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Notes on ‘ – Member 17658: Tommy Pynch [Real Name: Thomas Pynchon]’ [An analysis]

November 3, 2011


I’m talking about this. [Which should be just below you now…]

Okay, let’s take it piece by piece, and try not to bore the shit out of each other.

First of all, the style. It is not a conventional piece, neither utilising first or third person. As a lot of postmodern writers do nowadays, it uses something from the new media, the online dating profile, and tries to infuse the meaning into both the short answers and longer descriptions.

Isn’t this first person?

I suppose the longer parts are. Or perhaps all of it is. But it is not liberated first person, it is tightly controlled in the first part. The answers are dictated by the questions, which are genuine questions asked by real-world dating websites. Or any profile on any site, really. However, the second part is a slightly different beast. It is an open question, but at the same time, the form of the question invites boredom. Describe yourself? It is too open, too broad. Describe what about myself exactly? There are no specifics, no direction. The question gives the person freedom to fill the space as he wishes, but it also gives a word limit, challenging him to distil his entire being into 150 words.

Isn’t this all disingenuous? Surely, the author controls the whole piece…

Not exactly. The author types all the words, but he is placing limits on himself. The challenge is to simulate a real life dating site profile and sustain the reality of it. And then, within that system, to find a way to say something insightful/original/interesting about the person writing it. A little like ‘Pale Fire’ by Nabokov, in fact. [The ‘Pale Fire’ sub-genre is very hard to pull off…the author has to trick the narrator into revealing [subtextual] things about themselves, but also make it clear enough for the reader to pick up on it, too. Tough.]

So, that’s the challenge, and that’s why the profile questions are not creative in any way. Further to this, the author is held back by the closed questions the profile asks in the first section. Age, it says, and any answer other than a number would destroy the reality the author has created by following the format of the profile so precisely.

But some of the short answers are inconsistent, aren’t they?

This is true. ‘Body type’ is answered with the word ‘novelist’. ‘Relationship status’ is modified with a reply in parentheses. What does this mean? The author has let his original intention slip a little in an attempt to get a laugh. It’s debatable whether or not it brings down the whole piece…the answer to this question lies with the reader and whether they will forgive such a slip. If it is funny, they probably will. If they are book critics, they probably will not. Fuckers.

There are other inconsistencies in the piece. The ‘Favourites’ part of the profile has answers which skew towards the ludicrous. Would Thomas Pynchon really be listing ‘Have a shit, find a weapon’ as one of his favourite phrases? And why does he attribute it to Derrida? Frankly, this is the author dragging the piece into surrealism or absurdity…and it is at odds with what the original intention of the piece seemed to be…

Original intention: To use the limits of the dating website profile format to show both a character and, through that character, perhaps a story too.

The next thing, and this is related to the last point, is the use of Thomas Pynchon. Why him? Well, there could be many reasons, but the most famous aspect of Pynchon is that he’s a hidden author. We don’t know all that much about him, and the conceit of him joining an online dating site to try and get a fuck/intellectual equal is interesting in itself. But it also raises all kinds of problems.

Problem one: The knowability of Pynchon

Pynchon is well-known, a cult figure. We may not know much about him, but we know enough to judge this piece on whether or not it ‘seems’ like him. For example, would Pynchon really veer towards the crude-absurd in some of his answers? It’s unlikely, from what we expect of him, and what we would expect of a 74 year old man. ‘Jesus is random, fuck’ as a favourite phrase…seriously?

Problem Two: Would Pynchon use his real name?

This is probably the biggest problem when it comes to the authenticity and believability of the piece. The author cares enough to place limits on himself by using the dating profile format, but then, in the face of this, he uses Pynchon’s name, which goes against the reality of the internet. People don’t use their real names, they hide in anonymity. They use avatars of male/female models, and pop culture names. In fact, the only person who would use Pynchon is someone who desperately wants to be him but isn’t.

To clarify, the use of Pynchon’s name opens up the following conflicts. The real Pynchon would surely not use his real name. The real Pynchon would surely be satisfied as a real life cult figure and not feel the need or desire to have people on the internet know who he really is. The real Pynchon would surely…actually, I’ve forgotten the other conflicts, but there were more.

So does this mean the piece becomes the study of a man pretending to be Pynchon?

That would seem to be the logical assumption. But then…why does the author include the age as 74, the real life age of the real Thomas Pynchon? If he’s really looking for a fuck then surely he should lower it. In fact, most women on the site might not even know who Pynchon is so why not lower the age drastically? Make him 30 or something?

Taking this into account it seems the author really does want us to believe this is the real Thomas Pynchon. But what about the above inconsistencies? And this one too…

Problem Three: Would Pynchon really write about himself in this way?

This is the central problem with the conceit of using Pynchon. If the author used a normal person then you would have a character without history, someone trying to measure himself into a simple online profile.

But the author does use Pynchon. And we, as the reader, are forced to ask ourselves: if Pynchon really did join an online dating site, what would he write about himself? Would he list his real details? Would he be boastful? Would he be subtle? Hidden even?

The author resolves this by writing four attempts at self-description in the ‘About yourself’ section of the profile. It is an interesting method. What can we say about it?

Well, a few things, I think…

1] The character of Pynchon is unsure of how to describe himself.

Even as he’s writing, he is changing his mind, or seeming to change his mind. This shows a person with both an active mind and a need to control how he is perceived by others.

2] Pynchon doesn’t want to appear ordinary.

There are several attempts to step outside of the box. He tries poetic verse [well, lyrical at least, with a little bit of allit. thrown in]. Then he becomes reflexive, analysing how the reader might perceive such use of lyricism. Running with this theme, the next paragraph has him vowing to ‘turn this whole thing upside down’. In short, he is playing with the reader. He is decrying the limits of the format while at the same time using them to what he thinks is his advantage. He is stepping up from the first level [the obvious] to the second level [the analytical] and finally to the third [the reflexive-analytical], and it doesn’t really matter if the reader follows him every step of the way because it is not for their benefit, it is for his own.

He’s writing for himself?

Almost. It is a similar procedure of thought to that of a tyrant. Not just the cause and effect model of their action followed by the recipient’s subjugation, but the pre-thought before the action of how the object [in this case the reader] will be controlled by your actions. For example, look at Chairman Mao. He wouldn’t let go of power because he could see his way was the only way, whereas others could not see it. So what did he do? He shot them, imprisoned them, let them starve to death. Is this the same as what Pynchon is doing here? Yes, almost exactly the same. Mao never faced the reality of his actions. He said the people weren’t really starving, because, simply, he could perceive the future reactions of the object [the people] before his current actions [starving them] had finished taking place. The present condition of the object [people] was unimportant compared to the future condition of the object [future people]. In essence, the people were not real to him. They were a thing to be controlled or predicted, not known [unless he did a lot of publicity tours/signings/meet and greets etc]. It doesn’t matter that most people now see him as a fucking nut, because at the time he was the boss and his perceived future was the only future that mattered, even though it turned out to be fictitious.

We’re getting off track…

So, back to Pynchon…in his self-description he is trying to control the reader, every reader, not merely attract them. Most people, when filling out this kind of profile, would want to stand out in some way, but would also not want to become distant from the common model of what is and what isn’t attractive to women. Pynchon, in opposition to this, is operating on three levels. He knows that if the reader is simple, they will ignore the words and just act on whether or not they want to fuck him. They ask the most basic questions: Is he rich? Is he handsome? Is he normal? The more intelligent reader who is perhaps looking for something a little different, a man with a bit of spark and originality, will read the profile and see the second level [analytical]. They will feel kinship with the man because he is trying to break out of the system. It is rare that a third level [reflexive-analytical] reader will come along, but if they did, they might see through all the bullshit, send Pynchon a message and call him on it. Either way, Pynchon has what he wants. A reaction, and a degree of control over the object.

Can anyone go beyond him?

There probably is a fourth level, but people have yet to discover it, so Pynchon has covered all angles. The only being that could possibly trump him would be either an alien, a supernatural entity or a fourth-dimensional life-form…and even if that did happen, Pynchon would probably retreat into absurdity to combat it. The man who has lived so long as a God cannot leave the throne without a fight, no matter how superior the usurper may be.

Okay, back to the points…

3] Pynchon is and isn’t being honest.

This is hard to gauge. His frustration with the format is obvious, and his desperation to get to the some kind of deeper truth, to analyse the thing itself and his own attempts to beat it even, shows a genuine, active intelligence. But it also gives the impression of trying too hard. Pynchon is, after all, a professional writer, and he knows how to control the reader, to make them feel what he wants them to feel at the moment he wants them to feel it.

But it’s not the real Pynchon, right?

No, but I think we decided it was the author trying to characterise the real Pynchon.

But what is the real Pynchon?

That’s the crux of it. All we can say is, this is the author’s interpretation of Pynchon. The question is, how does he arrive at this interpretation?

1] Biographical research?

Unlikely. For the short answers…age, height, location…probably, but not for the self- description. Simply because there are too few records of Pynchon’s method of thought. The only things we have are his books.

2] His books?

To a certain extent, yes. Most of his stories are wacky, elliptical and pretty difficult to follow from A to B. Therefore, some of this profile contains these same elements. Example, a writer who wrestles with the concept of what a story should be in his fiction, is also a writer who would struggle with a website telling him to describe himself in 150 words.

3] The imagined psychology of Pynchon [on the part of the writer]

This, twinned with the one above.

Any more problems?

Well, there is always one ultimate question in a story. Is it effective? Has it conveyed what the writer wanted it to convey?

Tough question. The best way to answer it would be to recap the intentions and the probability of being able to fulfil them.

Intention 1] To use the format of the dating website to show a character or a story.

Intention 2] To use a well-known person [Pynchon] as the character and have him struggle with the format of the dating site profile.

Intention 3] To show character/story through his answers.

So, are all these intentions fulfilled?

Not all of them. The author of the piece has forgotten about the biggest problem of all, which is the conflict between intentions 1 and 2. As soon as you use Pynchon, you have to establish that it is Pynchon, but the format, and the imagined reaction of the real Pynchon to such a format, means it is almost impossible to do so. Simply, the real Pynchon would not expose himself as the real Pynchon. He would not use it as a name, and it is questionable whether or not he would write his descriptions in his own ‘style’.

But on the flip side, this impossibility adds more layers to the piece. If it is not the real Pynchon then who is it? Perhaps it is the real Pynchon after all, and he’s caught between revealing and disguising himself, looking for a simple fuck and turning the profile into a meta-fiction all of its own?

Does it show character or story?

It shows something and someone, maybe Pynchon, maybe not.

It shows:

1] A lonely man looking for a woman.

2] A frustrated man trying to stand out.

3] An angry man trapped in the system [dating profile format].

4] A man who would be a God, trying to control the reader, and amuse himself.

5] A snob who seeks intelligent women, but will not tolerate being challenged.

6] The primal howl/laugh of the outsider.

Is it actually the author, showing himself through the character of Pynchon?

Yes. Probably.


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