Sunday, May 8, 2011
A New (well, pretty old, actually) Pynchon Pic...but don't get excited, it's just his arm...
The above photograph, which was published on the LA Times website last week, was taken somewhere in southern California, ca.1965. The porcine pinata is named Claude. The foxy lady in the Oedipa Maas dress and flaccid-armed sweater is one Phyllis Gebauer. The right arm crooked around the open door in the shadowy background (look closely) is allegedly attached to the unseen body of noted non-recluse Thomas Pynchon. While this photograph might initially appear to be merely a jokey demonstration of the author's near-Yahwistic aversion to representations of himself, a close semiotic analysis reveals encoded in its seemingly banal, snapshot-like exterior a carefully constructed series of references both to Pynchon's past and future works and the history of Western art. Just as the Pynchonian arm is both an exercise in synecdoche--using a part of the body to represent the whole--and a delightfully skewed reference to the first line of the Aeneid, the two fingers raised to signify 'peace' and/or Churchillian 'Victory' simultaneously represent the entirety of Pynchon's oeuvre through a synecdochic display of the title of his first novel, V. The aforementioned foxy lady on the landing is likewise simultaneously a reference to the caryatids on the Porch of the Maidens at the Erechtheum (Athens) and, as suggested above, a possible original for the protagonist of Pynchon's second novel, The Crying of Lot 49. The pudgy pink porker pinata, its presence as puzzling as a pope in a peignoir, presumably precurses the Pynchonian protagonist's piggy performance in the insufficiently alliterative Gravity's Rainbow. Unsurprisingly, the pinata also obviously signifies that ubiquitous Pynchonian dramatis persona, Pig Bodine. The lumpy V formed by the pig's erect ears (which like the earlier Erechtheum allusion sounds the erection motif of Gravity's Rainbow) leads the viewer's eye by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to the V of Pynchon's fingers. And so the end of our ocular voyaging is to arrive at the place where we started and know that place anew as a sign signifying Pynchon's 1990 novel Vineland. We might also notice the angle of Pynchon's signifying gesture: the rigid middle finger can be read as an 'I' as well as one half of a 'V'; the two together thus monogram Pynchon's most recent novel, Inherent Vice. The woman's expressionistically tilted shadow on the sunny California wall at lower right surely references the German Expressionist motif in Gravity's Rainbow, and this disturbing combination of southwestern sunlight and fascistic shadow should bring to mind the closing section of Against the Day. (Note the way her shadow-head is violently penetrated by the knife-like sawtoothed metal banister that seems to levitate magically above the unseen steps.) In perfect opposition to this, the photograph offers at upper left the shadowy secular cross cast by the window's crossbar on a blind that rather heavy-handedly signifies a world blind to the joyous, magical, transforming grace, the goofball good luck, that is the most positive force in Pynchon's novels. And what are we to make of that other, even more mysterious shadow, the oblique black line running across the wall at right, above and roughly parallel to the banister? Is this merely the shadow of an awning support, or could it be the Hiroshima-flash imprint left by the vapor trail of a screaming that has just come across this peaceful California sky?
(I also like the way the Sixties flower decal on the door seems affixed to the woman's forehead like one of those large metal reflectors worn by doctors in Marx Brothers movies.)