Here's your quote: "Thomas Pynchon loved this book, almost as much as he loves cameras!" *waving 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!
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon (born 1937) is an American author and famously Reclusive Artist
, probably most well known for his novel Gravity's Rainbow
. He is one of the most notable writers of the literary movement of post-modernism
, and his works are highly renowed. Pynchon has written the following books:
An almost mythic figure. Only three known photographs of him exist, dating from the 1950s. He has given no interviews, no signings. His voice has been recorded only for the guest appearance mentioned above, another one also in The Simpsons
and a promotional video for his book Inherent Vice
. Speculation about him has been fueled, including suggestions that Pynchon is a pseudonym for J.D. Salinger
, as claimed by William Poundstone. It was even suggested at the time that he may have been the Unabomber. Fan folklore is rich and complicated, fed by the tiny bits of information about Pynchon that have come out, through the man himself or otherwise.
His works are often long
, exceedingly complex
and completely hilarious. Despite constant and often in-depth discussions on imperialism, industrial society, religion, science, mathematics, technology and racism, along with heavy borrowing from both world history and the history of literature, Pynchon's novels are equally interested in so-called 'low-culture,' television, comic books and rock 'n' roll (common to the post modernists
), with the emotional centre of his books usually residing with a 'schlemiel' (leading, predictably, to the comment that most Pynchonian heroes likely couldn't read his books). In addition, his books are silly and cartoonish, jumping back and forth between absolutely ridiculous and very bleak (but mostly sticking to the former),
and are full of humorous obscenity and absurdism.
At this point we should probably say a word on the topic of Paranoia
. Paranoia is the fuel Pynchon's novels run on, and is likely his most recognizable thematic obsession. Characters become convinced that their actions are being manipulated (and is usually confirmed, then denied, then confirmed again, leaving the audience in the dark about what exactly to believe), shadowy cabals are hinted at (but almost never confirmed) and the constant, sinking fatalism that our destruction is ensured, sooner or later, but only at Their convenience. Pynchon often explores Conspiracy Theories
as a form of social narrative and folklore, and as a rigid interpretive framework, frequently contrasted with other frameworks (Calvinism and Marxism are common). This shows especially in The Crying of Lot 49
, which involves a character trying to make sense of various signs and symbols she sees around her (as well as a band called The Paranoids), and Gravity's Rainbow
, in which even the narrator himself
seems to have the novel escape from under him as he struggles to find some way to interpret the events. Anarchism
sometimes shows up as well, most notably in Against the Day
, although a case could be made that it is present in nearly all of his works due to the strong distrust of hierarchical authority implied by their plots.
A movie adaptation
of Inherent Vice
, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
, was released in 2014. It is the first full-scale adaptation of any of his works - 50 years after his debut novel.
Tropes found in his works include:
- Author Appeal: Pynchon likes mathematics, jazz, drugs and the downtrodden. He dislikes exploitation, fascism, racism and Them.
- Awesome McCoolname: Every. Single. Character.
- Bawdy Song
- Cool Ship: Seems to always include at least one ship (of varying levels of coolness), though the prize has to go to the "John E. Badass" (which actually doesn't do anything but what a name)
- Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: His books basically run on concentrated paranoia.
- Deconstruction: often to the point of calling in the Deconstructor Fleet...and occasionally shooting it out of orbit
- Doorstopper: The prize going to Against the Day, which runs 1085 pages.
- Fun with Acronyms: WAMBAM is just the tip of the iceberg. Don't Ever Antagonize The Horn, either.
- W e Await Silent Tristero's Empire.
- Bleeding Edge gives us he Disgruntled Employee Simulation Program for Audit Information and Review.
- Gainax Ending: If his novels don't have No Ending they will probably have one of these. Sometimes they qualify as both.
- Gambit Pileup
- Genre Roulette: His books phase in and out of various genres seemingly at random. Against the Day is probably the most extreme example of this, where not only does the genre shift frequently, but so does the entire writing style with it.
- Historical-Domain Character: Historical cameos, especially celebrities, abound, including (among many others) Mickey Rooney and Malcolm X in Gravity's Rainbow, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Mason & Dixon (not to mention Mason and Dixon themselves), and Bela Lugosi and Groucho Marx in Against the Day.
- Historical In-Joke
- Intellectual Animal
- Kudzu Plot
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Often difficult to keep track of, especially when a character might get a low-key intro only to become important several hundred pages afterwards.
- The Longitude Problem: The novel Mason & Dixon talks a lot about the Longitude Problem. This is reasonable when your protagonists are surveyor-astronomers tooling around the British Empire in the 18th century. Mason and Dixon test chronometers and work out moon-observation tables in the course of their careers.
- Meaningful Name: Or possibly not. Pynchon's bizarre names (eg. Mike Fallopian, Dr. Hilarius, Ruperta Chirpingden-Groin) have been the source of many arguments, with little agreement even among academics about what they mean, if anything at all.
- Mind Screw: Pynchon himself has even admitted to being unable to understand parts of Gravity's Rainbow, much of which was written on various drugs.
- No Fourth Wall
- The Musical: It is not uncommon for characters to break into song. One of his more immediately recognizable traits.
- Properly Paranoid: Many of Pynchon's characters quality for this trope. Though often subverted, as an ultimately safe solution to the problems of life and society:
"If there is something comforting - religious, if you want - about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long."
— Gravity's Rainbow
- Popcultural Osmosis: The Crying of Lot 49 contains the first known use of "shrink" to refer to a psychiatrist.
- Post Modernism: one of the seminal authors
- Reclusive Artist: Does this even need to be explained?
- His agent has claimed that he's not reclusive in the sense of being a shut-in and is actually rather social, but also that he's completely uninterested in being a public figure and chooses to stay below the radar. With no recent photographs available, and the fact that he lives in New York City, it's hard to know for sure.
- Salman Rushdie, an author who was deeply influenced by Pynchon, noted that he supported him when he was under the fatwa and invited him to meet him. Rushdie stated that Pynchon was pretty much like one of his own characters, "hair like Albert Einstein and teeth like Bugs Bunny".
- Rule of Symbolism
- Shadow Archetype: Most notable with Tchitcherine from Gravity's Rainbow, who spends most of the book chasing his (black) African half-brother, Oberst Enzian.
- Shown Their Work: And how. Partially why he has a reputation as such a 'difficult' author.
- Signature Style: And How.
- Spiritual Successor: Inherent Vice, to Vineland.
- Strawman Political