Round Table Abstracts
1) V., High Culture, Low Culture
Molly Hite (Cornell University), Thomas Schaub (University of Wisconsin), Luc Herman (University of Antwerp) and John Krafft (Miami University)
Molly Hite (Cornell University): “Venus on a Scungille Shell: High and Low Culture Revisited in V.”
When V. burst on the literary scene in 1963, reviewers were fascinated by the mix of narrative tones in a plot that brooded on themes like decadence, the inanimate, and conspiracy. Pynchon’s narrator in V. was sometimes apparently omniscient, in this register pronouncing sorrowful judgments on the decline of Western civilization. But this narrator could also be brashly colloquial, full of slang and contractions, incorporating blocks of parodic musical comedy lyrics presented as performances by one or more of the characters. Like the narrator’s tone, references to cultural artifacts oscillate between high-culture and low-culture registers. We encounter The Education of Henry Adams as a model for the middle-aged Stencil’ ruminations on his quest, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in an episode alluding to contemporary heist movies, Alice in Wonderland from the point of view of a timid pedophile, a whole chapter based on the debut performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and The Waste Land saturating much of the nostalgia for a more animate, less decadent twentieth century. But there is also the vivid and perhaps revivifying world of Benny Profane and Pig Bodine, punctuating what may seem the dominant narrative of decline and decay.
All Pynchon’s novels play with narrative tone and with high and low-culture references. I will argue that in V. the struggle we see between tones and cultures is more clearly marked than in later novels. Pynchon’s letters to Kirkpatrick Sale, with their terminating shaggy-dog stories that lead to an outrageous pun, give us an idea of the voices and pop-culture references that Pynchon himself was incorporating into a conversation continued from the college days of their friendship. Pynchon’s story from a Cornell creative writing class, “Mortality and Mercy in Vienna,” is pinned to a high-culture framework of allusions that attempts to bring a decadence plot into a post-college party scene. We can see it as an initial foray into the ideas and methods of V., marking an early commitment to the modes and themes of late modernism. In V., however, the high seriousness of this high modernism begins to crumble, despite a thematic emphasis on decadence. Popular culture, from bebop jazz to urban legends to musical comedy and the beginnings of rock and roll, begin to make a parallel claim on Pynchon’s worlds.
Molly Hite is professor emerita of English at Cornell University. She has read, taught and written about Pynchon throughout her career.
Tom Schaub (University of Wisconsin, Madison): “Jazz in V.”
There have been numerous commentaries on the figure of McClintic Sphere, the African American jazz saxophonist in Pynchon’s first novel V. Several readers have satisfied themselves with identifying historical jazz performers Pynchon’s character may refer to, noting that “Sphere” is Thelonious Monk’s middle name, for example. Pynchon claims not to have known this fact, however, and the preponderance of evidence suggests that Sphere’s character is meant to evoke Ornette Coleman, though Coleman doesn’t make the New York scene until 1959, three years after the 1956 narrative of the Whole Sick Crew, in which McClintic Sphere appears. The most substantive discussions of the Sphere character are those by Luc Herman and John Krafft, in their essay “Race in Early Pynchon: Rewriting Sphere in V.” and by David Witzling, in “The Sensibility of Postmodern Whiteness in V., or Thomas Pynchon’s Identity Problem.”
In this paper I set aside or bracket issues of race in order to focus on Pynchon’s use of McClintic Sphere as a kind of gluten, or agglutinating agent, for a novel that is hard pressed for a plot, a novel which may have been conceived as a kind of ruin, as post-1945 suggests, anticipating Walker Percy’s novel Love in the Ruins. Herman and Krafft rightly describe this first novel as a bit green, showing how Pynchon’s handling of racism is tentative at best. The same can be said for the development of the love theme in this novel, about which little has been written. The jazz terms provided by Sphere—the terms “cool,” “crazy,” and “flip” in particular—give Pynchon’s characters a vocabulary for thinking about an authentic love, a love supreme some might say, in the midst of so much decadence. Whether this love is itself subject to V.’s satire and parody, to the irony that has no floor, is a question the art of jazz also helps me explore.
Thomas Schaub is the author of Pynchon: The Voice of Ambiguity (U Illinois 1981), American Fiction in the Cold War (U Wisconsin P, 1991), and Approaches to Teaching Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Other Works (MLA, 2008), as well as numerous essays on modern and contemporary American authors. Schaub is Executive Editor of the journal Contemporary Literature.
Luc Herman (University of Antwerp) & John Krafft (Miami University): “‘An all-embracing incompetency for dealing with the opposite sex’: Family sitcom removed from the V. typescript”
The typescript of V. Pynchon submitted to his publisher in the summer of 1961 included a seven-page pastiche of a typical “family situation comedy on television.” The stereotypically prosperous suburban character-types are here: ambitious but compliant white-collar father; indulgent but controlling wife and mother; egotistical teenage daughter, complete with adventure-seeking but clueless boyfriend; “obnoxious” young son; even a hapless family dog. Pynchon’s editor found the “show … very entertaining” and regretted Pynchon’s later decision to cut it. But Pynchon was adamant, dismissing it as “ponderous social commentary.” In our paper, we will trace this pastiche’s roots in the media culture of the American late 1950s and early 60s, and examine how it articulates (or not) with the thematic concerns of the V. typescript overall and with those of the published novel. As the father in the sitcom is explaining to his daughter’s boyfriend: “It’s hard to figure out what a man is, these days,” and that might just point to a problem these two television characters have in common with Stencil and Profane.
Luc Herman teaches English and narrative theory at the University of Antwerp. He has co-edited the _Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon_ (2012) and co-authored _Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination and Freedom_ (2013). John M. Krafft teaches English at the Hamilton campus of Miami University. He co-founded _Pynchon Notes_ in 1979 and served as an editor of the journal until 2009. Together, Herman and Krafft have published a series of essays on the typescript of _V._”
2) Maybe it’s just porn: Pynchon and Sex
Zac Rowlinson (University of Sussex), Richard Moss (Durham University), Doug Haynes (University of Sussex)
This panel investigates representations of sex in the fiction of Thomas Pynchon. As we know, Pynchon’s writing, especially in the earlier novels, is suffused with scenes of sometimes amusing, often transgressive and disturbing sexual activity. So while Lot 49 might present Oedipa’s Strip Botticelli routine somewhat coyly, the “V. in love” chapter of V. shows adolescent female sexuality in an entirely explicit, eroticized light. Gravity’s Rainbow is notorious for its many sex scenes, which are by turns charming (Roger and Jessica), playful (Slothrop), and gross (Brigadier Pudding’s coprophagia); problematically, some episodes involve paedophilia (the Anubis, etc.) and paternal incest (Pökler and Ilsa). The Pulitzer Prize panel snubbed the book in 1974 for these reasons.Yet the author’s later works continue to use ideas of sexuality to frame key tropes – the “cosmic fascism” that attracts the Gates women to men in uniforms, in Vineland (1990) is an example. Given its prominence in Pynchon’s work, this panel argues that too little critical attention has been paid there to sex and its writing. A kind of consensus seems prematurely achieved by Michael Bérubé when he figures “Pynchon’s pornography not as the locus of transgression and disturbance [. . .] but as the enactment and exposure of strategies of power, domination and control” (1992). Pornography in Pynchon is really meta-pornography, he implies, and so a form of critique. While this is persuasive, such an approach transforms some of the most anarchic and vertiginous sides of Pynchon’s writing into something allegorical and safe. This panel will try to detach Pynchon’s textual sex from this ensnarement, exploring what happens when the sexual is allowed to be just that.
Zac Rowlinson, University of Sussex, ‘“a long way from strange and weird sex. Isn’t it?’: Pynchon’s Late Fiction”
In his review of Bleeding Edge, Christopher Nealon claims that the characterisation of Pynchon as a postmodern, countercultural figure has “obscured the ways in which [he] has been writing, all along, about capitalism in particular, and doing it through the lens of a complex and disturbing vision of sexuality,” while Desmond Traynor, on the other hand, in his appraisal of the same novel, argues that “the now 76-year-old Pynchon’s attitude to sex remains resolutely casual and adolescent.” Despite their contrasting views, it is evident that both Nealon and Traynor, whether we agree with them or not, ascribe a sense of continuity to Pynchon’s writing of sex. By focussing on Pynchon’s later work—Bleeding Edge and Inherent Vice, including, perhaps, an occasional excursion into the depiction of sex in the film version of the latter—this paper wants to ask: how correct is this? Does Maxine Tarnow’s “instant docility” before Nicholas Windust, like so many of Pynchon’s female characters before her, merely signal more of the same? Or is it significant that “kiddie porn,” while alluded to in Bleeding Edge, remains, unlike in Gravity’s Rainbow, decidedly off-screen? Would it be true to say that, foot fetishes and so on notwithstanding, Pynchon’s representation of sex shifts ‘from epic to everyday,’ reflecting Inherent Vice’s notion that ‘sexual desire’ has been reclaimed by ‘the ancient forces of greed and fear,’ or what Slavoj Žižek sees as the ‘dark side of the sexual liberation of the 1960s: the full commodification of sexuality’? ‘Hey. Who wants to know?’
Zac Rowlinson is currently writing up his doctoral thesis on the face in Pynchon’s writing. He is supervised by Doug Haynes at the University of Sussex.
Richard Moss, Durham University, “Is Pynchon Gnostic About Sex?”
This paper aims to explore how Gnosticism informs Pynchon’s portrayal of sex and female sexuality in Gravity’s Rainbow. While the Gnostic content of Pynchon’s texts has been covered in detail (Eddins, Plater, Hite and Hume), the sexual content of Gnosticism and how Pynchon includes aspects of the Gnostic in his own sex scenes is usually absent: a gap I aim to fill.
While the majority of criticism at present engages with the power structure and epistemology of Pynchon’s Gnosticism, many Gnostic texts referenced by the author have explicit sexual content. Kabbalah reveres sex as the union between the masculine and feminine aspects of God, and this delineation between masculine force and feminine supplication is strongly marked in Pynchon’s work. Gendered opposed powers appear to be a popular model for Pynchon, particularly in Gravity’s Rainbow. The masculine rocket penetrates the feminine Earth, the Hiroshima mushroom cloud hangs like “a giant white cock” (GR, p.693), and sex acts with feminine characters are framed as acts of control or acts of liberation. I argue that the double quality between liberation and control in Gravity’s Rainbow‘s sex scenes is equally problematic. Both have a tendency to show the feminine actor as an object, either manipulating or ‘freeing’ the male counterpart. The masculine side of any of the sex acts is always the beneficiary/subject, be it Pudding’s masochism with Katje as a tool with no investment in the process, or Slothrop’s ontological escape from his fate, precursed by a sex act (Katje as well, the strongest Shekinhah symbol in the text). When femininity does not fulfil its role as a counterpoint to male progression – its role as the Skekhinah – Pynchon protrays it as a threat. Greta Erdmann, for example, is the corrupted feminine, an anti-Semitic entity that promises to “take you back, you fragment of smashed vessel, even if I must pull you by your nasty little circumsized penis.” (GR, p.478)
Overall, I aim to show that Pynchon (at least in Gravity’s Rainbow; I will make concessions to how Pynchon reconciles this in his later work) is mostly Gnostic in how he presents his sex scenes. The way in which Gnostic thought presents sexuality shares much with how Pynchon writes sex into his own work, and this highlights some problematic attitudes in Pynchon’s work concerning gender politics, a concern often overlooked by critics.
Richard Moss is a tutor at Durham University, who focuses on postmodern readings of spiritual systems in American Literature. He is currently working on a project about how New Age religions are protrayed by modern American authors.
Doug Haynes, University of Sussex, ‘“Allons enfants!’ Pynchon’s Pornographies”
My paper takes as its springboard the critique of Sade offered by Adorno and Horkheimer in their chapter on Juliette in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944). Their argument suggests that Sade’s writing exposes a truth about Enlightenment that the latter would rather not reveal: that its morality is just as mechanical as Sade’s orgies and the resolute libertinism of his characters. Only a formal internal consistency holds the Kantian categorical imperative together: its universalizing legislative moral power is not really experienced at the level of feeling, they suggest. So alongside the grueling erotics of his work, Sade provides a kind of satirical black comedy about the fate of the bourgeois individual: the latter is no more ethical than the most debauched possible person, and decidedly less empowered. In a way, Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay anticipates Bérubé’s reading of Pynchon’s pornography, arguing that the forces shaping pornography are the same ones organizing the rest of the social world.
Pynchon of course alludes to Sade several times in his oeuvre, most directly in Vineland (1990), where a landscape contractor called the Marquis de Sod is found to be “a lawn savant” (“allons enfants” from the Marseillais – high magic, low puns). The heady mixture in Pynchon of revolutionary anthem, punning linguistic play, and the acts for which Sade was infamous – Marquis de Sod(omy) – suggest notions of “excess”: an excess of meaning, of, allusion, of levity. My paper develops this notion with regard to the pornographic and/or erotic aspects of Pynchon’s writing, questioning just how mechanical, complicit, or self-reflexive the latter wishes to be when confronting questions of power and patriarchy, and asking too how much Pynchon uses excessiveness to reinscribe an elusive, utopian pleasure of the text.
Doug Haynes teaches American literature at the University of Sussex. He researches modern and contemporary American literature and visual art, especially with regard to Critical Theory, psychoanalysis, affect theory and Marxism. He is the author of several articles on Pynchon and has an edited collection forthcoming on transnationalism and American culture.
3) Accommodating Different Conspiratorial Views on 9/11 through Ambiguity in Bleeding Edge
Melissa Leismer (University of Granada), Miriam Fernández Santiago (University of Granada), Celia Wallhead (University of Granada)
Introduction: Celia Wallhead
Having read Bleeding Edge, one feels the need to categorize it: what sort of 9/11 novel is it? Writing over a dozen years after the event, but still making his account through his narrator synchronous with it, Pynchon attempts to portray the attack on the World Trade Center through a double lens: both as different people saw it and thought about it at the time, and also as we see it now, with official versions accepted or rejected and our differing political viewpoints. It is the aim of this round table to try to locate and describe the strategies Pynchon has employed to accommodate an array of differing views without seeming to come down on the side of any one of them. All of them were plausibly held by people then and now, but none of them are certain, not even –or perhaps we should say least of all– the official government version. All are shrouded in ambiguity as they tend to express only one side of the question. Pynchon is able to proffer these different views as his narrative strategies allow it. First of all, he has created a narrator with a very peculiar voice, and the narrator has focussed upon a main character: de-certified fraud investigator, Maxine Tarnow, who functions as the axis upon and around whom all the other characters turn: she has a relation to them of either family, friend, work-associate or acquaintance. Thus the opinions are voiced always in dialogue with her. The characters but one are all created and fixed by the time Pychon introduces the Event, which is three-quarters of the way through the novel: chapter 29 of 41 chapters. The first speaker, Melissa Leismer, suggests that Pynchon’s complex vision fits in the frame of William Empson’s fourth type of ambiguity and goes on to analyse the narrative strategy and the narrator in this regard. The second speaker, Miriam Fernández Santiago, lists the different conspiracies Pynchon introduces and the characters who voice them. The third speaker, Celia Wallhead, goes through the eight strategies for creating paranoia through conspiracy that, according to Samuel Chase Coale, Pynchon applies in his earlier novels, to see how far he has used them in Bleeding Edge. The results show that he has applied most of them but some of them to a much lesser degree in view of that fact that we are much nearer in time to this particular traumatic event.
1. On ambiguity and an ambiguous narrator: Melissa Leismer
We would argue that Pynchon’s new work is as imbued with ambiguity as his previous, but how does it function? As William Empson defined it back in 1930 in his iconic, if outdated, Seven Types of Ambiguity: “An ambiguity, in ordinary speech, means something very pronounced, and as a rule witty or deceitful.” (1) Some word or phrase must attract the attention of the hearer or reader through a double meaning, requiring them to work out the two or more possibilities and then see how they are integrated.This is his first type, but we think Pynchon’s more complicated concepts fall into Empson’s fourth category: “In the fourth type the alternative meanings combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author.” (ibid.) First, there is a certain ambiguity about the narrator, as he or she has several voices. Yet the narrator cannot be omniscient, as that would mean that he or she knew who was behind the attacks on the Towers and it would be difficult to justify their not revealing this. So Pynchon opts for a more personal and intimate narrator that accommodates the multivocality through the main protagonist, Maxine Tarnow, as the node.
Melissa Leismer holds a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and English Literature from Hillsdale College in Michigan, USA. She also has a Masters’ degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Granada, Spain. At the moment, she is concluding her doctoral thesis on the Spanish writer Felipe Alfau (1902-1999) who lived most of his life in New York and set one of his novels there (Chromos). Her publications have centred upon the city of New York. She currently teaches English in the state school system in Spain.
2. Opinions of the characters on conspiracy theory: Miriam Fernández Santiago
We have listed the conspiracies as they emerge in the narrative, though there is obviously some grouping together:
Maxine and her boys’ immediate reactions
Conspiracies involving the American government
Anti-government conspiracies voiced by other characters such as March Kelleher
The margins; Reg, Eric
The Jewish plot
Denial of conspiracies and acceptance of the “official version”: Shawn, Vyrva
Divided opinions: Maxine and her family: her father Ernie and ex-husband Horst
Apparently in the know: Nicholas Windust
The Russian angle
Magic realism, time travel and special powers
Miriam Fernandez-Santiago began her academic career with a Masters’ thesis on Mason&Dixon that was published under the title The (I)logics of Postmodern Humor. At present, she is teaching literatures and cultures in English at the University of Granada, Spain. Her research interests include Postmodernism, Critical Theory, Literature, (Inter)Cultural Studies, Bilingualism and SL Teaching. She is also the author of The Voice and the Void (2005), Map of Good Intercultural Practices (2009) and Cultures in English (forthcoming).
3. How does Bleeding Edge differ from Pynchon’s previous works in terms of the creation of ambiguity to point to conspiracy? Celia Wallhead
Here we analyse Bleeding Edge in search of evidence of the eight strategies Samuel Chase Coale (2005) has detected in Pynchon’s creation of a complex paranoid sense of all-round conspiracy in American society. The eight are as follows:
1. Information overload
2. Breaking the illusion of the ordinary
3. The apparently realistic is made strange
4. The reader’s ignorance
5. Gaps left unfilled and connections not made
6. Ambivalent use of metaphor and allegory
7. Undermining the seriousness of the question
8. Cosmic tensions
The findings are that they are all present, but that in nº4, the reader’s ignorance, the ignorance is related not to knowing what the possible conspiracies are, as the media has made sure that they are sounded, but to knowing which are correct, which is still impossible; and in nº 7, undermining the seriousness of the question, there is much less farce and silliness to undermine it. We suggest that the reasons for this are that we are too close in time for the healing of the trauma to be over. Though over all, Coale is right in his nº 5, in that Pynchon sets up myriad possibilities and then deliberately refuses to connect up, fill gaps and come to conclusions. Since we do not know the truths over 9/11, the situation lends itself to these Pynchonian strategies.
Celia Wallhead holds a BA in Spanish and French from the University of Birmingham and Ph Ds in Spanish and English from the Universities of London and Granada respectively. She taught Spanish at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. She worked at the British Council in Granada, Spain, then, since 1990, she has taught English language and literature at the University of Granada. She has written and edited books on themes related to Spain, such as the Spanish Civil War or Washington Irving, and also books and articles on several postmodern and postcolonial writers, specialising in A.S.Byatt, Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie.
Conclusions: Celia Wallhead
In view of the many perspectives on the event of September 11 in Bleeding Edge, it is fairly obvious that this is not a domestic personal trauma novel but that it is an attempt to take on the “cultural/collective”, but on a grand scale, cosmic at times, and in its own Pynchonian way. Michael Chabon claims that Pynchon scorns conspiracy theories (2013, 4), because he has voiced the anti-government conspiracy theory through a character such as March Kelleher. But this is the whole point, Pynchon is able to discredit the theories because the characters who voice them have already been discredited. Yet he voices them because they exist and the characters are representative of the different ideologies in America. If the narrator and the “common-sense” characters like Maxine and her father are guarded and tend to sit on the fence, then Pynchon is with them, saying that things are not clear, therefore we should keep an open mind and not be biased. Thus to answer the question posed at the beginning, “What kind of 9/11 book is Bleeding Edge?”, I would say that it is much more of an “acting out” of 9/11 than a “working through”, as Pynchon looks ahead to the future, as if to say that every character is involved in some “working through” but any conclusion can only be temporary. Not only do we not know the truth, and this generation, or indeed, any generation to come, may never know it, but that the effects of the event are still being felt and they are not under the control of anyone we know. Such a situation would have been impossible to set up and portray without the use of ambiguity as a tool, and for us, it is the fourth type as described by William Empson: that of a writer whose mind is capable of holding all at once myriad possibilities, more or less related (even through difference), and though incompatible, coherent in the sum of the patterns.
Individual Papers (alphabetically)
Tore Rye Andersen (Aarhus University) – The Wave of the Future, or, Pynchon’s Prophecies
In his introduction to 1984, Pynchon reflects on Orwell’s ability to look into the future and makes a distiction between mere predictions and true prophecies: “Specific predictions are only details [...]. What is perhaps more important, indeed necessary, to a working prophet, is to be able to see deeper than most of us into the human soul.”
Prophecy has always held a privileged place in Pynchon’s work. His fiction is rife with characters who speak of things to come, and the phrase “the wave of the future” recurs in most of his novels. Whether writing about Orwell’s prophecies or advancing his own, the ability to rise above one’s time and see into future has always held positive connotations for Pynchon. A character in The Crying of Lot 49 is “hip enough to foresee the End of the Thirty Year’s War” and in Gravity’s Rainbow future technological developments are discussed in “superhepcat-to-hepcat exchanges”. Even when Pynchon ventures into prophetical territory in his non-fiction, it is not without a certain pride. A prophecy in his Luddite-essay about the coming convergence of artificial intelligence, molecular biology and robotics is prefaced by the almost boastful phrase: “you heard it here first.”
By tracing the motive of prophecy throughout Pynchon’s work, I aim to demonstrate that his notion of prophecy does not only involve the future but is closely connected with the ability to think historically. Furthermore, I will argue that the nature of Pynchon’s prophecies has changed: In his early work, Pynchon and his characters were making prophecies about our common future. In his later novels, characters still advance prophecies, but their prophecies mostly concern their own future; a future which happens to be our past. “Prophets traditionally don’t last long,” Pynchon reminds us in his story of Byron the Bulb. Is this a prophecy of Pynchon’s own loss of prophetical abilities? Has Pynchon lost his prophetic mojo, or is something else at stake? Time will tell.
Tore Rye Andersen, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Comparative Literature at the Department of Aesthetics and Communication, Aarhus University. He is head of the research centre Literature Between Media and editor of the literary journal Passage. He is the author of the book Den nye amerikanske roman/The New American Novel (2011), and he has published a number of articles on American and British fiction and on the materiality of literature in journals like Critique, English Studies, Orbis Litterarum and Pynchon Notes.
Jennifer Backman (Palomar College) – From Hard-Boiled to Over Easy: Reimagining the Noir Detective in Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge
This paper examines the ways in which Thomas Pynchon both works with and subverts elements of classic crime fiction and film noir, focusing particularly on his two most recent texts. While Pynchon’s frequent use of noir tropes is widely acknowledged, most references to his interactions with the genre are made in passing and are limited to stylistic concerns—noir is mentioned as yet another example of pastiche, spoof, or as a kind of general wrangling device for an otherwise unruly plot. My argument here is that noir fiction serves a much more interesting purpose than is typically recognized and that the addition of Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge to Pynchon’s body of work reveals a particular interest in reworking noir’s central figure: the “hard-boiled detective.” More specifically, I suggest that looking at Doc Sportello and Maxine Tarnow as variations on the hard-boiled theme allows us to see Pynchon as challenging the rigid, confining masculinity on which the entire noir genre rests.
As a theoretical framework, I draw primarily on Christopher Breu’s Hard-boiled Masculinities, which presents noir fiction as “one of the dominant ways in which masculinity was fantasized in the interwar years.” In Breu’s formulation, the affectless and violent hard-boiled hero at the heart of noir is best viewed as a “resolutely negative cultural fantasy,” created in response to fears surrounding corporate capitalism, race, and the growth of the female workforce. In this way, the masculinity embodied in the noir detective is both “a social and a literary phenomenon, one that theorizes the subjective and the socioeconomical with equal attentiveness.”
I apply this theoretical perspective first to Inherent Vice, establishing the noir tropes that Pynchon keeps intact (primarily traditional homosocial and heterosexual relationships) and the challenges to the genre that Sportello presents as the “over easy” detective. I then move to a similarly structured analysis of Bleeding Edge, in which I focus on empathy and motherhood as the next step in Pynchon’s reassessment of the noir detective figure.
I close by connecting both characters to their counterparts in Pynchon’s earliest novels, V. and The Crying of Lot 49 to situate Sportello and Tarnow as the literary descendents of Benny Profane/Herbert Stencil and Oedipa Maas, respectively. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate Pynchon’s continued interest in refining his use of the detective character while also using its noir roots to address contemporary expectations surrounding masculinity and agency, empathy and violence.
Jennifer Backman is an Associate Professor of English at Palomar College in Southern California. She received a PhD in Contemporary Literature from Purdue University and a Master’s degree in the Humanities from the University of Chicago.
Russell Backman (UC Davis) – Programming Ambiguity: Pynchon’s Modular Objects and the Digital Database
This paper surveys the field of contemporary scholarly and popular attempts to utilize digital databases and data visualizations to interpret, aid, or enhance the experience of reading fiction. By addressing technologically assisted studies of Pynchon and other authors, I identify a field of still nascent individual works, rather than a coherent attempt to leverage the potential of the database form—with, perhaps, the exception of the under-utilized PynchonWiki. The absence of such a project for Pynchon’s work is notable in large part because his novels are deeply invested in digital technologies and questions of accumulating knowledge more generally. One source of this lag is the ambiguous relationship Pynchon scholars have with technologies that gather and utilize data. Addressing the old Pynchonian saws of paranoia and entropy, this paper argues that there is lingering trepidation within Pynchon scholarship regarding technologies that appears to limit free interpretation by establishing a dominant reading.
I propose a template for digital encoding that embeds a commitment to retaining complexity rather than reducing it, while simultaneously assembling and retaining old and new knowledge. Such a database relies on a reading of Pynchon premised on the ontological autonomy he accords to objects of all scales and types. While everything in Pynchon’s novels is connected at some level, the nature of these connections does not dissolve individual entities into a uniform mass. Rather, the objects of Pynchon’s fiction—from pinballs and ball lightning, to multinational conspiracies and alternate worlds—retain their own distinct identities regardless of how fleeting or fragile they may be.
Insofar as Pynchon presents an object-oriented world, his work is defined by a high level of modularity, which can be identified and coded without limiting the potential for its interaction with other encoded objects either within the novels or intertextually connected to them. This database template attempts to leverage both scholarly and amateur research activity, and to enable robust, evidence-based interpretation without eliminating productive ambiguities.
Russell Backman is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis. His dissertation, The Distributed Epic, reads Thomas Pynchon’s works as an integrated project, and takes them as a model for a broader contemporary literary discourse that defines the epic as marked by deep intertextuality and modularity. His other research projects trace experiments in narrative form as responses to multimedia franchise and digital technologies. He is currently a Visiting Instructor at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität of Mainz.
Samuli Björninen (University of Tampere) – The Edge of Idiosyncracy and the Bleeding Obvious – Key Passages, Canons of Interpretation, and (re)reading V.
“Elsewhere, I have tried to argue that quotations, like statistics, can easily be extracted to muster evidence for whatever ‘coherence,’ ‘logic,’ or ‘position’ their manipulator wants to find anyway.” This sentence begins Alec McHoul’s early essay on how analysis and interpretation of Gravity’s Rainbow is affected if one avoids the canonized key passages and instead selects the textual material procedurally – in this case by locating the novel’s “golden sections.” By “elsewhere” McHoul, of course, points towards the yet-to-be-published Writing Pynchon (1990, with David Wills), which famously takes issue with the canon of textual fragments circulating in Pynchon Studies, and devises a host of alternative methods of text selection, citation and analysis.
My paper discusses some of the implications of McHoul and Wills’s discoveries. It argues furthermore that it is not only cited passages but certain interpretive moves that become standards on the field. By (re)reading V. in the context of a chain of scholarly interpretations, my paper discusses interpretations which are based on textual features but seem increasingly idiosyncratic. On the other hand, it shows that interpretations based on gaps and absences in the text have become so widely disseminated that they end up seeming to state little more than the obvious.
The issue at hand has broader bearing on literary theory. Among the contemporary directions at least some cognitively oriented approaches have attempted to account for texts’ capability to direct readerly attention and elicit interpretation. With regard to the cognitivist views, my paper takes a critical stance, and argues for a more (con)textually sensitive, semiotically well-rounded alternative.
Samuli Björninen is a doctoral student in literary studies at the University of Tampere, Finland. He teaches on American literature, narrative theory, and approaches to the reader, reading and readership. He is working on a Doctoral Thesis titled Poetics at the Interface: Stories of Theories Reading Thomas Pynchon. He has also translated Pynchon’s essay “Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?” into Finnish.
Gilles Chamerois (University of Brest) – A Book in “Black-face type”: faces in Gravity’s Rainbow
I intend to begin with a very general statement: in Pynchon’s novels, characters’ faces are for the most part completely indeterminate, and yet faces are a privileged way to address some of the major themes in each novel, in the form for example of Zoyd’s reflection on likeness in Vineland, of the tension between the pseudo-science of physiognomy and the culture of sensibility in Mason & Dixon, or of Dally’s posing for the Angel of Death’s statue in Against the Day. There are more than 500 occurrences of the word “face” in Gravity’s Rainbow, an impressively high number when compared to the average novel, and some particularities of these hundreds of faces are worth dwelling upon. They are exemplary of Pynchon’s exacting contract with his readers, offering an interface and a surface for projections but refusing any representational space for them to stabilize in. The first point is that faces, including those of the major characters, are extremely seldom described, and the very few counterexamples stand out all the more and merit further scrutiny. Secondly, nondescript faces become a blank stage for the war between light and shadow that rages throughout the novel. If faces in Mason & Dixon take on extremely various hues of red, from “roseate” to “vermillion,” in Gravity’s Rainbow they are predominantly black and white, starting with the “half-silvered images” of the faces in the opening scene, and then on in all shades from “whiter than whitewash” to the “blackface” camouflage. Finally, particularly remarkable and memorable are the faces which repeatedly turn in the characters’ direction, in our direction, just about to reveal themselves, too terrible to behold. These faces annunciate the “Face That Is No Face,” the face even Hitler, whose only known self-portrait is three-quarter back, was apparently unable to gaze at.
Gilles Chamerois is an associate professor at the University of Brest, France. He edited or co-edited two collections of essays and wrote several articles on Thomas Pynchon, ranging from anachronistic references to modern-day science in the eighteenth century of Mason & Dixon to the figure of Nikola Tesla in Against the Day. He also wrote articles and co-wrote two books on film and adaptation. A list of recent publications can be found here.
Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd (University of Poitiers) – “Dreams that Could Never Again be Entirely Safe” – re-reading The Secret Integration
This paper will start with a close reading of a key scene early in the story (pp. 146-148, Vintage 2000), a confrontation between mother and son which foreshadows subsequent developments. This scene will be echoed at the end by the kids’ brutal realization that they and their families are part of a violent world from which there is no escape. In-between these two eye-opening experiences, the story expands into the realm of the imaginary – while maintaining the violence of experience at its core, with the McAfee episode.
A study of the narrative structure of the whole story will highlight its sophistication: the text is far from being “randomly assembled,” as Pynchon writes in his introduction to Slow Learner. Time, place and point of view are rigorously patterned into a concentric scheme, with at its core a concentration of voices. We’ll see how space and time distinctions lose definition in a narrative dominated by the complex interweaving of several sources of discourse – “all these voices bouncing off the invisible dome in the sky” – those “Greyhound voices” mentioned in the Introduction forming a counterpoint to the domestic, more grounded voices of the local and familiar.
Finally, a parallel between the story’s structure and what could be seen as forming an arch-structure to Pynchon’s whole oeuvre will be attempted: a parent/child dynamic motif, starting with the duo formed by Tim and his mother in “The Secret Integration,” and returning, only with a twist, in Bleeding Edge with Maxine, Otis and Ziggy. Like other Pynchon novels (Vineland, Mason & Dixon, Against the Day), Bleeding Edge ends with a perspective on family and a return homeward; has this perspective evolved since the “dreams that could never again be entirely safe” of Pynchon’s early story?
Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd is associate professor at the University of Poitiers, France, where she teaches American literature and literary translation. She has published mostly on contemporary fiction, notably on Thomas Pynchon and Fanny Howe (with a focus on the interplay of poetic schemes and narrative), and translated Walker Percy and Claude Lévi-Strauss. She is co-editor, with Gilles Chamerois, of Thomas Pynchon, Montpellier : Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée (Profils américains), 2014.
Matthew Cissell (Pais Vasco University) – The Pynman’s Wood-be-Nemesis: James Wood on Thomas Pynchon
As Pynchon the author has shifted into the 21st century with three new novels and the study of his work has done the same, the scholars of Pynchon’s work face a bit of a conundrum. Given that so many authors and critics have cited him as a leading U.S. author, how is that one of the most prominent critical voices today, James Wood, can consistently attack and berate Pynchon’s work? How are scholars of Pynchon to make sense of this without falling into partisan polemics regarding taste?
The critical exegesis behind this investigation is quite simply how to square the rise and success of James Wood as Uber-critic with his complete rejection of what many would call one of the most significant living literary voices. By drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and others this paper will look at the recent past of the literary field and how the trajectories of the author and critic have intersected resulting in the critic’s antagonistic stance. This will involve the study of Wood’s various positions in the specific cultural field of reviewers and critics. However, this paper not only looks at Wood’s history but also studies how Pynchon’s recent trajectory through the cultural field shows an increase of his value in terms of cultural capital. The investigation examines Wood’s charge that Pynchon is an author of “juvenile vaudeville”, and to what point in fact Pynchon’s work has come to occupy an important cultural position in the contemporary world.
Matthew Cissell lives in Bilbao, Spain where he teaches English and works on his PhD from the University of the Basque Country. Originally from the U.S.A., he is a native of Illinois where he achieved his BA in English at Southern Illinois University. His PhD project studies Thomas Pynchon and his writing through an approach that draws on the work of Pierre Bourdieu.
Daniela Daniele (University of Udine) – Pynchon and DeLillo: Euphoria and Disphoria of the Persisting Sixties
The rebellious energy of the Sixties, the redefinition of the novel as a confluence of composite discoursive practices and counternarratives, the poetics of waste and the need to tell the secret American history are all features that Thomas Pynchon shares with Don DeLillo. They started their career by publishing stories at the same time and in the same journal (Epoch), but their paths progressively diverged in tone since the latter seems disphorically engaged in the exploration of entropy in prose poetic forms while Pynchon hilariously develops the mesh of the psychedelic extravaganza of his youth, delving in what is left of its colorful subculture and “inherent vices.” As much as DeLillo pensively turns optical in his diegetic visualizations of art and performance, Pynchon euphorically insists on the soundscape and random textures of his Mexican youth, letting its rhythms and unspeakable practices lead his current post-Surrealist excursions. If the starting point still remains the aesthetics of the Sixties, the use they make of it is as specular and dialectical as the opposition between street/hothouse and Profane/ Stencil in V.. As DeLillo recently revived Antonioni’s critique of consumption to explore the excruciating mannerism of Paolo Sorrentino’s Roman beauty, Pynchon obstinately performs his jazzy variations on a marcescent but not moribund counterculture, starting from the “infinite jest” of pop and pulp trivia never seriously threatened by the impending exhaustion and surveillance which haunt his current narrative flow.
In Athens, I would like to discuss the diverging perception of the Sixties of these two Postmodern writers, preferably in relation to their prophetic visions of the South and of the frontier states, in both Europe and the Americas.
Daniela Daniele currently teaches Anglo-American Literature at the University of Udine. She published Città senza mappa: paesaggi urbani e racconto postmoderno in America (Dell’Orso, 1994); The Woman of the Crowd: Urban Displacement and Failed Encounters in Surrealist and Postmodern Writing (Rodopi, 2000); the collection of interviews with American writers Scrittori e finzioni d’America: Incontri e cronache (1989-1999) (Bollati Boringhieri, 2000). She also edited a literary anthology in the aftermath of September 11th, Undici settembre. Contro-narrazioni americane (Einaudi, 2003); a special issue of Nuova Corrente (Tilgher, 2005) on Don DeLillo and the American section of the Garzantina della letteratura (Garzanti, 2007).
Martin Paul Eve (Birkbeck, University of London) – Heidi’s Years of Travel and Learning: Late Pynchon’s Academics
Towards the end of Thomas Pynchon’s most recent novel, Bleeding Edge , the reader is introduced to the academic research of Heidi, a character who is working on an article for the “Journal of Memespace Cartography” (334-5). Clearly supposed to be humorous, the passage ridicules the academic debates over irony and sincerity that have raged in recent years as a result of David Foster Wallace’s well-known essay, “E Unibus Pluram”, a piece that itself targets Pynchon.
Despite its parodic nature, however, this passage is symptomatic of a broader trend in Pynchon’s later writing: direct engagement with and representation of academic communities. Indeed, Bleeding Edge parodies Lacan throughout (2, 245) and mocks the academic who uses the terms “post-postmodern” and “neo-Brechtian subversion of the diegesis” (9). Likewise, Pynchon’s preceding novel, Inherent Vice , connected the supposedly innocent academics working on the ARPAnet to the sinister histories of the ICBM traced in his earlier work, Gravity’s Rainbow .
This paper, focusing primarily upon Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge, will examine the ways in which Pynchon’s later novels attempt to interpellate their academic readers through various forms of parody. Arguing that this is, in some ways, a continuation of a strategy that Pynchon has deployed since his earliest work (as noted by Mark McGurl in his seminal book, The Program Era), this paper will conclude that the author’s later uses of this technique are more overtly didactic and political than in his early novels and more explicitly connected to specific moments of American catastrophe.
Dr. Martin Paul Eve is a Senior Lecturer in Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London. He is the author of two books: Pynchon and Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Foucault and Adorno (Palgrave, 2014) and Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Martin is also the founding and chief editor of the open-access journal, Orbit: Writing Around Pynchon.
Abeer Fahim (American University of Sharjah) – Rethinking Surrealism: Visual Alchemy in Against the Day
Focusing on Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day (2007), this paper will examine the relationship between optical technology and alchemy in the novel. The paper will argue that we need to rethink the use of surrealism in Against the Day: it is more than simply an artistic movement mirrored in the imagery; it more importantly exemplifies an interdisciplinarity that is essential to understanding Pynchon’s perspective on technology. For Pynchon, technology is always on the boundary of the past and the present, the rational and the ‘magical’. Drawing upon Andre Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto,” and Katharine Conley’s analysis of Robert Desnos’s surrealism in “everyday life,” the paper will argue that Pynchon highlights the relationship between what Breton refers to as the surrealist ‘derangement of the senses’ and the fluid, irrational transformation of the alchemical process to show the inextricable connection between ancient science and modern technology. The paper will focus on examples such as the “blurry confusion” and “serpentine hypnosis” the Chums of Chance experience when they attempt to view an image through the camera lucida and the connection between shadows, light, and the fluctuating image of the “Angel of Death.” The purpose of these examples is to show that in every moment where dream-like states or the seemingly irrational converges with the ‘real’ or the rational, there is always an equivalent intersection of the past, the present, and the future. These overlaps are represented in the various techniques that produce these particular images; the changing image of the Angel of Death could be likened to an eighteenth-century show of phantasmagorias or a present cutting-edge technique of digital art. It is this ambiguity that is essential to understanding the relationship between the converging boundaries that constitute technology in Pynchon’s work.
Abeer Fahim is an Assistant Professor at the American University of Sharjah. She did a PhD on technology and embodiment in the fiction of Thomas Pynhon and Don DeLillo. She recently presented a paper at Oxford University on medicine in DeLillo’s fiction at the Phenomenology and Health symposium. She is interested in this interdisciplinary approach to literature. She participated in the Dartmouth Futures of American Studies Institute last summer. She has an article forthcoming on embodiment in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick.
Marie Franco (Ohio State University) – Gross Perversions: Reinterpreting Female Sexual Agency and Pynchon’s Poetics in Gravity’s Rainbow.
Through a queer reading of sadomasochism in Gravity’s Rainbow, I challenge the dominant critical understanding of Thomas Pynchon as a hetero-masculinist author and return attention to one of his most misunderstood characters: Margherita Erdmann. Though not entirely ignored by Pynchon critics, Margherita has been consistently maligned by a conservative sexual attitude that attributes her sadomasochistic desires to either male pornographic fantasies or patriarchal conditioning. Despite the rise of sex-positive feminisms and queer theory, Margherita’s pathologization continues, even by Pynchon experts like Luc Herman and Steven Weisenburger who insist that Margherita’s masochism results either from her movie roles or that such roles facilitate her “long-held paraphilias. Either way, she exists beyond repair” (Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom 121). In complicating previous Pynchon scholarship on sexuality, which is largely limited to thematic analyses of male practices, this project asserts the centrality of both female agency and sadomasochism to the narrative structure of Gravity’s Rainbow.
Reframing Gravity’s Rainbow as a queer-postmodernist text reveals that sadomasochism literalizes postmodernist narrative strategies. This argument builds upon Brian McHale’s theory of postmodernist poetics and Lee Edelman’s theorization of queer negativity to demonstrate how the underlying queerness of Gravity’s Rainbow both reflects and effects the narrative’s ontological instability and frustrated telos. Like Pynchon’s postmodernist poetics, which are driven by the ontological slippage between Eros and Thanatos, Margherita embodies the Eros/Thanatos dialectic through her s/m practice, a practice that literally makes her whip-marked body a text to be read and deciphered. Her narration of sadomasochistic fantasies grants Margherita a textual authority that’s denied other sadomasochists in the text.
This focus on Margherita’s atypical relation to s/m practice and narrative intervenes in Pynchon scholarship that often elides female agency and reads Margherita solely as a sexual object—a trend that replicates the very patriarchal objectification of women such readings nominally critique. However, a queer methodology reveals how sadomasochism and, by extension, Margherita—at once a practitioner of s/m, an author of queer narratives, and an embodiment of a queer-postmodernist text within a text—is the point on which much of the narrative hinges.
Marie Franco is pursuing her PhD in English at the Ohio State University, where she has earned a Graduate Interdisciplinary Specialization in Sexuality Studies. Her primary research interests are post-1945 American fiction and queer theory, with a focus on representations of stigmatized sexual practice. Marie Franco graduated with an MA in English from Georgetown University in 2013.
Joanna Freer (University of Sussex) – Mason & Dixon and American Indians: Challenging Misconceptions of Native Culture
Native Americans are the poorest ethnic group in the United States today, with around a quarter of the total population living below the poverty line. On reservations, where some vestiges of a traditional way of life can be preserved, the situation is particularly dire, with extremely high rates of unemployment, alcoholism and suicide compared to national averages. The situation is compounded by wilful blindness to discrimination and injustice, both past and present, relating to the native population. Pynchon’s experimental fiction combines formal innovations with surreal and satirical narrative commentary to criticise social oppression and promote fresh and inquiring attitudes towards both America’s past and its actuality. In Mason & Dixon (1997), references to a host of Native American contexts have been critically overlooked, their presence subtle yet pervasive throughout the tale of the astronomer and surveyor’s expedition to draw a line of latitude across the settled Eastern territories and the lawless frontier lands.
This paper examines how Mason & Dixon’s social-anarchist poetics work to destabilise common colonial metanarratives, stimulate readers’ curiosity and provide fresh perspectives on the historical realities of Native American tribal lifestyles and their conflicts with European settlers. Pynchon rejects the conventional, the coherent and the unitary in both the literary form he adopts and his manner of recounting history, his novel a work of historical metafiction which contains political commentaries operating via parodies of traditional means of narrating Native American behaviour such as the captivity narrative, multiple references to left-field theories regarding the origins and predecessors of indigenous tribes, and myriad descriptions of traditional native beliefs and practices which can be both surprising and technologically impressive. In this way, Pynchon helps in the process of undermining the stale and inaccurate perceptions of indigenous peoples which legitimise their continuing treatment as second-class citizens.
Joanna Freer is a Tutor at the University of Sussex. She has published articles, a book chapter and a number of reviews in the field of modern and contemporary American literature. A monograph based on her doctoral thesis, Thomas Pynchon and American Counterculture, has been published this year by Cambridge University Press.
Sebastian Huber (LMU Munich) – Pynchon’s Climate
This paper argues that Pynchon’s 2006 novel Against the Day is a climate fiction. By this, I want to differentiate Pynchon’s novel from the recent arguments for a genre dubbed ‘cli-fi’ by elucidating how Pynchon crafts a more reflected and historically informed vision of so-called climate fiction. I argue that just as Against the Day isn’t about a narrow conception of terrorism (as many post-9/11 critics would have liked it to be) so it isn’t about climate change (as some ecocritics would like literature to be). Nevertheless, it is my contention that Against the Day, in a similar fashion as in its historical recourse to the origins of American terrorism in the context of anarchist resistance, also historicizes the advent of the awareness of the existence of the climate.
The most obvious reference to this are the Chums of Chance with their skyship referring to the first climate measurements of the 19th century and the apex of Léon-Phillipe Teisserenc de Bort’s weather balloons at the turn of the century. However, Pynchon’s historical approach obviously does not merely reflect on the past without considering the importance of this retrospective glance for the present: the Inconvenience might thus well be a Pynchonesque nod to the popular documentary that aired in the same year as the novel was published and which broached the ‘truth’ of global warming to a wider public (also note that Paul Crutzen received the Nobel Prize in the same year). I thus seek to place Pynchon’s novel in the growing (and changing) field of ecocriticism that goes beyond a naïve, conservatory relation to ‘nature’.
From a historical perspective, Against the Day’s emphasis on the Northern regions as well as its mentioning of the Time Traveller Convention may thus be read as an allusion to contemporary Polar Conferences that established a growing scientific awareness of and interest in the climate. By considering McHale’s reflections on Against the Day’s broaching of genre conventions, I seek to situate Against the Day’s reflections on the climate in a historical literary discourse that was greatly concerned about ideas of the cooling and warming of the planet. Late 19th century cultural fears about the planet’s entropic cooling, as manifested in such works as H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and which occasioned a desire to hide underneath the ground might thus shed new light on the idea of the Hollow Earth that has been much discussed in Pynchon criticism.
Additionally, the novel also gives the climate a particularly literary form. This implies that, on the one hand, the novel’s timescale coincides with the climatological measurement of 30-year intervals. On the other hand, the novel’s often noted ‘globality’ also has to be viewed in terms of a planetary awareness of the anthropocene.
Sebastian Huber holds a joint PhD degree from LMU, Munich and the University of Alberta. He has published internationally on Alain Badiou, Mark Z. Danielewski, Thomas Pynchon, and David Simon.
Kostas Kaltsas (Independent Scholar) – Of ‘Maidens’ and Towers: Oedipa Maas, Maxine Tarnow, and the Possibility of Resistance
A common observation in appraisals of Thomas Pynchon’s eighth novel, Bleeding Edge, was to note its more than passing resemblance to his second novel, The Crying of Lot 49, in terms of their both borrowing heavily from the tropes of noir fiction, and especially in terms of their respective protagonists – Maxine Tarnow and Oedipa Maas. It is true that there are significant similarities between the two heroines: both function as detectives of sorts, attempting to unravel conspiracies that will forever remain just beyond their understanding, both abandon their husbands (in the case of Maxine, before the novel opens) and claim a new lover whom (in true homme fatale fashion) they find irresistible despite strongly suspecting him of being bad news, both attempt to navigate the complex technological networks that surround them in a doomed quest for answers. However, in this paper I argue that it is their differences that are the true source of continuity between the two novels, and that reveal BE to be a kind of update and extension of Lot 49: a realization of the earlier novel’s vision of a fully networked world, and an examination of the consequences of this fact on the ability to maintain pockets of resistance.
While throughout Lot 49 Oedipa rejects the conventional social roles she is expected to fulfil, the novel’s end famously leaves her at an impasse, unable to replace these roles with any kind of meaningful existential interiority or to discover a way to resist the world she has come to be half-aware of. Maxine is not only older than Oedipa, and the quasi-divorced mother of two boys· she is also a willing and active investigator where Oedipa is an unwilling and frequently passive one. In some ways, she appears to embody a more successful version of the ‘androgyne’ hero that Cathy Davidson has argued Oedipa represents. While also failing to make sense of the conspiracy she has pursued, she recovers, in her role as mother and spouse (not ‘wife’), a sense of hope in the possibility of perseverance, if not resistance, that is denied Oedipa. And yet, crucially, this does not seem a mere retreat to the personal, but a genuine politics that, I would argue, is prefigured in Oedipa’s one attempt at resistance in Lot 49 – her night-time meeting with the old sailor in the streets of San Francisco.
Kostas Kaltsas holds a B.Sc. in Molecular Biology, an M.Sc. in Molecular Pathology and Toxicology, and an M.Phil. in Biological Oceanography. He works as a freelance literary translator. His essays and reviews have appeared in various Greek literary magazines, and he is a regular contributor to The Zone, a Greek e-journal dedicated to the work of Thomas Pynchon. His main research interests are US and British postmodern fiction and he is currently researching heteroglossia in the early works of David Foster Wallace, as well as the influence of William T. Vollmann’s work on the political vision of Infinite Jest.
David Kipen (UCLA) – Quotha!: Quoting Pynchon, and Pynchon’s Quotations
I propose to present a paper called “Quotha!: Quoting Pynchon, and Pynchon’s Quotations.” Much of my work has concerned not just Thomas Pynchon but the theory and practice of quotation.
To elaborate, I intend to explore the ways in which Pynchon is quoted — quotes in reviews, his Bartlett’s entry from Gravity’s Rainbow, his sentence from Mason & Dixon used as the epigraph in a Susan Straight novel — and also the way Pynchon quotes others. For example, only two permissions are invoked on the copyright page of Gravity’s Rainbow, one from Rilke and one from Emily Dickinson. Pynchon has quoted freely from all manner of sources throughout his career. Where and why?
This topic opens up wider areas of inquiry: How do quotes become quotations? Where ought a quotation to start and stop? And what are the ramifications of such questions for the ways we digest literature within other literature?
Particular attention will be paid to LA quotations in all the novels, not just the California trilogy. Also, identification will be made of the dictionary Pynchon likely used to write Gravity’s Rainbow.
David Kipen is a lecturer at UCLA, former NEA Director of Literature and book critic for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1998 to 2005. He is the founder of the Libros Schmibros Lending Library, creator of KPCC’s “Reading by Moonlight,” and book critic for Los Angeles Magazine.
Giorgos Kyriazis – Greek translator of Pynchon – Pynchon-Induced Headache: The Challenges of Translating the Work of Thomas Pynchon
This paper/speech will highlight practical problems usually associated with translating from one language to another, but with special focus (with examples) on the particular traits of Pynchon’s use of language.
The main reason why Pynchon is thought of as difficult and obscure is the way he structures his sentences: usually long-winded and fractured, they can be quite an obstacle, since a translator must first understand exactly what is going on, overcoming any ambiguities and dismissing any possible variations in meaning, and then must find a way to shape in each case an equally long-winded sentence without violating the syntactic rules of the target language.
Pynchon’s dialogue usually adopts an elliptical, vernacular style, similar to dialogue found in old movies or TV shows. In order to discern meaning and style, the translator often has to recite the dialogue out loud. And then comes the not-so-easy part of finding corresponding turns of phrase in the target language.
c) Puns and allusions
Pynchon loves puns; that much is certain. The problem is that puns are often untranslatable, so the translator has to employ all the reserves of his imagination in order to create a new pun in the target language that would make some sense similar to the original. In some cases, though, that’s not even possible. As to allusions, even though they sometimes are lost to readers, especially non-English-speaking ones, they must nevertheless be thoroughly researched by the translator.
d) Finally, there is a further crucial problem in translating the works of Thomas Pynchon that only emerges when the target language uses a non-Latin alphabet, as is the case with Greek. In this situation, the translator is burdened with the additional task of finding out the correct pronunciation for hundreds of names of people, places, brands and items (or even words of other languages that use the Latin alphabet incorporated into the original text), and then transliterate them into the alphabet of the target language.
Giorgos Kyriazis was born in 1969. He studied English Literature at the University of Athens, Classical Singing and Byzantine Music. He has been working as a translator since 1989 and as a singer since 1992. His translations into Greek include Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Mason & Dixon, Against the Day, Inherent Vice, and Bleeding Edge. He has also translated numerous novels, articles, essays, short stories and poems. In 2010 he was presented with an award by the (now defunct) European Translation Centre – Literature and Human Sciences (EKEMEL) for his translation of Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day.
LeAnn Larré (Enseirb Matmeca) and Jeffrey Swartwood (Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau) – Mapping Memory: The Streetscapes of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice
In The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland, Thomas Pynchon locates the narrative in fictional California locations. In Inherent Vice, Pynchon returns to California but to the markedly non-fictional city of Los Angeles. Consequently, his approach, although still enigmatic and stylized, has gained a veneer of historical and geographical veracity. The constructed LA of Pynchon’s narrative becomes a hybrid space of cultural memory revealing how history is memorialized through the medium of geography. In this paper, the authors intend to show how the geography in Inherent Vice reveals that artistic representations can be understood as prosthetic reconstructions which serve as replacements for actual history and become the constructions that are cultural memory.
In the case of LA streetscapes, specifically, cultural memory emerges from the repetition of images in multiple medias creating a collective, social “reality” of landmarks that are shared and recognized, even by people who have never stepped foot in the city. In a cyclical fashion, the development of the actual city is then influenced by narratives about it. The cityscape that Pynchon selectively recreates is thus a mosaic of physical features in various declinations of representational reality, drawing both upon the physical site with its socio-implicational organization and the perceived site, which is the multi-layered construct stemming from successive representations. The reader navigates both of these landscapes, simultaneously drawing upon and participating in the process of creating cultural memory.
Finally, the film version of Inherent Vice will be released in December adding an additional representational layer to the LA composite mediated through the artistic choices of Pynchon and Paul Thomas Anderson (screenwriter and director) and offering yet another iteration of cultural memory construction.
LeAnn Stevens-Larré received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Oklahoma in 2010 and currently teaches English at the engineering school École Nationale Supérieure d’Électronique, Informatique et Radiocommunications in Bordeaux, France. Her research focuses on archival theory in relation to postmodern novels and the power relations created through archives and memorials. She has published articles on Thomas Pynchon and Toni Morrison as well as an article on the role of the archive in creating the historical narrative of the American colonization of the Cherokees.She has recently begun focusing her research on the archival nature of the streetscapes in the novels of Thomas Pynchon.
Living in France since 2000, Jeffrey Swartwood’s teaching and research focus on contemporary American civilization – especially in the area of Southwest border studies. Favoring a multi-disciplinary approach, his work notably examines the complex social constructs within California culture and their representation in literature and film. Other research interests include literary translation, especially the translation of interlingual or regional texts. Having completed his undergraduate studies at UCSD, and subsequently his Master and PhD at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne, he is currently an Assistant Professor at the Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau and member of the research group CLIMAS.
Heidi Lavine (Westminster College) – Beyond Monuments and History: Model as Memory in Against the Day
In his, 1989 essay, “Beyond Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire, Pierre Nora famously limns the French state’s tortured relationship with memory and history, observing, “[a]t the heart of history is a critical discourse that is antithetical to spontaneous memory. History is perpetually suspicious of memory, and its true mission is to suppress and destroy it” (9). For Nora, memory is contestable and dynamic, while history is fixed and static, like the statues, monuments, archives and dictionaries that represent it in the spatial realm. His claim is that these fixed, tangible monuments—both texts and tombstones— paradoxically fight against memory by trying to pin down and reduce something fundamentally defined by complexity and changeability. Yet it is precisely in this slippage between the elusiveness of memory and monuments’ fictitious claims to have captured its essence that Nora suggests we can see the neuroses underlying any attempt at national self-definition. Statues and monuments, like those in France’s Pantheon, that pretend to encapsulate and preserve national identity, actually show that “[w]e buttress our identities upon such bastions, but if what they defended were not threatened, there would be no need to build them” (12).
In this paper, I examine a few of Pynchon’s plentiful references to memorializing monuments in Against the Day, and suggest that, like Pierre Nora, Pynchon draws our attention to the complex realities effaced by supposed repositories of cultural memory. In one passage, for example, Dahlia Rideout poses as a model for a tombstone sculptor who is attempting to break with tradition by representing the Angel of Death not as a hooded, faceless ghoul, but as the fresh-faced girl next door. Dally, however, imagines an even greater subversion: she plans to infuse her face with the Angel’s complex backstory, motivations, yearnings, and frailties. She seeks, in short, to force the sculptor to represent the dynamic intricacies that fixed, static monuments typically efface. Dally’s inspiration for this attempt, is her memory of an earlier modeling job, in which she posed for a statue of “The Spirit of Bimetallism,” lodged “in one of the capitalist temples” of New York (895). Dally mourns the fact that her own lived reality and those of the other models are as unrepresented by the cold stone as is the complex reality of “Supply, Demand, Surplus Value” and the other watchwords that capitalism has a vested interest in both honoring and obfuscating (895). Ultimately, this paper argues that Dahlia’s transgressive modeling—and the narrative that describes it–offer artistic alternatives to the memorials that, for Nora and Pynchon, bear witness to cultural rejections of the past, to a secret preference for novelty over tradition.
Heidi LaVine is an Assistant Professor of English at Westminster College (Fulton, MO), where she specializes in twentieth-century postcolonial literature and theory, with a focus on Caribbean literature. Her recent research and scholarly work examines Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean literary responses to nationalism through novels, literary journals, and radio programs.
David Letzler (City University of New York) – The Weather Does in Fact Change: What Pynchon Got Wrong About Entropy
Pynchonists have never quite known what do to about the author’s self-deprecating introduction to Slow Learner. In particular, given how the Pyndustry has long touted his literary treatment of entropy, we have not known what to make of his insistence on “the shallowness of [his] understanding” (13) of that idea. Most have simply tossed this off as a mere “rhetorical ploy” toward his readers and critics (Cowart 26), believing that his story “Entropy” displays “a comprehensive knowledge of the concept of entropy in both its thermodynamic and informational variety” (Freese 411). Yet the introduction is right: the young Pynchon appears misguided in his metaphorical application of entropy. By delving into the annals of early information theory (especially the work of Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener), this talk will explain and trace the roots of Pynchon’s apparent confusion over entropy-linked concepts like redundancy and noise, especially as they arise in his story’s description of weather and its informational analysis of the statement “I love you.”
However, Pynchon’s very confusion about the nature of entropy is what makes the story so aesthetically interesting. In its inability to resolve the tension between entropy’s semantic connections to both chaos and homogeneity—and, in particular, its apparent ambivalence over which of the two diametrically-opposed apartments is the more prone to increased entropy—“Entropy” gets at basic inconsistencies in the ways we conceive sameness and difference, whether they be exemplified by the self-contradictory nature of Callisto’s cosmopolitanism or Mulligan’s sudden terror in encountering the Duke di Angelis quartet. This paper, then, will argue that “Entropy”’s inability to metaphorically conceive entropy is precisely what best highlights the communicational problems its characters face.
Dr. David Letzler is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queens College-CUNY. The talk he is about to deliver is part of an essay appearing in this spring’s issue of Contemporary Literature, and his other work on Pynchon has appeared in Twentieth-Century Literature, The Writing Disorder, and Orbit. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, you will be able to read even more of his thoughts on Pynchon in his full-length study on mega-novels, The Cruft of Fiction.
Xavier Marcó del Point (Royal Holloway, University of London) – From N.A.D.A. to Infinity: A Case Study of Wendell ‘Mucho’ Maas
This paper constitutes an exploration of the role of Wendell ‘Mucho’ Maas, perhaps the most critically neglected character in Thomas Pynchon’s most over-examined novel, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966). Traditionally regarded by critics as a minor character orbiting the distant margins of his wife’s protagonistic centre, I intend to recuperate Mucho as a crucial counterpoint to the figure of Oedipa. Whilst she craves signs, as evidenced by the text’s tangled investigative threads, ‘Mucho’ is presented to the reader as having an almost pathological fear of signs, both linguistic (‘creampuff’) and literal (‘the creaking metal sign’ that reads N.A.D.A.). Mucho, thus, is the semiophobe to Oedipa’s semiophile. In a narrative dominated by hermeneutics, detection, and the quest for singular meaning, what I propose to examine is their very opposite: the often-overlooked theme of the infinite, as encapsulated in the character of Mucho. Acting as foil to Oedipa, who displays a profoundly short-sighted, microcosmic view throughout the text, Mucho comes to take on a farsightedness so extreme –he is, in more ways than one, ʻfar outʼ– and macrocosmic that we are told he becomes the ʻBrothers Nʼ, the quantity sought in a problem, the unknown in a mathematical riddle. I propose that Muchoʼs suspension of individuality is either the cause or the consequence of his perspective shifting from that of one more item in a mathematical set, to the perspective of the set itself. Reading Muchoʼs perspectival shift in parallel to a mathematical conundrum posited in Georgi Evgen’evich Shilov’s 1965 Mathematical Analysis: A Special Course (a possible source for the designation ‘Brothers N’), I intend to examine the implications of Pynchonʼs specifically mathematical treatment of the theme of the infinite. Whilst Oedipa represents close reading and precise textual analysis, Mucho stands as an unlikely advocate of plurality, multiplicity, and an holistic view of the world, different approaches to the very interpretation of The Crying of Lot 49.
Xavier Marcó del Pont completed his doctoral project on narrative structure in the work of Thomas Pynchon in December 2013 and has taught American literature and critical theory at his alma mater, Royal Holloway, University of London. He has published on Pynchon, American culture, and comics studies, and is currently preparing a research project on the work of Don DeLillo.
Bastien Meresse (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle) – “These Halls of Night that I wish I were not cursed to return, and return” – from the phantasmagoria of progress to the dialectical image in Against the Day
The image of the Iceland spar has prompted critics to comment the narrative strategy of Against the Day as one in which Pynchon devises a “spar-novel” with its string of bilocated identities and events. A recurrence that has received little attention is the eschatological tension that frames the novel, the birefringent properties of which point to a vision of history that can be understood in light of the notion of “eternal return” as exposed by Walter Benjamin’s Das Passagen-Werk.
In his unfinished magnum opus, the German philosopher argues that hell is the condition of 19th-century modernity: as his exploration of Parisian arcades unveils a gallery of subjects akin to the damned of mythology, Benjamin abolishes the idea that the radically new exists as he writes that “everything new [humanity] could hope for turns out to be a reality that has always been present”, thereby implying the subject’s mode of experience is screened by a phantasmagoria of progress that underlies a sense of linear time bearing him forward into the future.
This modern experience of the same will be the premise of this paper, which will ground its critical framework in Benjamin’s writings to delineate Pynchon’s renewed stance on the motif of the catastrophe, which Ryder Thorn wishes he “were not cursed to return, and return.” This paper will examine a vision of history in which the tantalizing eschaton sanctions the phantasmagoria of progress, or rather the “Blessings of Progress” instanced by White City, the urban civilization, the nuclear – bleeding edges before the Bleeding Edge, or iterations of the same “original sin – the repeated failure.” The spar-novel will be understood as what Benjamin calls the dialectical image, which, like Melpòmene’s luminous tree, leads to a complete understanding of history, a political awakening that may interrupt the fall that has always been.
Bastien Meresse is a professeur agrégé who teaches both in high school and in the Department of English at the University of Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle. His research ranges from surveillance societies to the legacy of the Puritan habitus. He is preparing a PhD on discipline and punishment in Pynchon’s work after 1990.
Nina Muždeka (University of Novi Sad) – Serbian translator of Pynchon – Interpreting Pynchon as a Postmodernist: Attaining Meaning in Translation
Thomas Pynchon is often classified as a postmodernist author, whose works, like the sum of those analyzed within the theoretical framework of the given poetics, make any search for literary meaning a multifaceted and vexing business. This quest for meaning becomes even more significant when trying to translate an author’s works into another language, which makes the humble figure of translator responsible not only for meagre words and sentences, but for a complex image of a writer build in another language and another culture as well. This presentation will attempt to answer, from a translator’s and an academic’s point of view, the usefulness of the classification of the author and his works into a particular theoretical framework and its implications for the process of translating. Using the experience of translating V, Inherent Vice and Gravity’s Rainbow, the presenter will try to illustrate her own wading through the turbulent waters of postmodernist parody, intertextuality, the mixing of genres, and general questioning of both the form and the contents of a novel, in an attempt to attain meaning in translation.
Dr Nina Muždeka is an assistant professor at English Department at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Novi Sad, where she teaches courses on Anglophone literatures and cultures. Her areas of interest include contemporary literatures in English with special focus on postmodern theory, theory of genre and translation theory. She is the author of papers and articles on contemporary British and American fiction, published in Australia, USA, Finland, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Montenegro and Serbia. Dr Nina Muždeka is the Serbian translator of the works of Thomas Pynchon, and she has also translated the works of other contemporary American and British authors, such as Julian Barnes, Zadie Smith, Marilynne Robinson, and Dan Brown. Dr Nina Muždeka is the author of the monograph on the issue of genre in Julian Barnes’s novels (2006) and is currently preparing a monograph on magical realism in the novels of Angela Carter.
Thoren Opitz (LMU Munich) – Dueling Ends – Gun Violence and Narrative Closure in Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge
While in Against the Day, the proposed duel between Günther and Kit still resolves itself with a mathematical discussion (605), the potentially violent set-ups at the respective ends of Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge do not glide off into the comic realm. Eerily similar to the conclusion of Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Cosmopolis, Pynchon’s two most recent, and arguably most readable, detective novels, seem to come down to one simplistic formula: two people and a gun. As Doc Sportello shoots to kill and Maxine Tarnow fends off her opponent at gunpoint without firing, these scenes finish a climatic plot development that Pynchon’s has thus far avoided. Being one gun short of matching the classic duel format of the Western movies that are often referenced in his novels, an almost primordial constellation that figures so prominently in the American imagination of heroics, these narrative strands point to a dominant discourse within the Gunfighter Nation, as Richard Slotkin describes the US in the last book of his epic frontier trilogy. Resolving the ultimate conflict with the help of firearms, that is concluding a postmodern novel with a catharsis, might seem counterintuitive to the usual countercultural counter narratives associated with postmodernism. Yet these disturbing, dueling solutions deserve a closer comparative (re-)reading, also in the light of The Crying of Lot 49 often being labeled an anti-detective novel for its lack of closure. Within the context of the ongoing debates on gun violence and gun control in America, I would like to investigate how Pynchon’s new narrative ends position themselves along these larger societal discourses, and how these formulaic finishing moves create a new perspective onto prior scattered, or loose ends.
Thoren Opitz is a doctoral candidate at LMU Munich. He is a fellow of the DFG Research Training Group Globalization and Literature, and is writing his thesis about self-fashioning and global markets in American poetry, from Walt Whitman to Rap. He has taught and studied American Literature in Munich, Orléans and Detroit, and was a student volunteer at the 2008 IPW in Munich.
Frank Palmeri (University of Miami) – Labor, History and Utopia in News from Nowhere and Against the Day
Both William Morris in News from Nowhere (1890) and Thomas Pynchon in Against the Day (2006) seek to respond adequately, morally to what Pynchon repeatedly calls in his novel an “imbalance” in the structure of the world, a state of affairs that is “wrong in so many ways.” Both works revolve around intensely imagined scenes of labor troubles and violence. In Pynchon’s case, this pattern culminates in the attack on and burning of the tent village of striking coal miners in Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914; in Morris’s work, a historian of the future recounts the way that a civil war leading to socialism was triggered by an attack on demonstrators in Trafalgar Square very similar to that on Bloody Sunday, November 13, 1887. Both Morris and Pynchon imagine utopian alternatives to the world in which, as Morris says, “the idle class is rich and the working class is poor, and the rich are rich because they rob the poor.” Utopian visions proliferate in Pynchon’s novel, but one of the most prominent is the Anarchist spa at Yz-les-Bains in southern France; in Morris’s work, the utopia is of course the future socialist society of Nowhere. Although one is anarchist and the other socialist, both consist of small rural communities where wages and government have been superseded, where people work for each other, doing the little that common sense says needs to be done—playfully in Yz-les-Bains, artistically in Nowhere. In both, the contract of marriage has been relaxed, replaced by more flexible and sometimes polyvalent bonds of affection. The protagonists in each work must leave the utopias they visit, but, as Yashmeen Halfcourt indicates as she leaves Yz, these are non-places to which history may return in the future: “What are any of these ‘utopian dreams’ of ours but defective forms of time-travel?” Elements of the utopias of More, Bacon, and Condorcet were realized, and the same may be true of the socialist and anarchist utopias of Morris and Pynchon.
Frank Palmeri is Professor of English at the University of Miami and the author of _Satire in Narrative: Petronius, Swft, Gibbon, Melville, Pynchon_; _Satire, History, Novel: Narrative Forms 1660-1815_; and several essays on Thomas Pynchon_. His most recent book, _State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Thought_, is forthcoming.
Sascha Pöhlmann (LMU Munich) – Talking Around Orbit
Sascha will speak about the online journal ‘Orbit: Writing Around Pynchon,’ founded in 2012, of which he is a co-editor. He will give an overview of its open-access policies and talk about the editorial guidelines for prospective authors who consider publishing their work in ‘Orbit.’
Sascha Pöhlmann is associate professor of American Literary History at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, Germany. His “Pynchon’s Postnational Imagination” was published with Universitätsverlag Winter (Heidelberg) in 2010. He organized International Pynchon Week 2008 in Munich, and he has edited and published its proceedings as “Against the Grain: Reading Pynchon’s Counternarratives” (Rodopi, 2010). In addition to reviews and introductory texts on Pynchon, he wrote essays on Pynchon and early Wittgenstein and on Pynchon’s games.
Terry Reilly (University of Alaska Fairbanks) – “There is a Hand to turn the time”: Rethinking the Bakhtinian Chronotope in Pynchon’s Works
In “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,” Bakhtin notes that the term chronotope “is employed in mathematics, and was introduced as part of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity” (84). Conventional agreement on what exactly constitutes the Bakhtinian chronotope has produced a model that has frequently been used, and perhaps overused, as an analytic tool in discussions of Pynchon’s works. In his often quoted essay “Mason & Dixon in the Zone, or, A Brief Poetics of Pynchon-Space,” for example, Brian McHale asserts, “Pynchon’s historiographic metafiction postmodernizes the historical characters to the extent that this ostensibly eighteenth-century historical novel becomes—in the Jamesonian sense—a spatially dominant postmodern “road novel,” one whose chronotope is that of the “open road” (46). The meaning of “chronotope” that McHale presumes (and the one traditionally echoed by commentators ranging from educational theorists to linguistic anthropologists) is linear—it gets us from A to B according to the conventional model of irreversible time (past, present and future) that lies at the heart of Einstein’s theory. The problem when analyzing much of Pynchon’s oeuvre using this traditional understanding of the Bakhtinian chronotope is simply that Pynchon’s writing often doesn’t work that way. Instead, time often moves backward, sideways, stands still, or does even weirder things—think about that “Beyond the Zero” stuff in Gravity’s Rainbow, or those eleven missing days in Mason & Dixon, the Thanatoids in Vineland, or bilocation in Against the Day.
This essay will reinterpret the concept of chronotope in Pynchon’s works—aka the Pynchonian chronotope– according to the quaternion system developed by William Rowan Hamilton in 1843. Quaternions are an interpretive mathematical system which—unlike Einstein’s system– allows for the reversibility of time and bilocation. Although Quaternionism was all but displaced by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in most fields early in the twentieth century, it continues to be applicable in fields such as computer graphics, robotics, bioinformatics, computer simulations, orbital mechanics, and game theory and construction. And, I would add, as a structural paradigm or chronotopic construction in much of Pynchon’s work.
Terry Reilly is a Professor of English at the University of Alaska. In addition to several articles on Pynchon’s works, he has also published on Shakespeare, Lyly, Conrad, Doris Lessing, T.E. Lawrence, Joyce, Goethe, and Early Modern English law.
Joel Roberts (University of Brighton) – Abandoning the Freeway in The Crying of Lot 49
In The Crying of Lot 49, the freeway is a central component of Oedipa’s ‘quest’, as it takes her to San Narciso, is the place where she begins metaphorising the Tristero, and provides the space in which she attempts to suicidally end her frustrated pursuit. However, the importance of the freeway is yet to be thoroughly explored in Pynchon criticism. This paper argues that when Lot 49‘s context of the racial politics of 1960s America, as well as government policy on freeway construction is taken into account, the freeway can be understood as a tool of white supremacy. Textually and contextually bound up with the development of the military-industrial complex, the freeway is utilised to clear away what were deemed to be the ‘slums’ of black migration (Mohl 2002, p. 29). This is evidenced in Lot 49 through the dispersal of African-American service workers across the Californian state.
This paper further argues that Oedipa has an encounter with alterity when she abandons the supremacy of the freeway, and decides instead to drift on foot across San Francisco. It is during this time that she meets the dying, alcoholic sailor, whose loneliness she experiences as an absolute and unknowable Otherness. This paper will explore the possibilities and limitations of this experience within the novella’s broader social context, seeking to question who is allowed to be Other within this encounter. This paper will also explore the possibilities and limitations that are suggested for modes of reading by Oedipa’s failed quest. Arguing that this failure points toward contextualisation, this paper will question which contexts are included in this mode, which contexts exceed it, and how these contexts might nonetheless be obliquely signalled by the novella.
Joel Roberts is a PhD student at the University of Brighton. His research is into the impact of urban development on the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace.
Umberto Rossi (Independent Scholar) – Doper’s Cadenza, or Pynchon’s Vineland as a (mis)Reading of Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly
This presentation will discuss the complex intertextual relations among Philip K. Dick’s 1977 science-fiction novel A Scanner Darkly and two of the novels in Pynchon’s California Trilogy, Vineland (1991) and Inherent Vice (2009). Both these novels focus on the times of the West Coast counterculture: Vineland looks back at the Sixties from the middle of the Reaganite Eighties (the story being set in the ominous year 1984), while Inherent Vice, being set in the aftermath of the Bel Air massacre and the other misdeeds of Charles Manson’s Family, focuses on the moment when the utopian dreams of the Summer of Love were going sour.
Dick’s A Scanner Darkly can thus be considered as a forerunner of Pynchon’s Californian novels, as it depicts the daily life of a group of survivors of the Summer of Love (that has definitely gone sour in the near future of repression and urban decadence he imagined in his novel), all of them addicts to Substance D, an imaginary (and lethal) drug, in Southern California. Its protagonist, Bob Arctor, is at the same time a doper and an undercover narcotics agent, called Fred.
Drugs play a key role in all these novels; so do informants. One might mention the characters of Frenesi Gates and Coy Harlingen, which occupy that “middle space” in which Bob Arctor, the doper/nark of A Scanner Darkly must live, and ultimately die; but other characters, including Shasta Fay Hepworth and “Doc” Sportello in IV , can be placed in the middle space between the “straight” world and the alternative pocket world of hippies/dopers.
Moreover, both Dick’s and Pynchon’s California are characterized by the pervasive presence of the Tube and its virtual reality (whose relation with the “real” world, in such ontologically uncertain spaces as those projected by these three novels, is of course not one of simple representation). The TV imagination and the looming menace of total control by means of CCTV surveillance are a strong element in A Scanner Darkly, in which the house of the dopers, monitored 24h by a system of scanners, foreshadows the “glass apartment” of the TV show The Big Brother ; echoes of this post-Orwellian nightmare can be found in Vineland (the ambiguous role of cameras plus the Tubal village of the Thanatoids); while IV (also in its cinematic adaptation) focuses on the invasive TV law & order imagery through the character of “Bigfoot” Bjornsen.
It may then be that a comparative approach to these “strange bedfellows” can help us to put the two novels of Pynchon’s Californa Trilogy (hopefully the third too) in a different perspective, opening new interpretive inroads in these narratives.
Umberto Rossi is an independent scholar, literary critic and translator who has published an introduction to war literature, Il secolo di fuoco (Bulzoni 2008), and The Twisted Worlds of Philip K. Dick (McFarland 2011) and several academic articles on contemporary English and Italian writers, including Thomas Pynchon. He is a member of AISNA and the SFRA.
Andrew Rowcroft (University of Lincoln) – Pynchon the Post-Marxist
Pynchon’s fictions have always proved a direct challenge to the Marxist tradition. In Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon appears openly hostile to the discourse, calling Marx ‘that sly old racist […] trying to make believe it’s nothing but Cheap Labor and Overseas Markets’.
Indeed, Pynchon’s writing has helped to ‘problematize […] the entire notion of historical knowledge’ through vast and complex fictional meditations on the philosophy of history (Hutcheon 1988). As critics such as Elias (2011) and Berressem (2011) have noted, Pynchon seemingly reads teleological and determinist readings of history as a movement towards standardization, a position that ultimately allows ‘History [to be] hir’d, or coerc’d, only in Interests that must ever prove base.’ (M&D).
This paper introduces the theoretical discourse of post-Marxism to Pynchon studies. While Marxism has been largely unable to accommodate the polyphonic nature of Pynchon’s historical novels – his interest in pursuing an ethical imperative that seeks to move beyond the framing logic of teleology (Elias, 2011) – I want to claim that post-Marxism, with its attendance to radical social justice through contingency, pluralism, scepticism and difference, offers a more productive framework for reading Pynchon’s work.
The paper is split into two sections. The first offers a brief historical account of post-Marxism that maps its social, political and cultural context alongside Pynchon’s Against the Day (2006) and Bleeding Edge (2013). Using Laclau & Mouffe’s (in)famous Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), the paper seeks to raise a number of conceptual questions: how can Pynchon be regarded as post-Marxist, how should we specify the criteria for post-Marxism, and how do we delineate a seemingly contradictory theoretical position? To this end, I propose Pynchon allows a new understanding of post-Marxism that can productively be applied to cultural studies.
Andrew Rowcroft is a PhD student in English Literature at the University of Lincoln, a part-time lecturer, and the convenor for the Marx Research Seminar, an interdisciplinary group of staff and students engaged in reading Marx’sCapital. His thesis is on post-Marxism and selected Anglo-American fiction.
Michel Ryckx (Data Warehouse Analyst) – Indexing Pynchon’s Works: An Attempt
Several printed indexes for Pynchon’s works are available since Pynchon Notes issue 36-39, 1995-1996. An Index for Mason & Dixon was presented during International Pynchon Week in Malta (2004), but has never been published; Patrick Hurley’s Pynchon Character Names is a dictionary containing information on all persons mentioned in all Pynchon works up to and including Against the Day. Matt McLaurine’s concordances for characters in Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day have been available online for more than five years.
Apart from indices there are the Companions -first in print (Weisenburger, Grant), and as of 2006, online (Ware et alii). The purpose of a Companion, however, is to offer information which is encyclopedic in nature, and, as such, is not (cannot readily be) used for indexing purposes.
A comparison of the published indices shows that, while there are common denominators -listing characters, background figures, historical persons, and, not surprisingly, acronyms- the criteria that have been used for inclusion differ widely: monickers are sometimes included in a lemma, sometimes indexed separately; foreign words can be included or not; linguistical particularities are rarely indexed, etc. Finally, cross-referencing within one index is impossible, and cross-referencing among Thomas Pynchon’s workd is currently out of reach (the lemma “Bodine” is indexed for each work where the character appears).
Maybe there are ways to overcome some of the current deficiencies when using a relational database. I propose a model which is based on the following ideas:
1. An entry or lemma is tied to a page within a section (where a section is tied to a chapter and a chapter to a part of a work). As sections (and higher levels) remain identical over different editions and languages, this allows for an index containing multiple editions and languages.
2. Each lemma is qualified as being a member of several collections (in this model 2 ); lemmata can thus be grouped in several ways; the indexer, however, has to be very careful to avoid “clutter” through the use of vague or irrelevant collections.
3. The occurrence of a lemma is registered with its formatting -the formatting itself causes a lemma to be included.
4. The criteria for including a lemma are identical over all works.
5. A lemma can have one or more relations to other lemmata and as such is indexed separately. This allows for cross-referencing.
6. The concordance of a lemma not only consists of all of a lemma’s occurrences; it has to include variations in formatting and its relation, and give access to all the members of the same collections.
The model can be easily demonstrated during the presentation: database table set up, inclusion criteria, adding and retrieving information, modification of a lemma’s quality, cross-referencing, and finally, the complete overview of several lemmata, including its secondary bibliographical information.
M. Ryckx is a data warehouse analyst living and working in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. This indexing project is part of a larger attempt to create a database driven system on Thomas Pynchon’s works at http://www.vheissu.net.
Eric Sandberg (University of Oulu) – Terminal Edges: Thomas Pynchon’s Endings
Thomas Pynchon’s novels are exercises in literary transgression, pushing relentlessly towards boundaries, obsessively studying, retracing and rewriting these demarcations and separations, and then propelling themselves beyond into uncharted, unstructured, and unmapped spaces, into transcendences of the cultural, the social, the linguistic, the epistemological, the ontological, the ethical. This boundary-crossing, this drive towards the transcendent not-place and no-time within which borders cannot be is arguably the goal of much of Pynchon’s fiction. It can be, and has been, interpreted in many ways, but one of the most satisfactory of these, and one that seems clearer with each new addition to the canon, is the simple acknowledgment of love as the only means to, and the true expression of, a momentary overcoming of the fallen world-as-it-is.
There is one place in particular at which all books inevitably face an impermeable boundary, an edge that can be neither avoided or ignored: their endings, the terminal wounds that confront every work of fiction with the void of non-being. In this paper, I argue that it is precisely at this ultimate edge, and along it, that Pynchon’s novels most clearly and insistently articulate their transcendences of love. This textual node of resistance occurs repeatedly in Pynchon’s novels, from the imperilled need to “touch the person next to you” at the conclusion of Gravity’s Rainbow, to Doc Sportello’s fogbound “temporary commune” at the end of Inherent Vice, to, most recently and (as Michael Chabon has argued, perhaps most pathetically) Maxine Tarnow’s reluctant release of her children into the unknown and unknowable menaces of the world in Bleeding Edge. By turning our attention to these terminal edges, and the ways Pynchon faces them, we can gain a clearer understanding of one of his main themes as it operates in relation to an inexorable formal boundary.
Eric Sandberg is a University Lecturer in the department of English Philology at the University of Oulu, where he teaches literature. His research centers on twentieth and twenty-first century British and American literature, with a particular focus on modernism, genre fiction, and the contemporary novel. He has published on topics ranging from Virgil’s Aeneid to China Miéville’s The City & The City to Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road, and his monograph Virginia Woolf: Experiments in Character was published in 2014.
Michael Sanders (Washington University in St Louis) – Virtue Metaethics and the Pynchonian Feminine: Countersystem and Counter-self in The Crying of Lot 49 and Bleeding Edge
I take Pynchon to be up to something interesting and distinct when he features female protagonists. The Crying of Lot 49 and Bleeding Edge, then, can be seen to exhibit—both from one to the other and within themselves—a twofold motion: Oedipa and Maxine seek 1) an epistemological grounding while also seeking 2) an ethical grounding from which to proceed within those epistemological parameters. While Lot 49 focuses more on the epistemological, a picture of Oedipa at the beginning versus at the end of the novel does show emergent ethical possibilities. Concordantly, Bleeding Edge focuses less on the various levels of epistemological ordering and more on the ethical deliberations of Maxine, much in the same mode as Vineland. I begin by highlighting critical allies in the project of outlining a Pynchonian ethics—Madsen’s reading of “Earth’s mindbody” as possible postmodern allegorical “pretext,” Chambers’ reading of a lament for the death of matriarchal culture alongside Caputo’s “Gelassenheit,” Eddins’ Orphic Naturalism and Chetwynd’s recent analysis of obligation. In the context of these two novels, I then sift through these critics’ work, contextualizing it within the Western analytic tradition of ethical theory, while also linking them with what seems to be Pynchon’s ethical framework of choice—Buddhism. What emerges is a primarily Virtue Ethicist account, attenuated by tendencies toward duty (prima facie and deontological), and with tepid hopes for a Rawlsian Contractarianism. Close readings of Oedipa Maas as Om, in a situation analogous to The Tibetan Book of the Dead’s consciousness-principle, and Maxine Tarnow, as MT or “empty” in a Soto Japanese Buddhist state of shikantaza, offer our lenses through which we arrive at a coherent, female-protagonistic ethic. I conclude by pointing to how Vineland fits our thesis and asking what our reading might add more broadly to Pynchon’s postmodern/post-postmodern canonical status.
Michael Sanders is a Ph.D. candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. His work seeks to explore the ethical and broadly philosophical ideas at play in the American post-war encyclopedic novel.
Daan Schneider (Amsterdam University College) – “A Real Alternative to the Exitlessness”: Heterotopic Spaces in Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge and The Crying of Lot 49
This paper uses Foucault’s concept of heterotopia to explore the spatial dynamics in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Bleeding Edge. In particular, the focus lies on the incommensurable character of the ‘underground’ spaces in both novels: the ‘other’ America Oedipa Maas discovers in The Crying of Lot 49, and the Deep Web in Bleeding Edge. These spaces are defined by their scattered, heterogeneous, and seemingly unproductive nature which allows an unmarketable diversity of existences to thrive. By using Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia, which he defines as a fundamentally ‘other’ space capable of contesting and subverting the dominant ordering of a society, it becomes possible to see how these heterotopic spaces in both Pynchon’s texts form a kind of resistance against the capitalist ideal of efficient communication and optimized consumerism. This approach builds on the existing view that Pynchon’s work often comments on the mechanics of oppressive political practices and their subversion by marginal subcultures. However, this article attempts to show that this resistance of marginal groups against capitalism’s coercive forces is inextricably bound up with notions of space. First, it evaluates the use of the concept of heterotopia for ‘mapping’ spaces of literature by exploring Foucault’s own use of the term in relation to Luis Borges’s fiction. Secondly, it attempts to describe the subversive function of heterotopic spaces in both The Crying of Lot 49 and Bleeding Edge through looking closely at the protagonists’ transgressions of different ‘worlds’ within these texts. As such, this article makes a claim for the utility of the concept of heterotopia in providing an opening for reading the spatial complexity and political dynamics in Pynchon’s work.
Daan Schneider (1993), born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, is a Literature and Philosophy graduate of Amsterdam University College. In China, he studied at Fudan University, and did research at Jiao Tong University’s Centre for Life Writing Studies, contributing to a project entitled Compilation and Research of Overseas Life Writing on Modern Chinese People. He wrote his Bachelor thesis on heterotopias in Pynchon, and will pursue a master’s degree at Cambridge University next year.
Jeff Severs (University of British Columbia) – Pynchon Under Contract: The Legacy of His Book Deals in a Neoliberal America
“I got a contract!” Hector was screaming as they loaded him into the Tubaldetox paddywagon [. . .]
While so much of Pynchon’s biography remains obscure, we have enough good information now to know that his corpus since the mid-1960s has been rather significantly shaped by machinations over his authorial contracts and options with publishers. In a revelatory 2013 piece, Boris Kachka details Pynchon’s effort to break his option on a second book with Lippincott with “quickie potboiler” The Crying of Lot 49 (letters at the Ransom Center confirm his hatred of Lippincott); his desire to depart Viking and give his then girlfriend (now wife) Melanie Jackson her first sale with Slow Learner; and the two novels a post-Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon was contracted for in the 1970s, promised a million-dollar advance. These would become Mason & Dixon (published in 1997 by Henry Holt) and what Kachka calls “a never-written novel about an insurance adjuster flown in to Japan to assess the damage done by Godzilla” – but, as Edward Mendelson once speculated, the Chipco disaster in Vineland seems to salvage some of this material.
My paper focuses on the traces of contract language and logic in the two books under the million-dollar deal with Viking that was eventually terminated. I suggest that the burdens Pynchon saw in authorial contracts – whether because they obligated him to options with a publisher or led to anxiety over huge projects long in research and composition – produce in subsequent works metafictional analyses of contractualized and commercialized artists and larger meditations on the role of contracts under neoliberalism, including what Andrew Hoberek has recently characterized as the attenuated discourse of the social contract in American life. My points of focus include, in Vineland, recording and film contracts and the resurrection of Mucho Maas as a producer asked to sign a no-drugs agreement in blood, in my view a metafictional nod to the contract background of Lot 49. In Mason & Dixon, I focus on the title surveyors as agents of contract and show Pynchon portraying early America as an ownership society obsessed with the particulars of contracts (or Contracts, since the word is almost always capitalized). A final point of interest, if there is time in the paper’s coda, is Pynchon’s other main biographical relationship to contracts: defense-contracting. In sum, the contract emerges in Pynchon’s later work in particular as a malign form of alleged reciprocity influenced by the writer’s personal history of artistic commerce and a larger story of capitalist abstraction under neoliberalism.
Jeffrey Severs is assistant professor of English at the University of British Columbia. He co-edited (with Christopher Leise) Pynchon’s Against the Day: A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide (Delaware, 2011), and an article based on his last IPW talk, “‘A City of the Future’:Gravity’s Rainbow and the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair,” is forthcoming in Twentieth-Century Literature. In 2014 he spoke on a roundtable on Bleeding Edge at MLA, and his other work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Critique, and Studies in American Fiction. His book project is titled “David Foster Wallace’s Balancing Books: Fictions of Value.”
Paolo Simonetti (Sapienza University of Rome) – Peacock Tails and Spouter Whales: Is Thomas Pynchon really Herman Melville?
“Dream tonight of peacock tails / Diamond fields and spouter whales:” these are the first lines of a poem/nursery rhyme which appears in the ninth chapter of Pynchon’s V. (1963); the poem’s first line is also one of the many ideas Pynchon submitted to his editor for the title of the novel, probably because it sums up the multifaceted aspects of the elusive V., adding an oneiric dimension to the emptiness and violence of the historical world depicted in the novel.
However, if you google the poem’s first lines, you will find an astonishing number of websites attributing the poem to… Herman Melville! Taking the cue from this curious – and rather naïve – misattribution, my paper aims at investigating the suggestions derived from reading Pynchon’s works and career “in Melville’s shadow.” Actually, both writers share more than the spouter whales of the poem: biographical details, thematic issues, metaphysical reflections, and the path of their poetical development being only some of their common features.
Pushing the comparison further on, we could say that both writers changed the course of American literature, literally breaking the traditional rules of fiction-writing and shocking the public with their own original vision of art and the artist’s persona. Finally, a Melvillean reading of Pynchon (as well as a Pynchonian reading of Melville) will hopefully shed new light on the legacy of a great American classic in the postmodernist era, establishing an ideal continuity between past and present, tradition and innovation.
Paolo Simonetti holds a Ph.D. in Literature in English, and he is currently Research Fellow at “Sapienza” University of Rome. His research areas include literary theory, historical fiction, postwar and contemporary American literature, including comics and graphic novels. He is the author of Paranoia Blues, a monograph on postmodernist American fiction, and has published extensively on Melville, Hawthorne, Nabokov, Pynchon, Auster, and DeLillo, among others. He is currently editing a collection of essays on Thomas Pynchon to be published in 2015, and the complete works by Bernard Malamud in two volumes for “I Meridiani” Mondadori.
Justin St Clair (University of South Alabama) – The Inherent Vice Soundtrack
Inherent Vice (2009) is set in a pivotal, interstitial moment: it’s “the tail end of the psychedelic 60s” (as the jacket copy would have it), and the Manson murders, which hang behind the action like a pall, seem to have brought the decade’s countercultural promise to its terminus. Pynchon is often interested in moments such as these, where a window of historical opportunity seems, irrevocably, to be closing. “Only now and then,” the narrator reminds us, “you get an unplanned glimpse at the other side”—a fictional peek at the future through the closing window, what will be palimpsestically etched over what might have been (176). Much, for example, has been made of ARPAnet’s inclusion in Inherent Vice, a glimpse of our digital future set atop a transitional mediascape that might have developed differently.
In this paper, I will use another such moment as my point of departure. Midway through the novel, Doc rolls past a record store, “where each of a long row of audition booths inside had its own lighted window facing the street. In every window [ . . . ] appeared a hippie freak or small party of hippie freaks, each listening on headphones to a different rock ‘n’ roll album and moving around at a different rhythm” (176). This particular “glimpse at the other side” is, quite simply, a peek at twenty-first-century media fragmentation: instead of people “having the same experience” thanks to musical mass culture, “here, each person [is] listening in solitude, confinement and mutual silence” (176).
Prior to the publication of Inherent Vice, Pynchon released a forty-two item soundtrack on Amazon.com, a compilation of songs that appear in the novel. Pynchon has always incorporated music into his fiction, but this soundtrack is particularly interesting. In this paper, I argue that the musical inclusions in Inherent Vice amount to a complex referential system that is dependent upon mass cultural media distribution; simultaneously, the novel critiques the impending balkanization of American media, offering that the record industry was itself compromised by something of an inherent vice, as attempts to maximize profits through niche marketing and individualization eventually led to media fragmentation and the near collapse of physical distribution.
Justin St. Clair is an Associate Professor of English at the University of South Alabama, where he specializes in postmodern and contemporary American fiction with an emphasis on sound culture studies. He is the author of Sound and Aural Media in Postmodern Literature: Novel Listening (Routledge, 2013).
Thaddeus Stoklasa (Illinois State University) – Ruins of Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Bleeding Edge as the End of the Beginning of Cyberpunk
In the 1991 collection Storming the Reality Studio, Larry McCaffery framed cyberpunk as “a synthesis of [science-fiction] with postmodern aesthetic tendencies and thematic impulses” (11). In particular, McCaffery pointed out that the writers who established the cyberpunk style were also the first generation who read Thomas Pynchon as teenagers. Pynchonian paranoia and pop-culture playfulness is part of the DNA of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk grandmaster William Gibson himself, in an interview with McCaffery, named Pynchon as a personal favorite writer and central artistic influence: “In many ways I see him as almost the start of a certain mutant breed of SF—the cyberpunk thing, the SF that mixes surrealism and pop culture imagery with esoteric historical and scientific information” (272). And yet, as influential as Pynchon was on the inception of cyberpunk, no avowedly cyberpunk work has ever truly reached the level of Pynchon’s artistry. But who better to reach Pynchonian heights than Pynchon himself? Enter Bleeding Edge.
In this paper, I will examine how Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge grows from and comments upon the cyberpunk tradition typified by the early works of William Gibson, Neuromancer in particular. The first section will focus on the cyberpunk techno-ethos and how Bleeding Edge creates a cycle of use and re-use out of what Gibson envisioned as a much simpler “damn-the-Man” techno-anarchy. The second explores the various cyberpunk works referenced throughout Bleeding Edge, and how their use evokes and reconstructs the mythology of the genre. The third and fourth sections both examine how virtual spaces are constructed and used by Gibson and Pynchon, and how Pynchon has developed tropes from the earliest cyberpunk stories into much more nuanced commentaries on the contemporary interplay between people and technology.
Thaddeus Stoklasa is a PhD student at Illinois State University. His focus is fiction writing, with side orders of postmodern literature/theory, cyborg/posthuman theory, and digital narratives/identity.
Gary Thompson (Saginaw Valley State University) – Evocative Objects in Thomas Pynchon’s Fiction
Sherry Turkle’s 2007 collection of essays, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, posits a connection between material things which address their users in very specific emotional and intellectual ways, thereby evoking a complex of responses which are shared through their narratives. Pynchon’s work is rich in such objects rendered in fictional form: Profane’s encounter with SHROUD, Rachel’s affection for her MG, Oedipa’s accumulation of Tristero-related texts, Slothrop’s harmonica (not to mention the Rocket), Mason & Dixon’s Learned English Dog, and many others unnecessary to catalog. These objects are ordinary, but defamiliarized, intermediate between the self and the outside—liminal.
The concept of evocative objects tracks closely with Freud’s concept of the uncanny, “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar”—though Freud focuses on feelings of dread rather than the possibility of a positive emotional connection. More positive connections may derive from fetishism, a term arising from Europeans’ misapprehension of African religious objects. There has been some work connecting Pynchon’s fiction to the uncanny (e.g., Sorfa on 49), but not so closely tied to the role of material objects, and not examining the potential in positive connections—heimlich as well as unheimlich.
A further dimension to be explored in a coda might be the text of the novel itself as an evocative object. Several novels, particularly GR, open out onto the reader through framing and through direct address, in ways which can evoke the uncanny. Objects can be interfaces not only under conscious control and use, but also accessible to the unconscious fears and dreads each of us carries around and mostly represses, and these moments in Pynchon’s fiction are themselves evocative as a means of reaching out to readers.
Gary Thompson graduated from Rice University in Houston in 1979 and since then has been faculty (department chair since 2012) at Saginaw Valley State Univ. in Michigan. He has presented at IPW in 2003, 2010, and 2013, along with work on Pynchon in edited collections by Niran Abbas, Thomas Schaub, and Zofia Kolbuszebska.
George Twigg (University of Exeter) – “Raketemenschen, burning out their fuse out there, alone”: Ethnic Identity and the (Zone-)Herero in Gravity’s Rainbow and V.
In Gravity’s Rainbow, while the once-central Slothrop seemingly ebbs out of existence, hitherto marginalised figures travel from the novel’s edges to fill the gaps. This paper will consider the Schwarzkommando as an example of this movement, and in particular will examine their grappling with their hybrid ethnic identity. This identity finds an aptly hybrid assertion in the form of the ‘worship’ of the 00001 rocket, but this paper will critique previous readings of Gravity’s Rainbow that find hope in this act.
Thanks to the legacy of German colonialism (as seen in V.), the Schwarzkommando are caught in one of Pynchon’s characteristic ‘excluded middles’. Wrenched from their home, the Zone-Herero’s irrevocable Europeanization and their absorption into mechanised military production are, paradoxically, seen as necessary for their resistance to German imperialism. And yet, while Pynchon suggests efficacious resistance through anti-colonial hybridity, and movement from edge to centre, such resistance can only be attenuated.
A close reading of the 00001 rocket will show it to be an imperfect vehicle for the assertion of an ethnic identity that the Zone-Herero cannot even agree on: it is made from discarded German parts and is inferior in technology (and symbolism) to its German equivalent thanks to a military-industrial conspiracy whose workings the Schwarzkommando cannot access because of their ongoing political preterition. Additionally, the mythology built up around the 00000 is such that the piecemeal construction of the Herero 00001 appears a compromise of the search for the true Rocket. Despite its suggestion of resistance to colonial power, Gravity’s Rainbow ultimately shows that the assertion of ethnic identity by means of an ambiguous symbol such as the Rocket is futile: as V. demonstrates, colonialism has already mutilated the Herero ethnic identity, and the 00001 is unable to revive it, or produce an affirmative hybrid ‘new ethnicity’.
George Twigg did his BA in English and his MA in Twentieth-Century Literary Studies at Durham University, and is now in his third year of a PhD at the University of Exeter. His thesis focuses on Salman Rushdie, biopower and biopolitics, spatiality in literature, international geopolitics, and the interrelation of national and regional government. His other research interests include postcolonial literary theory, contemporary South Asian fiction, the literature of the South Asian diaspora, Thomas Pynchon, authorial self-insertion, and modern philosophical approaches to professional wrestling.