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Thomas Pynchon
Born May 8, 1937 (1937-05-08) (age 72)
Glen Cove, New York, USA
Occupation Short story writer and novelist
Nationality United States
Genres Black comedy
Historical fiction
Satire
Science fantasy
Literary movement Postmodernism

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. (born May 8, 1937) is an American novelist based in New York City and noted for his dense and complex works of fiction. Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon spent two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known: V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravity's Rainbow (1973), and Mason & Dixon (1997).

Pynchon is a MacArthur Fellow and a recipient of the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature (see, for example, Gray 1993; Duvall 2002: 76; Rising 2008). Both his fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a vast array of subject matter, styles and themes, including (but not limited to) the fields of history, science, human sexuality, and mathematics. Pynchon is also known for his avoidance of personal publicity: very few photographs of him have ever been published, and rumors about his location and identity have been circulated since the 1960s.

Contents

Biography

Thomas Pynchon was born in 1937 in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, one of three children of Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Sr. (1907–1995) and Katherine Frances Bennett (1909–1996). His earliest American ancestor, William Pynchon, emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, and thereafter a long line of Pynchon descendants found wealth and repute on American soil. Pynchon's family background and aspects of his ancestry have provided source material for his fictions, particularly in the Slothrop family histories related in the short story "The Secret Integration" (1964) and Gravity's Rainbow (1973).

Childhood and education

Pynchon attended Oyster Bay High School, where he was awarded 'student of the year' and contributed short fictional pieces to his school newspaper. These juvenilia incorporated some of the literary motifs and recurring subject matter he would use throughout his career: oddball names, sophomoric humor, illicit drug use, and paranoia (Pynchon 1952–3).

After graduating from high school in 1953 at the age of 16, Pynchon studied engineering physics at Cornell University, but left at the end of his second year to serve in the U.S. Navy. In 1957, he returned to Cornell to pursue a degree in English. His first published story, "The Small Rain", appeared in the Cornell Writer in May 1959, and narrates an actual experience of a friend who had served in the Army; subsequently, however, episodes and characters throughout Pynchon's fiction draw freely upon his own experiences in the Navy (Pynchon 1984: 10–11).

While at Cornell, Pynchon started his life-long friendship with Richard Fariña; Pynchon would go on to dedicate Gravity's Rainbow to Fariña, as well as serve as his best man and as his pallbearer. Together the two briefly led what Pynchon has called a 'micro-cult' around Oakley Hall's 1958 novel Warlock. Pynchon later reminisced about his college days in the introduction he wrote in 1983 for Fariña's novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, first published in 1966. He reportedly attended lectures given by Vladimir Nabokov, who then taught literature at Cornell. Although Nabokov later said that he had no memory of Pynchon, Nabokov's wife, Véra, who graded her husband's class papers, commented that she remembered his distinctive handwriting as a mixture of printed and cursive letters (Sweeney 2008). Other of Pynchon's teachers at Cornell, such as the novelist James McConkey, recall him as being a gifted and exceptional student.[citation needed] In 1958, Pynchon and Cornell classmate Kirkpatrick Sale wrote part or all of a science-fiction musical, Minstral Island, which portrayed a dystopian future in which IBM rules the world (Gibbs 1994). Pynchon received his BA in June 1959.

Early career

V.

After leaving Cornell, Pynchon began to work on his first novel: V. From February 1960 to September 1962, he was employed as a technical writer at Boeing in Seattle, where he compiled safety articles for the Bomarc Service News (see Wisnicki 2000–1), a support newsletter for the BOMARC surface-to-air missile deployed by the U.S. Air Force. Pynchon's experiences at Boeing inspired his depictions of the 'Yoyodyne' corporation in V. and The Crying of Lot 49, and both his background in physics and the technical journalism he undertook at Boeing provided much raw material for Gravity's Rainbow. When published in 1963, V. won a William Faulkner Foundation Award for the best first novel of the year.

After resigning from Boeing, Pynchon spent some time in New York and Mexico before moving to California, where he was reportedly based for much of the 1960s and early 1970s, most notably in an apartment in Manhattan Beach (see Frost 2003), as he was composing the highly-regarded Gravity's Rainbow. Pynchon during this time flirted with the lifestyle and some of the habits of the Beat and hippie countercultures (see, for example, Gordon 1994). However, his retrospective assessments of the motives, values and achievements of the student and youth milieux of the era – foregrounding the "puerility angle" of the cultural and literary manifestations of the Beats and post-Beats in his 1984 "Introduction" to the Slow Learner collection of early stories (pp. 8–9), and the betrayals, hypocrisy and thriving "snitch community" (p. 74) prevailing within various branches of the youth movement of the 1960s, and the role these played in the failure of the social revolution in that period, in the novel Vineland (1990) in particular – are equivocal.

In 1964, an application to study mathematics as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, was turned down (Royster 2005). In 1966, Pynchon wrote a first-hand report on the aftermath and legacy of the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Entitled "A Journey Into the Mind of Watts," the article was published in the New York Times Magazine (Pynchon 1966).

From the mid-1960s Pynchon has also regularly provided blurbs and introductions for a wide range of novels and non-fiction works. One of the first of these pieces was a brief review of Hall's Warlock which appeared, along with comments by seven other writers on "neglected books", as part of a feature entitled "A Gift of Books" in the December 1965 issue of Holiday.

The Crying of Lot 49

stylized line drawing of a post horn with a mute placed in the bell of the instrument
Pynchon created the "muted post horn" as a symbol for the secret "Trystero" society in The Crying of Lot 49.

In an April 1964 letter to his agent, Candida Donadio, Pynchon wrote that he was facing a creative crisis, with four novels in progress, announcing: "If they come out on paper anything like they are inside my head then it will be the literary event of the millennium." (Gussow 1998)

In December 1965, Pynchon politely turned down an invitation from Stanley Edgar Hyman to teach literature at Bennington College, writing that he had resolved, two or three years earlier, to write three novels at once. Pynchon described the decision as "a moment of temporary insanity", but noted that he was "too stubborn to let any of them go, let alone all of them." (see McLemee 2006)

Pynchon's second novel, The Crying of Lot 49, was published a few months later in 1966. Whether it was one of the three or four novels Pynchon had in progress is not known, but in a 1965 letter to Donadio, Pynchon had written that he was in the middle of writing a "potboiler". When the book grew to 155 pages, he called it, "a short story, but with gland trouble", and hoped that Donadio could "unload it on some poor sucker." (Gussow 1998)

The Crying of Lot 49 won the Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award shortly after publication. Although more concise and linear in its structure than Pynchon's other novels, its labyrinthine plot features an ancient, underground mail service known as 'The Tristero' or 'Trystero', a parody of a Jacobean revenge drama called The Courier's Tragedy, and a corporate conspiracy involving the bones of World War II American GIs being used as charcoal cigarette filters. It proposes a series of seemingly incredible interconnections between these events and other similarly bizarre revelations that confront the novel's protagonist, Oedipa Maas. Like V., the novel contains a wealth of references to science and technology and to obscure historical events, with both books dwelling on the detritus of American society and culture. The Crying of Lot 49 also continues Pynchon's strategy of composing parodic song lyrics and punning names, and referencing aspects of popular culture within his prose narratives. In particular, it incorporates a very direct allusion to the protagonist of Nabokov's Lolita within the lyric of a love lament sung by a member of 'The Paranoids', a teenage band who deliberately sing their songs with British accents (p. 17).

In 1968, Pynchon was one of 447 signatories to the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest". Full-page advertisements in The New York Post and The New York Review of Books listed the names of those who had pledged not to pay "the proposed 10% income tax surcharge or any war-designated tax increase", and stated their belief "that American involvement in Vietnam is morally wrong". (New York Review of Books 1968:9)

Gravity's Rainbow

Pynchon's most celebrated novel is his third, Gravity's Rainbow, published in 1973. An intricate and allusive fiction that combines and elaborates on many of the themes of his earlier work, including preterition, paranoia, racism, colonialism, conspiracy, synchronicity, and entropy (Plater 1978; Chambers 1982), the novel has spawned a wealth of commentary and critical material, including reader's guides (Fowler 1980; Weisenburger 1988), books and scholarly articles, online concordances and discussions, and art works. Its artistic value is often compared to that of James Joyce's Ulysses (Ruch 2000). Some scholars have hailed it as the greatest American post-WW2 novel (Almansi 1994: 226), and it has similarly been described as "literally an anthology of postmodernist themes and devices" (McHale 1987: 16).

The major portion of Gravity's Rainbow takes place in London and Europe in the final months of World War II and the weeks immediately following VE Day, and is narrated for the most part from within the historical moment in which it is set. In this way, Pynchon's text enacts a type of dramatic irony whereby neither the characters nor the various narrative voices are aware of specific historical circumstances, such as the Holocaust and, except as hints, premonitions and mythography, the complicity between Western corporate interests and the Nazi war machine, which figure prominently in readers' apprehensions of the novel's historical context. For example, at war's end the narrator observes: "There are rumors of a War Crimes Tribunal under way in Nürnberg. No one Slothrop has listened to is clear who's trying whom for what ... " (p. 681) Such an approach generates dynamic tension and moments of acute self-consciousness, as both reader and author seem drawn ever deeper into the "plot", in various senses of that term:

Between the ominous launch and final descent into "terminal orgasm," Pynchon presents us with a Disney-meets-Bosch panorama of European politics, American entropy, industrial history, and libidinal panic which leaves a chaotic whirl of fractal patterns in the reader's mind.
Pettman 2002, 264
Quotation
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers."
Gravity's Rainbow

The novel invokes anti-authority sentiments, often through violations of narrative conventions and integrity. For example, as the aforementioned protagonist, Tyrone Slothrop, considers the fact that his own family "made its money killing trees", he apostrophizes his apology and plea for advice to the coppice within which he has momentarily taken refuge. In an overt incitement to eco-activism, Pynchon's narrative agency then has it that "a medium-sized pine nearby nods its top and suggests, 'Next time you come across a logging operation out here, find one of their tractors that isn't being guarded, and take its oil filter with you. That's what you can do.'" (p. 553)

Encyclopedic in scope and often self-conscious in style, the novel displays erudition in its treatment of an array of material drawn from the fields of psychology, chemistry, mathematics, history, religion, music, literature and film. Pynchon wrote the first draft of Gravity's Rainbow in "neat, tiny script on engineer's quadrille paper". (Weisenburger 1988) Pynchon worked on the novel throughout the 1960s and early 1970s while he was living in California and Mexico City.

Gravity's Rainbow was a joint winner of the 1974 National Book Award for Fiction, along with Isaac Bashevis Singer's A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories. In the same year, the fiction jury unanimously recommended Gravity's Rainbow for the Pulitzer Prize though the Pulitzer board vetoed the jury's recommendation, describing the novel as "unreadable", "turgid", "overwritten", and in parts "obscene", and no prize was awarded. (Kihss 1974) In 1975, Pynchon declined the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Post-Gravity's Rainbow

A collection of Pynchon's early short stories, Slow Learner, was published in 1984, with a lengthy autobiographical introduction. In October of the same year, an article entitled "Is It O.K. to Be a Luddite?" was published in the New York Times Book Review. In April 1988, Pynchon contributed an extensive review of Gabriel García Márquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera to the New York Times, under the title "The Heart's Eternal Vow". Another article, entitled "Nearer, My Couch, to Thee", was published in June 1993 in the New York Times Book Review, as one in a series of articles in which various writers reflected on each of the Seven Deadly Sins. Pynchon's subject was "Sloth".

Vineland

Pynchon's fourth novel, Vineland, was published in 1990, but disappointed a majority of fans and critics. It did, however, stand the test of time, and received some positive reviews, notably from the novelist Salman Rushdie. The novel is set in California in the 1980s and 1960s, and describes the relationship between an FBI COINTELPRO agent and a female radical filmmaker. Its strong socio-political undercurrents detail the constant battle between authoritarianism and communalism, and the nexus between resistance and complicity, but with a typically Pynchonian sense of humor. (Rushdie 1990; Berressem 1992: 236-7)

In 1988, he received a MacArthur Fellowship and, since the early 1990s at least, many observers have mentioned Pynchon as a Nobel Prize contender (see, for example, Grimes 1993; Ervin 2000). Renowned American literary critic Harold Bloom named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, and Cormac McCarthy.[citation needed]

Mason & Dixon

Pynchon's fifth novel, Mason & Dixon, was published in 1997, though it had been a work in progress since at least January 1975. (Gussow 1998; Ulin 1997)

The meticulously researched novel is a sprawling postmodernist saga recounting the lives and careers of the English astronomer, Charles Mason, and his partner, the surveyor Jeremiah Dixon, the surveyors of the Mason-Dixon line, during the birth of the American Republic. The majority of commentators acknowledged it as a welcome return to form. The noted American critic Harold Bloom has hailed the novel as Pynchon's "masterpiece to date". (Bloom 2003)

Against the Day

A variety of rumors pertaining to the subject matter of Against the Day circulated for a number of years. Most specific of these were comments made by the former German minister of culture, Michael Naumann, who stated that he assisted Pynchon in his research about "a Russian mathematician [who] studied for David Hilbert in Göttingen", and that the new novel would trace the life and loves of Sofia Kovalevskaya.

In July 2006, a new untitled novel by Pynchon was announced along with a synopsis written by Pynchon himself, which appeared on Amazon.com, it stated that the novel's action takes place between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the time immediately following World War I. "With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead", Pynchon wrote in his book description, "it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred." He promised cameos by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi and Groucho Marx, as well as "stupid songs" and "strange sexual practices". Subsequently, the title of the new book was reported to be Against the Day and a Penguin spokesperson confirmed that the synopsis was Pynchon's. (Patterson 2006ab; Italie 2006)

Against the Day was released on November 21, 2006 and is 1,085 pages long in the first edition hardcover. The book was given almost no promotion by Penguin and professional book reviewers were given little time in advance to review the book, presumably in accord with Pynchon's wishes. An edited version of Pynchon's synopsis was used as the jacket flap copy and Kovalevskaya does appear, although as only one of over a hundred characters.

Composed predominantly of a series of interwoven pastiches of popular fiction genres from the era in which it is set, the novel inspired several reactions from critics and reviewers. One reviewer in Time magazine remarked that, "It is brilliant, but it is exhaustingly brilliant."(Complete Review 2006) The novel's extensive condemnation of capitalism, and its loyalty to the 1960s ideals, was received with great regret by mainstream critics in the US. (Pincio 2009, Complete Review 2006) Some made the point that this was ostensibly the culmination of Pynchon's career and a summation of his personal philosophy, while others noted that it was a "loose baggy monster"[citation needed] which had been pieced together from several long-time Pynchonian works-in-progress and offcuts from other of his novels.

Inherent Vice

Information regarding a new Pynchon novel scheduled for publication in August 2009 was leaked in October 2008 (Kellogg 2008) and subsequently confirmed by a spokesperson for Penguin Press.

A synopsis and brief extract from the novel, along with the novel's title, Inherent Vice, and dust jacket image, were printed in Penguin Press' Summer 2009 catalogue (Penguin 2009a: 28–9, 44). The book was advertised by the publisher as "part- noir, part- psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon — private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog." (Penguin 2009a)

A promotional video for the novel was released by Penguin Books on August 4, 2009, with the character voiceover narrated by the author himself. (Penguin 2009b) This may be found on Youtube [1].

Themes

Along with its emphasis on loftier themes such as racism, imperialism and religion, and its awareness and appropriation of many elements of traditional high culture and literary form, Pynchon's work has also been shown to demonstrate a strong affinity with the practitioners and artifacts of low culture, including comic books and cartoons, pulp fiction, popular films, television programs, cookery, urban myths, conspiracy theories, and folk art. This blurring of the conventional boundary between "High" and "low" culture, sometimes interpreted as a "deconstruction", is seen as one of the defining characteristics of postmodernism (Mead 1989; Krafft 2008).

In particular, Pynchon has revealed himself in his fiction and non-fiction as an aficionado of popular music. Song lyrics and mock musical numbers appear in each of his novels, and, in his autobiographical introduction to the Slow Learner collection of early stories, he reveals a fondness for both jazz and rock and roll. The character McClintic Sphere in V. is a fictional composite of jazz musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. In The Crying of Lot 49, the lead singer of "The Paranoids" sports "a Beatle haircut" and sings with an English accent. In the closing pages of Gravity's Rainbow, there is an apocryphal report that Tyrone Slothrop, the novel's protagonist, played kazoo and harmonica as a guest musician on a record released by The Fool in the 1960s (having magically recovered the latter instrument, his "harp", in a German stream in 1945, after losing it down the toilet in 1939 at the Roseland Ballroom in Roxbury, Boston, to the strains of the jazz standard 'Cherokee', upon which tune Charlie Parker was simultaneously inventing bebop in New York, as Pynchon describes). In Vineland, both Zoyd Wheeler and Isaiah Two Four are also musicians: Zoyd played keyboards in a '60s surf band called "The Corvairs", while Isaiah played in a punk band called "Billy Barf and the Vomitones". In Mason & Dixon, one of the characters plays on the "Clavier" the varsity drinking song which will later become "The Star-Spangled Banner"; whilst in another episode a character remarks tangentially "Sometimes, it's hard to be a woman".

In his introduction to Slow Learner, Pynchon acknowledges a debt to the anarchic bandleader Spike Jones, and in 1994, he penned a 3000-word set of liner notes for the album Spiked!, a collection of Jones's recordings released on the short-lived BMG Catalyst label. Pynchon also wrote the liner notes for Nobody's Cool, the second album of indie rock band Lotion, in which he states that "rock and roll remains one of the last honorable callings, and a working band is a miracle of everyday life. Which is basically what these guys do." He is also known to be a fan of Roky Erickson.

Investigations and digressions into the realms of human sexuality, psychology, sociology, mathematics, science, and technology recur throughout Pynchon's works. One of his earliest short stories, "Low-lands" (1960), features a meditation on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle as a metaphor for telling stories about one's own experiences. His next published work, "Entropy" (1960), introduced the concept which was to become synonymous with Pynchon's name (though Pynchon later admitted the "shallowness of [his] understanding" of the subject, and noted that choosing an abstract concept first and trying to construct a narrative around it was "a lousy way to go about writing a story"). Another early story, "Under the Rose" (1961), includes amongst its cast of characters a cyborg set anachronistically in Victorian-era Egypt (a type of writing now called steampunk). This story, significantly reworked by Pynchon, appears as Chapter 3 of V. "The Secret Integration" (1964), Pynchon's last published short story, is a sensitively-handled coming-of-age tale in which a group of young boys face the consequences of the American policy of racial integration. At one point in the story, the boys attempt to understand the new policy by way of the mathematical operation, the only sense of the word with which they are familiar.

The Crying of Lot 49 also alludes to entropy and communication theory, and contains scenes and descriptions which parody or appropriate calculus, Zeno's paradoxes, and the thought experiment known as Maxwell's demon. At the same time, the novel also investigates homosexuality, celibacy and both medically-sanctioned and illicit psychedelic drug use. Gravity's Rainbow describes many varieties of sexual fetishism (including sado-masochism, coprophilia and a borderline case of tentacle rape), and features numerous episodes of drug use, most notably marijuana but also cocaine, naturally occurring hallucinogens, and the mushroom Amanita muscaria. Gravity's Rainbow also derives much from Pynchon's background in mathematics: at one point, the geometry of garter belts is compared with that of cathedral spires, both described as mathematical singularities. Mason & Dixon explores the scientific, theological, and socio-cultural foundations of the Age of Reason whilst also depicting the relationships between actual historical figures and fictional characters in intricate detail and, like Gravity's Rainbow, is an archetypal example of the genre of historiographic metafiction.

Influence

An eclectic catalogue of Pynchonian precursors has been proposed by readers and critics. Beside overt references in the novels to writers as disparate as Henry Adams, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Giorgio de Chirico, Emily Dickinson, William March, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jorge Luis Borges, Ishmael Reed, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Patrick O'Brian, and Umberto Eco and to an eclectic mix of iconic religious and philosophical sources, credible comparisons with works by Rabelais, Cervantes, Laurence Sterne, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Mann, William Burroughs, Ralph Ellison, Patrick White, and Toni Morrison have been made. Some commentators have detected similarities with those writers in the Modernist tradition who wrote extremely long novels dealing with large metaphysical or political issues. Examples of such works might include Ulysses by James Joyce, A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, The Castle by Franz Kafka, The Apes of God by Wyndham Lewis, The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, and U.S.A. by John Dos Passos. In his 'Introduction' to Slow Learner, Pynchon explicitly acknowledges his debt to Beat Generation writers, and expresses his admiration for Jack Kerouac's On the Road in particular; he also reveals his familiarity with literary works by T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Saul Bellow, Herbert Gold, Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, and non-fiction works by Helen Waddell, Norbert Wiener and Isaac Asimov. Other contemporary American authors whose fiction is often categorized alongside Pynchon's include John Hawkes, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Anton Wilson, Joseph Heller, Donald Barthelme, Steve Erickson, John Barth, William Gaddis, Don DeLillo, and Joseph McElroy (Mead 1989; Krafft 2008).

The wildly eccentric characters, frenzied action, frequent digressions, and imposing lengths of Pynchon's novels have led critic James Wood to classify Pynchon's work as hysterical realism. Other writers whose work has been labeled as hysterical realism include Salman Rushdie, Steve Erickson, Neal Stephenson, and Zadie Smith. Younger contemporary writers who have been touted as heirs apparent to Pynchon include David Foster Wallace, William Vollmann, Richard Powers, Steve Erickson, David Mitchell, Neal Stephenson, Dave Eggers, and Tommaso Pincio whose pseudonym is an Italian rendering of Pynchon's name.

Pynchon's work has been cited as an influence and inspiration by many writers and artists, including T. Coraghessan Boyle, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Ian Rankin, William Gibson, Elfriede Jelinek, Rick Moody, Alan Moore, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Richard Powers, Salman Rushdie, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, Jan Wildt, Laurie Anderson, Zak Smith, David Cronenberg, and Adam Rapp. Thanks to his influence on Gibson and Stephenson in particular, Pynchon became one of the progenitors of cyberpunk fiction. Though the term "cyberpunk" did not become prevalent until the early 1980s, many readers retroactively include Gravity's Rainbow in the genre, along with other works — e.g., Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren and many works of Philip K. Dick — which seem, after the fact, to anticipate cyberpunk styles and themes. The encyclopedic nature of Pynchon's novels also led to some attempts to link his work with the short-lived hypertext fiction movement of the 1990s (Page 2002; Krämer 2005).

Media scrutiny

Relatively little is known about Thomas Pynchon's private life; he has carefully avoided contact with journalists for more than forty years. Only a few photos of him are known to exist, nearly all from his high school and college days, and his whereabouts have often remained undisclosed.

A review of V. in the New York Times Book Review described Pynchon as "a recluse" living in Mexico, thereby introducing the media label which has pursued Pynchon throughout his career (Plimpton 1963: 5). Nonetheless, Pynchon's absence from the public spotlight is one of the notable features of his life, and it has generated many rumors and apocryphal anecdotes.

1970s and 1980s

After the publication and success of Gravity's Rainbow, interest mounted in finding out more about the identity of the author. At the 1974 National Book Award ceremony, the president of Viking Press, Tom Guinzberg, arranged for double-talking comedian "Professor" Irwin Corey to accept the prize on Pynchon's behalf (Royster 2005). Many of the assembled guests had no idea who Corey was, and, having never seen the author, they assumed that it was Pynchon himself on the stage delivering Corey's trademark torrent of rambling, pseudo-scholarly verbiage (Corey 1974). Towards the end of Corey's address a streaker ran through the hall, adding further to the confusion.

An article published in the Soho Weekly News claimed that Pynchon was in fact J. D. Salinger (Batchelor 1976). Pynchon's written response to this theory (reported in Tanner 1982) was simple: "Not bad. Keep trying."

Thereafter, the first piece to provide substantial information about Pynchon's personal life was a biographical account written by a former Cornell University friend, Jules Siegel, and published in Playboy magazine. In his article, Siegel reveals that Pynchon had a complex about his teeth and underwent extensive and painful reconstructive surgery, was nicknamed "Tom" at Cornell and attended Mass diligently, acted as best man at Siegel's wedding, and that he later also had an affair with Siegel's wife. Siegel recalls Pynchon saying he did attend some of Vladimir Nabokov's lectures at Cornell but that he could hardly make out what Nabokov was saying because of his thick Russian accent. Siegel also records Pynchon's comment that "[e]very weirdo in the world is on my wavelength", an observation borne out by the crankiness and zealotry which has attached itself to his name and work in subsequent years. (Siegel 1977)

In the late 1980s, author Robert Clark Young prevailed upon his father, an employee of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, to look up Pynchon's driving record, using Pynchon's full name and known birth date. The results showed that Pynchon was living at the time in Aptos, California, and was driving a 1974 Datsun (Young 1992). The improperly-obtained cancelled license subsequently found its way into the hands of at least two academics publishing scholarly work on Pynchon.

1990s

Pynchon's avoidance of celebrity and public appearances caused journalists to continue to speculate about his identity and activities, and reinforced his reputation within the media as "reclusive". More astute readers and critics recognized that there were and are perhaps aesthetic (and ideological) motivations behind his choice to remain aloof from public life. For example, the protagonist in Janette Turner Hospital's short story, "For Mr. Voss or Occupant" (publ. 1991), explains to her daughter that she is writing

a study of authors who become reclusive. Patrick White, Emily Dickinson, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon. The way they create solitary characters and personae and then disappear into their fictions.
Hospital 1995, 361–2

More recently, book critic Arthur Salm has written that

the man simply chooses not to be a public figure, an attitude that resonates on a frequency so out of phase with that of the prevailing culture that if Pynchon and Paris Hilton were ever to meet — the circumstances, I admit, are beyond imagining — the resulting matter/antimatter explosion would vaporize everything from here to Tau Ceti IV.

Belying this reputation somewhat, Pynchon has published a number of articles and reviews in the mainstream American media, including words of support for Salman Rushdie and his then-wife, Marianne Wiggins, after the fatwa was pronounced against Rushdie by the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (Pynchon 1989). In the following year, Rushdie's enthusiastic review of Pynchon's Vineland prompted Pynchon to send him another message hinting that if Rushdie were ever in New York, the two should arrange a meeting. Eventually, the two did meet, and Rushdie found himself surprised by how much Pynchon resembled the mental image Rushdie had formed beforehand (Hitchens 1997).

In the early 1990s, Pynchon married his literary agent, Melanie Jackson — a great-granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt — and fathered a son, Jackson, in 1991. The disclosure of Pynchon's location in New York, after many years in which he was believed to be dividing his time between Mexico and northern California, led some journalists and photographers to try to track him down. Shortly before the publication of Mason & Dixon in 1997, a CNN camera crew filmed him in Manhattan. Angered by this invasion of his privacy, he rang CNN asking that he not be identified in the footage of the street scenes near his home. When asked about his reclusive nature, he remarked, "My belief is that 'recluse' is a code word generated by journalists ... meaning, 'doesn't like to talk to reporters'." CNN also quoted him as saying, "Let me be unambiguous. I prefer not to be photographed." (CNN 1997) The next year, a reporter for the Sunday Times managed to snap a photo of him as he was walking with his son (Bone 1998).

After several references to Pynchon's work and reputation were made on NBC's The John Larroquette Show, Pynchon (through his agent) reportedly contacted the show's producers to offer suggestions and corrections. When a local Pynchon sighting became a major plot point in a 1994 episode of the show, Pynchon was sent the script for his approval; as well as providing the title of a fictitious work to be used in one episode ("Pandemonium of the Sun"), the novelist apparently vetoed a final scene that called for an extra playing him to be filmed from behind, walking away from shot (CNN 1997; Glenn 2003). Also during the 1990s, Pynchon apparently befriended members of the band Lotion and attended a number of their shows, culminating in the liner notes he contributed for the band's 1995 album Nobody's Cool. The novelist then conducted an interview with the band ("Lunch With Lotion") for Esquire in June 1996 in the lead-up to the publication of Mason & Dixon. More recently, Pynchon provided faxed answers to questions submitted by author David Hajdu and permitted excerpts from his personal correspondence to be quoted in Hajdu's 2001 book, Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña (Warner 2001).

Pynchon's insistence on maintaining his personal privacy and on having his work speak for itself has resulted in a number of outlandish rumors and hoaxes over the years. Indeed, claims that Pynchon was the Unabomber or a sympathizer with the Waco Branch Davidians after the 1993 siege were upstaged in the mid-1990s by the invention of an elaborate rumor insinuating that Pynchon and one "Wanda Tinasky" were the same person.[citation needed] A spate of letters authored under that name had appeared in the late 1980s in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in Anderson Valley, California. The style and content of those letters were said to resemble Pynchon's, and Pynchon's Vineland, published in 1990, also takes place in northern California, so it was suggested that Pynchon may have been in the area at that time, conducting research. A collection of the Tinasky letters was eventually published as a paperback book in 1996; however, Pynchon himself denied having written the letters, and no direct attribution of the letters to Pynchon was ever made. "Literary detective" Donald Foster subsequently showed that the Letters were in fact written by an obscure Beat writer called Tom Hawkins, who had murdered his wife and then committed suicide in 1988. Foster's evidence was conclusive, including finding the typewriter on which the "Tinasky" letters had been written (Foster 2000).

In 1998, over 120 letters that Pynchon had written to his longtime agent, Candida Donadio, were donated by the family of private collector, Carter Burden, to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City. The letters ranged from 1963 to 1982, thus covering some of the author's most creative and prolific years. Although the Morgan Library originally intended to allow scholars to view the letters, at Pynchon’s request the Burden family and Morgan Library agreed to seal these letters until after Pynchon's death. (Gussow 1998)

2000s

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, a supposed "interview" with Pynchon appeared in an issue of Playboy Japan. Published under the heading "Most News is Propaganda. Bin Laden May Not Exist", it purported to be a talk with Pynchon on the events of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden. Its authenticity has been questioned by experts and it has never been republished in the American media.[citation needed]

Cartoon frame showing a man with a paper bag over his head talking into a mobile phone. The bag has a large question mark printed on it and the man stands in front of a large illuminated sign in block letters which says 'THOMAS PYNCHON'S HOUSE - COME ON IN'
Pynchon depicted in The Simpsons episode "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife". His Simpsons appearances are some of the few occasions that Pynchon's voice has been broadcast in the media.

Responding to the image which has been manufactured in the media over the years, during 2004, Pynchon made two cameo animated appearances on the television series The Simpsons. The first occurs in the episode "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife", in which Marge Simpson becomes a novelist. He plays himself, with a paper bag over his head, and provides a blurb for the back cover of Marge's book, speaking in a broad Long Island accent: "Here's your quote: Thomas Pynchon loved this book, almost as much as he loves cameras!" He then starts yelling at passing cars: "Hey, over here, have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we'll throw in a free autograph! But, wait! There's more!" In his second appearance, in "All's Fair in Oven War," Pynchon's dialogue consists entirely of puns on his novel titles ("These wings are 'V'-licious! I'll put this recipe in 'The Gravity's Rainbow Cookbook', right next to 'The Frying of Latke 49'."). The cartoon representation of Pynchon reappears in a third, non-speaking cameo, as a guest at the fictional WordLoaf convention depicted in the 18th season (2006) episode, "Moe'N'a Lisa." The episode first aired on November 19, 2006, the Sunday before Pynchon's sixth novel, Against the Day, was released.

In July 2006, Amazon.com created a page showing an upcoming 992-page, untitled, Thomas Pynchon novel. A description of the soon-to-be published novel appeared on Amazon purporting to be written by Pynchon himself. The description was taken down, prompting speculation over its authenticity, but the blurb was soon back up along with the title of Pynchon's new novel, Against the Day.

Shortly before Against the Day was published, Pynchon's prose appeared in the program for "The Daily Show: Ten Fu@#ing Years (The Concert)", a retrospective on Jon Stewart's comedy-news broadcast The Daily Show.[citation needed]

On December 6, 2006, Pynchon joined a campaign by many other major authors to clear Ian McEwan of plagiarism charges by sending a typed letter to his British publisher, which was published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper (Pynchon 2006).

Pynchon's 2009 YouTube promotional teaser for the novel Inherent Vice is the second time a recording of his voice has been released to mainstream outlets (the first being his appearances on The Simpsons) (Meerkat Media 2009).

Works

As well as fictional works, Pynchon has written essays, introductions, and reviews addressing subjects as diverse as missile security, the Watts Riots, Luddism and the work of Donald Barthelme. Some of his non-fiction pieces have appeared in the New York Times Book Review and The New York Review of Books, and he has contributed blurbs for books and records. His 1984 Introduction to the Slow Learner collection of early stories is significant for its autobiographical candour. He has written introductions to at least three books, including the 1992 collection of Donald Barthelme's stories, The Teachings of Don B. and, more recently, the Penguin Centenary Edition of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published in 2003, and the Penguin Classics edition of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me written by Pynchon's close friend, Richard Fariña, and first published in 1966.

References

External links

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Notes


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Why should things be easy to understand?
Southern California's special horror notwithstanding, if the world offered nothing, nowhere to support or make bearable whatever her private grief was, then it is that world, and not she, that is at fault.

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. (born 8 May 1937) is an American writer based in New York City, noted for his dense and complex works of fiction.

Contents

Sourced

The world is at fault, not because it is inherently good or bad or anything but what it is, but because it doesn't prepare us in anything but body to get along with.
  • When Marilyn Monroe got out of the game, I wrote something like, "Southern California's special horror notwithstanding, if the world offered nothing, nowhere to support or make bearable whatever her private grief was, then it is that world, and not she, that is at fault."
    I wrote that in the first few shook-up minutes after hearing the bulletin sandwiched in between Don and Phil Everly and surrounded by all manner of whoops and whistles coming out of an audio signal generator, like you are apt to hear on the provincial radio these days. But I don't think I'd take those words back.
    The world is at fault, not because it is inherently good or bad or anything but what it is, but because it doesn't prepare us in anything but body to get along with.
    Our souls it leaves to whatever obsolescences, bigotries, theories of education workable and un, parental wisdom or lack of it, happen to get in its more or less Brownian (your phrase) pilgrimage between the cord-cutting ceremony and the time they slide you down the chute into the oven, while the guy on the Wurlitzer plays Aba Daba Honeymoon because you had once told somebody it was the nadir of all American expression; only they didn't know what nadir meant but it must be good because of the vehemence with which you expressed yourself.
  • Why should things be easy to understand?
    • Pynchon's response to Jules Siegel about the complexity of V, as quoted in "Who Is Thomas Pynchon... And Why Did He Take Off With My Wife?", Playboy (March 1977)
  • My belief is that "recluse" is a code word generated by journalists... meaning, "doesn't like to talk to reporters."
    • Phone call to CNN (5 June 1997)
  • I did not write those letters. This has been a hoax that I've had nothing to do with. I'm sorry it's gone on as long as it has.
    • On the rumors that he had written a series of letters to a newspaper using the name Wanda Tinasky, in a phone call to CNN (5 June 1997)
  • Here's your quote: "Thomas Pynchon loved this book, almost as much as he loves cameras!"
    Hey, over here! Have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we'll throw in a free autograph! But wait, there's more!

V. (1963)

He had decided long ago that no Situation had any objective reality: it only existed in the minds of those who happened to be in on it at any specific moment.
The only consolation he drew from the present chaos was that his theory managed to explain it.
With nuclear and subatomic physics a going thing, man had become something which absorbs X-rays, gamma rays and neutrons.
The Right can only live and work hermetically, in the hothouse of the past, while outside the Left prosecute their affairs in the streets manipulated by mob violence. And cannot live but in the dreamscape of the future.
  • Christmas Eve, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black levis, suede jacket, sneaker and big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk, Virginia.
    • First lines
  • Rachel was looking into the mirror at an angle of 45°, and so had a view of the face turned toward the room and the face on the other side, reflected in the mirror; here were time and reverse-time, co-existing, cancelling one another exactly out. Were there many such reference points, scattered throughout the world, perhaps only at nodes like this room which housed a transient population of the imperfect, the dissatisfied; did real time plus virtual or mirror-time equal zero and thus serve some half-understood moral purpose? Or was it only the mirror world that counted; only a promise of a kind that the inward bow of a nose-bridge or a promontory of extra cartilage at the chin meant a reversal of ill fortune such that the world of the altered would thenceforth run on mirror-time; work and love by mirror-light and be only, till death stopped the heart's ticking (metronome's music) quietly as light ceases to vibrate, an imp's dance under the century's own chandeliers....
    • Chapter Two, Part I
  • Perhaps history this century, thought Eigenvalue, is rippled with gathers in its fabric such that if we are situated, as Stencil seemed to be, at the bottom of a fold, it's impossible to determine warp, woof, or pattern anywhere else. By virtue, however, of existing in one gather it is assumed there are others, compartmented off into sinuous cycles each of which had come to assume greater importance than the weave itself and destroy any continuity. Thus it is that we are charmed by the funny-looking automobiles of the '30's, the curious fashions of the '20's, the particular moral habits of our grandparents. We produce and attend musical comedies about them and are conned into a false memory, a phony nostalgia about what they were. We are accordingly lost to any sense of continuous tradition. Perhaps if we lived on a crest, things would be different. We could at least see.
    • Chapter Seven, Part I
  • He had decided long ago that no Situation had any objective reality: it only existed in the minds of those who happened to be in on it at any specific moment. Since these several minds tended to form a sum total or complex more mongrel than homogeneous, The Situation must necessarily appear to a single observer much like a diagram in four dimensions to an eye conditioned to seeing the world in only three. Hence the success or failure of any diplomatic issue must vary directly with the degree of rapport achieved by the team confronting it. This had led to the near obsession with teamwork which had inspired his colleagues to dub him Soft-show Sydney, on the assumption that he was at his best working in front of a chorus line.
    But it was a neat theory, and he was in love with it.The only consolation he drew from the present chaos was that his theory managed to explain it.
    • Chapter Seven, Part VII
  • "Dream tonight of peacock tails, / Diamond fields and spouter whales. / Ills are many, blessings few, / But dreams tonight will shelter you."
    • Chapter Nine, Part II
  • In the eighteenth century it was often convenient to regard man as a clockwork automaton. In the nineteenth century, with Newtonian physics pretty well assimilated and a lot of work in thermodynamics going on, man was looked on as a heat engine, about 40 per cent efficient. Now in the twentieth century, with nuclear and subatomic physics a going thing, man had become something which absorbs X-rays, gamma rays and neutrons.
    • Chapter Ten, Part II
  • Right and left; the hothouse and the street. The Right can only live and work hermetically, in the hothouse of the past, while outside the Left prosecute their affairs in the streets manipulated by mob violence. And cannot live but in the dreamscape of the future.
    • Epilogue
  • For a boy not getting any he had more woman problems than anybody he knew.

The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

Fallopian twinkled. "They accuse us of being paranoids."
"They?" inquired Metzger, twinkling also.
"Us?" asked Oedipa.
She might have found the Tristero anywhere in her Republic, through any of a hundred lightly-concealed entranceways, a hundred alienations, if only she'd looked.
  • A number of frail girls... prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.
    • Chapter 1
  • "Run away with me," said Roseman when the coffee came.
    "Where?" she asked. That shut him up.
    • Chapter 1
  • There'd been no escape. What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: and what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited upon her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?
    • Chapter 1
  • "You one of those right wing nut outfits?" inquired the diplomatic Metzger.
    Fallopian twinkled. "They accuse us of being paranoids."
    "They?" inquired Metzger, twinkling also.
    "Us?" asked Oedipa.
    • Chapter 3
  • The reality is in this head. Mine. I'm the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming out of my mouth, eyes, and sometimes other orifices also.
    • Chapter 3
  • "I was dreaming ... about my grandfather. A very old man, at least as old as I am now, 91. I thought, when I was a boy, that he had been 91 all his life. Now I feel as if I have been 91 all my life."
    • Chapter 4
  • Write by WASTE. The government will open it if you use the other. The dolphins will be mad. Love the dolphins.
  • This is America, you live in it, you let it happen. Let it unfurl.
  • The illustrations were woodcuts, executed with that crude haste to see the finished product that marks the amateur. True pornography is given us by vastly patient professionals.
  • Death glided by, shadowless, among the empties on the grass.
  • She might have found the Tristero anywhere in her Republic, through any of a hundred lightly-concealed entranceways, a hundred alienations, if only she'd looked. She stopped for a minute between the steel rails, raising her head as if to sniff the air. Becoming conscious of the hard, strung presence she stood on — knowing as if maps had been flashed for her on the sky how these tracks ran on into others, others, knowing they laced, deepened, authenticated the great night around her. If only she'd looked. ... She remembered drifters she had listened to, Americans speaking their language carefully, scholarly, as if they were in exile from somewhere else invisible yet congruent with the land she lived in; and walkers along the roads at night, zooming in and out of your headlights without looking up, too far from any town to have a real destination. 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 of the unnamable act, the recognition, the Word.
  • Who knew? Perhaps she'd be hounded someday as far as joining Tristero itself, if it existed, in its twilight, its aloofness, its waiting. The waiting above all; if not for another set of possibilities to replace those that had conditioned the land to accept any San Narciso among its most tender flesh without a reflex or cry, then at least, at very least, waiting for a symmetry of choices to break down, to go skew. She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit, to be avoided; and how had it ever happened here, with the chances once so good for diversity? For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth. In the songs Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard sang was either some fraction of the truth's numinous beauty (as Mucho now believed) or only a power spectrum.

Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
What have the watchmen of the world's edge come tonight to look for?
What is there grandiose enough to witness?
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.
The Serpent that announces, "The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning," is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back...
The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.
What are the stars but points in the body of God where we insert the healing needles of our terror and longing?
I want to be taken in love: so taken that you and I, and death, and life, will be gathered inseparable, into the radiance of what we would become....
Always remember.
  • A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
    It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it's all theatre. There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him lift girders old as an iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it's night. He's afraid of the way the glass will fall soon it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.
    • First lines
  • Flotsam from his childhood are rising through his attention. He's remembering the skin of an apple, bursting with nebulae, a look into curved reddening space.
  • The night room heaves a sigh, yes Heaves, a Sigh — old-fashioned comical room, oh me I'm hopeless, born a joker never change, flirting away through the mirrorframe in something green-striped, pantalooned, and ruffled — meantime though, it is quaint, most rooms today hum you know, have been known also to "breathe," yes even wait in hushed expectancy and that ought to be the rather sinister tradition here, long slender creatures, heavy perfume and capes in rooms assailed by midnight, pierced with spiral stairways, blue-petaled pergolas, an ambience in which no one, however provoked or out of touch, my dear young lady, ever, Heaves, a Sigh. It is not done.
  • Colonies are the outhouses of the European soul, where a fellow can let his pants down and relax, enjoy the smell of his own shit. Where he can fall on his slender prey roaring as loud as he feels like, and guzzle her blood with open joy. Eh? Where he can just wallow and rut and let himself go in a softness, a receptive darkness of limbs, of hair as woolly as the hair on his own forbidden genitals.
  • Out and down in the colonies, life can be indulged, life and sensuality in all its forms, with no harm done to the Metropolis, nothing to soil those cathedrals, white marble statues, noble thoughts.
  • Tibet is a special case. Tibet was deliberately set aside by the Empire as free and neutral territory, a Switzerland for the spirit where there is no extradition, and Alp-Himalayas to draw the soul upward, and danger rare enough to tolerate.
  • Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night's old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of Breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjuror's secret by which — though it is not often that Death is told so clearly to fuck off — the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down twenty generations... so the same assertion-through-structure allows this war morning's banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail.
  • They are in love. Fuck the war.
  • It's been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments... nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.
  • She has turned her face, more than once, to the Outer Radiance and simply seen nothing there. And so each time taken a little more of the Zero into herself. It comes down to courage, at worst an amount of self-deluding that's vanishingly small: he has to admire it, even if he can't accept her glassy wastes, her appeals to a day not of wrath but of final indifference....
  • It is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice — guessed and refused to believe — that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chance, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the rainbow, and they its children....
  • Out at the horizon, out near the burnished edge of the world, who are these visitors standing... these robed figures — perhaps, at this distance, hundreds of miles tall — their faces, serene, unattached, like the Buddha's, bending over the sea, impassive, indeed, as the Angel that stood over Lübeck during the Palm Sunday raid, come that day neither to destroy nor to protect, but to bear witness to a game of seduction... What have the watchmen of the world's edge come tonight to look for? Deepening on now, monumental beings stoical, on toward slag, toward ash the colour the night will stabilize at, tonight... what is there grandiose enough to witness?
  • He lies on top of her, sweating, taking great breaths, watching her face turned 3/4 away, not even a profile, but the terrible Face That is No Face, gone too abstract, unreachable: the notch of the eye socket, but never the labile eye, only the anonymous curve of cheek, convexity of mouth, a noseless mask of the Other Order of Being, of Katje's being — the lifeless non-face that is the only face of hers he really knows, or will ever remember.
  • Proverbs for Paranoids:
  1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
  2. The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.
  3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.
  4. You hide, they seek.
  5. Paranoids are not paranoid because they're paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.
  • There was no difference between the behavior of a god and the operations of pure chance.
  • The man's thirst for guilt was insatiable as the desert's for water.
  • It's a Rocket-raising: a festival new to this country. Soon it will come to the folk-attention how close Wernher von Braun's birthday is to the Spring Equinox, and the same German impulse that once rolled flower-boats through the towns and staged mock battles between young Spring and deathwhite old Winter will be erecting strange floral towers out in the clearings and meadows, and the young scientist-surrogate will be going round and round with Gravity or some such buffoon, and the children will be tickled, and laugh....
  • Kekulé dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, the dreaming Serpent which surrounds the World. But the meanness, the cynicism with which this dream is to be used. The Serpent that announces, "The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning," is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that "productivity" and "earnings" keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity — most of the World, animal, vegetable, and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it's only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to being with, of no value to anyone or anything but the System, which must sooner or later crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life.
  • "Who has sent this new serpent into our ruinous garden, already too fouled, too crowded to qualify as any locus of innocence — unless innocence be our age's neutral, our silent passing into the machineries of indifference — something that Kekulé's Serpent had come to — not to destroy, but to define to us the loss of... we had been given certain molecules, certain combinations and not others... we used what we found in Nature, unquestioning, shamefully perhaps — but the Serpent whispered, 'They can be changed, and new molecules assembled from the debris of the given.... ' Can anyone tell me what else he whispered to us? Come — who knows?"
  • "Personal density," Kurt Mondaugen in his Peenemünde office not too many steps away from here, enunciating the Law which will one day bear his name, "is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth."
    "Temporal bandwidth," is the width of your present, your now. It is the familiar "∆ t" considered as a dependent variable. The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.
  • She watches Marvy's face as he pays Monika, watches him in this primal American act, paying, more deeply himself than when coming, or asleep, or maybe even dying.
  • Those must have all been important to me once. What I am now grew from that. A former self is a fool, an insufferable ass, but he's still human, you'd no more turn him out than you'd turn out any kind of cripple, would you?
  • It's a giant factory-state here, a City of the Future full of extrapolated 1930's swoop-facaded and balconied skyscrapers, lean chrome caryatids with bobbed hairdos, classy airships of all descriptions drifting in the boom and hush of the city abysses, golden lovelies sunning in roof gardens and turning to wave as you pass.
  • It can get pretty fascist in here...
  • M-maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever with all the other souls it's got stored there. It could decide who it would suck out, a-and when. Dope never gave you immortality. You hadda come back, every time, into a dying hunk of smelly meat! But We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified, Electroworld —
  • What are the stars but points in the body of God where we insert the healing needles of our terror and longing?
  • "I want to break out — to leave this cycle of infection and death. I want to be taken in love: so taken that you and I, and death, and life, will be gathered inseparable, into the radiance of what we would become.... "
  • Each will have his personal Rocket.
  • This ascent will be betrayed to Gravity. But the Rocket engine, the deep cry of combustion that jars the soul, promises escape. The victim, in bondage to falling, rises on a promise, a prophecy, of Escape....
    Moving now toward the kind of light where at last the apple is apple-colored. The knife cuts through the apple like a knife cutting an apple. Everything is where it is, no clearer than usual, but certainly more present. So much has to be left behind now, so quickly.
  • "The edge of evening ... the long curve of people all wishing on the first star.... Always remember those men and women along the thousands of miles of land and sea. The true moment of shadow is the moment in which you see the point of light in the sky. The single point, and the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep ..."
    Always remember.
    The first star hangs between his feet.
    Now

Vineland (1990)

  • LATER than usual one summer morning in 1984, Zoyd Wheeler drifted awake in sunlight through a creeping fig that hung in the window, with a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof. In his dream these had been carrier pigeons from someplace far across the ocean, landing and taking off again one by one, each bearing a message for him, but none of whom, light pulsing in their wings, he could ever quite get to in time. He understood it to be another deep nudge from forces unseen, almost surely connected with the letter that had come along with his latest mental-disability check, reminding him that unless he did something publicly crazy before a date now less than a week away, he would no longer qualify for benefits. He groaned out of bed.
    • First lines

Mason & Dixon (1997)

Who claims Truth, Truth abandons.
No need to feel pleas'd with yourself. What you found was not their sacred Well, but only a Representation of it.
Now, nothing in the Sky looks the same.
It is usually not wise to discuss matters of costume with people like this, — politics or religion being far safer topicks.
  • Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr'd the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware, — the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking'd foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peel'd Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar, — the Children, having all upon the Fly, among rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coax'd and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy Advent, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults.
    • First lines
  • Facts are but the Play-things of lawyers, — Tops and Hoops, forever a-spin… Alas the Historian may indulge no such idle Rotating. History is not Chronology, for that is left to lawyers, — nor is it Remembrance, for Remembrance belongs to the People. History can as little pretend to the Veracity of the one, as claim the Power of the other, — her Practitioners, to survive, must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc, spy, and Taproom Wit, — that there may ever continue more than one life-line back into a Past we risk, each day, losing our forebears in forever, — not a Chain of single Links, for one broken Link could lose us All, — rather, a great disorderly Tangle of Lines, long and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in Common.
— The Revd Wicks Cherrycoke, Christ and History
  • Ch. 35
  • Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir'd, or coerc'd, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power, — who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish'd, as if it had never been. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev'ry Radius, Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume, Toilette, and Bearing, and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires, or even the Curiosity, of Government.
    • Ch. 35
  • If America was a person, — and it sat down, — Lancaster town would be plunged into a Darkness unbreathable.
    • Chapter 66
  • "Arrh! Stars and Mud, ever conjugate, a Paradox to consider, — one…for the Astronomer-Royal, perhaps?" His current scheme being, to assail Maskelyne's Sanity, by now and then posing to him Questions that will not bear too much cogitating upon, — most lately, Über Bernouillis Brachistochronsprobleme, 1702 by Baron von Boppdörfer ("Mind like a Spanish Blade. Read it at the Risk of your Self-Esteem.") having almost done the Trick.
    • Chapter 74
  • What, a Re-Peat!
    • Chapter 74
  • No need to feel pleas'd with yourself. What you found was not their sacred Well, but only a Representation of it.
    • Chapter 74
  • Now, nothing in the Sky looks the same. "As to the Comet, — I cannot account for how, — but there came this night, to this boggy Miasmatick place, an exceptional Clarity of the Air, … a sort of optickal Tension among the Stars, that seem'd ever just about to break radiantly thro'… And there. In Leo, bright-man'd, lo, it came. It came ahead. And 'twould be but Prelude to the Finger of Corsica, — which now appear'd, pointing down from Heaven. And the place where it pointed was the place I knew I must journey to, for beneath the Sky-borne Index lay, as once beneath a Star, an Infant that must, again, re-make the World, — this time 'twas a Sign from Earth, not only from Heaven, showing the way.
    • Chapter 74
  • Have you ever fall'n into one of those Cometary Dazes, with the way the Object grows brighter and brighter each night? These Apparitions in the Sky, we never observe them but in Motion, — gone in seconds, and if they return, we do not see them. Once safely a part of the Night Sky, they may hang there at their Pleasure, performing whatever their Work corresponds to shifting jibs and stay-sails, keeping perfectly upon Station, mimicking any faint, unnam'd Star you please. Do they watch us? Are they visits from the past, from an Age of Faith, when Miracles still literally happen'd?
    • Chapter 74
  • It is usually not wise to discuss matters of costume with people like this, — politics or religion being far safer topicks.
    • Chapter 74
  • At Bishop they learn'd that Dixon had been buried in back of the Quaker Meeting-House in Staindrop. Doctor Isaac stay'd with his Father, step for step. At the grave, which by Quaker custom was unmark'd, Mason beseech'd what dismally little he knew of God, to help Dixon through. The grass was long and beaded with earlier rain. A Cat emerg'd from it and star'd for a long time, appearing to know them.
    "Dad?" Doc had taken his arm. For an instant, unexpectedly, Mason saw the little Boy who, having worried about Storms at Sea, as Beasts in the Forest, came running each time to make sure his father had return'd safely, — whose gift of ministering to others Mason was never able to see, let alone accept, in his blind grieving, his queasiness of Soul before a life and a death, his refusal to touch the Baby, tho' 'twas not possible to blame him.... The Boy he had gone to the other side of the Globe to avoid was looking at him now with nothing in his face but concern for his Father.
    "Oh, Son." He shook his Head. He didn't continue.
    "It's your Mate," Doctor Isaac assur'd him, "It's what happens when your Mate dies."

Against the Day (2006)

All investigations of Time, however sophisticated or abstract, have at their true base the human fear of mortality.
  • Merle's all-night illumination prolonged itself into an inescapable glow that began to keep him awake.
    • p. 65
  • It was impossible to get a decent meal, or even snack, anywhere, burned flapjacks and vulcanized steaks being as appetizing as things got. It also quickly became evident — horribly evident — that no one in the city knew how to make coffee, as if there were some sort of stultified consensus, or even city ordinance, about never waking up.
    • p. 66
  • "If the U.S. was a person," he later became fond of saying, "and it sat down, Columbus, Ohio would instantly be plunged into darkness"
    • p. 66
  • All investigations of Time, however sophisticated or abstract, have at their true base the human fear of mortality.
    • p. 622

Quotes about Pynchon

  • Thomas Pynchon is an enigma shrouded in a mystery veiled in anonymity. ... He so shuns publicity that he doesn't allow his likeness to be used on book jackets. All known photographs of the man date to the early 1950s. ... Some of his fans wonder if he really exists or might really be several people writing under a pseudonym. ... He has proven himself willing to step out of the shadows from time to time — but on his own terms.
  • Pynchon is ... the only contemporary author whose novels can be compared to James Joyce's with a straight face. ... Whatever meanings and complex messages may lie hidden in Pynchon's text can, for now, be left to develop subconsciously as the reader enjoys the more immediate rewards of the work of a consummate storyteller. Pynchon is one, and he never quite lets you forget that while this might be an epic story, it's an epic story told to wide-eyed children who are up past their bedtime.

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