November 21, 2006



This is a good thing. I think it's salutory, both for Pynchon criticism and for the so-called "cult of Pynchon" that we fans get accused of shamelessly indulging in -- whatever that's supposed to mean (shit man, I haven't been to any drug-fueled Pynchon orgies, have I missed anything?) Pope Benedict wants "a smaller, more pure Church." Perhaps it's our turn, as well. If it bleeds away some of the sycophancy and restricts the convo to folks who'll actually take the time to, you know, crack books on Cantor and Hamilton, I think we can weather it ...

But it's also kind of sad in a way, because Pynchon's sympathies truly *aren't* with snivelling elitist bookworms. They're with The People. And yet The People can't make much of his novels ... *sigh*.

Although I don't think those two reviews were precisely reactions *against* elitism, either. More like manifestations of it. There's been a backlash against po-mo fiction for awhile now. Some of the rising stars have fizzled a bit (David Foster Wallace, especially. And unfortunately because as flawed as it was, I was astounded by Infinite Jest and think about half of it remains truly Great). It's about reasserting the perogatives of a moral fiction, where characters Learn Lessons. The same paradigm Pynchon reacted against initially, of course, along with many of his generation -- but now it's cycling back into fashion. And Pynchon's values haven't changed with the times.

So when he presents a book which is a serious challenge to a professional reviewer to read by deadline -- the sort of book it will take most fans months if not years to work ourselves through, allaying ourselves of all sorts of resources on the way -- I think it's his political sensibilities that tip the scales for these critics.

But as I said in the next thread, I have a hopeful feeling that the NYT -- which has been more sympathetic than most to artists like Pynchon (and Frank Zappa, too, for that matter), is going to pleasantly suprise us this Sunday with a sympathetic review in the TBR.


Ann Ominous

re: Adam Kirsch's review:

"The silliness of 'Against the Day' about the very subjects where we are most urgently in quest of wisdom proves that, whatever he once was, Thomas Pynchon is no longer the novelist we need."

Show me please, the literate reader old enough to possess a driver's license who seeks 'wisdom' in a novel. I am baffled as to which to call into question first: Mr. Kirsch's understanding of the word 'wisdom' or his understanding of the word 'novel'. Further, the 'very subjects where we are most urgently in quest of wisdom' must either be surety of style, imagination and wit...or otherwise not to be expected (necessarily) to pop up in the pages of Mr. Pynchon's work. If I've noticed anything about the post-September 11th nature of book reviewing, it's that persons like Mr. Kirsch are far more likely to cite the work on a 'morals' charge these days (as in James Wood's suspiciously bit-chomping assault on Delillo). It wasn't long ago that a reviewer wielding that parochial paddle would have been sneered back into the pews. Can't wait until the deformation has righted itself and we're treated to reviews more mindful of the *ding an sich* and less about the religious instruction of the reviewer. Virginia Woolf trashed "Ulysses" along those lines, too, of course. But, born a Victorian, she had an excuse.


Well, put Ann. Kirsch despises anything that is mundane or profance. It's a very narrow lens through which to look at a novel.


I second that as well. The Age of Irony was supposed to have died after 9/11, but like any good pulp-novel vampire, it's crawled back out of its crypt to terrorize the Establishment landscape anew.

Stewart and ColBEAR are driving the political discourse ("You know ... FICTION!") Truthiness has been unmasked; and lo and behold, it's not the product of a cabal of sickeningly smug Francophiliac Ivy League nihilists -- but rather of the nihilists in Washington, DC. PoMo has won the day; The War On Terrorism, hardly any exempt Master Narrative, turns out to be a text as amenable to deconstruction as any other.

So let the reactionaries yowl and sniffle about insufficient levels of Seriousness regarding The Morality of Terrorism (and there's quite a bit more discussion of it in the Traverse sections of the book than that review credits -- along with the morality of vengance as filial obligation). They lost the goddamn election. And no -- not because of insufficient True Conservatism -- that position in the Culture Wars is a hopelessly rearguard action in a long-term march to defeat. More importantly, the current Zeitgeist is turning away from unbridled corporate greed and globalization run amok in a way that makes Pynchon and his concerns as timely as they've been since GR's publication in the moment of Nixon's disgrace.



Wow ... just ... wow. I'm pretty far into Book IV, Against The Day; I guess that's a bit over two thirds of the way through the whole book. Damn. I won't spoil it for anybody, but I am growing ever-more-impressed with this thing.

The thing that truly makes Kakutani's smear-job such a kick in the teeth -- so exasperating that I'll never be capable of re-reading more than the first graf without flying into a rage -- is that this is the *very last fucking thing* from "imitation Pynchon." This is the guy writing at the absolute top of his game. There are paragraphs of description that are just flabbergastingly well-drawn. That it's not quite the collection of unforgettable set-pieces that was GR (nor was M&D for that matter) is a sign of a maturing craft: a seamlessness. So many of the so-so reviews claim to find the plot structure a tangled mess -- I don't get that impression, either. For all the digressive excursions and cast-of-thousands, the action's pretty darn straightforward and easy enough to flip back to refresh memory upon reintroduction of a character. GR is entirely more difficult in that regard -- as were some knotty sections in the middle of M&D when you're not quite sure where the narrative voice is coming from.

I don't, at this juncture, know how it's all going to come together -- or whether or not it will, or whether this will ultimately matter (plot resolutions have always been a sore point for certain Pynchon readers). But I *am* getting the sense of a fairly well-balanced construction, no subplot weighing more than any other, all bearing the freight of Pynchon's central ideas about how we experience time. Full disclosure: I think GR's (in)famously centripetal ending is one of the most effective codas in all of literature.

I give Pynchon five -- no, TEN stars for character development. As I mentioned in another thread, the Traverse clan and the Americans in their orbits are exceedingly sold, well-drawn, real people. All differentiated, not a shred of Pynchon's maddening/delightful facetious allegorization, the differences woven through the family resemblances in the Traverse brothers' characters, especially. My favorite character so far? Dahlia, easily. Pynchon's long-noted unhealthy obsession with sexually precocious nymphets (which produced the stick-figure lust- and horror-object Bianca Erdmann in GR) first became sublimated in the marvelous Prairie Gates, and reaches its apotheosis here. Dally Rideout would have done "Boz" Dickens proud.

Anyway, just a report from the front. Time to get back to the action ...


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