Category Archives: Literature

V. Chapter Two – The Whole Sick Crew

Chapter 2 uses the setting to move the narrative over to Rachel Owlglass in a generally subtle way. This is perhaps in part to tie the novel more closely together early on given its disparate elements and the larger jumps that are to appear as the narrative progresses. The effect is compelling, small though it may be. The element that stands out to me the most in this chapter is, surprisingly, not the clues about V. or Stencil’s history. I say surprising because I recall this was what captivated my attention the first time I read the book (or, more accurately, the time I finally read the book all the way through). Certainly the chapter heads in that direction by giving Stencil a major position in the middle of the chapter and it’s introduction to the Whole Sick Crew. The mystery is undeniable. Nevertheless, Rachel’s role as den mother to the Whole Sick Crew was what really drew my attention this time through. Read more of this post

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V. Chapter One – In which Benny Profane, a schlemihl and human yo-yo, gets to an apochair

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I want to admit something at the very start: getting back into this series is going to be a little rough. I read the first two chapters of V. about three months ago. As my long absence from the site may suggest, life got in the way of blogging. Suffice to say, work was a little overwhelming. There’s an odd symbolism to the timing of my return to writing longer pieces for the blog though. I’m actually sitting in the exact same spot at my parent’s house where I did the last bit of serious writing. That was back in December and I was writing a eulogy for my Grandpa. I’ve been slowly building up steam to return to Pynchon over the last few weeks, but it’s fitting that I’m hitting the reset button now.  Read more of this post

Errant Reader: “Under the Rose” – Thomas Pynchon (1961)

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I’m breaking my usual work pattern for “Under the Rose.” First, I’m not bothering to read it through multiple times – something I’ve done for each of the stories up to this point. Frankly, “Under the Rose” is so mixed up with a chapter of V. in my memory that I probably should go through it again. I’m opting for a bit more haste this time. I’m eager to move on to the novels. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I’m not going to have the luxury to reread each novel in its entirety before I write a post. I need to get used to tackling these posts with a bit more flexibility. All of this is a preamble to a major caveat: I’m not sure I “get” “Under the Rose.” I lost the narrative a bit at the end. While I went back through the last few pages as I was reading, I’m still struggling with the story’s final scenes. Read more of this post

Errant Reader: “Entropy” – Thomas Pynchon (1960)

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I’m going to be honest with you. This post was a difficult one to write. I actually started reading “Entropy” in December. The story’s pessimistic conclusion made it a little difficult for me to linger over though. There’s also the fact that this was the story that I was least looking forward to writing about in this series. It wasn’t the one I least wanted to read. I find it to be an intriguing story. My reluctance to write revolves around a collection of causes: trouble settling in and really reading the story, difficulty finding the time to sit down and write, and – I’m just going to admit it – a lot of the story revolves around my weakest areas as a Pynchon reader/scholar. I’m rubbish at physics. Nevertheless, here goes. Read more of this post

Errant Reader: “Low-Lands” – Thomas Pynchon (1960)

“Low-Lands” is an early artifact of Pynchon’s work where you’re immediately aware of that signature sense of revelation waiting just beyond the horizon of the text. Sadly this sense ultimately gets lost amongst all the mixed signals permeating the text. Rather than hinting at greater revelations upon multiple readings, its pat conclusion destroys the sense of wonder that the earlier portion of the text builds.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say pat. There’s very little in Pynchon’s work that the word pat could be used as a description. Maybe I’m just reacting to the let down after reading the story. Coming back to “Low-Lands” made me long for the works that I’ll be getting to further down the line. There’s good reason for this reaction though. “Low-Lands” gives all the signals of early Pynchon at his esoteric best: long passages exploring the mysteries of ennui, the inexplicable nature of life, hijinks and humorous asides, our interconnected existence, psychology and the unhinged doctors who occasionally practice it, dream-like journeys through unlikely settings, and (though the list could go on) Pig Bodine.

While all the pieces are set for the game, the reader is likely to be left wondering if this is the game she or he thought it was. Sadly, this question doesn’t come up in the usual way it does with Pynchon either. Rather than realizing that you’re in three-dimensional chess, you realize that you’re playing checkers. Again, I’m being too harsh. Prior to V., and Gravity’s Rainbow, “Low-Lands” really does have a good deal going for it. Read more of this post

Errant Reader: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail – Hunter S. Thompson (1973)

As promised, I finished Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail just in time to write a post prior to the election. I should feel pretty enthusiastic about this fact. Despite what has been a daunting schedule lately I managed to stick to my plan. Instead, I feel like I’m channeling the weary tone Thompson exudes so often in this book. This works on multiple levels. I rushed to get to the end of the book because I knew that the current election was already wearing thin on my nerves. I’m fascinated with politics in much the same unhealthy manner that Thompson describes in the book. I’m prone to burnout, but I still come back to it every election cycle. It’s a constant train wreck of human endeavor and I simply can’t look away from it for very long. And the ads…Oh the ads! (Obviously it’s a good thing I don’t live in Ohio. My emotional state would be driven to exciting new lows.) On another level I feel like I’m also rushing to write this post (for good reason because I AM rushing to write this post). It all leads to the same vibe Thompson has in the midst of the campaign trail: It’s all falling apart. A good idea for a post has gone horribly wrong and yet there’s still that looming deadline.

The joy of reading Thompson though is his prose and his candor. It stands out in these sorts of moments. I find it refreshing to read Thompson with his willing to burn his bridges of political access in order to call it like he sees it. It’s also quite entertaining.

Take, for example, Thompson’s explanation of the strange desire for people to follow politics and his own problems in meeting deadlines in the frantic pace set by a national election. Early in the book Thompson compares his tendency to keep coming back to political reporting to whatever instinct causes jackrabbits to wait until the last possible minute to dart out into traffic. The lives of jackrabbits are boring, so the thrill seeking jackrabbit sees that two lane highway and the fast moving semis and thinks “yeah, I can make it” and gets the biggest adrenaline rush possible. Yet as Thompson notes:

When a jackrabbit gets addicted to road-running, it is only a matter of time before he gets smashed—and when a journalist turns into a politics junkie he will sooner or later start raving and babbling in print about things that only a person who has Been There can possibly understand.*

It’s this candor that really draws me to Thompson’s writing. It shows that following politics this closely isn’t necessarily about being informed or informing others. It’s also not inherently about the political process or the candidates. Instead, it’s really about that rush. Thompson’s continual references to football speak to this. It’s the same rush you get when you’re watching a great game. Politics just has further reaching consequences, which makes the adrenaline rush for us jackrabbits all that stronger. It’s also refreshing to hear Thompson opine against figures like Nixon or Humphrey. There’s no shortage of this sort of tone nowadays thanks to the Internet. What’s more often missing is the sheer skill with which Thompson delivers these tirades.

The other aspect of the book that deeply enjoyed was reading about George McGovern’s campaign in 1972 as Thompson covered it in the moment. I’m something of a history lover and this era has always fascinated me. In fact, one of the first historical biographies I ever read was Anthony Summers’ Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. It was an odd book for a 19-20 year old to pick up at the local library. That said, Nixon was just this odd figure to me: a national disgrace due to Watergate, a man who seemed relentlessly angry and insecure, and simply of a political time and atmosphere that came and went well before my birth. I poured through it though and found the entire thing fascinating. I can’t say whether or not Summers’ book was very good or well researched. I simply don’t remember it in any detail. It did instill in me an interest with this era of political history and with Watergate in particular but it also meant that I’ve always been more focused on the scandals surrounding the chief Republican of the era rather than the era’s politics in general.

This is where Thompson comes in: reading his dispatches, frank and often livid as they are, really allows you to transport yourself back to pre-Watergate. You forget, briefly, that 1972 was an absolute blowout election. Admittedly, having a sense of ambiguity in the air helps. Living through another election at the same time and reading the same sorts of “in the moment” dispatches from political reporters today makes it a bit easier to transport yourself back in time.

Speaking of time, I’m officially out of it for this particular post. Hopefully I leave myself more time to write next week. Besides, the last polls before the election are out…

*Thompson, Hunter S. (2012-06-26). Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (Kindle Locations 380-382). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Errant Reader: “The Small Rain” – Thomas Pynchon (1959)

This post marks the restart of an experiment I gave up on ages ago in the midst of graduate school. Back then any attempt at a regular series of posts about what I was reading was a bit of a wasted effort. It was, after all, a continuation of my “day job” and I didn’t see a lot of point in talking about books online when I could do it in real life with my fellow grad students every day. Given that I’m now a bit removed from my usual debating partners about literature, I thought it might be nice to revisit the idea. Oh, and give the series a better title (Textual Detritus…what the hell was I thinking?)

Given that I’m hitting the restart button I should point out some of the ground rules I’ve decided to use: first, I have some overarching goals, but there’s no set list of what I have to read for a given post. I want to keep this fun, spontaneous, and keeping with the “errant” title. I do want to do one post in the series every week. I guarantee that I will eventually miss this goal. So it goes.

What about those overarching goals? Well, this post is the start of goal number 1. For the last few years I’ve wanted to go back and read all of Pynchon’s work from start to finish. My dissertation work focused on his more recent novels and Gravity’s Rainbow. I read his work out of order though and I’ve been dying to go back and revisit everything in order of publication (or as near as I can manage). I’m starting out with the stories in Slow Learner (but crucially I’m not reading Pynchon’s Introduction to the book. I’ll get to that between Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland.) I’ve always been drawn to Pynchon’s work, and I can’t think of a better way to start out this particular series. As they say: Go big or go home.

Read more of this post

Pynchon and ebooks

This morning began with a link provided from Sarah T. of Girls Like Giants to this New York Times story about Thomas Pynchon’s decision to go ahead to let his books be sold as ebooks. This is usually the point where the Pynchon scholar (me – and yeah, I’m going to go ahead and say scholar. Maybe it’s the new PhD getting to me, but what the hell) rails against the electronic format and sings the virtues of paper.

Except I think this is a great idea. Read more of this post

RIP Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury died this morning at the age of 91. I had the pleasure of teaching Fahrenheit 451 last year and this passage from the end of the book came to mind when I read the news:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die”

By your own words Mr. Bradbury, I think you’re set.

Real Writers

I just came across a link for this letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to a chair of a school board in North Dakota who decided to burn copies of Vonnegut’s work because it was deemed inappropriate for children. Vonnegut’s response is powerful both in its condemnation of the school boards methods and in his defense of the freedom of ideas. It’s worth a read.