post-paranoia pynchon

I just re-read The Crying of Lot 49, which I hadn't picked up in a decade or two, and it was interesting (and quite enjoyable).

It was interesting to see Pynchon writing about the 1960s before "the Sixties" really happened (or at least before the specific time period that's the foundation for Vineland and Inherent Vice). And this was not a conscious decision on his part, since TCoL49 was the last Pynchon novel to be set in the era when he was writing it. He had no idea what was about to happen.

It was interesting to remember Pynchon's early emphasis on paranoia. His two later California novels are really "post-paranoid," the stage where you know for a fact that you have large and powerful enemies, you just don't quite know all of the details yet. After all, the Tristero may exist or not; if it does exist, Oedipa may have been meant to encounter it, or she could have stumbled into it by accident; or the whole thing could have just been a single line of text created by a printer named Inigo Barfstable in 1687; but the existence of the LAPD and the FBI (and organizations like Vigilant California) isn't really in doubt.

It was interesting to remember how often physics is invoked in the early novels. Entropy and Maxwell's Demon loom large in TCoL49, for example. There's not much of this in the later novels.

It was also interesting to read Pynchon before he had such a firm grasp on his tools. There's some wonderful writing here (the first sentence and the last few paragraphs are two examples of many), but some of the sentences jump up and yell, "Hey! Look at this sentence I'm writing here! Pretty cool, huh?"

Also, despite the fact that it is a very short novel (152 pages, compared to 385 and 369 for Vineland and IV, let alone the 600–1,000+ of the others), it would have benefited from some trimming. There are several pages near the end, for example, where Pynchon recaps various things that we already know (especially unnecessary in such a short book) and then makes explicit all of the questions he is about to avoid answering. The book would have been much improved by deleting everything between "Pierce Inverarity was really dead" (page 147) and "Next day, with the courage you have..." (page 151).

Oh, and as Stormville pointed out many years ago, Oedipa's car does somehow manage to get itself from San Francisco (where she parks it before wandering around all night by foot and bus) to her hotel in Berkeley (where it is waiting for her the following morning). When I read the book the first time, I thought this was just plain carelessness (supporting the idea that TCoL49 was written quickly and mostly to make money – a theory which I still find convincing), but now that I've read Inherent Vice, where is an an extra day inserted between May 4 and May 5 (which is clearly deliberate), I wonder if Oedipa's helpful car is a simple continuity error after all. No way to be sure, thank goodness.


To go back to my previous entry ("the magpie deserves your respect"), I did see an article in the New York Times which cleared up some questions. The book in question (Reality Hunger: A Manifesto) is a non-fiction book ("deeply nihilistic," apparently), written by a "onetime novelist."

I have skimmed the article, which I will probably read at some point, though I confess that some of the pop culture comments near the end led me to doubt the author's perceptiveness. Referring to Lady Gaga as "third-generation Madonna" is pretty obvious (though perhaps not to the NYT audience, many of whom may have no idea who she is), drawing general cultural lessons from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (an independent comic that spawned one unsuccessful movie) is unconvincing, and I question the judgment of anybody who considers the recent Star Trek movie an inspired reinvention of a classic (I would disagree with both "inspired" and "classic," actually, and even "reinvention" may be pushing it).

Also, of course, I enjoy the Resident Evil movies and can't wait for the new one.

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