Pynchon the Elusive

The identity of Thomas Pynchon is as elusive as the sticky, complex webs of meaning woven
into his prose. As America\'s most "famous" hidden author, Pynchon produces works which
simultaneously deal with issues of disappearance and meaning, of identity and nothingness in a
fashion that befuddles some and delights others. He speaks to the world from his invisible pulpit,
hiding behind a curtain of anonymity that safely disguises his personality from the prying eyes of
critics and fans alike. Without a public author presence, readers are forced to derive the identity
of the author instead from the author\'s actual works. When searching for the identity of Pynchon,
and indeed the notion of identity itself, the novels of Thomas Pynchon offer an interesting starting
Questions of identity and meaning are shrouded beneath a veil of conspiracy in The Crying of
Lot 49, Pynchon\'s second novel and his shortest. Throughout the novel there are snatches of
hidden agendas and mysterious plans; it is a world run by Pierce Inverarity, a character who is
dead when the novel opens yet remains an active presence throughout the work. This seems to
fit Pynchon\'s situation rather nicely as the ghostly moderator of a tired world, leading his main
character Oedipa Maas on a quest for meaning while blindly groping for clues about a
conspiratorial mail system known only as the Trystero. Oedipa\'s quest echos the quest of
everyone; she wishes for an identity that makes some sense within the framework of her world.
Thomas Pynchon, by erasing himself from the public sphere, is questing for identity in his own
right through his writings, letting Mrs. Maas do the searching for him.

Little is known about Pynchon\'s life, and no one who knows him seems to be willing to add to
the miniscule pile of information currently available about him. His most recent published
photograph dates back to 1953. Beginning at the beginning, he was born on May 8, 1937 in
Glen Cove, New York. He attended Cornell University and received a degree in English in
1959. He worked at Boeing Company in Seattle as a technical writer until his first novel V.
appeared in 1963 (Gray 70). From that point onward, Pynchon vanished from the public eye.
Information about any part of Pynchon\'s life after V. is only based on rumor or hearsay. There is
a hodgepodge of rumors concerning Pynchon\'s life and why he went into hiding, diligently
collected and collated by legions of his fans. Some of the proposed reasons why he is hiding
include: "he is brain-damaged as a result of an LSD overdose, he suffers from writer\'s block, the
CIA is after him, and he is ashamed of his Bugs Bunny teeth" (Diamond 65). By isolating himself,
Pynchon has created an aura of mystery that surrounds his persona and is reduplicated within his
writings. Many of the stories about Pynchon himself are amusing, and have the flavor of
suburban folklore:
[Some] stories have Pynchon sealed inside a barrel and rolled into a wedding to
avoid photographers, constructing a cocoon of engineering paper around his work
space to ensure privacy when he worked at Boeing and responding to Norman
Mailer\'s invitation for a drink with a note saying, "No thanks. I only drink Ovaltine."
(Diamond 65)
These tales seems to be the response of a public "obsessively trying to invent a man who
obsessively refuses to reveal himself" (Diamond 66). Why would an author go to such pains to
remain anonymous? The American public appears to be unable to handle the concept of a
person who does not desire to be famous. By not showing up to play the game, Thomas
Pynchon has made himself infinitely more mysterious than his actual self could ever be.

When the identity of the author is absent, the gap between the author and the written word flares
to life. Why does the need exist for constant speculation over Pynchon\'s personality and his
real-life identity? When someone looks at a book, they naturally assume that it came from
somewhere. This leads to the question of its origin. Currently, the easy answer to this question
lies in the idea of the author, the originator, the creator, the name on the cover. This "individual"
is the source of the work and the person who deserves "credit" for producing the written
product. Normally, the author is associated with a face and some biographical information
gleaned from newspaper and magazine accounts. These elements humanize the author; there is
no magic aura surrounding him or her. Readers come