“Life's single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane.” - Thomas Pynchon
The World of Thomas Pynchon in 10 questions.
1.Who was Thomas Pynchon and how did his work impact/influence the world we are living in now?
Thomas Pynchon is an American novelist and short-story writer whose works combine black humour and fantasy to depict human alienation in the chaos of modern society. His complex novels with deep meanings experiment with different themes and styles of novel writing.
He has deeply influenced generations of writers over the last four decades, and it is only a small exaggeration to suggest that the landscape of American literature would look entirely different if he had not come on the scene in 1963 with the publication of V. , his groundbreaking first novel. Scholarship on Pynchon’s work has grown into a cottage industry, especially in literary studies.
2. What are his famous works that you should know about?
Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) - A tour de force in 20th-century literature in exploring the dilemmas of human beings in the modern world. The story, which is set in an area of post-World War II Germany called “the Zone,” centres on the wanderings of an American soldier who is one of many odd characters looking for a secret V-2 rocket that will supposedly break through Earth’s gravitational barrier when launched.
V. (1963) - It describes the exploits of a discharged U.S. Navy sailor named Benny Profane, his reconnection in New York with a group of pseudo-bohemian artists and hangers-on known as the Whole Sick Crew, and the quest of an aging traveller named Herbert Stencil to identify and locate the mysterious entity he knows only as "V”.
The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)- The story about a woman, Oedipa Maas, possibly unearthing the centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies, Thurn und Taxis and the Trystero (or Tristero).
3. What were his aspirations and inspiration?
Pynchon studied engineering physics at Cornell University but left at the end of his second year to serve in the U.S. Navy. In 1957, he returned to Cornell to pursue a degree in English.
Aspects of Pynchon's ancestry and family background have partially inspired his fiction writing, particularly in the Slothrop family histories related in the short story The Secret Integration (1964) and Gravity's Rainbow (1973). Pynchon earliest American ancestor, William Pynchon, was the founder of Springfield, Massachusetts.
Besides that, Pynchon’s experiences at Boeing has also inspired his work for V. and The Crying of Lot 49 , and both his background in physics and the technical journalism he undertook at Boeing provided much raw material for Gravity's Rainbow .
4. Who was inspired by his works?
Pynchon's work has been cited as an influence and inspiration by many writers, directors and artists, some of these include T. Coraghessan Boyle, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo and Ian Rankin.
Younger contemporary writers such as David Foster Wallace, William Vollmann, Richard Powers, Steve Erickson and David Mitchell have been touted as Pynchon heirs.
“Every weirdo in the world is on my wavelength.” ― Thomas Pynchon
5. How did he start writing?
After graduating from high school as class salutatorian, Pynchon enrolled at Cornell University to study engineering but later transferred to the English department following his dream of studying literature. He took time off of studies for two years to serve in the Navy after which he returned to Cornell and graduated with a B.A. degree in English in which he met Richard Fariña and the two worked on a college publication together.
6. Besides being known for a writer, what else was he interested in or famous for?
Pynchon served two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. Besides that, he took a position with Boeing as a technical writer in 1960 - 1963.
Pynchon has also revealed himself in his fiction and non-fiction as an aficionado of popular music and has made known his love for both jazz and rock and roll.
Pynchon depicted in The Simpsons episode "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife"
7. What were some of the interesting quirks surrounding Thomas Pynchon?
Thomas Pynchon reigns anonymously supreme and almost nothing is known about the author, one who produced some of the most seminal, mysterious and generally difficult works of 20th-century fiction. He avoided nearly all media since the publication of his first book, V. and refuses to participate in interviews with the media, only his closest and most trusted friends know where he lives.
Pynchon appeared on The Simpsons in 2004 and lent his own voice to his character, which was drawn with a bag over its head.
Despite being arguably the most important novelist writing in English today about the organisation of power in the postmodern world, Pynchon has failed to attract any serious attention from political theorists.
8. What are the monuments/ establishments that were built in his honour?
Ernesto Guido, an amateur astronomer from Italy, named an asteroid formerly known as 152319 (2005 UH7) after Pynchon to honour him for his dense and complex writing.
9. How did critics react to his work?
Many critics consider Pynchon as one of the finest contemporary authors of the twentieth century, and often praise his magnum opus, Gravity’s Rainbow , as a towering novel that stands beside Ulysses for its stylistic invention, intellectual sophistication, and breathtaking prose.
However, some critics often accuse Pynchon of indulging in vague conspiracy theories without ever coming out and providing useful insights.
10. What other works did he author that few people knew about?
“ Minstrel Island” is an unpublished, unfinished musical (it’s also been referred to as a “science fiction musical” and “operetta”) written by Pynchon and his friend John Kirkpatrick Sale while they were attending Cornell University.
Did Pynchon’s stories strike a chord with your inner self? Were there stories that you wish Gnome & Bow would weave into our leather bags and wallets? What intriguing wonders would become of it? Let us know in the comments below.
GREAT PEN WIELDERS is a monthly series that sets out to celebrate amazing writers, authors, novelists and illustrators whose beliefs, passions and talents inspired and changed the world we live in today. We believe that their stories and life experiences will foster Gnome & Bow’s vision to inspire storytelling without boundaries.