PYNCHON AND I
...meeting our match in cyberspace
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr.(8 May 1937) was born the very week, the very month, that the North American Baha'is were putting into place their first organized and systematic teaching Plan: 1937 to 1944 for the extension and consolidation of the Baha'i community in the western hemisphere. Pynchon is an American novelist, a MacArthur Fellow, a polymath, a workaholic, some say a genius. He is noted for his dense and complex novels.
Both his fiction and nonfiction writing encompass a vast array of subject matter, styles and themes, including--but not limited to---the fields of history, science, and mathematics. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon won the 1974 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.1 Some see him as the finest postmodern writer of our time.
Pynchon is also known for being very private; very few photographs of him have ever been published, and rumours about his location and identity have circulated since the 1960s, although in the last several years he has become more of a public figure. Pynchon's most recent novel, his eighth, is Bleeding Edge. It was published less than one year ago, on 17 September, 2013. In that novel Pynchon may have encountered a subject that resists even his ample literary capacities.2
After graduating from high school in 1953 at the age of 16, Pynchon studied engineering physics at Cornell University. In 1953 I had just begun my 9 year baseball, hockey and football career spanning, as it did, my late childhood and adolescent life in a small town in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe. I was in grade 4 in 1953, and in love with a girl who lived several houses away who knew nothing of my love. My mother had just joined the Baha'i Faith which claimed to be the newest, the latest, of the Abrahamic religions. This Faith had been in Canada for a little more than 50 years at the time, and it had a membership of several hundred in what was a very conservative country next to what is and was, arguably, the most dynamic country in the world, the USA.
Pynchon's first published story, "The Small Rain", appeared in the Cornell Writer in May 1959, and it narrated the actual experience of one of Pynchon's friends who had served in the Army. Pynchon received his BA in the following month, in June 1959. Four months later, in the second week of October, I joined the Baha'i Faith, and watched the first episode of The Twilight Zone, an American television anthology series created by Rod Serling.
In September 1962, in the opening weeks of my traveling for the Canadian Baha'i community, a journey which was to last for the rest of my life---in Canada for a decade and then in Australia, Thomas Pynchon was employed as a technical writer at Boeing in Seattle, where he compiled safety articles for the Bomarc Service News, a support newsletter for the BOMARC surface-to-air missile deployed by the U.S. Air Force.
Pynchon's most celebrated novel is his third, Gravity's Rainbow, published in 1973 just as I was about to begin working at what is now the University of Tasmania as a senior tutor in education studies. I knew nothing of Thomas Pynchon, and I would not learn of him and his writing for another 40 years.
That novel's artistic value is often compared to that of James Joyce's Ulysses. Some scholars have hailed it as the greatest American post-WW2 novel, and it has similarly been described as "literally an anthology of postmodernist themes and devices". Gravity's Rainbow received the 1974 National Book Award . That same year, the Pulitzer Prize fiction panel unanimously recommended Gravity's Rainbow for the award, but the Pulitzer board vetoed the jury's recommendation, describing the novel as "unreadable", "turgid", "overwritten", and in parts "obscene".
In 1975, Pynchon declined the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1975 I was working in Melbourne Australia and teaching behavioral studies to library technician trainees among other vocationally oriented students, was the secretary of the Baha'i group of Kew, a suburb of Melbourne, and was about to enter my second marriage. I was 31.
This now famous writer is frequently cited by Americans as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. 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. I have never been a reader of modern novels, novels written during my adult life, and so it is not surprising that Pynchon was never on my radar. But it is high time that he has arrived on my screen. Pynchon's novels have led critics to classify his work as postmodernism, high modernism and hysterical realism. Pynchon does not like to talk with reporters, and refuses the spectacle of celebrity and public appearances although, as I say above, he has recently assumed a more public profile in his New York life.
I first came across this novelist in 2014 just as I entered the first weeks, the first year, of my 70s. I had been retired from a 50 year student and employment life, 1949 to 1999, for 15 years and had reinvented myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, online blogger and journalist. I have taken an interest during the years of my retirement, 1999 to 2014, in authors who become reclusive: Patrick White, Emily Dickinson, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon. It is said that while "people like Salinger hide, people like Pynchon "run." But they all create solitary characters and personae; then they disappear into their fictions.
This asocial predisposition came to have a certain fascination to me since I had become more reclusive myself especially as I entered my 70s in 2014. I have been both running and and hiding in recent years, partly if not mostly, because of the medications I take for bipolar I disorder.
Pynchon is not exactly a recluse, though, and neither am I. In select company, he’s intensely social and charismatic. I, too, claim a degree of sociability, if not charisma. In spite of his famously shaming Bugs Bunny teeth, he was rarely without a girlfriend for the 30 years he spent wandering and couch-surfing before getting married in 1990 at the age of 53.1 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Wikipedia, 29/8/'14, and 2Alexander Nazaryan, Thomas Pynchon Meets His Match: The Internet, Books, 9/11/'13.
All of his books are in some way
autobiographical as all of mine.
But, after a brief examination of
his life and a review of some of
his writing, I must say that he &
I are in different leagues, on very
different trajectories & universes,
cosmologies and raisons d'etre....
Our life-spans are not that much
different, although he belongs to
that silent generation & me, well,
I'm a war-baby or one of the first
baby-boomers depending on just
how one defines the generational
markers....We have, indeed, both
met our match, cyberspace, as we
head through our 70s and into our
old-age, the years after 80.....if we
last that long, eh Thomas.....eh??1
We both came of age during the
countercultural Sixties, although
you are suspicious of seriousness
and I have imbibed it with relish,
and we both center our lives on
a sweaty quest for the unspoken,
the unattainable. Thomas, don't
you think it's a Farsi matter of...
kam kam, ruz beh ruz....little by
little and day by day as they say
and as I've heard it said so many
times in my last 60+ years?????2
1 "Not only is the internet a vast, endlessly connective, suggestive, allusive medium, and ever-expanding, but it is gleefully self-referential, loving nothing so much as to talk about itself, on its own terms and turf. It is impossible to explain outside its own experience." See Alexander Nazaryan, "Thomas Pynchon Meets His Match: The Internet," Books, 9/11/'13.
2 The Baha'i community I have moved in all these years has many Persians and this phrase is a popular one.