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This Day in Goofery

May 8
1937: It may have been the birth of Thomas Pynchon

Author Thomas Pynchon has been called “an enigma shrouded in a mystery veiled in anonymity.” But his belief is that “recluse is a code word generated by journalists…meaning, ‘doesn’t like to talk to reporters.’” He simply prefers not to be interviewed or photographed. So what? Big deal. It’s his own business. Someone described him in his high school yearbook photo as a “buck-toothed kid with a goofy grin and a pompadour.” Perhaps, like me, he’s grotesquely unphotogenic.

He too has been called “the only contemporary author whose novels can be compared to James Joyce’s with a straight face” (I was laughing when I typed that), a “literary heavyweight,” and, by The Nation, “the most intelligent, most audacious and most accomplished American novelist….” His style has been described as “Complex. Convoluted. Post-modern. Surreal. Tangential.”

He has his detractors, natch. Library Thing has a discussion thread called “Is Pynchon Worth the Trouble?” The Pulitzer Board vetoed the Fiction Jury’s selection of Gravity’s Rainbow for the 1974 Pulitzer Prize, calling his prose “unreadable,” “turgid,” “overwritten,” and in parts “obscene.”

We should all be so unreadable. Some random samplings of Pynchon’s prose stylings:

From V:

Rachel was looking into the mirror at an angle of 45°, and so had a view of the face turned toward the room and the face on the other side, reflected in the mirror; here were time and reverse-time, co-existing, canceling one another exactly out. Were there many such reference points, scattered throughout the world, perhaps only at nodes like this room which housed a transient population of the imperfect, the dissatisfied; did real time plus virtual or mirror-time equal zero and thus serve some half-understood moral purpose? Or was it only the mirror world that counted; only a promise of a kind that the inward bow of a nose-bridge or a promontory of extra cartilage at the chin meant a reversal of ill fortune such that the world of the altered would thenceforth run on mirror-time; work and love by mirror-light and be only, till death stopped the heart’s ticking (metronome’s music) quietly as light ceases to vibrate, an imp’s dance under the century’s own chandeliers…

From The Crying of Lot 49:

A number of frail girls…prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.

From Gravity’s Rainbow:

Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night’s old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of Breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjuror’s secret by which—though it is not often that Death is told so clearly to fuck off—the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down twenty generations… so the same assertion-through-structure allows this war morning’s banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail.

From Vineland:

Later than usual one summer morning in 1984, Zoyd Wheeler drifted awake in sunlight through a creeping fig that hung in the window, with a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof. In his dream these had been carrier pigeons from someplace far across the ocean, landing and taking off again one by one, each bearing a message for him, but none of whom, light pulsing in their wings, he could ever quite get to in time. He understood it to be another deep nudge from forces unseen, almost surely connected with the letter that had come along with his latest mental-disability check, reminding him that unless he did something publicly crazy before a date now less than a week away, he would no longer qualify for benefits. He groaned out of bed.

From Against the Day:

It went on for a month. Those who had taken it for a cosmic sign cringed beneath the sky each nightfall, imagining ever more extravagant disasters. Others, for whom orange did not seem an appropriately apocalyptic shade, sat outdoors on public benches, reading calmly, growing used to the curious pallor. As nights went on and nothing happened and the phenomenon slowly faded to the accustomed deeper violets again, most had difficulty remembering the earlier rise of heart, the sense of overture and possibility and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucination, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day.

If you or I could write like that, we wouldn’t be pimping ourselves on Twitter and Facebook now would we? But I would, as did Pynchon, portray myself on The Simpsons. Some wondered why such a private individual would choose such a venue to make a rare public “appearance” (as a cartoon with a bag over his head). One word: goofy!

image from http://www.themodernword.com

Erik Ketzan sees Pynchon’s “refusal to be ‘observed by the Public Eye’” as a “repudiation of American celebrity and the corporate forces behind it. In contemporary America, where most Americans would sell their souls to star on reality television, Pynchon stands almost alone, rejecting the attention, fame, and money which he could attain, metaphorically pissing on the corporate boardroom table, like his character, Roger Mexico, near the end of Gravity’s Rainbow. But each of Pynchon’s books blends gravity with levity, and the master seems to have spoken to us to deliver one simple commandment: never take The Simpsons, or Thomas Pynchon, too seriously. Q.E.D.”

I see it like this: say what you will of Thomas Pynchon, first and foremost, he is one great big goof.

Somewhere over Levity's Rainbow, I'm gonna goof with that guy.

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