Tag Archives: thomas pynchon

Letting Go

Steve Mitchelmore finds this while making a broader point about Joyce vis a vis modernism:

Compared with Proust and Beckett, Kakfa and Eliot and Virginia Woolf, Joyce presents a strangely rigid attitude; he refuses ever to let go, to trust the work to take him where it will. Every ‘letting go’ has to be carefully fitted into its place in the overall design, even though there is no longer, by his own admission, any authority for the pattern the design itself assumes.

It is perhaps a weakness of Joyce and not just a fact about him that he is such a godsend to the academic community. For there is ultimately something cosy and safe about Ulysses: underlying it is the belief that the mere accumulation of detail and complexity is an unquestioned good. Far from being ‘the decisive English-language book of the [twentieth] century,’ as Kenner suggests, it is perhaps the last great book of the nineteenth.

These remarks strike me at an interesting time, wherein I’m re-reading Pynchon and not finding him wholly to my liking. I think there are certain similarities with Joyce. Pynchon’s way of “letting go” is always situated within a certain set of ideas he wants to get across. Some stretches of Pynchon’s work are quite brilliant, so brilliant in fact that one is encouraged to just break them out of the novel and enjoy them on their own, since, in the context of the larger work, they always end up reducing themselves back to that grand design.

This, I think, gets back to my main critique of David Foster Wallace, who also seemed unable to let his work simply be. (Perhaps there is something to these massive novels of information. I would say that, like Joyce, Wallace and Pynchon harken back to the 19th century more than people who are obsessed with reading them as postmodernists seem to think.) Infinite Jest succeeds, in my opinion, on the fact that it got away from him despite his best efforts to pin it down to certain certainties he wanted to express.

Strange Pynchon Ephemera

This is probably the biggest cache of details from Pynchon’s personal life to surface . . . well, ever. Not that there’s much competition.

Photo of Pynchon’s right hand at the link.

Phyllis Gebauer was at the event to discuss the books, her friendship with Pynchon — whom she calls “Tom” — and the collection, which she hopes will fund scholarships to the UCLA Extension Writers Program where Gebauer has taught for more than two decades.

Gebauer talked to Pynchon extensively about the gift. “When Tom lived in L.A. he did a lot of research at the UCLA research library,” she said. “He likes the idea of these books being used to fund scholarships.” The two spoke on the phone for 90 minutes Tuesday, she said. Pynchon followed up with a fax, which Gebauer read to Wednesday night’s audience.

. . .

In the early 1960s, Phyllis was a Spanish teacher in Seattle, married to Fred Gebauer, a mechanical engineer doing work at Boeing he couldn’t discuss. At a party celebrating a mutual friend’s new piano, the two met Pynchon, a technical writer working for another part of Boeing. Pynchon and Fred clowned around by reaching into the piano and plucking out the Yogi Bear theme song on its strings — “which did not delight the host,” Phyllis Gebauer said Wednesday night.

. . .

The couple had moved several times in just a few years when Fred took a job at NASA — another one he couldn’t discuss — and, after being in Houston just a week, they bumped into Pynchon after a concert. “Phyl, Fred, what are you guys doing here?” she remembers Pynchon calling to them. The coincidence was the kind of thing that might happen in one of Pynchon’s books — but in Pynchon’s world it would have been the result of a deep and complex conspiracy.

The reconnected friends spent a lot of time together. In her mini-memoir, titled “Tom and Us,” Phyllis writes that Pynchon and Fred used to shoot toy rockets off the roof of their Houston house. She recalls that more than once she’d be talking to Pynchon on the phone, hand it over to Fred when she left for one of her graduate school classes — and she’d return hours later to find Fred still sitting in their knotty-pine lined family room, still talking to Tom on the other end of line.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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