From a chain of pilgrim milk, Pynchon was born. That is to say, Pynchon’s ancestors heaved onto Massachusetts soil in 1630, and from said landing did a combustion of genes and chance result in Thomas Ruggles Pynchon (that is his real middle name, and if I were friends with him, I’d ask if I could call him it and pretend not to be hurt when he refused).
Did he start writing V in early adulthood, or before he was even born? Certainly not the latter.
Pynchon (or Ruggles, as I call him) is now in his mid-seventies. We don’t know what he looks like, what he does in his spare time. Marijuana – or the memory of it – permeates his novels, from slight whiffs to heavier wafts, culminating in the great green plume of paranostalgia in Inherent Vice. “Doc” Sportello is a man unaware of what’s going on in the dying decade (the Sixties), the jittery instability of which remains like a wine-stain. And that’s saying something, because I wasn’t born, but I feel great Fear. Like the Sixties was a horrible preamble to an inevitable implosion, Nixon as a cackling vizier, and the failure of some avert tragedy did not allow history’s wound, coming to a long overdue spurt of pus, to breathe and scab over.
Ruggles… I would not dare call him Ruggles where I to meet him.
Dear Mr. Pynchon,
I’m trying to think about you in a blog post that few will read, fewer will find interesting, but am finding it an enjoyable enterprise. For example, did you enjoy my portmanteau a paragraph or two up? (Paranostalgia.) I threw it in mid-sentence, so as to not draw attention and act like I just shit new words. An artist. I imagine you drink a lot of lemonade for some reason. Can’t imagine you listen to much modern music, but what am I basing that on?
Images of Against The Day, hazed by a few years, makes me think of gunpowder and the cracked earth and dust under the feet of anarchist plotting. For a while, it was my favourite Pynchon novel. Better than Gravity’s Rainbow. Now, I’m not so sure. I need to reread it. The Chums of Chance occur, apropos of nothing, hovering in their airship, pursuing their bizarre adventures, always moving forward. Threesome between a woman and her father’s two murderers. Dog biting a penis (the owner of said penis mistakenly thinking the dog was trained in sexual service). Gunshots at nice. Franz Ferdinand being an utter bastard in a Chicago bar. Time machines and Iceland spar. Nikola Tesla in a tent. All those things could not conflate into a mediocre book. It is one of my favourite books.
Pynchon graduated and went into the U.S. Navy. No, he didn’t graduate. He left halfway through a Cornell degree in engineering physics. After the Navy (in V. a hamburger being cooked by invisible waves, not appropriate method of contraception) he returned to a degree in English. Nabokov lectured. Stories began to trickle. (He notes an embarrassment towards some of his earlier stories in the introduction to the collection Slow Learner.)
V. is my third favourite. Images include shotguns in the sewer, a priest in the sewer with vermin congregation, Kilroy was everywhere, dangling from a building as part of a daring break-in, applause for impalement, and a great spout of water. My experiences were stuttering and confused, struggling with the unusual but beautiful language. A sentence stands out, half a decade later: “His pants puddled on the floor.” I’m fairly certain I’ve remembered it wrong, but banal as it seems, it made me think yes, that’s exactly what that looks like, when trousers are down, that’s so simple and perfect.
But then! Good reviews for V. Alas, a blockage. Pynchon tries to write several novels at once. Fragments may or may not survive in what eventually hit shelves, after gaps of up to seventeen years. Or the complete things emerged only just prior to the current millennium. He dislikes his next book, The Crying of Lot 49.
Horrible confession: I’ve not read Vineland (the first one I bought, because I was vaguely aware at seventeen that the author was worth my time) or Mason & Dixon. The latter haunts me, following across countries and bookshelves. Soon I shall read it. Many call it his masterpiece. I almost daren’t complete my Pynchon reading in case he’s done writing them.
Images from Crying of Lot 49: Insane doctor locked in office, the obvious recurring symbol, a cork ricocheting between the corners of a hotel room as the inhabitants remove clothes, Lolita reference in lyrics, the auctioneer’s gavel, the parting twosome talking of W.A.S.T.E. communication.
Every year a Nobel disappointment.
Gravity’s Rainbow (images in parentheses to reduce mundanity of selfshit rambles, inserted as they come) was a thick paperback, that invoked great anxiety and awe at its very handling. The (pig suit, then castration) first pages were a wade through treacle, each sentence another sweet trudge, and it carried on this way for a hundred pages or so. And this (Rocketman!) all with a guide to help me! Reading the novel, in its scatological rambling glory, against the unlikely setting of sunny Portugal. Almost felt like giving up. What was going on? Why exactly was (Slothrop pursuing harmonica down a toilet) the protagonist diving into a toilet? V2 rockets falling at the sites of his sexual activity. (Eating a series of disgusting “jelly” sweets.) (They were in love, fuck the war.) (The haunting ending.)
Gravity’s Rainbow changed a weird thing in me – incidentally, the biography of Pynchon is clearly abandoned now, his later life remaining unknown and of little relevance – because beautiful language did not necessarily go with humourlessness. The more characters the merrier. References to King Kong and Mickey Rooney, even if inconsequential, were absolutely fine. Absurd offshoots, Byron the Bulb in particular (we are given the biography of a lightbulb), somehow add a great deal in their pointlessness. The main character fragments. SLOTHROP WAS HERE.
Pynchon’s books, even the ones I’ve read, are still a mystery to me. The above rambling was an attempt to deduce what he is to me, what I’ve learned. Nothing is solved. But writing lessons were learned. So a list:
How can I ever learn so much information? How can someone know so many things?
Christ, my character names are so dull.
This book is long. That must take years. And then most people have trouble reading it.
I live in dull times.
Hey, books can be funny in a slapstick way! Disgusting too!
Dialogue doesn’t have to be boring, like in real life.
Too many characters are only too many if they’re all dull.
Explain a lot of the inconsequential. Explain little of the important.