Over a writing career spanning more than fifty years, Thomas Pynchon has been at the forefront of America's engagement with postmodern literary possibilities. This book explores the ways in which postmodernity, and its embrace of epistemological, ethical and ontological aporia, is put to work in the service of profound reflections on the political possibilities of narrative. Pynchon remains the most elusive and important writer of American postmodernity. V., Thomas Pynchon's first novel, was published in 1963. Within the dialectic of freedom and constraint , Pynchon's characters find themselves in networks of signification they struggle to understand but which urge them to make connections and establish forms of relationship. Of the stories reprinted in Thomas Pynchon's Slow Learner, the book discusses three in detail: 'Low-lands', 'The Secret Integration' and 'Entropy'. It examines how critics have argued about the ways in which Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 sets it in the contexts of debates about modernism and postmodernism. Published in 1973, Gravity's Rainbow has frequently been described by critics as Pynchon's most complex, challenging and experimental novel. Vineland describes how the paranoid sensibility is encouraged and maintained by structures of power that require the identification and persecution of an enemy who is variously defined across the political history of the United States. Mason & Dixon, published in 1997, takes the reader back to the period of the country's founding and the historical densities of eighteenth-century colonial culture. Against the Day is an epic novel of global and other-worldly proportions.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts covered in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book explores the ways in which postmodernity, and its embrace of epistemological, ethical and ontological aporia, is put to work in the service of profound reflections on the political possibilities of narrative. Fifty years after the publication of his first novel, V., in 1963, Thomas Pynchon remains the most elusive and important writer of American postmodernity. America's 'fork in the road' inscribes the failure of the nation's promise and the potential for its progressive reconstitution. However, such a vision of the future is always prone to incursion by the solidifying forces of reaction. Within the dialectic of freedom and constraint, Pynchon's characters find themselves in networks of signification which they struggle to understand, but which urges them to make connections and establish forms of relationship.
Of the stories reprinted in Thomas Pynchon's Slow Learner, this chapter discusses three in detail: 'Low-lands', 'The Secret Integration' and 'Entropy'. These have been selected because they best represent Pynchon's earliest articulations of some of the tropes and ideas that have preoccupied him throughout his writing career. 'Low-lands' concerns itself most explicitly with the pressures of American conformity as they exert themselves at mid-century, and the possible paths that might lead to liberation or transcendence. 'The Secret Integration', in its comic fantasy of children's attempts to rebel against a dominant white society, imagines a politics built around secrecy, espionage and private spaces. 'Entropy' is Thomas Pynchon's most anthologised work and has come to be regarded as an early incarnation of many of the thematics that would go on to characterise his writing as a whole.
Identity, interpretation and reference in The Crying of Lot 49
This chapter discusses how critics have argued about the ways in which Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 sets it in the contexts of debates about modernism and postmodernism. The novel engages more generally with contemporary culture and politics. The chapter first explores the ways in which Oedipa's and other characters' identities become central to the generation of meaning in the narrative. Then, it discusses the ways in which Pynchon's writing self-consciously raises questions about meaning and interpretation more generally. The chapter focuses on a particular model of projection presented in the novel to analyse the ways in which Oedipa's attempts at interpretation brings her to the verge of collapse as the narrative nears its end. Finally, it examines the ways in which readers might be able to engage with its refusal to provide definitive answers to the questions it raises about representation and reality.
This chapter explores Thomas Pynchon's first novel, V., in terms of some of the key categories critics have assigned to it. In particular, it reads the novel as engaging with the ideas of modernism, postmodernism, intertextuality, and parody with which Pynchon's early work has so frequently been associated. A series of readings of V. take their point of departure as the identification of Pynchon's parodic response to the literary, artistic and the political ideas associated with modernism in many of the book's historical episodes. The chapter explores the ways in which V. stages, first, the disintegration of the humanist subject and, second, the crises of identity, gender and knowledge that emerge from this process. It also examines the ways in which these challenges are present at the conclusion of the novel's narrative.
Power, presentation and history in Gravity’s Rainbow
Gravity's Rainbow has frequently been described by critics as Thomas Pynchon's most complex, challenging and experimental novel. This chapter explores Pynchon's critique of the anti-foundationalism of contemporary culture and identity. It examines the uses that Gravity's Rainbow makes of the multiple modes and genres of representation to produce a narrative form that simultaneously constructs, embraces and challenges the disorientation of postmodern experience. Just as it is to the characters existing in the Zone, the idea of physical, metaphorical, symbolic and narratological movement is central to the reader's experience of the novel. Gravity's Rainbow's depictions of identity, war, desire and the possibility of a radically different future challenge many of the systems of political and historical sense-making which readers might recognise. It is a novel that is fundamentally interested in understanding the complexities and contradictions of the power structures of the post-war world.
In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, and the subsequent prosecution of a War on Terror by the Bush administration, Thomas Pynchon's 1990 novel Vineland has accrued a renewed sense of significance. Vineland describes how the paranoid sensibility is encouraged and maintained by structures of power that require the identification and persecution of an enemy who is variously defined across the political history of the United States. This chapter explores how paranoia becomes a symptom of a late capitalist culture attempting to maintain its coherence in the face of perceived real or imagined threats to its integrity. Any discussion of political paranoia needs to acknowledge Richard Hofstadter's classic enumeration of the 'paranoid style', which, he proposes, assumes 'the existence of a vast insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network designed to perpetrate acts of the most fiendish character'.
Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon is an historical novel that self-consciously places the status of history at the heart of its concerns. It takes the reader back to the period of the country's founding and the historical densities of the eighteenth-century colonial culture. Writing of colonial America on the eve of its reconstitution in the United States, Mason & Dixon presents a moment of transition in which the New World's exceptionalism is tested. Even within the space of possibility that America represents, dissenting environments emerge or are imagined that serve to highlight the imperial and capitalist operations of the colony and its soon to be realised independent successor. In Mason & Dixon, Pynchon's deployment ofthe eighteenth-century cultural, economic, and linguistic phenomena has the effect of making readers conscious of the strategies of erasure that have structured, and continue to structure, our forms of social engagement.
Political and aesthetic disruption in Against the Day
This chapter explores the impact of anarchy as a strategy for disrupting the coherencies of ideology, those of politics and of reading. Within Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, anarchist activity is a rife, as several characters attempt to resist the inexorable march of capitalism, and anarchist violence is felt across the world. The novel combines an explicit attentiveness to spatial and temporal forms, investing in both categories as viable politicised modes of experience. Against the Day, with its self-conscious awareness of science-fiction conventions and time-travelling possibilities, offers up a challenge to linearity's dominance. Narrative digressions, pronounced shifts backwards and forwards in time and across space, and transitions into dream-worlds ensure a reading experience that is bereft of the reassurances of linear progression.
This chapter explores Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice in terms of the ideas, imagery, styles and themes of Pynchon's work that the authors have discussed so far. In other words, they take the idea of 'Pynchon Lite' as a starting point and assess the extent to which such an idea might help them approach Pynchon's work as a whole. After a brief introduction to the novel itself, the chapter compares it with his earlier works (V. and Gravity's Rainbow) with which it has generally been unfavourably contrasted by reviewers. Then, the chapter compares it with the other two Californian novels (The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland) that share a number of thematic and historical concerns. Finally, the chapter compares it with his more recent novels (Mason & Dixon and Against the Day), which some reviewers seem to find wilfully obscure in comparison to his last work.