Abrams Remembers Pynchon
When l talked with John Freccero recently about parallels between Pynchon and Dante, he suggested l phone M. H. Abrams to see what he remembered about Pynchon. l did. Abrams recalled receiving a term paper from Pynchon when Pynchon was a junior at Cornell. Abrams thought it was too good to have been written by an undergraduate, and he suspected it had been plagiarized. He suggested discreetly that Pynchon make an appointment to discuss the paper (a pretext for an oral exam). Within the first few minutes of their meeting, Abrams recognized that Pynchon was the papers author. (Funny how little things stick in the mind: forty years later, Abrams recalled Pynchon as tall and slim and sporting a pencilline moustache.) That was their most memorable meeting. The ending of Pynchons paper made such a haunting impression on Abrams that he read it to his classes for years, even before Pynchon became PYNCHON. l asked him if he could find it. He said he would look and leave word on my answering machine if he did. When l came back from walking my dog, Diz, this message awaited me:
This is also the message at the end of
"fuck it, play to the end. . . . Zoyd . . . found himself listening to the
in particular Take It to the Limit, basically his whole story these
days, singing mournfully along" (373-74). Maybe submit, but for sure endure.
In his Student days, Pynchon viewed Voltaire as a
and Johnson as a stern moralist. Exactly this dichotomy runs through all
Pynchons work: the comedy of fools against the episodes of high
seriousness. The term paper suggests he may have been trying to teach
himself to write like Voltaire and like Johnson in one alternation in one work.
As a mere lad, Pynchon was working out his own philosophical stance and
inventing a way to express it. Within a year, he had developed the literary
equivalent of the musical fugue, in "Entropy," and he was off and running. He
has been using that zany/portentous formula ever since. You cant teach an
old writer new tricks.
Pynchon Notes 36-39 (1995-1996): 179-80
© all rights reserved, alle Rechte beim Autor, Charles Hollander
Other Essays on Thomas Pynchon by Charles HollanderPynchons Inferno Cornell Alumni News Nov. 1978: 2430.
Pynchons Politics: The Presence of an Absence Pynchon Notes 26-27 (1990): 559.
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.
Wheres Wanda? The Case of the Bag Lady and Thomas Pynchon Critique, Volume 38, No. 2 (Winter 1997): 145159.
Jokes and Puns in Gravitys Rainbow Pynchon Notes 46-49 (20002001): 204207.
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