thomas pynchon and the bonza sentence

It is with a great sense of satisfaction (and some relief) as I put down my copy of Thomas Pynchon’s first novel V for, with that action, I have joined that club of erudite readers who have read the complete works of Thomas Pynchon at least once.

I was introduced to Pynchon over ten years ago by Brooks Landon in his audio-course, Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft, a fun-filled exploration of the dynamics of good sentence writing, with its detailed analysis of how and why good sentences work, and endless examples from writers who know how to craft the exceptional sentence, Pynchon being one such writer. In that course, Landon introduced the term ‘master sentence’ which he defines as ‘very long sentences or sentences which function in remarkable ways might be called master sentences- a nod at once to their originality and their control.’ I have some reservations about the term ‘master sentence’ for the possibility they may incorrectly be misconstrued as existing within a web of power relations. I did consider the term ‘virtuoso sentence’ because these sentences function much like a virtuoso musical performance, a la a lead guitar break in popular music, against a more pedestrian melodic background. But preferring not to get stuck in a compositional corner, and wishing to keep the focus on the simple pleasures of reading great sentences, I have decided to use the term ‘bonza sentence’. We will eventually discover that such sentences have many names, but whatever name we use, Pynchon is a great creator of them. I began a blog elsewhere logging my journey of discovery of bonza sentences, but have now decided to consolidate those earlier musings into this one place, a decision triggered by my new Pynchon milestone.

For the record, V was the most challenging of his works for me. It is a tsunami of stories whose threads are not always apparent, but just as Pynchon backed himself to keep writing, I backed myself to keep reading and felt the satisfaction as I saw how he achieved a seemingly impossible alchemical blending of the paths of two of the book’s main characters, Benny Profane and Herbert Stencil, by the last chapter.

I will cover the key identifiers of a bonza sentence in a later blog. For the time being, I simply intend to point out a few sentences from Pynchon’s writings that I have enjoyed over the years.

1 ‘The rest of us, not chosen for enlightenment, left on the outside of Earth, at the mercy of a Gravity we have only begun to learn how to detect and measure, must go on blundering inside our front-brain faith in Kute Korrespondences, hoping that for each psi-synthetic taken from Earth’s soul there is a molecule, secular, more or less ordinary and named, over here – kicking endlessly among the plastic trivia, finding in each Deeper Significance and trying to string them all together like terms of a power series hoping to zero in on the tremendous and secret Function whose name, like the permuted names of God, cannot be spoken… plastic saxophone reed sounds of unnatural timbre, shampoo bottle ego-image, Cracker Jack prize one-shot amusement, home appliance casing fairing for winds of cognition, baby bottles tranquilization, meat packages disguise of slaughter, dry-cleaning bags infant strangulation, garden hoses feeding endlessly the desert. . . but to bring them together, in their slick persistence and our preterition … to make sense out of, to find the meanest sharp sliver of truth in so much replication, so much waste… Thomas Pynchon Gravity’s Rainbow p699.

My first comment is: Waste? But why? We may be led to ask, if he means the law of attraction, why doesn’t he just come out and say it? But then again, he puts such an argument for the fun to be had creating new ways of saying it, new sentences to express it, and perhaps new ways of living it.

2 ‘Someone brings up “Sandwiches,” and someone else a Bottle, and as night comes down over New-York like a farmer’s Mulch, sprouting seeds of Light, some reflected in the River, the Company, Mason working on in its midst, becomes much exercis’d upon the Topick of Representation.’ Mason and Dixon p404

3 ‘So they set off, the Chain a-jingle, Waggons a-rumble, farm Geese a-blare, heading into Farmland with a quiet Roll to it, watch’d by deer and kine, under the usual injunctions against trampling Garden patches or molesting Orchards, the Instruments, with a Tent of their own, stranger than anything the Party expects to see between here and Little Christiana,- which isn’t much anyway, owing to the Trees, for which e1even more Axmen hire on, the second week.’ M&D p445

4 ‘Going on to describe, in foul-copy Stichomythia, their Practice of changing ten small wood stakes, to keep the Chain-Count accurate, tho’ between Mr. Darby’s habit of keeping Stobs ev’rywhere about him, including in his Belt, Leggings, and Hat, and Mr. Cope’s Forgetfulness in counting, they have grown so fearful of Stob-Loss, as to have begun Exchanging Stobs after eleven Chains instead of ten, with Mr. Cope then passing back only nine of his, and keeping one.’ M&D p473

5 ‘Later, across Susquehanna, there come days when the only Inns are worse than no Inn, and presently days when there are no Inns at all, and at last the night they encamp knowing that for an unforeseeable stretch of Nights, they must belong to this great Swell of Forested Mountains, this place of ancient Revenge, Beasts outside the Fire-light,- the sun this particular evening as if in celestial Seal, spreading into a Glory, transgressing all Metes and Bounds, filling the Trees, lighting the Animals, their flanks averted, washed in its oncoming Flow, bringing to human faces a precision approaching purification, goading each soul, as if again and again, ever toward the Shambles of Eternity.’ M&D 484

6 ‘Described in Aggro World as ‘a sort of Esalen Institute for lady asskickers,’ the mountainside retreat of the Sisterhood of Kunoichi Attentives stood on a promontory dappled in light and dark California greens above a small valley, only a couple of ridgelines from the SP tracks, final ascent being over dirt roads vexing enough to those who arrived in times of mud, and so deeply rutted when the season was dry that many an unwary seeker was brought to a high-centred pause out in this oil painting of a landscape, wheels spinning in empty air, creatures of the hillside only just interrupting grazing or predation to notice. Originally, in the days of the missions, built to house Las Hermanas de Nuestra Senora de los Pepinares – one of those ladies’ auxillaries that kept springing up around the Jesuits in seventeenth century Spain, never recognised by Rome nor even by the Society, but persisting with grace and stamina there in California for hundreds of years – the place had acquired extensions and outbuildings, got wired and rewired, plumbed and replumbed, until a series of bad investments had forced what was left of the sodality to put it up for rent and disperse to cheaper housing, though they continued to market the world-famous cucumber brandy bearing their name.’ Thomas Pynchon Vineland (p 107)

7 ‘So the bad Ninjamobile swept along on the great Ventura, among Olympic visitors from everywhere who teemed all over the freeway system in midday densities till far into the night, shined-up, screaming black motorcades that could have carried any of several office seekers, cruisers heading for treed and more gently roaring boulevards, huge double and triple trailer rigs that loved to find Volkswagens laboring up grades and go sashaying around them gracefully and at gnat’s-ass tolerances, plus flirters, deserters, wimps and pimps, speeding like bullets, grinning like chimps, above the heads of TV watchers, lovers under the overpasses, movies at malls letting you out, bright gas station oases in pure fluorescent spill, canopied beneath the palm trees, soon wrapped, down the corridors of the surface streets, in nocturnal smog, the adobe air, the smell of distant fireworks, the spilled, the broken world.’ Thomas Pynchon Vineland (p 266)

8 ‘By the time she began to see that she might, nonetheless, have gone through with it, Brock Vond had reentered the picture, at the head of a small motorcade of unmarked Buicks, forcing her over near Pico and Fairfax, ordering her up against her car, kicking apart her legs and frisking her himself, and before she knew it there they were in another motel room, after a while her visits to Sasha dropped off and when she made them she came in reeking with Vond sweat and Vond semen – couldn’t Sasha smell what was going on? – and his erect penis had become the joystick with which, hurtling into the future, she would keep trying to steer among the hazards and obstacles, the swooping monsters and alien projectiles of each game she would come, year by year, to stand before, once again out long after curfew, calls home forgotten, supply of coins dwindling, leaning over the bright display among the back aisles of a forbidden arcade, rows of other players, silent, unnoticed, closing time never announced, playing for nothing but the score itself, the row of numbers, a chance of entering her initials among those of other strangers for a brief time, no longer the time the world observed but game time, underground time, time that could take her nowhere outside its own tight and falsely deathless perimeter.’ Thomas Pynchon Vineland (p292)

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