Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Octopus attack and Pynchon

I'm reading my way through Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, a book so substantial that merely "reading" it does not convey the magnitude of the task. It floated to the top of my reading list (or "budged" or "shoved," given overcrowding on the list) because I finally recovered from the mental reverberations of finishing Infinite Jest and wanted a comparably "dense and complex" read before I attempt to reread that behemoth.

This is just a diversion. I'm actually reading Against the Day, but after about 100 pages it became difficult to keep track of all the characters with their giddy names and quaint adventures, strung together through chance encounters and narrated by an author who no sooner introduces a character than becomes more interested in another character in the background of the scene. It's a long-form study of attention-deficit writing. It's an entire fictional universe, explored depth-first. I bought the book because the first scene, with its tongue-in-cheek narration of an intrepid crew of boys on an airship, captured my interest in a bookstore. I hope that we eventually return to those characters, about whom I enjoyed reading. I have two pages of notes taken while reading to help me remember the trailing thread of connections, but I was about to roll over to a second sheet of paper and feeling frustrated.

So I picked up Gravity's Rainbow, figuring I'd start with a more famous book by the same author. Maybe this would help me figure out how to properly read Pynchon's writing.

It has helped, a little. Instead of pages of notes on the plot, I have one long list of unknown words to look up. The narrative of Gravity's Rainbow sticks more adhesively to a small set of interwoven storylines, but sticky lines are very snarl-prone. It is no easier to understand. About 1/4 way through the book, I gave up trying to figure out what was happening. Now I'm just enjoying the ride: the abstruse writing with its forays into excitement, humor, and disturbing situations; the hints at many hidden plots, plots-within-plots, characters scheming together and against each other in continuously varying groupings; the tiny planted details which bloom unexpectedly into entire scenes.

Like this octopus. I think it is no spoiler (as I understand it) to reveal that there is a large octopus peripherally involved in Gravity's Rainbow, and that one scene features this octopus attacking a bathing beauty. I came across this print of a similar scene:Via Fuck Yeah Cephalopods. (N.B.: I did not know about this octopus when I started reading. It came as a surprise, and perhaps confirmation bias: the more I think about octopodes, the more I see them wherever I look. Look around you...)

This post's theme word: neritic, "of, relating to, or inhabiting the ocean waters between the low tide mark and a depth of about a hundred fathoms (200 meters)." This post is written like H. P. Lovecraft.

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