Slow Learner: Early Stories

ISBN: 0316724432
ISBN 13: 9780316724432
By: Thomas Pynchon

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American American Literature Currently Reading Fiction Literature Postmodern Pynchon Short Stories Stories To Read

About this book

Thomas Pynchon's literary career was launched not with the release of his widely acclaimed first novel, "V., " but with the publication in literary magazines of the five stories collected here. In his introduction to "Slow Learner" the author reviews his early work with disarming candor and recalls the American cultural landscape of the early post-Beat era in which the stories were written. "Time" magazine described this introductory essay as "Pynchon's first public gesture toward autobiography."

Reader's Thoughts

Jesús

Pynchon. Pynchon. Pynchon. Dicen que si repites tres veces su nombre delante de un espejo aparece un tipo con la cara borrosa, los hombros caídos hasta formar líneas verticales y unos incisivos como los que tendría un conejo de dos metros, y que te destripa ahí mismo. Intentaré no contribuir con este comentario sobre su libro ‘Un lento aprendizaje’ (editado en castellano por Tusquets) a esa corriente de mitificación hacia su figura que últimamente veo desatada y que creBUENO, MEJOR NO.¿Qué es? ‘Un lento aprendizaje’ reúne sus primeros textos, seis relatos escritos entre 1958 y 1964 mientras estaba en la universidad, que él mismo ya se encargó de mantener en algún cajón lejos de la luz del sol hasta que se decidió a publicarlos en 1984 bajo el título original ‘Slow Learner’. Es un libro completamente desigual, donde diría que lo más importante está en el prólogo, escrito por Pynchon en 1984 con una humildad desarmante. “Mi reacción al leer estos relatos fue exclamar: ¡Dios mío!, al tiempo que experimentaba unos síntomas físicos en los que prefiero no insistir. Mi segundo pensamiento fue el de volver a escribirlos de cabo a rabo. Ambos impulsos cedieron a uno de esos estados de serenidad propios de la mediana edad, y ahora creo que he llegado a ver con claridad cómo era el joven escritor de entonces y a entenderme con él. Por otro lado, si gracias a una tecnología aún por inventar me topara hoy con él, ¿estaría dispuesto sin recelos a prestarle dinero o siquiera a ir calle abajo con él para tomar una cerveza y charlas de los viejos tiempos?”. Esa humildad, decía yo, surge cuando Pynchon ejerce de crítico de si mismo, cuando coge cada uno de sus textos y, sin ningún tipo de nostalgia, analiza para el lector cuándo los escribió, bajo qué influencia y, lo mejor de todo, qué errores muestra su lectura años después, algo que muchos aspirantes a escritor encontrarán muy útil: “Mi mayor esperanza es que, por pretenciosos, bobos e imprudente que resulten de vez en cuando, estos relatos sigan siendo útiles con sus defectos intactos, ilustrativos de los problemas característicos a los que se enfrenta el escritor principiante, a la vez que previene contra ciertas prácticas que probablemente los escritores más jóvenes prefieren evitar”.El prólogo también es útil para conocer de primera mano sus lecturas de la época en busca de una voz propia: “Kerouac y los escritores de la generación beat, la dicción de Saul Bellow en ‘Las aventuras de Augie March’, voces que empezaban a sonar como las de Herbet Gold y Philip Roth”. Explica: “Contra el innegable poder de la tradición, nos atraían los señuelos centrífugos, como el ensayo de Norman Mailer ‘El negro blanco’, el considerable surtido de discos de jazz y un libro que aún sigo considerando una de las grandes novelas norteamericanas: ‘En el camino’, de Jack Kerouac”. Algunos recuerdos de la época son realmente valiosos en este sentido. Según cuenta, en la universidad, “parecía como si la actitud de ciertos literatos hacia la generación beat fuese la misma que la de algunos oficiales de mi barco hacia Elvis Presley, los cuales abordaban a los marineros que parecían capacitados para informar, porque, por ejemplo, se peinaban como Elvis Presley, preguntándoles inquietos: ‘¿Cuál es su mensaje? ¿Qué quiere?’”. Repitan todos, atemorizados: ¿Qué quiere ese pelo de Elvis, qué coño quiere contarnos? Y ahondando en ello: “Estábamos en un punto de transición, un extraño periodo de tiempo cultural posterior a la generación beat, y nuestras lealtades estaban divididas. Lo mismo que el bop y el rock’n’roll eran con respecto al swing y al pop de posguerra, así era esa nueva manera de escribir con respecto a la tradición moderna más establecida a cuya influencia estábamos expuestos en la universidad. Por desgracia, no teníamos otras alternativas de primer orden. Éramos espectadores: el desfile había pasado y ya lo recibíamos todo de segunda mano, éramos consumidores de lo que los medios de comunicación de la época nos suministraban”. Al lío: vamos con el libro. Los dos primeros relatos, ‘Lluvia ligera’ y ‘Tierras bajas’ ni siquiera llegan a ser desarrollados como tal. Son esquemas de personajes, de escenarios donde desarrollar conflictos que no llegan nunca a surgir, donde Pynchon tira de experiencias propias para escribir, y donde se queda corto. Sobre esto: “No sé de dónde había sacado la idea de que la vida personal del escritor no tiene nada que ver con su ficción, cuando lo cierto, como todo el mundo sabe, es casi todo lo contrario. Además, tenía a mi alrededor abundantes pruebas de esa verdad, aunque prefería ignorarlas, pues, de hecho, la ficción tanto publicada como inédita que me conmovía y me satisfacía entonces y ahora era, precisamente, la que resultaba luminosa y sin ninguna duda auténtica porque había sido hallada y elevada, siempre pagando un coste, desde los niveles más profundos y más compartidos de la vida real que todos vivimos”. Al menos aprovecha para para experimentar con su oído para los diferentes acentos del inglés y con la técnica del “robo literario”, que parece llegar más o menos a mejor puerto en ‘Bajo la rosa’, un relato donde Pynchon vuelca su afición por las novelas de espías que leyó en su juventud y donde se ve ya, claro, el miedo a la conspiración y a La Bomba con mayúsculas. Mis favoritos son los dos que quedan. ‘Entropía’ y ‘La integración secreta’. El primero no es del gusto de Pynchon, es posible que incluso le avergüence. A mí me ha gustado por que la acción y sus personajes funcionan como una banda de músicos que se van calentando hasta que el ritmo estalla en un caos de ruido controlado. El narrador va de un punto a otro sin transiciones ni obstáculos de ningún tipo. También disfruto con la manera en que utiliza términos de geometría y termodinámica, aunque con esto el propio Pynchon se muestra especialmente crítico por su osadía de juventud. Sobre sus errores en este texto, escribe: “Con frecuencia desconocemos el alcance y la estructura de nuestra ignorancia, la cual no es sólo un espacio en blanco en el mapa mental de una persona, sino que tiene contornos y coherencia y, por lo que sé, también tiene sus normas. Así pues, como corolario a ese consejo de escribir sobre lo que conocemos, quizá podríamos añadir la necesidad de familiarizarnos con nuestra ignorancia y las probabilidades que tenemos, por falta de esa familiaridad, de echar a perder un buen relato”. Este es en mi opinión el consejo más útil que nos deja a los lectores, y no solo deberían tomar nota los aspirantes a escritor, también los periodistas.Ya termino: ‘La integración secreta’ podemos adorarlo sin problemas, es el favorito de Pynchon y es un gustazo leerlo: 50 páginas protagonizadas por una pandilla de cuatro chavales que parecen sacados de una película de los años ochenta, tipo ‘Los Goonies’, ‘Cuenta conmigo’ o ‘Los exploradores’, en una América que se resiste a dejar atrás el racismo y donde, muy pynchonianamente, la narración se dispara en múltiples direcciones, pudiendo tomar cualquiera de ellas. Todo lo escrito en ese relato, confiesa Pynchon, se fue al garete con su siguiente escrito publicado, ‘La subasta del Lote 49’, donde “parezco haber olvidado la mayor parte de lo que creía haber aprendido hasta entonces”. Entonces empezó la leyenda.[Algo más sobre Pynchon-Pynchon-Pynchon aquí: http://haciendoelpino.wordpress.com/2...]

Jason

Thomas Pynchon's short story "Entropy" is what kick started my interest in modern (well, post-modern) literature and it's a little odd to see it again, not quite as good as I remembered it (though still good) and ripped to shreds by the author in the preface.So what is there to say? Some of these stories are just good, some are pretty darned good and some are outright wonderful. It is a collection of short stories that I would recommend for those too tentative to dive right into V. or are not quite sure who this Pynchon fellow is. I mean, it worked for me.

sologdin

Borderline juvenilia. Introduction by author dismisses the collection ab initio as “illustrative of typical problems in entry-level fiction” (4). Explains that “when we speak of ‘seriousness’ in fiction ultimately we are talking about an attitude toward death” (5) which I regard as probably philistine. Nevertheless, author suggests “one of the reasons that fantasy and science fiction appeal so much to younger readers is that, when the space and time have been altered to allow characters to travel easily anywhere through the continuum and thus escape physical dangers and timepiece inevitabilities, mortality is so seldom an issue” (id.), which is definitely philistine. Introduction otherwise has thoughtful comments on entropy, author’s influences, and the nifty comment that his reading allowed “World War I in my imagination to assume the shape of that attractive nuisance so dear to adolescent minds, the apocalyptic showdown” (18).Principal text is five short fictions, all generally haunted by the spectre of the Korean civil war (expressly at 44, 61, 172, and implicitly in the others, it seems)First short is a military man down on the bayou. Second involves a dude whose wife kicks him out of the house. Third, “Entropy,” seems to be well-regarded, presents a soiree that host-protagonist wants to stop “from deteriorating into total chaos” (97). Fourth is fin de siecle espionage thriller of orientalist interest, but we should read it in the context of the cold war. It’s presented as asymptotic to World War I: “Britain wanted no part of France in the Nile Valley. M. Declasse, Foreign Minister of a newly formed French cabinet, would as soon go to war as not if there were any trouble when the two detachments met. As meet, everyone realized by now, they would. Kitchener had been instructed not to take any offensive and to avoid all provocation. Russia would support France in case of war, while England had a temporary rapprochement with Germany, which of course meant Italy and Austria as well” (106). But: “All he asked was that eventually there be a war. Not just a small incidental skirmish in the race to carve up Africa, but one pip-pip, jolly ho, up-goes-the-balloon Armageddon for Europe” (107). Finale of volume is the longest bit, involves a pack of rotters and race politics.Recommended for readers in varying stages of abomination, persons in so much rapture over the mongrel gods of Egypt, and those who’d fled the eclipse then falling over Europe and their own hardly real shadow-states sometime back in the middle Thirties.

Jack Waters

Worth the read for Pynchon's introduction to the book and the story "Entropy." I think the best introduction to Pynchon is "The Crying of Lot 49" followed by "V." I'd say read this if you are a completionist. As for a starting point, it could work, but I still think his novels outpace any of his stories.I read this because Gravity's Rainbow has claimed me as a victim five times now. I've yet to get past page 250. One day.

Oscar

‘Un lento aprendizaje’ recoge los primeros relatos de Thomas Pynchon, que escribió entre 1958 y 1964, y en ellos se aprecia esa esencia pynchoniana tan típica. Ya en la larga introducción, Pynchon nos comenta los errores que contienen estos cuentos, típicos en un autor nobel, y de su manía a la hora de documentarse con la lectura de otros libros antes que con la experiencia. En esta introducción, Pynchon también nos habla de las tramas y sus personajes, del humor inherente en ambos, del germen de sus diálogos, que con el tiempo se convertirán en brillantes. Una diferencia entres estos primeros relatos y otras obras posteriores es la inmadurez de ciertas situaciones, pecados de juventud del autor por otra parte.Pynchon es claramente reconocible en estos relatos. Si bien empiezan con un estilo iniciático, en un entorno humorístico, según van avanzando el estilo va perfeccionándose y haciéndose más propio de su manera de escribir. En ‘Lluvia ligera’ aparece el ejército y soldados que están casi siempre de broma; ’Bajo la rosa’ es una historia de espionaje que recuerda sobre todo a ciertos pasajes de su novela ‘V.’; en 'Entropía' se alude a las leyes de la termodinámica; ’Tierras bajas’ es una anécdota puramente pynchoniana, donde Dennis Flange acabará de la manera más surrealista; y ’La integración secreta’ (mis favoritos este y ‘Bajo la rosa’) recoge el afán de un grupo de jóvenes por conspirar contra los adultos, su pueblo y el orden establecido, donde brilla con luz propia el personaje de Grover.Los cinco relatos recogidos en ‘Un lento aprendizaje’ van mucho más allá que las meras anécdotas, la ironía y los chispeantes diálogos. En ellos, Pynchon intenta incluir sus opiniones, encuadrando a sus personajes en un entorno claramente institucionalizado donde buscan un objetivo y, sobre todo, la libertad como individuos.Sin duda, vale la pena leer estos primeros cuentos del genial Thomas Pynchon, que junto a ‘La subasta del lote 49’ son sus libros más asequibles.

Roxanne

Lisa gave me this collection of short stories for my birthday a few years ago. I feel badly that it took me so long to get around to reading it, but it just didn't look like it'd be my sort of thing. It kind of wasn't. I've never read any Pynchon before. These were his early stories, all published in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They felt... thicker... than the sorts of stories I usually read. I did like the bit of a flair of fantasy that runs through a few of the otherwise perfectly ordinary stories--the beautiful midget gypsy girl who lives in the tunnels under the garbage dump, the new boy in town who turns out to be a little different. The book includes an introduction by Pynchon where he discusses the stories, his influences, the flaws he sees in the stories, and what he likes about them anyway. I probably shouldn't have read that first but I can never resist. I'm sure that colored my reading a bit--there were places where I thought, oh yes that is clunky just like Mr. Pynchon said, when otherwise I might have just read on through and not noticed it. The dialogue really is a bit clunky in places and I would have caught that, I'm sure. Some of the stories didn't really feel structured in a way--I guess I feel that, when I get to the end of a story, I want to be surprised and not surprised at the same time, because the ending should be natural and in a sense inevitable, but should also have something of the unexpected. These stories didn't seem so much to be building towards their endings as to be some pages about some guys who we start reading about and they go and do some things and then they stop. Not that the stories were uninteresting or unplotted, just not necessarily structured in a way I enjoy.The exception was the last story in the book, "The Secret Integration", which was terrific and was worth reading the whole book to get to. (Mr. Pynchon says in the introduction that he's pretty content with how this story holds up, but that the next thing he wrote after this story was The Crying of Lot 49 "in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I'd learned up till then". This is not an overwhelming argument for me to go pick up The Crying of Lot 49.)Overall: Props to Mr. Pynchon for a really entertaining and candid introduction, and also for one excellent story--one of our five definitely isn't bad. I'll say three stars.

Ben

So as not to reiterate what many reviewers said already, I will just give some very brief notes on Slow Learner.Most critical is that one read the introduction after (it should absolutely be an afterword). Beyond that, most of the stories feel like test runs with ideas and genres and characters that Pynchon later brought to captivating life later in his career. My favorite, by a long shot, has to be "The Secret Integration," in which we discover that Thomas Pynchon has feelings. Other fun facts: he hates hegemony, racism, and hypocrites. He loves jazz, math, and all-purpose silliness. He also loves to do his homework. If you're not ready for some serious in-depth education about almost any topic (the Tarot, sea shanties, and European politics come to mind as good examples), then maybe Pynchon is not the guy for you. This shouldn't be your introduction to Pynchon. I'd recommend Against the Day for the more patient reader or The Crying of Lot 49 for a quicker reading experience. Slow Learner is best read after having read and enjoyed most of his other work.

Mike

Despite what the author would have you believe, I greatly enjoyed this collection of his early stories, despite the few 'flaws' he highlights in his excellent Introduction (absolutely worth reading even if you do not intend to read any other stories). Although I see his points about why you should always start from the characters themselves instead of plot points or academic theoretical considerations, and I do see the 'overwriting' in some places he also abhors, the biggest flaw with this collection in my mind is that it does not include his second published story, 'Mortality and Mercy in Vienna'[0], which is certainly on the level of the others (it was probably left out due to some copyright issue or something). By all means if you haven't read this one, use it to warm up for 'Bleeding Edge' in the fall![0] I read the version available from here (http://themodernword.com/pynchon/pync...) after 'The Small Rain' to maintain chronological order.

Bram

My first reaction, rereading these stories, was oh my God, accompanied by physical symptoms we shouldn't dwell upon.This, from the opening paragraph of Thomas Pynchon's introduction to his earliest published stories, appears at first to be a self-conscious oversell of false modesty. Even after watching him pick apart the stories for the first 25 pages, one by one and with an assiduous efficiency, you still don't believe they are going to be bad. But then you read the first story, and you start to wonder if this hypothetical scenario of 1980s Pynchon meeting 1950s/60s Pynchon isn't, in fact, too generous: ...if through some as yet undeveloped technology I were to run into him today, how comfortable would I feel about lending him money, or for that matter even stepping down the street to have a beer and talk over old times?Young Pynchon doesn't come off as a dick or even mostly unlikeable, but he doesn't come across as very interesting either. Or, perhaps most surprisingly, as very talented. And here's the silver lining: these stories firmly place the virtuosic talents Pynchon later developed into the realm of possibility for the modestly talented but ambitious would-be writer. Granted, all but one of these stories were written in college, but even so, any previously tempting apotheosis of the man will be permanently erased upon reading these. So that's the good news (I guess). But they aren't much fun to read, and I struggled to remain engaged through each one of them. I'm not going to go into detail about the problems here, mainly because Pynchon does such a damn good job of it in his introduction. It probably goes without saying, however, that any book that peaks with the introduction is in pretty serious trouble.

§--

Very interesting stuff. I'm a bit surprised Pynchon even published this; one would think that if he were really as embarrassed as he professes to be in the preface, that he wouldn't collect them--perhaps (perhaps!) this modesty is false?As for the stories, they are very rough and I found myself getting distracted and falling asleep while reading them. They required a real force of will to finish them, something I didn't have on most attempts. There are, however, flashes of brilliance scattered throughout, and Pynchon's bizarre personality is in every word. I was really blown away by the ending to the first story (p. 47-51), written while Pynchon was in college and published in the Cornell undergraduate journal. It's the best part of the collection, I think, other than the preface. I can't imagine having written this well in college--I most certainly did not."Lowlands" also is hilarious and highly enjoyable. Imagine getting tossed out by your wife and meeting the perfect woman...except she's a midget gypsy at the trash dump. She's perfect, albeit to scale. Lots of laughs."Entropy" is very good, and contains in it two spots where genius shines through--p.83 and p.90-91. "Under the Rose" is almost unreadable. I felt a little embarrassed too, reading it, as it reminded me of some of my own tough-guy type stories from the past. Ick.Only pick this up if you are hardcore--that is, have no life. It's not an enjoyable read you can take to the beach. It's frustrating, rough, and requires some love and work. But it does show how far ahead Pynchon was of every other young scribbler despite it all; I can only envy him.

Nathan

This is the closest of any Thomas Pynchon work I've come to finishing. It's not that it isn't good; far from it. It's just that if you're like me, and you find brilliant fiction difficult to tackle, you tend to chicken out, quit reading when it starts to get to you, and go read a book about the Normandy invasion or something. I really want to be able to read Gravity's Rainbow, for example; but it terrifies me. Slow Learner was more my speed, and I was at least able to keep up. Largely because it's just a collection of stories. One day, before I die, I'd like to be smart enough to read more Thomas Pynchon and really get him. As is, I've tried two of his books every four years for the last 12 years of my life. Each time, I still don't feel like I'm smart enough to get out of Gravity's Rainbow or V all I should get out of it. Slow Learner is a taste of things to come, and if it pans out, I'll be reading some great fiction if I live to 97. D*mn Jacques Derrida.NC

Vivienne

I love Pynchon. However, I think the greatest satisfaction I got from this story collection was two-fold:1) the introduction, by the man himself! In a way, he lost a little of the glamorous sheen of anonymity he heretofore possessed, but otherwise, it was kind of thrilling to catch a glimpse of the man behind the curtain. It hasn't ruined the magic of any of his previous works, though being able to hold tenable the hypothesis that he is just as human as any other meatbag with a keyboard is exciting. It turns out he is neither demigod nor assemblage of monkeys at typewriters, so huzzah for that.2) the quality of the stories. They're good, but I think that's where I want to leave it. I could call them "nice" or "pleasant." They aren't suffering from a significant shortage of wit or craft, but they fall well short of the standard to which I normally hold Pynchon. They are, in short, his early works. He was once a beginner.Ha ha ha! Pynchon was once a novice!If my downstairs neighbors start banging on the ceiling, it will be because they were disturbed by the buoyancy of my gleeful dancing about the fact that Pynchon did not spring fully-formed from a bust of the literary canon.The man had a learning curve. Who knew? Neato.

erock

Any book that starts out in the preface saying that what you are about to read sucks and then makes a series of apologies about how bad it is and how much he learned and how smart he actually is and on and on with the pretentious 'I really am one of the greatest writers in the 20th century, you just won't be able to tell from the shit you are about to read' litany. That is just self indulgent and embarassing. But, he was right, it all pretty much didn't do a lot except bore. I bought an Elvis Costello re-issue album once that did the same thing. I thought, well, no one ever says anything about this album, I'll give it a shot. Then the first line of the liner notes read: 'Congratulations, you just purchased my worst album ever'I mean really, couldn't you put that on the cover? And for that, I am a little upset at EC as well.

TrumanCoyote

Only actually good story the last one ("Secret Integration"). I actually got this because I wanted to see if I got Pynchon early enough whether I could understand him. Have decided it really doesn't matter. His stuff all sounds the same: plodding, pointless and dull. Like so much of that fatuous picaresque '60's crap. Not helped any either by a smirking, posturing intro--wherein he criticizes himself for all sorts of inane trivial egghead reasons. And how can somebody who gets their stuff published in college come off as a slow learner? Unless he's trying to say he's really an even bigger genius than we already give him credit for...what insincerity. And he talks about incorporating the vernacular, but then he turns out to be just another fussy, pedantic stiff.

Schuyler

I want to like T. Pynchon. I really do. So I keep reading his books. Gravity's Rainbow is next. I enjoyed these stories, especially The Secret Integration, which I find to be very much not how Pynchon writes, in general. So I don't know what that says about me liking Pynchon, the fact that I like it when he writes stuff that doesn't sound like him. But come on, how awesome is it that the only picture that Google can come up with is his Navy mugshot from the 1950's? Google can see my apartment from space but they can't find a current picture of one of the greatest american writers of the 20th century. Take that Internet!

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