(FYI I wrote the following entry the morning after my co-reading & signing with Thomas Pynchon at a Black Panther rally at The Club at Black Rock in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, on December 18.)
I’ve been sick all week and my cold reached its summit this afternoon. Symptoms: fatigue, sore throat, dry eyes, hot flashes, acidic cough, dejected worldview, spasmic aorta . . . For a few hours I was completely unable to speak. By the time Thomas Pynchon showed up and the preliminary hate-speeches had concluded, I had drank enough green tea to be audible, if only barely audible.
Pynchon is in his 70s but looks like he’s in his 90s. I was reminded of the character Blue – i.e., “Blue, you’re my boy!” – from the film Old School. He wore a tight WW2 sailor uniform with white hat and had really nice, straight, white teeth, like Gary Busey. They certainly weren’t the crooked Nosferatu fangs that drove him into seclusion in the 1960s, according to Jules Siegel’s biography.
When the moderator signaled me, I climbed the stairs of the podium and stood behind a collision of microphones. Hot flashes. Thundering headache. I had worn black browline sunglasses and a black turtleneck and leather jacket and black jeans and boots in an attempt to fit in. The floor of the podium was made of a kind of chickenwire and I worried that I might be electrified, i.e., that if I failed to satisfy consumer demand, I would be shocked offstage. Nothing like that happened, though.
I introduced myself, saying, “We of the younger generation extol the wisdom of that great leader and educator, who first spoke these flaming words of wisdom: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quixotic douchebaggery.’” Then I thanked everybody for coming, thanked Thomas for riding shotgun, and, sans context, began reading chapter 29 of Codename Prague, “Passagenwerk,” patterned after Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project in methodology and style. This chapter is a pastiche of quotes and pseudoquotes and apothegms and pseudoapothegms that hold the diagnostic key/code to the entire novel. At the same time, the chapter could be struck from the novel and nobody would care; in fact, readers might thank me. My editor certainly would thank me. One of many derogatory notes he made in the margin read: “This chapter should be deleted from the book. Or this chapter should be the whole book. Don’t fuck with your readers, moron.” I didn’t listen to him. I rarely listen to him unless his comments have to do with syntactic or grammatical errors. I suppose that’s why I have been relegated to small press infamy.
The audience more or less stared hatefully at me, although, in retrospect, I could be mistaken. Their expressions might have simply belonged to the empire of Deep and Adamant Concentration. Whatever the case, I only got about two pages into my reading before my voice gave out again. Frightened for my life, I continued to mouth the words until the moderator tapped me on the shoulder and told me no words were coming out of my lips. I apologized and asked Thomas if he would finish for me. He was sitting behind me, on the podium, in a deck chair. I could tell he didn’t want to do it, but I think he was a little scared, too, and he acquiesced without a struggle. His voice lacked charisma and certitude, but at least it worked. After he finished my “Passagenwerk” he read selections from his latest novel, Inherent Vice, which I had not read before. During the subsequent Q & A I admitted to not really being interested in what fiction writers over 70 had to say about life, the human condition, etc., but Inherent Vice is an exception. I also emphasized how much I disliked Vineland – I kept repeating the word “tripe” – but how I continue to be influenced by The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow and V. still resonate, too, despite being a million goddamn pages long, like most of his books.
The last question of the Q & A had to do with this very issue. A black panther asked Thomas, verbatim, “What the fuck, asshole?” in reference to the obese girth of his books. His reply was circuitous, but basically it regarded his loyalty to grand narratives, etc.