- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Thomas Pynchon on History, Truth, “Living Inside the System,” Death, and More.

 

Happy birthday, Thomas Pynchon! 85, today!

Here is Against the Day‘s Jesse’s school essay on “What It Means to Be an American,” in its entirety:

“It means do what they tell you and take what they give you and don’t go on strike or their soldiers will shoot you down.”

And here’s a quote from Thomas Pynchon’s introduction to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:
“Those who don’t learn from history used to have to relive it, but only until those in power could find a way to convince everybody, including themselves, that history never happened, or happened in a way best serving their own purposes—or best of all that it doesn’t matter anyway, except as some dumbed-down TV documentary cobbled together for an hour’s entertainment.”

Finally, here are some quotes from across Pynchon’s oeuvre:

 

“Why should things be easy to understand?”

 

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

 

“Living inside the System is like riding across the country in a bus driven by a maniac bent on suicide…which sooner or later must crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life.”

 

“Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”

 

“‘Time is never wasted…if you remember to bring along something to read.'”

 

“Every weirdo in the world is on my wavelength.”

 

“The man’s thirst for guilt was insatiable as the desert’s for water.”

 

“A million bureaucrats are diligently plotting death and some of them even know it.”

 

“Who claims Truth, Truth abandons.”

 

“‘Explosion without an objective […] is politics in its purest form.'”

 

“All investigations of Time, however sophisticated or abstract, have at their true base the human fear of mortality.”

 

“As nights went on and nothing happened and the phenomenon slowly faded to the accustomed deeper violets again, most had difficulty remembering the earlier rise of heart, the sense of overture and possibility and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucination, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day.”

 

“Everybody gets told to write about what they know. The trouble with many of us is that at the earlier stages of life we think we know everything—or to put it more usefully, we are often unaware of the scope and structure of our ignorance.”

 

“It takes, unhappily, no more than a desk and writing supplies to turn any room into a confessional. This may have nothing to do with the acts we have committed, or the humors we do go in and out of. It may be only the room—a cube—having no persuasive powers of its own. The room simply is. To occupy it, and find a metaphor there for memory, is our own fault.”

 

“There is nothing so loathsome as a sentimental surrealist.”

 

“To have humanism we must first be convinced of our humanity. As we move further into decadence this becomes more difficult.”

 

“You know what a miracle is. Not what Bakunin said. But another world’s intrusion into this one. Most of the time we coexist peacefully, but when we do touch there’s cataclysm.”

 

“These times are unfriendly toward Worlds alternative to this one.”

 

‘”I want to break out—to leave this cycle of infection and death. I want to be taken in love: so taken that you and I, and death, and life, will be gathered inseparable, into the radiance of what we would become….'”

 

“If he’d been the type who evolves theories of history for his own amusement, he might have said all political events: wars, governments and uprisings, have the desire to get laid as their roots; because history unfolds according to economic forces and the only reason anybody wants to get rich is so he can get laid steadily, with whoever he chooses.”

 

“Politics is a kind of engineering isn’t it. With people as your raw material.”

 

“[A] million bureaucrats are diligently plotting death and some of them even know it.”

 

“[T]hey won’t be happy with anything less than drift-netting us all, chopping us up and stacking us on the shelves of Supermarket Amerika, and subconsciously the horrible thing is, is we want them to do it…”

 

“The world is at fault, not because it is inherently good or bad or anything but what it is, but because it doesn’t prepare us in anything but body to get along with.”

 

“Losing faith is a complicated business and takes time. There are no epiphanies, no ‘moments of truth.’ It takes much thought and concentration in the later phases, which themselves come about through an accumulation of small accidents: examples of general injustice, misfortune falling upon the godly, prayers of one’s own unanswered.”

 

“We are accordingly lost to any sense of continuous tradition. Perhaps if we lived on a crest, things would be different. We could at least see.”

 

“So generation after generation of men in love with pain and passivity serve out their time in the Zone, silent, redolent of faded sperm, terrified of dying, desperately addicted to the comforts others sell them, however useless, ugly or shallow, willing to have life defined for them by men whose only talent is for death.”

 

“If he’d been the type who evolves theories of history for his own amusement, he might have said all political events: wars, governments and uprisings, have the desire to get laid as their roots; because history unfolds according to economic forces and the only reason anybody wants to get rich is so he can get laid steadily, with whoever he chooses.”

 

“Right and left; the hothouse and the street. The Right can only live and work hermetically, in the hothouse of the past, while outside the Left prosecute their affairs in the streets manipulated by mob violence. And cannot live but in the dreamscape of the future.”

 

“‘Teamwork…is one word for it, yeah. What it really is is a way to avoid responsibility. It’s a symptom of the gutlessness of the whole society.'”

 

“This is America, you live in it, you let it happen. Let it unfurl.”

 

“What have the watchmen of the world’s edge come tonight to look for? Deepening on now, monumental beings stoical, on toward slag, toward ash the colour the night will stabilize at, tonight…what is there grandiose enough to witness?”

 

“There was no difference between the behavior of a god and the operations of pure chance.”

 

“Paranoids are not paranoid because they’re paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.”

 

“If there is something comforting⁠—religious, if you want⁠—about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.”

 

“‘There is no literature and art without paranoia. Probably there would be even civilization. Paranoia is the world. It is the attempt to make sense of what has not.'”

 

“The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.”

 

“Life’s single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane.”

 

“The object of life is to make sure you die a weird death. To make sure that, however it finds you, it finds you under very weird circumstances.”

 

“Laboring through a world every day more stultified, which expected salvation in codes and governments, ever more willing to settle for suburban narratives and diminished payoffs—what were the chances of finding anyone else seeking to transcend that, and not even particularly aware of it?”

 

“Keep cool but care.”

 

“It’s been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home⁠—only the millions of last moments…nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”

 

“A former self is a fool, an insufferable ass, but he’s still human, you’d no more turn him out than you’d turn out any kind of cripple, would you?”

 

“Don’t jump at an infinite number of possible shapes. There’s only one. It is most likely an interface between one order of things and another.”

 

“It is simply wrong to begin with a theme, symbol or other abstract unifying agent, and then try to force characters and events to conform to it.”

 

“Facts are but the Play-things of lawyers, — Tops and Hoops, forever a-spin… Alas the Historian may indulge no such idle Rotating. History is not Chronology, for that is left to lawyers, — nor is it Remembrance, for Remembrance belongs to the People. History can as little pretend to the Veracity of the one, as claim the Power of the other, — her Practitioners, to survive, must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc, spy, and Taproom Wit, — that there may ever continue more than one life-line back into a Past we risk, each day, losing our forebears in forever, — not a Chain of single Links, for one broken Link could lose us All, — rather, a great disorderly Tangle of Lines, long and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in Common.”

 

“There is no real direction here, neither lines of power nor cooperation. Decisions are never really made—at best they manage to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations, and all around assholery. ”

 

“Get them coming and going, twice as much revenue and no worries about new customers—as long as American life was something to be escaped from, the cartel could always be sure of a bottomless pool of new customers.”

 

“As nights went on and nothing happened and the phenomenon slowly faded to the accustomed deeper violets again, most had difficulty remembering the earlier rise of heart, the sense of overture and possibility and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucination, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day.”

 

“‘All the animals, the plants, the minerals, even other kinds of men, are being broken and reassembled every day, to preserve an elite few, who are the loudest to theorize on freedom, but the least free of all. I can’t even give you hope that it will be different someday⁠—that They’ll come out, and forget death, and lose Their technology’s elaborate terror, and stop using every other form of life without mercy to keep what haunts men down to a tolerable level—and be like you instead, simply here, simply….'”

 

“Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir’d, or coerc’d, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power,- who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish’d, as if it had never been. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev’ry Radius, Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume, Toilette, and Bearing, and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires, or even the Curiosity, of Government.”

 

“Don’t forget the real business of war is buying and selling. The murdering and violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals. The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as spectacle, as diversion from the real movements of the War. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught History as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death’s a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try ‘n’ grab a piece of that Pie while they’re still here to gobble it up. The true war is a celebration of markets.”

 

“Either you have stumbled indeed, without the aid of LSD or other indole alkaloids, onto a secret richness and concealed density of dream; onto a network by which X number of Americans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know, and you too, sweetie. Or you are hallucinating it. Or a plot has been mounted against you, so expensive and elaborate, involving items like the forging of stamps and ancient books, constant surveillance of your movements, plantings of post horn images all over San Francisco, bribing of librarians, hiring of professional actors and Pierce Inverarity only know what-all besides, all financed out of the estate in a way either too secret or too involved for your non-legal mind to know about even though you are co-executor, so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke. Or you are fantasying some such plot, in which case you are a nut, Oedipa, out of your skull.”

 

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John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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