Tag Archives: Gravity’s Rainbow

I’m Pynchon myself

In all of the newspapers where I’ve worked, editors always seemed to be hyper-vigilant against the possibility that somebody might sneak a literary reference past them. Something that might actually appeal to actual readers, God forbid. So I’m astonished to see this Boston Globe headline about the meteor explosion in Russia:

screaming

Jim Romenesko bird-dogged it (and J.D. Rhoades spread the word). Of course it’s the opening sentence of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, a certified classic of American literature. It’s a very clever idea for a headline. It’s also a very intellectual idea for a headline, which makes it all the more astonishing that it got through. It took me a while to grasp that in a newsroom, being called an “intellectual” is not quite an insult, but certainly far from a compliment. Old school newsies liked to imagine themselves sitting on a barstool next to Slats Grobnik, too busy talking sports and insider politics to bother with pishy-poshy ivory tower stuff. I pissed away entirely too much time arguing with editors who never saw a baseball reference they didn’t like, but would have had multiple aneurysms at the mere thought of a Thomas Pynchon reference tip-toeing into their news columns.

But enough of my joy. Let’s just note the classy touch on the Boston Globe story, and hope the headline writer doesn’t get in hot water.             

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The Professor and Pynchon

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.

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