Sunday, February 17, 2019

IT IS THE APEX OF OUR CULTURE: "Have you read Gravity’s Rainbow?" -- Smiley McGrouchpants

Wanna get lit hip quick? Don't look to me to get you there. You gotta have a New York City connection, and I've been there only twice: once spending a night on a friend's sailboat, and the other in a friend's 4th floor Manhattan apartment after being trapped in an elevator for a millennium and next morning finding my car, parked on the street below, had been broken into. Something evidently frightened the thief off, as he or she left his or her tire iron under the hood. It was my only souvenir from that trip—the rusty tire iron—and I kept it for years under the front seat of every vehicle I've owned since then. Probly somewhere in my Ford Ranger Sport model pickup as I type this guide to the guide to getting lit hip quick, It is the Apex of Our Culture: "Have you read Gravity’s Rainbow?"

To answer the Apex question, yes, I've read Gravity's Rainbow, but only after two or three false starts, always giving up at the advent of the giant walking adenoid, thinking at that point I might be losing my mind. I finally decided I had to read the damned thing all the way through if I ever wanted to at least be able to talk lit hip, so I did (and, in doing so, very possibly did lose at least part of my mind—but also gained a new respect, bordering on awe, for adenoids, mine, and, in fact, everyone's). It was the same year I finally read Moby Dick after two or three false starts, spaced about a decade apart. Reading Moby Dick did nothing to advance me toward lit hipness, but I do know a lot more now about whales, presented in vaguely King Jamesian biblical dialect that occasionally soared so majestically I could almost hear Gregory Peck's maddened voice wailing over the waves, and the stomping around on his God damned peg leg.

I should note—by God I do note!—I was given entré to the coveted lit status by prominent New York City photographer Rob Kinmonth, who’d recommended Gravity’s Rainbow to me when we were colleagues in Newport News, Va. at his hometown newspaper. Or maybe it was V he recommended. I started that, too, and pooped out before the end for fear of losing my mind without even the goading of a superhuman adenoid. Or maybe it was just Pynchon Rob recommended. Both V and GR are giant novels, which might also have played a deniable role in my half-hearted early attempts. The one I finished first was the novella, The Crying of Lot 49, which, finally, blew my mind all over the seat on the train from Newport News to Philadelphia and back reading the thing and learning therein to live equanimically with my latent paranoia and propensity to explode with laughter at word combinations plumbing nuances I never could have explained to anyone—not even a lit hipster—nor could I now. Problem is, McGrouchpants, in his guide to lit hip in one stoned sitting, pays so little notice to Crying I’d be begging for ridicule trying to claim points toward a lit hip degree for having read it, and maybe’d even lose points for admitting how cataclysmically it affected me. But, as McGrouchpants or Pynchon might put it, so f**king be it (the asterisks are in deference to Prudence, Amazon’s language sensory/censoring bot, which would reject without dispensation the entire review were it to spot certain verboten letter combinations from its tight-assed data base--even if contained in an excerpt from the work being reviewed!). As Hemingway or some other pre-hip lit lion once said, the asterisk is the dirtiest word in fiction (we presume with hope the bot does not know this).

If it's slipped my mind to point out that McGrouchpants’s quicky guide to Lit Hip (I’m upper casing it as by now we should know this is something important) is brief, it is. So brief it’s considered in the academic sense a “monograph,” meaning, I’m guessing, it’s shorter than a thesis, and this, mainly, because it omits voluminous footnoting, tedious repetition, ass-kissing acknowledgments, and, of course, the mandatory, drawn-out passive voice. In the spirit, thus, of brevity I forthwith am adopting a shortened version of the author’s presumed pseudonym. I’ve known him nearly a decade now as a fellow contributor to, where I initially encountered him as “Smiley McGrouchpants.” Somewhere along the way, I’m thinking possibly around the end of 2016, the “Smiley” morphed into “Crabby.” But in keeping with the conceit of this monograph I am reluctant to stray too far from formality. Yet, in deference to my fingers’ beseechment to ease up on the upper-case-lower-case pseudo-surname rhumba, I’m reducing the alphabet combinations to simply “Grouchy,” the identical appellation redaction I’ve adopted for our primary venue.
Grouchy's self-perception

Lest any readers of this review think for so much as a blink I am trying by this ridiculous-seeming syntax to pass myself off as a graduate of the New York Amalgamated Academy of Lit Hip Research Ltd., please perish the notion! Not exactly sure just what it is that’s come over me, altho those readers with an understanding of the expression “contact high” might find a clue in the following paragraph, lifted verbatim in its entirety from the aforementioned monograph:

“But what if . . . ” (taking another toke here), “the mind, the imagination properly speaking, couldn’t, like a—” (toooke) “— hot air balloon, be reigned in, and—” (tooohhke) “— started floating, helpless, into the ‘murder’ regions of the mind, irretrievably ‘corrupted’ by the cre-ah—” (toohke) “— tive parts of the mind—” (grabs pen, attempts to pull of cap, gets it on the second try, starts scribbling furiously . . . )”

Are you with me here? Don’t worry if you’re not. Not sure I’m here myself. But I’d like to be, which is why I read Grouchy’s monograph thinking I was on the cusp of Lit Hip for having read several works by Pynchon but soon realizing I’d have to read it again, and perhaps again after that, and so forth, as Grouchy says he did with all 780 pages of the 26-year-old Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. At least three times, maybe four, depending on which of his paragraphs you believe. Grouchy’s monograph alone was beginning to stagger me until I got to the paragraph where he notes that Gravity’s Rainbow has a similar effect, possibly intimidating many as esoteric gibberish “rather than a rollicking, improv.-based Warner Brothers cartoon that makes WWII look like it was run by people who at least thought they should try to intimidate Cary Grant’s élan . . . crossed with Dr. Strangelove . . .”
Grouchy with anonymous celebrity

I get that, but I’ll be damned if I read Gravity’s Rainbow another two or three times just to make sure. I have the diligence only to re-read parts of this monograph for the review, certainly not to master its hip-lit/film maze as presented without footnotes by Grouchy McCrabpants, who obviously gets it with enough confidence to put his assertions right out there in the Kindle universe for dilettantes like me to fumble around with as if we get it, too. Some of the names he drops I recognize and some I’ve read or seen their work on a screen. Only one grabbed me by the throat with such shocking tenacity I actually rushed back to the Kindle library and downloaded his most recent (I think) book: Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow, whom I’d not known of. Here’s the quote that snagged me: “The universe hates us. We are temporary violations of the second law of thermodynamics. We push entropy off to the edges, but it’s patient, and it builds, and when we take our eyes off of it, kerbloom, it’s back with a vengeance.”

Walkaway’s a long book, too, so I figure I'll read it a couple three times and have met the requirements for at least an associate degree in Lit Hip. I know you’re pulling for me! 
 Oh, this: Pynchon, remember, was 26 when he “scribbled” Gravity’s Rainbow out on engineers’ quadrille paper (the kind with little squares on it--this fact alone nudges me fearfully close to clinical insanity). Today, Wiki says, the dude is 81.

I’ve nothing more to add. 

Except this:   Except this:



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