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Pynchon, A Peek

Posted by Geoff Edgers  November 14, 2006 01:18 PM
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Pynchon_Simpsons.jpg

Mark Feeney offers the following on the new Thomas Pynchon book, "Against the Day," which will arrive next Tuesday.

"Pynchon being Pynchon, there's no easy way to describe the novel. It starts out at the 1893 World's Fair, in Chicago, and sets off for points known and otherwise: Cleveland, New Haven, Iceland, Venice, New Orleans, Mexico, Siberia, Paris, London, Colorado. That's by no means an exhaustive list.

It's in Colorado that a secondary character named Merle Rideout has an epiphany about photography (Rideout's presence in the book explains this posting qualifying as Exhibitionist material). Walt Whitman may be the only American writer who's better at catalogs than Pynchon is, and the description of Rideout's studio in "Against the Day" may not be a thousand words but it's worth a thousand pictures. Furthermore, Pynchon has literature's most famous love/hate affair with technology, and since Merle is a photographer he does some pretty spectacular mulling on the concept of the camera as modern-day alchemist's stone.

So here are two passages of Pynchon on photography. ("Dally,") in the second one, is Merle's daughter.

"... [T]his overgrown shed . . . Merle managed to fill up to the rafters with photographer's or, if you like, alchemist's stuff _ containers ranging from banged-up vegetable cans to jugs and bottles holding liquids or powders of different colors, to gigantic glazed crocks, fifty gallons and more, that you might be able to lift empty but wouldn't necessarily want to, carefully bent glass tubes and copper coils running everyplace, a small forge over in one corner, an electric generator hooked to an old bicycle, battery cells dry and wet, electro-magnets, burners, an annealing oven, a workbench littered with lenses, developing tanks, exposure meters, printing frames, magnesium flash-lamps, a gas-heated rotary burnishing machine, and other stuff Merle had almost forgotten he had."

"Lately Merle had been visited by a strange feeling that 'photography' and 'alchemy' were just two ways of getting at the same thing _ redeeming light from the inertia of precious metals. And maybe his and Dally's long road out here was not the result of any idle drift but more of a secret imperative, like the force of gravity, from all the silver he'd been developing into the pictures he'd been taking over these years _ as if silver were alive, with a soul and a voice, and he'd been working for it as much as it for him."

"Redeeming light from the inertia of precious metals"!!!!


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About Exhibitionist Geoff Edgers covers arts news for The Boston Globe..
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