Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. (born May 8, 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 Postmodernism, and his works are highly renowned.
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 (one of two appearances he made on 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 postmodernists), 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.
Novels by Thomas Pynchon with their own page include:
- V. (1963)
- The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
- Gravity's Rainbow (1973)
- Vineland (1990)
- Mason & Dixon (1997)
- Against the Day (2006)
- Inherent Vice (2009)
- Bleeding Edge (2013)
Short stories collection include:
- Slow Learner (1984), a compilation of early short stories.
Short stories include:
- "The Small Rain" (1959)
- "Mortality and Mercy in Vienna" (1959)
- "Low-lands" (1960)
- "Entropy" (1960)
- "Under the Rose" (1961)
- "The Secret Integration" (1964)
Works by Thomas Pynchon contain examples of:
- Author Appeal: Pynchon likes: mathematics, jazz, drugs and the downtrodden; he dislikes: exploitation, fascism, racism, "Them" and hypocrites.
- Bawdy Song: Gravity's Rainbow is loaded with these, and he kept it up to a certain extent in Vineland.
- 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.
- Continuity Nod
- 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, his longest and loosest, which runs for 1085 pages. Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon are pretty long, too.
- End of an Age: One of the recurring themes in his body of work.
- Fun with Acronyms: WAMBAM is just the tip of the iceberg. Don't Ever Antagonize The Horn, either.
- We Await Silent Tristero's Empire.
- Bleeding Edge gives us he Disgruntled Employee Simulation Program for Audit Information and Review.
- 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.
- Lighter and Softer: Almost a pattern with his body of work. The Crying of Lot 49 is much shorter and easier to digest than V., Vineland is a lot easier to comprehend than Gravity's Rainbow, and Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge are this when compared to Mason & Dixon and Against the Day.
- 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.
- Gravity's Rainbow isn't the only offender here, of course, although it's certainly the biggest.
- Mood Whiplash
- The Musical: It is not uncommon for characters to break into song. One of his more immediately recognizable traits.
- No Ending
- No Fourth Wall
- Pop Culture Symbology: Being a postmodern writer, he encompasses lots of this, mixing anicient conspiracy theories and sci-fi with modern-day pop culture and cartoons.
- 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 (although Pynchon spelled it "Pshrink", which didn't catch on).
- 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".
- 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.
- To an absurd degree, which might explain why he's only had eight novels published in 50 years. It took him 10 years to write Gravity's Rainbow, over 20 years to write Mason & Dixon, and, possibly, over 30 years to write Against the Day.
- One of the few biographical details known about Pynchon is that he worked in the US aerospace industry during the early Cold War. This presumably explains the extremely accurate information about rocket dynamics included in Gravity's Rainbow.
- Sliding Scale of Libertarianism and Authoritarianism: Firmly to the anarchist end of the scale.
- Sophisticated as Hell: His prose ranges from poetic and long-winded to really informal.
- Spiritual Successor: Inherent Vice, to Vineland, which itself is this to The Crying of Lot 49.
- Written by Cast Member: He was allowed to rewrite his lines for his cameos on The Simpsons and it turns out he was the one who came up with the "V-licious" and The Frying of Latke 49 jokes.