Thomas Pynchon’s identity
I firmly believe he’s a rapper — one of the first
When Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash (& The Furious Five) and Run D.M.C. started, each in their own time, in a fluid succession of raising talent and pride, to rule the pop culture, Thomas Pynchon was silent — probably by the dark seas of Rhûn, dwelling in a frigid Wasteland, drinking LSD-induced coffee. He spent 17 years, between 1973 and 1990, doing what he does best: writing a mystical, gigantic novel, lost in his own interlude, in his own private deadline, without conquering the world, as he always does when he publishes a new Encyclopaedia.
I didn’t read Vineland, but the literary criticism says it’s a bust. Pynchon re-emerged in a very different world, without the Cold War-fueled paranoia that he, so brilliantly, loathes and loves. In the nineties, rap had risen, straight outta Compton and The Bronx, fusing dozens of rhythms and beats and sounds and tempos with hundreds of brands and claps and slangs and voices and anger and deep commitment with the fantastic universe where everything can be changed, recycled and mastered in a dangerous and astonishing way. It was a passionate description of hip hop, but could well be the religious description of Gravity’s rainbow.
His beautiful, dark, twisted world is an infinite pool — but less fancy and indulgent, destituted of the photographic, glowing teeth perfection imprinted in the billboards that sell infinite pools. Pynchon’s universe is however endless, complicated, watery and without edges, simulating, in a devious scheme, the flat-shaped Earth that caused the aversion of the church in a less chaotic moment of History. And he, as well, makes the eye of the most liberal priest to cry out loud, such the madness and profanity.
It’s a wide and psychedelic landscape of references, genre-breaking, popular music, jingles, sex, science and myth, gangland stories and pristine obsession — a maze of curiosity and sheer rashness. He knows every Billboard hit and every forbidden pulp fiction, every blazing experiment of alchemy and all about the old world, when knights, wizards and mysterious people instilled the best and the worst in us all.
The genesis and the bang
The start was 53 years ago, in the beginning of the Age of Vietnam, when working-class british rock was first landing in the United States with straight haircuts — and Don Draper was living the dream. Pynchon published V. and triggered his own Glory, first experiencing the chorus of melting everything that he has ever thought of in a stretch of papers — as we commonly know by the name of book. And, holy shit, what a devilish mind: a pamphlet of slutty grammar, radio waves, bleeding edges and inherent vices, dosed in a heavy frequency of flow, rhyme and parody: a human admittedly lost in the world — and delighted by it. He was rapping in his own way and continued to rap ferociously, enhanced by his secretive and growing legend, until the Age of Today, the Age of Unending.
I’m forever impressed by his sick ability in writing about every single reference that had ever crossed his path — and by how, from this meddle, he managed to create a coherent and personal (although disturbing) stream of life. Pynchon’s work is every book he has ever read; every song he has ever listened; every love he has ever endured and repelled; every planet in which he has ever set foot; every scrap of dialogue he has ever felt. It’s a pernicious puzzle whose pieces not always fit perfectly, as life, by the way, is supposed to be. And, by my reading experience, never fails.
Pynchon wrote three books in ten years and, after Gravity’s rainbow started a riot, he sat aside, only coming out of Gollum’s cave in 1990. In his sabbatic escape, when the man who never appears refused even to brutally open the window, for two seconds, to unleash his power — causing a bang — , the world was becoming seduced by the magic of turntables and organic poetry of hip hop, step by step, in a progress that truly resembles me of the vivid — and, sometimes, cryptic — method by which Pynchon writes. As nobody really knows a lot about him, I think it’s my right to speculate that, during the Age of Rap, he wasn’t only silent. He was listening.
Both worlds never collide. Pynchon’s art and the surge of hip hop have very different genesis, passions and foundations. A comparison between them is, by most premises, impossible — if not paradoxical — , and hip hop is much bigger than Pynchon. However, at the root of the almost unrequited love that I have for them, there’s a solid and dense similarity about the construction of meaning. The cut-and-paste chemistry of sound and fury, acceleration and slow motion; the multitude of possibilities opened at every closure; the wide-ranging reality that appears at every phrase, summoned in the form of allusions — from My adidas to Picasso baby. The way I really feel, every time I listen to Paid in full or read again the first 90 pages of Mason & Dixon, how the greatest gift endowed to us all is to perceive, momentarily, a glimpse of an artistic corpus without borders — containing the sum of all the fiction and all the poetry and all the music ever created. I love this hyper-referential chaos that reminds me there’s so much beauty in the world.
Who is he?
As a man with no face, I can imagine a thousand faces without feeling a splash of guilt. I can imagine Pynchon being Tupac Shakur, a mythic god who appears when is supposed to vanish — angry, raw and suspicious. I can imagine he’s Kanye West, because both, by my steady belief, 40 years apart, screamed in joy listening In the court of the crimson king for the first time. I can picture him as Rakim and Nas in different moments of life, because, by my reckoning, Rakim rhymes about how the soul has the enduring task of facing a delightful world, while Nas writes about a world that ravages the soul, often merciless — and Pynchon, at the height of his 78 years, was once (and maybe still is) a man of each kind. I, for the last weeks, think of Pynchon as Kendrick Lamar, tasting carefully the sweet juice of the black berry, knowing he’s the Lord.
They all want it all — and they want it now, no mistakes allowed. They crave for a journey to the end of night, where the most silly of the moments can be reforged — to become a rewarding experience of living. They understand the search for knowledge as a violent and cataclysmic burden, but couldn’t get rid of it. Shapeshifters of language, wishing for a wall of meaning only to swallow it with notorious pride, because yes.
I imagine an ever-changing Pynchon, willing to absorb the last vestige of flavor of a warm cup of tea in a cold winter morning. I see this bloom at every new hip hop album I discover, because yes, again. And, for the biggest of my desires, I expect to see in his next novel a Pokémon reference; I can see him clearly playing in his blue vintage Game Boy Color, hoping to use the master ball to capture the last of the holy dogs — Suicune? Raikou? Entei? I can see his passion and obstination, as I can see Kanye’s heartfelt passion and obstination in his current quest to fix Wolves — that I don’t think needs fixing. And I feed the hope of reading, anytime soon, a tale of solarbeams and fire blasts, powered by a bright, shiny sunny day.
PS: he published Slow learner in 1984 — a collection of old, old stories.