Friday, 30 March 2007

Pynchon Then & Now... ... as illustrated on pages 52 and 53 of Against the Day. First, the clumsy integration of Turner's "frontier thesis" into the body of the text: "It may not be the West you're expecting," Professor Vanderjuice put in. "Back in July my colleague Freddie Turner came out here from Harvard and gave a speech before the a bunch of anthro people who were all in town for their convention and of course the Fair. To the effect that the Western frontier we all thought we knew from song and story was no longer on the map but gone, absorbed—a dead duck." Perhaps the clunkiness of that passage is mitigated by the fact that a haughty professor mumbles it. Maybe Pynchon intended its clumsiness; maybe he wanted to indict academia by having its functionaries speak a dead language to unlistening ears. But turn to the next page: "Yes, here," continued the Professor, nodding down at the [slaughter] Yards as they began to flow by beneath, "here's where the Trail comes to its end at last, along with the American Cowboy who used to live on it and by it. No matter how virtuous he's kept his name, how many evildoers he's managed to get by undamaged, how he's done by his horses, what girls he has chastely kissed, serenaded by guitar, or gone out and raised halleujah with, it's all back there in the traildust now and now of it matters, for down there you'll find the wet convergence and finale of his drought-struck tale and thankless calling, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show stood on its head—spectators invisible and silent, nothing to be commemorated, the only weapons in view being Blitz Instruments and Wackett Punches to knock animals out with, along with the blades everybody is packing, of course, and the rodeo clowns jabber on in some incomprehensible lingo not to distract the beast but rather to heighten and maintain its attention to the single task at hand, bringing it down to those last few gates, the stunning-devices waiting inside, the butchering and blood just beyond the last chute—and the cowboy with him." In that second paragraph, the Professor sounds like someone from a Pynchon novel—more to the point, he sounds like the narrator of a Pynchon novel. Not to dredge up old animosities, but more and more Pynchon seems burdened by his distinctive voice. When his characters speak in their own voices, they sound like the stilted hack-work of an imitator; when they speak in his voice, they rise to Pynchonian heights, but they do so at the cost of being recognizable characters. In Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon was better able to strike a balance. It has taken me four months to publish this post, as I'm annoyed by my own reaction to Against the Day. Unlike every other Pynchon novel I've read, when I finished Against the Day, I was finished with it. Haven't thought about it since. As you can tell, I am sad.
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