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June 4, 2012 8:37 PM   Subscribe

Meet Your Neighbor, Thomas Pynchon, From the November 11, 1996 issue of New York Magazine.
posted by the man of twists and turns (43 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
A screaming comes across the apartment hallway.
posted by box at 9:01 PM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I hope I can locate and enjoy some Lotion now. Otherwise, the myth is, like, destroyed.
posted by Rustmouth Snakedrill at 9:14 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This immediately brings to mind the 2002 documentary A Journey Into The Mind Of P. [1h29m, music by The Residents (fitting!)], which I've watched many times, both for its overview of Pynchon as an author and its kind of creepy investigation into Pynchon the private person.
posted by hippybear at 9:17 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also possibly of interest to Pynchon people -- Paul Thomas Anderson apparently has, as his next project, a film version of Inherent Vice.
posted by hippybear at 9:19 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hope I can locate and enjoy some Lotion now.

I like the album "Nobody's Cool". Songs to check out:

"The New Timmy" - good song, good representative of their sound.
"Rock Chick" - enjoyable, disposable
"Sandra" - I really like this one. Teenaged love goes a bit too far.
"Switch" - kinda sweet
posted by benito.strauss at 9:24 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


(BTW, Lotion really should be listened to loudly, in a car on the freeway with all the windows down. Previewing those songs on my laptop speakers just sounds sad.)
posted by benito.strauss at 9:26 PM on June 4, 2012


I'm pretty good friends with Tom (that's what I call him, because we're pretty good friends.) The other day we were having lunch with J.D. Salinger when a bunch of people showed up unannounced. I didn't recognize Andy Kaufman at first, because he looks different since he faked his death. The conversation turned toward "the fine art of becoming a recluse" and the general consensus was that it wasn't that easy. On a whim we called Amelia Earhart (Tom has her cell phone number) and she concurred.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:52 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth I concur with twoleftfeet as well as Tom!
posted by "Doctor" Terence Malick at 10:06 PM on June 4, 2012


ah, heck, i'll ask here... Can someone who has finished Gravity's Rainbow tell me what I've missed? Was that work just grand for it's time or is it still relevant? Btw - I'm the son of an English professor that claimed - a bit tongue in check perhaps - he'd never stood a copy of that book on end and seen it cracked past the first few chapters... Just curious what the blue gas to say.
posted by astrobiophysican at 10:26 PM on June 4, 2012


A couple three years ago TeePee, as he's known to us in the band invited us onto the houseboat to look over a copy of his latest Thomas Pynchon Sighting piece he was going to flycast into the stream of America's collective consciousness just to see if anyone was still awake. We laughed, we cried, we ate hard candies and peed into the sound. He gave up cinnamon in 2003 you know.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:33 PM on June 4, 2012


Can someone who has finished Gravity's Rainbow tell me what I've missed?

the rocket
posted by thelonius at 11:02 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then in '94 came The John Laroquette Show.

what
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:07 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


the rocket

Also, there's an octopus.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:12 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Laroquette → the rocket → screaming across the sky

Am I doing it right?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:37 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't re-read Gravity's Rainbow since I read it in the 80's. the first time I made it to page 70. the second time I didn't want it to end. it felt like a post-modern hero's journey set in the past but about the future. whatever that means. and somehow the Stephenson novel Cryptonomicon feels like a Gravity's Rainbow relative. the protagonist of Gravity's Rainbow seems related to McMurphy from Cuckoo's Nest and Capt. Yossarian from Catch 22.
posted by TMezz at 11:42 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: The blue gas
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:42 AM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Like TMezz, I'm another reader who got ~60 pages into Gravity's Rainbow on my first run, only to enthusiastically barrel through it four times in the years following.

I think one of the barriers to entry with the book may be that it's heavily front-loaded with the non-linear - those who aren't willing to trudge disoriented through those early bits about the adenoid and Slothrop's hallucination sequence in the hospital aren't going to make it through to the later postwar sections with their hilarious slapstick chases and palpable heartbreak and the constant offhand philosophy that was so spot-on that, while reading, I found myself repeatedly and without premeditation clenching my fist and mouthing the word "yes".

Knowing what I do about Pynchon (which is nothing, natch, cf. the article linked), I don't think it's an accident that there's a barrier/initiation rite built into the structure of a novel where multiple hermetic and conspiratorial societies are brushing up against each other, the frictions between them causing 'plot'. We have to cross into the underworld (the toilet/harmonica sequence?) first before we can step out initiated, and only then does the narrator gradually begin to reveal the mystery to us morsel by morsel. (Or maybe more concretely, the first hundred or so pages are like a calibration test allowing us to get familiar with Pynchon's strategies for delimiting POV.)

That got florid - truth is, Gravity's Rainbow is maybe the only novel I've read whose "metastructure" (excuse my lack of lit background here, I'm guessing terminology) became this actual reflexive force that shaped my experience while reading it. The biggest thing that sticks with me today is how the prose, precisely because it was so impossibly dense with allusion, led to this spooky effect where in reading I constantly, constantly experienced the frequency illusion - things I had heard mentioned in passing a day or two ago would suddenly show up in the text, or concepts I had only just learned about through reading the book would be raised out of the blue by friends that evening - really, each time I read it this happened more often than not.
The mood this created matched perfectly with the plot, since by that point in the narrative it's no longer in question of -if- there's a secret society surveilling Slothrop, it's how many and what happens when their wires cross and how many double/triple/quadruple-recursive agents are involved... and there I was feeling all paranoid and metaphysically cornered too, because -- because did he just drop a reference to Baxbakualanuchsiwae?! I thought nobody else had heard about that, and I only learned by total serendipity last week? etc.

I understand cognitive biases, and realized -why- I felt this way, but to have my own atavistic fears of omnipotence and yearning for magic wielded so precisely against me -- I knew I was in the presence of a master. How did he do it? Pynchon probably knew the kind of conversations his target audience would be ambiently surrounded by, and knew what reflections of it to drop into the book - not so hard to guess at really, like a lot of readers I hang out with charismatic druggos who all have their homebrew theory about the secret history of civilization based on Babylonian this times Project Artichoke that. It was paradoxically comforting, when it wasn't frightening, to realize that Pynchon had somehow been exposed to every crazy idea before I had. "Secret history"... sometimes I feel that's what Pynchon is writing, a mythological omnibus spanning his major works that ties together all the genuine mystery, crackpot evangelism, powerful weirdos in bygone cults, historical oddities - really just the oral (well probably actually photocopied) traditions of the North American hippie cryptophile.

I've always balked at people's kneejerk aggro dismissal when they're presented with conspiratoria. Even if every word of every conspiracy theory were verifiably false, I'd still say that together (and the good ones are intertextual and have to be taken together) they make up the greatest work of collaborative English fiction ever produced - and Pynchon, or at least the Pynchon of Gravity's Rainbow, is their great anthologist. Thank the divine demiurge that there was someone like him out there to do it with such art and sensitivity before all those angelfire pages blinked out.
posted by metaman livingblog at 1:10 AM on June 5, 2012 [27 favorites]


"Almost as much as he loves cameras!"

I thought it pretty funny that it was this appearance on the Simpsons that ended a decades-long debate on how exactly how to pronounce his last name.
posted by jscott at 1:13 AM on June 5, 2012


I heard the same thing about Bob Dylan.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:02 AM on June 5, 2012


It's rumored Pynchon will do a book tour. "What would they do," asks a writer. "Put a bag over his head like he's in the witness-protection program?"

This quote from the FPP is obviously related to The Simpsons appearance.

Meanwhile, here's Pynchon's National Book Award speech.
posted by chavenet at 2:38 AM on June 5, 2012


Idea for a project for some enterprising and musical Pynchon fan out there: write (and possibly record) real tunes for all the songs that pepper Gravity's Rainbow and other Pynchon works.

I nth the experience of getting hung up on "Beyond the Zero", only to ultimately devour the whole book once past it. I think I started it 6 or 7 times before allowing myself to relax enough to just let go and let it sort of wash over me.

I was just sitting down with it for my third go around with it the other day, and I find myself now getting hung up on the songs of all things. P certainly provides enough stage direction to set the mood for them, but without an actual tune, I find myself struggling to find a beat within the words and generally making a hash of it.
posted by hwestiii at 4:15 AM on June 5, 2012


ah, heck, i'll ask here... Can someone who has finished Gravity's Rainbow tell me what I've missed?

I can't summarize my experience of the book's content here, but here's how I managed to read it completely. In 1996 I was working the crappiest job I've ever had. I was a "dispatch clerk" in a grocery warehouse working the night shift (10pm-7am). The job consisted of sitting in a small trailer and collating paperwork that came off these huge printers intermittently. I would then place this paperwork in envelopes and put them in slots for truck drivers to pick up and deliver food for the nation. There were huge periods of inactivity in the job, and during these breaks I would read.

So over a period of 3 weeks I read Gravity's Rainbow in the middle of the night, both at work and at home. My body had adjusted to the night schedule at this point, so in my days off I would often wake up at 3 or 4 pm and begin reading. My entire circadian rhythm and ability to integrate with societal norms were pretty much shot.

Which is, of course, the perfect frame of mind to read this book. I became totally absorbed in the novel. My sense of time became massively distorted and I often found myself re-reading entire sections over again in an attempt to crack some sort of hidden code. I think I spent an entire day reading and re-reading a particular 70 page section. I experienced some of the same "reflexive forces" that metaman referred to above. Too much for me to get into right now.

I honestly don't think I would have finished the book if I had been a "normal" at this point. Transitioning from the real world into Pynchon's universe is too disruptive. No book can match reality and its incessant "realness".
posted by jeremias at 4:56 AM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's been a while, but aren't the songs generally obviously based on specific, well-known songs from musical theater? Or did I just imagine that?
posted by mwhybark at 5:00 AM on June 5, 2012


My first experience with Pynchon was with Mason & Dixon, which I remember liking quite a bit. I tried Gravity's Rainbow next and, like everyone else, it took multiple attempts to get through it.
posted by jquinby at 5:23 AM on June 5, 2012


Idea for a project for some enterprising and musical Pynchon fan out there: write (and possibly record) real tunes for all the songs that pepper Gravity's Rainbow and other Pynchon works.

Done.
posted by chavenet at 5:40 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


With Pynchon I went from The Crying of Lot 49 to Against the Day to with a bunch of his short stories sprinkled in between. I've read through it a few times now without putting it aside, but there are definitely sections which are tough going, for example the already mentioned harmonica/toilet sequence. I think it really helped to have read Against the Day beforehand, that and having access to copious amounts of Imoplex G.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:50 AM on June 5, 2012


Gravity's Rainbow is maybe the only novel I've read whose "metastructure" (excuse my lack of lit background here, I'm guessing terminology) became this actual reflexive force that shaped my experience while reading it. The biggest thing that sticks with me today is how the prose, precisely because it was so impossibly dense with allusion, led to this spooky effect where in reading I constantly, constantly experienced the frequency illusion - things I had heard mentioned in passing a day or two ago would suddenly show up in the text, or concepts I had only just learned about through reading the book would be raised out of the blue by friends that evening - really, each time I read it this happened more often than not.
The mood this created matched perfectly with the plot, since by that point in the narrative it's no longer in question of -if- there's a secret society surveilling Slothrop, it's how many and what happens when their wires cross and how many double/triple/quadruple-recursive agents are involved... and there I was feeling all paranoid and metaphysically cornered too, because -- because did he just drop a reference to Baxbakualanuchsiwae?! I thought nobody else had heard about that, and I only learned by total serendipity last week? etc.


This is brilliantly stated.

I'll also say, that my experience of reading the book very much matched the trajectory of a V2 rocket as described in the book. That is, as it moves toward the apex (center) of its journey, that is where it is most full of potential, and where my personal paranoia and the book's paranoia were both most intense, where the kind of serendipity between reality and fiction described by metaman livingblog was happening to me all the time. But just as the rocket becomes less predestined as it falls back to earth, with its trajectory being affected by many factors until finally where it lands is much more random than one might have forecast, so too do the paranoid plots and interconnections in the novel disentangle themselves. Upon finishing the book, I felt like all the paranoia, both in my world and that of the novel, had disappeared into the static hiss of white noise.

It was a remarkable effect, and completely unique in all my years of reading, and one I treasure and revisit to this day.
posted by hippybear at 5:53 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


and yes I said yes I oh wait
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:54 AM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've read most of Pynchon's works, and Gravity's Rainbow is still the wildest. People daunted by its density should check out Crying of Lot 49 first. It's a great introduction to Pynchon's weird universe, and you'll recognize the references from Buckaroo Banzai.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 7:25 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Against the Day is my favorite, maybe because it's his most recent, but maybe because, even though it's his longest, it's his lightest.
posted by Zerowensboring at 8:25 AM on June 5, 2012


Against the Day is my favorite, maybe because it's his most recent

Oops, no it's not.
posted by Zerowensboring at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2012


Against the Day is my favorite, maybe because it's his most recent, but maybe because, even though it's his longest, it's his lightest.

Funny. I just posted this comment to the Illuminatus thread. I think ATD is the densest. Sure, there's a fairly straightforward revenge plot (at least part of it), but the last half is pretty crazy.

Lotion is fantastic, and yeah, I only found them because TP (supposedly) wrote the liner notes...
posted by mrgrimm at 10:08 AM on June 5, 2012


Cool article. Will have to share with my mom, who went to high school with him, and had a locker across from his. She, naturally, reads all of his stuff, and loves hearing about sightings and random appearances at high school reunions, etc. Big fun in the small town. I read a few in college, and tried to fathom Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixon, and Inherent Vice, but never finished any of them.
posted by VicNebulous at 10:08 AM on June 5, 2012


Also, "Smoking Dope with Thomas Pynchon: A Sixties Memoir" by Andrew Gordon.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:10 AM on June 5, 2012


chavenet, thanks for the Fakebook link. It seems inevitable that someone would do that.
posted by hwestiii at 10:25 AM on June 5, 2012


> aren't the songs generally obviously based on specific, well-known songs from musical theater?

No.

> chavenet, thanks for the Fakebook link. It seems inevitable that someone would do that.

Yeah, I just wish they'd done it better—or rather (to be less obnoxious), I wish they'd made some attempt to create the kind of '30s-'40s swing/musical-theater "Saxophony and Park Lane kind of tune" the book calls for. I listened to a few of their pleasant modern pop versions and quickly decided I preferred the ones in my head.
posted by languagehat at 12:15 PM on June 5, 2012


When I posted that link I was sure I had seen The Thomas Pynchon Fakebook on Metafilter. Imagine my surprise when I searched for it later in the day.
posted by chavenet at 3:57 PM on June 5, 2012


tried to fathom Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixon, and Inherent Vice, but never finished any of them.

You didn't finish IV? Goodness. That's one of the lightest novels Pynchon has ever written. Completely fun, very linear in plot, full of his typical paranoia and bizarreness, but without long digressions.

I do suggest Lot 49, as it's the slimmest waif of a book. I read it in a day, if I recall.

I'm a big fan of Vineland, too. But it has levels of recursion and a strange russian nesting doll structure which can be confusing unless you're really enjoying the book.
posted by hippybear at 6:51 PM on June 5, 2012


I've read Gravity's Rainbow five times I think, and it's probably time for another run-through.

As others have said, one of the big issues is that it's most difficult at the beginning. The first time I tried to read it I didn't even realize that the first section is a dream sequence. It starts out with lots of random threads at various levels of realism spread out all over the place, gradually draws them together, then lets them drift apart again. If you're able to get through the first part (of four), you should have enough momentum to finish the whole thing.

I have a bunch of the songs all written in my head, mostly in the style of say the songs in The Singing Detective. (Which, if you like Pynchon, you must watch. The miniseries with Michael Gambon (Dumbledore II), not the recent movie.)
posted by dfan at 6:37 AM on June 6, 2012


> I have a bunch of the songs all written in my head, mostly in the style of say the songs in The Singing Detective. (Which, if you like Pynchon, you must watch. The miniseries with Michael Gambon

I second the recommendation—it's one of the best things I've seen on television—and yes, the music is much more appropriate in style for Pynchon's songs.
posted by languagehat at 8:34 AM on June 6, 2012


Even just on a surface level Gravity's Rainbow is hilarious and awesome and moving. I'm a particular fan of anything involving Plechazunga, the pig-hero and of course Raketemensch. There are plenty of great little scenes in the book as well, like the famous disgusting alliterative meals bit and the hot air balloon chase scene.

I think if you just relax and let the book wash over you it can be very enjoyable and not too difficult to read. If you try and understand every little reference you will never make it through.
posted by blaisedell at 4:53 AM on June 9, 2012


After Long Resistance, Pynchon Allows Novels to Be Sold as E-Books NYTimes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:36 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think if you just relax and let the book wash over you it can be very enjoyable and not too difficult to read. If you try and understand every little reference you will never make it through.

I think I had the opposite experience. The first 7 times I did try to "let it wash over me" and not worry about everything ... and I soon found I'd just read a section and had no idea what was going on. Don't forget to bring a towel!

I certainly didn't even try to get every reference, nor did I use the companion, but slowing my pace and stopping often to process material was the only way I got through. Otherwise, it's all "OK we're in some German town 10 years before the war, and who's this engineer guy now?" /my2c
posted by mrgrimm at 4:38 PM on June 14, 2012


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