November 28, 2006



Nice overview. Like the systems and ants analogy. I've only read 49 and Rainbow, and 49 was a strange little book that stayed with me.


*Nice* essay. As a longtime Pynchoneer, I wholeheartedly concur.

I'll only add that Pynchon's been moving toward concerns of the family since Vineland (as, doubtless, he began his own), and I completely welcome this, and the new level of character attatchment it brings to these three novels. I don't think he lost anything of the old Pynchon in the process of becoming a tad more "conventional" in this regard.



You don't have to be Irish Catholic to read Joyce?


I dunno, I'm a huge Pynchon fan but I think Kirsch has a valid point about the names.

>This is the equivalent of saying One Hundred Years of Solitude is >trite and banal because so many of the characters have the same >name.

Not so-- he doesn't dismiss the whole novel b/c of Pynchon's names, just points out they can sometimes be so jarring on the page that it gets in the way of the characters. Pynchon names up until GR were strange but often coolly so: Kevin Spectro, Clive Mossmoon, Katje Borgesius... Compare with the Chums of Chance, Van Meter, Zoyd Wheeler, Hector Zuniga, Merle Rideout, Lew Basnight... You can find plenty of less- and more-normal Pynchon names in all his novels, but I would say in general that the names have gotten weirder and sadly less inspired in Vineland and ATD.



Aww, c'mon. Jim's right; this has been in the P-man's bag his whole career. Nathan "Lardass" Levine? Harold "Slow" Lerner? Meatball Mulligan, Callisto, Benny Profane, Governeur "Roony" and *Mafia* Winsome? Dudley Eigenvalue -- eigenvalue *can't* be a name, since it's a math term that consists of the German word "eigen-" with "-value" stuck on the end. Herbert *Stencil* (talk about transparent allegory ... ) ? Oedipa and Wendell "Mucho" Maas? Stanley Kotecks and Mike Fallopian? And shit, shouldn't Valerie Plame *be* a Pynchonian name?

Or three of my favorites: Zoyd's friends Moonpie, Thapsia and Elvissa? C'mon -- for baby boomers of a certain age? And what's with *Zoyd* ?

This is Pynchonian Stupid Humor(tm). DEAL WITH IT :) It is every bit as characteristic as Rocket Limericks, campy musical numbers or laboriously set-up atrocious puns ("Becuase they have I CHING FEET!")

I happen to adore this eccentricity -- though in fairness it took me a bit to get used to it. I think my favorite onion fart moment in AtD so far (pp. 757-58) is the noted Uyghur troublemaker Al Mar-Fouad:

"I love Gweat Bwitain! Lord Salisbuwy is my *wole model*!"

I'm sorry ... this kind of unapologetic blithering idiocy makes me snicker my butt off. And I s'poze it's kinda sad, because it could very well turn out to be what keeps Pynchon from ever winning the Nobel Prize for Literature :(

I agree, though, that he's pushing the envelope with names here. And as I'm attempting to argue in a different thread, this may be because Pynchon has decided to take up the mantle of postmodernism and is relaxing the illusion of verismilitude -- which is, truthfully, part of what astounded so much in Gravity's Rainbow (so much of it seemed woven directly out of the fabric of history) and this new laxness in the plausibility dept. (evident especially in the three post-GR novels) might indeed be giving certain critics a hard time. Pynchon's magic realism is a stylistic evolution, and I'd argue we should take it on its own terms.

I mean, why *shouldn't* Edwarda Vibe have a maid named Vaseline? :)



I think one could make the argument that one of Pynchon's complaints is that people's name are, by and large, meaningless. How many parents name their children "Thomas" because it means "seeker of the truth?" Again, I think this goes back to the service where one's rate and rank are attached to the surname. He also uses names to conjure up the past. I mean doesn't Lindsay Noseworth sound like the name of a headmaster at a boy's school? On the Inconvenience he serves as the Executive Officer and Master at Arms, i.e. Chief Disciplinarian. What's in a name? For Pynchon, everything.


If what you say is true Jim - that is, "names are, by and large, meaningless" in Pynchon's view, then he does have that in common with Saramago who does not bother to give characters proper names at all.

Against the Day will be my first foray into Pynchon (hoping to start next week after I get out of my DeLillo tangle), and I appreciate your insight over the last week.
Best of luck to you..




Well, but never discount two other motives aside from the allegorically instructive:

1) Pure whimsy, and ...

2) Convoluted private jokes that it often takes years to unravel. Took me until my third reading of GR to realize that the law firm Salieri, Poore, Nash, DeBrutus and Short was a rip on one of Thomas Hobbes' famous aphorisms (Life, for those outside of the Social Contract, being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.")

Has anybody else noticed that at the last lines of a chapter on p. 907, Dally quotes the refrain of a particularly silly song by The Residents: "Here I come, Constantinople."

Lindsay Noseworth suggests (no, veritably trumpets) Anglophiliac snobbery (nose = snoot, as in snooty; nose in the air) and attention to class deference that's doubtless in all those Morally Instructive Boy's Stories that Pynchon is playing around with. That there's rather a sharp dissonance between it and what Americans are supposed to believe about about class is part of the point; these books were written, like the Horatio Alger stories, during the Gilded Age, where class anxieties were magnified and people with the education and leisure time to be able to read these stories rather frantically aspired to upward mobility. The American economic elite have always been rather sickeningly Anglophilic, and I think Pynchon is poking fun here -- and I suspect that much of the Chums sections can be understood in meta-narrational terms, about what this sort of *popular text* is saying about shifting attitudes as the world slouches to Armageddon.

If any characters in this book are serving the more typically Pynchonian functions of metonymy and allegory, I think it's pretty clearly the Chums.

On p. 555, Pynchon might reveal a little of this game with a tirade from a Trespasser from the future, Ryder Thorn:

""I wish I were not here," cried Ryder Thorn. "I wish I had never seen these Halls of Night, that I were not cursed to return, and return. You have been so easy to fool -- most of you anyway -- you are such simpletons at the fair, gawking at your Wonders of Science, expecting as your entitlement all the Blessings of Progress, it is your faith, your pathetic, balloon-boy faith.""

Anyway, I'll try to develop this idea further when I finish the book, which should be by tomorrow.



Sorry, Drew, I should have been a little clearer. I meant that in life names have been stripped of meaning. (Interesting that avatars, in which names, symbols, signs, etc. are rife with meaning are so popular) Pynchon combats this vacuity by making names loaded with references. Please don't let my clumsy thinking put you off from reading the book!

I definitely think you're on to something. The most Horatio Alger like character onboard the Inconvenience is Chick Counterfly, the son of a carper bagger, he arrives one step ahead of the law. As the FNG (Fucking New Guy) I thought he serve as the lens through which the reader views the officers and crew, as is so often the case with military books and movies (new guy arrives and the situation/mission and all the attendent equipment is explained for the benefit of the reader. But Chick quickly ascends to a position of authority and becomes something of a voice of reason. Darby Suckling reminds of Benny Profane for obvious reasons.

As for riffs on the way the Boy's Adventure book has evolved and been assimilated into pop culture, I'm particularly fond of the quote on page 178 of AtD from Tansy Wagwheel:

"It's in this wonderful book I keep close to me all the time, A Modern Christian's Guide to Moral Perplexities. Right here on page eighty-six, is your answer. Do you have your pencil? Good, write this down--'Dynamite Them All, and Let Jesus Sort Them Out.'"

Pynchon isn't usually this on the nose, but it's still hilarious. It's anarchy in the U.S.A. and Pynchon is the antichrist.



Tansy Wagwheel, LOL! What cracked me up is the unresolvable conflict there between "moral perplexities" and the Soldier Of Fortune Magazine T-shirt sentiment it reduces to. Pynchon here seems to be simultaneously mocking the 19th century's idea of pulp-lit Moral Instruction, while taking a swipe at our own day's hard right wing.

Pynchon's whole point seems to be that the only moral instruction worth a damn is lived experience. Ironically enough, it's Lindsay Noseworth whose character portrayal seems to remain the most resistant to growth and change through the novel, remaining the same bickering prig (and his passive-aggressively circumlocuted vulgar insults to Darby are always a scream) who hung Darby over the side by his ankles, Michael Jackson-like, we met on the book's first page.

Towards the end of the book, when the Chums' world seems to have entered the purely fantastical (while duly conforming to pulp-fic convention; note the five Aetherial Brides who descend out of literally nowhere to fulfull romantic expectations), there's another truly wonderful/awful Pynchonian moment of Onion Fart Anachronism:

Chick tours Merle Rideout's and Roswell Bounce's whiz-bang mad inventor's laboratory, and Merle cranks up what seems like an early, pre-Philo T. Farnsworth electromechanical version of television -- only this contraption evidently picks up signals from the future:

"Chick gazed with great scientific curiosity at the shimmering image which appeared on a screen across the room from the spinning disk, as what looked like a tall monkey in a sailor hat with the brim turned down fell out of a palm tree onto a very surprised older man -- the skipper of some nautical vessel, to judge by the hat he was wearing" (1034)

It's a friggin' GILLIGAN'S ISLAND :)



I am 300 pages into my second reading of Against the Day and have full confidence that this master work of art will continue to yield new insights with each successive reading. Mr. Pynchon writes with the energy, passion and wonder of a young man, combined with the vast knowledge and experience of a fully-formed consciousness. The novel's surface is iridescent, an uneven terrain of hills and valleys reflecting from all directions rainbows of light back to the reader, and beneath its surface is an abyssal benthos which has ample space to accommodate the individual imaginations of an infinite audience, which is why the book, like all great art, will continue to yield up new truths over the passing years with no chance of ever becoming irrelevant and will present a different face to each person who reads it. Only two artists come to mind who exhibit the same sort of fluidity and scope: the inimitable Bruno Schulz, whose written ouevre is limited to two slender novels, and the magnificent David Wilson, whose magnum opus is the ever-changing Museum of Jurassic Technology. And I doubt if anything has yet been written about 9/11 to rival the multidimensional metaphor of the Vormance Expedition. As for the critics, well, who should one trust: Mr. Pynchon with his encyclopedic erudition and all-encompassing imagination, or the critics who need to pump out reviews one after another? We may no longer be a thoughtful culture (if, indeed, we ever were), but with novels like these to light the way, there is hope for a more luminous future.


The time traveler Ryder Thorne pretty much has to be a nod to Kip Thorne, once the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at CalTech. Years ago Thorne did work on the subject of wormholes and their possible use in time travel.

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