Monday, July 18, 2011

Quote of the Day

I'm really digging Umberto's book and this sentence I read today jumped out at me. I thought it might spark a discussion:

"I cannot see why the proliferating imagination of a novelist like Thomas Pynchon is praised by interpreters as an impressive example of postmodernist complexity, while it should be a fault in Dick's novels."

My initial thought is that this disparity in reaction has something to do with genre-related expectations, but I hope others will have more to say in the comments section.

19 comments:

Wavedeform said...

Pynchon and Dick are pretty much my two favorite writers. I think that, while the complexity of ideas is similar between them, the execution is radically different. PKD worked fast and his prose suffered for it, no matter how fertile the ideas were. Pynchon has a relatively glacial pace of production, and his prose can seem refined, by comparison.

guysalvidge said...

The only thing of Pynchon's I ever got through was The Crying of Lot 49, which is an excellent (and slim) read. I've had V and Gravity's Rainbow sitting on the shelf for the past 10 years. PKD's work is easier to get into than Pynchon's. From what I've read of the latter, it seems coldly metafictional, whereas there's always this 'heart' (for want of a better word) in PKD that I find very appealing.

Ragle Gumm said...

What's interesting is how these criticisms of Dick's work highlight the implicit assumptions the detractors are making about a text - namely that a novel ought to be efficient, streamlined, without unnecessary tangles of complications. But, on the other hand, most novels try to accurately depict the world (mimesis). I wonder if all the seemingly extraneous stuff that Dick and Pynchon get into their books is actually a mimetic representation of our cluttered reality. If this is so, then critics who want both a streamlined and mimetic novel want to have their cake and eat it too.

Also, couldn't precisely the same criticism, that extraneous plotting gets in the way, be made about Melville's Moby Dick?

Gabriel Mckee said...

I have the opposite reaction-- I love PKD, while the one Pynchon novel I've read (Lot 49) I found meandering and dull.

Robert Cook said...

I tried to read both Pynchon's V and his short novel, THE CRYING OF LOT 49 years ago. I just couldn't make my through Pynchon's prose. It's not obviously difficult, yet I kept stumbling over his sentences. I didn't like it and didn't get far into either book.

Another writer who abjured Pynchon's voice was Thomas Disch.

pirkiphat said...

Pynchon was recommended to me years ago; I join in the chorus of enjoying TCoL49, but didn't get captured by the rest of his work. I have some beautiful books on my shelves by Pynchon that will get read, there are just so many other books,...

Umberto Rossi said...

Why put them together? Well, there's a simple fact: Pynchon used the plot of JOINT in the first part of GRAVITY. I wrote an article about that years ago and the people at Pynchon Notes were so kind as to publish it. Well, so Tom likes Phil's stuff. Why? A common paranoid mindset maybe? A certain fascination with freaks? Maybe even the feeling that they are freaks?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ragle,

Could you tell me what novels Eco deals with in this book? Im writing a dissertation on Philip K. Dick at the moment, this book isnt going to be easy for me to get hold of in terms of price etc so I want to make sure its relevent to what im doing. Im in the early stages at the moment but will probably be focusing on Time out of Joint, Three Stigmata and either Ubik or Scanner Darkly. If you could let me know if he looks at any of these novels that would be really helpful. Thanks.

Unknown said...

My introduction to Dick and Pynchon happened the same year (1983), when I first read both "Time Out of Joint" and "Gravity's Rainbow".

Pynchon's enormous complexity strains my comprehension. On my third outing with "Gravity's Rainbow" I made an ill-fated attempt to read it in one sitting. I thought if I could stuff the pieces in my head quickly enough I could maintain the connections and understand the meaning of it all. Pynchon's intricate puzzles require my absolute focus, and while I doubt I will ever reach the clarity I once sought I sure like trying.

Dick's appeal is completely different, and for me far more enduring. I will never forget the first time I encountered the soft-drink stand slowly dissolving into the slip of paper reading "SOFT-DRINK STAND". I was hooked and remain so to this day. Dick's characters are immediately human, even the robot taxis and homeostatic refrigerators demanding payment. Pynchon's characters seem like human-shaped cogs in a vast mechanism.

I'm guessing many who find Pynchon's barely-knowable labyrinths worthy of praise think it slightly ludicrous to imagine tire regroovers and television repairmen contemplating the nature of reality.

For my money a clear and entertaining exploration of complex ideas beats a magnificently obtuse examination of, uh, something.

Umberto Rossi said...

Eco? What does Umberto Eco have got to do with all this? I don't even know that he's ever read Dick! (Eco is more into crime fiction than SF)

Umberto Rossi said...

"I'm guessing many who find Pynchon's barely-knowable labyrinths worthy of praise think it slightly ludicrous to imagine tire regroovers and television repairmen contemplating the nature of reality."

Are you sure? Pynchon is interested in used-car lots, discarded light bulbs and many of his characters contemplate the nature of reality; among them people whose jobs are even weirder than tv repairman...

Lucidus Valentine said...

'Tis not the prose styles so much, methinks, very different though they are. 'Tis the genres. Hemingway and Faulkner had vastly different prose styles, yet each is considered a consummate modernist. Pynchon and Dick were writing for different readerships. Pynchon's fiction reads a lot like science fiction (best example, the immortal light bulb in Gravity's Rainbow), but as a so-called mainstream writer, such flourishes are considered "postmodern" elements. In Dick, they are often an integral part of the plotline, not symbolism or metaphor. Dick wrote further than symbolism and metaphor going deep into allegorical territory.

Ragle Gumm said...

True, we're risking confusion. But this blog is proud to be on a first-name basis with Mr Rossi.

Unknown said...

"Are you sure? Pynchon is interested in used-car lots, discarded light bulbs and many of his characters contemplate the nature of reality; among them people whose jobs are even weirder than tv repairman..."

Sorry I didn't express myself clearly. I was trying to say those who are dismissive of Dick's work might be uncomfortable with the concept of the average Joe having such thoughts. They might have to change their opinion of the uneducated masses surrounding them, which could lead them to question the validity of their assumptions about their own reality.

Or they could just be a bunch of stuck up gits with delusions of their own intellectual awesomeness.

schnelly said...

Ahh...you all are a bunch of Pynchon haters. The Fact is that Dick had an immense imagination but he could't write. Perhaps his writing reflects his audience, but somehow I doubt it. I just finished reading Maze of Death and I thought the concepts, ideas, and the story itself were incredible. However, the writing was just atrocious. Does anyone else get the sense that Dick's mind was moving much faster than his typewriter? Perhaps the amount he produced and at the speed he produced it diminished the quality of his work. Heck, maybe comparing Pynchon and Dick is like comparing apples and oranges. Kinda seems like the consensus around here. To be completely honest, Dick is one my favorite writers but I have to agree with the Village Voice blurb pasted on the back of many new editions of his work: Dick is a poor man's Pynchon. So, to be frank, Dick will be remembered for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Pynchon will be remembered for Gravity's Rainbow. 'Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

I think John Dolan, of alternative newspaper "The Exile," explained the difference between Dick and Pynchon quite well:

Thomas Pynchon. I’ll always remember reading Crying of Lot 49 as a first-year at Berkeley. The TA assured us it was a terribly witty novel, and I was sufficiently cowed to go along with the program, until the page on which Pynchon introduced a rock band called Sigmund Freud and the Paranoids. Jeez...that seemed kinda...well, kinda stupid. Probably my fault! Right! Alert for jokes which were accessible only to full Professors, I reread, seeking a hint that there was some triple-crossed irony I’d missed. ‘Cuz if there wasn’t, then naming a California psychedelic band “Sigmund Freud and the Paranoids” was pathetic, worse than Rowan and Martin dressing up in headbands, worse than Perry Como singing with David Bowie. Rereading Lot 49 ten years later, it seemed obvious: the entire book was a buttondown author’s attempt to groove himself onto the guest list at the Fillmore. Like all of Pynchon’s work, it was simply a slowed-down package tour of California for the sort of young academic who likes to talk enthusiastically about “Apocalypse Culture” while spending his or her own life inside a monogamous marriage and sticking to decaf. You’d be amazed how many of these people there are, and they all love Pynchon, because he is his own Cliff Notes, always footnoting the wacky stuff, slowing the beat down to Princeton levels. Compare Pynchon with the writer who actually does chronicle the Apocalypse, Philip K. Dick. Does anyone like them both? If so, you’re cheating. Choose. And if you’re hesitating, save yourself the trouble: Pynchon’s the man for you. PKD gets called “the poor man’s Pynchon”; it would be better to say that Pynchon is the tweedy man’s dick.

giospurs said...

schnelly, you are being provocatively contrarian. Dick may be remembered for Blade Runner because many many people have seen Blade Runner whereas not so many people have read the, similarly memorable, VALIS (for instance). If Gravity's Rainbow had been adapted into a blockbuster movie then I'm sure the movie would be collectively remembered much more than the high-brow novel too.

I think some Dick-heads sometimes protest too much at the quality of his writing. Myself, I think his writing could definitely at times be poor, but anyone who says he was a bad writer clearly hasn't read A Scanner Darkly or The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. It is perhaps lamentable that Dick didn't have the luxury of taking time over his writing for the bulk of his career but maybe we're better off for it at the end of the day. I'd rather have a treasure trove of works, of varying quality, than a handful of masterpieces.

Lord RC said...

It seems a lot of people complain about PKD's writing style but I don't know why. Every Dick novel I've picked up for the first time I just blazed through totally enthralled by the writing and the ideas. I don't know how anyone can say he was a bad writer. And on the other hand, I have great difficulty making it through some of the supposed 'great writer's' novels; they come off as incredibly boring, like George Will writing on baseball!

nanakwame said...

These discussions reminds me of the quote, how many angels are there on a pin. When I see articles like the ones I left, and the crisis my nation is in,it re-affirms that P.K.Dick was a man who re-taught how important apriorism is to knowledge and reflections.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/science/28life.html?_r=1&hp
http://neuroself.com/2011/06/16/its-not-all-in-your-head/