At least the Germans like Pynchon. TP’s latest book, Against the Day, has been getting decidedly mixed reviews in the US, with the NYT calling it “bloated … pretentious without being provocative,” etc. Others, such as the NYRB, have been far more complimentary, admitting that there are vast dry patches in the 1000-page plus tome, but that it’s riotously funny and relevant to the times.
Der Tagesspiegel here thinks it’s a masterpiece, and takes the time to accuse American reviewers of anti-intellectualism, using the reviews as a profile of what this critic thinks is wrong, or at least lacking, in the U.S. literary world.
The first American reviews of the new Pynchon spoke with an astonishingly aggressive anti-intellectualism and a tangible weariness with literature that experiments with language itself and ventures to try out more complex forms than we are familiar with from the annual crop of late works by the likes of Philip Roth and John Updike. More generally, the American zeitgeist currently seems to have little time for any kind of innovation in literature â€“ if it ever did.
It is probably true that the American literary market does feel the gravitational pull of the mass media, of genre, of readibility, more than Euro markets. The possibility of hit-making means that some literary novels can and do have a wide audience, from Franzen to Zadie Smith; and that these are the ones that are discussed, read by people who talk about novels, and reprinted.
I think there is appetite enough for difficult novels in the US, but it’s among dedicated readers, the counterparts of free jazz or contemporary classical lovers, an opinionated margin. There is a certain reflexive anti-intellectualism, illustrated in a fear of being taken, or of actually *being,* elitist or pretentious. At its best, it means adding literary depth to the conventions of genre, something that’s really as old or older than Homer.
‘Course I’m writing a novel with kung fu in it. Maybe that means I’m American.