Pynchons Politics: The Presence of an Absence
Periodically a culture produces an author whose writing embodies it (Medieval Italy, Dante; Renaissance England, Shakespeare; Enlightenment Germany, Goethe; etc.), and the work of Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr., has often been said to capture and contain the dazzling complexity of late twentiethcentury America. The subject of shelves of critical writing, Pynchons work has been shown to be as American as comic books or jazz, cosmopolitan as the multinational corporations, contemporary as the War on Drugs, and timeless as Varro, Dante, and Swift. Stylistically, Pynchon is in the tradition of Joyce and Nabokovthat of punster, puzzler, intimater, wordgamer, allusionist, and fabricator of grotesqueries. Pynchon is also in the humanist (more exactly, antifascist) tradition of Unamuno, who views each individual as an end in him or herself towards whom Society should have a Singular responsibility; and, oddly, Kafka, who lamented the absurd irreconcilability of the individual and the modern state. While claiming to eschew "novels of ideas," Pynchon nonetheless rubs elbows with the great writers and thinkers of the ages.
Politically, Pynchon is in the tradition of, well, lets see. His politics are not exactly well stated and infocus, and they definitely are not what we now call Politically Correct. He is not in lockstep with some ism, like either the liberal Gore Vidal or the conservative William F. Buckley. He has no code of conduct that he advocates, like Hemingways "Grace under pressure" or David Mamets "Trust no one." If he has any beliefs of that sort, they are obscured. From the earliest short stories (1959) through Gravitys Rainbow (1973), Pynchons politics are absent, or in deep code. "Keep cool, but care" was as far as he was willing to go, in V. (1963). Not until Vineland (1990) did he explicitly articulate his political beliefs: "maybe forget, but never forgive."
The publishers of Slow Learner (1984) characterize Pynchon readers as "decoders" on the book jacket flap, and, indeed, to read Pynchon as if he were writing in code has become standard practice. Readers are forced to cryptanalyze to arrive at his beliefs. A rule of
thumb in cryptography holds that the more unexpected a message is, the more information it contains; a series of repetitive messages conveys less information than a series of messages that differ from one another. It follows that the more often a thing is mentioned, the less important it is; the less often, the more important. This implies a procedure the reverse of that involved in reading ordinary, nonencoded novels. The more space conventional novelists allot to something, presumably, the more important it is. On political issues Pynchon follows rules of cryptanalysis, never mentioning the most important thing. It is hinted at, suggested, skirted round, alluded to, dealt with in books by other authors mentioned or alluded to in Pynchons text. A literary trail is established with coded signposts pointing all along the way, but it is nevernever flatly named. It is "the ultimate Plot Which Has No Name," "The Big One, the centurys master cabal" (V.), and "Those Who Know, know" (Gravitys Rainbow). In his earliest short stories Pynchon creates an absence of overt political thought or commentary, all the while walking on the eggshells of politicized allusionsa trick he will use for the next thirty years. In so doing he creates the presence of an absence, and nothing alerts critical readers more. In Vineland, Pynchon describes everyones ignorance of Brock Vonds whereabouts as "a kind of reverse presence."
What is the nature of this absence, this reverse presence? We might ask Pynchon, but he allows no Interviews, answers few letters, offers no photographs. Guarding his privacy as he does, Pynchon inadvertently invites the kind of speculation that converts to cultic "truth." With privacy comes misinformation, a mixed blessing. The upshot is a minor industry fabricating bogus Pynchonian relics to prove he once did or said something to demonstrate conclusively he is: 1) truly J. D. Salinger (Has anyone seen them together in a single photograph?); 2) a priest in a French monastic order (Les Anciens Éleves Agréables) dedicated to keeping alive the memory of Elvis; 3) an outlaw keyboardist who travels incognito and records pseudonymously with Laurie Anderson; 4) a ham radio wizard who has built a multimillion dollar deep space tracking Station from discarded junk and obsolete NASA parts, who listens every night to amplified echoes of the Big Bang accompanied by Vivaldiwhen hes not having fun eavesdropping on conversations of the governments highest officials.
Pynchons need for privacy notwithstanding, he reveals his Personality and concerns through habitual use of favorite devices in the text of his oeuvre. These habits of mind may help decoders reveal his political beliefs. Borrowing a technique from Pynchon, who borrowed it from Nabokov, who borrowed it from Joyce, that involves leaving
English for another language, finding the most highly charged synonym, and returning to English, l have termed these habits of mind "Pynchons penchants." In this case we have "penchant," from the French past participle of pencher, to incline: hence, "a strong leaning, an inclination." Pynchons penchants might have been reduced to merely "Pynchons inclinations." But, in idiomatic French, penchant takes on a richer dimension, as in une penchant pour la peinture, "a passion for painting." So "Pynchons passions" might have served more suggestively as the handle for my notion. But it is exactly the tension between "inclinations" (or stylistic devices) and "passions" (or weighty concerns one holds with utmost conviction) that is the stuff of this study. Pynchon is among the most varied of our living prose stylists, and careful reading also reveals him a passionate man. Pynchons style, technique, habits all serve his convictionswhich we must infer.
l begin with discussions of Pynchon, his family history, his connection (if any) to Vladimir Nabokov, and his friendship with Richard Farifia. Actually, more is known of the latter twos personalities than of Pynchons, and this information is most useful, refracting as it does an image of Pynchon one facet at a time. Next, l develop interpretations of five of Pynchons short stories and one essay from what l term his "short period" (most now available in Slow Learner). These early works constitute a literary timelapse study of Pynchons formative stage.
For a long time Pynchon resisted some formidable coaxing to release his youthful works for republication because he feit them a bunch of early attemptsinsufferably smartassed, juvenile, and, worst of all, not well thoughtoutas he selfdeprecatingly tells us in the introduction to Slow Learner. While obviously not up to his mature style, most of the stories are as good as all but the best short fiction being published today. If they are the work of an enfant terrible, most of Pynchons fans forgive what he calls his "Bad Ear," his "overwriting," even his "tendrils," and accept his apology for all other forms of wretched excess.
Analysis of Pynchons short period (1958-1964) provides insight into the techniques used in V., The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravitys Rainbow, and Vineland. Since so many critical books and articles have already been written on Pynchons novels, l have written in less detail about them, except to highlight stylistic and thematic material consistent with my previous observations ("Pynchons Inferno," Cornell Alumni News [November 1978]). Pynchon is nothing if not consistent, and l am a terrible "l tole ya so." l leave the enjoyment of going
through the rich Pynchonian tapestry to the reader only slightly aided, because, above all else, Pynchon is damn good fun to read.
As long ago as 1978, The Wilson Quarterly asked Professors of American Literature to nominate the "most important" American novels since the Second World War. Gravitys Rainbow, the only novel published in the 70s among the top twenty, ranked fourth. A no less astute reader than Northrop Frye called Gravitys Rainbow "one of the most remarkable works of fiction in our time" (Divisions on a Ground ). Many critics believe Pynchon deserves to be considered among the best writers of the Century, with the likes of Borges, Kafka, Proust, and Joyce. Like theirs, his works are complex, dense, intricate, and difficult. In addition, Pynchon, ratherthan providing answers, asks questions; rather than seeking clarification, makes mysteries. These characteristics, his penchants, make his work more inaccessible than most.
The first mystery is Pynchon himself. Does he exist? Is he, as some suggest, a committee? These quite ridiculous questions arise out of Pynchons fierce insistence on personal privacy, coupled with his fiction, which often pivots about questions of misplaced, misunderstood, or forged identities.
Since Pynchons family has a long and colorful history, where better to begin to know him? The Pynchon clan is a band of bluebloods principled enough to align themselves with the wrong side during, not one, but two American Revolutions (the eighteenthcentury one and the twentiethcentury one), who have suffered social and economic reversalseven suicideas a consequence. But let me proceed chronologically.
The Pynchons are traceable back to the eleventh Century. According to Mathew Winstons "The Quest for Pynchon" (rpt. 1976), "The earliest Pynchon on record is one Pinco, sworn brother in war to Endo, who came to England from Normandy with William the Conqueror." 1 By 1533, one Nicholas Pynchon was appointed High
Sheriff of London, so he must have been on pretty good terms with the Crown. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyles The Sign Of Four (1890), there is a Pinchin Lane in an old section of late nineteenthcentury London.
In 1630, William Pynchon brought his family and considerable capital to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As patentee, he helped found both Roxbury and Springfield, along with such other founding fathers as Miles Morgan, ancestor of the financier J. P. Morgan. William Pynchon stayed for twenty years, until he was forced to leave for writing a religious tract, The Meritorious Price Of Our Redemption (1650), which argued against the prevailing orthodoxy of the Puritans and was banned and burned in Boston.
Waterss Genealogical Gleanings (1901) notes that from William Pynchons son John "are descended all who bear that name in America." John Pynchon was one of the leading citizens of the colony, according to the New Columbia Encyclopedia, and his signature is affixed to an oath of allegiance drafted after the "Glorious Revolution" of William and Mary. Along with the Morgans, the Pynchons were among the wealthiest and most influential families in New England. One of Johns descendants, Joseph Pynchon, was groomed to become governor of Connecticut, and would have been, had he not been loyal to the Crown.
The first Thomas Ruggles Pynchon was a physician during the Revolutionary period. His nineteenthcentury descendant the Rev. Thomas Ruggles Pynchon was a chemist and an educator, eventually becoming President of Trinity College of Hartford. When Nathaniel Hawthorne published The House Of the Seven Gables (1851) with its less than flattering portrayal of a family named Pyncheon, he received letters of complaint from two Pynchons of that generation. In one letter the Rev. Thomas Ruggles Pynchon wrote, "We know of no Pynchons not of our little band."
The important stock brokerage, Pynchon & Co., which rose to prominence during the early twentieth Century, must have been staffed by the same family. This house was frequently mentioned by the New York Times during the 20s and 30s. The Times published abstracts of prestigious Pynchon & Co. publications and projections, just as it abstracts the studies of Merrill Lynch today. The titles ranged over topics of interest to investors: The Aviation Industry (1928, 1929), Survey of Public Utilities (1928), The Gas Industry (1928), and the ambitious Electric Light And Power: A Survey Of World Development (1930). The firm was clearly well connected and enjoyed great favor. It had Offices in New York (3), Chicago (2), Milwaukee, Battle Creek, London (2), Paris, and Liverpool. When Pynchon & Co. talked, people listened.
In April 1929, Pynchon & Co. announced they would open a new Chicago office. By December 1929, after October 24, Black Thursday of the stock market crash, the firm had suffered noticeable reversals. The Times reported that Mrs. Harold Pynchon had to get an injunction to prevent Pynchon & Co. from selling her personal stock to pay the debt of her husband, a highranking executive in the firm. The senior Partner, George M. Pynchon, tried desperately to come up with some Technical breakthrough to stem the tide. In 1930, he backed experiments with a "diesel electric" boat and a "glider boat." Alas, neither paid off. By April 1931, the firm was suspended from the New York Stock Exchange and went into receivership. The Irving Trust Co. took Charge as receiver. According to the financial historian Ferdinand Lundberg, the Irving Trust Co. was a bank in the MorganDuPont sphere at the time.
Pynchon & Co. was one of the largest brokerages in the country, the largest ever to have been suspended from the NYSE ( New York Times 25 Apr. 1931). The day after the NYSE announced the Suspension of Pynchon & Co., the Times noted a drop in the stock value of U.S. Steel and Johns Manville (26 Apr. 1931) two firms closely associated with J. P. Morgan.
The Timess financial writer analyzed Pynchon & Co.s difficulties as due to its involvement, together with the Chase Securities Corporation, in Fox Film and General Theaters. The final blow came when the Fox stock feil under attack and its value was driven down by large scale sellingdumping. According to Upton Sinclairs Upton Sinclair Presents William Fox (1933), the Chase Bank was instrumental in the fall of Fox Films, to that time "the largest industrial failure in the history of American affairs." Sinclair goes into excruciating detail, concluding that the deal which forced Pynchon & Co. into receivership was "a terrible trap." In Americas Sixty Families (1937), Lundberg describes the affair as "another of the many unsavory episodes in which the Chase Bank [later to become the Chase Manhattan] took the leading role." Sinclair also points out that "The only two bankers in New York who showed sympathy for our Fox [were] Edward Rothschild of the Chelsea Bank, and Bernard Marcus of the Bank of the United States." Note the Rockefeller bank on one side, the Rothschild banks on the other. An official spokesman for the Chase Bank told the Times the Chase "was merely in the Position of being one of the numerous creditors of the firm [Pynchon & Co.], but had no special interest in its affairs," expressing what sounds rather like the pro forma disinterest of a vengeful divorcée asked about an exspouses setbacks.
In March 1932, Pynchon & Co. had liabilities of $19.7 million and assets of but $12.8 million, the Times reported. These were not
inconsequential sums when a new Chevrolet cost about $600. Pynchon & Co. went under, and there was much subsequent scandal. One Mrs. Helen Delany Pynchon made news in 1931, saved from a jail term by the beneficence of her former employer, mining engineer Raymond Brooks, when she was convicted of robbing him of $45,000. Later the George M. Pynchon estate would be sold and no end o ignominy its furniture dispersed at public auction. From contemplating the worlds electric power needs to the equivalent of a garage sale. Still later, in 1939, a Spanish nobleman was awarded almost $90,000 in a suit for illegal stockconversion against twentytwo former partners of Pynchon & Co. Perhaps it was in part as a consequence of such humiliation that George M. Pynchon, Jr., committed suicide in 1940 in the stables of his Long Island estate.
From the stock markets reaction to the failure of Pynchon & Co., and the use of the Irving Trust Co. as receiver, we can infer that the firm was a Morgan satrap. The Pynchons appear to have used to advantage all their family associations with the J. P. Morgan group, with whom they had shared common interests for three hundred years, since the founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Yet as the J. P. Morgan influence ebbed, the Morgan associates suffered as well. Once again the Pynchons had thrown their lot in with the loyalists and lost.
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr., was not born until the sordid humiliation of Pynchon & Co. had been nearly played out: 1937. His father, Thomas Sr., is the grandnephew of the President of Trinity College (for whom he was named), the one who wrote Hawthorne. Apparently Pynchon Sr. was never in the highfinance circle of the family. An industrial surveyor, he worked for engineering firms or held local government engineering posts most of his working life. For several years he was Superintendent of Highways for the Town of Oyster Bay, Long Island, until he was appointed Supervisor by the Town Board in 1962. Oyster Bay was where his son, our author, attended high school.
To know Pynchon is to know his familys history, his passion for history and historical method, and to see how political consciousness of a historical kind becomes central to Pynchons aesthetic, becomes one of Pynchons penchants. Pynchons writing evokes the dispossessed heirs of the old American dynasty based on steel, coal, and railroads. He writes much as Faulkner wrote for the dispossessed heirs of the agrarian South. But, as Faulkner attributed evil to the carpetbagging agents of the industrial North (J. P. Morgan as villain), Pynchon attributes evil to the agents of the new multinational, petrochemical dynasty (J. P. Morgan as victim).
Our Thomas Pynchon graduated from Oyster Bay High School as salutatorian in 1953, at age sixteen. His high school years (fall 1950 to spring 1953) were those when the name of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was a household word. McCarthyism. McCarthy used inquisitorial techniques (reckless accusations, unidentified informers, unsubstantiated charges) to hound his liberal adversaries out of government, charging his opponents were either Communists, subversives, or merely "fellow travelers" (too soft on Communism). Careers were ruined. Soon he had people in the State Department, the U.S. Army, and even Hollywood turning each other in for Student activities twenty years beforeor for membership in Depressionfashionable organizations. More than just careers were ruined. This synchronicity affords some insight into Pynchons legendary paranoia, and we can grasp why Pynchons ellipses speak so loudly. Pynchon attended Cornell University from 1953 to 1955, left to serve a hitch in the Navy, reentered Cornell in 1957, and graduated in 1959. While there he came under the noteworthy influence of two people: Vladimir Nabokov and Richard Fariña.
Was there a direct, personal relationship between twentyyearold Pynchon and fiftysevenyearold Nabokov? Probably not. While it has become axiomatic among some scholars to say Nabokov was Pynchons comparative literature professor, checking a bootlegged copy of Pynchons transcript (albeit one that may have been tampered with) against the course listings for the years in question yields no evidence Pynchon ever enrolled in any of Nabokovs courses for credit. Pynchon enrolled in neither Literature 311312, "Masters of European Fiction," nor Literature 325326, "Russian Literature in Translation." Of course, Pynchon might have audited Nabokov, off the record. Indeed, a member of Pynchons undergraduate cohort, Robert H. Eisenman (B.A. Cornell, 1958), now Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Cal State Long Beach, said in a recent telephone interview: "Everybody who was anybody audited the legendary Nabokov lectures, to hear the showman on Emma, Anna, and Gregor Samsa. It was a very large lecture hall with no attendance monitors, so auditors caught individual lectures as they pleased. Pynchon would have known that."
Because Pynchon uses techniques outlined in Nabokovs courses, and collected in his Lectures On Literature (1980), some have assumed that, if Pynchon never took any of Nabokovs courses, the two must have known each other personally. Actually, they did have one mutual
friend, Herbert Gold, who offered Pynchon and Fariña access to a New York literary connection, James Silberman at Dial magazine. But that was months after Nabokov had left Cornell to live abroad. In fact, Gold was Nabokovs replacement as writer in residence, so he could not have introduced Pynchon: Gold and Nabokov were not at Cornell at the same time. According to Andrew Fields VN: The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov (1986): "The core of the serious Nabokov cult on the campus consisted of . . . Richard Fariña . . . and Thomas Pynchon, though evidently there was no personal acquaintance between Pynchon and Nabokov." Furthermore, in more than thirty years, no photo, letter, or magazine article by any third party giving an eyewitness account of a meeting between Nabokov and Pynchon at a class, reading, department function, or purely social gathering has surfaced. Since such remembrances of celebrities past would be just the thing for the Cornell Alumni News, for example, l assume none exist. 2
Yet Nabokov was an enormous presence around Ithaca, what with the Paris edition of Lolita (1955) raising such a ruckus in those years, even to the extent, Field tells us, that the Cornell Book and Bowl Society read it aloud, with Fariña one of the narrators. Nabokov was such a presence that Pynchon could hardly have avoided his influence.
In 1959, in a Proposal to the Ford Foundation to write an opera libretto (a proposal summarized in Steven Weisenburgers "Thomas Pynchon at Twenty-Two: A Recovered Autobiographical Sketch" ), Pynchon says that his proposed method is something close to the "Literature of Ideas" which was anathema to Nabokov and the New Critics. He creates a delicious ambiguity for the reader by linking himself and Nabokov in their mutual regard for yarnspinning. Are they friends? Mentor and Student? Or is Pynchon merely insinuating a nonexistent relationship to give himself credibility with the review board? Is this the enfant terrible demonstrating he is willing to take on the literary lions and critical bulls of that period, or is this the ambitious twentytwo yearold seeking to imply a connection with the justthen fashionable Nabokov? In either case, Pynchons mentioning Nabokov in his Ford Foundation proposal is the one piece of hard evidence, the one datum, anyone has been able to find that connects Pynchon to Nabokov, in 1959, during his short period.
When Alfred Appel asked Nabokov his opinion of current American writing in a 1966 interview (1967), Nabokov disclaimed any knowledge of Pynchons novels. In a 1971 article, "Pynchons Tapestries on the Western Wall," Roger B. Henkle reported that the name Dewey Gland, in V., threw Nabokov into fits of laughter. But that report does not suggest Nabokov had actually read his fellow Cornellians work between 1966 and 1971. Pynchons reputed shyness probably
prevented him from seeking Nabokov as a mentor, and Nabokovs welldocumented hauteur toward students probably would have made any apprenticeship impossible. All we can say for sure is . . . Nabokov taught at Cornell when Pynchon studied there.
If Nabokov failed to remember Pynchon, it seems Pynchon remembered Nabokov. Nabokov exemplified the actuality of the literary life. He provided a compendium of literary devices in his writing, and an analysis of others favorite devices in his courses. And, in Nabokov, Pynchon beheld his first fleshandblood political victim turned satirist. This is an important category for Pynchon, as we shall see.
If Pynchons passion for history compelled him to learn more about this mysterious expatriate professor, he may well have investigated Nabokovs autobiography, Speak, Memory (19481951, 1966). In Nabokovs lineage he would have found considerable commonality with his own. Like the Pynchons of New England, the Nabokovs of Old Russia were wealthy, aristocratic, influential, and learned. Nabokovs grandfather was State Minister of Justice for tsars Alexander II and Alexander III, a rank that correlated to Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nabokovs mother came from an immensely rich landowning family, the Rukavishnikovs. His father, V. D. Nabokov, sought constitutional reform as a liberal member of the first Russian parliament. Had there been a democratic government after the First World War, V. D. Nabokov would probably have held a cabinetlevel post. In a fashion that parallels the reversals of the Pynchons of Pynchon & Co., however, political upheaval, the Russian Revolution in this case, stripped the Nabokovs of their wealth and social position. According to his son, V. D. Nabokov became the publisher of an emigre newspaper in Berlin and, in 1922, was "assassinated by two Fascist thugs."
Nabokov abhorred literary classification schemes. He believed there were only two schools of writers: those of talent, and those of notalent. To his death he dodged definition by refusing to be categorized in any social or political group, in any literary school or group of writers or period. His aesthetic credo was simple: "Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art."
Though in his emigre period he wrote overtly political stories like "Tyrants Destroyed" (1938) and novels like Invitation to a Beheading (1936), Nabokov forswore social protest, allegory, and "great ideas" in his lectures. For Nabokov, when he was teaching at Cornell, style and structure were the essence of a book; great ideas were hogwash. He would demonstrate how to write an apolitical novel with Lolita, as
if to say, "An Obsession is an Obsession, be it a nymphet or stamp collecting. A good novel can be about almost anything."
Asked if he had satirized America in Lolita, Nabokov answered that he had parodied. "Satire is a lesson. Parody a game . . . parody in the sense of an essentially lighthearted, delicate mockingbird game." But later, in Strong Opinions (1973), he doubled back, saying, "l believe that one day a reappraiser will come and declare that, far from having been a frivolous firebird, l was a rigid moralist kicking sin, cuffing stupidity, ridiculing the vulgar and crueland assigning sovereign power to tenderness, talent, and pride." This selfappraisal makes Nabokov both satirist and humanist.
In Lectures on Literature, Nabokov asserts that only the individual writer matters (not literary movements, nor isms), and that he writes only for the individual reader. The act of reading, at best, can create an artistic harmony between the readers and the authors minds. A major writer is part Storyteller, part teacher, part enchanter: a great writer is a great enchanter. Great literature is made up of magic, story, and lesson, and the good reader reads the book of genius, "not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle." Nabokov sought the tingling spine as the antenna for his art, and devised a literary means of unleashing kundalini forces for the purposes of producing emotionalintellectualphysiological quivers in his readers. Whether or not Pynchon ever studied with, met, or knew Nabokov on sight, he seems to have internalized much of Nabokovs teaching and example; but he transforms the tingle of pleasure into the chill shiver of paranoia, the eel in the bowels of fear: same process with reversed polarity. 3
A thorough comparison of Nabokovs and Pynchon's works would demonstrate the stylistic and philosophical debts of younger to older, but that is another study. Here it is enough to note that both come from similar backgrounds, share a similar humanism, and use many similar stylistic devices (puns, word games, allusions, satire, parody, grotesqueries, and the spinal tingle), but often for different purposes.
Although Pynchon enjoyed a felicitous middleclass upbringing, from his earliest writings his humanist sympathies are repeatedly with the losers, the victims, the disinherited of history and of his stories. At Cornell this sympathy, this penchant, drew Pynchon to Richard Fariña, and we can learn a bit more about Pynchon by looking into what is known about his best friend.
Fariña was an extrovert who enjoyed the spotlight as much as Pynchon shunned it. Fariña was a man of his era: sometime folksinger; sometime recording artist, with three albums still available here and there; sometime journalist, whose posthumously published assorted writings, Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone (1969), are still to be found; and a novelist of real talent, whose Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me (1966) captures the sinister side of mid1950s collegiate life.
Pynchons relationship with Fariña was more than casual. He travelled a great distance to be best man at Fariñas wedding to Mimi Baez. Mimi is the younger sister of the celebrated antiwar spokesperson and singer Joan Baez, and Richard and Mimi Fariña were also active in the antiwar movement. Fariña would tout Mademoiselle readers onto the Pynchonian mysteries in his "Monterey Fair," while Pynchon would return the favor with a promotional blurb for Farinas novel. Ultimately, Pynchon would dedicate Gravitys Rainbow to Fariñas memory.
When it came to revolutionary rhetoric during the sixties, Fariña did not
pull any punches, although others were more strident. Among his songs are
"Sellout Agitation Waltz," "Mainline Prosperity Blues," and "House
UnAmerican Blues Activity Dream." A verse from one of his poems in
Long Time Coming
And the book jacket on Been Down So Long says:Now presidents sink on schoonersofstate
In a rare breach of silence, exile, and cunning, Pynchon wrote the promotional blurb for Been Down So Long . In it he elevates his then stillalive chum to near prophet Status, writing, "Fariña has going for him an unerring and virtuoso instinct about exactly what, in this bewildering Republic, is serious and what cannot possibly be." Pynchon does not laud Farinas use of imagistic language or plot development, character rendering or psychological insight, but rather his political savvy.
Fariña was a paradox: a talent eager to be heard, and a political consciousness aware of the danger in being too outspoken. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger (with whom he would appear on TV), Fariña would yoke his political rhetoric and his musical talent to find his audience. l take his sisterinlaw Joan Baezs vision of him as "blatantly ambitious" to mean ambitious within the System, by virtue of his talent. While Fariña would imply some connection to the Cuban and Irish rebels (which would be good for his image, hence sales), l do not know of any hard evidence linking Fariña with the violent revolutionary groups of the sixties. Fariña was a bit of a selfpromoting hustler, repeatedly insinuating himself into the eye of the storm, whatever storm. He was always on the make for publicity and recognition, and he did not mind courting danger. Any storm in a court, as long as they spell your name right, seems to have been his operating code.
Yet Farinas political consciousness, formed like Pynchons during the McCarthy era, was a dark and fearful one. In "Baez and Dylan: A Generation Singing Out" (originally published in 1964), Fariña expressed some of his fears:
Subsequent revelations of the governments ColntelPro (CounterIntelligence Program against dissenters of the 1960s) gave this nottoothinly veiled assertion more credibility. "Next week" for Dylan came in July 1966, when he survived a nearfatal motorcycle accident. It is a great irony, not unnoticed by Pynchon, that Fariña himself died in April 1966, "mangled on a motorcycle."
On the "About The Author" page at the end of Long Time Coming, the Random House editors wrote: "Two days after the publication of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, Richard Fariña was killed in a motorcycle accident near Carmel, California." "Was killed," implying agency not "died as a result of injuries" nourishes the germ of intelligent, not paranoid, suspicion. In Gravitys Rainbow, dedicated to Fariña, Pynchon writes: "Prophets traditionally dont last long they are either killed outright, or given an accident serious enough to make them stop and think, and most often they do pull back." Pynchon seems to be referring to both Fariña and Dylan, believing, fearing, suspecting (which is it?) that Fariña was "killed outright," and Dylan "given an accident."
Consider what Richard Fariña must have looked like to the ColntelPro people at the time. He had been to both Ireland and Cuba and implied he had consorted with the rebels during the upheavals there, though what he did is not clear. It is hard to believe the IRA or the Fidelistas would welcome Fariña with open arms, trust him, and give him anything sensitive to handle. More likely, he represented himself as a sympathetic Journalist who was willing to put their best face forward. He had direct access to the media, by virtue of his own writing and singing; he had access to a whole generation through the records and concerts of Bob Dylan and his sisterinlaw; and he had access to "intellectuals" through Pynchon, the best man at his wedding. Fariña might have seemed leminence gris behind the entire antiwar movement. Except where would he have found time to write songs, articles, novels, to perform in concerts and on TV, make records, and lead a revolution? He would have to have been Seymour M. Hersh, Mick Jagger, and Che Guevara rolled into one.
It is difficult to remember, in the 1990s, the antiwar hysteria of the 1960s: the longhair/shorthair schism, the draftcard burnings, popsong dialogues on the war, demonstrations, attempted and successful assassinations, militiamen firing into crowds and killing students at Kent State and Jackson State, dissenters going to prison, forced to leave the country, real (as opposed to literary) paranoia, etc. This was the epoch during whose earlier part Fariña was most active, during whose later part Gravitys Rainbow was written. To know Pynchon is to know he was friendly with people who were dramatis personae in this conflict, who may have been casualties of the protest, even if he, in his stoicism, abstained. The parallels between Pynchons circle and the characters in Vineland seem clear, if somewhat veiled. For example, Long Time Coming contains a piece titled "The Writer as Cameraman," but that is the topic of another study.
Pynchon, then, is someone whose family was involved in politics during the Revolutionary period and in economic politics at the time of the stock market crash; someone whose first American ancestor got himself into hot water for writing against the prevailing orthodoxy of the Puritans; someone whose Wall Street relative committed suicide as a consequence of "a terrible trap." At Cornell he would find Vladimir Nabokov, role model of political victim turned satirist, and he would befriend Richard Fariña, himself an ambitious and talented writer whose passions would lead him to involvement in the antiwar movement of the 1960s. In hindsight, it seems almost predictable that Pynchons work would reflect his familys history (which is coincident with the nations), Nabokovs reverence for great literature (which implies all of Western Literature), and Fariñas premature death (which casts a cloud of fear over all). It is with the darker aspects of our national history in mind that l say Pynchons work is the embodiment of American culture.
Pynchons early short works, like those of many difficult authors, offer insight into the development of his mature style and themes, so their study may illuminate Pynchons penchants. However, Pynchons short stories are particularly inaccessible due to compression. When they were written (1958-1964), Pynchon was developing the highly allusive, sometimes maddeningly deflective style he would unveil in V. another postwar novel listed among the scholars twenty "most important." At the same time, he was trying to conform to his own "rules" for short fiction, if we are to believe his proposal to the Ford Foundation and his apologia in the introduction to Slow Learner. In V., originally 492 largeformat pages long, Pynchon gave himself enough room to ornament his tapestry with myriad detail. He wove a richly textured fabric, a brocade in which each recondite, often puzzling thread leads to another perhaps increasingly arcane and perplexing. In the short works his prose style is already highly associative, the opposite of what was once thought appropriate for the Standard O. Henry model short story.
With the old paradigms as the basis for judgment, many critics, even those who appreciate Pynchons novels, have taken his short fiction to task as "Entropy and Other Calamities" (Joseph W. Slade, Thomas Pynchon ). But the standard criteria just do not apply. Pynchon was not concerned with the usual notions plot, economy, sudden insight, character growth, or the conflictresolving single dramatic act that captures the essence of the story. Rather, he was
interested in developing a skeletal structure within which he was free to improvise, the technique he needed to execute his novels. Since Pynchon has never returned to the short story, we might conclude he was never intent on redefining the form for himself or us. For the young Pynchon, the short stories were rehearsals for his novels.
I use the word "rehearsal" deliberately because there is so much music in Pynchon. Indeed, the technique he eventually develops is analogous to that of a jazz musician who, by using a familiar set of chords and perhaps someone elses familiar set of variations as a point of departure, can evoke a song though never playing the melody, can get the audience to "sing the lyric inside their heads." In his proposal to the Ford Foundation, Pynchon himself uses this analogy. According to Weisenburger, "the Cornell seminars taught him [Pynchon] the way of crafting a fiction around one central metaphor that unifies its sometimes very disparate and complex elements of character, imagery and action. He compares this writing technique to the lines of notes which provides [sic] a basis for the chord changes in jazz." So a short story, for Pynchon, was like a jazz solo in which each word, like each note, contributed to the effect of a single extended metaphor. That is to say, Pynchon offers no mere trills or grace notes; each detail counts.
The job of reading Pynchon is compounded by the need to trace each of his details: digressions, puns, acronyms, foreign language smuts, completely fabricated characters, and characters whose names are cognates of significant historical or literary figures. Pynchon writes with a spooky reluctance, as if certain things must not be spoken of, as if the naming of historical names must be camouflaged with cognate, homonym, metaphor, corruption, parable, or Iow pun that might contain high magic. The information is usually encoded and keyed. If his readers have the code, or are good cryptanalysts, it makes sense, and we all sing along inside our heads; if not, not. (Those who don't "get it" may be unconscious of being any the worse for having missed out, since there is still the narrative, which is usually pretty antic.) This approach is necessary to understand a writer who, in "Entropy," has told us he fears the consequences of speaking "the wrong words."
Pynchons short works can be viewed as one opus and as a test case for the following hypothesis: Pynchon views himself as part of a family that has been disinherited by a centurylong conflict involving the waxing of new and the waning of old American dynasties; he views himself as an artist in the tradition of those artists victimized by political forces beyond their control; he views dynastic upheaval as pandemic in history, an archetypal Situation; even before Fariñas death, paranoia energized Pynchon, and he knew spinetingling fear;
spine tingling must serve art if art is to be mysterious enough to perform its function of altering or transcending life; all of which leads Pynchon to proceed by encoding, often deflecting our attention and directing it beyond his text to items outside the text that illuminate apparently disparate and often highly political textual material.
Pynchon published eight short fiction pieces in various magazines. 4 Four of the five stories l deal with here were out of print (not counting appearances in anthologies or allegedly pirated Pamphlets) from the time of their original publication until the publication of Slow Learner; the other remains so. In chronological order, the five l deal with are: "The Small Rain" ( Cornell Writer ); "Mortality and Mercy in Vienna" ( Epoch ); "Low-lands" ( New World Writing ); "Entropy" ( Kenyon Review ); and "The Secret Integration" ( Saturday Evening Post ). In addition, Pynchon wrote an essay titled "A Journey Into The Mind Of Watts" ( New York Times Magazine ), which l also examine here.
Pynchons first published story (as opposed to his high school newspaper columns and other juvenilia), "The Small Rain," describes three days in the life of Nathan "Lardass" Levine, Army Specialist 3/C. Pynchon describes Levine as "almost but not quite me," in the introduction to Slow Learner, and Claims the facts of the story were told him by a friend who was "there." On June 27, 1957, hurricane Audrey destroyed the southern Louisiana town of Cameron. The towns inhabitants were warned in advance to evacuate, but the storm hit nearly eighteen hours earlier than the official estimated time of arrival. Hundreds drowned; only the town courthouse remained intact. Rescue operations were based at McNeese State College; Army troops were sent from Fort Polk to assist. Pynchon may have been among the naval forces that were also present, but since the records of his unit were destroyed in an office fire, we will never know for sure. He says he was not there, but the story has an immediacy his other, more purely fanciful stories lack. We will take him at his word. "The Small Rain" is, in a word, grisly. But it reveals certain characteristic Pynchonian penchants.
This bit of dialogue in "The Small Rain" calls attention to Gilbert & Sullivans H.M.S. Pinafore. It also alerts the reader to look for other quotations. And sure enough, along the way Pynchon quotes William Tecumseh Sherman, "War is hell"; MAD magazine, "ARRRGH"; English Protestant martyr John Bradford, "There but for the grace of God"; and Guys & Dolls author, Abe Burrows, "Why its good old reliable Nathan." There may be more.
But earlier in "The Small Rain," Pynchon writes:
By alerting us to "Spot This Quote" after he had already rephrased Jesuss parable of the sower of seeds (Mark 4.19), Pynchon lures us to attend to the accurate quotations from Pinafore, Sherman, Bradford, Burrows, and to ignore the slightly altered quotation from the Bible. Thus, in his first story, published while he was still an undergraduate, Pynchon leads the reader by misdirection. Misdirection is an essential Pynchonian device.
After the parable of the sower of seeds, the disciples asked Jesus why he preached in parables. His answer may as well have been Pynchons: "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables" (Mark 4.11); or, in Pynchons words, "Those Who Know, know."
Lest we think this mere fancy on Pynchons part, we should note that he gave Levine, this "almost me" character, the first name Nathan. The Old Testament prophet Nathan scolded King David for sending Bathshebas husband, Uriah, to certain death in battle so the King could claim her. Nathan used yet another parable, the parable of the ewe lamb (II Samuel 12.17). Later, at Davids death, Nathan averted a civil war by mediating the succession claims there was then no strict law of primogeniture and insuring that Bathshebas son Solomon was made king over the older Adonijah (l Kings 1.1140).
After her introductory aria, "lm called Little Buttercup," Buttercup too speaks in parables. In her Act II duet with Captain Corcoran, "Things are seldom what they seem," she sings:
Though to catch my drift hes striving
when he sees at what lm driving
And later she will add:
But when is known
By revealing the secrets of true identities, Buttercup mediates possibly disastrous marriage claims.
Pynchon could have called his college girl YumYum, after the ingenue of The Mikado; but YumYum does not speak in parables nor have any secrets to reveal. Name selection is never casual or ingenuous for Pynchon; and selecting particularly resonant names is another essentially Pynchonian penchant. By naming two characters after others who speak in parables, and by quoting, nearly, Jesuss parable of the sower of seeds, Pynchon tells us he is writing in parables. As Jesus explains to the disciples, "there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light" (Mark 4.22). So by paraphrasing the parable of the seedsower, Pynchon is also alerting us to secrets revealed, and by quoting, "lm called little Buttercup," he is alerting us that "things are seldom what they seem."
What is essentially Pynchonian about this device? First there is the diversionary feint, the apparently casual allusions to Pinafore, Sherman, Bradford, Burrows, that may satisfy the reader already set up to "Spot This Quote." Then there is the somewhat altered quotation from another source, usually less recognizable, most often incomplete or pointing to yet another nearby extratextual passage. If readers spot the quoted fragment, it will hang in mental space (like his sons chord sequences the elder Mozart felt compelled to rise from bed to resolve), familiar but perplexing, until they can associate the fragment with its unquoted closing or related material. In other words, by quoting Mark 4.11, Pynchon leads us to Mark 4.22; by quoting Buttercups Act l aria, he leads us to her Act II arias.
To understand whats up, readers must, rhetorically speaking, look for (or already carry in mind) the enthymeme the unexpressed principle or unstated premise of an abridged syllogism, the part left out, to be supplied by the hearer or reader. If l say, "All men must die; Socrates is a man," the hearer fills in, "Socrates must die." In terms of music, readers must carry with them a humming knowledge of a
particular set of variations (say, Charlie Parkers or Paganinis), so when another musician (say, Miles Davis or Rachmaninoff) quotes the first, readerlisteners can understand what is being done what amplification or inversion of an idea is being implied. Pynchon corroborates this analysis of his technique in "Integration," where the kids pass a joke among themselves, a joke with the punchline withheld: "Tim knew as well as Etienne, the professional comic, when your listener had guessed your next line, so he didnt say anything else." Thus Pynchon alerts us that we will sometimes have to fill in the blanks, guess the unwritten answers to camouflaged and abridged syllogisms as well as jokes, historical allusions, political references. Enthymematic technique is has been from the first the essential Pynchon.
In this instance Pynchon alludes to Pinafore (a light and charming romance of confused identity, while "The Small Rain" is a ghastly story filled with death) after paraphrasing part of one of Jesuss most enduring parables:
Further on in Mark is the passage about secrets being revealed, and that is what Pynchon means to signal his readers all along. As if to confirm, to say "Yes, that's what l mean," Pynchon gives us "Little Buttercup," who also reveals secrets. Pynchon leads us from something in the text (the parable and "lm Called Little Buttercup") to things related (secrets revealed and "Things Are Seldom What They Seem") but outside the text often the most important message.
The title Gravitys Rainbow provides a similar example. Much as Pynchon leads readers from items in the text to nearly adjacent items in extratextual sources, he also leads us from English to other languages in this case German, then to German Synonyms or homonyms (usually thematically loaded ones), and back to English. If "rainbow" is der regenbogen and "gravity" is gravitat, then "Gravitys Rainbow" becomes Der Regenbogen von Gravitat: not too gripping. But it happens that an idiomatic synonym for "rainbow" (according to Cassels ) is parabel, as in "parabola"; and schwer is also "gravity," as in schwerpunkt, "center of gravity." It seems we are getting somewhere, except Parabel von Schwer is not exactly arresting until we substitute for schwer its alternative meaning, "grave, serious, weighty ," and find that parabel also means "parable." So for Gravitys
Rainbow, inandoutagain of schwer parabel, we get A Grave Parable. Style melds with substance in a quintessentially Pynchonian penchant, the polylingual pun.
Pynchon himself indirectly confirms this way of looking at wordplay through other languages. In the introduction to Slow Learner, discussing his story "Entropy" and describing the historical use of the term "entropy," Pynchon writes: "If Clausius had stuck to his native German and called it [entropy] Verwandlungsinhalt instead, it could have had an entirely different impact." The literal translation of Verwandlungsinhalt is the "halting" or "stopping" (Inhalt) of "transformation" or "metamorphosis" ( Verwandlung ). We see Pynchons familiarity with and sensitivity to jumping inandoutagain of various languages, his understanding that an idea presented via its German synonym can have "an entirely different impact" in this case the evoking of Franz Kafka, which would be inappropriate. So Pynchon is selective, also knowing when not to use this technique.
Pynchon constructs his parables out of rather straightforward tales. In "The Small Rain" Army Specialist 3/C Nathan "Lardass" Levine attaches himself to a work detail and helps find and collect the corpses of flood victims. After some byplay with the other men in his unit, he makes love with a college girl (identified only as little Buttercup). He wears a baseball cap and smokes a cigar throughout their strangely ritualistic coupling. He returns to barracks, takes a shower, and sets out on his delayed leave after commenting on the rain. At the story level, this is all that happens. But with Pynchon, the tale is never all.
Baxter, the name of one of the men in Nathans unit, is also the name of a Nonconformist English clergyman of the 1660s, Richard Baxter (16151691). Capucci, another soldiers name, reminds us of the order of Franciscan monks, the Capuchins, who were a majorforce in church activity during and after the Counterreformation, and who were early arrivals in French Canada. And Levine is a member of the ancient, hereditary Hebrew priest caste, the Levites, who date back to Solomon and Zadok. So among apparently random names, we have old Protestant, older Catholic, and ancient Jewish clergy. By selecting such historically resonant names, Pynchon evokes religious rituals.
Of the Levites it is proscribed, "none of them shall defile himself for the dead among his people" (Leviticus 21.1). So to cleanse himself after handling the dead, Nathan takes a lengthy shower, one that begins in sunlight and ends after sundown. When he couples with little Buttercup, he does so with his head covered, a sign of the Jews humility before his creator. Though there are hints that "the past [is] beginning to close in," his ritual is not a Hebrew one. In Buttercups eyes, Pynchon writes, "there was . . . something that might have been
a dismayed and delayed acknowledgement that what was hazarding this particular plowboy was deeper than any problem of seasonal change or doubtful fertility." Levines ritual is a preChristian, preHebrew, pagan one. Pynchon hints at Minoan culture with a casual reference to Buttercup as "a never totally violated Pasiphae." Then Nathan says, "In the midst of Life. We are in death." The various ancient rituals Pynchon evokes are meant to insure that life shall triumph over death on the heels of the hurricane. Levine plows little Buttercup and sows his seed into her at a bayou shack, serenaded by frogs, in an attempt to placate the gods who have grown somehow angry. Pynchon superimposes pagan, Hebrew, and Christian culture on this one mimetic act of a hereditary priest.
A few grace notes in this story barely want comment but illuminate other thematic concerns that are Pynchons fingerprints. The first is a political note. The destroyed town in the story is Creole, and the victims of the flood are largely Cajuns. Cajuns are descended from dispossessed Acadians, French Canadians captured by the British in 1755 during the French and Indian War, removed from their farms in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by force of arms, and forcibly resettled on Bayou Teche. These folk, romanticized in Longfellows Evangeline, are the first of Pynchons subcultures of the dispossessed, not unlike the Ojibwa, the gypsies, the Annamese, or the American blacks who appear in the other short stories.
Another grace note is Pynchons perception of the affinity between Yankees and Jews. Levine confronts his C.O., Lieutenant Pierce, to whom Pynchon attributes "a precise, dry Beacon Hill accent." While Levine is Bronx, CCNY, and an enlisted man, and Pierce is Boston, MIT, and an ROTC officer:
By naming the C.O. Pierce, Pynchon evokes Franklin Pierce (Hawthornes Bowdoin College schoolmate), fourteenth President of the United States, whose term (1853-1857) marked continued attempts to avoid civil war. This ties in with the quotations from Sherman, a Civil War general, and Bradford, who died amidst civil strife in England, and with the biblical Nathan, who averted a civil war by mediating a succession conflict. Pynchon appears particularly sensitive to the consequences of civil war, as we will see.
So in his first story Pynchon tries out techniques he will use later: misdirection, indicative naming, fragmented quotation, emphasis on parables, enthymemes, and layering of pagan, Hebrew, and Christian mythologies. He also introduces some thematic material he will return to: subcultures of the disinherited, fraternizing of Yankees and Jews, oblique references to American politics, and sensitivity to dynastic succession and civil wars.
Pynchon takes the title of his next story from Shakespeares Measure for Measure, wherein Duke Vincentio deputizes Angelo to rule in his absence, to clean up Vienna, grown lawless and licentious. The Duke grants Angelo lifeanddeath power of the state when he says:
In our remove be thou at full ourself.
Angelo begins by pulling down the brothels and putting into effect an old Draconian law making incontinence (inability to restrain appetites, unchastity, according to the O.E.D.) a capital crime. Pynchon begins his story by leading us from the text to Angelos role in Measure for Measure, which he expects readers to carry enthymematically in suspended state until he reveals his purpose for evoking this particular bit of Shakespeare. It is the beginning of his second story, and Pynchon is again alluding to something (a hint, a clue) outside the text.
The second clue is the name of the central character, who is identified only as Siegel for the first third of the story, until he finally introduces himself: "My name is Cleanth but my friends call me Siegel, out of pity." The device of withholding the name creates suspense and calls attention to Cleanth as a name; and Siegers passivity in this story suggests the Greek stoic Cleanthes, Zenos disciple. (Come to think of it, "Lardass" Levine was pretty stoical, and submissive, too.) Pynchon could have named Siegel Angelo after his Shakespearean counterpart; but Cleanth weaves the thread of Stoicism into the tapestry. Stoicism is characterized by a belief in happiness through knowledge, a striving to regulate the passions, a seeking to remain equally unmoved by apparently joyful or calamitous events, a submissiveness to natural law, and a belief in an irresistible Providence.
The second character we meet, the absconding host of the party, is one David Lupescu (Wolfmanfrom canis lupus, wolf?), a Rumanian who disconcertingly resembles Siegel. (The word "doppelgänger"
comes into Siegels mind when he first sees Lupescu.) Knowing Pynchons penchant for pointing beyond the text, we should investigate the name Lupescu; and, sure enough, there is one historical Lupescu of note: Magda Lupescu, Jewish mistress, later wife, of King Carol II of Rumania. There are no other Rumanian references in this story. Pynchon may, however, be alerting us to the form of insanity known as lycanthropy, in which the patient imagines himself to be a wolf and exhibits depraved appetites for human flesh; but since this illness seems to occur only in Hollywood, Pynchon may be merely playing.
Lupescu leaves Siegel in Charge of his party, as Vincentio left Angelo in charge of Vienna, after indulging in a little wordplay with him: "As host you are a trinity: (a) receiver of guests . . . (b) an enemy and (c) an outward manifestation, for them, of the divine body and blood." As an afterthought, Lupescu wisecracks, "Mistah Kurtz he dead," and he exits after hanging from an archway a symbolic pig foetus.
Does Pynchon mean to evoke Conrads "Heart of Darkness," the literal and symbolic jungle to which Kurtz had hoped to bring reason and enlightenment? Or Eliots "The Hollow Men," which uses "Mistah Kurtz he dead," as its epigraph? What about the allusions to Shakespeare? Stoicism? Rumanian politics? Hollywood horror movies? Which way does Pynchon want it? He wants it every which way. He means to weave as many colored threads into his tapestry as possible, to set off chains of resonances, to give the story layers of richness not to make it a crossword puzzle with strict onetoone correspondences.
In Pynchons personal preoccupational scheme, the story is also about information theory. Siegel has been set upon by all sorts of Information. His girlfriend, Rachel, induces his lightheadedness with an explanation of why she cannot make it to the party:
Later a woman named Lucy (Loosie?) buttonholes Siegel for some time, telling him of the incontinence couplings, uncouplings, seductions, betrayals, and reconciliations within the group. 5 This is followed by "sex machine" Debby Considines catalogue aria of lovers past and present. All this gossip is analogous to routine information flow; but
one word One Word: "melancholia" triggers in Siegel a bout of frantic mental operations. The unusual among the usual tells us that something is going on, something key, of paramount importance, a matter of life and death, as the title of the story implies. "Melancholia. Just by accident she had used that word, the psychologists term, instead of melancholy," to describe her date, Irving Loon, an Ojibwa Indian. Melancholia: this one word sets off a search and identify routine in Siegels computerbrain. And indeed, it leads to the Ojibwas Windigo psychosis, a condition involving the craving for human flesh, or cannibalism, very similar to lycanthropism.
But Siegel has to judge whether he has made the right identification, another problem in information theory. Was his hypothesis that Irving Loon was suffering from the Windigo psychosis:
Like Stencil in V. and Oedipa Maas in Lot 49, Siegel is a Pynchonian detective trying to decode, or sort out, key bits of important information from the routine. His relation to his dilemma is a paradigm of the readerdecoders relation to the story. Pynchon structures the story to tell us that something other than plot, character, literary allusion is going on; one word may open the door to unsuspected levels of meaning; and Those Who Know, know.
Washington, the political capital of the nation, is both jungle and wasteland. The partygoers are hollow men, fools. Siegel is Angelo carried to his (il)logical extreme, willing to enforce the Viennese law against unchaste behavior by allowing Irving Loon (from lunatic, under the influence of the moon) to act as executioner of these incontinents who have been unable to restrain their appetites for dope, drink, sex, and violence. He thinks, "this kind of penance was as good as any other; it was just unfortunate that Irving Loon would be the only one partaking of any body and blood, divine or otherwise."
The stoic Cleanthes would hold that no one should attempt to intervene in the workings of Providence. As a stoic, Cleanth Siegel should see that it is Irving Loons nature to suffer from occasional bouts of Windigo psychosis, and that those near him at the time must
be fated by Providence to die. He should neither try to intervene nor feel any great sorrow at the apocalypse. The reader should, by now, recognize Siegel as Angelo (The Angel of Death?) and anticipate the outcome. Indeed, Siegel exits whistling, and the story ends as the rifle fire begins.
In the introduction to Slow Learner, Pynchon apologizes for the adolescent frame of mind that engendered this story: "A pose l found congenial in those days fairly common, l hope, among preadults was that of somber glee at any idea of mass destruction or decline." But a competing way to interpret the story is: once the official host, Lupescu, leaves, the natural order is upset, and any disaster can and does occur.
In this, his second story, Pynchons skill is already evident. He weaves an apocalyptic tale from the disparate Strands of Shakespeare, Conrad, Eliot, Stoicism, information theory, horror movies, anthropology, psychopathology, and one allusion to Rumanian politics. And, in its way, on its terms, it makes perfect sense.
"Low-lands," Pynchons third story, is partly a playful Nabokovian parody of "The Waste Land." Some critics have made overmuch of the Eliotic correspondences, either expecting something "heavy," or feeling Pynchon is being disrespectful. The central character, Dennis Flange, thinks of the sea as a "Iow-lands," a term he remembers from a seachanty: in a certain light, at a certain time of day, the ocean seems to him "a waste land which Stretches away to the horizon." This vision, this sea without water, is Eliots arid and barren waste land, as the title suggests. Flange can be seen as a traveler in the waste land, similar to Eliots figure of the man who draws the Tarot card of the Phoenician Sailor. A woman named Zenobia makes a cameo appearance in one of the stories within the story, and she may stand in for Eliots Dido and Cleopatra. In lieu of Eliots hanged man, we get in Flanges tale of a fraternity house stunt that ends with a stolen female cadaver hanging out of a window the hanged woman. Flange is awakened by the siren voice of a gypsy girl Eliots "voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells." The gypsy girl has a pet rat named Hyacinth, which evokes Eliots hyacinth girl.
But Pynchon is not out to oneup Eliot, nor to make fun of him. He is using the most studied poem in modern literature as a familiar point of departure, like a wellknown joke, to set us up for the twist, the kicker, the inversion, the introduction of his own thematic material. "The Waste Land" is the referent which makes the enthymeme work.
In this case, Pynchon suggests that beneath the sterile wasteland of modern America are pockets of vital culture that have been thriving since the Depression.
Dennis Flange, who works in a New York law firm, is "fortunes elfchild and disinherited darling, young and randy and more a Jolly Jack Tar than anyone human could possibly be" (my emphasis), now grown a little older and living on a cliff overlooking Long Island Sound in a house rising out of a tumulus above a catacomb of secret tunnels and passageways built by rumrunners during Prohibition. Flange, Pynchons second stoic, expresses his philosophy by practicing a form of "Molemanship," 6 burrowing into his house with a passivity that verges on inertia. At one point he cannot tell a sea story when it is his turn, believing that:
Pynchon/Flange evokes Heisenbergs uncertainty principle to justify, in pseudoscientific idiom, the stoic outlook. To become active and intervene in events (the old definition of virtu ?) is to change them. If things (objects, people, events) have a nature, then they should follow the natural laws that apply. To become active is to resist Providence as well as to throw objects and observer into an everchanging motion for which there is no parallax equation. So Flange is a stoic, believing that action screws up the perspective of things and violates the truth.
Flange and Rocco Squarcione (Square chin?), the Vivaldiloving garbage man, are drinking and listening to the hifi when who should arrive after a sevenyear hiatus but Pig Bodine, Pynchons lovable grotesque and allaround pervert. Flanges wife is so incensed by the three musketeers that she kicks Flange out: "Out of my life, is what l mean." So now Flange is an actual as well as a metaphorical outcast, removed from his property, dispossessed. Squarcione drives Flange and Bodine to a junkyard, the realm of his pal Bolingbroke, the black nightwatchman, and leaves. Bolingbroke welcomes the two to his castle, a shack built from discarded trash of the civilization and decorated "with photographs clipped out of every publication, it
seemed, put out since the Depression" (my emphasis). They sit around. They swap sea stories. Flange teils the hanged woman story for stoical and Eliotic reasons. They sleep. To Flange the dump is "an island or enclave in the dreary country around it, a discrete kingdom with Bolingbroke its uncontested ruler." Pynchons choice of the name "Bolingbroke" (the historical Bolingbroke became Englands Henry IV) for the nightwatchman signals some inversion.
The dump itself sits on another catacomb of tunnels and passageways, this one built during the Depression by the terrorist Sons of the Red Apocalypse in preparation for revolution. After Federal agents busted the Sons, the gypsies took over and have been there ever since, for at least a generation. This dump, this junkyard, this accretion of debris and detritus, seems a frightening image: a literal waste land, sinking Iower and Iower with accumulated sterility, and ruled by an alcoholic nightwatchman named, ironically, for British royalty. Bolingbroke became Henry IV when his ouster of Richard II was ratified by Parliament in 1399, so the nightwatchman is named for the victor in a past civil conflict. Up to this point, this is how it seems. But Little Buttercup has alerted us: things are seldom what they seem.
During the night Flange is beckoned by Nerissa, an angelic gypsy girl, to come to her. He does. After Flange is drowned in a sea of old tires and resurrected by her kindness, Nerissa leads him:
She leads him through a General Electric refrigerator door to the catacombs. They wiggle down and around, through a series of tight squeezes and through concrete sewer pipes until they come to Nerissas room:
The apparent waste land is actually teeming with life, art, music, and the technological sophistication to sustain itself. By day the gypsies remain out of sight, but by night they forage for food and supplies and manage to carry on a lively village existence. This vital culture has
thriven for decades, since the Depression, under the noses of the authorities.
Bolingbroke is not the only Shakespearean name that leads us beyond the text. Pynchons gypsy girl recalls Nerissa, handmaiden to Portia in The Merchant Of Venice, whose only memorable lines are:
The ancient saying is no heresy Hanging and wiving goes by destiny. (2.9.82-83)
So here we have Flange, disaffected and dispossessed by his wife of seven childless years, a "moleman," who meets the gypsy Nerissa, a "molewoman." This is the abridged syllogism we are to fill in, recognizing that Pynchon has set us up with the story of "the hanged woman" and the evocation of Eliot so readers will get it: hanged man, hanged woman; moleman, molewoman. 7 And, since Flange is also a stoic, if he can recognize Nerissa as his counterpart, then he should yield to Providence. He does. Their respective living conditions are so similar that it seems they are destined for each other.
Flange sees Nerissa poetically, in fertile sea imagery: "Whitecaps danced across her eyes; sea creatures, he knew, would be cruising about in the submarine green of her heart." And since he has already identified himself as a man in whom "the seas tides are the same that not only wash along your veins but also billow through your fantasies," he decides to stay with her and get her with child she is so obviously fecund. The story ends on this note, and we are never quite sure if this is meant as reality or Flanges fantasy; but the whole story is so surreal it hardly matters.
"Low-lands" can be seen schematically as follows: Flange is sick of his life in his "dreary country," sick of his marriage with only "now infrequent moments of tenderness," sick of his psychiatrists "random sort of madness." By an act of Providence, Pig Bodine shows up, and that triggers Mrs. Flanges similar dissatisfaction: 'Out that door, she said, pointing, over the hill and far away. Or over the cliff, l dont care." Bodines somehowpreviouslyestablished swinishness does little else in the story but trigger this estrangement. Of course Flange, the stoic, goes to the dump, passively, not wanting to interfere with the course of events. At the dump everything is inverted: instead of Eliots active society of busy but hollow men and barren women concealing an arid and sterile wasteland, this land of waste conceals a vital society and a fertile woman who believes Flange is the Anglo husband Providence has sent her to fulfill her prophesied fate; for "wiving goes by destiny" (which could have served equally well as the storys title).
The entrance to this secret world is through a G.E. refrigerator door. G.E. is the only corporate name mentioned among mountains of cars, tires, airconditioners, beds, mattresses, etc. Why G.E.? Couldnt Pynchon have chosen a Westinghouse, Norge, Kelvinator, Whirlpool, or Coldspot? Is this the one thing, The One Thing, that is to trigger frantic mental operations in the mind of the readerdetective? Do Those Who Know, know?
By loading "Entropy" with proper nouns, Pynchon forces the reader to judge which are merely ornamental, or absurd, or ironic, or playful, and which are key bits of information for understanding the story. Confronted by an array of data, the reader like Cleanth Siegel, Herbert Stencil, and Oedipa Maas has to sort out the significantunusual from the uninformativeusual. This technique marks Pynchons mature style in the remaining stories and in all his novels. Readerdetectives should cryptanalyze "Entropy" by gathering as much information as they can about each of the names to judge just how each is being used.
Downstairs, in an apartment building in Washington, D.C. (the political capital of the West), at Meatball Mulligans leasebreaking party, the guests include Sandor Rojas, Duke de Angelis, Vincent, Krinkles Porcino, Paco, Saul, Slab, three nameless coeds, some unidentified sailors, and others. 8 All are commonstereotypes. Duke, Vincent, Krinkles, and Paco are pothead musicians who try to think music without Instruments; the five abominable seamen are a boozing and whoring lot reminiscent of Pig Bodine; several government girls have passed out in various corners, couches, chairs, and a sink. Only Saul, who explains his difficulty with his wife, Miriam, as a problem in communication theory, seems in any way more than a fool. Upstairs, Callisto and Aubade live in a hermetically (and hermeneutically) sealed apartment greenhouse that is kept at constant temperature and humidity year round no mean feat in D.C., considered semitropical by northern European embassies.
In addition, at Meatballs party we get a series of dropped names, some recognizably real (like Heidseck: Piper Heidseck, a brand of Champagne), others apparently imaginary (like Tambú, a supposed record label). We get an album titled Songs of Outer Space, and The Heroes Gate at Kiev. We get the State Department and the NSA, Armenia, Andalucía, the Midi, Old Heidelberg, Georgetown, and Wisconsin Avenue. In the storys third paragraph alone, Pynchon works in Lincolns Birthday and the Chinese New Year, Sarah Vaughan, Würtzburger, "Lili Marlene," and "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi." So
it goes: Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer, George Washington, Chianti, Don Giovannism, Arpège, the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Sal Mineo, Ricky Nelson, MUFFET, Scientific American, IBM, Europe, Gerry Mulligan, "Ill Remember April," "Love For Sale," Earl Bostic, Chet Baker, Mingus, John Lewis, Kiwanis Club, Rotarian, "Lets All Go Down and Piss on the Forrestal," Mura, Bennington, "These Foolish Things," Minghe Morte, etc. This is the stuff of the party downstairs. Upstairs too, in Callistos hothouse, we get a similar list of items: Rousseau, French, Annamese, Henry Adams, Power, Thermodynamics, Limbo, Princeton, Gibbs, Clausius, Boltzman, Italian, Machiavelli, Madison Avenue, Wall Street, Sade, Temple Drake, Paris, Sanctuary, Nightwood, Stravinskys LHistoire du Soldat, Switzerland, the grippe espagnole, Passchendaele, the Marne, Vernon Castle, Celeste, Spanish wine, etc. This is the stuff of the events upstairs. Nearly ten percent of the words in the story are proper nouns.
In the second sentence of "Entropy," Pynchon drops the first of many key names, Sandor Rojas, later described as "an exHungarian freedom fighter who had easily the worst chronic case of what certain critics of the middle class have called Don Giovannism in the District of Columbia." Are we expected to accept this Hungarian Spaniard without question? If we do question, we find twoauthors named Rojas of considerable importance in Spanish letters. First, Fernando de Rojas (1471-1541), author of La Celestina, a graphic account of human passion in classical Renaissance Spanish, considered a masterpiece of the national literature equal in stature to Don Quixote. The second, Francisco de Rojas Zorilla (1607-1648), a dramatist credited with creating the comedia de gracioso, or comedy of fools, enlarging the role of the buffoon to include a variety of familiar fools taken from real life. His particular contribution seems to have been the comedia de figueron, wherein an eccentric is the central character (Siegel or Irving Loon in "Mortality and Mercy"?). The allusive name Rojas, then, teils us how Pynchon will structure his tale. Much as in Lot 49, where the painter Varo leads us to the writer Varro, whose favorite literary form was the Menippean satire, here a Hungarian Don Juan leads us to two Spanish writers, one concerned with buffoonery, the other with the wages of passion. Predictably, "Entropy" oscillates between these levels of human experience as the scene shifts between two apartments in upstairs/downstairs configuration: downstairs, a comedy of fools; upstairs, the passionate realization of the tragic sense of life.
The name Sandor Rojas seems to convey more information than, say, Meatball Mulligan does. In one dense section toward the end of the story, Pynchon loads Callistos reverie with Spanish imagery. He
offers couples dancing the tango, a reference to the grippe espagnole, remembrances of the "sweet Spanish wine" Callistos mistress used to drink, and her name, "Celeste," which last reminds us of Rojass La Celestina. It is as if Pynchon drops the name Rojas at the beginning to alert us, and Celeste at the end to confirm, "Yes, thats the one l mean." Once we connect Sandor Rojas to La Celestina, we discover that its subtitle is La Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, and that the 1909 American facsimile edition is dedicated to J. Pierpont Morgan in appreciation of the loan of his 1499 first edition. 9
Fernando de Rojas, besides being the first "novelist," was a Spanish Jew converted to Christianity who studied law at Salamanca and became a minor politician (Mayor of Talavera for a time), and whose family ran afoul of the politics of its era, the Inquisition. His father was condemned by the Inquisition in 1488; his fatherinlaws parents cadavers would later be exhumed and burnt on some pretext. By the time Rojas wrote La Celestina (1498-1499), he would be very careful to bury any improprieties or minor heresies deep in his text. But they are there. (Rojas took the precaution of publishing La Celestina anonymously.) The Speakers in Rojass dialogue seem deeply aware of their own motives, but the reader remains uncertain of the authors. In this regard, Rojas is similar to Pynchon. A member of a minority group that constantly had to prove and reprove its loyalty to the regime, even if it meant disloyalty to friends and family, Rojas wrote in a politically dangerous time, but his work contains distinctly satiric elements. The parallels between the Spanish Inquisition, Nazism in Europe, and McCarthyism in the United States seem all too clear. Pynchon will evoke them all, and his earliest writings were published when the McCarthy spasm had barely ceased. Perhaps these parallels are what Pynchon is alluding to when he suggests that Yankees and Jews have more in common than one first supposes.
Much has been made of Pynchons use of entropy as a metaphor for the eventual winding down of our civilization. It is apt, and in his hands quite powerful. Since the critical literature is filled with standard expositions, l will forego another discussion of that material, except to reiterate that entropy translates into German as verwandlungsinhalt, and back into literal English as "halting of metamorphosis." But in "Entropy" it is less the metaphor Pynchon uses than the form he chooses that is so powerful. The form, the literary approximation of the musical fugue, is characterized by an alternation of exposition and episode. The action alternates contrapuntally between the comedy of fools and a serious intellectual activity. At times the fools act out the ideas articulated by Callisto, and vice versa.
Callisto, like Henry Adams, dictates his thoughts as soliloquy to Aubade, "bent over the sheets of foolscap" (yet another reminder of the comedia de gracioso going on downstairs). His soliloquy is interrupted and commented on by episodes of the party below. For example:
Downstairs, the Duke di Angelis quartet are engaged in a "historic moment," playing music without Instruments, carrying to its logical extreme Gerry Mulligans notion of playing songs without a piano:
Of course there is no sound. The transfer of musical ideas has ceased. The various members of the group even think different songs, the sax player thinking "Ill Remember April," while the rest of the quartet appropriately thinks "These Foolish Things." They finally agree to a tune, but this time they think in different keys. Shades of The Hoffnung Interplanetary Music Festival. The comedy of fools has demonstrated Callistos point perfectly.
The story has the contrapuntal fugue structure, the statement of exposition followed by an episode acting it out. But it is not the eventual heatdeath of our culture that this "historic moment" augurs; it is the misapplication of a concept. Callisto thinks he lives in a world where reason, thought, and civilization prevail. He has created an "enclave," or a "portion of territory entirely surrounded by foreign dominions" (O.E.D.); and he has a regal name, similar to that of three Popes. Callisto believes he is the sovereign in his hothouse, an enclave paralleling Bolingbrokes dump, where things may be inverted.
Callistos girlfriend, Aubade (or "dawnsong"), is a creature of flesh and blood who experiences life directly, concretely as music. She is the antithesis of all that is Callisto. If he is reason, thought, and civilization, she is faith, life, and culture. (In "Entropy," Aubade is to
Callisto as, in Gravitys Rainbow, Roger Mexico is to Ned Pointsman.) Pynchon hints at the rules governing her reality with "Aubades neck made a golden bow as she bent over," evoking Sir James George Frazers The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. We are told that Callisto "and the girl could no longer, of course, be omitted from that sanctuary; they had become necessary to its unity. What they needed from outside was delivered. They did not go out." Frazer explains what is going on here in his section on "Taboos on Quitting the House," one of the many magical protections for primitive kings. To preserve the soul on which the entire people depend, the king "may not quit his palace under pain of death."
But how does this come to be, on the narrative level, in "Entropy"? Pynchon expects us to have suspended in enthymematic consciousness, or to look up, the plot of Stravinskys L'Histoire du Soldat, based on a Russian tale by Afamasiev. The plot runs as follows: The devil waylays a soldier making his way home on leave and swaps a "valuable book" for the soldiers old violin. Since the devil cannot play the violin and the soldier cannot understand the book, they agree to teach each other at the devils house, where the devil makes three years seem like three days. When he finally arrives at his village, the soldier, presumed dead even by his mother and his fiancée (now married with children), is taken for a ghost. The valuable book can tell the future, and it brings the soldier untold wealth, but no happiness. He later gambles with the devil and deliberately loses all his money, whereupon the devil collapses and the soldier repossesses his fiddle. With it he is able to cure a princess of an illness that has stymied the medical profession; he does so by creating three dances a tango, a waltz, and a rag. When she recovers, they marry and are safe from the devil as long as they remain where they are. But in the end the temptation to visit his home becomes too great for the soldier, and the devil is victorious.
Callisto is a soldier, remembering some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. The "valuable book" is the theory of thermodynamics, which predicts the future "heatdeath," though it is still unclear to Callisto. The soldiers fiancée is Celeste, whom Callisto has lost. Aubade is both unwell princess and fiddle: "Even in the brief periods when Callisto made love to her, soaring above the bowing of taut nerves in haphazard doublestops would be the one singing string of her determination." Onto this we superimpose the other layers of the story, and we understand how Callisto and Aubade come to be in their situation.
Frazer also clarifies the meaning of Callistos sick bird. In primitive religions the soul is often conceived as external to the body, often as
a bird ready to take flight. In many folk tales, when a mans external soul or the animal in which his soul resides dies, the man dies. The death of Callistos bird signals Callistos end as well. It is not surprising, then, that the Annamese Aubade operating out of a primitive context much like Irving Loons should prepare for Callistos inevitable death by breaking the window.
Magic governs Callistos realm. As the bird weakens, so does he: "he called weakly . . . raised his head slowly." His thoughts turn to death: "Sade, of course. And Temple Drake. . . . Passchendaele . . . the Marne," and the postwar "Spanish" Influenza pandemic that killed tens of millions. And when the bird dies, Callisto apparently prepares to die. Only in this framework does Aubades windowbreaking seem climactic.
Reason has betrayed Callisto. He has misunderstood the forces governing his life. Not thermodynamics, but primitive magic; not the named Gibbs, Clausius, Boltzman, and Stravinsky, but the unnamed Afamasiev and Frazer are the efficacious forces of this story. Callistos dedication to a poorly understood abstract principle (thermodynamics) results in his unpleasant end (though Pynchon disparages such a moral in his Ford Foundation proposal).
But the most powerful and resonant name in "Entropy" is the unspoken Unamuno:
The phrase "sense of life," coming as it does after the birds death and after Callistos reverie loaded with Spanish imagery, evokes the writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (18641936) considered by many Spains most important literary figure, the embodiment of the Spanish character whose most famous work is Del Sentimiento Tragico de la Vida en los Hombres y en los Pueblos (The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations). By alluding to the tragic "sense of life," "Entropy" evokes another Spanish writer and political victim, another exile, another victim of yet another civil war.
Unamunos criticism of the monarchy, and especially of the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera, caused his removal from the University of Salamanca in 1920, and his exile from Spain from 1924 to 1930. But with the establishment of the Republic in 1931, he was reinstated as rector. The second republic was dominated at first by middleclass liberals and moderate socialists, including Unamuno. They separated
church and state, began a land reform program, and declared themselves antiwar and antimilitary. The landed aristocracy, the church, and the military combined with the monarchists and the new fascist party, la Falange (the Phalanx), to oppose the left. 10 There were many political plots and counterplots before actual civil war began in 1936. The war took an appalling toll of life. The Soviet Union supported the Republicans. Great Britain and France proposed a nonintervention pact. Italy and Germany sided with Franco, sending numerous planes and tanks, and perhaps as many as 50,000 troops. The fighting has been described as a German rehearsal for the Blitzkrieg, aerial bombardment of civilian towns (see Picassos Guernica), and other tactics to be used in the Second World War.
From Spanish imagery and "sense of life" to Tragic Sense of Life, to Unamuno, to the Spanish Civil War, to the German role in that war: again, this is how "Entropy" works, how Pynchon works. He uses the name Rojas, which leads us to the comedy of fools and La Celestina. He loads up on Spanish imagery and references. He names a central figure Callisto, who mourns the loss of his Celeste by recalling "the sweet Spanish wine she always drank." If Celeste were French, we might expect one of the famous chateaux, and an apache dance. But Pynchon is weighting this story with Spanish references as he will weight Lot 49 with German ones. And we readerdetectives have to decode it for ourselves, determine which bits of data, which proper nouns, which allusions, which subtexts are central.
If Callistos end parallels the death of Afamasievs soldier, it also bears an eerie resemblance to Unamunos end. At the time of his death, Unamuno was under "house arrest" by the Falange, his military guard ordered to shoot him if he tried to quit his house. He too was working on a book in the form of a soliloquy, to be titled De Mis Santas Campañas (My Holy Campaigns), which suggests that he viewed himself as a soldier. According to Margaret T. Rudds The Lone Heretic: A Biography of Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1963), the maid admitted one Bartolomé Aragon for an audience on December 31, 1936. It was a bitter cold day, and Unamuno received Aragon in a room overlooking the garden. The seventytwo year old professor was warming his feet with an electric heater, as Callisto warmed his hothouse. Unamuno explained his view of the Spanish War as no longer a civil war, but an attempt to destroy western culture, much as Callisto viewed entropy as the winding down of his culture. Then, according to Aragon, Unamuno suddenly died. Rumors began that Don Miguel had been poisoned by the Falange. It seems a curious coincidence that the only witness to Unamunos death was a political Opponent, an admirer of Mussolini, whom Unamuno called a "cheap
assassin." There was no autopsy, and to this day many believe the Falange did assassinate Unamuno.
Given his fear of naming names, of having his tongue torn out for speaking the wrong words, Pynchon nudges us, by the technique of pointing and hinting without naming, toward Unamuno and his ambiguous death. That is not to say "Entropy" is about Unamuno. It is not. It evokes his death as background material, the enthymematic referent, the suppressed premise in a syllogism the reader has to fill in, like the root chords the musicians are supposed to think, the melody they are supposed to sing inside their heads, or the punchline the audience is expected to anticipate without the comics stating it. For a reader unfamiliar with Unamunos work or death, the story is a curious riddle. If anything, the story is an investigation of Unamunos philosophy expressed in modern metaphor, communication theory, thermodynamics, and music lots of music.
Unamunos thought has been characterized as exemplifying the conflict between faith and reason, life and thought, culture and civilization. According to José A. Franquiz:
In "Entropy," then, various hints and clues in protean forms lead us beyond the text itself. Pynchons construct operates on many levels simultaneously: a comedy of fools, a work of high seriousness, the implied Spanish Inquisition, implied Spanish political and literary history, the implied Spanish Civil War, Unamunos captivity, Unamunos
philosophy, a Russian folk tale, studies of anthropology and magic, jokes, playfulness; and underlying all this, the death of Unamuno a writer run afoul of politics. "Entropy" seems the tightest, densest, richest, most highly structured of the five Pynchon stories discussed here. It could command three times its length in explication to do it justice. It provides a good test of my opening hypothesis, and a good overview of Pynchons characteristic themes and devices as his style develops. But like Mozart, whose musical personality was formed when he was quite young, Pynchon has been a quite welldeveloped writer from the Start.
Of all his stories, "The Secret Integration," written after V., exemplifies Pynchons most mature style. It does not, as the other stories do, obey the "rules" of short fiction: unity of person, place, time, and action. It sprawls over a year or so, with flashbacks; a story within the story introduces new characters; and it moves from place to place. It is also longer and more discursive than the others. Taken purely on Pynchons own terms (as articulated in his Ford Foundation proposal) as a narrative in which each detail sustains a central metaphor, it may be the most successful. It is more accessible, the characters more human, their behavior more clearly motivated, and the political references not so thoroughly camouflaged.
The story is easy to follow: A group of rebellious kids, led by "the Inner Junta" (yet another secret revolutionary group), plan to undermine the adult world by sending an "infiltrator" with a smoke bomb into a PTA meeting, simultaneously exploding a barrage of sodium grenades in the schools toilets, and mucking up the water supply of the local paper mill. Just as they are about to execute their scheme, one of the group is called on an Alcoholics Anonymous mission of mercy, and goes to help a stranded musician, disrupting the scheduled insurrection. Unamuno would have liked the kids for dropping everything to help another, single person. The kids are so taken with the plight of the black musician they try to help that, when a childless black couple (the Barringtons) moves to town, they invent an imaginary son, named Carl for the musician, and admit him to the Inner Junta. When the black family is harassed by having garbage dumped on their lawn from the kids own households, the kids come to realize the meanspiritedness of their own parents. They learn the meaning of the word "racism," and, as far as that goes, lose their innocence. To oversimplify, "The Secret Integration" is Pynchons Iossofinnocence story.
Grover Snodd ("a boy genius. Within limits, anyway") has been transferred by "them" from his school to a "college patterned on Williams." Williams is distinguished among our nations colleges by having the first "Institute of Politics," and Grover and Mr. Snodd "used to discuss foreign policy . . . until one night theyd had a serious division of views over Berlin." Just as Pynchon directs us beyond the text in the second sentence of "Entropy" with the name Rojas, he alerts us to recent political history in the second paragraph of "Integration." And he seems less fearful, more secure (at least artistically speaking), in how he goes about it.
Grover believes he is the object of a plot by which "they" (his parents? his school? some nefarious force not to be named?) mean to instruct him in the interracial behavior proper to a boy genius:
Here Grover is the detective trying to make sense of the data, to separate routine from highly charged messages, and he is a little paranoid about it. Does popular culture determine social attitudes, like racism? And again Pynchon alerts us to the relation between things inside texts (Rad) and things outside (Carl): "'Maybe thats how . . . they want you to be with Carl.'" And if the reader stands to this story as Grover Stands to his Tom Swift stories, then we should be alert, not to Spanish history this time, but to our contemporary political history something to do with Berlin.
A discussion of historical method, another of Pynchons pet concerns, soon follows. Grover has a short wave radio which he often leaves on all night. Tim and the others often fall asleep while it is playing, and when they awake, they cannot sort out bits of radio broadcast from their own dreams. To complicate matters, each of them remembers different bits of broadcast. They cannot agree on what has happened, much as a conference of historians often cannot agree on "facts." It is Stencils problem in V. It is our problem confronting the text.
The rest of the insurgent kids Étienne Cherdlu, Arnold and Kermit Mostly, Kim Dufay, Hogan Slothrop, Nunzi Passarella, and their patron saint, Crazy Sue Dunham sound like the cast of characters in the Comedy of Pools at Meatball Mulligans party, except that Pynchon is so obviously sympathetic to the basic humanism and idealism of youth. The adults in the story are the fools. Of course the kids are not all that innocent. Grover has bugged his parents room, suggesting another of Pynchons concerns surveillance. Hogan Slothrop (Tyrones brother? nephew?) is a nineyearold exalcoholic, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Kim Dufay (sounds like Morgan le Fay) has a boyfriend named Gaylord (also suggesting the Arthurian legends), a high school sophomore who "just liked them young," who steals sodium from the chemistry lab for her. Étienne Cherdlu steals lanterns from the railroad and will befoul the water supply of the local paper mill. Nunzi Passarella once brought a quarterton Poland China sow to ShowandTell. Together they are planning "Operation Spartacus," or the uprising of the slaves.
"Operation Spartacus" leads us beyond the story to the Howard Fast novel Spartacus (1951), the basis of the Kirk Douglas movie the kids have taken as their model. (In Pynchons fiction, art has the power to alter life.) Fast is best known for historical works dealing with freedom and social justice. He was also a member of the Communist Party who served a prison term rather than cooperate with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the McCarthy period. So Spartacus leads to H.U.A.C., and to Howard Fast, another writer run afoul of politics. Later in the story Tim Santora wants to go swimming in the pool at "Lovelaces estate," and we are reminded of Richard Lovelace (1618-1657), the Cavalier poet. An ardent royalist during the political turbulence of his day, he served with the French army in the English Civil War. After the war his properties, or "estates," were appropriated by the government, and he was imprisoned. He is best remembered for the lyrics "To Althea, from Prison" and "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars." Another writer victimized by political forces. Lets see: Rojas, Unamuno, Fast, Lovelace (Nabokov and Fariña). The list of politicized writers is getting longer, becoming a motif, along with civil war.
By evoking these particular writers (and the composer Bartók, the painter Klee) and not others equally talented (say, Louis Ferdinand Celine, a noted author and Nazi collaborator, or William F. Buckley, who has written a spy novel or two), Pynchon implies that he identifies with their lot, the political victims, the humanists seeking freedom and social justice. He suspects Unamuno was assassinated by the Falange.
In Vineland he will develop a Fariñalike character, Weed Atman, who is killed by "them." Yet it is his destiny to write as he does. He views himself as a stoic, whose role is to observe but not intervene in events. He is fearful, like Saul in "Entropy," who reminds us that tongues can be torn out for saying the wrong words. His avoidance of naming names goes all the way back to 1960, six years before the death of Fariña, to whom Gravitys Rainbow is dedicated.
Though he is afraid to say the wrong words, "Carl [Pynchon] would let them [us] know about [matters] when he was ready, through hints, funny stories, apparently casual changes of subject." Pynchon practically says he is writing in code; and in describing King Yrjös estate, the basement of which the kids use as their secret meeting place, Pynchon writes:
So now we have clues to reconsider: Grover has fought with his father over Berlin; he is a little paranoid; there is something to do with "the Old Estates"; but Pynchon is fearful lest he wind up in prison like Howard Fast or Richard Lovelace, so he must write in code if we stand to the text as the kids stand to the information about the cataclysm about these things, about "the ultimate Plot Which Has No Name," "The Big One, the centurys master cabal."
One clue is Pynchons preoccupation with "the Old Estates" that surround the town of Mingeborough. They are contrasted with the new tract housing:
This seems innocent enough, except that we know certain words become supercharged in Pynchons method, and sometimes one word, One Word . . . The word "estate" has many meanings, among them: "an order or class regarded as part of the body politic, and as such participating in the government either directly or through its representatives" (O.E.D.). Thus Pynchon alerts us to modern political history, and to "the Old Estates," a class participating in government, "higher and hidden but always there."
Pynchon also plays with the word "house." Tim "used to think of the [Snodd] house as a person . . . it would be cruel to stop believing in it." It is common parlance to speak of banks and brokerages as "houses"; hence, the House of Morgan, or the House of Pynchon. Edwin P. Hoyts The House of Morgan (1966) reminds us that William Pynchon was the colonel of the Springfield militia in 1636, and that Miles Morgan was a sergeant. And Pynchon just happens to mention the town of Springfield soon after the personification of Grovers house. So concepts like "the Old Estates" and "house as a person" (a house, Pynchon adds, that had "a pleasant old face, Windows for eyes and nose, a face that always seemed to be smiling. ... a towering, benevolent face") evoke, without ever naming it, the old J. P. Morgan dynasty much as Pynchon evokes La Celestina, the facsimile edition of which just happens to be dedicated to J. P. Morgan himself.
As the kids set out toward King Yrjös estate, Pynchon mentions Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, robber barons of the Gilded Age. They are remembered for their attempted takeover of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad in 1869. Their grab was thwarted by a young man equal to them in cunning and resolve, the thirtytwoyearold J. P. Morgan. By mentioning the vanquished Gould and Fisk, Pynchon enthymematically summons their victor, young J. P. Morgan. Pynchon also mentions James G. Blaine, a politician of the period, Secretary of State under President Garfield (who was assassinated in 1881), and a presidential candidate in 1884. Morgan, a traditional Republican, startled many by backing the Democrat in that election, Grover Cleveland. So by mentioning James G. Blaine, Pynchon evokes the election of 1884 (which may also explain why he chose "Grover" for the name of his boy genius), and evokes J. P. Morgan, though again without ever naming him.
And though never naming him either, Pynchon evokes an actual European King. "There were also supposed to have been three (some said four) wives, one official and the others morganatic" (my emphasis) of the exiled King Yrjö. Is this the one word, The One Word, that carries the key to this story? A morganatic marriage is one in which a man of exalted rank marries beneath him and his wife signs away any
claims to his wealth or station for herself or any off spring. "Morganatic" is also a word that carries within it the name of the dynastic house with which the Pynchons have been allied for over three hundred years. This may be as close as Pynchon can come to naming J. P. Morgan: Him whom one must ot name, Morgan of the mysteries.
Pynchons King Yrjö resembles King Carol II of Rumania. According to the New Columbia Encyclopedia:
More to the point, in 1921, as Hoyt tells us, when many European nations needed capital to get their economies moving in the aftermath of the First World War, the House of Morgan financed the Rumanian government through Morgan Harjes of Paris. The 1920s in Rumanian industrial history were characterized by "regulated exploitation of Rumanias vast natural resources, primarily crude oil, by AngloAmerican and French interests" (Stephen A. FischerGalati, Twentieth Century Rumania ). The prize in Rumania was the Ploesti oil fields, and we should remember that, during the 1920s, the French Rothschilds "were, for a number of years, a principal competitor of the Rockefeller trust" (Frederic Morton, The Rothschilds: A Family Portrait ). So here we are again: competing dynasties. King Yrjö leads us to King Carol II of Rumania, leads to the Ploesti oil fields, leads to the competition between the MorganRothschilds and the Rockefellers.
Such have been Pynchons concerns since he wrote his first short stories. Why else have a character named David Lupescu with an "original Klee" on his bedroom wall, suggesting wealth? Klee, we should remember, had his work judged "degenerate" by the Nazis, and was forced to resign from the Düsseldorf Academy. Hitler said of modern art: "All the artistic and cultural blather of Cubists, Futurists,
Dadaists, and the like is neither sound in racial terms nor tolerable in national terms." "Mortality and Mercy" also mentions "Bartóks Concerto for Orchestra," written after Bartók had fled the Nazis and come to New York. Pynchon could have described the painting on Lupescus wall as "a modern abstract work," or the music at the party as "a dissonant twentiethcentury composition," and left it at that. No. Naming the artists evokes their lives and circumstances as well as their works, implies their conflicts: a painter and a composer run afoul of the Nazis.
King Yrjös name resolves ("Yr," shorthand notation for "your," and "jö" [with "ö" pronounced as the French "u," as in "menu"], "ju" or "Jew") into King "YourJew." King Yourjew leads to Magda Lupescu, through King Carol II, whose Jew she was. King Yrjös name compacts into two syllables the whole of twentiethcentury Rumanian politics, finance, industrial development, and civil war; summons Carol and Magdas love affair; brings "Mortality and Mercy in Vienna" into focus with "The Secret Integration"; and summons J. P. Morgan, King Carols financier.
Carol and Magda were as much written about in their time as the Duke of Windsor and Mrs. Simpson. Their stormy affair was much complicated by Magdas Jewish origins, which gave ammunition to Carols opponents in that antiSemitic era. David Lupescu, we are told, is the doppelgänger of Cleanth Siegel, the offspring of a JewishCatholic union. Not that we are to assume that Pynchons David Lupescu is the literal descendent of Carol and Magda. Pynchons use of the name Lupescu carries all these Rumanian resonances with it, as the name Dennis Flange summons the Spanish Civil War, as the name Callisto summons Rojas and his difficulties during the Spanish Inquisition. This is how Pynchon uses names, and this is why each name must be tracked down, even the familiar Klee and Bartók.
Pynchon will hint throughout Gravitys Rainbow at the Nazis relation to IG Farben and IG Farbens to Standard Oil, hence the Rockefellers. In 1929, IG Farben sold the international rights to its hydrogenation process to Standard Oil for two percent of the Company. This made IG Farben the largest single stockholder in Standard Oil after the Rockefeller family. As early as 1932, Hitler understood the war potential of the hydrogenation of coal into oil and promised preferential treatment for IG Farben, Germanys largest Corporation. The IG supported Hitler in the election of 1933 to the tune of 400,000 marks (Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben ). Just as Pynchon must have known the story of the fall of Fox Films, and how his familys brokerage house, Pynchon & Co., fell as well, he obviously knew of Standard Oils connection to IG Farben, and how
the IG helped bankroll the Nazis, who in turn helped the Falange in Spain and the Iron Guard in Rumania. He identifies with Rojas, Unamuno, Richard Lovelace, Klee, Bartók, King Carol, Magda Lupescu, and Howard Fast; that is why they people his work. And it has all been there, in the text, from the very beginning.
Many grace notes in "Integration" suggest Pynchon knew his familys history in some painful detail. Grover reads about Tom Swift and his Wizard Camera, his Aerial Warships, his Electric Rifles, and those books haunt him. We recall that Pynchon & Co. experimented with the development of a "diesel electric boat" and a "glider boat," attempting to stave off bankruptcy. After the Fox Films debacle and Pynchon & Co.s descent into receivership, senior partner George M. Pynchons estate was sold and the estates furniture put on the public auction block. The kids in "Integration" want to raise money for Operation Spartacus by selling antiques to a dealer, antiques they appropriate from the old estates: "We can get furniture, from the Velour estate, from the Rosenzweig place." These touches suggest Pynchon knew the family history all too well.
There is also considerable play on old vs. new. Mingeborough is the oldtown, "Northumberland Estates" the newtown. The old Gilded Age estates compare favorably with the newtown "estates." While King Yrjös estate has an "ancient coal furnace," the new houses have oilburners. The name of the town itself, "Mingeborough," suggests "Mingberg," or "city of the Ming [dynasty]" city of the old dynasty, the "Old Estates." Incidentally, the Percy clan of Northumberland were perfidious defectors during the War of the Roses. It is as if Pynchon is schematizing olddynasty/newdynasty, Mingeborough/ Northumberland, coal/oil, Humanist/Fascist, friendlyhouse/sterilehouse. Tim thinks of the older houses as individuals:
Flange perceives a similar landscape in "Lowlands," the "dreary country" surrounding the dump, and wonders how "people managed to get along in ranchstyle or splitlevel houses without running amok once a year or so." Using architecture as a metaphor for qualityoflife, Pynchon seems to say the old dynasty was better.
The theme of paganism and ritual magic also runs throughout these stories. We have seen Irving Loons Windigo psychosis enter the pseudosophisticated world of David Lupescus party, and Aubades belief in totems and taboos supplant Callistos belief in science and rationalism. "Integration" suggests the "otherworldly presence" of the supernatural at King Yrjös estate, which is haunted by a fierce cavalry officer "seven feet tall with a full beard, spurred boots, gold epaulets and a shotgun he always carried with him and would not hesitate to use on anybody, especially a kid, caught trespassing." To get to King Yrjös house, the kids have to walk through the haunted wood, "which, it seemed, was deprived of its just measure of light because part of it belonged to the past," and cross "a system of waterways and islands" on a boat "[h]idden in the reeds." "[T]here was a feeling of ceremony . . . about going into the house." Passage through the Big House itself is fraught with dangers, real and imagined: "a flint-glass chandelier . . . they knew what would happen if you walked under," "blind places you could be jumped out at from," "floor that might suddenly open down ward into dungeons," and mirrors, "dark and faded, as if some part [of the kids reflections] were being kept as the price of admission" to the "houses most secret core," a room in the basement where the kids kept their secret ceremonial objects, "and the list of public enemies, which no one but Grover had access to."
By evoking such ceremonies of antiquity passing the guard, traveling over water, negotiating a route rife with obstacles, entering a secret subterranean room Pynchon evokes pagan ritual and magic, this time the "Ritual of Osiris" as described by Frazer in The Golden Bough: Osiris, "him whom one may not name, Osiris of the mysteries." The myth of Osiris is one of death and resurrection, and Étienne will say later, "Were trying to resurrect a friend." It is as if Pynchon is trying to resurrect J. P. Morgan.
The contrast between this use of myth and that in "The Small Rain" demonstrates how much mastery of his method Pynchon achieved in the intervening five years. In the earlier story, Hebrew and Christian references are layered onto a substratum of pagan material. The rites of Osiris come into play but are much less focussed and are mixed with Aztec and Minoan mythology. When we first meet "Lardass" Levine, he is reading a paperback titled Swamp Wench. After his brother, Set, murders Osiris, the goddess of wisdom advises his wife/sister, Isis, to hide in the papyrus swamp reeds of the Nile to deliver her son, Horus. Much "ploughing and sowing" is associated with the rituals of Osiris, and Levine is repeatedly referred to as a "plowboy." Set tears Osiriss body into fourteen pieces and scatters them. Isis sails up and down the marshes looking for the pieces,
particularly the phallus eaten by the crab Oxyrhyncid. Finally, with the help of the sungod, Ra, she pieces them together and, with magic spells and nostrums, revives Osiris and promptly has union with him. Osiris thenceforth reigns as king over the dead in the other world, and Horus later avenges Osiriss murder by emasculating Set. In Pynchons hands, "The Small Rain" becomes "the small reign." Levine becomes king over the dead for a while. His reign is short, like that of the human representative of Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec "god of gods," who lived like a king for one year and then was sacrificed and replaced by a successor (the time at least similar to a hitch in the army). Frazer characterizes Tezcatlipoca as "puffing on a cigar, and smelling at a nosegay. The people whom he met threw themselves on the earth before him, and prayed to him with sighs and tears." Little Buttercup offers herself from the mattress, whimpering, to the cigarpuffing Levine. Pynchon calls little Buttercup "a never totally violated Pasiphae." Pasiphae was King Minoss wife, mother of the Minotaur, on whose account the annual sacrifice of seven youths and seven maidens was required. So Levine is Nathan, and Tezcatlipoca, and Osiris, while the girl is little Buttercup, and Pasiphae, and Isis.
Frazer reports that the Egyptians believed "every man would live eternally in the other world if only his surviving friends did for his body what the gods had done for the body of Osiris." The festival of Osiris was not merely for him, but for all the dead: in Frazers words, "it may have been a night of All Souls." Nathan/Osiris couples with Buttercup/ Isis (about the time of the festival of Osiris, in a swamp) to reaffirm the creative principle and to sanctify the dead. The treatment of the rituals here may not be as neat as that in Pynchons later stories, but it was, after all, his first attempt.
Similarly, in "Lowlands," Flanges childless marriage and Nerissas apparent fertility have something to do with the Eleusinian mysteries, the worship of Demeter and Persephone. Initiations into the Eleusinian mysteries were often held at the temple at Eleusis, which had underground storage rooms. Since the worship was concerned with the triumph of fertility over barrenness, this seems central. According to Frazer, I initiation was preceded by fasting, torchlight procession, allnight vigil, use of scurrilous language, offering of ribald jests, and the like. The vigil at Bolingbrokes dump has many obvious onetoone correspondences.
More important, Pynchon is in the process of working out one of his favorite devices: the hierophany, the manifestation of the sacred in the profane, or everyday, or "waking world." The manifestation of something of a wholly different order is a device he will use at length in Lot 49. As Mircea Eliade explains in The Sacred and The Profane
(1959), "Religious man lives in two kinds of time, of which the more important, sacred time, appears under the paradoxical aspect of a circular time, reversible and recoverable, a sort of mythical present that is periodically regenerated by means of rites." This may begin to explain why it is the third year the kids in "integration" have tried to execute Operation Spartacus, why the journey to the Big House resembles the rite of Osiris, why the allnight vigil in "Lowlands" resembles the rites at Eleusis. Furthermore, according to Eliade, "The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds and at the same time the paradoxical place where those two worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible."
What is the purpose in Pynchons stories for this interface of worlds, of times? In "The Small Rain," it allows Levine, the hereditary priest, to sanctify the dead. In "Mortality and Mercy," it allows Siegel, through Irving Loon, to carry out the execution of the incontinents. In "Lowlands," it allows Flange to seek fertility over barrenness. In "Entropy," it allows Aubade to free Callistos soul. And in "Integration," it allows the kids to resurrect an old friend. That is to say, in each of the stories it allows the characters to behave inexplicably unless we take the interface of sacred and profane into account. 11
In Lot 49 Oedipa will experience a dizzying paranoia, a sense that things are never as they seem, that there is a secret, perhaps sacred, meaning behind ordinary events. She spends her energies trying to determine if there is, or is not, such meaning. The book ends as she is, perhaps, about to find out. In Lot 49 Pynchon uses the interface between sacred (secret) and profane (apparent) to raise an epistemological question: Is there another reality behind this reality? l believe he means the question to be taken politically as well. In any event, the question is the linchpin of the novel.
In the short stories Pynchon seems to play with these ideas. He hints, implies, insinuates that the sacred has more efficacy than the profane; but nowhere is it a question in the consciousness of a central character, as it is in Lot 49, written a year or two after "Integration." But if it were, what then? Is the evocation of ancient myth so serious that Pynchon may not allude to it more directly? Will the ancient priests of Osiris or of Demeter and Persephone strike him down? Why bury this material so deep within the stories?
In a way that parallels the entrance to sacred time as Eliade describes it, Pynchons short stories try to reconstruct the entrance to "political time." In Pynchons writing as opposed to his personal view
of reality, which we may never know it is as if the characters can regenerate a mythical political present by means of various rites, as if for them political time is paradoxically circular, reversible, and recoverable. The time of the "Old Estates" is viewed as golden, like prelapsarian Eden with friendly houses, benevolent and towering leadership, childlike innocence, fertile women and worth recovering.
On the other hand, reopening discussion of the Spanish Civil War or the Rumanian "assassinations and massacres" could bring trouble to a writer. As Harry Levin reminds us, Dryden was beaten by the Earl of Rochesters thugs, and Voltaire by the Chevalier de Rohans, and, when he had the nerve to protest, clapped in the Bastille; Juvenal was exiled by the Emperor Domitian, and Victor Hugo by Louis Napoleon; and Defoe was pilloried for seditious libel ("The Wages of Satire," Playboys and Killjoys ). Pynchon must always have realized the situation he was in, else why bother to bury political material deep within the stories and still evoke so many who have run afoul of politics in this and previous ages?
Pynchon is, and has been from the first, a political consciousness in the tradition of the satirists Varro, Juvenal, Dante, Dryden, Defoe, Swift, Voltaire, and Hugo. His family, friends, and significant others were often involved in notable political activity. Pynchons politics drive his aesthetic, his satire, his sense of humor, his choice of friends to some extent, even his choice of wives. Last year, David Streitfeld reported that Pynchon "became a father a couple of weeks ago" ( Book World [June 9, 1991]). Pynchon was widely rumored to have been "going with" his literary agent, Melanie Jackson, and recent reports from various sources say the two are now married and have a son. His name, according to Deborah Mitchell, is Jackson Pynchon ( New York Observer [December 30, 1991]). Melanie Jackson is a daughter of Wall Street attorney William E. Jackson, and a granddaughter of Robert Houghout Jackson, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (19411954) and chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals (19451946); 12 her mother was Nancy Dabney Roosevelt, granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt. On his mothers side, then, young Jackson Pynchon is the greatgrandson of a Supreme Court Justice, and the greatgreatgrandson of a President. Wiving goes by destiny.
Among the numerous proper nouns Pynchon mentions are many with highly charged political associations, and these political charges are, on one level, the energy that drives Pynchons fiction. If we fail to recognize them, and to weight them adequately, we risk confusing the Christmas tree with its Ornaments.
Pynchon, a political writer? Isnt that preposterous, or at least farfetched? His books are reviewed in Scientific American, after all; and to read him we are advised to keep a good textbook on the history of science handy, not to mention volumes of Shakespeare, Conrad, Rilke, Eliot, Robert Graves, and Frazer. But there are also references to Max Weber and Machiavelli sprinkled about. In nine of the thirteen support notices he wrote for other writers books from 1966 through 1987, he makes some sort of political remark (See Clifford Mead, Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Materials ). And, in 1966, when Pynchon wrote his only nonfiction piece published between 1960 and 1983, 13 his essay was overtly political. He did notwrite about style and structure in the novel. He did not write about the "hot"subjects of the day: McLuhans media, Wieners cybernetics, Chomskys linguistics, Learys psychedelia, the Beatles aesthetic. "A Journey into the Mind of Watts" is about a political Situation, the existence of a minority culture within a majority culture, and the possibility for civil disorder:
Pynchon is writing about an ancient situation, institutional racism, not a mere passing fad or fancy. Recurring riots in Miami during the 1980s, the recent racialsupremacy todo at CUNY, and, most telling, the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, triggered by the acquittal of the police officers who had been videotaped beating Rodney King, demonstrate how far we have not come in the last quartercentury. Pynchon knows this situation is not unique to Watts; his writings repeatedly evoke real places and historical times in which similar things have occurred. And, as he wrote in his second story, "It is the seed of your destruction. . . . House divided against itself? You know."
Shakespeares history plays have been interpreted as warnings to the nobility of his day that, should Elizabeth die without an heir, civil war must be avoided at all costs. The Shakespearean histories are invariably stories of previous succession conflicts and the havoc they wreaked on the entire British society. Shakespeare, playwrightas
statesman, was alerting everyone to the consequences of civil war. The war followed a generation later and victimized Richard Lovelace.
Two years before the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the ensuing conflagration in our bigcity ghettoes, Pynchon tried to warn the nation of the incendiary situation everywhere. He was even willing to work with the establishment, whose newspaper of record the New York Times is. In 1963, he had told readers to "keep cool, but care" (V.). No longer cool in 1966, he said to the national leadership, in effect: "Hey, wake up! This is a prerevolutionary situation weve got on our hands here. You better do something substantial before the lid blows off."
And there was apocalypse of a sort: the 1968 assassinations of King and Bobby Kennedy; the many ghetto insurrections; the police riot at the 68 Democratic Convention; the slaughter of the innocents in Berkeleys People's Park, and at Kent State and Jackson State; Weathermen blowing up government installations and occasionally themselves; blood poured by clerical hands into draft board files; the prison riot at Attica; kangaroo courts, and the rest. Pynchon had spoken in his idiom to the establishment, but his warning was ignored. His direst prophesies, like Shakespeares, were borne out. It is as if he still hoped in 1966 that there was a way out of the brewing violence. But with the subsequent events, given his family and friends, he identified with the opposition and chose to become an exile in his own land, before Gravitys Rainbow, before he became "Pynchon."
"Journey" reiterates many of the characteristic devices and perceptions of Pynchons fiction. Watts is an enclave within the larger city (much like the dump in "Lowlands," the hothouse in "Entropy"), where ritual magic can invert commonly expected events. Pynchon sees the refuse of the society like that used in Simon Rodias Watts Towers, an artifact made of broken glass and other bits of L.A. detritus as having the potential for rebirth of a "dream of how things should have been." He sees white culture as unreal, hyped Illusion generated by the mass media, but sees Watts as a "pocket of bitter reality." Watts is the sacred, L.A. the profane. And the sacred, as Frazer and Graves amply demonstrate, may involve violence:
Watts may truly feel about violence. In terms of strict reality, violence may be a means to getting money, for example, no more dishonest than collecting exorbitant carrying charges from a customer on relief, as white merchants here still do. Far from a sickness, violence may be an attempt to communicate, or to be who you really are.
Pynchon sees L.A., white culture, as refined away from its human, primal, violent origins. Watts, black culture, is closer to the primordial, the pagan, the magical. On these levels, black culture is more human, more subject to resonant images. At an art festival in a Watts Junior High School, Pynchon finds what to him is the most compelling image of the relation of the two cultures:
Not dada, but Voodootechnoart. Not an ironic Statement, but a hex, a charm, an invocation of the older cultural magic to supplant the new. The TV set is the frontier between the sacred and the profane, the doorway to religious time. It is also a way of hipping up the middle class, saying "Hey Whitey, its later than you think."
The black/white Situation can also be seen as an extension of the olddynasty/newdynasty tension, the competition between the MorganRothschilds and the Rockefellers. In Pynchons stories it is the disaffected and disinherited with whom he sympathizes. These characters usually have some connection with the Old, the sacred, the magical. The disinheritors are usually the hollow men allied with the New, the profane, the rational. They are usually governed by some soulless automatic principle: behaviorism, thermodynamics, profit maximization, or nonviolent conflictresolution process. The Old live in comfortable houses, the New in the wasteland of urban sprawl. The Old value culture; the New confuse it with mass civilization. The Old have room for personal idiosyncracies; the New shrink them away. The Old "are hanging in there with what must seem a terrible vitality"; the New are alienated from their human nature with atrophying individual and enervating social consequences.
The blacks in "Journey" have much in common with the Old. The Old: those who share Unamunos view of the primacy of the individual, of faithlifeculture over reasonthoughtcivilization; those who feel disenfranchised of their humanity either on philosophical grounds or as
the result of dynastic politicaleconomic competition; those who value spontaneityemotionlove over routinizationrationalitycontrol; those who feel the slurs of the bureaucracy as keenly as police atrocities. Their plight is analogous to the plight of the citizens of Watts. To be Old is to be antifascist; to be black is to live under the heel of oppression every day.
Pynchon suggests those mired in the gloom of the New civilization may be reborn into the Old culture through initiation into its mysteries. In "Lowlands," Dennis Flange begins his conversion by suffering alienation, disinheritance, and anomie. After he performs the ancient rites and enters the catacomb through the G.E. refrigerator door, the mysteries are explained to him, and it is implied that fertility will triumph over barrenness. That the House of Morgan virtually established G.E. and was dominant in its early management is notable because that, and only that, door serves as the frontier for Flange between profane time and circular, sacred time. It is as if the performance of the rites will convert the Falangistas into thoughtful, loving persons, bring an end to their lives as automata. It is as if the act of writing will invoke the necessary magical forces to resurrect the Old Dynasty; as if Pynchon expects the reader to stand to his writings (the mysteries) as Flange Stands to his experience; as if, despite Pynchons stoicism, he expects his writings to have the power to change the political consciousness and actions of the reader.
Occasionally this does happen. Cyberpunk novelist William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, told Timothy Leary that Gravitys Rainbow "stopped my life cold for three months. My university career went to pot. l just sort of laid around and read this thing" ("High Tech High Life: William Gibson and Timothy Leary in Conversation" ). Pynchon must have momentarily expected such reactions, or why would he have agreed to write for the New York Times? After all the gaming and hoodwinking and covering his tracks he has done, it is no wonder Pynchon writes with the spooky reluctance of an old Soviet dissident. All this has been in his writings since his first stories. And Those Who Know, know.
So Pynchons short works also support the hypothesis of my earlier essay which focussed on his novels. He evokes numerous political figures in his short fiction; he alludes to dynastic political competition in Spain and Rumania, and in the American election of 1884; he buries political allusions deep within the text, often writing "in a kind of code"; and he uses a welter of proper nouns, inviting us to crack his code by tracking down each one, to move from allusions in the texts to political and social referents outside them. This was his method by 1960, in "Entropy." It is hard to imagine a writer so artful,
knowledgeable, and technically advanced at twentythree. Pynchon may stand to his art less like Dante than like Mozart.
1 l am indebted to Winston for much of the material in this section.
2 For dispelling the notion that Pynchon studied with Nabokov, l am indebted to Steve Tomaske, literary sleuth, who first called the nearly complete lack of hard evidence to my attention. Pynchons apprenticeship seems to have been "established" by an offhand comment in a 1966 interview. Did Nabokov remember Pynchon from among his hundreds of students? No. But Madame Nabokov, who graded the Professors papers, remembered someone, perhaps Pynchon, who had unusual handwriting. (Pynchon is said to blockletter personal notes, as do legions of the cohort who were taught handwriting in that period.) This unverified "perhaps" became the axiom on which the legend has flourished.
4 "One, the story "Under the Rose" (Noble Savage ), reappeared, much reworked, as Chapter III of V., and two (published in 1965 and 1966) were excerpts from The Crying of Lot 49. l do not deal with "Under the Rose" here because l consider it an integral part of V. The changed point of view does not much change the thematic concerns: espionage and social control in an enlarging populace. It demonstrates Pynchons emerging mastery of the techniques he will develop during his short period. It is the most concrete example of the shift between his youthful and mature styles, as the Eroica symphony signaled the end of Beethovens youth. For a detailed study of story and chapter, see Richard F. Patteson, "How True a Text? Chapter III of V. and 'Under the Rose'" (1984), and Douglas Fowler, "Story Into Chapter: Thomas Pynchons Transformation of 'Under The Rose" (1984).
5 For Pynchon, the meaning of "incontinence" (as Shakespeare also used it) probably derives from Dantes Inferno, where the second through the fifth circles are peopled by the incontinents, those guilty of sins of lesser, but still damnable proportions: the lascivious, the gluttonous, the avaricious/prodigal, and the wrathful. If Debby Considines monologue follows Leporellos Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni, it also serves to demonstrate how Pynchons partygoers meet Dantes criteria and deserve damning.
6 Pynchon is indebted to MADs "Melvin Mole," whose similarity to Dennis Flangemakes the latter seem more a cartoon character and adds a surreal kink to the entire story. Pynchon distances the reader from any strict "naturalist" reading, building toward his finale from the first paragraph.
7 Cf. Vineland 76, where strikewoman meets strikeman.
8 Like Rachel in "Mortality and Mercy" and Pig Bodine in "Lowlands," Vincent, Krinkles Porcino, Paco, and Slabor at least their namesalso appear in other stories or in V. Krinkles Porcino, for instance, seems to have survived the shootout at Lupescus party.
9 I should explain here that my reading of "Entropy" crystallized in Richard Mackseys incomparable library the moment l held a facsimile La Celestina in my hand and opened to the dedication page. l subsequently read Peter L. Hays and Robert Redfields "Pynchons Spanish Source for 'Entropy" (1979) and their "Fugue as a Structure in Pynchons Entropy" (1977), and they are right on, as far as they go. So are Carole A. Holdsworths "Celestina Times Two and Entropy'" (1989) and David Seeds treatment of all the short stories in The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon (1988). But these critics do not go far enough. Holdsworth, for example, quotes Anne Mangel saying Pynchons "notion of symbol and metaphor rests upon Symbols which point in a thousand different directions and never lead to a solid conclusion." They do not see the importance of Pynchons enthymematic method; they are understandably confused by it. Pynchon requires us to draw conclusions by bringing our own knowledge to the act of reading, by singing the lyrics in our heads. If we do not have the requisite Information, we have to look up everything to catch on; and if we do not look deep enough, we still will not get it.
10 The main character in "Lowlands" is named Flange, and that story begins with Squarciones yelling "Hey sfacim." Does Flange somehow stand for la Falange? Does sfacim nearlyanagrammatically stand for fascism? Are all the Pynchon stories interrelated?
11 Cf. Edward Mendelsons "The Sacred, The Profane, And The Crying Of Lot 49" (1975), another important essay that nevertheless does not go far enough for me. Yes, Pynchon used Eliade, but to what purpose? l think it was a device to create a recoverable "political" time analogous to religious time.
12 Earlier in his career, Robert H. Jackson frequently brought cases against just such individuals and corporations as Pynchon holds up for ridicule in Gravitys Rainbow. William E. Jackson, on the other hand, became a partner in Milbank Tweed Hadley and McCloy, a firm whose address is 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza.
13 That is, between his technical article, "Togetherness," and his introduction to the reprint of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.
© all rights reserved, alle Rechte beim Autor, Charles Hollander
Other Essays on Thomas Pynchon by Charles HollanderPynchons Inferno Cornell Alumni News Nov. 1978: 2430.
Abrams Remembers Pynchon Pynchon Notes 36-39 (1995-1996): 179-80.
Pynchon, JFK and the CIA: Magic Eye Views of The Crying of Lot 49 Pynchon Notes 40-41 (1997): 61106.
Does McClintic Sphere in V. Stand for Thelonius Monk? Forthcoming in Notes on Contemporary Literature. From the Thelonius Monk Website.
Jokes and Puns in Gravitys Rainbow Pynchon Notes 46-49 (20002001): 204207.
Wheres Wanda? The Case of the Bag Lady and Thomas Pynchon Critique, Volume 38, No. 2 (Winter 1997): 145159.
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