V.

ISBN: 0060930217
ISBN 13: 9780060930219
By: Thomas Pynchon

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About this book

The wild, macabre tale of the twentieth century and of two men -- one looking for something he has lost, the other with nothing much to lose -- and "V.," the unknown woman of the title.Pynchon's V. won the coveted William Faulkner Foundation's First Novel Award when it appeared in 1963, and was hailed by Atlantic Review as "one of the best works of the century".

Reader's Thoughts

Justin Evans

I've read four Pynchon books, and the only one I was healthy for was Lot 49, which barely counts. For Gravity's Rainbow I was not only violently ill, but also on a cross-country road trip with my also violently ill father and my long-suffering mother, who could do little more than look on while we fought over things like whether it was acceptable to order dessert. For Inherent Vice, I was recovering from having my wisdom teeth removed. And now for V, not only did I finish it with Hurricane Sandy knocking limbs from trees outside my windows, but I was at the depths of a comparatively mild cold. The lesson is that one shouldn't read Pynchon when doped out on legal drugs, because all I remember of GR is an octopus, and I don't recall much from IV, either. On the other hand, I remember nothing from 49 despite having read it twice, and I suspect that's because it just isn't that good. This whole trend worries me some, but the good news is I won't be forgetting V any time soon, because it's a flat out masterpiece and, I suspect, better than GR. 'V,' in ascending order of abstraction, is a person with a robot eye, is a Utopia that large numbers of people think actually exists, probably stands for 'vagina' as in the source to which a large number of people wish to return, is a way of symbolizing reflection, either with reference to the mirror stage or reflection theories of vulgar materialism ('culture is simply the reflection of economics'), and is the convergence of two strands of the plot. The two strands follow, respectively, Stencil, a paranoid obsessive, whose story should, according to the paranoid perspective, be perfectly coherent but is in fact an endless search for an indefinable x (V). The second follows a picaro (Profane the schlemihl) whose story, as with any good picaresque, should have no coherence whatsoever but is, in fact, a fairly good illustration of the twentieth century decadence ("falling away") that 'V' chronicles, and the despair that decadence can induce. Various characters have various ways of coping with this decadence: different religions, art, drunkenness/hedonism, dentistry, and so on, but none of them can hold a candle to the disasters that follow everybody, like colonialism, war, unemployment, deracination and general ennui. The human beings slowly giving way: a nose job here, a belly ring there, becoming more and more object and less and less subject, more and more merely what "is the case" and less and less that which cannot be said(there's much play with early Wittgenstein here), more and more cyborg, less and live alive. The two narrative strands converge in Malta; the guiding metaphor is siege (Malta, which was besieged by the Ottomans, French under Napoleon, and the Axis powers in World War II). The human being is under siege, and neither the paranoid truth seeker nor the schizoid schlemihl can cope. Those who can and do cope (e.g., Schoenmaker) are manifestly dehumanizing evil bastards. But the book's manic energy makes it much less depressing than this sounds, and after all, there's still wine, wo/men and song. Including song about Wittgenstein. Books of which 'V' weirdly reminded me: Vile Bodies (decadence); Siege of Krishnapur (siege & colonialism); Graham Greene & Javier Marias for the spy thriller aspects; Roth for the 'Jews in America' aspects; Rilke for the ambivalent drive to become pure matter. Many reviewers say this is a really hard book, but I think maybe they're over-reacting: once you know or work out that there are two narrative strands, one of which is 'present day' and one of which is historical narrative, you can make your way through this book pretty easily. Particularly if you eschew all the 'V moves through time' nonsense. V does not move through time. Stencil's paranoia connects a number of things that need not be connected, just as my paranoia has linked together many aspects of the novel. The difficult aspect of the novel is to read it not as another dull pomo pastiche, but as the late modern masterpiece it is, dealing with difficult psychological concepts and historical realities. You can only read this book with paranoia: the urge to connect and seek order. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Bill

Between the extended novella The Crying of Lot 49 and the sprawling behemoth Gravity's Rainbow lies V, a book that's neither long nor particularly dense but still finds space for Pynchon's trademark historical digressions and lyrical flights of fancy. Pynchon's first novel is a thrilling mish-mash of Baedeker-Guide colonial intrigue, 1950s bohemia, and a hilarious set piece about alligators in the sewers of New York, all held together by an enigmatic meta-textual thread that is one of the more artful examples of what people mean when they talk about postmodern literature, assuming they mean anything at all. This is the Pynchon novel you should read first.

Aidan Watson-Morris

people will tell you that pynchon is inaccessible, the author of incomprehensible tomes detailing incoherent narratives written in opaque prose. these people are wrong. pynchon's novels are the ones you find yourself flipping through at night, desperate to find out what happens next, caught in pynchon's crazy, genius rhythm.people will tell you pynchon's characters are caricatures, vessels of puns & little else; these people are also wrong. pynchon's ability to write 360 degrees is unparalleled by even the author he learned from (gaddis) so, while it's easy to dismiss his characters as specks in a vast landscape, focus in on any & you'll find a real human being--take any one of them out of the landscape, & it leaves something to be desired.finally, people will tell you that pynchon is simply too smart for his own good, that his novels are merely soapboxes for him to spout off his thoughts on scientific progress & political happenings. these people have not read any pynchon, have instead sparknoted gravity's rainbow. they may be safely ignored.why do people have these misconceptions? i think it's largely because of pynchon's lack of self restraint, which some love & some hate. pynchon will take a serious scene & have characters burst into song, parodying whatever forgotten hit was popular in the b.c. era. his language will intensify in a passionate moment of overwhelming beauty. floating scenes will be connected gradually over the course of a fast paced, densely plotted novel that may seem completely unrelated (& some are never connected, illustrating such&such). &c. &c. but that's part of what makes pynchon great. his isn't a pointless excess; it's demonstrative of his indignation at the disenfranchisement of marginalized peoples, a sort of 'fuck you' to the literary canon he now belongs to. & like i said before, he writes 360 degrees, because he can. he has the ability to, is really that skilled. no one else writes like him. when you as a reader engage the text in any meaningful way, his panoramic writing is something more than immersive, almost enlightening.which is not to say that his narrative lacks elsewhere. while the craziness of the world as he sees it unfolds, there is a genuine humanity to each & every character, however sparsely illustrated. his prose is astonishing, yet enjoyable. the things he has to say are never made in a way that is didactic or preachy, but with a certain mixture of curiosity, compassion & humor. he's an opinionated genius, but he's not interested in oversimplifying to make his point, & he's more interested in analysis then thesis. (that being said, like i mentioned, he's not hesitant to give the middle finger to those who he has reached conclusions about.)v. epitomizes the analysis>thesis thing, despite the book being--in some ways--a 'fuck you' manifest. what i'm saying is, it's a good book.

Kevin Hinman

There is the street and there is the underground. There is order and chaos, history as linear, compartmentalized narrative, and history as closed loop. There is the animate and the inanimate, the past and the future, the sacred and Benny Profane, schlemiel.Is V. a vivisection, a ripping apart, or a joining, two hands clasped, at an angle, rushing toward the Mediterranean sea? Is V. one arrow, or two, and which way does it point, and what is at its end? Dig deep enough and flesh becomes cogs, rumor becomes fact, and surface becomes mask.And despite all the spies and conspiracies, real and imagined, the most baffling part of Thomas Pynchon's debut is its flawless construction. Pynchon weaves a world so intricate, and dense, and surefooted, (never betraying V.'s status as a "first novel," with the bumps and hiccups a reader of literature would expect in any first work of fiction, let alone one as grandiose as V.), that the final result feels like an accumulation of a life-time of work. That his prose would only become more complex, his stories richer, his mystique greater, as he carved out a style purely Pynchonian, is the mark of a true literary genius, one that tears through Western literature once in a generation. As Finnegans Wake begins (with its vaginal typographical arrangement) so is Pynchon's mythos birthed, a mythos of symbols, and paranoia, and memorably eccentric characters, a furthering of the modernist movement, toward meaning, the route to which is never a straight line.

Jonathan

Is it worth it to commit to a book or movie through to the end, even if you're not enjoying yourself during the journey? I once had an opinion that if I paid for something, I'd sit through it - no matter how mind numbing it was. After all it could get better, right? There might be something I'm not seeing, right?I was handed this book by a coworker who had tried multiple times to get into it, but couldn't. So I gave it a try. Pynchon's "stream of conscious" writing style, I have determined is not *my* favorite, and after several attempts I have given this book a pass. It's not for everyone, and requires a lot of concentration to get through, much less makes sense of the naming conventions for his characters and other abstract qualities of the work. Obviously, some of you love it, so it can't be all bad, but it's definitely not for me, and I no longer have the time or patience to sit something out hoping it will get better. You either win me over immediately, or lose me for good, and I'm afraid this book (and consequently the author) has lost me.

Nicole

I tried, lawd knows I tried.“It is something less than heavenTo be quoted Thesis 1.7Every time I make an advance;If the world is all that the case isThat’s a pretty discouraging basisOn which to pursueAny sort of romance.I’ve got a proposition for you;Logical, positive and brief.And at least it could serve as a kind of comic relief:[Refrain]Let P equal me,With my heart in command;Let Q equal youWith Tractatus in hand;And R could stand for a lifetime of love,Filled with music to fondle and purr to.We’ll define love as anything lovely you’d care to infer to.On the right, put that bright,Hypothetical case;On the left, our uncleft,Parenthetical chase.And that horseshoe there in the middleCould be lucky; we’ve nothing to lose,If in these parenthesesWe just mind our P’sAnd Q’s.If P [Mafia sang in reply] thinks of meAs a girl hard to make,Then Q wishes youWould go jump in the lake.For R is a meaningless concept,Having nothing to do with pleasure:I prefer the hard and tangible things I can measure.Man, you chase in the faceOf impossible odds;I’m a lass in the classOf unbossable broads.If you’ll promise no more sticky phrases,Half a mo while I kick off my shoes.There are birds, there are bees,And to hell with all your P’sAnd Q’s.And by the time Profane finished his beer, the blanket covered them both.”The songs have been my favorite part of reading Thomas Pynchon’s V. Really, I have enjoyed some of the reading, but as I’m typing this and feeling the urge to justify and push myself to like it, I realize that I’m just not that into it. I’m dropping it. My bookmark is on page 302-303 of the 1963 edition. I like his naming: Profane, Stencil, Mafia, The Sick Crew. I like the geography; I’ve dreamt of Florence and Cairo since the reading. But I’m not excited, I’m not finding why I should continue reading.Maybe it’s because I’ve been apart of a Sick Crew; I’m not in wonder about it.***********Finished reading the chapter “V. in love” with really the same reaction as the my last reading of the previous chapters. Things I really enjoyed: the number obsession in the first few paragraphs, the rich visual descriptions of Melanie’s clothing and costuming and her occupation with herself in them, the discussion of fetish and otherness and even tourism which I always find rather interesting as a person who travels. But I’m still just not that excited. I didn’t feel like I wanted to continue reading again although this was a much more interesting chapter to me than many of them. But fetish and otherness have been done much better by others, and having Melanie be a victim of sexual abuse that he then killed off at the end leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Still, pretty interesting to read.****Couldn't finish it, not interested.

Jan

I was utterly confused and I LOVED it. Of all the books that I've read, this was one of the select few that had me biting my fingernails on one hand, as I cradled its spine with my other. What had me so nervous was not the suspense in the plot, or a concern for the characters, but the thought, "Can he keep this up? Can he write 600 pages of prose that is so stupefyingly beautiful, so unctuous, so enveloping?" The answer is yes, that Pynchon's style continued to deliver on the promises made in the beginning of the book.The prose wasn't the only reason I was biting my nails, however. I also had to wonder how I could possibly put down the book and be myself again. I felt like my personality was stopped dead in its tracks by Pynchon's treatment of his two main characters: Benny Profane and Herb Stencil. One is a discharged sailor living in the Beat Generation; the other is an old adventurer looking for something that he doesn't quite understand. They don't have much to do with each other, and they seem to intersect only by chance, and neither is an antagonist or a protagonist. The author is neither unsympathetic or sympathetic; he simply coldly observes them, all the while dragging out a whirlwind of profane but enchanting detail.V., besides being a candidate for Great American Novel, is simply the best book related the Beat Generation, as Pynchon's detachment is preferable to Kerouac's proselytization; and he admits to there being a hidden, frustrating world that can't simply be seen directly from the Road. For that reason, his imagination is more refreshing than Kerouac's as well.It's a shame that Pynchon eventually grew so unfocused and insane; if he had been able to set aside some of the twists and turns of his later plots, he might have been able to leave some 500 pages of pure and (still unpolished) brilliance like V. again.

Lane Wilkinson

EDIT: I give up again. 'V' is a travesty of juvenile puns, unconvincing dialogue, and (my own pet peeve) characters with impossibly trite names. Seriously, what gives? EDIT: I decided to try reading it again.have you ever had the feeling that an author is simply trying to bludgeon you over the head with abstruseness? have you ever read one of those books that all of the "serious readers" swear is an infallible masterpiece, despite its meat-fisted appropriation of the stylistic innovations of Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Woolf, et al.? If you haven't, then read 'V'. (seriously, though, 'V' is a great book. i just read it too soon after my Ezra Pound phase, and it sort of rang hollow and derivative. i'm sure i'll love it when i read it again in a few years.)

sologdin

Nutshell: orthographic mystery spins out of control as narrative ponderously stencils over trifling profanities.Quite an achievement. Probably should’ve read this prior to reading Underworld, Dissident Gardens, or Bleeding Edge--all New York stories, working out of the same imaginary as Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. The first chapter of V is the closest to Selby, and it’s almost unreadable. After that, it calms down and is readily digestible in large pieces.Ian Vance is correct that the marxist rat is awesome (123 ff.). First chapter regarding protagonist spy Stencil is very impressive, also--involving the perspectives of eight others into whose ambit the master spy moves. One of the best things that I’ve ever read, though, is the scene wherein one character gets a nose job (104-12), which is told with fine attention to detail of the clinical language of the physician, but also mixes in bizarre sexual commentary from the physician’s assistant during the procedure, with reference to the tools entering patient‘s face (she remains aware under local anesthetic!): “Stick it in…pull it out…stick it in…ooh that was good” (108)--and, eventually, the physician starts mingling German into his speech, like in Dr. Strangelove (“Now ve shorten das septum, ja” (111)), which kinda hammers home the nastiness of elective cosmetic surgeries. (Patient ends up screwing the doctor, incidentally.) Novel contains several great set pieces in the Stencil sections: intrigues in 1899 Florence, then 1922 Namibia (lotsa Germans excited about Mussolini, killing natives in preparation for WW2, apparently), then Paris 1913, then Malta during the second world war. Central, eponymous mystery is disclosed early: “His journals, his unofficial log of an agent’s career. Under ‘Florence, April, 1899’ is a sentence, young Stencil has memorized it: ‘There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she. God grant that I may never be called upon to write the answer, either here or in any official report’” (49). The Florence 1899 episode is laid out later when Stencil is at therapy with his psychodontist, and involves a mission to:"a place called Vheissu, [...] on camel-back over a vast tundra, past the dolmens and temples of dead cities; finally to the banks of a broad river which never sees the sun, so thickly roofed is it with foliage. The river is traveled in long teak boats which are carved like dragons and paddled by brown men whose language is unknown to all but themselves. In eight days’ time there is a portage over a neck of treacherous swampland to a green lake, and across the lake rise the first foothills of the mountains which ring Vheissu. Native guides will only go a short distance into these mountains. Soon they will turn back, pointing out the way." (179). Revealed that the clouds, “they are Vheissu, its raiment, perhaps its skin,” but “beneath?” Answered: “I wondered about the soul of the place. If it had a soul. Because their music, poetry, laws and ceremonies come no closer. They are skin too” (181). Rather, “dreams are not, not closer to the waking world” in Vheissu, but “they do seem more real” (181-82) (cue baudrillardism). Easy then, at this early point of the novel that V. may well be Vheissu, a place rather than a person, a place similar to many others in the British Empire (180). That was my initial reading, considerably complicated as the text spun out.Nevertheless, same chapter describes a caper to steal a painting of Venus, enacted by one of the few survivors of elder Stencil’s Vheissu mission. So: V. as the Venus? Or is it Victoria Wren, who re-appears in this instantiation? No idea. Not sure I really want to know. Other chapters note a Vera, Viola, the city of Valletta, Veronica (a sewer rat, of all things), Vesuvius, the V-2. It’s a mess. More interesting: the novel is structured around the distinction animate/inanimate, and I suspect that a close neo-formalist reading will bear out the structuration. The binary shows up repeatedly, both expressly and implicitly:Pig Bodine: “in times of crisis he preferred to sit in as a voyeur” (9) (dude likes to hit on women with “What do you think of Sartre‘s thesis that we are all impersonating an identity?” (137));Profane’s desire to piss out the sun is rooted in the fact that “inanimate objects could do what they wanted. Not what they wanted because things do not want; only men. But things do what they do” (19-20);Profane’s search “for something too to make the fact of his own disassembly plausible as that of any machine” (35);Servile types are considered “as much a feature of the topography as the other automata” (69-70);Bongo-Shaftsbury as a “mechanical doll” (80-81);The physician’s favoring of “allograft: the introduction of inert substances into the living face” (102); physician is expressly in “alignment with the inanimate“ (103);Godolphin carps that he “was nearly killed in something that could not have been an accident, a caprice of the inanimate world” (207);Profane muses that “anybody who worked for inanimate money so he could buy more inanimate objects was out of his head. Inanimate money was to get animate warmth, dead fingernails in the living shoulderblades, quick cries against the pillow, tangled hair, lidded eyes, twisted loins” (230);“Community may have been the only solution possible against such an assertion of the Inanimate” (296);Regarding voyeurism: “At least he was to experience a for him rare Achphenomenon: the discovery that his voyeurism had been determined purely by events seen, and not by any deliberate choice, or pre-existing set of personal psychic needs” (301);Dude who paints only cheese danishes explains his “revolt against Catatonic Expressionism” as “The beauty is that it works like a machine yet is animate. The partridge eats pears off the tree, and his droppings in turn nourish the tree” (307);Profane understands what I mean: “In the eighteenth century it was often convenient to regard man as a clockwork automaton. In the nineteenth century, with Newtonian physics pretty well assimilated and a lot of work in thermodynamics going on, man was looked on more as a heat-engine, about 40-percent efficient. Now in the twentieth century, with nuclear and subatomic physics a going thing, man had become something which absorbs x-rays, gamma rays, and neutrons” (310). Profane feels a kinship with crash test dummies, especially one which is “the first inanimate schlemihl he’d ever encountered” (id.);Profane is of course dead wrong, as he himself is a schlemihl from page one of the novel, and admits that he is the opposite of the “master of the inanimate,” is rather a “schlemihl, that was hardly a man: somebody who lies back and takes it from objects, like any passive woman [!]” (314);Great bit wherein a series of accidents are catalogued as “the world started to run more and more afoul of the inanimate” (316);Maijstral’s confession (very well done, this) complains that he “Was meant only to live at the threshold of consciousness, only exist as a hardly animate lump of flesh, an automaton” (339) (much relevant in the confession). The confession advises that it “will limit the inevitable annotating to this request. Observe the predominance of human attributes applied to the inanimate”--which is a key instruction in the reading of this novel, asking the reader to turn back to page one and mark out each and every prosopopeia (I haven’t done this.);We find that the “Bad Priest” (another reiteration of V.) is disassembled (381-82) piece by inanimate piece, like the fable of the golden screw (34) and Profane’s desire to be disassembled, supra;And so on, proliferating to the end, including theatrical automata and a proto-fascist complaining about decadence in pre-WWI Paris, how “we foist off the humanity we have on inanimate objects and abstract theories” (450).We see, then, that the first appearance of V., supra, is marked out with passive verbs and relative pronouns, a dearth to be filled by something else (viz. readers): what is she, not who; what is behind or inside her. (stick it in…pull it out…oh that‘s good). V. is primarily something therefore that lacks grammatical animation. We know that animate/inanimate is grammatical in the novel because one character laments that “he had the Saxon habit of attaching diminutive endings to nouns, animate or inanimate” (246). Just to prove that all of those horrible Ayn Rand books that I’ve been reading aren’t a complete waste: one character is noted to be an aspiring novelist--“All her characters fell into disturbingly predictable racial alignment. The sympathetic--those godlike, inexhaustible sex athletes she used for heroes and heroines were all tall, strong, white though often robustly tanned, Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, and/or Scandinavian” (132). Pretty good description of randian output and theory.Anyway, lotsa inventiveness, humor, great turns of phrase, good politics, &c. Some kinda analysis of tourism, perhaps placing it in dialectic with espionage or exploration or surveying, which show up repeatedly. Hard to say. Forms a nexus with the animate/inanimate stuff, late: “This is a curious country, populated only by a breed called ‘tourists.’ Its landscape is one inanimate monuments” &c. (454). A similar pre-occupation with surface/depths, as in Bleeding Edge. Much more going on here than my little review lets on. Recommended for those with some intention of pissing on the sun to put it out for good, readers who adhere to Heroic Love (i.e., screwing five or six times a night, every night, with a great many athletic, half-sadistic wrestling holds thrown in), and persons with a complex system of pressure transducers located in a marvelous vagina of polyethylene.

Stephanie A. Higa

Amazing, incredible book. Amazing, incredible writer. -1 for the two chapters I didn't like and for a few other sections that dragged on a bit longer than they could have. Otherwise: wow. Just wow. I still can't believe Thomas Pynchon wrote this when he was 26 or that this is his first novel. Off the charts imagination plus really exciting language. Pynchon's sentences are sometimes convoluted beyond belief, which is why he is rather difficult to read (I say "rather" because I've had much more trouble with other books) but the word choice is so unique that it kept me reading even when I was lost with or bored by the story. But: the story is mostly great, full of great adventures like traveling, spying, stealing, cheating, loving, drinking, cross-dressing, and rollicking (my personal favorite).This great adventure story is, like The Crying of Lot 49 (also good but V. is better), infused with great ideas. I probably missed half the great ideas, but the ones I did get really resonated with me. The study of the relationship between inanimate objects and animate beings struck me because I've thought about that a lot since the beginning of time, although not in such an organized or profound way.Other things I liked:* Pynchon deemphasizes coincidence even though this story seems to rely largely on crossing paths.* There is a line about mosques making love.* The character development is much better than that of TCL49. Benny Profane is a cute character although I can't say why exactly. Eigenvalue and Rachel are cool. Stencil is...interesting.* Tons and tons of scientific metaphors in this book. Unlike literary metaphors, these all seemed refreshing to me (and impressive-- mention "nodes of Ranvier" and hear me squeal).* Most of the historical sections (oh, Stencil) made me go, "OK...right...." and then suddenly something spectacular would happen and once again I would find myself terribly, terribly humbled. Similar case with the entire novel itself: it gets really good in Chapter 13. The remainder is great too, but I love 13 most.Overall: V. makes me ashamed to call myself a writer. Ashamed, I tell you.EDIT: I think this book has temporarily impaired my ability to read. Also I can't stop thinking about it. Also I realized the 5-star system is flawed and that while this is somewhere between a 4 and a 5 it's actually closer to a 5.

Mike

In keeping with Pynchon's penchant for songs, I wrote one as the review for this book (and perhaps Pynchon in general). As I do whenever I come across songs in his books, you'll have to make up a melody and sing it yourself:You don't come for the plot, cos its tied in a knot,you don't come to escape, cos your mind will get raped,[Refrain]:but you do........come for.........the fun!!!!There's a whole lotta fun, on-a every page,songs and insights, Tommy earns his wage![Refrain]:and your eyes........roll back........in your head!!!![Bridge]:So many themes, I just can't describe 'em,the letter V is just one, but the rest ain't hidin',so jump on in, you won't get ouuuuttt.....Oh you'll shake your face from side to side,as you give yourself... into the ride![Refrain]:no you won't........be able........to summarize!!!!

Mk Tantum

From this book I learned that:a) Thomas Pynchon may be the smartest man alive.b) Pynchon's vocabulary is one of the most extensive I've ever come across.c) Reading Pynchon is tedious and often unpleasant.Even with the companion and a book discussion group, reading this novel was like wading through a bog. Every time I grasped the plot, I'd lose track of Pynchon's message, and every time I caught a glimpse of the message, I lost the plot.No wonder the man's a recluse. Talking to him must be like spending an afternoon with Stephen Hawking.

Dustin

I think the only thing I'd say about this book that hasn't been said already (at least that I've seen) is that Pynchon's narrative style adds and drops characters like a c-average senior drops and adds classes--frequently.There's something very appealing about this attitude in a novel. We are, according to P, moving from the animate to the inanimate, so I suppose the fact that characters serve only a fleeting function is to be expected. The minor members of the Whole Sick Crew were engaging, quirky, and here-and-gone quicker than a gator in a sewer. P doesn't feel compelled to "bring these characters around" or make them full and whole. They are instruments ultimately.And each chapter seems to be a short story...and with a first novel, that deosn't surprise me. The gator chapter could stand on its own, as could the priest section near the end where V. is stripped of his/her "appendages."Maybe one of my favorite Pynchon books, running hand in hand with Mason Dixon.

Mark Desrosiers

One of the worst novels I've ever read: bad prose, stupid idea of "humor", pointless fog and symbolism everywhere. Yeah, vaginas, we get it.

Ian Paganus

How Hard Can It Possibly Be?"V" isn't so much a difficult novel to read - it is after all just words, most of which are familiar - as one in which it is sometimes hard to understand what is going on and why. What does it mean? Does it have to mean anything? How does it all connect?Ironically, if not intentionally, the inability to determine what and why, as well as who, is part of its design. Pynchon mightn't want to answer all the questions he or life asks.However, that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of food for thought in the novel.Pynchon actually tells us a lot all of the time. Like "Ulysses", there are lots of hints and clues and allusions, and it's easy to miss them, if you're not paying attention to the flow of the novel and taking it all in. It's definitely a work that benefits from multiple readings.Characters Both Sacred and Profane"V" starts with one of two protagonists, the schlemiel Benny Profane, on Christmas Eve, 1955. On the anniversary of the sacred day upon which a Virgin, Mary, gave birth to Christ (and thus started what would become Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant), Profane is wearing black levis, a suede jacket, sneakers and a big cowboy hat, a sort of bohemian uniform at the time.He drops into the Sailors' Arms, which welcomes sailors from the tempestuous sea onto solid ground. For them, it's a dream come true, where the barmaids "all love to screw" and "remind you that every day is Christmas Eve".This tavern is a haven and safe harbour. The big-breasted women here provide comfort and succour to men, something we can easily get used to and take for granted.A Form Guide to StencilSixty pages later, Pynchon introduces us to the second protagonist, Herbert Stencil, a man who refers to himself in the third person, which allows him to create a repertoire of bad faith or inauthentic identities (or Sartrean "impersonations"). He has no one solid persona, but somehow the ability to think of himself as and be not just the third person, but a first, a second, a fourth and a fifth permits him to function reasonably adequately (if not always normally) for a male, and so the multiple personalities "keep Stencil in his place".When we meet him, however, his "place" is not static, it's dynamic. He is on a single-minded quest to find evidence of a woman named V. who he believes once knew his deceased father:"As spread thighs are to the libertine, flights of migratory birds to the ornithologist, the working part of his tool bit to the production machinist, so was the letter V to young Stencil. "He would dream perhaps once a week that it had all been a dream, and that now he’d awakened to discover the pursuit of V. was merely a scholarly quest after all, an adventure of the mind, in the tradition of The Golden Bough or The White Goddess."With these V-shaped analogies and the allusion to these non-fiction works (is "V." itself just such a scholarly quest?), Pynchon gives us some insights into the myth and mystery and significance of "V".The next paragraph gives us even more clues as to the nature of the pursuit or quest in general:"But soon enough he’d wake up the second, real time, to make again the tiresome discovery that it hadn’t really ever stopped being the same simple-minded, literal pursuit; V. ambiguously a beast of venery, chased like the hart, hind or hare, chased like an obsolete, or bizarre, or forbidden form of sexual delight. "And clownish Stencil capering along behind her, bells ajingle, waving a wooden, toy oxgoad. For no one’s amusement but his own."In Pynchon's next novel, "The Crying of Lot 49", a woman, Oedipa Maas, would be the subject in and of the quest. She would be the one doing the detective work. Here, a male is the subject and a woman is the object of the quest or pursuit.While both Oedipa and Stencil take their quests seriously, they meet with mixed success (perhaps a hallmark of a post-modern fiction). However, Pynchon seems to venerate Oedipa more highly. For all his earnestness, profundity and third person pretension, Stencil is a clown or a fool to match Profane's picaresque schlemiel."A Beast of Venery"We all know the word "venereal", but how often do we see its root, "venery" (which means sexual indulgence or the pursuit of or hunt for sexual activity)?The quest for man, if not necessarily for Stencil, is a quest for sexual pleasure, for sexual delight, for the sexual conquest of woman.Stencil is looking for one woman. However, because she is of his father's generation and vintage, you have to ask whether in reality he is trying (potentially on behalf of all men) to understand the mystery of sexual attraction, the mystery of womanhood and the place of women in society and, if only from a male perspective, the role of woman in a man's life. The Birth of VenusFrom an etymological perspective, the word "venery" derives from the Latin "veneris", which in turn derives from the Roman god of love and sex, Venus, who in turn was modelled on the Greek god, Aphrodite.The connotation of pursuit is thought to come from the resemblance of the word to the Latin "venari", which means to hunt.Not coincidentally, the Botticelli painting "The Birth of Venus" features in the novel.According to Robert Graves, Venus was also adapted from the pagan sea-goddess, Marian, who was often disguised as a merry-maid or mermaid. Suffice it to say, this Venus rose from the sea, hence the shell in the painting.If we go back further in time, we meet another goddess Astarte, whom the Egyptians worshipped as a goddess of war and tenacity, while the Semites worshipped her as a goddess of love and fertility. The Greeks would later adapt Astarte as the basis of Aphrodite (on the way to the Latin Venus). It is also linked to the goddesses and names Astoreth, Ishtar and Esther.Esther is the name of a character in the novel, (partly Jewish, she gets a nose job in an attempt by her plastic surgeon who wishes to make her look more Irish), while a model of Astarte is the figurehead of the xebec or sailing ship upon which Stencil's father Sidney died in the Mediterranean off Malta in 1919. In a way, Sidney's death might be a return to the embrace of Venus (after all, she was a V) and the great unknown of the ocean?Opposing ProtagonistsProfane and Stencil inevitably meet each other over the course of the novel and collaborate in Stencil's quest as it moves from Manhattan to Malta.They approach life and womanhood in contrasting ways.Here's a summary of Profane:Aimless, directionless, concerned with the present, existential, free-style, random, improvisatory, profane, superficial, more interested in the surface, physical, decadent, irrational.And Stencil:Motivated, purposeful, concerned with the past, in pursuit of understanding and meaning, structured, organised, profound, more interested in depth, metaphysical, civilised, rational.Despite their differences, they join together in Stencil's quest. What they share, obviously, is their manhood, the fact that they are men in a patriarchal society. Whatever their differences as men, they are on the inside, whereas women, in contrast, are on the outside, subjugated, unable to exercise political power or social influence, whatever other means of persuasion they might have at their disposal."Not Who, But What"Stencil's quest starts when he inherits a journal in which his father wrote the following cryptic note:"There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she. God grant that I may never be called upon to write the answer, either here or in any official report."There is a suggestion that Young Stencil is trying to find his own identity in V. He was raised motherless, having been born in 1901, which we are also told was the year "Victoria" died.Stencil, speaking in the third person, says:"You'll ask next if he believes her to be his mother. The question is ridiculous."But does it mean the answer is ridiculous? Does it mean we shouldn't ask the question? Are Stencil and Pynchon simply steering us away from the obvious or the possible? Is Pynchon suggesting that fiction (at least post-modern fiction) need not be obliged to offer up answers, that not every quest leads to its Holy Grail?I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that there's not just one V, but potentially many. Or at least, Young Stencil finds clues as to the existence of many candidates.Does it make any difference though? Does it matter who this particular woman, this V., is? Does the identity of any individual V. matter, when it is the "what", the abstraction of woman that Stencil might be seeking? Is he, like us, simply trying to understand womanhood in all of its complexity? Animation and AgitationWhatever the answer, Stencil's quest animates and energises him. Beforehand, he had been inanimate:"His random movements before the war had given way to a great single movement from inertness to - if not vitality, then at least activity. Work, the chase...it was V. he hunted..."Finding her: what then? Only that what love there was to Stencil had become directed entirely inward, toward this acquired sense of animateness...to sustain it he had to hunt V.; but if he should find her, where else would there be to go but back into half-consciousness? He tried not to think, therefore, about any end to the search. Approach and avoid."Sidney, on the other hand, was a spy and interrogator for the British Foreign Office whose function was to perpetuate the British Empire. He regarded V. as a threat to order. He viewed her as an agent of chaos who, in her different manifestations, always arrived at a time when the world was in a state of siege. She had an unerring ability to appear when the patriarchal world of Western Imperialism was under threat, whether by civil war, rebellion or revolution.In a way, V. represents an undivided, less phallocentrically structured world that unites the stability of land and the fluidity of the ocean, as well as Europe and Asia, West and East, Woman and Man.At a more generalised level, V might represent the relationship between the Animate and the Inanimate, between Life and Death, between Eros and Thanatos.The Woman QuestionIt's interesting that neither Stencil really wants to find a definitive answer to their particular woman question. They are males, and they can't see beyond an era during which men are firmly ensconced in the saddle of power and influence.There is no preparedness to share power or to improve relationships between the sexes.The nature of womanhood is therefore a question that remains unsolved at the end of the novel. Women remain a mystery to men, perhaps because they (men) don't try hard enough or don't really want to understand. They are unable to change their own perspective, so that they might listen and learn. They are content to live with the allure of mystery.In a way, what hope would there be for relationships if all of the mystery was obliterated?As Profane says towards the end of the novel:"Offhand I'd say I haven't learned a goddamn thing."In a way, the unresolved concerns of the novel, from a male point of view, reflect Freud's plight:"The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?"What is to be Done?Both protagonists are selfish in their own masculine way. Profane seems to be oblivious to the issue of what women might want. Young Stencil is ambivalent. However, at least Pynchon is posing a question, which I hope he did not view as ridiculous.Ultimately, while it's arguable that "V" is a pro-feminist novel, I think Pynchon's view was that, as at the time of writing in 1963, there was no solution to the relationship question in view. There was, quite simply, more to be done. Perhaps the underlying truth is that, unless and until man understands the place of woman in the world, he will never understand his place next to woman.Some perspective and hope might come from McClintic Sphere, the jazz musician in the novel. His counsel, almost zen or beat, is to "keep cool, but care." Don't worry too hard about it, just do it. But try to do it with love, not just lust and desire.Of course, the Women's Liberation Movement was only then starting to gather force. However, for all the good it has achieved since then, I think there still remains much to be done.Maybe at the level of couples it can be done, if we keep cool, but care.VERSE:Esther Got a Nose JobAfter years of childhood misery,Red-headed Esther got a nose job.One day the doctor removed her humpAnd returned it to her in a bottle.He thought it was such a great success,He gave her another hump for free.Pig's StoryTask force offGibraltarMoving forwardEn route To MaltaOn tar-colouredMediterraneanWaters underStars bloomingFat and sultry.The sort of nightWhen there's noTorpedoesOn the radarAnd Pig tellsUs all a storyAbout how he was Never caughtBehind the green doorThe night DoloresHeld an orgy.Nothing if Not ProfaneThey met mid-functionAt the Rusty Spoon.Although she's nowhereNear his age or size,He dreamed that he mightFind himself one nightAt the conjunctionOf her inner thighs.Voila, Vera Meroving![After and Mostly in the Words of Pynchon]Twin tendrils of sunlightIlluminated a crimson stainIn the courtyard of the Baroque plantation villa.A window swung openOn this fantastic dayTo reveal a striking woman In her forties, and otherwise, Barely clad, in a negligee,The hues of which werePeacock greens and blues,The fabric transparent,But not especially obscene.One Kurt Mondaugen,A crouching tiger, hid behindWrought iron curlicues, Astonished by his desireTo see and not be seen.If he waited long enough,A movement of the sun,This woman or the breeze,It might reveal to him,A voyeur, yes, it might rewardHis impatient gaze, his stare,With a glimpse of nipple,Her navel or some pubic hair.For Want of Godolphin[After and Mostly in the Words of Pynchon]Vera wanted GodolphinFor reasons he Could only guess.Her desire arose Out of nostalgia For the sensuous,Her appetiteKnew nothing at allOf nerves or heat,Or flesh or sweat,Or last night’s caress,But was instead beholden Entirely to barren,Touchless memory. Schoenmaker Offers to Make Esther Beautiful[After and Mostly in the Words of Pynchon]You are beautiful,Perhaps, not as you are,But as I see you.I, my love, yours truly,Want to give youSomething that Is truly yours.I can bring outThe beautiful girlInside you, latent,The idea of Esther,As I have done alreadyWith your face and nose.Do you think me so shallowThat I would only Love your body?Don’t you want meTo love your soul,The true you?Well, what is the soul?It is the idea of the body,The abstraction behindThe reality, the perfect EstherBehind the imperfect one Here in bone and tissue.Just an hour of timeIn my plastic surgery.I could bring your soulOutside, to the surface.I could make youPerfect, radiant,UnutterablyBeautiful and Platonically ideal.Then I could love youUnconditionally,Truly, madly, deeply, dearly.

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