Adam Ash

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Bookplanet: Pynchon's pecker sucked panoptically

Some amazing thoughts on Pynchon in the new Bookforum.

Don DeLillo: "It was as though, in some odd quantum stroke, Hemingway died one day and Pynchon was born the next. One literature bends into another. Pynchon has made American writing a broader and stronger force. He found whispers and apparitions at the edge of modern awareness but did not lessen our sense of the physicality of American prose, the shotgun vigor, the street humor, the body fluids, the put-on. I was writing ads for Sears truck tires when a friend gave me a copy of V. in paperback. I read it and thought, Where did this come from? The scale of his work, large in geography and unafraid of major subjects, helped us locate our fiction not only in small anonymous corners, human and ever-essential, but out there as well, in the sprawl of high imagination and collective dreams."

Jeffrey Eugenides: "The most brilliant epigraph in the history of literature comes at the beginning of Gravity's Rainbow: 'Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death.—Wernher Von Braun.' When I first read those words, as a college freshman, I took them at face value—as scientific proof of the reality of the spiritual realm. I had no idea that Von Braun, developer of the V-2, was Hitler's chief rocket scientist. Still less did I know of his salvation at the hands of American troops, or of his rehabilitation in the United States, where he became Nixon's chief rocket scientist and a member of the NASA team that put the first man on the moon (no wonder Von Braun believed in life after death). Let's appreciate everything this epigraph accomplishes: It stems from, and summons, the historical period Pynchon writes about; it simultaneously inspires and lampoons religious sentiment; and, with savage irony, it comes out of the mouth of someone personifying the novel's central theme—that the Powers That Be operate behind the scenes, owing allegiance to no nation or ideology ... Pynchon's estimate, back in 1973, of the path the postwar American imperium would take, only seems more acute, valid, and prescient today that it did at the time."

Richard Powers: " 'Information. What's wrong with dope and women? Is it any wonder the world's gone insane, with information come to be the only real medium of exchange?'
'I thought it was cigarettes.'
'You dream.' (Gravity's Rainbow)
I remember the thing homing in, soundless, of course, on its parabolic arc, that purified shape latent in the sky. No clue, no advance warning until it hit. I thought I knew how fiction worked, what fiction did, the proper object of its only subject. Then those sentences, screaming across the page, each one skywriting: You dream. For three decades, I've retraced that arc once a year, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. The war is everywhere and real, our terrors threatening to perfect us, the technologies of our desire extending into networks too complex for anything but unhinged and macaronic fiction even to hint at."

George Saunders: "Pynchon is our biggest writer, the gold standard of that overused word inclusiveness: No dogma or tidy aesthetic rule or literary fashion is allowed to prefilter the beautiful data streaming in. Everything is included. No inclination of the mind is too small or large or frightening. The result is gorgeous madness. I have often felt that we read to gain some idea of what God would say about us if someone were to ask Him what we're like. Pynchon says, through the vast loving catalogue he has made, that we are Excellent but need to be watched closely. He says there is no higher form of worship than the loving (i.e., madly attentive) observation of that-which-is, a form of prayer of which Pynchon's work is our highest example."

Gerald Howard: "In 1973, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow landed on my brain and exploded there like, well, a V-2 rocket. It was precisely the book I needed at the time, which tells you something about my mental and spiritual condition. Hey, it was the '70s. The country was low in the water and so was I. Tar-black humor, crushing difficulty, rampant paranoia, accelerating entropy, jaw-dropping perversity, apocalyptic terror, history as a conspiracy of the conjoined forces of technology, death, and sinister Control—it was all good. I preferred having my spirit crushed by a great American novel to the everyday humiliations of my first year of postcollegiate life and the cultural and political demoralizations of the era."

Is Pynchon the most Major of our Major Post-war Writers, Bellow included? What do you think?


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