April 04, 2005

Fresh Tendrils

Ben Thomas writes the first part of a supposed DBM series (soon to be forgotten) of literary reviews...
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I have been reading books from the Library. This is a magnificent building in the middle of Auckland that gives you books which you do not pay for, so long as you undertake to return them once their purpose is used and spent. Freed from the confines of ownership and its attendant responsibilities, I brought home a stack of texts on Saturday and spent much of the weekend juggling them and hurling them into walls to see what sound they would make. It was a true tragedy of the commons type situation.
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Thomas Pynchon is a great and mysterious writer. He has won various prizes for his mammoth, impenetrable post-modern novels such as Gravity's Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49. He has never, over the course of a 40 year publishing career, given an interview or been photographed. An article in Time in 1978 says one self-proclaimed college colleague of Pynchon's, 20 years previous, recalls that he was a lean man who ate spaghetti and soda pop for breakfast, and may have majored in physics or literature.
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Anyhoo, I picked up a short story collection, Slow Learner, from 1984 (the stories were written much earlier) which has the only introduction ever written by Pynchon for his work. In it, he reflects:
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"I will spare everybody a detailed discussion of all the overwriting that occurs in these stories, except to mention how distressed I am at the number of tendrils that keep showing up. I still don't know for sure what a tendril is. I think I took the word from T S Eliot.... My specific piece of wrong procedure back then was, incredibly, to browse through the thesaurus and note words that sounded cool, hip, or likely to produce an effect, usually that of making me look good, without then taking the trouble to go and find out in the dictionary what they meant."



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