Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Thomas Pynchon INHERENT VICE (2009)

Loved the film, loved the book even more, just because there was more of it. Pynchon's sense of humor is relentless and right on my wavelength, and he mixes the conspiracy/investigation of the mysterious Golden Tooth with heavy handfuls of American history, the occult's alternate history, and levitates it with a constant, near equal-parts interest in television, film and music.

I am putting together a college Am Lit curriculum around the PI novel (invented here by Poe) as the truest expression of the American soul on paper, and one that permits examination of prime movers forces without rolled eyes.  Chomsky and Pynchon have similar interests, but where as Chomsky would be viewed as tiresome to most of the population, a fine detective romp is an easily digestible way to get those nutrients.  Stand-out course materials would be CHINATOWN, Raymond Chandler, even True Detective S2 for a study on what goes wrong in this avenue.  

(The audiobook narrator is aces, btw.)  Pynchon is concerned, as a lot of art is, about how the hippie movement lost steam and fizzled out into the ether. Only he has some answers too, that lead to even more intriguing questions.  Hippies, for lack of a better term, were disengaged consumers-and needed to be reprogrammed.  So they had to lose momentum.  Picking off and jailing leaders, introducing harder and harder drugs, etc.  The Golden Tooth is a shorthand for an Iran-Contra type situation, where the feds and 
'concerned citizens' use independent contractors to achieve their ends.  How did we get from the commune to the reign of Reagan within a decade?  Nixon has to be the most important American since FDR, and by force of will turned the cultural waters towards straight-laced suburban life from a dream now so hazy it doesn't seem like it could have been there at all.  

INHERENT VICE captures this with stupefying grace.  The NYT, the New Yorker, et al. reviewed it as a genial, lightly apocalyptic work (detective novels can't be deep!), but it isn't apocalyptic at all.  It is more about how forces keep progress at a bay, how stasis profits and will be fought for, as if capitalism has an immune system, and waves of killer T cells to come after infectious agents.  How do you explain the loss of the biggest counter-cultural movement in the U.S. in the 20th century?  We should at least try.  Mostly it was absorbed back into the superorganism, another wonderful, alternative revenue stream offering a diverse portfolio.  

Twinkie sales may be down, but we're making a killing on yoga pants.


Ben said...

Luckily I forgot to go off on my tangent about how California is the best setting to examine the ills and promise of America--microcosm geographically, yet retaining all the exaggerated highs and lows you could possibly want. Plus it just has the most fun and evocative place-names. Whenever I'm feeling down, remembering there is a place in the world called Rancho Cucamonga puts a smile on my face.

Also had wanted to touch on the history of utopian movements in America--how they have hard luck and also fizzle out with astonishing speed. There were also some super-interesting cases in the Middle Ages in Europe--people with really advanced beliefs for pre-Enlightenment times, and how fierce of opposition they faced.

IV got me worked up! I think it is in my Top Ten all-time, especially if you exclude the sentimental favorites of youth.

Ben said...

LA Confidential (1997), The Black Dahlia, Ellroy et al. tangentially belong. Chomsky's UNDERSTANDING POWER (2002) as pseudo-urtext.

Scott Nye said...

California's also the best noir setting - buncha people who fled from wherever they were, hoping to make it big, and became largely isolated.