The first and only time that I read Hamlet was in my High School AP english class. The teacher, being by far the best english teacher that I’ve had throughout my oh so illustrious english career, was a wonderfully animated and intelligent fellow. For our reading of the Oresteia, he drew stick figures on the board, highlighting with screaming delight the furious eyebrows of Clytemnestra. Every class was a surefire combination of zaniness and intelligence that I came to love from one day to the next. Although his antics could (and should) be retold in much more depth than here, it is perhaps the subject for another review. But somewhat tangentially relevant to the book in question, his insights into the play were some of the most profound that I’ve heard and most certainly kept me from tossing my copy out the window. One of most intriguing moments of the class came during the famous ‘play within the play’ part of Hamlet, where Hamlet puts on a play to show the king that he knows what had really happened to Hamlet’s father. Although our teacher outlined the importance of the scene and the role it served, when the audiobook got around to the dialogue of that meta-play, our teacher held up a flapping hand, speaking loudly over the recording telling us that there was no need to pay attention to this scene, as it was literal gibberish nonsense, its meaning so obfuscated so as not to even be bothered to be given any thought. This came in the middle of an intense dissection of the play, no verse had been left unanalyzed, no word untouched by the scrutiny of close reading and informed discussion. I found it to be quite funny and especially refreshing to have an entire section of a play written-off by an english teacher as nonsensical. But even more than that, I found it profoundly intriguing. Shakespeare, being as dense and difficult as it is, when descending into a deeper level in the play—the play within the play—becomes that much more difficult to understand, as if the further from reality one gets into its fictional universe, the more tangled and confused it becomes. The meta layers of literature twist meaning and significance the deeper it gets. I have since found this Inception-like increase in difficulty in a few other stories of meta-fictive delight. As were the meta-tales of Goatwriter in Number9dream, I found the play within the book, The Crying of Lot 49
to be completely divorced from comprehension. As evidenced by the fact that I can’t recall a single bit of the play now, I have never felt like such a sloppy reading idiot while navigating the threads of this thing.
It is, of course, the point of the book and despite being aware of it from the get go, I can’t bring myself to love the book. I will say that the first chapter is brilliant, among the top all time opening chapters. And I was with the story then, despite it being slightly demanding, I breezed through it with an air of self-gratification, quite pleased with my progress. Perhaps this speaks to Pynchon’s genius, but I felt lulled into a sense of false security by my understanding of the opening pages. That beginning promises a roaring good book, equal parts entertaining and profound but most of all, a book that has meaning. Alas, no book was delivered. I was reading pleasantly, assured of my own understanding, as I said, when a hairspray can begins flying around the room of the Pynchon-verse for an extended period of time, shooting off at improbable angles for much longer than anyone is comfortable reading. The what-the-fuck-is-happening-right-now
alarm began to warm up. And as I plunged further through the book, it didn’t get any better at all. My incredulity and my anxiety over missing important details mounted. Among all the loose threads of Tristero and W.A.S.T.E. that the protagonist herself is trying to make sense of, I saw not some profound meaning behind it all, but instead the long, protruding middle finger of the author, accompanied by the condescending chuckle of a man much smarter than myself, scorning my foolish attempts at making sense of it all.
Thomas Pynchon is no doubt a genius and I completely envy his ability to create masterful sentences but damn, his books sure are frustrating to read.
*****Everything else aside, ya'll should check out this lecture on the book. I may have enjoyed it more than the book itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dtqt0...