Friday, June 19, 2009

Pinchin' Off Pynchon

At Mark Athitakis' American Fiction Notes, a reprint of Robert Goolrick's 1978 article about Thomas Pynchon:

Pynchon’s is a picture of the world as the shaky construction of a fanatical paranoid, but a construction that must be made in order to stave off the final admission that nothing is of any meaning; and meaning, if it existed, would have no value.

The brilliance of the book is that it becomes the thing it talks about. Its endless detail, its childish and maddening insistency on coincidence, its structuring of the world around an irrelevant hollow, all cause
V., to paraphrase Archibald MacLeish, not to mean but to be. You could explicate it for years, and come away from all that drudgery with a hell of a lot of useless arcana, and no more, really, than the same vaguely disquieting feeling the book gave you on first reading—the feeling that something is wrong but you can’t quite put your finger on it, that something is missing but you haven’t the faintest idea where to look.

And that, in easy-to-digest pill form, is what all of Pynchon is about.

And that is why I'm content, at least for now, to have read only Pynchon's short novel The Crying of Lot 49. It may be a vulgar stance for me to take (Goolrick goes on to praise Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow as one of the least read important masterpieces, and here Harold Bloom says if he had to select a single work of sublime fiction from the last century, he'd probably choose Pynchon's Mason & Dixon), but right now I'd rather read masterpieces that aren't postmodern games about pieces that will never fit together. 

Anna Karenina, for instance (or Anna Karenininininininin...., as Greg Brown called it in a song I heard him play at the Off Broadway some years back but which he's never released on record). It may be long, but it's so psychologically astute and fascinating that it's hard to put down.

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