Friday, August 28, 2009

Thomas Pynchon rewrites White Noise in one hundred words or less.

The other man tightened his lips, frowning. "Mh-hmm." He returned to his computer game, something called "Nukey," which included elements of sex and detonation, though the cheapness of its early sound chips reduced orgasm to a thin rising whine, broken into segments as if for breath, and made the presumably nuclear explosions, no more than symbolized here by feeble bursts of white noise, even less satisfying.

SRSLY, I'm rereading Vineland right now, and it just becomes more and more apparent to me how ludicrous the notion is that DeLillo is more or less on the same plane as Pynchon. DON'T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE.

P can casually toss off something like this without bothering to look over his shoulder to see whether you are cognizant of how HOLY SHIT THE MOST SUPER-PROFOUNDEST THING EVAR it is. He has bigger fish to fry. For D, "Nukey" would be the focus of the entire novel. And it would be excruciating.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I am apparently a worthless sentimentalist.

Obviously, Ted Kennedy's death was a serious downer, even if it wasn't any big surprise. Dude was one of those vanishingly rare politicians whom I'm willing to call an American Hero without a trace of irony and without tacking any caveats on. And yet for some reason, it wasn't until I saw this cartoon that I was actually brought to tears. Just goes to show: we may pride ourselves on being rational creatures, but when push comes to shove, emotion's gonna get the upper hand.

UPDATE: Not that I believe there's any statistically meaningful chance of it doing anything, but you might as well sign these petitions. It'll take you less than a minute, and it can't hurt.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My new mantra

Pyromaniacal baseball fans

Alas, the baseball season is winding down--at least for short-season teams like the Williamsport Crosscutters--so I decided to purchase a souvenir program to commemorate it. I also wanted to learn about Bill Pickelner, a guy who apparently was responsible for bringing baseball back to Williamsport in the early nineties and who did various other Williamsport-sports-related things before dying at the age of ninety-four in December. And this program did not disappoint! Especially the following anecdote. I don't know! Maybe this is normal baseball behavior! But I doubt it!

Byham said his most vivid recollection of Pickelner was the night the Philadelphia Philies were supposed to play an exhibition game against the Williamsport Grays in 1962 and it rained all day before the game. There was real doubt it would be played.

"I remember Bill and Rankin Johnson and a couple of other guys pouring gasoline all over the infield and lighting a fire to dry up the field," Byham recalled. "As Bill was carrying a gas can up the first base line, the fire spread towards him a little more quickly than he anticipated and he tossed away that can real fast and started running."

"That kind of gives you an idea of how much a hands-on philosophy he had with local baseball," Byham said.

It certainly gives you an idea of something! A cursory google search reveals that such outside-the-box-type thinking would likely get you arrested in these benighted times.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In which we steal smart comments from smart people.

From a Sadly, No! comments thread:

kingubu said,
August 23, 2009 at 21:12
I just love the one consistent aspect of the winger mentality — simultaneously believing completely contradictory ideas, eg, that libruls are at once wimpy, cowardly terrorist-coddlers and jackbooted, tyrranical, murderous nazis.

According to Eco, that’s a feature not a bug:

When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

See Also: “Obama is a ruthless pansy-ass elitist thug.”, “Saddam Hussein is a paper tiger whose magical flying drones are poised to dust your home with anthrax.”, “the public option will be so sucky and inefficient it will put private insurers out of business.” etc, etc, ad fucking nauseum.

Oh my. Did I just compare American right-wing ultras to Fascists? How uncivil.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

An alarming statistic indeed.


Friday, August 21, 2009

My favorite part of the Sun-Gazette.

It's the Comic Corner, written by a fellow named Adam B. Wilson, and appearing semi-regularly in the weekly Showcase section ("Your guide to entertainment in central Pennsylvania--insert "world's shortest books" joke). In this, uh, column, Wilson merrily enumerates an aggressively decontexualized, fans-only list of things that have evidently happened in recent superhero comics, in the over-enthusiastic "Yeah! Violence!" tones of a hyperactive thirteen-year-old. So:

Even though a matter of months had passed in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, only a week or two passed for us before Marvel unveiled two of its newest series, "Ultimate Comics: Avengers" and "Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man."

First on the list was the Avengers, with Captain America and the psychopathic marksman Hawkeye as the main two characters. The issue started off with Nick Fury and Hawkeye talking about Ultimatum, and what happened to the world.

Hawkeye then began his story about the Red Skull, and how Cap has gone rogue and after him.

We then got a brilliant flashback showing Hawkeye and Captain America going after a bunch of terrorists in helicopters.

It was quite thrilling and took up most of the book. Cap then found himself up against the Red Skull, who wiped the floor with Cap. In the end, Cap revealed a devastating secret about him and the Red Skull that no one saw coming.

The second of the two new comics revolved around Spider-Man, and how he's still alive and Marvel lied to us once again.

Somehow, it's hard for me to imagine that Wilson has spent a lot of time thinking about who his intended audience is here. And since I don't think there really is an intended audience, I don't for a moment believe that anyone reads it in the spirit intended (pretending for a moment that there IS some kind of intention). But it makes me giggle hysterically every time. I can just picture Wilson's older, staider editors--people who haven't the faintest idea what he's on about--giving each other doubtful looks but then shrugging and concluding,'s what the kids are into. I guess.

Sometimes it's just too cute the way this place plays at being a legitimate city.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Inherent Vice

On the one hand, I pretty much loved Inherent Vice from start to finish. It's funny--probably funnier than any other Pynchon. Doc Sportello is a great character. The period detail is extraordinarily vivid, in spite of occasional bits of anachronism (you can't have a Cheech and Chong reference in a novel that takes place in early 1970 (which we know it does by a reference to the NBA finals)--d'oh). This is one instance in which you really CAN judge a book by its cover--the garish neon lettering and utopian surfer aesthetic pretty much say it all.

On the other hand, I can't help--huh. It appears that the other hand is passing me a joint. Far be it from me to fuck up the rotation, so I'll just have a toke, pass it on, and leave it at that. Ah.

What I was possibly going to say but now think doesn't need to be said is that the book seems a little light by Pynchon standards. All the usual motifs are here--paranoia, red-herringy digressions, whimsical character names, song lyrics arbitrarily inserted into the text--but it is certainly the case that Inherent Vice is more plot-driven than any of the man's previous novels. Which is to say that the pleasure of reading it derives more from the story itself and less from studying it for Meaning.

But there are two points to be made in response to that.

Point one: so what? After the incredible weightiness of Against the Day, why SHOULDN'T he relax a little? Do something just for fun? Sheesh, how demanding AM I?

Point two: While admitting the novel's comparative lightness, let's not overstate things. There's still lots to think about here, and no doubt more that will become apparent on second reading. It should be pretty immediately obvious that Pynchon is in part riffing on the same themes as Vineland does (there are a few unobtrusive references to the earlier novel, as well as a few minor common characters--whee!): the apparently limitless utopian possibilities of the sixties, squandered, lost, and replaced by the stultifying, conformist materialism of the eighties. Doc has periodic intimations throughout the novel that something's got to give. While this might not be a book to launch a thousand dissertations, it's plenty smart in its own right, and it is to Pynchon's credit that he was able to so effectively write a novel in a previously unfamiliar idiom and make it totally Pynchonian (though I guess after Mason & Dixon, this shouldn't surprise us, right?).

One might suggest that this novel might draw in a fair number of Pynchon newbies (who might then be badly poleaxed by Gravity's Rainbow), but I'm not sure whether or not that's a true statement. It's definitely his most accessible novel, but the fact remains that a lot of the pleasure in reading it, for a confirmed cultist like me, comes from reveling in the ineffable Pynchoness of it all. I'm not quite solipsistic enough to imagine that a person lacking the background to recognize this aura would necessarily find it similarly compelling. What I'm trying to say is, who knows if this review will be of any use to you whatsoever? However, the trend of me loving every Pynchon novel continues. If I say that I hope the next one (yes! I'm being optimistic! Hey, it worked last time, didn't it?) is a little heavier, that should in no way be taken as a slight against Inherent Vice, which I heartily recommend to you, in spite of the tragic lack of Pig Bodine. :-(

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not necessarily.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The things you find on the internet and kinda wish you hadn't found.

I was reading a few essays about ingrained media racism for probable use in my classes for the Fall. This led to me thinking: I wonder what the precise racial breakdown of the NFL is, and whether it could be used to make some interesting points in this regard. So I naïvely googled the phrase "nfl racial breakdown." Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a white supremacist football fan site. Words fail.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Laura Miller embarrasses Salon yet again.

I refer--predictably enough--to her review of Inherent Vice. Shorter Miller: Wow, I could mostly understand this book! It sucks way less than Against the Day, which I was TOTALLY right about the ineffable suckiness of, by the way. Oh, and Pynchon's fans suck, too.

You know what they say you should do when you're in a hole? That's right: STOP DIGGING. Move on already. So your Against the Day review was an embarrassment. It's not the end of the world. When I first tried (and failed) to read Gravity's Rainbow, I wrote a horrifically embarrassing amazon review (which I believe has since disappeared into the ether, THANK GOD). But obstinately refusing to budge and inch just makes you look childish and petulant.

Here's a gem:

There's nothing quite so dispiriting as slogging your way through 1,085 pages of increasingly repetitive and tedious folderol (i.e., "Against the Day") only to find that its significance ultimately boils down to not much more than sheepish nostalgia for the heyday of the counterculture.

Stupidest sentence ever written by humans? Well, no; the Sun-Gazette letters page provides us with worse every day. But this is Salon. You know, the site that takes its name from a word for seventeenth-century French gatherings of intellectuals? How much further would it be possible to fall?

(For a neat object lesson, scroll to the bottom of that IV review and click on Scott McLemee's 1997 review of Mason & Dixon. After Miller, reading a review by someone who knows what the hell he's talking about it a jarring experience.)

Let me make myself clear: the point is not "you're not allowed to criticize Pynchon." There's certainly stuff to criticize, and even if I didn't agree with you, we could surely have an intelligent conversation about it. But that is emphatically NOT the case here. Look at that sentence. LOOK AT IT! "Not much more than sheepish nostalgia for the heyday of the counterculture." "Shallow understanding" doesn't do it justice. It's just not something that a serious reader would say. It would be one thing to write something like that in November 2006--you're frazzled from having to read a very long book in a very short time. It's understandable that you might make a less-than-perspicacious statement. But Christ, Miller, the book's had nearly THREE YEARS to sink in, and you're still pushing this nonsense? I'm afraid that does not speak well for your intellectual acuity. Come on, Salon--between Laura Miller and Stephanie Zacharek, your critical bullpen is looking pretty anemic. Heather Havrilesky is good, but she mostly writes about trashy TV, fercrissake. You can, and ought to, do better.

To end on a positive note, however, the comments on the IV post are pretty great--virtually no knee-jerk anti-intellectualism; instead, as it should be, a pretty broad consensus that Miller is, in fact, full of shit. Which is as it should be. Perhaps Salon should hire one of those guys. They could hardly do worse.