04 May 2008

More on Pynchon and Henry Adams

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I decided to post anything from this marvelous group discussion of The Education of Henry Adams that reminded me of Pynchon. Against the Day got me thinking of Adams right off the bat, and my suspicions were confirmed by Jennifer Schuessler's introductory post, in which she states that "Adams’s ideas of inertia and entropy profoundly influenced Thomas Pynchon." (But how does she know this? Is it common knowledge? Does Pynchon discuss this somewhere? I'd love to find out.)

Here's something Thomas Mallon wrote next:
Adams’s “Dynamic Theory of History,” developed during a decade in which he was also playing with magnets and seeking revelation in the statistics of coal production, proceeds from a late-life awareness of himself a “a conscious ball of vibrating motions, traversed in every direction by infinite lines of rotation or vibration.” His discovery that, as of 1900, the world would “not be a unity but a multiple” freed him to write a memoir whose own ever-increasing entropy could be rationalized as a shape to suit the times.
I immediately thought of Skip (Pynchon's "ball lightning" that befriends Merle). I'm fascinated by the similarity of language and ideas. It appears that Pynchon carries Adams' ideas to another level (dimension!) and continues to consistently explore them.

Jill Abramson later observed:
It is mind-bending to think that the little boy marched to school by John Quincy Adams lived to see both the discovery of radium and the invention of the motorcar. He was prophetic and saw that American life was going to be completely transformed by technology, and not always for the better. He recognized the deeply disruptive potential of technology and internalized how modernity itself often inspires deep longing for spirituality.
In addition to this, I would add a "longing for mystery"--another aspect of the Virgin. The way in which Pynchon melds religion and science, addressing not only existential dilemmas but the ways in which these two spheres overlap, is truly revelatory. One cannot wholly exist without the other. Where would science be without an affinity for mystery to propel it? And religion gives to some a structure or "worldview" from which to interpret the evidence of the eyes (or at least the visible aspect of "reality").

What's most amazing to me is the artistic harmony that emerges. Of course, these issues aren't without their conflicts and contradictions. But I am in awe of the way in which Pynchon creates (mirrors?) a world in which they coexist, in which the questions are valid. This seemingly whole-hearted embrace of paradox is part of his genius. I feel honored to be reading him.

UPDATE: I've just discovered (thanks to Bud Parr) that today is Pynchon's 71st birthday. If I were in NYC and could send a fax to him, it would probably resemble aspects of this post. Many happy returns to one of the greatest writers in history!

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