What does this part of the sentence mean?
November 28, 2013 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm translating some Pynchon. Here's one of those endless and rambling sentences, and I can't figure out what this one part is supposed to mean. Longish sentence below.

From Crying of Lot 49, context is used cars: "Yet at least he had believed in the cars. Maybe to excess: how could he not, seeing people poorer than him come in, Negro, Mexican, cracker, a parade seven days a week, bringing the most godawful of trade-ins: motorized, metal extensions of themselves, of their families and what their whole lives must be like, out there so naked for anybody, a stranger like himself, to look at, frame cockeyed, rusty underneath, fender repainted in a shade just off enough to depress the value, if not Mucho himself, inside smelling hopelessly of children, supermarket booze, two, sometimes three generations of cigarette smokers, or only of dust - and when the cars were swept out you had to look at the actual residue of these lives, and there was no way of telling what things had been truly refused (when so little he supposed came by that out of fear most of it had to be taken and kept) and what had simply (perhaps tragically) been lost: clipped coupons promising savings" etc etc etc.

The bolded bit. I have no idea. ?
posted by Pyrogenesis to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Reparsing:

When so little, he supposed, came by that, out of fear, most of it had to be taken and kept.

He supposed that when so little came from their lives, then out of fear, most of it had to be taken back and kept.

They had so little in their lives, then out of fear of losing what little they had, they felt they had to take everything they could and keep it.

... meaning that everything small that was left (coupon clippings, etc) may have actually been precious to the people who previously owned the car, and not actually trash, but there was no way to be sure.
posted by erst at 2:28 PM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

He supposed that so little would come of discarding the stuff in their cars that people instead had to take that stuff and keep it, out of fear it would be useful later.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2013

Response by poster: Allright, great, many thanks, I get it now. The 'came by' threw me off, and the lack of commas.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:53 PM on November 28, 2013

I'm reading "that" as the beginning of the clause "that out of fear most of it had to be taken and kept". And I understand "came by" as meaning "show up" or "present itself" as in the phrase "come by to visit". Valuable things didn't show up / "come by" often, so they wouldn't be discarded lightly.
posted by nangar at 2:55 PM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes, I agree with nangar. "When so little (he supposed) came by, that (out of fear) most of it had to be taken and kept."
posted by redfoxtail at 7:57 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

What are you translating it into, out of curiosity?
posted by deathpanels at 9:49 PM on November 28, 2013

Response by poster: Estonian.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:26 PM on November 28, 2013

He names two classes of residue: trash and lost things. But to distinguish between them, you would have to know the earlier owner(s)' intent. But it's impossible to know that, as explained by the boldface piece. Agree w nangar's reading of that. In other words, poverty.
posted by LonnieK at 6:43 AM on November 29, 2013

Response by poster: Aye, thanks all. Translating is wonderful work. In case of thoroughly thought-out stuff like this one, the true depth of the text is revealed in translation, for me at least (as a non-native speaker). I've read the book twice and now I'm translating it, and only now do I realize how nuanced some of this stuff is. Although this particular bit is not a good example. The ending of that paragraph is the clincher:

"If it had been an outright junkyard, probably he could have stuck things out, made a career: the violence that had caused each wreck being infrequent enough, far enough away from him, to be miraculous, as each death, up till the moment of our own, is miraculous. But the endless rituals of trade-in, week after week, never got as far as violence or blood, and so were too plausible for the impressionable Mucho to take for long. Even if enough exposure to the unvarying gray sickness had somehow managed to immunize him, he could still never accept the way each owner, each shadow, filed in only to exchange a dented, malfunctioning version of himself for another, just as futureless, automotive projection of somebody else's life. As if it were the most natural thing. To Mucho it was horrible. Endless, convoluted incest."

The distanced nature of most violence and the emotion towards the close-at-hand. So to all those who like to say that this is just another piece postmodern gibberish I reply: translate it into another language, and you will retract your opinion.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:44 AM on November 29, 2013

« Older Owl problem.   |   Alpine touring setup for a 105 lbs, 5'0" beginner... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.