Rocketman Was Here
So. The Proust has stalled. This is okay with me; I need time to digest all that has happened. I reached the end of Vol 3 at the end of January, and decided to take a few weeks off. I read Moby-Dick for what I think was the fifth time; then I finished The Master and Margarita, which had been an xmas present; then I drowsed thru Don Quixote; I put that down midway through while upstate last month, where I bought and read the incandescent Ginger Man by JP Donleavy. After finishing that, I gulped down Eco’s newest book, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. There is, here, an online annotation project for all its millions of allusions and references. I learned of the Loana project from The Modern Word… where I couldn’t help but notice the Thomas Pynchon pages.
Now, people who’ve known me long enough may know of my teen obsession with Pynchon. It was, in fact, twenty years and one month ago that I bought Gravity’s Rainbow. 12 April 1986. I read it two times in succession, and one more time in college. I attempted it again without success some time in the late 90s, and then one more time in the summer of 2000. I couldn’t take it. Giggling fratboy jokes, I thought, and backshelved all my Pynchon.
But something happened. I clicked around the Pynchon page, and felt myself getting all wispy and nostalgic. Three weeks ago, I bought a new copy of The Crying of Lot 49 (the old one, like my copy of V., had long since disintegrated (strangely appropriate for an author so preoccupied with paranoia and entropy) and dove in. And I loved it. It was actually human. And exuberant. The comedy was a welcome antidote to the lugubrious earnestness of modern fiction, a genre I had vowed I would never commit myself to again. So I pulled GR out, and started. Why not? What’s the worst that will happen? I’ll still find it too reminiscent of my hypereducated adolesencce, or it will make me vomit, and that will be that.
But that wasn’t that. Two weeks later, I’m on page 365. It’s a lark. By turns slapstick, philosophical, vivid, vague…
I am reclaiming old parts of myself. All this spring, as I relearn who I am, in light of deeply saddening revelations, I have been going back to the poetry, music, and prose of my youth and finding that little of it deserves the backshelved neglect it’s received. When did I decide I wasn’t allowed to like what I like?
I am a surrealist. The world is so irredeemably sick and tragic, and the surest way to wither to Bartlebian nothingness is to take it seriously. Instead, we must be like Charles Halloway and draw a smile on the wax bullet, to kill the October Queen. We mustn’t cry because of the world, but laugh in spite of it.
Laughter is a rebellious act. If the world is straight, we must bend it with comedy, which is, of course, the most serious way to face the world.
So I reclaim comedy, the absurd, the impossible, the hopeless. After all: it’s funny!