Thomas Pynchon

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Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. [ 'pɪnʃən ] (born May 8, 1937 in Glen Cove on Long Island , New York ) is an American writer and an important representative of the literary postmodernism .


Pynchon comes from an old New England family whose name appears as Pyncheon in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The House of Seven Gables (1851) . Like Hawthorne, Pynchon often dealt with his Puritan ancestors in his work . William Pynchon was one of the founders of the Massachusetts colony in 1630 . In 1650 he published the treatise The Meritorious Price of our Redemption in London , in which he questioned the doctrine of predestination of Calvinism . On his return to Boston, William Pynchon was therefore accused of heresy ; his writing is one of the first books to be banned and publicly burned on American soil. Thomas Pynchon processed this in 1973 in his main work The Ends of the Parable .

Pynchon was born in Glen Cove, Long Island in 1937, the son of Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Sr., and Katherine Frances Pynchon, b. Bennett to the world. After graduating from Oyster Bay High School in 1953, he studied physics and later English literature at Cornell University , where he was a student of Vladimir Nabokov . While Nabokov himself could not remember his prominent student, his wife knew about Pynchon's distinctive handwriting, which combines written and printed letters. During his student days, Pynchon was friends with Richard Fariña , to whose novel Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up to Me (1966) he wrote a foreword in 1983 .

In 1955, Pynchon had to interrupt his studies to do two years of military service in the US Navy . After graduating in 1958, he lived in New York's Greenwich Village for a year , where he wrote his first novel. From 1960 he worked as a technical editor at Boeing . After the publication of his debut novel V. In 1963 he sealed itself off from the public, and went to live presumably on the West Coast, so 1969/70 in Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County , called "Gordita Beach" scene of his novel natural defects is . In 1988 he was a MacArthur Fellow . Since the 1990s at the latest, Pynchon has lived in Manhattan with his wife and agent Melanie Jackson and their son Jackson Pynchon . In 1997 a reporter from CNN tracked him down there . Pynchon forbade the publication of the resulting recordings because he saw his privacy violated, but gave the station a short interview.

There are only a few photos of Pynchon that are more than forty years old. These can be seen, for example, in the film A Journey into the Mind of [P.] (2001), which thematizes his life and work. The mystery of his person is now part of American popular culture. Pynchon has already been assumed to be identical to JD Salinger , who retired in the 1960s and no longer published anything. Pynchon commented "Not bad, keep trying". Among other things, Pynchon had guest appearances in three episodes of the animated series The Simpsons ( Fantasies of a Crazy Housewife , The Secret Ingredient , The Literary Duet ). Pynchon lends his voice to his cartoon character, who has put a bag with a question mark over his head.


After working as a writer for around 40 years, Pynchon's work includes eight novels and a few short stories. His works are generally acknowledged to be stylistic virtuosity and a wealth of encyclopedic information. Instead of narrating conventionally, Pynchon creates a dense network of relationships between characters and actions. A common motif in Pynchon's literature is the search, whereby it remains unclear whether what is being searched for exists at all or is just imagination. Recurring themes are longing for death, paranoia and entropy . Pynchon frequently changes the literary genre in his books and relates comics and cartoons, natural sciences and technology as well as religion, psychology, philosophy and cultural history to one another. These characteristics of his writing identify him as an author of literary postmodernism , and because of its complexity, his work has at times been compared with that of James Joyce . In particular with V. and The Ends of the Parable , Pynchon is an important representative of postmodern slipstream literature.


When V. appeared in 1963, the novel Thomas Pynchon, who by then had drawn attention to himself through a series of short stories, immediately earned the reputation of an important contemporary author. In the same year he received the William Faulkner Foundation First Novel Award for the best first novel of the year.

The book is about the two opposing characters Benny Profane and Herbert Stencil. Profane, an avowed Schlemihl and modern Picaro , drifts through New York in the 1950s and comes across Herbert Stencil, who is obsessed with the search for V. V. is a woman who only appears in the diaries of Stencil's father with this initial and who he believes could be his mother. In his search for V. Stencil pursues ever more absurd clues, in which the letter V always appears. The metamorphoses of the woman with the initial V. are traced historically. They play in several places around the world, from Egypt in 1898 to Florence a year later, Paris in 1913, German Southwest Africa in 1922 and Malta in World War II - and mostly a woman whose first name begins with V is the focus. The novel also suggests that V. could be a rat (Veronica) who wants to convert a priest in the New York canal system, or Vheissu, a mysterious country that may be planning a plot against the world, or an "evil priest" A horde of children cruelly dealt with in a cellar in La Valletta .

The auction of No. 49

In 1966 Pynchon's second novel The Crying of Lot 49 appeared , which, along with Vineland and Natural Defects, is one of his more accessible works. It received the Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award .

The symbol of WASTE, a muted post horn

Rather narrow in scope, the book tells the story of Oedipa Maas, who was appointed executor by her former lover Pierce Inverarity. In this role, Oedipa Maas is looking for a mysterious secret organization, the Tristero, which operates the alternative communications network WASTE ( We Await Silent Tristero's Empire ). Tristero evidently emerged from a fight against the postal monopoly of Thurn und Taxis centuries ago and also created a network in America that was able to subvert the monopoly of the US postal service. On a foray through San Francisco, Oedipa Maas discovers “mailboxes” and advertisements with a muffled post horn emblazoned on them - the alleged symbol of WASTE. With every hint that Oedipa finds, however, it also becomes more likely that Inverarity has laid the wrong track to Oedipa to drive you insane. The question of whether Tristero actually exists remains unanswered for Oedipa Maas as for the reader. Expecting that Tristero bidders will turn up at the auction of Pierce's stamp collection (auction number 49), she walks into the auction room and the novel ends abruptly.

Pynchon's theme is the compulsion to make connections and the associated danger of paranoia . Critics see this complexly constructed literary conspiracy theory as an epistemological commentary by the author.

The ends of the parabola

The novel The End of the Parable (English: Gravity's Rainbow ; translated into German by Elfriede Jelinek and Thomas Piltz) was published in 1973 and is widely regarded as Pynchon's main work. The book won the National Book Award in 1974 and the jury voted unanimously to win the Pulitzer Prize for the best novel in the same year . However, the award committee opposed this decision on the grounds that the book was obscene and illegible. In 1975 Pynchon refused to accept the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the novel .

Due to the numerous intertwined storylines as well as the flashbacks and flashbacks, the novel eludes a synopsis. It is also rarely certain which episodes actually occur, which are dreamed or hallucinated. There are around 400 figures, some of which only reappear after a few hundred pages.

Most of the events described in the novel take place in the war years of 1944 and 1945. The focus is on the V2 ballistic missile developed in Germany as a so-called retaliatory weapon and the counter-operations of the Allies . The action begins in London at the time of the rocket attacks. One of the storylines is about Tyrone Slothrop, who reacts to the approaching V2 with erections. In the further course, it turns out that Slothrop as a child of the scientist Laszlo Jamf to a new plastic of IG Farben , Imipolex G conditioned is that later in the black unit has been processed, the missile with the serial number 00000. It turns out that even Slothtrops supposedly most intimate secrets and sexual impulses are the result of conditioning and influencing others. A large part of the book deals with Slothrop's journey through defeated Germany ( called Die Zone in the book ), where he goes in search of his identity and the S-device , fleeing from numerous agents chasing after him and the black device got to.

The novel ends with the firing of the last two V2 rockets: An obscure society of Hereros and adventurers in post-war Germany fires a rocket that they have assembled and modified from components from the entire “Zone”; In the 00000 rocket, Nazi officer Blicero sacrifices a masochistic pleasure boy who was previously responsible for a launch base himself. The rocket as a phallic object, its launch orientation as an erection, death as an orgasm of the military, allude to the possibility that the novel can be read enlighteningly insofar as it traces the foundations of the military and secret services back to sexual perversion and the pursuit of dominance. The novel was often classified as provocative because it not only portrays the perverse lust of the perpetrators, but also the compliance of their victims.

Late bloomer

Spätzünder ( Slow Learner , 1984) is a collection of early short stories by Pynchons that had previously only appeared in magazines:

  • The little rain ( The Small Rain )
  • Lowland ( low-lands )
  • Entropy ( Entropy )
  • Under the seal ( Under the Rose )
  • The Secret Integration ( The Secret Integration )

In addition, the volume includes a foreword in which Pynchon comments on the stories. This foreword, as well as the personal introduction to Richard Fariña's only novel Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up to Me , published in 1983, is his only autobiographical text to this day .


Pynchon's fourth novel was published in 1990 and is considered his most accessible work because it was written in a comparatively conventional manner. Its title alludes to the hopeful name Vinland , which the Viking explorers gave America. The novel Vineland is thus a jeremiad that contrasts the promise of a paradisiacal America with the social reality of the 1980s. Pynchon paints the desolate picture of a society shaped by Reaganomics , television and shopping malls .

Vineland can be assigned to the genre social novel in a certain way , as it spans three generations and 40 years of Californian history and the socially critical moments here occupy a much more extensive space than in previous novels by Pynchon. As Taugenichts -Figur Zoyd lives Wheeler with his 14-year-old daughter Prairie in the area north of San Francisco , surrounded by hippies and other figures who refuse social conventions. The return of the mother Prairies in hiding, the Frenesi Gates wanted by the FBI , makes the two themselves hunted. Flashbacks tell of Frenesi's involvement with the radical student movement of the 1960s and also of the suppression of the American labor movement during the 1930s.

In Vineland , the world of hippies from the "sixties" lives on in the nostalgia of their children. The plot moves on different levels of reality that blur into one another for the characters involved in the event, but occasionally also for the reader. The narrative level of normal reality, which is presented in the style of socially critical realism, is increasingly being absorbed by the level of an illusionistic media reality. The story of the flower children in California ultimately becomes a film for their children, whose medium alone determines reality; With “The Tube” the third level of a reality arises in the novel, in which the dead continue to live.

In the imaginary “Vineland” in northern California, the “Thanatoids” have settled in addition to the former hippies. Their name, which refers to the god of death Thanatos in Greek mythology, indicates what is confirmed at the end of the novel: they are dead. It remains to be seen, however, whether they are actually dead or whether they only live like the dead, since they can no longer find meaning in life itself. The differences are blurred in the film about the story of the flower children, which in the novel becomes a kind of reality of its own: In “The Tube” you live “with the dead as dead in life”.

Mason & Dixon

Mason & Dixon , published in 1997, is based on the language of the 18th century and tells the story of the collaboration between Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon , who together measured the Mason-Dixon line from 1763 to 1769 , which traditionally marks the border between the American ones Representing northern and southern states. Mason and Dixon follow this line further and further west, and the landscape seems increasingly unreal.

Pynchon also addresses various, scientifically unrecognized teachings, such as the hollow world theory or Feng Shui, and develops a conspiracy theory in which the Jesuits and the Chinese play an important role. The characters include Benjamin Franklin , George Washington , a talking dog and Vaucanson 's 'mechanical duck'.

Against the day

View of the World Columbian Exposition 1893

Against the Day (Engl. Against the Day , published on 21 November 2006) Pynchon's sixth novel. The German translation by Dirk van Gunsteren and Nikolaus Stingl was published on May 1, 2008.

The novel is a panorama of history between the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and the period after World War I , with the plot set in a slightly counterfactual past . The scenes alternate between North America, Europe, Central Asia and the polar regions, with the life paths of a large number of characters being traced without there being a main character. Historical figures such as Nikola Tesla , Archduke Franz Ferdinand or Groucho Marx appear briefly; many historically significant events such as the collapse of Markus Tower and the Tunguska event are mixed up with fictional events. Thematically, the narrative threads described are related in that they represent the shocks of modernity , with the First World War as the catastrophic culmination point.

The title is a quote from the 2nd letter of Peter . In the King James Bible the verse is translated as follows:

But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

The German standard translation gives it as follows:

But the present heaven and the present earth have been saved for fire by the same word. They will be kept until the day of judgment when the wicked perish.

In addition, Against the Day is a literal translation of the French term contre-jour (dt. Backlight ), which is also used as a foreign word in English.

Stylistically, Pynchon uses pastiches from several genres of trivial literature around 1900, such as the Wild West novel , the spy thriller and the adventure story for boys. Fantastic elements such as time travel stand alongside historically guaranteed technical inventions. In addition to the history of science , the novel addresses cultural history , social history and the history of mathematics in that era.

Natural defects

Pynchon's seventh novel Natural Defects ( Inherent Vice , published August 2009) is a detective novel set in Los Angeles in the late 1960s . The main character is the private detective Doc Sportello, a hippie who is involved in a case involving the possible kidnapping of a real estate speculator and the murder of one of his bodyguards through an assignment from his former girlfriend.

Natural flaws are one of Pynchon's less lengthy novels. The reviews have been mostly positive, describing him as one of Pynchon's accessible works.

The German translation by Nikolaus Stingl was published on September 17, 2010.

On October 4, 2014, the film adaptation Inherent Vice by Paul Thomas Anderson premiered at the New York Film Festival .

Bleeding edge

Pynchon's eighth novel Bleeding Edge was published in 2013: The New York private detective Maxine Tarnow encounters financial inconsistencies while researching the computer company hashslingrz and its CEO Gabriel Ice. She explores the deep web and follows leads such as: B. a film on which a Stinger missile is positioned near the Twin Towers , as well as an underground corridor leading to a military base near Montauk . She meets her ex-lover, the CIA man Nicholas Windust, who had a hand in the murder of programmer Lester Traipse and who later dies himself. She lets the Russian hackers Misha and Grisha help her and gets to know Conkling Speedwell, the inventor of the odor cannon. Incidentally, Maxine, who is of Jewish faith, picks up her children from the Otto Kugelblitz School and quarrels with her ex-husband Horst. Finally, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 take place, but all previously established motives lead nowhere. In Bleeding Edge, Pynchon tells a thriller and at the same time a New York comedy, with his typical gags and puns. The novel was translated into German by Dirk van Gunsteren .

Essays, miscellaneous

In 1959, the short story Mercy and Mortality in Vienna appeared in Epoch magazine ; it was published in 1983 in German under the title Mortality and Mercy in Vienna .

Pynchon also occasionally wrote essays:

  • A Journey into the Mind of Watts (1966) deals with race riots in Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles .
  • Is it OK to be a Luddite? (1984) deals with the history of Luddism .
  • Nearer, My Couch, to Thee (1993) appeared in a series in the New York Times Book Review in which prominent authors wrote about the seven deadly sins . Pynchon described the laziness .

Pynchon also wrote introductions to Richard Fariña's novel Been Down so Long it Looks Like up to Me , to the works of Donald Barthelmes , to Jim Dodge's novel Stone Junction , and in 2003 the foreword to a new edition of George Orwell's 1984 .


Pynchon is - like William Gaddis , for whom he was long held - suspected of being the author of the Wanda Tinasky letters (1983-88), but left this through his literary agent and wife Melanie Jackson, with whom he has a son born in 1991, deny.


Short stories
  • The Small Rain (1959)
  • Mortality and Mercy in Vienna (1959)
  • Low-lands (1960)
  • Entropy (1960)
  • Under the Rose (1961)
  • The Secret Integration (1964)
  • The World (This One), the Flesh (Mrs. Oedipa Maas), and the Testament of Pierce Inverarity (1965)
  • The Shrink Flips (1966)
  • Slow Learner: Early Stories (1984)
    • German: late bloomer. Early narratives. German by Thomas Piltz and Jürg Laederach. Rowohlt, 1985, 1994. ISBN 3-499-13481-0 .


Pynchon is one of the contemporary writers whom literary and media studies deal with most often. The Pynchon Notes , which deal exclusively with his work, have been published since 1979 .

  • Harold Bloom (Ed.): Thomas Pynchon. Chelsea House Publishers, New York 1986, ISBN 0-87754-715-7 .
  • Heinz Ickstadt (Ed.): Order and Entropy. On the novel by Thomas Pynchon. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1981.
  • J. Kerry Grant: A Companion to The Crying of Lot 49. The University of Georgia Press, Athens Geo - London 1994, ISBN 0-8203-1635-0 .
  • J. Kerry Grant: A Companion to V. The University of Georgia Press, Athens and London 2001, ISBN 0-8203-2250-4 .
  • Franz Link : Experimental storytelling · Thomas Pynchon, b. 1937. In: Franz Link: American storytellers since 1950 · Topics · Contents · Forms . Schöningh, Paderborn 1993, ISBN 3-506-70822-8 , pp. 337-351.
  • Sascha Pöhlmann: Pynchon's Postnational Imagination. Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8253-5771-9 .
  • Denis Scheck: Thomas Pynchon - A raster search. Audio book. Audiobook Hamburg, Hamburg 2000, ISBN 3-934120-65-2 .
  • Andreas Selmeci, Dag Henrichsen: The Black Command - Thomas Pynchon and the history of the Herero. Aisthesis, Bielefeld 1995, ISBN 3-89528-122-0 .
  • Bernhard Siegert , Markus Krajewski (ed.): Thomas Pynchon. Archive, conspiracy, history. VDG, Weimar 2003, ISBN 3-89739-367-0 .
  • Tony Tanner: Thomas Pynchon. Methuen, London 1982, ISBN 0-416-31670-0 .
  • Samuel Thomas: Pynchon and the Political. Routledge, New York & London 2007, ISBN 978-0-415-95646-8 .
  • Steven Weisenburger : A Gravity's Rainbow Companion. U Georgia Press, Athens 1988, ISBN 0-8203-1026-3 .

Web links

Commons : Thomas Pynchon  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Garrison Frost, Thomas Pynchon and the South Bay , in: The Aesthetic ( Memento of March 6, 2003 in the Internet Archive )
  2. Willi Winkler: The Phantom. Retrieved July 5, 2020 .
  3. Werner Habicht, Wolf-Dieter Lange and the Brockhaus editorial team (ed.): The literature Brockhaus . Fundamentally revised. and exp. Paperback edition. BI-paperback publisher. Mannheim, Leipzig, Vienna, Zurich, p. 346.
  4. A Working Canon of Slipstream Writings , compiled at Readercon July 18, 2007 (PDF), accessed on October 5, 2018.
  5. See Franz Link: Vineland, 1990 . In: Franz Link: American storytellers since 1950 - Topics · Contents · Forms . Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn u. a. 1993, ISBN 3-506-70822-8 , pp. 349-351, here p. 350.
  6. ^ Heinz Ickstadt : Pynchon, Thomas - Against the Day . In: Kindlers Literatur Lexikon , 3rd, completely revised edition, JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2009 (accessed from Bücherhallen Hamburg on April 18, 2020).
  7. 2 Petr 3.7  EU
  8. David Seed: Thomas Pynchon. In: Timothy Parrish (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists. Cambridge University Press, New York 2013, p. 268.
  9. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of July 31, 2009
  10. Welt online on August 6, 2009
  11. Jörg Häntzschel: "Bleeding Edge" by Thomas Pynchon: Showdown with capitalism . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of September 26, 2013 ( online , accessed July 22, 2014).
  12. Bleeding Edge Summary & Study Guide. In: Retrieved April 20, 2020 (English).
  13. Angela Schader: Der Silicon-Alley-Blues , NZZ , September 28, 2013, p. 21
  15. ^ A Journey into the Mind of Watts , New York Times, June 12, 1966.
  16. Is it OK to be a Luddite? , New York Times, October 28, 1984.
  17. Nearer, My Couch, to Thee , New York Times, June 6, 1993.
  18. Melanie Jackson. Cityfile, archived from the original on March 9, 2009 ; Retrieved January 15, 2013 .
  19. The chaos is used up in FAZ of October 4, 2014, page L4