Fun with Accent Marks and Brackets

July 16, 2008 § 1 Comment

Now reading: Vineland.

For my own faulty memory, here are a few quick notes on Pynchon’s usual bunch of stylistic quirks (“usual” in that there’s always a bunch, although they seem to change at least slightly from book to book):

-Most typically for him, language (and especially dialogue) is tortured into weird conjunctions. Some of the time they make sense as a way of capturing speech, but sometimes they just seem perverse, and impossible to actually capture in voice. He likes jamming a bunch of consonants together, and I can’t speculate on a reason why. Perhaps he really does think it captures the spoken word, which — let’s face it — would be unreadable if actually transcribed.

-A related point, his consistent use of the misspelling “didt’n” instead of “didn’t.” I suspect this is Pynchon’s way of pointing out that yes, in fact, people do often drop the “t” at the end, pronouncing more like “did’n,” although the “t” sound does seem to slip in there somewhere just before the “n.”

-He’s also using accent marks in the dialogue of Hector Zuniga, Zoyd’s pursuer, to capture the Hispanic pronunciation of ultimate syllables (like “in” in “complainin”). Surprised I haven’t seen this done before, actually.

Now we come to the quirks that actually seem important thematically, the media-related quirks:

-“the Tube.” That’s the dominant term for TV here, and it’s always capitalized. It’s a character and a presence. I have to keep reminding myself that this was published in 1990: Pynchon was fairly unusual, I think, in persisting in writing about the medium in such monolithic terms. I’m sure we’ll get some gonzo descriptions of the content of the feedings from said Tube later, but for now it seems a weirdly trite way of discussing the fact that, yes, we’re addicted to TV as a culture.

-Whenever a movie is mentioned in this book (and it happens a lot), the year in which it was released is placed after it, in brackets if the mention takes place in dialogue, in parentheses if not. This is, obviously, a weird thing to do in a work of fiction. Even weirder, Pynchon does not do this if he’s making up a movie (like “Pat Sajak in The Frank Gorshin Story,” which is funny not only because it’s stupid, but funny because Frank Gorshin played the Riddler on the campy old Batman show and Sajak hosts America’s favorite pointless campy show about riddles, Wheel of Fortune. And, while we’re here, that seems to be a semi-important illustration of Pynchon’s concern with television and media saturation in general: he obviously knows all of the backstory of Gorshin and Sajak, and he’s constructed the little joke to allow us to catch it, too, and I think, given the context of the book as a whole, that’s meant to give us pause: this over-familiarity with not even just purely escapist entertainment, but entertainment willfully constructed to be as dumb and campy and unimportant).

Why do this? The fact that he “cites” real movies and not the fake ones could be a metafictional device, a reminder that it’s all a big fiction (and there are moments when Pynchon telegraphs that it is to be read, intermittently, as fiction of an especially wacky and cartoonish sort, if not exactly campy). From another metafictional angle, it could be a weird glimpse at the narrator/author, at his obsessive cataloging of cultural objects like old movies and B-sides real and imaginary, at our culture’s addiction to the Tube and allied pastimes. While a lot of movies are mentioned so far, they’re almost all being watched on TV. This all reminds me very much of Infinite Jest (although really IJ, and really a lot of DFW’s oeuvre, should’ve reminded me of this book, which seems very much like one of DFW’s true touchstones), with its addicts, its isolated entertainment junkies, its killer videotape.

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