ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
Walt Whitman created a persona and his poems were performative (he famously titled one of them “Song of Myself”) to the extent that they were more personal, more about himself– drawing attention to himself– than those of any poet or writer before him. A forerunner of, and inspiration for, the Beats, Whitman was a famous and public figure, whether writing eulogies for Presidents, being one of the first (supposedly) to read a poem for a phonograph recording, and having a public funeral attended by thousands of mourners. The first American literary rock star? Possibly so.
(Photo of Walt Whitman’s funeral procession.)
NEXT: Charismatic Writer #13
“Thomas Pynchon” by D. Greenhorn
(Not a photo of Thomas Pynchon.)
Thomas Pynchon’s greatest scene sees Charles Mason stuck in a time warp created by England’s transition to the Gregorian calendar. Typical of Pynchon is its weird setting, its oblique prose, its obsession with the effects of technology on man. Atypically, we find Mason longing for his wife—a rare display of pathos from Pynchon’s characters, who are generally a mob of proto-autists and freaks. Yet when Pynchon deigns to converse with us humans, there is no better living author.
Pynchon is the greatest American prose stylist of the late 20th Century. His audacious use of the vernacular recalls Twain—betters him, when at a poetic height. Pynchon is the most religious American since Hawthorne, except his religious is conspiracy. His first three novels exist in a paranoid oikonomia, the characters searching for God in the form of a letter, a mail carrier, a German fiber. In his nonstop conspiracy-mongering, Pynchon taps into the most genuine religion of our age.
Pynchon is the quintessential university novelist. His knowledge is capacious, but his wisdom rises and ebbs with his poetic intensity. His characters blur together; his scenes manage to be absurd yet unmemorable. His poor works are so wretched, and so closely resemble his great works, that they taint his genius as a whole.
Yet when good, Pynchon is the best of the moderns. His fantastic prose carries us beyond his often lame wit and precocity, making him an author worthy not only of being read, but revered.
D. Greenhorn is a writer living in the Midwest. His first novel, Western Empire, will soon be available by Lulu. New Pop Lit will feature a new short story of his in September.