Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon [pin-chuhn] (b. 1937) is an American novelist. A MacArthur Fellow, he is noted for his dense and complex novels. Both his fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a vast array of subject matter, styles, and themes, including (but not limited to) the fields of history, science, and mathematics. For his most praised novel, ‘Gravity’s Rainbow,’ Pynchon won the 1974 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction (which he declined).

After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known: ‘V.’ (1963), ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ (1966), ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ (1973), and ‘Mason & Dixon’ (1997). Pynchon is also known for being very private; very few photographs of him have ever been published, and rumors about his location and identity have circulated since the 1960s.

His earliest American ancestor, William Pynchon, emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, and thereafter a long line of Pynchon descendants found wealth and repute on American soil. Pynchon’s family background and aspects of his ancestry have provided source material for his fictions, particularly in the Slothrop family histories related in the short story ‘The Secret Integration’ (1964) and ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ (1973). Pynchon attended Oyster Bay High School in Oyster Bay, where he was awarded ‘student of the year’ and contributed short fictional pieces to his school newspaper. These juvenilia incorporated some of the literary motifs and recurring subject matter he would use throughout his career: oddball names, sophomoric humor, illicit drug use, and paranoia. After graduating from high school in 1953 at the age of 16, Pynchon studied engineering physics at Cornell University, but left at the end of his second year to serve in the U.S. Navy. In 1957, he returned to Cornell to pursue a degree in English. His first published story, ‘The Small Rain,’ narrates an actual experience of a friend who had served in the Army; subsequently, however, episodes and characters throughout Pynchon’s fiction draw freely upon his own experiences in the Navy.

While at Cornell, Pynchon started his friendships with Richard Fariña and David Shetzline; Pynchon would go on to dedicate ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ to Fariña, as well as serve as his best man and as his pallbearer. Together the two briefly led what Pynchon has called a ‘micro-cult’ around Oakley Hall’s 1958 novel ‘Warlock.’ Pynchon later reminisced about his college days in the introduction he wrote in 1983 for Fariña’s novel ‘Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me,’ first published in 1966. He reportedly attended lectures given by Vladimir Nabokov, who then taught literature at Cornell. Although Nabokov later said that he had no memory of Pynchon, Nabokov’s wife Véra, who graded her husband’s class papers, commented that she remembered his distinctive handwriting as a mixture of printed and cursive letters. In 1958, Pynchon and Cornell classmate Kirkpatrick Sale wrote part or all of a science-fiction musical, ‘Minstrel Island,’ which portrayed a dystopian future in which IBM rules the world.

After leaving Cornell, Pynchon began to work on his first novel: ‘V.’ From 1960 to 1962, he was employed as a technical writer at Boeing in Seattle, where he compiled safety articles for the ‘Bomarc Service News,’ a support newsletter for the BOMARC surface-to-air missile deployed by the U.S. Air Force. Pynchon’s experiences at Boeing inspired his depictions of the ‘Yoyodyne’ corporation in ‘V.’ and ‘The Crying of Lot 49,’ and both his background in physics and the technical journalism he undertook at Boeing provided much raw material for ‘Gravity’s Rainbow.’

After resigning from Boeing, Pynchon spent some time in New York and Mexico before moving to California, where he was reportedly based for much of the 1960s and early 1970s, most notably in an apartment in Manhattan Beach, as he was composing the highly regarded ‘Gravity’s Rainbow.’ Pynchon during this time flirted with the lifestyle and some of the habits of the Beat and hippie countercultures. A negative aspect, in addition to several good ones, that Pynchon retrospectively found in the hippie cultural and literary movement, both in the form of the Beats of the 1950s and the resurgence form of the 1960s, was that it ‘placed too much emphasis on youth, including the eternal variety.’

In an 1964 letter to his agent, Pynchon wrote that he was facing a creative crisis, with four novels in progress, announcing: ‘If they come out on paper anything like they are inside my head then it will be the literary event of the millennium.’ In late 1965, Pynchon politely turned down an invitation from Stanley Edgar Hyman to teach literature at Bennington College, writing that he had resolved, two or three years earlier, to write three novels at once. Pynchon described the decision as ‘a moment of temporary insanity,’ but noted that he was ‘too stubborn to let any of them go, let alone all of them.’ Pynchon’s second novel, ‘The Crying of Lot 49,’ was published a few months later in 1966. Whether it was one of the three or four novels Pynchon had in progress is not known, but in a 1965 letter to his agent, he had written that he was in the middle of writing a ‘potboiler.’ When the book grew to 155 pages, he called it, ‘a short story, but with gland trouble,’ and hoped his agent could ‘unload it on some poor sucker.’

Although more concise and linear in its structure than Pynchon’s other novels, ‘The Crying of Lot 49’s labyrinthine plot features an ancient, underground mail service known as ‘The Tristero’ or ‘Trystero,’ a parody of a Jacobean revenge drama called ‘The Courier’s Tragedy,’ and a corporate conspiracy involving the bones of World War II American GIs being used as charcoal cigarette filters. It proposes a series of seemingly incredible interconnections between these events and other similarly bizarre revelations that confront the novel’s protagonist, Oedipa Maas. Like ‘V.’, the novel contains a wealth of references to science and technology and to obscure historical events, with both books dwelling on the detritus of American society and culture. It also continues Pynchon’s strategy of composing parodic song lyrics and punning names, and referencing aspects of popular culture within his prose narratives. In particular, it incorporates a very direct allusion to the protagonist of Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’ within the lyric of a love lament sung by a member of ‘The Paranoids,’ a teenage band who deliberately sing their songs with British accents.

Pynchon’s most celebrated novel is his third, ‘Gravity’s Rainbow,’ published in 1973. An intricate and allusive fiction that combines and elaborates on many of the themes of his earlier work, including preterition, paranoia, racism, colonialism, conspiracy, synchronicity, and entropy, the novel has spawned a wealth of commentary and critical material, including reader’s guides, books and scholarly articles, online concordances and discussions, and art works. Its artistic value is often compared to that of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ Some scholars have hailed it as the greatest American post-WW2 novel, and it has similarly been described as ‘literally an anthology of postmodernist themes and devices.’

The major portion of Gravity’s Rainbow takes place in London and Europe in the final months of World War II and the weeks immediately following VE Day, and is narrated for the most part from within the historical moment in which it is set. In this way, Pynchon’s text enacts a type of dramatic irony whereby neither the characters nor the various narrative voices are aware of specific historical circumstances, such as the Holocaust and, except as hints, premonitions and mythography, the complicity between Western corporate interests and the Nazi war machine, which figure prominently in readers’ apprehensions of the novel’s historical context. For example, at war’s end the narrator observes: ‘There are rumors of a War Crimes Tribunal under way in Nürnberg. No one Slothrop has listened to is clear who’s trying whom for what …’ Such an approach generates dynamic tension and moments of acute self-consciousness, as both reader and author seem drawn ever deeper into the ‘plot,’ in various senses of that term: ‘Between the ominous launch and final descent into ‘terminal orgasm,’ Pynchon presents us with a Disney-meets-Bosch panorama of European politics, American entropy, industrial history, and libidinal panic which leaves a chaotic whirl of fractal patterns in the reader’s mind.

The novel invokes anti-authority sentiments, often through violations of narrative conventions and integrity. For example, as the protagonist, Tyrone Slothrop, considers the fact that his own family ‘made its money killing trees,’ he apostrophizes his apology and plea for advice to the coppice within which he has momentarily taken refuge. In an overt incitement to eco-activism, Pynchon’s narrative agency then has it that ‘a medium-sized pine nearby nods its top and suggests, ‘Next time you come across a logging operation out here, find one of their tractors that isn’t being guarded, and take its oil filter with you. That’s what you can do.”

Encyclopedic in scope and often self-conscious in style, the novel displays erudition in its treatment of an array of material drawn from the fields of psychology, chemistry, mathematics, history, religion, music, literature and film. Pynchon wrote the first draft in ‘neat, tiny script on engineer’s quadrille paper,’ and worked on the novel throughout the 1960s and early 1970s while he was living in California and Mexico City. Gravity’s Rainbow won the 1974 National Book Award. That same year, the Pulitzer Prize fiction panel unanimously recommended it for the award, but the Pulitzer board vetoed the jury’s recommendation, describing the novel as ‘unreadable,’ ‘turgid,’ ‘overwritten,’ and in parts ‘obscene.’ No Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was awarded that year. In 1975, Pynchon declined the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

A collection of Pynchon’s early short stories, ‘Slow Learner,’ was published in 1984, with a lengthy autobiographical introduction. In October of the same year, an article entitled ‘Is It O.K. to Be a Luddite?’ was published in the ‘New York Times Book Review.’ In 1988, Pynchon contributed an extensive review of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ to the ‘New York Times,’ under the title ‘The Heart’s Eternal Vow.’ Another article, entitled ‘Nearer, My Couch, to Thee,’ was published in 1993 in the ‘New York Times Book Review,’ as one in a series of articles in which various writers reflected on each of the Seven Deadly Sins. Pynchon’s subject was ‘Sloth.’

Pynchon’s fourth novel, ‘Vineland,’ was published in 1990, but disappointed a majority of fans and critics. It did, however, receive some positive reviews, notably from the novelist Salman Rushdie. The novel is set in California in the 1980s and 1960s, and describes the relationship between an undercover FBI COINTELPRO agent and a female radical filmmaker. Its strong socio-political undercurrents detail the constant battle between authoritarianism and communalism, and the nexus between resistance and complicity, but with a typically Pynchonian sense of humor. Pynchon’s fifth novel, ‘Mason & Dixon,’ was published in 1997, though it had been a work in progress since at least 1975. The meticulously researched novel is a sprawling postmodernist saga recounting the lives and careers of the English astronomer, Charles Mason, and his partner, the surveyor Jeremiah Dixon, the surveyors of the Mason-Dixon line, during the birth of the American Republic. The majority of commentators acknowledged it as a welcome return to form.

A variety of rumors pertaining to the subject matter of Pynchon’s next novel, ‘Against the Day,’ circulated for a number of years. Most specific of these were comments made by the former German minister of culture, Michael Naumann, who stated that he assisted Pynchon in his research about ‘a Russian mathematician [who] studied for David Hilbert in Göttingen,’ and that the new novel would trace the life and loves of Sofia Kovalevskaya (the first major Russian female mathematician). In 2006, a new untitled novel by Pynchon was announced along with a synopsis written by Pynchon himself, which appeared on Amazon.com, it stated that the novel’s action takes place between the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the time immediately following World War I. ‘With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead,’ Pynchon wrote in his book description, ‘it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.’ He promised cameos by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx, as well as ‘stupid songs’ and ‘strange sexual practices.’ Subsequently, the title of the new book was reported to be ‘Against the Day.’

Composed predominantly of a series of interwoven pastiches of popular fiction genres from the era in which it is set, the novel inspired several reactions from critics and reviewers. One reviewer in ‘Time’ magazine remarked that, ‘It is brilliant, but it is exhaustingly brilliant.’ The novel’s extensive condemnation of capitalism, and its loyalty to the 1960s ideals, was received with great regret by mainstream critics in the US. Some made the point that this was ostensibly the culmination of Pynchon’s career and a summation of his personal philosophy, while others suggested that it was a ‘loose baggy monster,’ pieced together from several long-time Pynchonian works-in-progress and offcuts from others of his novels.

His next novel was ‘Inherent Vice,’ published in 2009. The book was advertised by the publisher as ‘part-noir, part-psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon — private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog.’ In a generally favorable review, Michiko Kakutani of ‘The New York Times’ called it ‘Pynchon Lite,’ describing it as ‘a simple shaggy-dog detective story that pits likable dopers against the Los Angeles Police Department and its ‘countersubversive’ agents, a novel in which paranoia is less a political or metaphysical state than a byproduct of smoking too much weed.’

Of Pynchon, poet L. E. Sissman, wrote from ‘The New Yorker’: ‘He is almost a mathematician of prose, who calculates the least and the greatest stress each word and line, each pun and ambiguity, can bear, and applies his knowledge accordingly and virtually without lapses, though he takes many scary, bracing linguistic risks. Thus his remarkably supple diction can first treat of a painful and delicate love scene and then roar, without pause, into the sounds and echoes of a drugged and drunken orgy.’ Along with its emphasis on sociopolitical themes such as racism and imperialism, its awareness and appropriation of many elements of traditional high culture and literary form, Pynchon’s work explores philosophical, theological, and sociological ideas exhaustively, though in quirky and approachable ways. His writings demonstrate a strong affinity with the practitioners and artifacts of low culture, including comic books and cartoons, pulp fiction, popular films, television programs, cookery, urban myths, conspiracy theories, and folk art. This blurring of the conventional boundary between ‘High’ and ‘low’ culture has been seen as one of the defining characteristics of postmodernism.

In particular, Pynchon has revealed himself in his fiction and non-fiction as an aficionado of popular music. Song lyrics and mock musical numbers appear in each of his novels, and, in his autobiographical introduction to the ‘Slow Learner’ collection of early stories, he reveals a fondness for both jazz and rock and roll. The character McClintic Sphere in ‘V.’ is a fictional composite of jazz musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk. In ‘The Crying of Lot 49,’ the lead singer of ‘The Paranoids’ sports ‘a Beatle haircut’ and sings with an English accent. In the closing pages of ‘Gravity’s Rainbow,’ there is an apocryphal report that Tyrone Slothrop, the novel’s protagonist, played kazoo and harmonica as a guest musician on a record released by The Fool in the 1960s (having magically recovered the latter instrument, his ‘harp,’ in a German stream in 1945, after losing it down the toilet in 1939 at the Roseland Ballroom in Roxbury, Boston, to the strains of the jazz standard ‘Cherokee,’ upon which tune Charlie Parker was simultaneously inventing bebop in New York, as Pynchon describes). In ‘Vineland,’ both Zoyd Wheeler and Isaiah Two Four are also musicians: Zoyd played keyboards in a ’60s surf band called ‘The Corvairs,’ while Isaiah played in a punk band called ‘Billy Barf and the Vomitones.’ In ‘Mason & Dixon,’ one of the characters plays on the ‘Clavier’ the varsity drinking song that will later become ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’; while in another episode a character remarks tangentially ‘Sometimes, it’s hard to be a woman.’

In his introduction to Slow Learner, Pynchon acknowledges a debt to the anarchic bandleader Spike Jones (not to be confused with filmmaker Spike Jonze), and in 1994, he penned a 3000-word set of liner notes for the album ‘Spiked!’, a collection of Jones’s recordings released on the short-lived BMG Catalyst label. Pynchon also wrote the liner notes for ‘Nobody’s Cool,’ the second album of indie rock band Lotion, in which he states that ‘rock and roll remains one of the last honorable callings, and a working band is a miracle of everyday life. Which is basically what these guys do.’ He is also known to be a fan of Roky Erickson.

Investigations and digressions into the realms of human sexuality, psychology, sociology, mathematics, science, and technology recur throughout Pynchon’s works. One of his earliest short stories, ‘Low-lands’ (1960), features a meditation on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as a metaphor for telling stories about one’s own experiences. His next published work, ‘Entropy’ (1960), introduced the concept which was to become synonymous with Pynchon’s name (though Pynchon later admitted the ‘shallowness of [his] understanding’ of the subject, and noted that choosing an abstract concept first and trying to construct a narrative around it was ‘a lousy way to go about writing a story’). Another early story, ‘Under the Rose’ (1961), includes among its cast of characters a cyborg set anachronistically in Victorian-era Egypt (a type of writing now called steampunk). This story, significantly reworked by Pynchon, appears as Chapter 3 of ‘V.’ ‘The Secret Integration’ (1964), Pynchon’s last published short story, is a sensitively-handled coming-of-age tale in which a group of young boys face the consequences of the American policy of racial integration. At one point in the story, the boys attempt to understand the new policy by way of the mathematical operation, the only sense of the word with which they are familiar.

‘The Crying of Lot 49’ also alludes to entropy and communication theory, and contains scenes and descriptions which parody or appropriate calculus, Zeno’s paradoxes, and the thought experiment known as Maxwell’s demon. At the same time, the novel also investigates homosexuality, celibacy and both medically-sanctioned and illicit psychedelic drug use. ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ describes many varieties of sexual fetishism (including sado-masochism, coprophilia, and a borderline case of tentacle rape), and features numerous episodes of drug use, most notably marijuana but also cocaine, naturally occurring hallucinogens, and the mushroom Amanita muscaria. ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ also derives much from Pynchon’s background in mathematics: at one point, the geometry of garter belts is compared with that of cathedral spires, both described as mathematical singularities. ‘Mason & Dixon’ explores the scientific, theological, and socio-cultural foundations of the Age of Reason while also depicting the relationships between actual historical figures and fictional characters in intricate detail and, like ‘Gravity’s Rainbow,’ is an archetypal example of the genre of historiographic metafiction.

The wildly eccentric characters, frenzied action, frequent digressions, and imposing lengths of Pynchon’s novels have led critic James Wood to classify Pynchon’s work as ‘hysterical realism.’ Other writers whose work has been labeled as hysterical realism include Steve Erickson, Neal Stephenson, and Zadie Smith. Thanks to his influence on William Gibson and Stephenson in particular, Pynchon became one of the progenitors of cyberpunk fiction; a 1987 essay in ‘Spin’ magazine by Timothy Leary explicitly named ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ as the ‘Old Testament’ of cyberpunk, with Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ and its sequels as the ‘New Testament.’ Though the term ‘cyberpunk’ did not become prevalent until the early 1980s, since Leary’s article many readers have retroactively included ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ in the genre, along with other works — e.g., Samuel R. Delany’s ‘Dhalgren’ and many works of Philip K. Dick — which seem, after the fact, to anticipate cyberpunk styles and themes. The encyclopedic nature of Pynchon’s novels also led to some attempts to link his work with the short-lived hypertext fiction movement of the 1990s.

Relatively little is known about Thomas Pynchon’s private life; he has carefully avoided contact with reporters for more than forty years. Only a few photos of him are known to exist, nearly all from his high school and college days, and his whereabouts have often remained undisclosed. A review of ‘V.’ in the ‘New York Times Book Review’ described Pynchon as ‘a recluse’ living in Mexico, thereby introducing the media label with which journalists have characterized him throughout his career. Nonetheless, Pynchon’s personal absence from mass media is one of the notable features of his life, and it has generated many rumors and apocryphal anecdotes. After the publication and success of ‘Gravity’s Rainbow,’ interest mounted in finding out more about the identity of the author. At the 1974 National Book Awards ceremony, the president of Viking Press, Tom Guinzberg, arranged for double-talking comedian ‘Professor’ Irwin Corey to accept the prize on Pynchon’s behalf. Many of the assembled guests had no idea who Corey was and had never seen the author, so they assumed it was Pynchon himself on the stage delivering Corey’s trademark torrent of rambling, pseudo-scholarly verbiage. Toward the end of Corey’s address a streaker ran through the hall, adding further to the confusion.

An article published in the ‘Soho Weekly News’ in 1976 claimed that Pynchon was in fact J. D. Salinger. Pynchon’s written response to this theory ( was simple: ‘Not bad. Keep trying.’

Thereafter, the first piece to provide substantial information about Pynchon’s personal life was a biographical account written by a former Cornell University friend, Jules Siegel, and published in ‘Playboy’ magazine. In his article, Siegel reveals that Pynchon had a complex about his teeth and underwent extensive and painful reconstructive surgery, was nicknamed ‘Tom’ at Cornell and attended Mass diligently, acted as best man at Siegel’s wedding, and that he later also had an affair with Siegel’s wife. Siegel recalls Pynchon saying he did attend some of Vladimir Nabokov’s lectures at Cornell but that he could hardly make out what Nabokov was saying because of his thick Russian accent. Siegel also records Pynchon’s comment that ‘[e]very weirdo in the world is on my wavelength,’ an observation borne out by the crankiness and zealotry that has attached itself to his name and work in subsequent years.

Pynchon does not like to talk with reporters, and refuses the spectacle of celebrity and public appearances. Some readers and critics have suggested that there were and are perhaps aesthetic (and ideological) motivations behind his choice to remain aloof from public life. For example, the protagonist in Janette Turner Hospital’s short story, ‘For Mr. Voss or Occupant’ (published in 1991), explains to her daughter that she is writing: ‘a study of authors who become reclusive. Patrick White, Emily Dickinson, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon. The way they create solitary characters and personae and then disappear into their fictions.’ More recently, book critic Arthur Salm has written that: ‘the man simply chooses not to be a public figure, an attitude that resonates on a frequency so out of phase with that of the prevailing culture that if Pynchon and Paris Hilton were ever to meet — the circumstances, I admit, are beyond imagining — the resulting matter/antimatter explosion would vaporize everything from here to Tau Ceti IV.’

Belying this reputation somewhat, Pynchon has published a number of articles and reviews in the mainstream American media, including words of support for Salman Rushdie and his then-wife, Marianne Wiggins, after the fatwa was pronounced against Rushdie by the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In the following year, Rushdie’s enthusiastic review of Pynchon’s ‘Vineland’ prompted Pynchon to send him another message hinting that if Rushdie were ever in New York, the two should arrange a meeting. Eventually, the two did meet, and Rushdie said of him that he was ‘extremely Pynchon-esque’ and ‘the Pynchon he wanted him to be.’

In the early 1990s, Pynchon married his literary agent, Melanie Jackson — a great-granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt and a granddaughter of Robert H. Jackson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Nuremberg trials prosecutor — and fathered a son, Jackson, in 1991. The disclosure of Pynchon’s 1990s location in New York City, after many years in which he was believed to be dividing his time between Mexico and northern California, led some journalists and photographers to try to track him down. Shortly before the publication of ‘Mason & Dixon’ in 1997, a CNN camera crew filmed him in Manhattan. Angered by this invasion of his privacy, he called CNN asking that he not be identified in the footage of the street scenes near his home. When asked by CNN, Pynchon rejected their characterization of him as a recluse, remarking ‘My belief is that ‘recluse’ is a code word generated by journalists … meaning, ‘doesn’t like to talk to reporters.” CNN also quoted him as saying, ‘Let me be unambiguous. I prefer not to be photographed.’

After several references to Pynchon’s work and reputation were made on NBC’s ‘The John Larroquette Show,’ Pynchon (through his agent) reportedly contacted the show’s producers to offer suggestions and corrections. When a local Pynchon sighting became a major plot point in a 1994 episode of the show, Pynchon was sent the script for his approval; as well as providing the title of a fictitious work to be used in one episode (‘Pandemonium of the Sun’), the novelist apparently vetoed a final scene that called for an extra playing him to be filmed from behind, walking away from shot. Also during the 1990s, Pynchon apparently befriended members of the band Lotion and attended a number of their shows, culminating in the liner notes he contributed for the band’s 1995 album ‘Nobody’s Cool.’ The novelist then conducted an interview with the band (‘Lunch With Lotion’) for ‘Esquire’ in 1996 in the lead-up to the publication of ‘Mason & Dixon.’ More recently, Pynchon provided faxed answers to questions submitted by author David Hajdu and permitted excerpts from his personal correspondence to be quoted in Hajdu’s 2001 book, ‘Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña.’

Pynchon’s insistence on maintaining his personal privacy and on having his work speak for itself has resulted in a number of outlandish rumors and hoaxes over the years. Indeed, claims that Pynchon was the Unabomber or a sympathizer with the Waco Branch Davidians after the 1993 siege were upstaged in the mid-1990s by the invention of an elaborate rumor insinuating that Pynchon and one ‘Wanda Tinasky’ were the same person. A spate of letters authored under that name had appeared in the late 1980s in the ‘Anderson Valley Advertiser’ in Anderson Valley, California. The style and content of those letters were said to resemble Pynchon’s, and Pynchon’s ‘Vineland,’ published in 1990, also takes place in northern California, so it was suggested that Pynchon may have been in the area at that time, conducting research. A collection of the Tinasky letters was eventually published as a paperback book in 1996; however, Pynchon himself denied having written the letters, and no direct attribution of the letters to Pynchon was ever made. ‘Literary detective’ Donald Foster subsequently showed that the Letters were in fact written by an obscure Beat writer called Tom Hawkins, who had murdered his wife and then committed suicide in 1988.

In 1998, over 120 letters that Pynchon had written to his longtime agent were donated by the family of private collector, Carter Burden, to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City. The letters ranged from 1963 to 1982, thus covering some of the author’s most creative and prolific years. Although the Morgan Library originally intended to allow scholars to view the letters, at Pynchon’s request the Burden family and Morgan Library agreed to seal these letters until after Pynchon’s death.

Responding to the image which has been manufactured in the media over the years, during 2004, Pynchon made two cameo animated appearances on the television series ‘The Simpsons.’ The first occurs in the episode ‘Diatribe of a Mad Housewife,’ in which Marge Simpson becomes a novelist. He plays himself, with a paper bag over his head, and provides a blurb for the back cover of Marge’s book, speaking in a broad Long Island accent: ‘Here’s your quote: ‘Thomas Pynchon loved this book, almost as much as he loves cameras!” He then starts yelling at passing cars: ‘Hey, over here, have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we’ll throw in a free autograph! But, wait! There’s more!’ In his second appearance, in ‘All’s Fair in Oven War,’ Pynchon’s dialogue consists entirely of puns on his novel titles (‘These wings are ‘V’-licious! I’ll put this recipe in ‘The Gravity’s Rainbow Cookbook,’ right next to ‘The Frying of Latke 49.”). The cartoon representation of Pynchon reappears in a third, non-speaking cameo, as a guest at the fictional WordLoaf convention depicted in the 18th season  episode, ‘Moe’N’a Lisa.’

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