It’s almost the end of the year. I promised you end-of-year-lists, but now I’m staying with my parents in Sacramento, and there’s no way to muster the web or print or album resources I’d need to write anything summative of permanent value. I have a couple more days of potential serious blogging here, and then I’m off to Mendocino, in Northern California where the Internet arrives via Pony Express. I’ve also lost contact with my RSS reader, so if I haven’t been with you recently, forgive me. I’m home again in January.
I am rested and stuffed with numerous filling, comforting, dull foods. The sorts of foods the Pilgrims used to bore Native Americans with on Thanksgiving. For two days straight I have been drinking coffee in bulk, reading, and thinking back on the year.
I’m about halfway through Vizinczey’s In Praise of Older Women, which I found via links from Norwegian Wood; before that I finished The Crying of Lot 49. I suppose the mood of delight and relief that presently has hold of me began with my refusing to do anything except keep going further in Pynchon’s novel. When I was finished with it, I thought about old conversations with Scott Eric Kaufman, to whom any readings I attempt here are dedicated. He once spent every free second at his job at a used bookstore annotating some copy of it, one which must now be defaced now in one thousand and one priceless ways. I thought about my friend JuniperJune, reading it with me at this moment. I thought about the people in Mendocino I’m about to visit; like Pynchon, they’re anarchists. To pick up a thread from an earlier post, everything about Pynchon’s ideas reminds me of the mixture of jokes, well-meaning libertarian politics, goofy “Buddhist” pseudo-science, and insanely agile conspiracy theory that characterized the intellectual climate of my hometown.
I was struck by this sentence, which appears in the first few pages:
Oedipa, perverse, had stood in front of the painting and cried. No one had noticed; she wore dark green bubble shades. For a moment she’d wondered if the seal around her sockets were tight enough to allow the tears simply to go on and fill up the entire lens space and never dry. She could carry the sadness of the moment with her that way forever, see the world refracted through those tears.
It reminded me of the decision that I made, about mid-way through college, to stop reading tragedies. I had had enough. I’d been reading A Separate Peace and The Great Gatsby and The Catcher and the Rye and The Waste Land and so on since the early days of high school, and I found myself with no tools for living besides a persistent feeling of hopelessness. Of course, now I would never embrace such a single-minded reading of any of those texts, but at the time that was how they seemed to line up.
I carried with me some piece of that vision of Oedipa’s. Seemingly against my will, I continued to believe in the moral superiority of the mournful vision that waters her ideas and informs the Tristero (It. tristezza, “sadness”) underground she is tempted to join. Nonetheless, my reading habits changed. I traded in the fatalism of The Great Gatsby for the loose and vivid possibilities in On the Road. I threw over the asylum memoir which is Catcher in the Rye for the hallucinatory rebirth of the hero in Steppenwolf. Through a series of conversions probably horrifying to any lover of the English language, I traded the melancholy stylists in for the ecstasists at cut-rate.
More to come: in the next part, I’ll examine where these new, “adolescent” novels differed from the “maturer” tragedies, and explain how all this relates to jubilee.
Until then, I urge you to check out the inaugural post on JuniperJune’s wonderful new blog, Uncomplicatedly. She’s writing about Annie Dillard, and describes the transcendentalism that re-emerges out of nowhere, from the depths of rote and ignored American history, in Dillard’s work. Dillard’s entry into the canon of Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman is a celebration of the physical world and the natural world, and is in deep conflict with the patent truths of religion.
A good night to you.