Article from The Guardian :
Thomas Pynchon: what art can learn from the great pop author
The 1960s produced many pop artists and one great pop novelist. The fiction of Thomas Pynchon is not pop in the sense of popular – he’s fairly “difficult” – but in the true sense of pop art, in that it takes its images, language and references directly from the big, bad, modern world around it.
Today, Pynchon is one of the most important creative figures on the planet. Still pumping out formidable and monstrously contemporary fiction – his latest novel Bleeding Edge deals in an engrossing, hilarious and shocking way with the Deep Web, video games and 9/11 – he not only disproves all those pessimists who fear literary novels are doomed in the digital age but points a way forward for serious practitioners of all the arts… not least for visual artists.
Pop imagery is everywhere in today’s art, and so is the imperative to engage with the multi-voiced, multichannel, democratic abundance of the digital world. How to do justice to this teeming new age? Some artists have abandoned the role of author and let the audience become the art – as Antony Gormley did with his Fourth Plinth project –while others, likeCory Arcangel, sample modern electronic life.
Pynchon demonstrates a bigger and better way of making art out of the reality we inhabit right now. He soaks it all up, ingests a stupendous volume of cultural phenomena then transfigures them into a comic phantasmagoria, where everything is metamorphosed into joyous pastiche, parody, and grotesque fantasy.
All great modern art is abstract. The power of pop artists such as Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol was that they understood this. While pop art seems to be about things, it actually translates them into abstractions. The most perfect example of this metamorphosis is Flag by Jasper Johns, which is a copy of a flag that has become something else. It has been abstracted.
Pynchon achieves the same thing in language. At around the same time that Phil Spector invented the “wall of sound”, Pynchon invented what might be called the Wall of Prose. His words are like an ocean full of the floating debris of modern life. In 2013’s Bleeding Edge, which is set in the summer of 2001, a father takes his sons on a tour of the midwest to experience the old arcade games of the 1990s before they vanish forever. A woman searches for the perfect Jennifer Aniston haircut. A New York radical reads, what else, the Guardian.
Even with its retro-setting in recent history, this novel is immersed in the way we live now. Pynchon, in common with Johns or Warhol or every young artist right now, does not think for one second the “serious” artist should stand aside from this stuff.
So what can Pynchon teach artists? It has to do with complexity.
The pop artist he most resembles is Robert Rauschenberg. Just as Rauschenberg drew together the city’s trash into enigmatic “Combines” and represented history in haunting collages, Pynchon collects innumerable cultural artefacts into his fictions and weaves them into montages of modern history. The effect is to communicate the difficulty of understanding things, and the hidden layers of meaning in every moment.
Pynchon does not use pop to create simple messages, but resonant and suggestive ones. You don’t come away from his writing with any easy answers, but a fresh sense of the difficulty of knowing anything and the sheer massiveness of the world we inhabit.
There is a scene in Bleeding Edge that describes the Fresh Kills garbage islands of New York. This evocation of the city’s mountains of trash is as beautiful as anything by TS Eliot, an image of all that is forgotten, thrown away and lost. I want to see it as an artwork!
This is what artists ought to be doing. We’ve had enough one-dimensional images amd instant sensations. We need art that does justice to the scale and wonder and horror of this life we’re in – without turning away from it into some pious ivory tower.
What would a Pynchonesque video installation look like? A piece of truly Pynchonesque digital art? I’ll tell you exactly what it would look like: the great art of our time.