The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Pynchon’

A Maker of Mirrors

April 29, 2016 | by

Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me turns fifty.

Mimi and Richard Fariña, at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965. Photo: David Gahr

I am gazing, as I write, at a black-and-white photograph of Richard Fariña with his wife, Mimi (née Baez) Fariña, taken backstage at the Newport Folk Festival nine months before his death—fifty years ago this week—at the age of twenty-nine. To call the photo romantic would be an understatement. Mimi, her face a dark flower offered to an invisible sun, appears to be literally bursting out of her flip-flops as she executes some twirling, Isadora Duncan-y ballet step; while Richard, swarthy and black-haired, his eyes fondly delta’d (the Ray-Bans in his hand having apparently proven useless against all this brightness), looks like he can’t quite believe his luck, to have aligned his future with this lovely, exuberant sprite, a princess in folk’s royal family. He’s having a pretty good run of it for a guy who plays the dulcimer. And technically he doesn’t even play it that well. Read More »

What Kind of Name Is That?

February 8, 2016 | by

How to name your fictional characters.

Characters in need of names.

To me the most embarrassing part of writing fiction, aside from telling people about it, is naming your characters. Of course, even “real” names are made up, but in life our names are things we can alter only with a great deal of paperwork; in fiction, writers can line up names and identities as they please, dropping or trading them on a whim. Contriving a name for a contrived person seems terribly precious to me, akin to naming a doll. You want your characters to have names that aren’t too convenient but still memorable and meaningful, which isn’t easy. I spent about a year with a manuscript populated by memorable characters like [[ROOMMATE]] and ???????’s dad, swapping dozens of potential monikers in pursuit of the perfectly natural, unforced, graceful name. After rupturing a few blood vessels that way, I tried to figure out what other writers were doing.

The question of what names mean, what they’re for, has been around in the West since at least 500 B.C., when the Pythagoreans developed a few rules of onomancy to divine human traits from things like the number of vowels in one’s name. (Even numbers signaled an imperfection in the left side of the body.) One of the earliest discussions about naming comes from Plato’s dialogue “Cratylus,” in which Socrates oversees a debate about whether a name is “an instrument of teaching and distinguishing natures” or whether it’s just a matter of “convention and agreement.” More recently, psychoanalysts like Wilhelm Stekel and Carl Jung posited that the “compulsion of the name” not only reflects but determines one’s future: that we’re all engaged, from birth, in a nominative determinism. (Anyone quick to dismiss this as Freudian bunk should look at the abundance of Shaquilles now entering professional sports.) Read More »

Everyone Loves a Good Citation Scandal, and Other News

September 23, 2015 | by

How an early twentieth-century French artist thought women firefighters would look.

  • Today in the thrill-a-minute world of annotation: well before Genius began its quest to annotate the world (or at least the internet), scholarly annotations of modern books for popular audiences delighted the readers of the 1960s. “The science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, for instance, produced annotated versions of Don Juan, Paradise Lost, and Gulliver’s Travels in the 1970s and eighties … The list of books that have been annotated for a popular audience is now in the high dozens … Annotation is a form of literary lingering: It allows us to prolong our experience with a favorite book, to hang around the world of a beloved text a bit longer. But it can also serve as a gateway, for younger readers, to the pleasures of scholarship, by pointing to a larger universe of knowledge beyond.”
  • And there’s news, too, of annotation’s sexy, scandalous cousin, citation. The venerable Journal of Criminal Justice decided to boost its “impact factor”—calculated by the average number of citations a journal receives—by citing itself over and over and over again. It’s thus managed to be both number one in its field and widely suspected of malfeasance. “In the most eyebrow-raising instance, one four-paragraph editorial, published in 2014, didn’t take up even a single page yet managed to have forty-seven citations, all to the Journal of Criminal Justice.”
  • No one knows if Pynchon wrote the novel Cow Country, but people are pretty sure—roughly 100 percent sure—that he wrote this haunting 1966 essay on the aftermath of the Watts riots, which is, given its author’s caginess and flights of fancy, exceptionally well reported: “Except for the use of the words ‘Negro’ and ‘Caucasian,’ Pynchon’s essay reads as if it could have been written this past summer, almost a half-century later. Its downbeat premise, delivered in the voice of a young disciple of Malcolm X, is no less contemporary.”
  • In 1902, the French artist Albert Bergeret designed Women of the Future, a series of trading cards depicting women at work in professions typically reserved for men: your doctor types, your lawyer types, your military-fencing master types. His feminist ambition is laudable; his insistence on skimpy outfits for the female generals and sergeants of the future, less so …
  • “This is all work by local artists and craftspeople … We have yoga classes on Wednesdays and Fridays. It’s just a really great community space … All of our parenthetical duck bidets are ethically sourced in Nicaragua. The lettering on our storefront was painted with sea foam scraped lovingly from the back of a nursing beluga whale combined with a special dye extracted from Welsh nuns. Extracting dye from nuns is, contrary to popular belief, completely painless.” The cynical, no-bullshit New Yorker has been replaced with the humorless, self-serious, astrology-obsessed post-hipster, and now we all must suffer.

Pointless Shiny Things, and Other News

September 17, 2015 | by

Peter Quinn, via Hyperallergic

  • Our culture’s obsession with design has led to a lot of useless flash, especially on the Internet, where things glide, slide, swoop, pulse, and occasionally dance across the screen. The artist Peter Quinn parodies user interfaces and their ornaments, including “such high-action gibberish as ‘nice, but useless circle,’ frenetic ‘pointless graphs,’ ” and other such forms of “flickery nonsense.”
  • Before Thomas Pynchon there was William Pynchon, his ancestor, who was also stirring up literary trouble of a sort: in 1650 he published a pamphlet, The Meritorious Price of our Redemption, which “was not in full agreement with the Reformed position on Christ’s atonement … the Massachusetts Bay General Court took notice of the book, describing it as ‘containing many errors & heresies generally condemned by all orthodox writers that we have met with’ and ordering ‘the said book to be burned in the market place, in Boston, by the common executioner.’ Pynchon was forced to issue a retraction.”
  • Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth is a novel, and an essay, and an attempt at a new kind of collaboration—written with factory workers at Grupo Jumex, a juice factory in Mexico City. “Luiselli constructed the book as … a serialized fiction that invited the input of the factory workers. The process was simple. She wrote an installment of the novel, and the factory workers organized a space to read and discuss it. Recordings of their commentaries, as well as images of local landmarks, were then sent back to Luiselli, who would listen to their notes and view the pictures before writing the next section. The formula for the novel, as Luiselli describes it: ‘Dickens + mp3 ÷ Balzac + jpeg.’ ”
  • In which Andrew O’Hagan attempts to cross the street: “For some weeks now I’ve been standing at St Giles Circus—the junction of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, New Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road—watching people try to pass from one side of the road to the other … People set out when the green man appears and before they get halfway they are running on red, and very few of them know there are cars about to stream onto the crossing from three blind corners, and many of the drivers are quite unaware of the existence of a crossing twenty yards ahead … We might forget that living in a big city means submitting to a lot of rules about how to live in a big city. You can’t park, you can’t wait, you can’t cross, you must queue, you’re being filmed. There are rules, zones, fines. People in the country don’t have that, and urban dwellers might, at some level, always be looking for strategies that could justify their basic refusal to conform. I thought of that as I watched a man in a business suit climb over two sets of barriers to cross the road. He just wouldn’t walk the extra few meters to be told what to do by an electronic system.”
  • My dad was named Gary. Gary Sernovitz is also named Gary, and he’s not happy about it: “To watch television or movies as a Gary is to know pain. When writers can’t think of a joke, when they want to quickly convey character—or chinless lack thereof—they reach to my punchline first name for the bad blind date, the sad sack, the noodge. Garys rarely even rise to the level of real characters, in our culture, but when they do, they don’t lose their essential pathetic Garyness … Gary is a box of day-old donuts on the grab bag table, sitting among the names favored by rising immigrants groups, fearless parents, and people who should be prosecuted for Naming Under the Influence.”

You Can’t Build That, and Other News

September 10, 2015 | by

Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, Hill with a Hole (detail), 1987–90. Image via Hyperallergic

  • “The role of a novel is to entertain readers, and fear is one of the most entertaining things there is … I don’t particularly feel like apologizing. It’s impossible to increase the proportion already given to Islam in the news. We’re already nearly at 100% … A good provocateur knows who he’s going to shock. I’m absolutely incapable of predicting that ... It’s always a surprise every time.” That’s Houellebecq, saying typically Houllebecq things about Islamophobia, on the eve of his novel Submission’s release in the UK. (It comes to America next month, translated by our own Lorin Stein.)
  • Today in wacky and yet not implausible Pynchon theories: Is this brick of a novel called Cow Country—published this April by one Adrian Jones Pearson through a very, very small press—actually the work of the P-man himself? It has all of his hallmarks: “Need I mention that this novel is serious while spoofing … that high satire with a healthy dollop of bodily humor and a keen eye for paradox is this literary sensibility’s chosen (and perhaps as a person, inevitable) metier? … With a magnifying glass, one could look closely and find what seem to be minor instances of Pynchon jokes from earlier novels recycled in Cow Country, tweaked for their new context.”
  • Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin were architects in the late days of the Soviet Union, which set strict aesthetic parameters for the buildings it erected—all but ensuring that architecture ceased to be an imaginative discipline. But Brodsky and Utkin found a way to skirt the rules: they designed buildings that could never exist, like “precarious scaffolding, classical domes, huge glass towers, and other visionary architecture that referenced everything from ancient tombs to Le Corbusier’s sprawling city plans.”
  • What is an author’s reputation made of? Reviews, sure. Critical studies, yes. But there’s also a less tangible factor you might call “litchat”: “the conversations that writers, readers, and critics have amongst themselves. Whether another writer is spoken of respectfully, whether you get the impression that ‘everyone’ is reading his or her new book enthusiastically, or how well people think he or she comes across in interviews—these and a dozen other imponderable factors constitute a reputation during a writer’s lifetime, particularly in the early part of a career.”
  • The image of the booze-soaked, tortured writer is a distinctly male one—but let us not forget the women who drink. “Male writers get careful interpretation of the role of alcohol in their creative lives; women writers are alcoholics, pure and simple … Women writers, meanwhile, have evolved a more complicated relationship with drunkenness. It is no longer quite the stain it once was … Still the canon is for the most part seriously dented by the effects of what you could call the Hemingway attitude—this idea that a woman is contaminated by self-destructiveness, and contaminated in a way that slurs her art.”

Headshrinker

April 16, 2015 | by

3-18-15_15-1000

Steve DiBenedetto, Reverse Epiphany, 2015, oil on linen, 20" x 18".

If Thomas Pynchon writes systems novels, Steve DiBenedetto makes systems paintings—paranoid, erratic, vaguely interconnected. His latest exhibition, “Mile High Psychiatry,” up through Saturday at Derek Eller Gallery, has an air of zany premonition to it that put me in mind of Pynchon’s Tyrone Slothrop, who in Gravity’s Rainbow predicts rocket attacks with his erections: a carnal dowsing rod. There’s some of that rollicking terror in DiBenedetto’s paintings. You better figure this shit out, they seem to taunt, before your head explodes. (Fittingly, one of the more splattered numbers is called We Blew It.)

DiBenedetto’s earlier work was fixed on helicopters, Ferris wheels, and especially octopi. Those figures are still here, but abstracted, sometimes almost runic, surrounded by formidable blasts of texture and noise. Take the Cannolis and Good Mystic vs. Bad Mystic vs. Tom Carvel conjure brains on the brink of meltdown. Sam Chinita and Biodynamic Radiation have lurid pustules of color, thick enough almost to be popped, like zits. Much of the time you can talk about these paintings as you’d talk about something half buried in your backyard: they seem not just encrusted but mulched in paint and grime. Even the gallery’s release speaks of “scraps and globs and stabs and billows,” to say nothing of “prelinguistic slime.” That release, which I suspect DiBenedetto wrote himself with some relish, is weird enough to quote at length. He says of one painting: Read More »