The Fake Hermit
June 14, 2017 1:46 AM   Subscribe

 
Something that's buried in the account given in the main link is the importance of science and technology practice to Pynchon's whole deal. It's easy to focus on the zany pop culture/media stuff at the surface, but really the beating heart of Pynchon's work is a thoughtful interrogation of the material, often military-derived technologies that underpin media. When it comes down to it, Pynchon never stopped being an engineer.

The closest this piece comes to acknowledging this aspect of his work and life is this quote from one of his neighbors:
Pynchon was very much into thermodynamics and there were stacks of Scientific American magazines in his apartment.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the stuff he puts out under the name Thomas Pynchon is just the tip of the iceberg; he's scattered material of various levels of reputability under various names in various media outlets throughout his life

(I'm referring here to stuff like the Wanda Tinasky material, which I believe has come up on metafilter a few times. though let's be clear: Pynchon wasn't Wanda Tinasky. People only thought that because their sexist/classist assumptions made them doubt that someone in Tinasky's circumstances could be so hyperliterate.)
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:26 AM on June 14 [8 favorites]


Previouslies: The mentioned NYMag article, The Luddite Article, A Journey Into The Mind Of P, ... Actually, just click the tag and look at all the Previouslies.
posted by hippybear at 2:28 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


the importance of science and technology practice to Pynchon's whole deal.

Against The Day is set at such a very specific moment in time and involves such a very specific set (multiple sets) of characters that it becomes VERY apparent that it's very much a novel about the transformation wrought as the Industrial Revolution spreads across the world.

I mean, it's a novel about a lot of things, but that is very much a driving force behind everything in the book.
posted by hippybear at 2:31 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Another great previously.
posted by busted_crayons at 2:38 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


The article does seem to demonstrate that the most interesting thing about a writer is his writing. I now know a few things about Pynchon that I didn't know before - they are not very interesting and they don't help me understand his work. I know a lot about (say) Joyce and Conrad - none of that really helps me understand their work.
posted by Major Tom at 3:37 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Knowing things about Stephen King DOES help you understand his writing but he's probably the exception that proves the rule.

I seem to always read things about Pynchon, but aside from strictly biographical details (he lived in this area, he studied these things), nothing has ever helped me understand what he's written. I either get it, or I don't.

I will say, I read Gravity's Rainbow when I had a 45 minute each way bus commute to work for a while, and that sort of enforced reading time is ideal for getting through that book. By the middle of it, my entire waking world had been influenced by that book into such a desperate tangle of conspiracy and paranoia that I thought my mind was unravelling.

What I learned was that reading the book to the end, Pynchon unravels all that paranoia, disperses it all into white noise. Reading the book is literally being a rocket launched from a specific point, rising with increasing energy into the air where it begins to point downward and everything about its path is bound up and All Is Determined And Inevitable, but then on its way down random gusts toss it about a bit and it becomes impossible for there to be any predetermination at all and in the end it is all really just random.

I mean, Gravity's Rainbow is a book that I recommend to people by talking about how reading the book made me feel, rather than what it's about. Because I think that's actually what it's about.
posted by hippybear at 3:44 AM on June 14 [29 favorites]


I would also encourage people not to be put off by the supposed "difficulty" of Gravity's Rainbow. But start with Lot 49 - the greatest short novel in English!
posted by Major Tom at 4:22 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


I would also encourage people not to be put off by the supposed "difficulty" of Gravity's Rainbow.

As mentioned in the article, Pynchon Wiki is a terrific resource for understanding the work.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:53 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


My claim to fanaticism with Gravity's Rainbow lies in discovering a typo in the widely sold Bantam paper-backs with the second of Proverbs for Paranoids: The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.

The typo in Bantam editions reads: immortality
posted by lazycomputerkids at 4:55 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


Excellent typo and excellent typo detection lazycomputerkids
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 5:00 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Thank you, thegirlwiththehat. But now I'm embarrassed to have declared my claim lies instead of lay.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 5:05 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Why? Is your claim expired now?
posted by thelonius at 7:56 AM on June 14


“We thought we were going to become the dude’s brother. In the end, I sacrificed a Fiat car for him,”
A swell essay.

But start with Lot 49 - the greatest short novel in English!
I'd agree. I liked Lot 49 more than anything else of his that I've read.

...nothing has ever helped me understand what he's written.
His old technical writing for Boeing almost seems like a clue in that enigma.
posted by ovvl at 8:05 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


LEAVE THOMAS PYNCHON ALONE
posted by doubtfulpalace at 8:45 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


I'm Thomas Pynchon!
posted by zippy at 10:40 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


A friend of mine at university recommended I read Lot 49 all in one go on a the train home, as it's short enough to do in one sitting and the mounting sense of paranoia is multiplied if you don't take a break from the world of the book. I have no shame in saying it was one of those rare moments that genuinely changed my life.
posted by YoungStencil at 10:53 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


I was really proud of myself in high school when struggling to crack V. I discovered that by reading it as two books, first reading the "Beatnik" chapters all the way through, and then the "Victorian" ones all the way through, and then rereading the whole book, everything made sense. And then, of course, it didn't.
posted by Chitownfats at 11:40 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


(I'm referring here to stuff like the Wanda Tinasky material, which I believe has come up on metafilter a few times. though let's be clear: Pynchon wasn't Wanda Tinasky. People only thought that because their sexist/classist assumptions made them doubt that someone in Tinasky's circumstances could be so hyperliterate.)

I was under the impression that people still generally do not think that Wanda Tinasky was Wanda Tinasky. This seems to be the more popular answer now, but is not definitive.
posted by atoxyl at 2:11 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


But he has (?) once appeared (?) on network television...John Larroquette show, 1993.
posted by bartleby at 5:40 PM on June 14


I'll have to go back and finish Gravity's Rainbow, having now read these comments. Gravity's Rainbow was the first non-textbook piece of writing that made me feel too stupid to complete. My poor amoeba brain couldn't perfectly recall the details and narratives of every character.
posted by constantinescharity at 6:00 PM on June 14


the way to read books like that is, just keep going
posted by thelonius at 6:59 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


My way of reading GR was to pick it up and read at random, skipping over parts I'd already read, until I was so excited by the language that I had to put it down for fear of some kind of untoward brain event. I didn't read the first 10 pages until I'd read most of the rest and then as a conscious act, because when you open a book at random it just doesn't open to the beginning.

Then one day I paged through the entire book and couldn't find anything I hadn't read. My stomach lurched with the kind of fear you get when you realize your checking account has $5K less in it than you thought, and you just wrote a bunch of bills. A couple of weeks later I dreamed I'd somehow missed a huge section and woke up in a state of keen anticipation that was surprisingly difficult to extinguish.
posted by jamjam at 12:14 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I recently listened to an audiobook of The Crying Of Lot 49, and while I was listening I was thinking how great it would be for there to be a movie of this story, but the more I reflected on the story I realized that the entire emotional landscape of the novel would be impossible to do as a movie, unless you did a LOT of voiceover or something. It's nearly all Oedipa's THOUGHTS about what is going on that make the narrative, not what is actually happening. What is actually happening is actually fairly mundane.

However, the entire sequence where Oedipa wanders through the city and keeps encountering more and more signs of the Trystero, and it's like Alice down the rabbit hole as more and more things start to line up with her growing awareness/paranoia... THAT sequence would make for an amazing one in the right hands. I think I'd want Alfonso Cuarón to do it.
posted by hippybear at 2:44 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I also listened to the audiobook of Against The Day, after 4 failed attempts at reading it. Oh, it's quite a piece. I think it was 57 hours? It got me to the end of the story, that's for certain. And very VERY skillfully read, holy cow!

I haven't listened to another audiobook since then.
posted by hippybear at 2:50 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


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