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Pynchon’s Critical Take On The Crying Of Lot 49

Every now and then, you’ll come across an author who isn’t that crazy about a popular book he wrote later in life.

Anthony Burgess criticized A Clockwork Orange as a novel that he quickly wrote for money and a novel that could be easily misunderstood, as evident by Stanley Kubrick’s screenplay treatment of the book.

And as I’m wrapping up The Crying of Lot 49, I came across this quote from Thomas Pynchon about the book.

“As is clear from the up-and-down shape of my learning curve, however, it was too much to expect that I’d keep on for long in this positive or professional direction. The next story I wrote was The Crying of Lot 49, which was marketed as a ‘novel,’ and in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I’d learned up until then.”

That quote, which I got from Wikipedia, originally appeared in Pynchon’s introduction to Slow Learner–a compilation of six short stories he wrote.

Something about that quote is both disappointing and refreshing.

In my mind, or the reader’s mind, a story is always fresh and new. So for him to say that he “forgot” everything he learned before writing that novel is an eye-opener. What must have seemed so important then, the influences and themes that drove the novel, matter much less now.

But Pynchon is the creator of the story and knows its strength and weaknesses better than anyone. So it’s refreshing to hear him so openly critique the novel, or at least the younger version of himself who wrote the novel, especially considering our natural tendency to defend our own art.

Granted, this is just two sentences from a much longer introduction to an unrelated series of short stories, but I still believe it’s revealing.

So, lovers of The Crying of Lot 49, what is your take on Pynchon’s quote?

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. teresa #

    It’s not clear what types of things he thought he forgot, although the book is a bit disjointed in spots. I heard that he quickly knocked out Crying of Lot 49 to earn money while he was writing one of his tomes. Clearly he is into his erudite tomes, but Crying is fresh and playful and really speaks to the times. Contrast that with Gravity’s Rainbow, which is brilliant but lacks that vibrant energy.

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    July 9, 2013
  2. Brian #

    Why do you assume the creator of the art knows its strengths and weaknesses best? I’d say the reader has an equal opinion on a work once it’s been sent out into the world. After all, communication goes both ways. Also, I wouldn’t make the argument that writers are hesitant to criticize their own works. I think it’s a common tale, actually. I don’t know of one novel — or short story even — that wasn’t re-written many times over because the writer knew they could do better. And many continue edits into new pressings. It brings to mind a question I was thinking about lately: is art ever finished? As for his quote, it’s refreshing, but it didn’t surprise me. I believe honest objectivity is preferable to a stone wall of confidence.

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    July 9, 2013
    • There’s a difference between editing to improve and simply saying something sucks or dismissing it like Pynchon does above. The difference here is that Lot 49 and Clockwork Orange has been public lauded for decades, and the author is going against the grain by criticizing his own novel.

      As for the strength and weakness comment, I think the reader can have an opinion of equal merit, but I’ll still trust the author’s judgment best. We can theorize and pontificate all day, but until we’ve walked in the author’s shoes, we really have no sense of where he’s coming from.

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      July 9, 2013
  3. Reblogged this on FERRARI.

    Like

    July 9, 2013
  4. Matt #

    I’d be interested to know how he feels about it now, thirty or so years on from when he wrote that introduction. He has in the meantime more than doubled his canon and there’s no reason to doubt he hasn’t reassessed it since.

    That said, I agree with Brian. What we each might find in the work (and I would hedge a bet Pynchon would agree) is valid whatever Pynchon thinks of his abilities as represented by the work. I think the work is a success because it is deals with communication and how we relate to the modern world in an accurately miasmic way (possibly more valid now than ever) and it evokes this incredibly well by basically overloading the protagonists (readers) senses.

    Like

    July 12, 2013

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