Sunday, March 09, 2008

Don't Ever Antagonize The Horn

This weekend I decided to re-read Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49," and it's the first time I've immersed myself in Pynchon's writing for several years.

It's beautiful. He tickles you with immediate, funny dialog, then he begins to dip you into the world's chaos, and suddenly you're reduced to unweaving the unconventional, almost cryptic prose that comprise the novel's most important revelations. If you can stay on the track and concentrate intensely, you are left with a nugget of meaning that could not have been conveyed any other way. If you get lost, you're angry. Go back and read it again.

The theme of "The Crying of Lot 49" is one that has always intrigued me: the search for meaning, pattern, and design in an apparently random world.
And the voices before and after the dead man's that had phoned at random during the darkest, slowest hours, searching ceaseless among the dial's ten million possibilities for that magical Other who would reveal herself out of the roar of relays, monotone litanies of insult, filth, fantasy, love whose brute repetition must someday call into being the trigger for the unnameable act, the recognition, the word.
The characters in Pynchon's best-loved works are following up on tantalizing hints that something is going on behind the official scenes. What is "V?" What is "Tristero?" And what shape do you see when you connect the dots around "Gravity's Rainbow?" Is there a conspiracy? A hoax? Or are you simply seeing "order" because humans are hard-wired to see such things?

A beautiful book, it has inspired me to re-tackle "Mason & Dixon" in preparation for Pynchon's most recent novel, "Against the Day." Time to work on my upper-body strength.

8 comments:

Raven said...

That's funny. I received a copy of this book for X-mas but have yet to crack it open.

I'm not sure if it's my kind of read (ok, I admit I don't read a whole lot outside of newspapers, magazines, comic books and Internet), but I suppose I will get to it someday.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Somebody has good taste in Christmas gifts! :)

Much of the book is breezy and easy to read, but you might find the dense and historical sections more trying.

The technique for reading those types of Pynchon passages is to just start at the beginning of the paragraph and go SLOOOWLY along, following each twist and turn in each sentence. If, in the middle of a paragraph, you think that none of it makes any sense, go back and read the paragraph again...

That's the thing. His writing DOES make sense, but it's sometimes difficult to follow where he's going.

Kimber said...

I remember reading this in uni during my first ever pomo lit class with Stan, the ultimate in bizarre profs (wore sunglasses to class to hide his hangover, wore cigarettes rolled up his sleeve like Danny Zuko in Grease!).

Anyway, Stan worshipped Pynchon. While I don't share his level of enthusiasm, I did enjoy the book. It was my first exposure to pomo lit. I still have my dog-eared copy around here somewhere...

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Ahhh, Stan Fogel. :)

Stan was going off pomo by the time I reached him -- his new thing was cultural studies and he seemed to have thought that the genre had died -- but he still loved Thomas Pynchon.

I took a one-off graduate course he taught called "The Hyperthyroid Novel," basically an excuse for him to teach two of his favourite books: "Gravity's Rainbow" and "Miss Macintosh My Darling."

Where is self-absorbed Stan nowadays, I wonder? He was always sort of fun.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Pynchon is one of those authors I want to get into, but have never been able to for some reason or other. I read this one, though, and loved it, though it's probably a testament to my mindset that the only line I can remember from it goes, "Oedipa awoke to find herself getting laid."

I also read his collection of juvenalia/short stories Slow Learner, which I liked a lot too. I tried Gravity's Rainbow and V at different times in my life, and never got very far, though, much to my English-degree-holding shame.

I DID read Ulysses, though, so I'm not a TOTAL wuss! :)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I gave "Ulysses" a valiant try, but it defeated me. While I could comfortably immerse myself in the crazy prose of "Gravity's Rainbow," for some reason "Ulysses" was just inscrutable to me. It seemed too serious and regional to me, and without the "adventure story" aspects that keep "Gravity's Rainbow" going the first time through.

As a parallel to your post, Vicar, I have enjoyed James Joyce's short works. :)

One of my summer projects is to set up a "study corner" containing "Gravity's Rainbow," the "Gravity's Rainbow Companion," and Zak Smith's "Illustrations for Each Page of Gravity's Rainbow." This is my idea of a good time!

The Vicar of VHS said...

To be honest, though, I read Ulysses while also attending an 8-week lecture series on the book, so I had a professor at a podium to explain the bits that baffled me. :) Maybe if I had a study guide such as the one you suggest, Pynchon would go better for me.

And apropos of nothing except I always have to say so when it comes up, even tangentially: the last paragraph of James Joyce's "The Dead" is perhaps the most beautiful paragraph ever written in English.

There, I said it. Again.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I don't remember the last paragraph. Strangely, I remember most the John Huston movie starring Anjelica Huston. Incredible.