Today’s literary history nugget is a mini-documentary about the year Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow shared the National Book Award for fiction with A Crown of Feathers, a story collection by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Since the reclusive Pynchon was not going to speak, he was instead represented by . . .
. . . a comedian, Professor Irwin Corey, who delivered the acceptance speech in his trademark free-associated rambling style.
Man, that clip takes me back. In the early Seventies, authors were still allowed to appear on popular television shows, Saturday Review was still in the throes of trying to be four separately themed weekly magazines instead of a single monthly, and bookstores had piles of the orange-jacketed Gravity’s Rainbow hardcover edition. The split award from the NBA committee reflected the controversy over whether Pynchon’s novel was a postmodern masterpiece or an unreadable mess. I lean toward the latter judgment: after several attempts to finish the book (I usually zone out by the scatophagy scene), I decided life was too short. When it comes to Pynchon, I prefer The Crying of Lot 49 and V.
Since then, Gravity’s Rainbow has come to rival Moby-Dick as the least-read and most-referenced novel in pop culture history. The Simpsons has name-checked the book so often that Pynchon has appeared on the show as himself, wearing a bag over his head to preserve his famous anonymity. Being famous for being anonymous — now there’s a postmodern concept for you.