Saturday, June 19, 2004
I've been reading, and enjoying, Jan Swafford's biography, Charles Ives: A Life with Music, about another Yankee genius who managed to break out of his milieu's cultural expectations box. "Creative artists were something that, for the most part, old-fashioned Connecticut Yankees notably were not," Swafford writes. "Practical musicians they were....The rare composers of concert music, however, had to justify their profession to dubious countrymen....Connecticut men of letters were less likely to write imaginative fiction than to be teachers, such as Yale's Timothy Dwight, or nuts-and-bolts scholars like Noah Webster, the dictionary man....Born both a Yankee and an artist, Charles Ives was predestined to a divided nature." Pynchon's not from Connecticut of course, but he shares Ives' Congregationalist roots, and as I've been reading this biography I've wondered if Pynchon might also have had to overcome a similar cultural predisposition against art for art's sake. Another similarity between the two artists: Ives mixed popular American and high European culture elements to create a native American music, just as Pynchon combines pop and high culture elements in his work.