Pynchonian Exploration

by | Apr 25, 2006

Caterina is pointing to Smoking Dope With Thomas Pynchon by Andrew Gordon. It’s a critical take on Vineland, the Pynchon novel set in northern California. Humbolt County by my reading.

Part I: Entropy

I consider Pynchon a quintessential American novelist of the nineteen sixties because he came of age as an artist during that entropic decade and shows its stamp in all his work: V. (1963) covers the century from 1898 to 1956, but most of it was composed during the Kennedy years, and its zany mood reflects the liberatory burst of energy of the Thousand Days, that peculiar mix of Camelot idealism and Cold War paranoia also found in Heller’s Catch-22 (1961) and Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962). The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) is set in the relatively innocent sixties of the early Beatles (when they were still the Adorable Moptops and the Fab Four) and of legal LSD. Nevertheless, all the attraction, danger, and destructive tendencies of the New Left and the counterculture are prophesied in the insidious underground web of the Trystero. Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), ostensibly about World War II, was written during the Vietnam War and indirectly reflects that topsy turvy time; Pynchon also sneaks in references to Malcolm X, Kennedy, and Nixon. Slothrop in Gravity’s Rainbow discovers what many young Americans found out in the late sixties: that our Magical Mystery Tour in the Zone of Vietnam was a love affair with death, that the war never ends, and that your own country is your enemy. We weren’t in Kansas anymore, the Wicked Witch of the West was after us, but there was no Yellow Brick Road and no kindly Wizard to come to the rescue. Finally, Vineland (1990) is the sixties revisited from the perspective of the eighties, about all the unresolved issues, about our sympathy for the Devil and our betrayal of the revolution, and about the long arm of the Nixonian counterrevolution continuing under Reagan. And whether or not his four novels are set in the sixties, they are ultimately all of the sixties, and always conjure up the contradictory moods of that decade and evoke the peculiarly mixed response.

Pynchon is a recluse on the order of Salinger. Not much is known about him, nor his habits. Maybe for this reason, I found this bit on Wikipedia intriguing.

His earliest American ancestor, William Pynchon, emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, and thereafter a long line of Pynchon descendants found wealth and repute on American soil. Pynchon’s family background and aspects of his ancestry have provided source material for his fictions, particularly in the Slothrop family histories related in “The Secret Integration” (1964) and Gravity’s Rainbow.

It makes sense, his keeping a low pro. Rich people are often brought up to do so. Whatever Pynchon’s motivations, I appreciate that there are writers in our world Oprah can’t interest, nor touch.