Saturday, November 13, 2010

Just Thinking Out Loud: Judging a classic

Having initially committed to read through a select list of transcendent classics, I opted to challenge myself by starting with a book that resists definition.

Included on TIME's list (something they do well) of the 100 best English language novels from 1923 to present, Gravity's Rainbow is commonly regarded by a variety of know-it-alls as both Thomas Pynchon's magnum opus and as the greatest postmodern work of 20th century literature.  Yet having plowed through the first 100+ pages, it has become difficult to invest myself any further into the semi-apocalyptic adventures of Slothrop, Pirate, Roger Mexico and Jessica, among many others.

So what am I missing here?

Perhaps the famously reclusive Pynchon gets his kicks by making intellectual schlubs like me feel that sense of inferiority for which it seems he strives with every word he writes.  But the original criticisms of this largely celebrated work -- "turgid," "overwritten," "obscene," etc. -- appear valid as well.

The mention of such an iconoclast can become a divisive topic.  So much, in fact, that the Pulitzer board eventually overturned its own decision to award Pynchon their prize for fiction in 1974.  It wasn't the first time (it was the eighth such occurrence in nearly 60 years), but it remains the most prominent episode by which the impact of this book is most adequately conveyed.  And that, by all accounts, is exactly how Pynchon prefers it.

No comments: