Skip

flown in to Japan to assess the damage done by Godzilla
September 2, 2013 11:20 AM   Subscribe

As Thomas Pynchon's new novel Bleeding Edge's Sept. 17th release date approaches, New York Magazine's Vulture blog offers a capsule biography of the man. (SLVulture)

New York's previous profile previously.

Vice publishes the novel's first page and waxes philosophical.
posted by Rustic Etruscan (43 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Read this yesterday. I thought it was terrific. I certainly hope that when the time comes, and I hope that is a long way down the road, Pynchon's more reticent friends, acquaintances, etc. open up enough for someone to write a respectable biography of him.
posted by hwestiii at 11:33 AM on September 2, 2013


A Journey Into The Mind Of P simply must be linked here.
posted by hippybear at 11:59 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been kicking around finally getting past that first 76 pages and jumping whole heartedly into Gravity's Rainbow. It's time.

That being said, I'm excited to read this. There are some authors whom I've only read in book form (as opposed to ebooks), and Pynchon is one of them. They closed the bookstore across from one of the places I often work, and this is making me nostalgic. I miss anticipating a book release and then walking in to find a nice new shiny pile smelling all new and booky.
posted by nevercalm at 11:59 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been kicking around finally getting past that first 76 pages and jumping whole heartedly into Gravity's Rainbow. It's time.

Do it. Every time you get discouraged and want to quit, keep going. Make it a task that you have to complete. It will feel like work at times; it will leave you confused and annoyed, but it will also suddenly open up into giant exhilarating spaces, like how exploring an underground cave system will force you to crawl through uncomfortable tight claustrophobic passages and then you suddenly find yourself in a giant cavern full of impressive features that take your breath away.

There is no experience that is as much fun as is as much work as reading Pynchon, and I have yet to have any of his novels fail to astound me and change the way I look at the world.
posted by hippybear at 12:11 PM on September 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


When a small selection of Pynchon letters surfaced in 1998, the Pierpont Morgan Library honored his request to keep them private, but the follow-up article includes the phrase, "not [...] open to scholars during Mr. Pynchon's lifetime". After such a prolonged drought those 120-ish letters alone should be a veritable flood of details for his fans.

As for Bleeding Edge, I know Pynchon has proven his ability to write convincing technical jargon for a wide variety of disciplines, but I can't help feeling uneasy when it comes to a field I (almost) understand. I'm not sure I'm ready to lose my naive conception of Pynchon as master of the known universe.
posted by Lorin at 12:12 PM on September 2, 2013


The Atlantic Wire also has a bit of a thing about Pynchon with some biographic information, as best as we know about him.
posted by hippybear at 12:26 PM on September 2, 2013


The way I first got through "Gravity's Rainbow", after about a dozen other attempts, was to just accept that I wasn't going to get some of it, and just keep on going, trying to appreciate what I did. The second time through, 25 years later, I think I got a lot of what I missed the first time. I'm now starting through a third time in anticipation of "Bleeding Edge".
posted by hwestiii at 1:10 PM on September 2, 2013


This is catnip to Boomers, but to Millennials he's as boring as Bob Dylan.

note: this is not a Tao Lin recommendation.
posted by four panels at 1:28 PM on September 2, 2013


When I saw this I was pretty sure that the Godzilla-insurance examiner pitch was some joke he straightfaced to a publishing industry nerd who didn't get it. I'd read it, of course.
posted by samofidelis at 1:39 PM on September 2, 2013


As a 'millennial', I still really like Pynchon.
posted by codacorolla at 1:40 PM on September 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have met two people who claim—or claimed—to have met Thomas Pynchon. One was the UK magazine publisher John Brown. The other was Matt Groening.
posted by Hogshead at 1:44 PM on September 2, 2013


The other was Matt Groening.

Pynchon has been a guest voice on The Simpsons at least twice.
posted by hippybear at 1:50 PM on September 2, 2013


I think the first few pynchon novels are fantastic, but around mason and dixon, they were just too undisciplined, too shambolic. i really hated the last one, a noir should be taut, and he seems incapable of tautness. delillo's tiny, almost novellas seem to be the best instinct here.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:52 PM on September 2, 2013


This is catnip to Boomers, but to Millennials he's as boring as Bob Dylan.

*coughs quietly, checks birth certificate*
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:00 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mason & Dixon is brilliant. Deeply researched, highly entertaining. It's far from shambolic.

I will admit, I've started Against The Day three times and have yet to finish it, but I've gotten further into it each time. It takes a level of attention which is difficult to achieve with my current highly-distracted lifestyle.

Inherent Vice is tiny and taught by Pynchonesque standards -- not even 400 pages. I can't wait until Paul Thomas Anderson's film is released. So many unsuspecting souls will suddenly be trying out Pynchon's writing for the first time!
posted by hippybear at 2:01 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is catnip to Boomers, but to Millennials he's as boring as Bob Dylan.

Well, I'm neither one of those things, I'm mid-gen-x if that means anything and I doubt it does, but holy crap, bragging about being bored by things you don't understand is- as I'm sure my 'greatest generation' grandparents could have told you- the most jejune possible form of cultural one-upmanship and you should probably save it for when you're older, you'll really need it by then.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:04 PM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


hippybear:

i think it is researched well. it often has elegant writing. it's often very funny, i also think it's a mess. maybe not shambolic though.

inherent vices is two or three times as long as cain or chandler--it might be taut for a pynchon novel (though am i the only one who hopes he returns to the crying of lot 49), but it's not taut compared to LA noir (this is where you mentoin ellroy and i mention that ellroy isn't quite LA noir)
posted by PinkMoose at 2:09 PM on September 2, 2013


Hippybear: "Pynchon has been a guest voice on The Simpsons at least twice."

Groening made this claim during an interview I did with him in 1989, six weeks before the first episode of the Simpsons aired. He didn't say he knew Pynchon, only that he'd met him. Maybe they're mates now. Who knows?
posted by Hogshead at 2:14 PM on September 2, 2013


Every time you get discouraged and want to quit, keep going.

This is the secret to reading long, cryptic books. You don't understand what the hell you just read. Maybe you will later, if you just keep going.
posted by thelonius at 2:18 PM on September 2, 2013


I actually find it harder to think of the bigger Pynchon works (GR, M&D, ATD) as actual novels than the smaller ones, and then maybe even those. The number of ideas that are simply thrown away without substantial development is just staggering. I managed to finish ATD by abandoning the notion of plot or climax, and just luxuriating in the brilliance of the writing. I recall just being totally blown away by chapter in V. that takes place in the South African mansion/compound, the vividness of tone and detail. I guess they are considered novels by default, but they are almost tapestries, held together by unity of topic, theme and character, with plot elements thrown in almost as an afterthought.
posted by hwestiii at 2:19 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


inherent vices is two or three times as long as cain or chandler

Right but Inherent Vice is by neither Cain nor Chandler. It's by Pynchon. It's him playing with a genre and playing with tropes. I think it's foolish to expect him to fit into a form, when there is basically no form he fits into. I get that you don't like his later novels, but I'm not sure the criticisms you are offering have merit. Nobody who wants to read Chandler is going to pick up Pynchon, not in a million years.
posted by hippybear at 2:22 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I recall just being totally blown away by chapter in V. that takes place in the South African mansion/compound, the vividness of tone and detail.

I know exactly the chapter you're talking about! I've read V. three or four times, and every time I get there, I end up in this sort of trance, and I'm never exactly sure what happened in the book and what I just hallucinated while reading. It's almost like the text sets off a subconscious mental subroutine that goes off and computes stuff, and I end up with these memories and impressions that I'm not sure how I got.

It's quite like an actual proof-of-concept of the brain virus I remember from Stephenson's Snow Crash, where (IIRC) a video screen image of static (which is itself an oddly archaic visual) causes the viewers to fall into some sort of epileptic trance.
posted by spacewrench at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2013


I think Stephenson and Pynchon are actually quite a bit alike in quantity of invention and research they throw into their work, although at a pure writing level, Stephenson can't carry Pynchon's ink well.
posted by hwestiii at 2:54 PM on September 2, 2013


It's quite like an actual proof-of-concept of the brain virus I remember from Stephenson's Snow Crash, where (IIRC) a video screen image of static (which is itself an oddly archaic visual) causes the viewers to fall into some sort of epileptic trance.

A bit that I'm sure was inspired by Carol Anne and Poltergeist. (The audio mix in those scenes, with the non-intelligble voices mixed low and still noticeable against the audio static still makes my hair stand on end, even after a zillion viewings.)
posted by hippybear at 2:56 PM on September 2, 2013


Note to self: have another crack at Gravity's Rainbow, Decani. Go on. You can do it this time.
posted by Decani at 3:03 PM on September 2, 2013


I'd initially made a couple cracks at Gravity's Rainbow. What ended up getting me to do it was deciding that I was going to do a book-club type of thing on my website, where I'd write about every 50 or so pages. (I would link it, but I'm pretty sure it's boring as anything.) Since it was something I felt I "had" to finish, I did, and loved it. But yeah -- it can be pretty daunting. If you've got a similar sort of plan to help you on, I'd recommend it. It's really worth it.

(And I know "force yourself to read it!" and "it's great!" don't usually go together.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 3:20 PM on September 2, 2013


Cool! I had no idea a new one was coming, what a nice surprise.

I managed to do Against the Day a few years ago, although that was the longest I've ever taken to finish a book (almost ten months, with a few hiatuses in there). 3 tries so far at Gravity's Rainbow, and I was planning to give it another go this winter. This new one could be a good warm-up.
posted by mannequito at 3:25 PM on September 2, 2013


So if you meet Pynchon do you need to sign sort of contract to not reveal anything at all about him ever except that you met him once?

I am not even kidding. How does someone in this day and age stay hidden like this?
posted by sio42 at 3:25 PM on September 2, 2013


that's a fair cop, but i think that what he is doing is writing not really settled, kind of funny, overly long infodump, features ideas that seemed dated years ago...
posted by PinkMoose at 3:29 PM on September 2, 2013


I am not even kidding. How does someone in this day and age stay hidden like this?


I think it helps that is notoriety is really only in a fairly rarified space, that being literary fiction. People on MeFi and a few other places may be doggedly in pursuit of TP sightings, but he's probably not likely to end up on TMZ or be serious papparazzi bait.

Also, because he's a writer, and not a performer, he's got a pretty narrow channel of exposure, that being his agent and publisher. He doesn't really need to do anything in the way of personal appearances for his books to sell.

Finally, I think he's simply got a very protective and devoted personal social network around himself that takes his privacy concerns seriously.
posted by hwestiii at 3:48 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I am not even kidding. How does someone in this day and age stay hidden like this?

The Vulture Blog bio addresses this directly -- for much of his life, he managed to evade hounding simply by not being where that's easy to do, and/or by staying a few steps ahead of whomever might be trying to interview him (and what, pray tell, do you, the erstwhile celebrity journalist, expect accomplish if your subject doesn't want to talk and you've wasted your advance tracking him down to rural Mexico?).

These days, Pynchon lives in a part of New York where his neighbors are no more interested in accommodating journalists than he is, and where the help know that their employment is contingent on the quality of their discretion. Not coincidentally, the high mucky-mucks of the publishing industry who also live there and also value their privacy (even if they have less need to worry about becoming public figures) are going to be disinclined to help anybody snooping about, and have the added leverage of not being people one ought to antagonize if one wants to get ahead as a writer.
posted by ardgedee at 4:04 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


(And I know "force yourself to read it!" and "it's great!" don't usually go together.)

All the TIME. I've read Infinite Jest I don't know how many times, and I say that often about that book. Likewise with Moby Dick, and Delillo's Underworld, another doorstop.

Every time I take a run at GR I think to myself that some of the first long bit of Infinite Jest was a bear too, and it was. "Just get that far," I think. And then I notice all the other books waiting.

I'm going to make it this time, damnit.
posted by nevercalm at 4:20 PM on September 2, 2013


I genuinely don't understand why people find Gravity's Rainbow hard. I read it twice before I was twenty. I'm not saying that I understood it all, or even made the connections it expected me to, but I loved every page.
posted by Hogshead at 4:30 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't say I find it hard, as in "difficult." More like hard as in "slog." But I know the payoff is great, so I'm determined.
posted by nevercalm at 5:02 PM on September 2, 2013


Gravity's Rainbow was genius. This article... was not.
posted by Splunge at 5:39 PM on September 2, 2013


I read Gravity's Rainbow as an arrogant 18 year old understanding a lot less of it than I let on but read it again in my 30's and loved it.

My attention span is so impoverished these days that I never thought i would get through Against The Day but I did it by listening to the audio book which is beautifully performed and a pleasure to listen to. Currently listening to Mason & Dixon which is less well read but the writing is still wonderful
posted by alanbee at 4:34 AM on September 3, 2013


I am battling my way through Gravity's Rainbow right now. If I ever finish it I suspect a ticker tape parade will not be unwelcome.
posted by tommasz at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2013


Gravity's Rainbow can be read by jumping around and kind of panning for the gold. It doesn't really have what could be called a linear plot, so read for the set pieces and for the language. And, imo, don't bother with any of the other novels except V.
posted by jokeefe at 7:29 AM on September 3, 2013


"And, imo, don't bother with any of the other novels except V."

Goodness, the text editor somehow deleted "and "The Crying of Lot 49""
from the end of your sentence!
posted by Chitownfats at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I genuinely don't understand why people find Gravity's Rainbow hard. I read it twice before I was twenty. I'm not saying that I understood it all, or even made the connections it expected me to, but I loved every page.
posted by Hogshead at 12:30 AM on September 3


I feel the same way about Moby Dick. That book engrossed me completely and I've re-read it several times. I really don't understand why it's on so many "hard to read" lists. Gravity's Rainbow is hard for me to read simply because it's so disjointed. I keep losing track of what the hell is going on. I also find that Pynchon suffers from that thing I call not really nailing his characters, by which I mean he doesn't (for me) immediately lay a readily-identifiable stamp on them, so I keep finding myself saying "Wait... who's this guy again? Err.. was that the woman who did that thing a few pages back? Woah... have we already met this one?" And so on. I have no trouble at all with the more fantastical elements of the book, I just find the writing to be somewhat fractured and difficult to keep hold of. It's hard work, for me.
posted by Decani at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2013


After several attempts to get going in Gravity's Rainbow failed, I was able to read it by picking it up, opening it at random and reading until I got so revved up by the intensity of the prose it felt like Something Bad was about to happen in my brain, stopping and walking around for awhile, and then repeating.

After maybe a week and a half, I seemed to have read the entire thing except for about five pages at the beginning and twenty at the end, so I read the beginning, then the end, and decided to put it aside until phrases and short passages from it ceased forcing themselves on me during unguarded moments, which took more than a year.

I've never really picked it up again during the intervening decades, and I'm still a little afraid of it-- and not 100% sure I've even read the whole thing.
posted by jamjam at 12:13 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had the same tactic with Vineland and TCOL49, but for me the Something Bad that made me break off was a real, intense sense of subtly encroaching malignity and a hairs-on-neck feeling of being manipulated. I don't know if anyone else reacted like that, but it was vivid enough that I had to wait for it to die down between chunks. (Not that it's enough to stop me reading and rereading.)
posted by forgetful snow at 4:09 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, Tommy P... you haven't let me down yet. There is an element of familial warmth in his later stuff that really works for me, no to mention its offsetting that sensation of Something Bad . Also, no spoilers, but seeing one of the most renowned writers of our time use the word "leet" delighted me to no end.
posted by Lorin at 8:12 PM on September 17, 2013


« Older "We got him."   |   Charley says look what the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post