ArticlePDF Available

Dossier Thomas Pynchon: Pynchon data

Authors:

Abstract

Directeur de l'archive interactive de I'Universite du Nebraska-Lincoln (digitalcommons. unl.edu) et ancien prof de littérature, Paul Royster decide en 2005 de publier sa propre chronologie de la vie et de l'œuvre de Pynchon. Pourquoi ? Réponse d'un fan. The interview is published in French; the original English questions and answers are appended.
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Faculty Publications, UNL Libraries Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln
9-1-2008
Dossier omas Pynchon: Pynchon data
Paul Royster
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, proyster@unl.edu
David Boratav
Chronic'Art Magazine, dboratav@gmail.com
Follow this and additional works at: hp://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libraryscience
Part of the Library and Information Science Commons
is Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln at DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska -
Lincoln. It has been accepted for inclusion in Faculty Publications, UNL Libraries by an authorized administrator of DigitalCommons@University of
Nebraska - Lincoln.
Royster, Paul and Boratav, David, "Dossier omas Pynchon: Pynchon data" (2008). Faculty Publications, UNL Libraries. Paper 171.
hp://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libraryscience/171
CHRONIC'ARTL48
I
LlVRES
DOSSIER THOMAS PYNCHON
partie de nos grands rornanciers
forrnes
a
L'ecole de la Marine
wnchon
arnerica~ne. Cela ne me gCnera~t
pas non plus de savoir comment
IL
s'est procure les excellentes
substances qu'il furnait lorsqu'll
a
ecrit Lxrc-en-ciel de la gravite
!
Dans votre chronologie, vous
mentionnez les tentatives de
divers individus pour publier des
lettres, des poemes ou des images
Directeur de l'archive
data
attribues a Pynchon. De quelle base
interactive de I'u~~iver~ite'
legale dispose-t-on aux Etats-
du Nebraska-Lincoln
Unis pour rester secret, comme
(diaitalcommons. unl.
Pynchon l'a fait jusqu'a present?
En premier lieu, je ne dirais pas
edu)
et ancien prof de
qu'un auteur ayant publie des
litte'rature, Paul Royster
rnilliers de pages de son vivant est
decide en
2005
de oublier
c<
secret
n,
cornrne vous le d~tes.
sa propre chronologie
de la vie et de l'euvre
de Pynchon. Pourquoi
?
Reponse d'un fan.
PROPOS RECUEILLIS PAR
:
DAVID BORATAV
C
hronic'art
:
Pourquoi realiser
une chronologie de la vie
de Thomas Pynchon
?
Paul Royster
:
C'est
a
l'epoque ou
on m'avait charge d'un cours sur
c<
la Litterature arnericaine depuis
1860
>>,
dans lequel j'enseignais La
Vente
a
la cnee du lot
49.
J'avais donne
a
rnes etudiants les chronoiogies
des auteurs etudies
:
MarkTwain,
Henry James, Flannery O'Connor
et Stephen Crane. Celle de Pynchon
etait evidernrnent assez vague,
et de nornbreuses sources se
contredisaient. Pour Vente
a
la
cnee, par exernple, je n'arr~vais
rn@rne pas
a
Ctre sirr de la date de
sa publication
:
1966 ou 1967? Plus
je cherchais, et plus les choses se
cornpliquaient. A La fln du sernestre,
quand j'ai commence
a
travailler
a
La bibliotheque de L'Un~vers~te du
Nebraska, j'ai eu acces aux bases
de donnees journalistiques, et
notarnrnent
a
un article que Gerald
Howard avait ecrit pour Bookforum.
J'y ai decouvert que je connaissais
certa~nes personnes qui ava~ent
eu un impact sur La carriere de
Pynchon, cornrne Tom Guinzberg
ou Richard Poir~er. Cela rn'a pousse
a
approfondir Le travail que j'avais
commence avec rnes etudiants.
Je voulais sirnplernent etablir Les
fa~ts
:
les dates auxquelles Pynchon
est entre puis sorti de Cornell, celles
de son service dans la Marine, ou
celle de son ernbauche chez Boeing.
J'ai aussl travaille sur une nouvelle
plate-forrne de documentation
en Ligne qui corresponda~t
a
ce type de recherches.
Quel degre de fiabilite peut-on
accorder aux sources que vous
avez utilisees pour votre travail
?
Je n'ai utilise que des sources
sirres
:
les grands journaux cornrne
Le New York Times et le Washington
Post, mais aussi des catalogues de
Libraires, des descriptifs de produits
contenus dans ces catalogues, ou
encore des articles publ~es par les
grandes bibliotheques, cornrne
Le Ransom Center ou la Morgan
Library. J'ai suivi toutes les pistes
dispon~bles et verifie chaque
publ~cation autorisee. Pour les
questions plus essentielles que je
me suis posees sur la farnille et
les proches [Richard Fariiia par
exernple], je me suis carrernent servi
de sources statistiques, cornrne les
necrologies ou L'index des deces
de la Securite sociale. Dans la
litterature disponible sur Pynchon,
vous avez quantite de rurneurs et de
speculations en tout genre, cornrne
ces innornbrables ternoignages sur
des sol-disant rencontres fortuites
de L'auteur, qui sont inver~fiables.
Ma frustration, c'est de ne pas avoir
obtenu d'lnformations precises
sur son service dans la Marine
arnericaine, les grades, les endroits
oh on l'a depkhe, Les navires sur
lesquels ila servl. Il parait d'ailleurs
que les informations sur ce sujet
auraient ete detruites dans l'incendie
des archives de Saint-LOUIS
...
J'ai le
sent~rnent que Pynchon a servi en
Mediterranee pendant la crise de
Pynchon est dans son dro~t lorsqu'll
cherche
a
contr6ler ce qui est publie
et ce qui circule en son norn. Je
Lui suis assez reconnaissant de ne
passe tenir sans cesse sous les
projecteurs,
a
dire ou
a
faire des
choses que ses adrnirateurs, dont
je fais partie,
LUI
reprocheraient
peut-Ctre. Les art~cles et critiques
qu'il publie de temps
a
autres sont
passionnants et ple~ns d'esprit. Il
t t
Ayant e'crit les choses
qu'il
a e'crites
sur le gouvernement
US,
je ne serais pas
e'tonne'si on me disait qu'il existe un 6pais
dossier sur Thomas Pynchon dans les
bureaux
du
FBIJJ
Suez, rnais il est egalernent possible
qu'il soit reste en poste
a
Norfolk,
en Virgin~e, ou dans n'irnporte quelle
autre base navale des Etats-Unis.
Quelles sont pour vous les zones
d'ombre les plus importantes dans
la vie et l'muvre de Pynchon
?
rune des choses qui rn'intriguent
Le plus, c'est justement son
service dans la Mar~ne. Cela s'est
passe
a
un moment critique de
sa vie
:
ils'est engage
a
18 ans et,
apres deux ans de service,
~l
est
retourne
a
Cornell, pour changer
cornpleternent de dornaine
;
11 est
passe d'etudes scientifiques et d'une
formation initiale d'ingenieur
a
La
L~tterature et
a
l'ecriture. Pour rnoi,
cornrne Melville ou Cooper, il fait
Lui arrive d'ecrire des quatriernes
de couvertures inattendues, mais
toujours sinceres. Pynchon n'est ni
un reclus, ni un errn~te. En refusant
que sa photo soit publiee, ilgagne
La Liberte de vlvre sa vie cornrne
il L'entend. Quant
a
son refus des
interviews, c'est sans doute pour Le
mieux
:
je Le vo~s rnal chez Charlie
Rose [presentateurd'un talk-show
sur la chaine publique amencaine
PBS, ndlr] en train de repondre
a
une question sur LArc-en-ciel de
lagrav~te tout en etant ~nterrornpu
toutes les vingt secondes par Les
piques assassines de son h6te
!
Comment expliquez-vous que la
vie privee de Pynchon ait etesi
bien respectee jusqu'a present,
malgrh les speculations
a
n'en
plus finir sur son identit6
?
Je dirais qu'il a un bon avocat, tout
simplement
!
Et qu'il est rigoureux
dans La maniere dont
il
garde profil
bas et se mefie de la celebrite. Ses
fans, a mon sens, respectent cette
volonte d'echapper a l'attention du
public. D'ailleurs, si j'avais Bcrit
les choses qu'il a kcrites sur le
gouvernement des Etats-Unis, je
ne tiendrais pas en place, je serais
sans doute constamment en train
de verifier ce qui se passe derriere
mon dos
...
Pendant des annees, ce
gouvernement a cherche a chasser
John Lennon du pays et, pour finir,
ce dernier a kt6 assassine. Je ne
serais pas Btonne si on me disait
qu'il existe un Bpais dossier sur
Pynchon dans les bureaux du FBI.
Pensez-vous qu'il est utile d'en
savoir plus sur La personnalith
d'un auteur comme Pynchon ou,
au contraire, comme il semble
le penser Lui-mgme, que l'aeuvre
se suffit
i
elle-m9me
?
Personnellement, j'ai l'impression
de conna'itre ce qu'il a dans la
ttte, ses goQts, ses opinions et sa
personnalite, mieux que la plupart
des gens avec lesquels je suis en
contact au quotidien. Peut-Etre
est-ce un fantasme et que j'ai en
fait invente un personnage de
fiction que j'ai appele Thomas
Pynchon. Etre une celebrite n'a
jamais kt6 une bonne chose pour
un kcrivain, aux Etats-Unis en tous
cas,
a
l'exception peut-Ctre de Walt
Whitman. Selon moi, Pynchon
est le meilleur Bcrivain que ce
pays ait produit depuis La fin de la
Deuxieme Guerre mondiale. Mais
son travail est en porte-a-faux avec
les tendances et Bcoles Litteraires
du moment, et il doit Etre evaluB
selon ses propres criteres. Pynchon
ne tirerait aucun benefice
a
faire
L'objet de ['attention des medias.
C'est mdme difficile d'imaginer
son ige
:
71
ans.
Il
a l'air tellement
jeune sur les photos qu'on a de lui
!
THOMAS PYNCHON
:
A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY
de
Paul
Royster
A
telecharger
ici
:
diaitalcommons.unl.edu/
LibrarvsciencelP
CHRONIC'ART"48
DOSSIER THOMAS PYNCHON
Published in Chronic’Art #48 (Septembre 2008), pp. 22–23. Copy-
right © 2008 Les Éditions Reticulaires, Paris.
The original English questions and answers:
Why did you decide to write this chronology on the life of
Thomas Pynchon?
I was teaching The Crying of Lot 49 in an “American Literature
Since 1860” course and had provided the students brief 1 or 2-
page author chronologies for the other writers studied (Mark
Twain, Henry James, Flannery O’Connor, Stephen Crane, etc.).
Pynchon’s was naturally very brief, and I found a lot of dis-
agreement among sources on specic facts and dates (such as
when Crying was actually published--1966 or 1967). The more I
searched the murkier things seemed to get. When the semester
ended and I began working in the library, I had easy access to
some 20th-century newspaper databases and I also encountered
Gerald Howard’s article in Bookforum. It turned out I had known
some people who had had some effect on Pynchon’s career (Tom
Guinzberg, Richard Poirier), so that stirred me on some more. I
really just wanted to nail down the facts, like when he entered
and left Cornell, the Navy, Boeing, etc. And I had just started
managing an electronic publishing platform that seemed an ideal
way to get the work out.
It’s an important thing to write a reliable chronology on
Thomas Pynchon, simply because one feels there’s very few
details to be told. Do you agree with this?
I thought it was something that clearly needed to be done, and
I have always found him a most interesting writer. When there
are so few details to be told, it is important to get them right and
to separate the facts from the ctions and mythology.
How difcult would it be to write a full and reliable biograph-
ical account of Pynchon’s life?
I think it would be impossible without the cooperation of Mr.
Pynchon or his immediate family.
How reliable are the sources you used themselves?
I used only sources I felt could be relied on: major newspapers
reporting on events as they occurred, such as New York Times,
Washington Post. Also bookseller’s catalogs and descriptions of
items being offered for sale and news items from major collec-
tion libraries, like the Ransom Center or the Morgan Library. I
tracked down and veried every authorized publication, and I
checked reliable sources for vital statistics (obituaries, Social Se-
curity death index, etc.) for family and close friends (i.e. Richard
Farina). There’s a lot of rumor and speculation out there, as well
as several “chance-encounter” articles that cannot be veried. I
was very frustrated about not getting better information on his
US Navy service (stations, ships, rank), but I had no access to his
personnel records, and it is said these were destroyed in a re at
the St. Louis repository anyway. I think he may have served in
the Mediterranean during the Suez Crisis, but he might just as
easily have been “state-side” then, too.
What would you think are the most important bits missing in
what we know of the life of Mr Pynchon - the things that cast a
shadow, maybe, on the picture one can have of the writer, and
of his work?
I am most curious about his Navy service, because it happened
at a critical time in his life. He enlisted as soon as he was 18, and
then after his two years of service he returned to Cornell and
changed his course of study from science and engineering to lit-
erature and writing. I think of him (along with Melville and Coo-
per) as one of our great US Navy novelists. I also wouldn’t mind
knowing where he got the good shit he was smoking when he
wrote Gravity’s Rainbow.
Your chronology makes several mentions of attempts by dif-
ferent people to publish papers, including letters, poems and
images, by and of Thomas Pynchon, which the author eventu-
ally stopped or did not recognize as his own. What legal/con-
tractual/practical basis/resources are there for a secretive au-
thor like Pynchon, in the US, to remain in the shadows as he
has up to now?
I wouldn’t call someone who has published thousands of pages
“secretive.” I think Mr. Pynchon has every right to control what
gets published or circulated under his name. Actually, I’m sort
of grateful that he’s not out there doing something to embarass
his admirers (of whom I am obviously one). He writes occasional
reviews and essays that are thoughtful and interesting; he gives
blurbs that are sincere and unexpected. He isn’t a hermit or a re-
cluse. Not wanting his picture published probably gives him a
great deal more freedom to go about his business. Not giving in-
terviews is also just as well--I can see Charlie Rose asking him to
“explain” Gravity’s Rainbow and then interrupting him constantly
with assinine observations. I think it was a terrible and unprece-
dented betrayal and breach of trust by his agent Candida Dona-
dio to sell off his letters; and the Wanda Tinasky letters falsely
attributed to him displayed an obvious lack of genius. Yes, we
had to go 16 years between Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland, but
I survived by re-reading GR 7 or 8 times during those years.
Why has, do you think, Thomas Pynchon’s privacy been so
well respected so far, despite the intensive speculation about
his identity that there is out there - at least among his fans?
Well, he has a good lawyer and is consistent about keeping a
low prole and does not seem to miss the celebrity status that
he might have. I think his true fans respect his desire to keep out
of the public eye. Really, if I had written the things about the US
government that he has, I would constantly be on the move and
looking over my shoulder. Look, the government tried to hound
John Lennon out of this country, and then he got assassinated.
I’m sure there’s a pretty thick FBI le on Pynchon.
As a specialist in scholarly communication, do you think there
is any advantage to be drawn from knowing more about the
personality of an author like Thomas Pynchon? Or do you
think, like he seems to think himself, that the work should be
taken as it is, and that the personality of the writer, his where-
abouts and daily life are irrelevant?
Actually, I feel like I know his mind, tastes, opinions, and per-
sonality better than I know most people I interact with regularly.
Maybe that’s a fantasy on my part, or it’s just a made-up per-
sonality I created. Who knows, maybe he is really a jerk; it just
seems unlikely, given the depth of his mind, interests, and sym-
pathies. He’s obviously familiar with ordinary daily life. Being a
celebrity has never been good for writers (in this country), with
the possible exception of Walt Whitman. I believe Mr. Pynchon
to be the best American writer to emerge since the Second World
War, but his works are at odds with much of the current liter-
ary trends and critical schools, and need to be taken on their own
terms. There is nothing to be gained by him becoming fodder for
the media. Actually, it’s hard to imagine him being 71 years old--
he looks so much younger in all his photos!
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.