“Here is a mash note, a fan’s riff, a sizzling study of Pynchon’s most misapprehended book. . . . ”
—Sam Lipsyte, author of Hark
Today’s MLA featured post is a playlist from Peter Coviello to accompany his new book Vineland Reread, a new addition to the Rereadings series. As Coviello explains below, the music ranges from eighties California punk to Dean Martin to Joni Mitchell, capturing the novel’s many themes and moods.
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For a Pynchon novel so ordinary-sized—at least compared to the epics that precede and follow it—Vineland (1990) manages to be a lot of books at once. It’s a post-hippie stoner fantasia. It’s a novel about late-sixties radicalism and the kinds of devoted (and, indeed, armed) insurgency that transpired then. It’s a novel about Reaganite reaction—its long seasons of dread, disaster, and what we might call carceral fanaticism. It’s a novel of lunatic inventiveness, beleaguered optimism, committed antifascism, gawping outrage, and acute political grief. It is also—and on this point I will be taking no questions—among the funniest novels written in English.
So this is less a soundtrack than a quick touring through some of these precincts, and through my own account of them in the book I wrote, Vineland Reread. You’ll find a lot of different climates of spirit here: punk anthems, some of them indigenous to the eighties California that is the book’s setting; songs of uplift, militancy, and struggle; Popular Front standbys; songs that play a part in the novel itself (from Artie Shaw to Bach to Dean-o); and other tracks that seem to me to capture something of the atmosphere of this multiplicitous and wonderful book, which turns twentieth-century California into a staging ground for a counterhistory of American repression, rebellion, and survival.
The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ’68 is how Joni Mitchell puts it, in the heartbreaker with which we conclude, and it’s my sense that we can do a lot worse than to let her—and the stacked array of resonances she compresses into that stinging opening phrase, of love, of loss, and of their entanglement in revolutions stalled and fugitive and ongoing—sing us on out.