Concepts as characters

By CRIS RODRIGUEZ  |  November 30, 2006

But then again, I’ve been told by all sorts of people, men and women, that they just couldn’t “get into” Pynchon. Other people read Pynchon the way kids eat vegetables: it was gross and hard, but I did it because I’m supposed to. It’s this type of attitude Liesl Schillinger refers to — in the only positive female review I’ve seen so far — when she asserts that Pynchon’s readers share a fascination for what’s difficult. Personally I couldn’t disagree more. His writing is not overly arduous. What all these readers miss is that you can read concepts like characters. I care about paranoia in The Crying of Lot 49. I care about identity and chaos in Gravity’s Rainbow. I want to understand how the ideas tick the same way you might want to figure out the psychology of a protagonist.     

I’m not motivated, while reading any of Pynchon’s novels, by what’s going to happen to the characters. The only reason I keep on reading is to follow the thought, to trace the ideas past the characters that represent them and recognize that the operative mode in a Pynchon novel is play. Perhaps that is where so many women lose him. If you show up hoping for something real, something human and heart-stirring, you aren’t going to stay very long.

I don’t need my heart strings pulled. Pynchon makes me think about being a reader, about the act of interpreting, about how I interact with my world. Our literature has amply covered human psychology and all its foibles. And I can feel emotion, and engage in relationships, in everyday life. But to think about things like paranoia and chaos, and the animate versus the inanimate, and the sanctioned versus the contentious, that is a treat that I reserve for myself on the bookshelf.

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