Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pynchon Dweeb-Fest

A confession: I went to a "book party" last night at Skylight Books in Los Feliz to celebrate the release of Thomas Pynchon's latest book, Against the Day.

I am fully aware that taking part in such an event fairly opens me up for charges of pretentiousness and total dorkiness. As Mrs. Octopus very rightly commented as I left the house at 11:30 for the event, "Enjoy your dweeb-fest."

Okay, so it was totally ridiculous. What can I say? I genuinely loved Mason & Dixon and Gravity's Rainbow. I've read them both several times. A friend of mine, whom I respect very much, once noted that people who read Pynchon often tackle his books to finish them as some sort of badges of merit or achievement that they can proudly display. I may be open to that charge. But I also know that I love Pynchon's works for their fantastic riffs on science and faith, sympathy for the underdog, disdain for self-important and abusive authority and power, stupid songs, and dumb jokes. He often seems to me to be our most American writer: who else manages to blend nuclear bombs, Plasticman, King Kong, Pavlovian responses, Malcolm X, organic chemistry, rocket science, and toilet humor so brilliantly and entertainingly?

Anyhow, it was a strange scene at the bookstore last night as we passed the time until midnight, when the bookstore clerks could legally hand us our copies of Against the Day. There was a table with wine and cheese, some snacks, and there were efforts to get people to socialize, but the die-hards who showed up at 11:45 at night didn't seem to be the most socially gifted people in the city. A few people wondered whether Pynchon was still alive. Someone wandered into the bookstore and asked a few people assembled there what the big deal was: Why were people so into Pynchon? Was it his use of language? His storytelling? His character development? No one really had a ready answer. A young group of poets had wandered into the bookstore near midnight, apparently up for any literary event they could find in Los Angeles. They seemed dressed as if for a club, except in a kind of Rushmore way (i.e., plaid skirts, etc.). One of them asked someone if Pynchon always wrote in the third person. A good question: a few of the self-identified Pynchon diehards had to think about it, before venturing a half-hearted "yes". There was a lot of lurking about by solitary Pynchon fans (like the Octopus), sipping soda and avoiding eye contact in the Gardening and Architecture aisles, while anxiously gripping receipts for their pre-paid copies of Pynchon's latest (and last?).

Altogether, a very interesting event for L.A.

Most reviewers appear to agree that the book is too long, baggy in places, with flashes of brilliance, but generally exhausting in its scope, digressions, and cast of hundreds.

Here's my question: when did these reviewers get this book, and how long have they had to read the 1085 pages? I'd probably be cranky too if I had to race through a doorstop like Against the Day to meet a deadline for a review.

I'll check back in with a review of Against the Day in three to four months.


ivanomartin said...

you should have bought the OJ book instead.


MK said...


Alas, the deal has been dropped.


You'll be deligthed to know that Der Spiegel disagrees with the critics you link to. They seem to like the book:


It's in German though.

Octopus Grigori said...

Interesting. Thanks, MK. Pasted below is the Der Spiegel review as translated through Babel Fish. Kind of funny. What the heck is a "Gigantomanie"? And Pynchon is certainly "mysterioesen". I think we may have a new technology of prose poetry here....

Anyway, enjoy, German and non-German readers alike.


Negotiator of the Gigantomanie

Thomas Pynchon was considered as James Joyce of our time. Now is it to have become suddenly a bad author? Only because it lasted eleven years, until it submitted a further monumental work, which to read critics do not have more time? A large error, finds our author Sebastian Moll.

If one takes the reactions of the literature criticism on the eleven to years long expected new novel of Thomas Pynchon "Against the Day" as criterion, then America has clearly no more patience for avant-garde. "Gravity's Rainbow" of 1977 - saw the Opus Magnum of the mysterioesen author, that except its meanwhile to the deceased literature professor Vladimir Nabokov only few ever - is celebrated until today as paradigm table work of the postmodernism and taught at universities; Pynchon was celebrated in the eighties and into the nineties inside as the James Joyce of our time.

Pynchon Cover "Against the Day":
Now one has its faxes however obviously fullly. The "New York Times" weighted that cheat and chess moves on the 1085 sides of "Against The Day" are all too familiar. Pynchon, so the Kritikerin Michiko Kakutani, nerve times again with negotiations and underunder actions and underundernegotiations, with dissolving characters, narrativen dead ends, with bulkyness and particularly with its complacent Gigantomanie. After he had put down in its last work "Mason and Dixon" many bad habits and its figures even such a thing psychological depth had gegoennt, thus Kakutani, had purged the master now again deeply into old samples, from which one has actually the nose fully.

The InterNet magazine "Slate" strikes into the same notch. Intellectual depth, writes Laura Miller there, is to be also had, without maltraetieren the reader in such a manner. Authors such as David Foster Wallace or Neal Stephenson would have demonstrated that it is possible to explain at the same time the world and to tell a good history. Pynchon, Miller, is thus struck by its own imitators with its own play.

That sounds itself in such a way, as if Pynchon would not be in the conditions to hold its monumental novel building together as if him countless telling ranks became and with one another verwobenen figures, which entgleiten time jumps and the pieces of theory disalignment simply. A somewhat strange criticism at a writer, who was praised before 30 years the most complex telling building of all times to have created. A building, whose research army crowds of literature scientists their entire career dedicate.

No more patience for large drafts

More plausible than that Pynchon telling forgot, is it surely that our time has far less than the seventies and the eighties still the patience to in-permit itself on large drafts. That is unfortunate, because which one gets to see with a first overflight/flyover over the new Pynchon landscapes, promises insights into connections, linkages of events and processes, which are so original and interesting, as Pynchon is since eh and ever.

The action period of the book - which dissolves certainly again and again at the edges, are the years 1893 to 1920. The early cornerstone is the world exhibition of Chicago of 1893 on which already contemporary writers ran around such as Henry Adam and asked themselves, what innovations like the direct current generator and for a world would bear the spreading of the electricity. The late cornerstone is roughly the end of the First World War - according to walter Benjamin just as catastrophic as inevitable result of a durchtechnisierten modern world company.

The main figures are the three sons of a Anarchisten, which is baptized with used pynchonesken name joke Webb cross beam. Cross beam is murdered by a malicious capitalist named Scarsdale Vibe and for the remainder of the novel gruebeln the sons over it after how they are to probably raechen cross beam at the best one.

Lost in the Pynchon jungle

Alone this telling framework supplies actually plentifully fodder for substantially more interesting debates than those, why the psychological depth is missing to the figures of Pynchon. The triumphant advance of the durchtechnisierten capitalistic modern trend, one would know Pynchons metaphor literal, each against-constant impulse crushed. Which remains, is an indisposition, which does not know, how it is to provide by action air. At home it is perhaps in the InterNet - in such a way the name of the deceased of father suggests, but around this topic more exactly to fathom, one must itself a little probably still more deeply in the wild Pynchon - jungles gone.

Then one was experienced surely also interesting about terrorism, a topic in all other respects, which already employed Pynchon in its all first novel "The Crying OF plumb bob 49". We are Anarchisten also there already meet - from the criticism frequently as models Pynchons described. Existing orders to disturb without simple new offer, that was always those subversive strategy of Thomas Pynchon. In addition its consistent anonymity fits - Pynchon opposes persistently that possibly who brings its Biografie and his work with one another in connection and thus both trivialisiert.

The fact that dererlei Schriftstellerei fatigues is understandable. After 400 sides and 20 read hours, the "Slate" Rezensentin Miller groans, has it still the feeling, the novel still at all did not begin. And also after almost 1100 sides it will not get the impression to be able to carry somewhat simply seizable forward like a world view or the narrative satisfaction of a closed character development. It will be disturbed, like that as it Pynchon readers is since more jeher. And of the gespenstischen notion it inspires that the things are perhaps all completely different, than one generally believes that.

MK said...

Oh, man that's a riot. I love babelfish. Gigantomanie is gigantomania, delusions of grandeur, if you will. The best thing is that it translates the English names too. Webb Traverse becomes Webb cross beam. And Lot 49 is now plumb bomb 49. My favorite sentence, though, is: "Which remains, is an indisposition, which does not know, how it is to provide by action air."