscillation.”
“How convenient,” muttered Lindsay darkly, “that one cannot analyze the rubble for evidence of the quadruple brickbats it is your delight to drop on anyone you take a dislike to.”
[…] Meanwhile, like a form of architectural prayer, civic plans had been set in motion to rebuild the Campanile dov’era, com’era, as if the dilapidations of time and entropy could be reversed. The texture of the choir of city bells had changed—without the deepest, La Marangona, to anchor them, the skyfarers felt that much closer to the pull of the sky and imminent departure. As if a significant polarity had been reversed and they were no longer held but summoned. Or as Miles put it one evening just at sunset, “Bells are the most ancient objects. They call to us out of eternity.“