Pynchon’s Inherent Vice

Thomaspynchon090810_250Sam Anderson in New York Magazine:

This is probably going to make me sound, yet again, like a Neanderthal shouting from the back of the classroom, and might even destroy my career and end a few friendships and scandalize my children and cast shame upon my ancestors—but I have something to confess. After years of deceiving myself and others (felonious head nods in grad seminars, forced cocktail-party chuckles), I have decided it’s time to stop living a literary-critical lie. There is no easy way to say this, so here it is. I hate Thomas Pynchon.

I should not, probably, hate Thomas Pynchon. He is an indisputably, uniquely gifted genius who shares artistic DNA with almost all my favorite writers (Joyce, Barthelme, DeLillo, et al). Basic demographics and taste-algorithms suggest, in fact, that I should be a full-fledged Pynchon groupie, the kind of guy who names all his hamsters Slothrop and slaps W.A.S.T.E. stickers on the windows of his local post office. But I can’t help it. My distaste is visceral, involuntary, and preconscious—a spasm of my aesthetic immune system. While I fully appreciate Pynchon in the abstract, as a literary-historical juggernaut—a necessary bridge from, say, Nabokov (with whom he studied at Cornell) to David Foster Wallace—sitting down with one of his actual books makes my eyebrows start to smolder. I find him tedious, shallow, monotonous, flippant, self-satisfied, and screamingly unfunny. I hate his aesthetic from floor to ceiling: the relentless patter of his Borscht Belt gags, his parodically overstuffed plots, his ham-fisted verbs (scowling, growling, glaring, leering, lurching) and adjectives (lurid, louche, lecherous), the tumbling micro-rhythms of his sentences, the galloping macro-rhythms of his larger narratives. I hate the discount paranoia he slathers over everything with an industrial-size trowel. I hate the cardboard cutouts he tries to pass off as human characters, and I hate—maybe most of all—his characters’ stupid names. (I even hate his name, which makes him sound like some kind of 29th-century sci-fi lobster.) I hate the fake song lyrics he invents for his characters to sing and the fake restaurants (Man of La Muncha) he invents for them to eat at and the stupid acronyms he invents for them to pledge their lives to.

This confession comes courtesy of Pynchon’s newest novel, Inherent Vice, a manically incoherent pseudo-noir hippie-mystery that should fit in nicely with the author’s recent series of quirky late-career non-masterpieces (Mason & Dixon, Against the Day).

[H/t: Maeve Adams]