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Thomas Pynchon is 71 years old.
February 6, 2009 11:43 AM   Subscribe

"To make off with hubby's fortune, yea, I think I heard of that happenin' once or twice around L.A. And… you want me to do what exactly?" He found the paper bag he'd brought his supper home in and got busy pretending to scribble notes on it, because straight-chick uniform, makeup supposed to look like no makeup or whatever, here came that old well-known hard-on Shasta was always good for sooner or later. Does it ever end, he wondered. Of course it does. It did. Thomas Pynchon's next novel, the 416-page Inherent Vice, is described by Penguin Press as "part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon — private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog." While we wait for its August 4 publication, we can read an essay on the dystopian musical he co-wrote at Cornell or watch a clip of that movie they made of Gravity's Rainbow.

related posts here and here
posted by Joe Beese (76 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. I thought I'd have at least a few more years to finish Against the Day before he published a new book. Best get cracking.
posted by Bummus at 11:54 AM on February 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Needs moreless LSD.
posted by tommasz at 11:58 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The man has gotten downright prolific in his old age...
posted by mr_roboto at 12:01 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hooray! More Pynchon is always a good thing, and he's getting old enough we might not be able to expect too many more books (though here's hoping there are a few more manuscripts where this came from).
posted by RogerB at 12:05 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


. . . Already?
posted by grobstein at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


grobstein: ". . . Already?"

His shortest gap between novels - edging out the gap between V. and The Crying of Lot 49 by several months.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:14 PM on February 6, 2009


watch a clip of that movie they made of Gravity's Rainbow.

The made a what of WHAT now?!
posted by shmegegge at 12:17 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


*Limbers up brain*
posted by Mister_A at 12:21 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a mash-up of Dragnet 1967 episodes. I'll still read it, of course.
posted by mykescipark at 12:24 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES OH THANK CHRIST
posted by Damn That Television at 12:26 PM on February 6, 2009


A movie! I didn't know. Great post, thank you.
posted by daniel9223 at 12:33 PM on February 6, 2009


I, um. Hmm. I don't... well, I don't want to be burned at a stake here, guys, but as I've never read any Pynchon, I have to ask, is that excerpt from the second link typical of his writing?

Because it's not very good.
posted by Caduceus at 12:33 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pinch-AWN !
posted by Webbster at 12:37 PM on February 6, 2009


No, it's not very good, and no it's not typical. The thing is, it may well be part of an elaborate joke Pynchon is playing, or may just look terrible out of context; but if the whole book is like that, yikes, it will be a real stinker.

Now shmegegge, did you remember the stake this time? Joe Beese should be back soon with the fire.
posted by Mister_A at 12:38 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay, that's comforting. Because I don't think I've seen anyone beam a line of dialog since I stopped reading fanfiction.
posted by Caduceus at 12:42 PM on February 6, 2009


I, um. Hmm. I don't... well, I don't want to be burned at a stake here, guys, but as I've never read any Pynchon, I have to ask, is that excerpt from the second link typical of his writing?

Because it's not very good.


Oh you are going to get it now.
Frankly no, it sounds like he's doing a kind of Chandler by way of Farina mashup. Read the first half of Gravity's Rainbow like everyone else and be stunned by his dazzling wonderfulness.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:43 PM on February 6, 2009


He scoffed.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:44 PM on February 6, 2009


Gravity's Rainbow Death Pact.
posted by mkb at 12:44 PM on February 6, 2009


I really want this to be great. It seems to me, from reading Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixon and Against the Day that Pynchon loves to write within a historical period with the kind of obsessively researched cultural references and modes of thought that almost convince you he was actually alive at the time. I found keeping up with these references (wikipedia nearby) fun in Gravity's Rainbow, difficult in Against the Day, and nigh-on impossible in Mason & Dixon. Being already much more familiar with the culture and references of the 60s than, say, Age of Enlightenment 18th century colonial America, maybe this will have more of the 'you are there' historical fun without as much of the nerdy and exhausting 'I have to look this up' urge I always associate with his novels.
posted by pziemba at 12:45 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh wow. This is unexpected and awesome news!
posted by Glow Bucket at 12:46 PM on February 6, 2009


Oh, wow, this sounds awesome.
posted by box at 12:46 PM on February 6, 2009


hell fuckin yes

Everything I needed to know I learned from Mason & Dixon, viz: "Grape or Grain, but ne'er the Twain — Vine with Corn, beware the Morn."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:47 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Read the first half of Gravity's Rainbow like everyone else and be stunned by his dazzling wonderfulness.

Snort. I know Metafilter is a pretty Pynchon-friendly group, but reading GR and the rest of the Pynchon opus felt like sitting down to an immaculately arranged feast made entirely of tin foil. Brilliant, intricate, bizarre... and totally bloodless. Conspiracy theories, half-baked subplots, layered allegory, and not a single believable character in 20,000 pages.

However, as a reader I'm deeply indebted to Pynchon for pioneering the literary style that David Foster Wallace made so exuberantly, humanly, ecstatically alive. Thank you, good sir.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:55 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Copied over from an older Pynchon thread...
Gravity's Rainbow is a book that I've tried to read a couple of times. Every time it goes like this:

Oh hey! Man, I bet I could get through Gravity's Rainbow this time! I do have a long train ride to work, after all! So what if it takes me a month or longer, I can handle that!

Oh wow! This is awesome! I totally forgot how great these beginning chapters are! I wonder what stopped me from finishing this all those other times?

Fuck, now I remember when my old art teacher told me to keep a little notebook with me so I can note everyone's name and job and relationships to one another. I forget which scientist this guy is.

Ok, now who the fuck am I reading about? What's all this with the sibling sex in chains and stuff? Shit, this is the hard part. This is the part that I've had trouble getting through in the past. I can do it, though! I can soldier through.

You know what? I don't think this is my time to finish this book. I'm just way confused right now and I'm not even sure who the hell I've been reading about for the past 50 pages. I'm sorry Alan Moore, I know this is one of your favorite books and all, but shit I'm burned out. also, the crying of lot 49 sucked so this'll probably suck, too. Yeah, I bet this book just sucks, anyway. Yeah, that's it. This book sucks, that's why I'm stopping.

A year or so later...

Oh hey! Man, I bet I could get through Gravity's Rainbow this time!
I would add on this passage, now, that I currently carry in my back pocket at all times a list of other books I intend to read which may or may not mentally prepare me to once again tackle Gravity's Rainbow. I'm currently reading Infinite Jest, (which I hadn't even heard of until DFW's obit post here, sadly) which I love. The others are as follows:

David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas
Jorge Luis Borges - pretty much anything
Gunter Grass - Danzig Trilogy
Don DeLillo - White Noise and/or Underworld
William Gaddis - The Recognitions
Martin Amis - Time's Arrow
Jonathan Franzen - The Corrections
Graham Greene - whatever I feel like reading

I'm satisified that, at the least, it's a pretty decent selection of books regardless of how well it prepares me to once again try to read that god damned Gravity's Rainbow. and mind you, I'm not a total dummy. I have a degree in literature from a decent school and everything! (interestingly, I first read Gaddis there, because he used to teach there.) I swear, I can get through difficult books.
posted by shmegegge at 12:57 PM on February 6, 2009 [8 favorites]


Wow Shmegegge. That's not my post, but it might as well be. That's me and Gravity's Rainbow indeed. I have hit that same wall a couple hundred pages in over and over and over again. I have never finished it.

I read Infinite Jest easily, twice in succession when it first came out, without a problem or any false starts*, so I don't think that will be your salve. I should read it again now that DFW is gone, since I'm guessing much of it will resonate differently now. Hm.

Not sure what my Rainbow problem is. Maybe it's all those scientists.

(* five minute breaks while I looked for a fucking dictionary don't count, right?)
posted by rokusan at 1:02 PM on February 6, 2009


Everyone should read Borges' collected fiction before they do anything else including dialing 9-11 for the head injury I'm about to give them for not reading Borges.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:02 PM on February 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


Borges is awesome, just refrain from trying to "figure it out". I remember liking White Noise, but I couldn't tell you anything about it now.

And, since no one has mentioned it, let me bring up Vineland. I liked Vineland; I was 21 when it came out, and it seemed very profound at the time. Part of that is attributable to my being 21, but it's still a decent read and relatively accessible for Pynchon.
posted by Mister_A at 1:04 PM on February 6, 2009


I have made it through GR three times. The second two were much easier with the Companion. Helps with, "Ok, now who the fuck am I reading about?"
posted by daniel9223 at 1:18 PM on February 6, 2009


This is great news, considering the elegiac response to AtD. I may be in the minority of fans who recommend Vineland as a Pynchon starting point, rather than GR. Most of the northern Cali vibe and pop-cultural references from the 70's will have greater resonance than WWII paranoia typical of GR (to an American audience). Once the rhythm of TP's zaniness takes hold the rest of his oeuvre becomes much more enjoyable.
if you were trying to turn someone on to The Clash, you wouldn't start with Sandanista.

In also agree that this excerpt should not be taken too seriously. The blurb for AtD was ridiculous as well.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:21 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, this is awesome.

And I'm glad that it's going to be shorter than AtD, which would have been far better as 4 separate books.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:23 PM on February 6, 2009


Everyone should read Borges' collected fiction before they do anything else.

Seconded. The collected Labyrinths is one of my most-loved books.... and I have a metric boatload of books.

It's full of more brainfuckery than a mensa whorehouse.
posted by rokusan at 1:32 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shmegegge, my god, I'm glad it's not just me. This is exactly how I feel about it. And I was just talking to my sister about this thread and she goes "has anyone over there read past the first half of the book? Has anyone EVER?"

But let me summarize Underworld for you. Chapters 1-4ish: amazing. Beyond that: ...there are some planes. Some people are middle-aged. Then there are some other people. They are younger. They paint. Then you just about figure out who these other people are, and it's back to the planes. And also something about garbage. Then there are some new people. Then there are about two hundred more pages I've never read.

I honestly don't think it's an attention span problem. I had no problem with Infinite Jest. It's that GR and Underworld are, as someone put it in this thread, kind of bloodless. The writing is jaw-droppingly spectacular but the characters are just sort of there. I don't care about any of them. I can't be bothered trying to figure out who they are or what distinguishes one from another. They pop up for a few pages and start to get interesting but then the narrative skips away from them and doesn't meet back up with them for a hundred pages, and by that point I can't remember a damn thing about any of them. I always felt like a heretic for saying this about Delillo and Pynchon but it always seems like I'm skimming along on the surface of what he's writing about and enjoying the view but never getting to do more than dip my toes in.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:38 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


(what they are writing about, not what he's writing about. Unless Delillo and Pynchon are the same person and oh god, can you imagine.)
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:40 PM on February 6, 2009


I think the trick to finishing Gravity's Rainbow is to not stress out about it. You don't need to get every reference. Just sit back and enjoy the beautiful prose, poetic descriptions, goofy humor, and paranoid sensibility.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:44 PM on February 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


That's how I did it, Afroblanco...
posted by Mister_A at 1:45 PM on February 6, 2009


Afroblanco: "I think the trick to finishing Gravity's Rainbow is to not stress out about it. You don't need to get every reference. Just sit back and enjoy the beautiful prose, poetic descriptions, goofy humor, and paranoid sensibility."

In my salad days, I managed to finish V. that way. Then I realized that I hadn't understood a word of it.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:50 PM on February 6, 2009


My only honest-to-god spit take was one warm evening sitting in the back patio of Jupiter in Berkeley when I spied this carved on vertical wooden beam adjacent to my table.

I asked to be moved.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:54 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Only in Berkeley, man...
posted by Mister_A at 1:57 PM on February 6, 2009


watch a clip of that movie they made of Gravity's Rainbow.

They made a what of WHAT now?!

what he said. Never in all my borned days did i hear of this how how HOW?
posted by mwhybark at 2:11 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've read Gravity's Rainbow twice, twelve years apart. The first time I read it was as an undergrad, over the summer between my junior and senior years. The second time was a couple of years ago. I liked it a lot better the second time around, maybe because I was older, or maybe because I stopped trying to "get" it.

I read Against the Day last year, and much of it was a slog. But it has stayed with me, and I think I like it better in retrospect than I did at the time.

With Mason and Dixon, however, I had the classic "Gravity's Rainbow Experience".

I'm sure I'll read this one. at 416 pages, it's like a novella.
posted by vibrotronica at 2:16 PM on February 6, 2009


Aha yes. Underworld. I got through Underworld, but it took three tries. And for god's sake it starts with a baseball game. You'd think it was made to hold my attention.

No, it's not attention span problem. I'm one of few non-ADD people on the Internet, I swear. I read challenging writers, including some similar to Pynchon in various ways (DFW, Eco, Borges, Theroux) and I survive mind-numbingly dry technical papers without exploding.

Pynchon's language is fluid, it's not a problem, and he doesn't make one fight through sentences. He entertains with clever wordplay enough for a chuckle-per-page or so. I like his style, his writing, his themes, the shadow plots... even his slow pacing is fine with me.

So I don't get it. Why do I have such trouble with GR, and why did I have almost as much with Underworld?

I guess it must be the sheer number of characters. That's the only thing I can think of that is different from most other books. I must lose my connection with them, or something. Hmm.
posted by rokusan at 2:19 PM on February 6, 2009


Crying of Lot 49, I can recommend. And, it's shorter than V or Gravity's Rainbow -- ideal for today's attention-deficient, instant-gratification users.

I just had a thought... in their formative years, women read The Fountainhead, men read Gravity's Rainbow, and everyone reads Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by asfuller at 2:23 PM on February 6, 2009


Why do I have such trouble with GR

well, you know I just checked out that amazon link daniel9223 linked above, and after checking out amazon's "Read Inside" feature, I think that for me it's because apparently the book randomly shifts scene to colonial era England and I had no idea.
posted by shmegegge at 2:32 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


also, with all due respect to the Pynchon fans in the room... The Crying of Lot 49 is a cute joke. I recommend it to people I don't like as a prank. I find it hard to like it as anything but an amusing experiment. Thank God it's short enough that the intentional waste of time is minimal.
posted by shmegegge at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


On my birthday, too!
posted by muckster at 2:40 PM on February 6, 2009


asfuller: "Crying of Lot 49, I can recommend. And, it's shorter than V or Gravity's Rainbow -- ideal for today's attention-deficient, instant-gratification users."

The last time Pynchon wrote a (relatively) short novel set in California in the Sixties, a (relatively) short time after a previous, much more ambitious novel, the result was something he called a "potboiler" and he expressed the hope that his agent would be able to "unload it on some poor sucker."

I'm just sayin'.

Don't get me wrong: Like others here, I'm hoping that for some unfathomable-to-me reason, Penguin is advertising new product from their single most prestigious author - a writer frequently suggested for the Nobel Prize - by handpicking an uncharacteristically poor passage.

Maybe it was T.Pynch's idea. He's a prankster, amirite?
posted by Joe Beese at 2:43 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I slogged through GR last winter, lugging it with me on my commute for months. I liked parts of it. I certainly had the experience of reading 50 pages without having a clue and then, "oh, that's who we are talking about", and going back and re-reading (more like skimming) the last 50 pages. When it was all said and done I thought, "I liked a lot of the prose, some sections of it were excellent but overall, meh."

and then...

about a month after finishing the novel it began to infiltrate my brain. I noticed that I was thinking about it regularly, laughing out-loud at some absurd scene or another, and pretty soon slothrop was everywhere. I don't give a damn how much of it sailed past me, it just makes it all that much more exciting for what I will uncover next time.

I look forward to reading it again, but not until I dig a little deeper into his oeuvre.
posted by slickvaguely at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2009


Underworld was a slog for people? And bloodless? Really? That was the shortest 900+ page book I ever read. One of those "Wait, it's over, but I want more!" kind of books.

I've read V and Vineland far too many times, Crying a few, and never made it halfway through any Pynchon's other books, but I've been making good progress with Against The Day recently. Oh and you people who claim that Infinite Jest was even remotely readable are liars and we all know it.
posted by aspo at 3:01 PM on February 6, 2009


slickvaguely: "about a month after finishing the novel it began to infiltrate my brain."

I meant to include in my previous comment a short defense of the multidisciplinarity Pynchon imposes on his suffering readers... (For even those who love his work suffer for it, as I think they'll admit.)

The world really is as complicated and interwoven and technical as he and Joseph McElroy portray it. If they, very unusually among novelists, have the ambition to try tackling all of it, we can always respect their attempts - even if the results are books most of us can only appreciate in the abstract.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:10 PM on February 6, 2009


I read a bit of Pynchon in college, Crying of Lot 49 and V. and tried to tackle Gravity's Rainbox totally unsuccessfully.

However, years later in my mid 20's I hit upon the best way to read Gravity's Rainbow straight through. I was working for 7$/hr in a trailer for the largest grocery warehouse in Vermont. I worked the graveyard shift from 10pm to 7 am in a job that required me to sit around waiting for orders to print off these huge dot-matrix printers. I might go for an entire shift with nobody talking to me.

I had hours of free time that I spent reading Gravity's Rainbow at work. When I got home at 7 am I would read for an hour or so, sleep, wake up, read. Go to work, read . . . rinse and repeat.
I did this for about 3 weeks and was totally immersed in the book to the exclusion of anything else. I had no life because I had totally broken any connection to "normal" society. Waking up at 4 pm to have "breakfast" will fuck you up quick anyway. Now add GR to the equation. Riiight . . .

While this may have disconnected me from a reality that included my fellow humans, it did make me the perfect reader for Gravity's Rainbow. When I finished the last page I woke up from a three week long dream. I will never do anything like this again, but I'm damn glad I did. . .
posted by jeremias at 3:12 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Agreed that Pynchon and Ayn Rand are respectively the collegiate favorites of young men and women, though I was hesitant to say this earlier, and wagered that Metafilter of all places would have a slew of pro-Pynchon women. I understand why Pynchon's nomination for the Nobel caused a toxic amount of animosity among the judges--literary folks can't decide if he's a prophet or a sham. I dated enough nerds in college to feign interest when they hefted that huge tome to my side of the book: "Here, this is my favorite book." A really tacky gendered equivalent would be if I hoisted the Jane Austen compendium into their laps and said, "The best part is when Elizabeth realizes Darcy isn't engaged!"

I have known a few girls who love love love Pynchon, but I think the girl parts of my brain are what recoil when he launches into 50-page tangents about insufferably wooden, secondary characters. Pynchon's legerdemain and dense layers never struck me as terribly brilliant, just flashy and manic. I don't need personable characters as a reader, which is why I rank American Psycho,Moby Dick and Lolita far above Gravity's Rainbow, but I have never peered into Pynchon's tangled universe and come away with a more nuanced understanding of mine.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:18 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jorge Luis Borges - pretty much anything everything

FTFY
posted by juv3nal at 3:27 PM on February 6, 2009


Yep, it's a bit of a relief to see that my experience with Pynchon seems to fit in pretty well with a lot of the other folks that love him.

My big revelation was when I realized that if I'd been reading free verse poetry I wouldn't have been nearly so obsessed with narrative and structure. When I understood that I could just hang out and read Against the Day like a long, looong poem without worrying about the intricacies of the plot I enjoyed it much more.

Mind you, I got it for Christmas in 2006 and I'm still not done. I tell myself that it has only a finite number of pages, and that every time I've read one page I am one page closer to finishing it and starting Goedel, Escher, Bach or Anathem.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 3:32 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


After the publication and success of Gravity's Rainbow, interest mounted in finding out more about the identity of the author. At the 1974 National Book Award ceremony, the president of Viking Press, Tom Guinzberg, arranged for double-talking comedian "Professor" Irwin Corey to accept the prize on Pynchon's behalf (Royster 2005). Many of the assembled guests had no idea who Corey was, and, having never seen the author, they assumed that it was Pynchon himself on the stage delivering Corey's trademark torrent of rambling, pseudo-scholarly verbiage (Corey 1974). Towards the end of Corey's address a streaker ran through the hall, adding further to the confusion.

Chances the streaker was Pynchon?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:33 PM on February 6, 2009


Reading multiple wikipedia entries about Pynchon will make you dizzy I don't recommend anyone get into that.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:42 PM on February 6, 2009


Not sure what my Rainbow problem is. Maybe it's all those scientists.

Could it maybe be the 70 pages of swimming-through-cities-made-of-shit description?

Murakami is the same kind of writer, only better and actually enjoyable to read.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:06 PM on February 6, 2009


I've read Vineland, Crying of Lot 49, Mason & Dixon, and currently about 1/8th through Against the Day. I think he's a very good writer and I do enjoy his books quite a bit, there's a moment that comes in his books when you read a passage you couldn't quite explain why you understand it, but you do, and it's gratifying and kind of fun.
posted by cell divide at 4:12 PM on February 6, 2009


I understand why Pynchon's nomination for the Nobel caused a toxic amount of animosity among the judges--literary folks can't decide if he's a prophet or a sham.

To be fair, GR was without a doubt the dirtiest book I've ever read. So I'd imagine the animosity had something to do with that.

Murakami is the same kind of writer, only better and actually enjoyable to read.

Oh, come on. Yes, I get that they're both "postmodernists." But their styles are so different, it's like apples an oranges. Pynchon's writing is dense and byzantine, whereas Murakami's is breezy and abstract. I love them both, but for completely different reasons.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:20 PM on February 6, 2009


Everyone should read Borges

And Juan Rulfo. Please, don't forget Maestro Rulfo.
posted by elmono at 4:31 PM on February 6, 2009


I read GR years ago and a lot of it kind of washed over me without sticking. But the bits that did stick have stuck with me ever since. A seance where British intelligence tries to contact a pilot who claimed to have seen an angel over Lubeck. Good stuff.
-J
posted by jetsetsc at 4:31 PM on February 6, 2009


When I understood that I could just hang out and read Against the Day like a long, looong poem without worrying about the intricacies of the plot I enjoyed it much more.

That's right on target Squid. I did the same thing with the The Baroque Cycle. To a greatly lesser degree.
posted by daniel9223 at 4:36 PM on February 6, 2009


A few years ago I had a long bus ride ahead of me on my way up north to see the family for Christmas. I stopped into The World's Biggest Boosk Store in downtown Toronto and picked up a paperback edition of Gravity's Rainbow on a whim because the name rang a bell for me, I liked the cover design (a Penguin reissue) and I had maybe 5 minutes until my bus left.

Since then I've read Against the Day, Lot 49 and V. I will respect that tastes differ, but I can not at all relate to the description of his writing as bloodless. I can't decide if I think his characters are believable or not, but I still feel that regardless, they're sympathetic. The central characters in Against the Day were really well developed, and after spending so much time with them I missed them personally once I'd put the book down. Gravity's Rainbow was difficult, but at a certain point into it I decided I really didn't have to be looking into every obscure reference and that I was having more fun letting the plot jog on, imagining the humiliated landscapes of the Zone, enjoying the absurdity of all of it. I won't pretend to have understood the ending at all, but it was worth it to make it that far.
posted by Evstar at 4:38 PM on February 6, 2009


totally bloodless

I can agree with this characterization in V, Gravity's Rainbow, and perhaps Against the Day. Mason & Dixon, Crying of Lot 49, and Vineland have sympathetic characters, particularly M and D in M&D (which is my favorite Pynchon by far):

'Tis the Age of Reason, rrrf? There is ever an Explanation at hand, and no such thing as a Talking Dog,--Talking Dogs belong with Dragons and Unicorns. What there are, however, are Provisions for Survival in a World less fantastick.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:38 PM on February 6, 2009


I tried reading Gravity's Rainbow once.

It was like reading Neal Stephenson while being very, very, very drunk.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


[does happy dance]


Purely speculation but the mentions of V and Vineland here might be apposite. Some people used to say there was an alternating short/long easier/harder pattern to his books Against the Day (and Mason and Dixon) broke that pattern but it's worth noting V and Vineland were both shorter and dealt with '60's as a theme so it wouldn't surprise me if this doesn't come as something in a similar vain.

Its worth saying something about characters and conspiracies. I was intrigued to find out that Pynchon actually wrote a musical (or part of one at least). It's a heavy clue as to how to treat his characters like it or not, its clear Pynchon is writing against the grain of a certain sort of predominant modern novel—the psychological novel for want of a better term—rather he writing in something like a comedic tradition and his characters are,arguably, meant to be the way they are. They are closer to characters in something like a musical, and you would be foolish to seek psychological depth there.

For sure the enjoyment of Pynchon depends to a large extent on how much you enjoy his particular brand of comedy: the words games, the punning, the references, the pastiche (for which is he is, justifiably noted, which is almost certainly what's going on in the extract, on with a certain teasing form someone known for his prose quality). But you have to be careful with the runaway references. Against the Day, for instance, contains a character whose name is, more or less, a contemporaneous (to the novel's setting) transliteration of the name of the inventor of Tetris, the same character who drops oddly shaped pieces of masonry out of an airship. What are we too make of this—nothing much I think, except its a certain sort of elaborate joke, a kind of simultaneously visual and linguistic pun.

But beneath all this there's a bigger point: as Joe Beese points out, the world is irreducibly complex, and Pynchon sometimes attempts the impossible task of trying to capture this and this is why I think it's so very wrong to read Pynchon as a straight conspiracy theorist. Rather Pynchon should be read as , on some level, a satire of conspiracy theories, a peering into the monomaniacal, myth making tendencies of the human mind, the ones that end up in the dark corruptions of paranoid conspiracy, seeking patterns everywhere in the name of meaning. Just the very same state of mind his novels can invite you into. All a warning into fooling yourself that you are ever going to make sense of it all, never mind actually own it. As a character in V puts it.
"life's single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane."
posted by tallus at 5:14 PM on February 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


about a month after finishing the novel it began to infiltrate my brain. I noticed that I was thinking about it regularly, laughing out-loud at some absurd scene or another, and pretty soon slothrop was everywhere. I don't give a damn how much of it sailed past me, it just makes it all that much more exciting for what I will uncover next time.



Total derail, but can I say this is what a lot of French cinema is to me? Seriously, the bulk of french classics I see (and I see a lot cause I'm trying to learn French and hey! I like movies) I find myself unmoved by them. They are *interesting* but I don't give them much thought at the time, aside from trying to figure out the conversation and follow the plot. Then, about a week later, they take over my brain. I keep thinking about them, scenes play out in my dreams. I'll remember something or notice something out of blue from a bit I was completely uninterested in while watching. Part of it is the "trying to learn the language" part, but the other part is this strange, mind-grabbing quality where it's left to ferment in your subconscious until a week later it's all you can fucking talk about. Or something.
posted by The Whelk at 5:19 PM on February 6, 2009


Pynchon should be read as , on some level, a satire of conspiracy theories, a peering into the monomaniacal, myth making tendencies of the human mind, the ones that end up in the dark corruptions of paranoid conspiracy, seeking patterns everywhere in the name of meaning. Just the very same state of mind his novels can invite you into. All a warning into fooling yourself that you are ever going to make sense of it all, never mind actually own it. As a character in V puts it.

"life's single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane."


Exactly. Well said, tallus.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:19 PM on February 6, 2009


vineland's my favorite pynchon novel - it just seems to be something he put his heart into, at least a little bit

i've read all the rest - even against the day, which has passages that made me want to throw the book against the wall and a plot that ... well, is it a plot or what?

and in spite of the dire excerpt, i'm going to have to read this one too ...

my least like of his books is mason and dixon - that faux 18th/19th century prose utterly got on my nerves, and i'm a person who will willingly read things from that time and earlier and enjoy them
posted by pyramid termite at 8:58 PM on February 6, 2009


I don't need personable characters as a reader, which is why I rank American Psycho,Moby Dick and Lolita far above Gravity's Rainbow

I like, empathize with, and enjoy Patrick Bateman far more than Tyrone Slothrop.

There, I said it. Now the internet hates me.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 10:35 PM on February 6, 2009


Illustrations
For Each Page
of Gravity's Rainbow
as posted Previously on the Blue.
posted by sol at 7:29 AM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Illustrations For Each Page of Gravity's Rainbow as posted Previously on the Blue.
posted by sol at 7:29 AM on February 7


fffffuck
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:42 AM on February 7, 2009


Great news! Oh, and tallus, that is a great description of his work. The analogy to musicals is really insightful.
posted by caddis at 10:19 AM on February 7, 2009


well, is it a plot or what?

or what
posted by mwhybark at 3:33 AM on February 8, 2009


Goedel, Escher, Bach

Now there's one of my own great many times started unclimbed hills. Gotta dig it out and plop it on the stack.
posted by mwhybark at 12:08 PM on February 8, 2009


GR made a big impact on me in college; I couldn't decide if it was wonderful-- because parts *were* wonderful (in a sort of Grand Guignol I have just killed and eaten the still-beating heart of my editor way), or terrible (cf., fate of editor). I both loved it and felt envious of the way Pynchon had, well, gotten away with page after page after page of arena rock prosodic noodling. The mere fact that such insane, balls-to-the-wall maximalist obscurantism could become Famous and Revered seemed sort of... mystically meaningful.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:11 PM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had much this experience when I read it, and my prose style took a hard turn to the technically-correct-but-unreadable.
posted by grobstein at 9:55 PM on February 8, 2009


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