The legions of scholars and conspiracy theorists devoted to Thomas Pynchon just got crucial new coordinates to pin to the maps on their bedroom walls, a node connecting the shadowy, surreal America of books like The Crying of Lot 49 and the one the reclusive author actually lives in.
At 85, after over 50 years spent shunning press, thwarting photographers, and releasing no unpublished output to the world, Pynchon has given his literary archive to the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, in San Marino, the library announced this week.
The Huntington’s statement describes a cache of “48 boxes” and “70 linear feet,” composed of material created between the late 1950s and the 2020s. It includes typescripts and drafts of each novel, handwritten notes, correspondence, research, and related arcana—a subject-, map-, and history-trotting trove of material that helped produce the fiendishly intricate bureaucracies, cabals, and byzantine plots in Pynchon works from Gravity’s Rainbow to Inherent Vice.
The Huntington holds some 11 million library items, including manuscripts by Chaucer and Shakespeare, Dickens and Poe, post-war novelists like Kingsley Amis and Christopher Isherwood, Charles Bukowski and Octavia E. Butler. Pynchon, possibly the best known and most highly acclaimed postmodern novelist, would represent a new landmass even without the mystique his reticence helped breed. A 2013 profile in New York magazine quoted Pynchon saying that he wanted to “keep scholars busy for several generations,” though he’d refused them even a scrap of archival material.
“When The Huntington approached us, we were excited by their aerospace and mathematics archives, and particularly attracted to their extraordinary map collection,” the author’s son, Jackson Pynchon, who assembled the material, said in the library’s statement. “When we learned of the scale and rigor of their independent scholarly programs, which provide exceptional resources for academic research in the humanities, we were confident that the Pynchon archive had found its home.”
While his novels’ settings span this nation and much of Europe, Pynchon’s stories frequently found a destabilizing center in California, more often Los Angeles, site of the 2009 novel, Inherent Vice, which L.A. auteur Paul Thomas Anderson adapted into a 2014 film.
“We expect Pynchon’s archive to attract profound attention from those wishing to better understand his work,” Sandra Ludig Brooke, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington, said in the statement.
It surely will, plus a fair share of cultists, fiends, obsessives, and old-school California kooks.
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