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Readin’ writin’ (no ‘rithmetic)

This Day in Goofery

May 8
1937: It may have been the birth of Thomas Pynchon

Author Thomas Pynchon has been called “an enigma shrouded in a mystery veiled in anonymity.” But his belief is that “recluse is a code word generated by journalists…meaning, ‘doesn’t like to talk to reporters.'” He simply prefers not to be interviewed or photographed. So what? Big deal. It’s his own business. Someone described him in his high school yearbook photo as a “buck-toothed kid with a goofy grin and a pompadour.” Perhaps, like me, he’s grotesquely unphotogenic.

He too has been called “the only contemporary author whose novels can be compared to James Joyce’s with a straight face” (I was laughing when I typed that), a “literary heavyweight,” and, by The Nation, “the most intelligent, most audacious and most accomplished American novelist….” His style has been described as “Complex. Convoluted. Post-modern. Surreal. Tangential.”

He has his detractors, natch. Library Thing has a discussion thread called “Is Pynchon Worth the Trouble?” The Pulitzer Board vetoed the Fiction Jury’s selection of Gravity’s Rainbow for the 1974 Pulitzer Prize, calling his prose “unreadable,” “turgid,” “overwritten,” and in parts “obscene.”

We should all be so unreadable. Some random samplings of Pynchon’s prose stylings:

From V:

Rachel was looking into the mirror at an angle of 45°, and so had a view of the face turned toward the room and the face on the other side, reflected in the mirror; here were time and reverse-time, co-existing, canceling one another exactly out. Were there many such reference points, scattered throughout the world, perhaps only at nodes like this room which housed a transient population of the imperfect, the dissatisfied; did real time plus virtual or mirror-time equal zero and thus serve some half-understood moral purpose? Or was it only the mirror world that counted; only a promise of a kind that the inward bow of a nose-bridge or a promontory of extra cartilage at the chin meant a reversal of ill fortune such that the world of the altered would thenceforth run on mirror-time; work and love by mirror-light and be only, till death stopped the heart’s ticking (metronome’s music) quietly as light ceases to vibrate, an imp’s dance under the century’s own chandeliers…

From The Crying of Lot 49:

A number of frail girls…prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.

From Gravity’s Rainbow:

Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night’s old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of Breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjuror’s secret by which—though it is not often that Death is told so clearly to fuck off—the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down twenty generations… so the same assertion-through-structure allows this war morning’s banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail.

From Vineland:

Later than usual one summer morning in 1984, Zoyd Wheeler drifted awake in sunlight through a creeping fig that hung in the window, with a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof. In his dream these had been carrier pigeons from someplace far across the ocean, landing and taking off again one by one, each bearing a message for him, but none of whom, light pulsing in their wings, he could ever quite get to in time. He understood it to be another deep nudge from forces unseen, almost surely connected with the letter that had come along with his latest mental-disability check, reminding him that unless he did something publicly crazy before a date now less than a week away, he would no longer qualify for benefits. He groaned out of bed.

From Against the Day:

It went on for a month. Those who had taken it for a cosmic sign cringed beneath the sky each nightfall, imagining ever more extravagant disasters. Others, for whom orange did not seem an appropriately apocalyptic shade, sat outdoors on public benches, reading calmly, growing used to the curious pallor. 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.

If you or I could write like that, we wouldn’t be pimping ourselves on Twitter and Facebook now would we? But I would, as did Pynchon, portray myself on The Simpsons. Some wondered why such a private individual would choose such a venue to make a rare public “appearance” (as a cartoon with a bag over his head). One word: goofy!

Erik Ketzan sees Pynchon’s “refusal to be ‘observed by the Public Eye'” as a “repudiation of American celebrity and the corporate forces behind it. In contemporary America, where most Americans would sell their souls to star on reality television, Pynchon stands almost alone, rejecting the attention, fame, and money which he could attain, metaphorically pissing on the corporate boardroom table, like his character, Roger Mexico, near the end of Gravity’s Rainbow. But each of Pynchon’s books blends gravity with levity, and the master seems to have spoken to us to deliver one simple commandment: never take The Simpsons, or Thomas Pynchon, too seriously. Q.E.D.”

I see it like this: say what you will of Thomas Pynchon, first and foremost, he is one great big goof.

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This Day in Goofery

May 5
1260: This guy, Kublai Khan,

Source: The man with the two-pronged beard

flapped his wings, causing this guy,

537 years later, to write this poem, and this guy, 748 years later, to upload this video about that “stupid” poem.


Source: cplfreeman

Was that the person from Porlock on the phone? Perhaps the poem reads as stupid because of the “unwelcome visitor to Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his composition of the poem Kubla Khan. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (possibly an opium-induced haze), but was interrupted by this visitor from Porlock (a village in the South West of England, near Exmoor) while in the process of writing it. Kubla Khan, only 54 lines long, was never completed.”

Source: Thanks for breaking my train of thought, fucker

If you google Kubla Khan, the first batch of search results won’t be for the Mongol conqueror, but the poem by Coleridge. The emperor is more commonly referred to by the transliteration Kublai.

It just goes to show, you may rule an empire, covering one-fifth the inhabited land of the globe, but someday, it could all be usurped by an unfinished poem written in an opium fever dream by a bipolar bloke who once droped out of Jesus College, Cambridge and enlisted in the Royal Dragoons under the name Silas Tomkyn Comberbache.

Just as you could be a major and highly influential poet whose most famous work is translated into a animated video some guy like Michael Dzwoniarek “had to make…for English class after we read the poem,” who will comment, “If you don’t know about this poem already, don’t bother finding out, it’s stupid.”

History is just that goofy.

Actually, I think Michael D. “gets” the poem, or at least the stoner aspect of it, even if he did use the assignment as an excuse to “try rotoscoping,” but let’s hear it from David Olney, who truly give it its due:


Source: DavidOlney411

Bravo, sir.

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This Day in Goofery

April 22
1707: Birth of English author Henry Fielding, without whom we would not have this:


Source: jcksfo

I think of Tom Jones as a rather goofy book, and Henry Fielding as a goof-in-arms, in his ribald British way, penning such gems as “His designs were strictly honourable, as the phrase is; that is, to rob a lady of her fortune by way of marriage,” “Thwackum was for doing justice, and leaving mercy to heaven,” and “Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.” But I was surprised to find that of all 885 pages of this novel which I first read as an English major and dilettante scholar, the only line I underlined was “remember, I can detest as violently as I have loved.” I even marked it in the margin with a +, my tasteful notation for “remember this.”

Yes, anger was a specialty of mine back in the day before I devoted myself to goofery. I discovered how much easier and more pleasant it is to be goofy than angry. It takes far less energy, and less toll. Goofery! I recommend it.

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This Day in Goofery

April 21
1828: Noah Webster publishes first American dictionary

This is my 1923 edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary with Reference History. It is one year older than my mother, and far more jaundiced. The dictionary is 2620 pages long, the History another 256. It weighs 15.6 pounds. When I plunked it down on the bed, my cats jumped up in alarm.

That’s a lovely steel engraving of Noah on the left. The full-color plates deemed relevant at the time were eight plates of various flags, including the Principal Yacht Clubs of the US and Canada, the Chief Foreign Alphabets, the Ten Best Examples of American Architecture, Automobiles, Automobile Working Parts, Leading Cathedrals of the World, Coins of the World, Orchids, Fraternal Emblems, Man: Muscles and Skeleton, Medals and Orders of Honor and Merit, Architectural Statues and Monuments, Types of Vessels of the Navy, Leading Orders of Knighthood and of Merit, Plants: Industrial and Poisonous, Sails: Fore-and-Aft and Square, and Ship: Principal Ropes, Spars, Parts of Hull, etc.

The Reference HIstory was the Google of its time. For instance, should you want to know: When and by what treaty were the Phillippines ceded to the US? What states were made by the Louisiana Purchase? What is the relation of the US to Samoa? What was the Missouri Compromise? When and where was the first naval battle? Who was Charlemaigne and when did he reign?

“These and thousands of other questions which are constantly arising can be most easily and satisfactorily answered by consulting The Reference History Edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary.” I for one am indeed constantly asking people what the relation of the US to Samoa is. I think I’m happier not knowing.

Even though my iPhone, which happens to be exactly the width of one of the three columns per page of the Webster, holds infinitely more information than does this volume, it will never give me the visceral pleasure of sight, touch and smell I have when I peruse page after page of definitions, etymologies, illustrations, quotations, graphs all put together by the hands and minds of men and women. Certainly not a “pocket” edition, but it doubles as a footstool to climb onto my giant mattress. Damn that thing is unwieldy.

Uh…can someone call 911? I just threw my back out.

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Can Flarf Ever Be Taken Seriously?Poets & Writers magazine once asked.

I should think the answer would be flarf. If one can’t take flarf seriously, what is left to us? We who, here in Goof City, never take ourselves too seriously, nevertheless wholeheartedly endorse serious flarfing as the seriously flarfy way to get your RDA of flarf. Flarfists, I think, are inherently goofs, though goofs are not necessarily flarfists. Of course one can commence flarfing any time. But those who still don’t take flarfing quite seriously, ask themselves: To flarf or not to flarf?

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