The Top Ten Goofs of Inherent Vice

June 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just finished: Inherent Vice.

Continuing the tradition I founded in a post on Vineland, to which IV is nearly a prequel — stylistically, thematically, in place and character, they are of a piece — I give you my ten favorite Pynchonian jokes, riffs, and goofs in this book.  Once again, feel free to print out and take to the library to enjoy in air-conditioned splendor.  In paginated order:

-Wouldn’t be a Pynchon book without at least one ridiculous TV-commercial setup: here, it’s Bigfoot Bjornsen, an LAPD cop of ambiguous motivations and allegiances, who “moonlight[s] after a busy day of civil-rights violation” in commercials in an Afro wig and cape with a ” relentless terror squad of small children,” with whom he’s worked up a W.C. Fields routine.  p. 9-10.

-Doc’s conversation with his lawyer, Sauncho Smilax, p. 28: a laugh-out-loud drug-addled discussion of Donald Duck’s whisker-stubble that’s downright Tarantinoesque. (He has a hilarious riff on Charlie the Tuna on p. 119, as well.)

-St. Flip of Lawndale, “for whom Jesus Christ was not only personal savior but surfing consultant as well,” and the conversation at surfer-breakfast joint Wavos about the lost island of Lemuria on p. 99-102.  I especially like “GNASH, the Global Network of Anecdotal Surfer Horseshit.”

-The counterfeit U.S. currency featuring the face of a tripping Richard Nixon, p. 117 and following.

-Doc and Denis’s trip to the house of the surf-rock band the Boards, p. 124-136, chock-full of crazy details and tidbits, including a fun discussion of the difference between American and English zombies.

-“Soul Gidget,” by black surf band Meatball Flag, p. 155.  Enough said.  Some band needs to cover this, already. Pynchon’s really on top of his game with the music in this book.  (The country song “Full Moon in Pisces” on p. 241-42 is also great.)

-Pynchon’s one of the great scene-setters in American literature.  My favorite example here is probably on p. 236, his gorgeous description of the decrepit Kismet casino from bygone Vegas.  Also excellent: the amazing global-warming-inspired paragraph on p. 98.

-The motel for “Toobfreex” on p. 253-54, with its incredible amount of early cable programming thanks to “time-zone issues.”

-Doc’s dialogue is frequently priceless, and it may be mere speculation, but it does seem like Pynchon enjoyed The Big Lebowski — or maybe both works just capture that stoner cadence and vocabulary perfectly.  Innumerable one-liners and PI quips to choose from.  One of my favorites on p. 313: “You know how some people say they have a ‘gut feeling’?  Well, Shasta Fay, what I have is dick feelings, and my dick feeling sez —”

-Doc’s parents getting hooked on dope and getting freaked out by Another World, p. 352-53.

The “And but so”

September 20, 2008 § 7 Comments

Now reading: Infinite Jest.

Google “and but so” and you get over 200,000 hits.  As in any Google search for something not a salable product, most of it is coincidental or indecipherable junk.  Of the first 100 hits, the vast majority of comprehensible sites are instructions for using conjunctions, and reviews of, excerpts from, and parodies of David Foster Wallace.

On the basic, sentence-by-sentence level, it’s kind of his trademark — what he’s known for.  And I think it’s most prevalent in IJ, although it pops up everywhere.  Most writers don’t have any sort of grammatical or syntactical trademark, simply because their goal is writing transparent prose.  This was not DFW’s goal, although I think he comes closest to writing transparently in this book.  (Of course, it was not Hemingway’s goal either, whatever he might have thought about it.  There are all kinds of self-conscious writing.)

DFW was obsessed with grammar, usage, sentence structure.  It was more or less second nature to him.  A lot of those pages I mentioned above dismiss “and but so” as a tic, an annoyance, or an affectation.  But I think, given his level of attention to and control of the building blocks of his work, that it behooves us to think about it when he chooses heterodoxy.  Why “and but so”? And, although I probably won’t get into it too much, why “like,” which he also uses selectively?

FIrst of all, it’s important to note that it is “and but so,” not “and, but, so.”  It’s not bifurcated in meaning, as in something like “And, but so many of us can go to the pool.”  It is a kind of unit, and perhaps in time it’ll become “andbutso,” like “insofar.”  DFW breaks it up (“but so,” “and so but,” etc.), with meaning sometimes importantly varying (see p. 77 of my 1996 Little, Brown first paperback, Kate Gompert explaining her condition — another absolutely great and heartbreaking section: ‘”And so,’ she said, ‘but then I quit.'”), but I think that it mostly indicates exactly what it should indicate: the sentence or clause it introduces is, or could be, or seems to be (probably most often the second or third) an extension of, potential contradiction of, and logical conclusion to the preceding.

Now, it’s used in dialogue, in internal monologue or ventriloquized thought, and in narrative exposition (these last two being extremely tricky to separate and define, in IJ).  I suspect, therefore, that DFW heard it in actual usage and did not simply concoct it one day in grad school as a writerly trademark, which seems to be how some of his detractors view it.  I suspect this because DFW was one of our great writers of voice and dialogue, an unjustly overlooked aspect of his work.  I’m talking about verisimilitude, not content, here.  He got phrasing, pacing, tone, and the translation of all of that into typographic symbol just right, when he wanted to, which is almost all of the time in this book.  And he would not use “and but so” in dialogue if he hadn’t heard it.  And I think he’s right; if you listen, I think you’ll hear it more than you think.

Like “like,” the verisimilitude is part of the point.  DFW’s passion for rhetoric wouldn’t allow him to write exclusively prescriptively, and we’ve already had sections of transcribed dialect and jargon.  But he also uses these words because they’re useful, and they do things efficiently that his language could not otherwise do.  (In the case of “like,” there may be a degree of having heard roughly three trillion times from older, prescriptive people how disgusting and pointless and apocalyptic its usage is for the language, and thumbing his nose at that by showing how it is used and useful, as a placeholder while thought takes place or attempts to transform itself into spoken word, or, in “they’re like,” as a casual substitute for “they thought/said/indicated,” or as a carrier of tone, although that tone is typically dismissal, condescension, or indifference, which, granted, were mostly the things DFW was fighting against in his writing.)  By and large, “and but so” is a moment of internal conflict.  It reveals confusion.  It’s a false start of language.  People aren’t quite sure what they mean, and what they meant, but they are obliged to explain.  Using it in a belletristic novel points out how difficult it is for one to know even one’s own motivations and tendencies, much less those of another, much less those of an entire cast of characters (or, in a more day-to-day sense, a whole family, a whole class of students, a whole office). Like a lot of DFW’s writing, “and but so” reveals the anxiety of being human with other humans.  It’s hard to explain something important to yourself or to someone else, hard to get it right, and for all the words he used DFW was always pointing out how the words were not quite right, or not quite enough.

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