One of my long-time favorite New York City bookstores, St. Marks Bookshop is having a Pychnon release party! So best (as Mark Graham of the pioneering pop culture blog whatevs.org liked to say). You probably know that the new Pynchon novel, is going to be published this week. A couple of publications asked me to review it, but I declined for reasons of time and, I think, a feeling I could never top my minor, but cherished, Pynchon achievment, still remembered by some Pynchon obsessives: Months before publication of his last novel, Mason&Dixon, knowing only the just-announced title of the forthcoming book ,I wrote an essay for The New York Observer in which I riffed on what I thought would be as yet the undisclosed thematic heart of the yet unreleased novel. A phenomenon that until then had not been mentioned in connection with the novel, or Pynchon: “The Transit of Venus”
Long story, I won’t recount the path that led me to this conjecture, but in any case it turned out that search for–and resonance of–the astronomical phenomenon known as “the transit of Venus” (and the mysterious “black drop” associated with it) was a significant factor in the book.
Indeed one of the responses I got when I started this blog was a question from a Pynchonian who asked me whether I intended to seek to do something similar with Pynchon’s forthcoming book Against the Day. The problem was that Pynchon–in his initial rather verbose Amazon description of his book–had already preempted that option by listing a vast number of subjects that would be covered by the book. I took it personally! The taciturn (turn and tacit) title too: He didn’t want me pulling the same stunt! I’m not being entirely serious, merely getting into the paranoid Pynchonian spirit. .
And there’s also the fact that I wasn’t excited about a new Pynchon work as I had once been. I still consider The Crying of Lot 49 the best, most perfect Pynchon novel. (It’s all there!) And I don’t feel the the same reverence for Gravity’s Rainbow that most Pynchon obsessives do. (I like his first novel, V better.) Although Mark Feeny, the writer who profiled me and The Shakespeare Warsfor The Boston Globe, e mailed me to let me know there was a joke about The Merchant of Venice around page 890 (!) of Against the Day that I would enjoy.
Still I tend to think his later long novels represent an unfortunate late-Joycification of Pynchon. In the sense that there is a movement from what might be called the Ulysses of Pynchon () toward the more Wake-like M&Da move a way from the mad, compressed lucidity of 49 and V..
But who cares? I still want to know what’s going on in his mind and I like to run into people who feel the same way. Among literary enthusiasts Pynchonians are the sort I feel a kinship with even if I don’t necessarily think of myself as a Pynch-olator, so to speak.
In any case what set off this chain of thought was a recent breakfast with my girlfriend at another East Village landmark, Veselka, the still-fabulous Polish-Ukrainian coffee shop, followed by a visit to browse St. Marks Bookshop which I make a practice of doing every couple of weeks. I’ve loved this store ever since I came to New York and found it back when it was actually located on St. Marks Place on the funky day-glo gritty-hippy stretch between Second and Third Avenues. It’s now no longer exactly on St. Marks Place, it’s now a few steps away on the corner of 9th Street and Third Avenue. In a clean, well lighted, less Dickensian space. But still the same vibe, the vast unexpected eclectic selection of the the wayward, difficult and arcane. (And that goes for the books too). One of the last refuges of authentic intellectual Bohemian New York life.
Anyway in the tiny vestibutle of the new store there’s a compressed remnant of the old St. Marks Street Bohemian vibe: a notice board leaved in multiple layers of announcmeents of anarchist performance art, madman poetry readings, experimental non-verbal theater workshops, appearances by mystics and prophets, and the like. But the big news this time was a poster by the bookshop itself–for the Pynchon release party. The store would stay open past midnight on Monday night so that–at the stroke of Tuesday, the offical release date for Against the Day–it could start selling Against the Day ON the day.
Such a great idea! Obviously the deadline is arbitrary and has probably already been broken. But waiting til midnight is both celebratory and respectful. it’s an event, an attitude that reminds me again how much I like New York, how much I like Downtown New York and the spirit of the bookish Old Bohos that haunt it, how much I like St. Marks Bookshop (by the way autographed copies of %%AMAZON=0375503390 The Shakespeare Wars%% are to be found there). And how much I like the idea that there is a community of Pynchonites who are likely to show up for the midnight release party.
Pynchon deserves it. I hope to see you there.