Saturday, January 10, 2015

What We Talk About, When We Talk About Pynchon . . . Marc Maron and Paul Thomas Anderson

This past week filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson sat down for a fascinating two hour interview on WTF with Marc Maron.  While they discussed the many highlights of Anderson's career such as the making of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, they also shuffled around the subject of Thomas Pynchon.  For Anderson has directed the first ever adaptation of a Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice, which has gone into wide release this week.

Of all modern writers, Pynchon holds a special mystique.  Few photographs exist of him and he's never granted an interview or made a public appearance.  Nevertheless, his fiction has made a profound mark on the culture.  Every novel is a fun house maze where no one is who they appear to be.  Full of oddball humor and allusions to every subject imaginable, they stare directly into the abyss of "the system."

I recall reading The Crying of Lot 49 sometime after college.  It left a vivid impression. Where does one even go for an analogy?  Imagine a Twilight Zone story concocted by David Lynch done with the elan of a Chaplin film.  

I've made several failed attempts at Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon's 1973 novel of 700+ pages on rockets, mind control, twisted Nazis and many, many other things.  I shouldn't feel too bad, Anderson also admitted to having been unable to finish Gravity's Rainbow, although he has expressed interest in adapting the impossible novel to the screen.  

Later I moved on to his debut novel V, a hypnotic tale about randomness and history, a bit of Jack Kerouac and Graham Greene. Pynchon's short story collection, Slow Learner, would be a great staring point for anyone new to his work.  The story, "Entropy," seems a blueprint for the future novels.  

Pynchon took a hiatus from publishing novels between 1973-90 and reemerged with Vineland, a California novel set in the mid 80s pitting an aging hippy against a sadistic FBI agent.  I've yet to read the recent novels: Mason & Dixon, Against the Day, Inherent Vice, and Bleeding Edge.   

Therefore the release of Inherent Vice is something of an event. When Maron pressed Anderson on whether Pynchon took part in pre-production, he refused to answer with any specificity, "I can't be honest on that question."  When queried on what Inherent Vice is about, Anderson replied, "It's about Pynchon."

So, what do we talk about, when we talk about Pynchon?  Maron summed it as follows: the politics of drugs, the end of the 60s, politics of subversion, the stakes of being a provocateur and the fate of a sell out.  And finally to the question: What is reality anyway? And does it matter in the end?

Maron asked Anderson on whether he's got a response from Pynchon and he sheepishly replied, "I'm waiting on the call."  Anderson then spoke of their being "a weird agreement between them."  To which Maron interjected, "You've become a Pynchon character!"

Maron brought the right attitude to the interview.  Anderson is arguably the best director of his generation and their discussion gave insight into his creative process. I look forward to reading and watching Inherent Vice.

Anderson also talked about having David Foster Wallace as an English teacher at Emerson College back in the 80s.  Coincidentally, Wallace also held Pynchon in high regard. Anderson recalled Wallace being the one teacher he admired and calling him up one night to discuss Don Delillo's novel White Noise.  Another Pynchonian moment!

We now live (or maybe it's always been like this) in a Pynchon world. The year 2015 is the right time, maybe the only time, his work will grace the big screen.  Our brave new world, ever more reliant on technology, paradoxically connects us all, and yet leaves so many feeling disconnected.  And the paradoxes just keep piling up.  Meanwhile unseen chaos happens in the shadows.  And meanwhile . . . A Screaming Across the Sky
Thomas Pynchon once appeared on The Simpsons.

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