Minstral Island

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Minstral Island was a musical written by Thomas Pynchon and his Cornell classmate Kirkpatrick Sale in 1958. It is unknown whether it was ever completed, but an incomplete handwritten manuscript and a type-written second draft were acquired by the Harry Random Center of the University of Texas at Austin in 1999. The following description was posted at the Ransom Center's web site but has since gone offline:

"The manuscript for an unproduced musical called Minstral Island by Pynchon and Kirkpatrick Sale. Early notes, outlines, and drafts for the 1958 collaboration between Pynchon and Sale which explores the year 1998 when IBM dominates the world and artists (including musicians, sailmakers, and prostitutes) are pariahs who have yet to be assigned roles in the new world order. Pynchon collaborated on the manuscript with Sale in 1958, prior to the publication of Pynchon's first novel, V. Kirkpatrick Sale has written extensively on the political, economic, sociological, and environmental impacts of technology, even going so far as to reconstitute the term Luddite to describe a contemporary movement that is skeptical of uncontrolled technological advance. Pynchon manuscripts are notoriously rare, which makes this unpublished gem particularly exceptional.”

The manuscript of Minstral Island is described in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a recent paper by Rodney Gibbs which originally appeared in the Denver Quarterly.


[edit] Copyright

The following wiki annotations to Minstral Island are intended for those who have access to the manuscript or a copy. It is unclear what the copyright status of this manuscript is, although parts are floating around the web. Please do not post the full text of Minstral Island here, as this may constitute copyright infringement.

[edit] General themes

The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the early nineteenth century who protested – often by destroying mechanized looms – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt threatened their livelihood. Wikipedia Neo-Luddism is a modern movement of opposition to specific or general technological development. Few people describe themselves as neo-Luddites; the term "neo-Luddite" is most often deployed by advocates of technology to describe persons or organizations that resist technological advances. Wikipedia

Kirkpatrick Sale (Ithaca, New York 1937) is an independent scholar and author who has written prolifically on environmentalism, technology and political decentralism. He has been described as "a leader of the Neo-Luddites" and "the theoretician for a new secessionist movement." Wikipedia

Pynchon has written on luddism, notably in his 1984 essay, Is It OK to be a Luddite?. A possible reference to luddism occurs in chapter 3 of The Crying of Lot 49. Pynchon, however, does not seem to practice luddism. He mentions using computers as research aids in the introduction to Slow Learner and references Tetris in Against the Day, although his dislike of being photographed ("Let me be unambiguous. I prefer not to be photographed." [1], "Get your fucking hand away from me," he bellowed. "I don't like people taking my picture!" [2]) may be related.

Minstral Island and Orwell's great novel have a number of parallels... Pynchon penned an introduction to a recent edition of Orwell's 1984.

[edit] Scene 1

character names
Two drafts of Minstral Island exist at the Ransom, a first handwritten draft and a second, typed draft. Some characters have been renamed in the second draft. Broad is changed to “Ivy,” Gambler is “Poker Dealer,” Chumley has been written out altogether...

Jazz and particularly bebop seem to be a lifelong interest of Pynchon’s, appearing in some form in all his works and what biographical snippets exist. The epigraph to Against the Day is a quotation from bebop musician Thelonious Monk.

IBM's association in popular culture with Orwell's Big Brother spanned many decades. See for example the 1984 Apple Computers advertisement.

Minnesang was the tradition of lyric and song writing in Germany which flourished in the 12th century and continued into the 14th century. People who wrote and performed Minnesang are known as Minnesingers (Minnesänger). Wikipedia Mentioned in Gravity's Rainbow, 348: "...even a Minnesinger needs to be alone..."

lecher, gambler, jazzman, whore, etc
A preterite cast, as in all Pynchon's later works.

Bomb Maker
Against the Day features bomb-makers among its protagonists.

Abbreviated MUFFET
A comic acronym, yet another Pynchon staple.

"I’ve taken more from you people than from any other group I’ve ever worked with."
The nature of the comedy here is very Margaret Dumont/Marx Bros.

Section 8
The term Section 8 refers to a former discharge from the United States military for reason of being mentally unfit for service. Wikipedia

[edit] Scene 2

"You’re English, huh?"
The English teddy bear echoes the earlier mention of Winnie the Pooh.

"I thought you people looked at the facts, not what the powers that be tell you are the facts. I thought scientists and engineers were free people, people who thought for themselves."
Again, a distrust of what "the powers that be" say is the truth, a lifelong Pynchon theme.

Caltech vs. the AEC
As Gibbs points out, " The reference here is to a struggle between the Atomic Energy Commission and researchers at Cal Tech's Stanford Linear Accelerator Center—affectionately called the Monster and, sometimes, Project M—who insisted the government recognize their autonomy to work and publish their findings".

"All we ask is to be left alone."
Again, lifelong Pynchon theme.

chief secretary to Johnny Bad Ass
Pynchon named a vessel in Gravity's Rainbow the U.S.S. John E. Badass, and discussed the concept of the badass in his essay Is It OK To Be a Luddite: "There is a long folk history of this figure, the Badass. He is usually male, and while sometimes earning the quizzical tolerance of women, is almost universally admired by men for two basic virtues: he is Bad, and he is Big. Bad meaning not morally evil, necessarily, more like able to work mischief on a large scale." Gibbs rightly points out that the portrayal of Johnny Bad Ass in Minstral Island is essentially the opposite of Pynchon's use of "badass" in the Luddite essay.

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