Professor Irwin Corey Accepts The National Book Award for Thomas Pynchon

It happened Thursday, April 18th, 1974, at Alice Tulley Hall, and those that were there will never forget it (if they remember it at all). The National Book Awards, commercial publishing’s now defunct version of the Academy Awards was in the bottom of the ninth, down more runs than it is polite to count, and still waiting for the heavy hitters, i.e., the fiction winners to appear. The winners that year were Isaac Bashevis Singer, a future Nobel laureate, and the mysterious savant, Thomas Pynchon.

Pynchon’s novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, had caused a tremendous stir, since among the many rumors abounding was the one about how the Judges had been blinded by the white light of its brilliance, and awarded it the prize without ever finishing it. Rumors about Mr. Pynchon had circulated for years (and still do), since only a small circle of highly protective friends can actually vouch for his existence. One would-be literary detective even went so far as to speculate (in the now defunct Soho Weekly News) that Thomas Pynchon was none other than J. D. Salinger. Since most of Mr. Pynchon’s earliest published short stories were unquestionably stylistically Salingeresque, it was as good a theory as any.

The thought of Mr. Pynchon actually appearing in public brought out the cultists, one of which was Smoke Signals own literary pundit, C.B. Coble, who was then plying his trade orchestrating slush at a large metropolitan publishing house. Like any self-respecting scopophiliac, Coble brought along his trusty tape recorder so he could relive the scene at home alone.

We take you back now to Ralph Ellison’s introduction: “The Jury has determined to divide the prize between two writers. To Thomas Pynchon, for Gravity’s Rainbow, which bridges the gap between two cultures and puts the world of manipulation and paranoia within the perspectives of history. To Isaac Bashevis Singer for A Crown Of Feathers, and a lifetime of distinguished work revealing a skeptical philosophical and mischievous obsession with human and demonic character. I present this not to Mr. Singer, but to Mr. Pynchon.”

Unbeknownst to the audience (who had never seen Mr. Pynchon before), the venerable prince of standup double-talk Professor Irwin Corey (who most of the audience had never seen before either) steps out of the wings and walks up to the podium, giving the audience the impression that he is in fact Mr. Pynchon: “However, I accept the financial stipulation – ah – stipend in behalf of Richard Python for the great contribution which to quote from one of the missiles which has contributed. . .Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence over procedure. However you say -- WHAT THE -- what does this mean. . .in relation to the tabulation whereby we must once again realize that the great fiction story is now being rehearsed before our very eyes in the Nixon administration. . .indicating that only an American writer can receive . . .the award for fiction, unlike Solzinitski whose fiction does not hold water . Comrades – friends, we are gathered here not only to accept in behalf of one recluse – one who has found that the world in itself which seems to be a time not of the toad – to quote Studs TurKAL. And many people ask, “Who are Studs TurKAL? It’s not ‘Who are Studs TurKAL?’ It’s ‘who am Studs TurKAL?’ This in itself as an edifice of the great glory that has gone beyond, and to the intuitive feeling of the American people, based on the assumption that the intelligence not only as Mencken once said, ‘He who underestimates the American pubic -- public, will not go broke. This is merely a small indication of this vast throng gathered here to once again behold and to perceive that which has gone behind and to that which might go forward into the future. . .we’ve got to hurdle these obstacles. This is the MAIN deterrent upon which we have gathered our strength and all the others who say ‘What the hell did that get?’ – WE DON’T KNOW. We’ve got to perforce with all the loving boy. . .And as Miller once said in one of his great novels. . . what did the. . .that language is only necessary when communication is endangered. And you sit there bewildered, and Pinter who went further said, ‘It is not the lack of communication, but fear of communication.’ THAT’S WHAT THE GODDAMN THING IS that we fear communication.

“Oh -- fortunately the prize has only been given to authors – unlike the Academy Award which is given to a female and a male, indicating the derision of the human specie – God damn it! But we have no paranoia, and Mr. Pynchon has attained and has created from himself serenity, and it only the insanity that has kept him alive in his paranoia. We speak of the organ. . .of the organism. . .WHO THE HELL WROTE THIS? And the jury has determined to divide the prize between two writers -- to Thomas Pynchon for his Gravity’s Rainbow. Now Gravity’s Rainbow is a token of this man’s genius. . .he told me so himself. . .that he could. . .in other words, have been more specific, but rather than to allude to the mundane, he has come to the conclusion that brevity is the importance of our shallow existence. God damn. Ladies and gentlemen. To the distinguished panel on the dais and to the other winners for poetry, religion and science. The time will come when religion will outlive its usefulness. Marx, Groucho Marx once said that religion is the opiate of the people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium. . .will be human. . .All right. . .However, I want to thank Mr. Guinzburg, Tom Guinzburg of the Viking Press, who has made it possible for you people to be here this evening to enjoy the Friction Citation – The Fiction Citation. Gravity’s Rainbow -- a small contribution to a certain degree, since there are over three and a half billion people in the world today. 218 million of them live in the United States which is a very small amount compared to those that are dying elsewhere. . .Well, I say that you will be on the road to new horizons for we who live in a society where sex is a commodity and a politician can become a TV personality, it’s not easy to conform if you have any morality. . .I said that myself many years ago. . .But I do want to thank the Bureau. . .I mean the committee, the organization for the $10,000 they’ve given out. . .tonight they made over $400,000 and I think that I have another appointment. I would like to stay here, but for the sake of brevity I must leave. I do want to thank you, I want to thank Studs TurKAL. I want to thank Mr. Knopf who just ran through the auditorium (naked) and I want to thank Breshnev, Kissinger – acting President of the United States – and also want to thank Truman Capote and thank you.