November 20, 2006



"He is, perhaps, the only literary genius this country has ever produced." Really? Not Walt Whitman, TS Eliot, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Elzabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsburg, or Toni Morrison?

Watch the hyperbole big guy.

Michael O'D

Yes and there's also Saul Bellow, William Faulkner, David Foster Wallace, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Mellville, and Henry James.

Jim Ruland

One man's opinion, folks. Go grind that axe during Whitman week oe Bellows week or--you get the drift.


I gotta agree with the first two posters.
If anything, America seems to have produced more genius writers in the last century and a half. There might be some more productive times in other countries, but what compares to America in the last dozen decades?

Melville, Faulkner, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, James, Whitman, Ashberry, McCarthy, Foster Wallace, half of Nabokov, Ginsburg, Morrison, Bishop, yada yada

If those types don't count as literary geniuses, you might as well just say Pynchon is one of the only geniuses the world has ever produced.

Jim Ruland

The unsupportable superiority claim is the last redoubt of the blogger, Ajax, but you're not going to win any arguments with half of Nabokov's brain.


I fail to see how my claim is any less supported than your own. I stated my opinion and gave a list of exmamples for support. You stated your unsupported claim and then defended it as an opinion.

Same deal. We can disagree. C'est la vie.

Jim Ruland

For the record, I was the one making superiority claims. You were the one with the hit parade of geniuses. Call it the deluded vs the dilluted.


While we're talking about the silly claim that Pynchon may be the only "literary genius" in American history ...

... it's as good a time as any to point out that Philip Roth is at least the "genius" (how can anyone throw that term around with a straight face, anyway?) that Pynchon is. Read some of his late work -- Sabbath's Theater, American Pastoral, The Counterlife, I Married a Communist, The Human Stain -- and you'll wonder why you ever wasted time on Pynchon.

Pynchon has that mystique that seems to appeal to youngish people just discovering literature ... the outlandish character names, the mysterious labyrinthine sentences, the bits of impressive trivia and technical lingo and foreign languages -- it's all impressively forbidding and makes you feel you've accomplished something to read him.

Jim Ruland

James, and I say this with the utmost sincerity, have yourself a splendid Rothian Thanksgiving holiday and go fuck a turkey.


I happen to agree with Jim Ruland, not because of any necessary aversion to unnatural acts with stuffed and tender fowl, or anything ...

But seriously, I echo Edward Mendelson who called Pynchon the finest writer in the English language alive, and actually prefer him to Harold Bloom's hit list of the four Greatest (Roth, DeLillo and Cormac MacCarthy). I think the claim is supportable because nobody else writing has such incredible telescopic range ...

Sure, it's a subspecies of novel writing. Sure, character development has never been Pynchon's strongest suit (although he made great strides in that department in both Vineland and Mason & Dixon). Sure, Pynchon is writing for an age when systems theory and mass psychology has distorted human relationships both laterally and vertically -- and perhaps this age isn't as reflective of the full depth of the human spirit as ages past. No quarrels with any of that.

But Pynchon captures *this* world better than any fiction author I can think of. Pynchon doesn't develop characters? How about the central novella in GR, the sad, sad tale of rocket enthusiast Franz Polker's disintegrating relationship with his leftist wife Leni -- and the way Major Weismann kept him "on ice" with his annual furloughs to the "Nazi Disneyland" Zwolfkinder, to see an ever-older version of his daughter Ilse who he could never be sure was the same child? And, during the liberation of Dora, the slave labor camp beneath the rocket works, how Franz met a starved random woman and pressed his wedding ring into her bone hand. Good for a few meals, or a ride home ...

Hasn't that moved you to fucking tears?

The people who don't "get" Pynchon are unable to see the whole. It's all juvenile humor and dazzling historical excursions that just don't add up to anything bigger than the author's own ego to them. The black humor is merely black, the obscurantism merely obscure. The systems so meticulously constructed which inevitably collapse were meant to stand.

Au contraire.

Thomas Pynchon is a left-anarchist with a deeply humanistic vision of a world shorn of its connectedness. You can criticize this worldview by calling it naive, idealistic or even sentimental.

You cannot criticize it for not being deeply felt. That it is not as movingly expressed as some would like or that novelistic conventions would seem to dictate is the result, IMHO, of an intense act of self-discipline on the part of a writer aiming to reveal what is trans-observable about a deep rupture in Creation.



America has of course produced more than one literary genius - some of which, including Pynchon, are named above - but if only one is to be named, how can it not be Mark Twain? I dare say he is the only American writer to have approached Shakespeare in the department of timeless wisdom.

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