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THE EXAMINED LIFE

Pynchon and Homer

BACK IN JUNE, we expressed surprise that the famously reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon had contributed a foreword to a new reissue of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Just a few weeks later, however, the online diarist responsible for the website Ohdog.org reported another unexpected Pynchon sighting. While supervising a voiceover for a lipstick commercial in New York on July 24, the diarist, a TV editor, learned that a "chatty" Pynchon had been in the same studio that day recording a guest appearance for "The Simpsons."

This may have struck some Pynchon-philes as an unlikely story. After all, in his ongoing efforts to resist being co-opted by an all-absorbing System, Pynchon has not only eschewed interviews, bookstore signings, and publicity photos. He has also refused to permit any representation of his likeness to appear on the television screen. When a Pynchon sighting became a plot point in a 1994 episode of NBC's "The John Larroquette Show," the show's producers sent Pynchon the script for his approval; the novelist reportedly vetoed a final scene that called for an extra playing him to be filmed from behind, walking away.

So why "The Simpsons"? Perhaps Pynchon was flattered by a May 2002 episode in which Lisa Simpson is bowled over by a college girl carrying one of his more difficult books. LISA (awed): "Are you reading `Gravity's Rainbow'?" COLLEGE GIRL (snidely): "Well, rereading."

"Simpsons" writer and executive producer Al Jean confirmed in a recent interview with the entertainment website IGN.com that Pynchon will indeed play himself on a show in the new 15th season, which begins next month. In the episode in question, a novel by blue-coiffed homemaker Marge Simpson wins endorsements from Pynchon and airport-novel writer Tom Clancy, among others.

According to Al Jean, the cartoon version of Pynchon will be wearing a paper bag over his head.

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