Vineland

I read that Inherent Vice was Thomas Pynchon’s sequel to Vineland and cringed. Inherent Vice was a silly, weak-assed fictionalization involving the sub-cultures surviving in the Los Angeles area, including the surfer crowd and lots of drugs. Vineland was about the survivors of sixties subculture in California but there the comparison, stretched as it is, ends. Vineland is a well structured novel with a narrative that is varied by character, loops back regularly on critical events, and involves just enough otherness to leave the reader with some concern for the generally realistic elements of the narrative.

Like so many novels, Vineland is enhanced if you have some experience with the events and locations that it presents. If you have no experience with Hippies or the lure of Northern California communes (now very newsworthy for the quality of the bud grown on the foggy mountainsides), then parts of Vineland are going to be less immediate than they would be to a Wavy Gravy (for instance).

But Vineland isn’t a novel of the sixties with the Merry Pranksters and love beads; it’s a novel covering the start of the Reagan era of greed and mendacity involving overly zealous government types and aging hippies. The cover writeup from the Penguin edition gives a good summary:

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What is attractive or honest about the GOP?

Now as I understand it there was a very popular and influential politician in Texas that had all of the right-wing qualities that would make him a good candidate for the continued destruction of this country if  he was doing his damage in the Senate. But along the way he was trounced in a run-off election because he wasn’t enough to the right. Now the Republican’s have a weak candidate offering no experience but a strong affiliation with the Tea Party.

Help!

Has anyone stopped to remember that the original Tea Party was basically a terrorist group out to destroy things and scare people. Then again, that’s an excellent understanding of the current Tea Party. I am hearing in some more progressive areas that this is a wonderful opportunity for the Democratic party. Open the doors and welcome all the traditional Republicans to come on over to sanity. Do they really think sticking with Mitt Romney is a good idea? When is Mitt the Twitt going to blurt out the really bad gaff and destroy his own candidacy? Is Harry Reid on target with his speculation about Mitt’s tax returns?

To me people will vote Republican if they are

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The Nonexistent Knight

For such a short work this Italo Calvino novella is rather rich in themes which can result in great discussions.

First, the entire tale is being written by a cloistered nun as an act of penance, ostensibly being translated from a very obscure old work. The narrative structure starts each chapter with the thoughts of the nun about the suitability of her writing about courtly love, or knights in armor, or violent battles and gory corpses. Along the way the nun has plenty of opportunity to make comments on the construction of fiction, sort of a writer’s manual.

But the story is about a nonexistent knight, a paladin in liege to Charlemagne who wears immaculate white armor but never takes it off because there’s actually no one inside the armor. Agilulf, the nonexistent knight, is identified with the best parts of being a knight—piety, faithfulness, chivalry. Since this novella has been interpreted as a satire on modern life, does that make Aigilulf the corporate man, the loyal worker, or maybe robo-cop?

The quest, which is required in this type of literature, is to find the daughter of the Scottish King and prove or disprove her virginity, which will then suggest the birthrights of a knight or two. In several complex suppositions, one knight is deemed to have the entire Knights of the Holy Grail as his father. But when he gets to a village in the north of France, he finds that the villagers have nothing and they explain that the Knights in the forest (later identified as the Holy Grail knights) regularly come to town and take the food and other provisions for themselves.

When the Knights of the Holy Grail again descend on the village, they are told there is nothing for them, so the Knights attack the villagers and Torrismund (the questing knight) bands with the villagers, commands the defense, and defeats the Knights. Sounds a lot like The Magnificent Seven (or The Seven Samurai) right? What we learn is that the Knights are so focused on the Holy Grail they will do anything to maintain that focus:  illegally take provisions, leave peasants to starve, attack weaponless peasants with swords and lances, burn down villages, etc. I can think of two analogues for this story:  the first is the spread of Christianity which often saved the soul of a non-believers by burning them at the stake; the other is more contemporary and political, not religious. Can you think of a political entity that will steal from the common people to make the rich richer, who will subvert the common good claiming it is bad to help those who need help, who would rather see people suffer and die if it is in line with their ideology, and who prefer a bald-faced lie to the truth if it is not in accordance with their ideology? Is an unwavering focus on an ideology one of the things Calvino is warning against in his tale of the Knights of the Holy Grail?

Calvino died in 1985, right in the middle of the Reagan revolution that kicked off the rapid decline of the United States. Was Calvino prescient?