Wednesday, December 17, 2008

from John Carvill @ Pynchon-l, re TRP autographed letter

Has this been seen on the p-list before? Apologies, as usual, if so.

A listing (now defunct I think) for a very interesting sounding Pynchon letter. I'll post the entire text here in case the link dies. Essential reading I would say. Sorry for the lack of paragraphs, that's, um, inherent to the listing itself. Definitely worth the effort to read, I promise.

334. PYNCHON, Thomas. Autograph Letter Signed. January 21, 1974.

Two tightly printed pages, on both sides of one sheet of graph paper, written to his friends, authors David [Shetzline] and his wife Mary [M.F. Beal]. Last paragraph written in pencil, including the signature "Love, Tom." A lengthy letter, over 1000 words, to two friends who date back to his college days 15 years earlier. Both Shetzline and Beal were students at Cornell, and a part of the group that came to be known as the "Cornell School" of writers, including Pynchon, Richard Fariña, Shetzline and Beal. Shetzline published two novels in the late 1960s -- Heckletooth 3 and DeFord, which is dedicated to the memory of Fariña -- and Pynchon wrote blurbs for both of them. Pynchon also wrote a blurb for M.F. Beal's novel, Amazon One, about a group of radical activists of the 1960s. She also wrote what many consider to be the first lesbian/feminist detective novel, Angel Dance. All of these elements come into play in this remarkable letter, which deals with literary matters, poli!
tical matters, and the correspondents' longtime friendship. Written four months after Gravity's Rainbow was published, the letter sheds light on Pynchon's state of mind in the aftermath of the work of writing that novel. The letter starts out apologizing for writing to them together instead of "one by one but haven't been able to write anything to anybody for a couple years, and will be lucky even to get through this one letter here..." He goes on to tell them that his agent, the legendary Candida Donadio, "turns out to be a closet MF Beal freek [sic] and would really dig to establish contact..." He advises Mary to write to Candida but says "don't ask me what about, though, I can't understand any of this literary stuff" -- a remarkable comment from someone who has just finished writing Gravity's Rainbow. A long paragraph details events in New York City, where he is living, including an "Impeachment Rally" in Greenwich Village. Pynchon is self-consciously disdainful of this !
round of political activism: "Maybe I am wrong not to show up,!
after a
ll think of all that great neurotic pussy that always shows up at things like -- oh, aww, gee Mary, I'm sorry! I meant 'vagina,' of course! -- like that, and all the biggies who'll be there..." He goes on to describe that he is having "what the CIA calls a 'mid-life crisis,' looking for another hustle, cannot dig to live a 'literary' life no more..." A "lump of hash I lost somewhere in Humboldt County 3 years ago" figures into what becomes an increasingly textured, complicated narrative, much the way his fiction does, at the same time that it represents his side of an obviously ongoing dialogue, and elicits further contact from the recipients: in referring to stories of bad LSD circulating, he asks "You might as well tell me. How many times'd you end up sucking on the rug?" A dissection of the general state of mind among the self-proclaimed hip in New York City follows, and he waxes nostalgic for the West a couple of times: "Last fall I rode around on the 'Hound for a while.!
Would've dropped by [their place in northern California] except by the time I got in your neighborhood I was bummed out..." Future "master plan" was "to go across the sea, but now I don't know. I've sort of been keying my plans on Geraldine, part of general resolution not to impose shit on her, also cz I'm lazy and can't make decisions... so maybe we will head west, and then again maybe not, but if we do we'll be by your place, OK?" A remarkable letter, exhibiting all of the characteristics for which Pynchon's writing is known, and many of the concerns that he raises in his writings, and addressed to two of his closest and oldest friends. Pynchon even used Shetzline's name in Gravity's Rainbow: Shetzline was credited with having written the "classic study" of "the property of time-modulation peculiar to Oneidine." Folded in twelfths for mailing, else fine in hand-addressed envelope folded in fourths. In content and style, probably the best Pynchon letter we have ever seen.

'bout half-ways down the page.

I found this link about a week back, browsing pretty much at random on The Fictional Woods. What a find!



Dave Monroe wrote (and see also the recent post on mineral evolution,


This article appeared in the May 1996 issue of Postmodern Culture and
is still archived at PMC. If you would like to know why I reposted it
at this site, go here.

Copyright (c) 1996 Wes Chapman

Male Pro-Feminism and the Masculinist Gigantism of Gravity's Rainbow
Wes Chapman

The title of Tania Modleski's Feminism Without Women refers, Modleski
explains, to a confluence of two political/intellectual trends: the
subsumption of feminism within a "more comprehensive" field of gender
, accompanied by the rise of a "male feminist perspective that
excludes women," and the dominance within feminist thought of an
"anti-essentialism so radical that every use of the term 'woman,'
however 'provisionally' it is adopted, is disallowed" (14-15). The two
trends are linked, Modleski argues, because "the rise of gender
studies is linked to, and often depends for its justification on, the
tendendency within poststructuralist thought to dispute notions of
identity and the subject" (15). These trends are troubling for
Modleski because she fears that, insofar as gender studies tend to
decenter women as the subjects of feminism, they may be not a "new
phase" in feminism but rather feminism's "phase-out" (5).

My concern in this essay is with male-authored work on gender of the
type identified by Modleski, and in particular with its intersections
with anti-essentialism....


That this politics of discourse may tend to decenter women as the
subjects of feminism is suggested by the one direct and I think
suggestive reference in the novel to a contemporary feminist, M. F.
Beal.8 Felipe, one of the Argentinian exiles, makes "noontime
devotionals to the living presence of a certain rock" which, he
believes, "embodies . . . an intellectual system, for [Felipe]
believes (as do M.F. Beal and others) in a form of mineral
consciousness not too much different from that of plants and animals"
(GR 612). M. F. Beal was (or is) a friend of Pynchon's, author of two
novels, Amazon One and Angel Dance, several stories, and Safe House: A
Casebook of Revolutionary Feminism in the 1970's. David Seed, who has
written most about the relationship of Pynchon and Beal, explains that
the reference to Beal in Gravity's Rainbow refers to a conversation
that Pynchon and Beal had about "the limits of sentience" (227): "Beal
implicitly humanized the earth's mantle (containing of course rocks
and minerals
) by drawing an analogy with skin. . . . " (32) In effect,
Beal was espousing what we would now call a Gaia philosophy9; as Seed
writes, "[i]f there is such a thing as mineral consciousness then the
earth's crust becomes a living mantle and man becomes a part (a small
part) of a living continuum instead of being defined against an inert
environment" (227). There is a version of this belief in "mineral
consciousness" in Safe House:

Only recently have a few modern men begun to learn anything about life
and what they are learning is that the only difference from the point
of view of chemistry between living and non-living substances is their
ability to reproduce themselves. (86)

As in her discussions with Pynchon, Beal here minimizes the
distinction between plants and animals on the one hand and
"non-living" beings like minerals; if the "only difference" between
them is the ability to reproduce, then in other ways they are the same
(so, perhaps, rocks are sentient, as Beal had argued to Pynchon

One tenet of Gaia philosophy is that the Earth acts as a conscious
organism to protect itself. In Safe House, Beal speculates that one
mechanism by which the Earth might be trying to protect itself is what
she calls a "strategic retreat" -- the possibility that "adult women
given the choice will choose to live without [men] -- to eat, sleep,
work, rear children and dwell without them" (87) -- in other words,
female separatism. Beal wonders whether the contemporary urge toward
separatism might be not just a conscious choice by particular women
but a manifestation of some larger biological necessity:

Could it be that we are witnessing an unfathomably significant genetic
reflex for species survival? Could it be that the DNA code has been
triggered by some inscrutable biological alarm system from the threat
of male violence and annihilation? Could it be that this is some
ancient reoccurring pattern which has activated female response over
the millennia to withdraw, to protect and defend themselves and their
progeny? (87)

For Beal, man has turned away from the earth to "violence and
annihilation," just as for Pynchon humanity has turned away from the
Titans to the "structures favoring death." But for Beal, this turning
away is specifically coded according to gender; the "man" in the
previous sentence refers to men, not to humanity. Conversely, women
are a key part of the Earth's counter-struggle: the earth is
triggering in women, who are open to the message of survival because
they "have always known all things are alike and precious," a "genetic
reflex for species survival," which consists of a disentanglement from
"male violence and annihilation." In Gravity's Rainbow, the
genderedness of Beal's vision is lost; the Titans in Greek mythology
were half male and half female.

Safe House was published in 1976, three years after Gravity's Rainbow,
so it is impossible to be certain whether Beal had in fact worked out
within a specifically feminist framework the belief in "mineral
consciousness" which Pynchon attributes to her. But it seems to me
likely that she had, or at least likely that Beal was a feminist by
that point, and that that feminism was part of her discussions with
Pynchon. If the critique of masculinism in Gravity's Rainbow was
influenced by Beal, then we can see the novel a kind of appropriation
and recentering of feminism; Pynchon subordinates his critique of
masculinism to a critique of militarism, and in so doing defuses the
genderedness of his subject. Within the play of pluralized discourses
in the novel, none of them privileged, none of them untainted by the
structures of power, the issue of gender is subsumed within the issue
of gender discourses. But if everyone is trapped within masculinist
discourse, then masculinism is not a problem of men at all; it is a
role one takes on or steps out of, as Greta Erdmann steps so easily
out of the role of masochist in Alpdrücken and into the role of sadist
with Bianca.


Works Cited

Beal, M.F., and friends. Safe House: A Casebook of Revolutionary
Feminism in the 1970's. Eugene, OR: Northwest Matrix, 1976.