Friday, May 8, 2015

Birthday: Thomas Pynchon (born 1937)

Whether or not you a reader of the great (and reclusive) novelists Thomas Pynchon (pictured above) and William Gaddis, the tale spun in this timeline:

Who's Writing Whose Writing? Gaddis, Green, Pynchon, and Tinasky

and this Wikipedia article:

Wanda Tinasky

is completely mesmerizing. I think it would make an excellent movie if told in an appropriate style (Charlie Kaufman! The Fates are calling you!), but anyone who attempted to make such a movie while Pynchon is still alive would undoubtedly get sued by him. However, the courts generally protect dramatic representations of "public figures," which Tom is whether he likes it or not, so I say to any inspired party, have at it! This material is simply too splendid to resist.

Basically, what is involved here is a heap of mysterious people and personae. Pynchon is even more secretive than the late Gaddis (above) was - Gaddis eventually loosened up a bit - but neither has been an open book. From the get-go, some took the two to be the same person. "Jack Green," Gaddis's early champion, was also believed by some to be an alter-ego of Gaddis, although it would appear he was a rebellious actuary who assumed a new identity:

Spring 1957: Christopher Carlisle Reid walks out of his Manhattan job as an actuary for Metropolitan Life Insurance, throws his tie and dress shirt into the fountain in Madison Square, then goes home and throws his razor, clock and mirror out the window. He soon changes his name to Jack Green (from a horse-racing tip sheet, Jack’s Little Green Card) and sets to work typing, mimeographing and distributing newspaper out of a storefront at 225 East 5th Street.

As time went on, a minor beat poet, Tom Hawkins, becomes fascinated by these identity questions, and in a series of letters published in Northern California newspapers in the Eighties under the pseudonym "Wanda Tinasky," purportedly a bag lady, he asserted that Pynchon, Gaddis, and Green were identical. Pynchon revealed an extensive familiarity with that part of Northern California in his 1990 novel Vineland, which led some to finger him as "Tinasky."

Thus, depending upon your interpretation, there were one, two, three, or four writers. How postmodern can you get!

Meanwhile, the increasingly destitute Tom Hawkins had bludgeoned his wife Kathleen to death in 1988 and then, after living with the body for a few days, set fire to their house and drove himself off a cliff. That would have meant the end of Wanda Tinasky, too, except that by now there were Tinasky copycats, a fact that should have pleased Gaddis, whose massive first novel The Recognitions is organized around the theme of forgery, and Pynchon, whose obsessive interest in paranoia is evident everywhere in his work.

It took a lot of effort by literary scholars Steven Moore and Don Foster to suss out all this bizarrerie, and of course they become fully-fledged characters in the story, which is the equal of a Gaddis or Pynchon novel.

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