Category Archives: Pynchon

Lest We Forget: The Ludlow Massacre One Century Later

One hundred years ago, on the afternoon of April 20, 1914 William Snyder and his children made the mistake of climbing out of the pit they had dug under their tent in Ludlow Colorado. Outside, the Colorado National Guard and striking coal miners were engaged in a war that had raged since morning. For much of the day the pit had been their shelter from the indiscriminate gunfire that had ripped through the tent city that striking coal miners had erected near the town. The immediate reason for the battle has been lost to history, and both sides have claimed that the other started shooting first. Whatever the cause, the fighting seemed to be letting up and the Snyders took the opportunity to escape their pit and return to the relative comfort of the tent itself. Frank Snyder, a young boy of eleven, went to sit in a chair and his sister joined him on the floor between his knees. According to his father, Frank was in the act of leaning forward to kiss or caress his sister when the bullet that killed him ripped through the family tent and struck Frank in the head (Snyder 133). In his affidavit to the Commission on Industrial Relations William reported, “I was standing near the front door of my tent and heard the impact of the bullet striking the boy’s head, and the crack of the bullet as it exploded inside of his head” (133).

Elsewhere in the tent colony a strike leader named Louis Tikas was arrested and confronted by the militia leader, Karl Linderfelt, about who was at fault for the violence. According to Scott Martelle, as the argument escalated “Linderfelt grabbed his rifle by the barrel and swung it hard at Tikas, striking him in the head and breaking the gunstock” (175). Incapacitated by this attack Tikas and two other striking miners were murdered moments later by the mob of militiamen that surrounded them (176). Tikas was killed by three shots in the back. As Tikas was murdered, the tent colony was going up in flames. How the fires started remains a matter of contention. Guard members claimed that they started thanks to sparks caused by stray bullets and fueled by explosives hidden by the miners in the camp. The strikers contended that that attacking militia purposefully set the fires. Whatever the cause, the fire was deadly. In another pit under a tent like the one the Snyders had sheltered in, hid a group of women and children: twenty-seven year old Fedlina Costa her two children, Onafrio age six, and Lucy, age four, Rodgerio Pedregone, age nine, Cloriva Pedregone age four, Frank Petrucci, age six months, Lucy Petrucci, age three, Joe Petrucci, age four, thirty-seven year old Patria Valdez and her children Rudolph, age nine, Eulala, age eight, Mary age seven, and Elvira, age three months (223). In all, two women and eleven children remained hidden as the fires spread through the tents. They suffocated to death as the fires above them ate the oxygen in their supposed safe haven. They were not found until the morning after the gun battle (2).

Collectively these atrocities have come to be known as the Ludlow Massacre. Read more of this post

Interlude – Pynchon’s Trail

I wanted to briefly comment on Boris Kachka’s piece at Vulture on Pynchon and his new novel Bleeding Edge. Kachka’s work is, on the whole, nothing new. It’s not a bad piece, but pretty much any biographic piece on Pynchon falls into the same old trap: there’s no there there. Pynchon’s left such a meager trail that the story generally falls entirely to hearsay and speculation and Kachka is inevitably caught in that snare. Despite Kachka’s premise that Pynchon has fully ceased the wandering that marked the years when he wrote V. and Gravity’s Rainbow and returned home to New York to a life of luxury and comfort, there’s a real failure to show much of anything new (besides a brief review of Bleeding Edge that I purposefully avoided) in this piece. Read more of this post

V. Chapter Six – In which Profane returns to street level

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It might have been appropriate to begin this post with a declaration about my vacation. Something like: “I’m back from vacation refocused, reenergized, and ready to jump into the writing process.” I woke up about two hours earlier than I’m used to this morning in an effort to get back into a work schedule and I’m far too bitter with the universe about consciousness to exude such frivolities. Instead, while I try to get some coffee in my system, let’s just say that my vacation was superb and I’m in mourning about my vacation’s passing. I’ll get around to writing about it once I move through the stages of grief.

So, in the meantime, it’s back to writing about Pynchon and this is a fitting chapter to return with. Just as I’m returning from a sojourn away from the troubles of the world, Benny resurfaces in New York in this chapter. Admittedly, I didn’t go on vacation in the sewers where I explored the remains of a mad priest’s chapel and shot an albino alligator / Stencil in a diving suit. We can’t have everything though.  Read more of this post

V. Chapter 3 – In which Stencil, a quick-change artist, does eight impersonations

In light of the episodic nature of this week’s chapter, I thought I’d try something a little different: Eight points for eight impersonations. Stenci’s journey into conjecture about Porpentine hinges upon perspective so let’s look at where the quick changes take us. Read more of this post

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

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

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