With all the mystique surrounding the camera-and-interview-shy Pynchon, the Slow Learner Introduction provides the Pynchon Fan with a valuable opportunity to hear first hand what the writer has to say about his work. His informal and engaging style offers a critical self examination story by story, pointing his flaws out to the reader, so that one may benefit from his mistakes. He explains his historical progression from "apprentice" to "journeyman," outlining the influences and occasions that guided his maturation as writer.
Pynchon regards his early stories with a bemused nostalgia, never afraid to tear them apart at the seams. He often talks about his immaturities as a writer at that time, citing his "Bad Ear," overwriting, and the pre-adult ways in which he treated death and sex. He feels that his "adolescent" values ruined many aspects of his stories, saying that he did not understand the extent of his ignorance.
But, as he discusses "The Small Rain" through "The Secret Integration," he becomes more and more satisfied with his work. He warns against approaching a story with a "theme, symbol, or other abstract unifying agent," and making the characters conform to it. He begins to realize that writing should "have some grounding in human reality." He continues this theme through and decides that writing should be taken from the "More shared levels of the lives we really live." This is a development of the ignorance question where he decides that drawing from one's own real experience is the best thing a writer can do, with Pynchon in the end finally getting "out on the road."
Mixed in with his actual writing skills, Pynchon discusses the thematic relevance of the times he lived in and their effect on his stories. He describes the fifties as "static," saying that one year was like any other giving the overall feeling, "there seemed no reason why should it all not just go on as it was." He felt that there grew from the era an atmosphere of self censorship, partly responsible for his immature dealings with sex. Also, he felt that it led to his "Racist, sexist, and proto-fascist talk," which he actually apologizes for. This may also have grown out of his two years' service in the Navy, which he admits had their effect on his work.
On a more academic side, he describes the literary conflict of Traditional vs. Beat Writing, and the transition from Modernism to a new kind of writing. He discusses the awakening of college students to the "other world" existing outside the safe walls of academia, citing jazz clubs and marijuana as important factors associated with the beats. He cites important beat texts On the Road, The Naked Lunch, and Howl as influences. He nicely expresses the movement's role as transition point between Modernism and Postmodernism, stating, "We were onlookers: the parade had already gone on by and we were already getting everything second hand, consumers of what the media of the time were supplying us." He sees the end of the Modern Era and the emergence of a new voice, one combining high and low culture, and incorporating consumer capitalism.
Other influences Pynchon mentions are the spy novels he read avidly. Authors like John Buchan, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Helen MacGinnes, and Geoffrey Household had their effect on his works, highly evident in most of his works. Another genre he attributes is Surrealism. This movement gives life to one of the most fascinating Pynchon characteristics, the Absurd, which he relishes.
One of the most interesting aspects to the introduction, though, is just
the subtlety of Pynchon's personality coming through the page. Over the
course of his discussion he allows himself an unmediated repoire with the
reader, letting slip confideces such as the implication of his disregard
towards The Crying of Lot 49. The Introduction pulls Slow Learner
together, creating a superb context to enjoy the stories on a critical,
thematic, and personal level.