Thursday, June 01, 2006


The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. Recently I read V. for the 2nd or 3rd time. It's great, Important with a capital I, dense, elliptical, scatological, Profane with a capital P, and really cool bebop jazzy writing. All my English professors back in the day were like, "Dig, Daddy-O! Doncha be no square, hep yerself to this cat," or something. Obviously they were very influenced by this guy (and Salinger and Kerouac and Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut) when they came of age in the Birth of the Cool days.

One of the problems I have with this stuff, or, really any cultural artifact pre-John Lennon, is that the context has changed so much. The cultural war, barely begun then, is long since over, and their side won (or, more precisely, The Man co-opted the beatniks and weirdos and commodified them, Borg-like, into the larger Establishment, maaaannnn). So that, and 8:30 a.m. classes, explains why all those English profs back in the 1980s who were holding Pynchon et al. out as some kind of rebel chic found only blank, disinterested stares, even from those of us wearing Clash t-shirts. (Now, Blake and Keats, that was rebellion we could get with. But that's another story.) It's like trying to sell Miles Davis or John Coltrane as some kind of far out radical soul rebels to kids who've been brought up on the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys. Yo, Doc! We're past that. Catch up.

Anyway, I guess I kinda sorta understand some small portion of what's going on, and what Pynchon's going on about, in V. But in this book? wwwwhiffff.... right over my head. No idea.

Well, maybe, some slight, slender wisp of an idea. Apparently it's about the notion of secret societies of non-conformist communication with their own symbology and methods of delivery...but then, so is The Da Vinci Code, I gather. As in V., there is a persistent notion of the present being caught up in events in the past, dimly understood. But where V. returned again and again to strange times in strange lands, making for a densely compressed, almost suffocating march through layers of history, Lot 49 pretty much moves full speed ahead. There is tremendous narrative momentum, and of course Pynchon's prose moves at a breakneck pace. Even if I slowed down and savored it, I couldn't possibly catch all the allusions and references, so I just held on and enjoyed the ride. Sometimes it's a pleasure just to read great writing. Lot 49 is short enough that maybe I'll read it again sometime with the intention of understanding more of it and tracking down some of the references. One thing I did learn is (apparently) the source of the name of one of my favorite bloggers, Tristero of Hullabaloo. Oh, and I learned what Maxwell's Demon is, besides the source of the name of the Ziggy Stardust character in Velvet Goldmine.

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