The Invisible Man: Thomas Pynchon May Be One of America's Most Reclusive Writers, but His Influence on Popular Culture Is Pervasive. John Dugdale on a New Film about the Enigmatic Author. (the Back Half: Arts, Etc)

By Dugdale, John | New Statesman (1996), May 5, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Invisible Man: Thomas Pynchon May Be One of America's Most Reclusive Writers, but His Influence on Popular Culture Is Pervasive. John Dugdale on a New Film about the Enigmatic Author. (the Back Half: Arts, Etc)


Dugdale, John, New Statesman (1996)


Back in the 1970s, an academic fan intent on getting an interview tracked Don DeLillo to Greece. The reclusive novelist handed him a card that read: "I don't want to talk about it." By which he meant, naturally, his fiction.

DeLillo has since come in from the cold, and is now regularly interviewed by journalists; he even agreed to submit to a lengthy promotional tour for his novel Underworld (1997). His friend Thomas Pynchon, by contrast, has remained aloof:

no interviews, no bookshop signings or festival readings, no publicity photos. As the Pynchon-influenced cyberpunk writer William Gibson put it, he "makes JD Salinger look like Boy George".

When artists won't agree to commodification and behave like celebrities, arts television can't handle them; it requires their physical presence so we can peer at their furniture and assess their clothes, listen to them talking like chat show guests about their parents, childhood and encounters with other celebs. The media need writers to agree to their work being simplified.

This has so far deterred US and British film-makers from tackling Pynchon, but the Swiss brothers Fosco and Donatello Dubini -- probably encouraged by the snatched images of the author that appeared six years ago when he published Mason and Dixon, which guaranteed them a physical presence of sorts -- took on the challenge for German TV in 2001. After trundling around the festival circuit, the film will be shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts this month. The ICA has made something of a speciality of charismatic sages, playing host to Jean Baudrillard chatting to a bemused Anthony Giddens and, recently, screening a movie about Jacques Derrida.

The film Pynchon: a journey into the mind of [P] is principally a patchy biographical quest and full of risibly blatant errors and misspellings -- a CV of the (married) author contains the words, "Martial status: unknown". It has an interview with a girlfriend from the novelist's Californian years in the 1960s and ends with video-paparazzo footage of Pynchon, and a journalist recounting how he took a photo of the baseball-capped sexagenarian on a Manhattan street.

The film concentrates on Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Pynchon's sprawling novel about the Second World War. It attempts to explain why that novel is preoccupied with sinister mind-control experiments and with the links it makes between the Nazi and Nasa rocket programmes. Pynchon's celebrated paranoia is explained partly as a result of the guilt he feels at having worked for the missile-maker Boeing.

Although moody visuals and the Residents' zany soundtrack suggest avant-garde aspirations, the film is disappointingly conventional. Like a routine edition of The South Bank Show, it combines a fixation on the artist's life with gleeful attempts to switch its attention from fiction to its historical basis.

Pynchon has written five novels, ranging in setting from 18th-century England, America and India in Mason and Dixon to the 1980s West Coast in Vineland. They display a dazzling range of tones and styles. Yet the Dubini brothers, on the whole, confine themselves to Gravity's Rainbow--perhaps not coincidentally, the one novel set in Germany--and by sifting out the fun leave the impression of a relentlessly grim author whose work is dominated by preapocalyptic dread. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Invisible Man: Thomas Pynchon May Be One of America's Most Reclusive Writers, but His Influence on Popular Culture Is Pervasive. John Dugdale on a New Film about the Enigmatic Author. (the Back Half: Arts, Etc)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.