Fiction / Non-Fiction

PYNCHON World

To write about Pynchon, you don’t have to say much. He says it better.

For no good reason, except maybe fear, I have avoided reading Thomas Pynchon. When Gravity’s Rainbow came out in 1973, everyone was reading it. Not me, even if there was a dog-eared copy laying on the coffee table right in front of me. When people talked about it in those days, it sounded too trippy. What they should have told me is that writer Thomas Pynchon fills up your brain. He kindly reminds you how complex the life experience is. Nothing is simple. No man is an island. One can never know too much.

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Thanks to my husband, who has just re-read the Pynchon line-up, I now have entered Pynchon World, starting with Bleeding Edge (2013), which is contemporary, hip, and conspiratorial. You learn things, like about the ARPANET.  ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was the first internet. My computer genius friend Dale was one of the students who worked with Glen Culler at University of California, Santa Barbara, when UCSB was one of the original four institutions that had an IMP (Interface Message Processor) which connected to the ARPANET (the others were UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, and University of Utah.)

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Assuming that Pynchon gets less accessible in his earlier works, my plan is to read him in reverse chronology. Inherent Vice is absolutely accessible, entertaining, and hilarious, particularly if you are familiar with the LA area beach scene. Movie was released December, 2014.

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Now a giddy Pynchon fan, I am surging ahead, already on page 257 out of 1085 in Against the Day, set between 1893 through WWI. After not knowing what hit me the first 150 or so pages—too many characters introduced too fast—somewhere around page 214 the story starts to lock in. Here, Pynchon refers back to characters of the opening scene, and that reference clarifies things (at least a tiny bit of it).

Louis Menand says in his review of the book in The New Yorker, “Do the Math: Thomas Pynchon returns (The New Yorker, November 27, 2006):

“So what was Pynchon thinking? To begin with, he was apparently thinking what he usually thinks, which is that modern history is a war between utopianism and totalitarianism, counterculture and hegemony, anarchism and corporatism, nature and techne, Eros and the death drive, slaves and masters, entropy and order, and that the only reasonably good place to be in such a world, given that you cannot be outside of it, is between the extremes.”

Against the Day is not all heady. After all, this is Pynchon: there is a dog named Pugnax, who reads Henry James.

Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

To write about Pynchon, you don’t have to say much because he says it better. Excerpts from Against the Day (Viking Penguin Group, 2006):

page 239
Enlightenment is a dodgy proposition. It all depends how much you want to risk. Not money so much as personal safety, precious time, against a very remote long shot coming in. It happens, of course. Out of the dust, the clouds of sweat and breath, the drumming of the hooves, the animal rises up behind the field, the last you’d’ve expected, tall, shining, inevitable, and passes through them all like a beam of morning sunlight through the spectral residue of a dream. But it’s still a fool’s bet and a mug’s game, and you might not have the will or the patience.
 
But suppose I did stick it out. I’ve been curious for some time — as members here move closer to enlightenment, is there any sort of discount on the dues we pay?
 
page 246
So…then, Randolph holding his stomach as if it were a crystal ball and addressing it musingly, “it’s only fear? Is that what we’ve become, a bunch of twitching rabbits in uniforms intended for men?”
 
page 256
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 impendance 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 fourspace itself.

 

For more reading about Pynchon:

Pynchon Readers Newbies Guide

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