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Thomas Pynchon has so carefully guarded his privacy that relatively little is known for certain about his personal life. He evidently prefers to have readers focus on his fiction rather than on himself. His principled determination to avoid personal publicity has led to his routinely, but inaccurately, being described as a recluse, has sparked some bizarre rumors – that he was J. D. Salinger, or the Unabomber – and has provoked some spiteful and self-serving revelations. After defying the norms of celebrity culture for decades, Pynchon does seem to have let down his guard a bit: In 2004 he mocked his own reputation as a “reclusive author” by voicing a caricature of himself with a brown paper bag over his head in two episodes of The Simpsons, and in 2009 he narrated a promotional video for his novel Inherent Vice.
A famous image from The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) – in which Oedipa Maas compares the concealed communication of a suburban “sprawl of houses” to that of a “printed circuit” board (CL 24) – sets the tone for Thomas Pynchon’s writing on real estate as much as on computing. Both these fields have grown during Pynchon’s writing career; both have come to represent systems of control throughout his writing. In his latest novel, Bleeding Edge (2013), real estate and urban planning along with the integration of computing into personal and relational spaces reappear, two twenty-first-century digital natives (sons of the female protagonist Maxine Tarnow) merging the fields at a deeper level than Oedipa’s superficial pattern recognition had done. In Pynchon’s latest analysis of human agency, both urban planning and IT infrastructure remain central; they become either loci of control, contested spaces, or places of resistance, depending on who builds, buys, uses, or reclaims the city – be it real or virtual.
During the family reunion in Vineland (1990) that resolves the novel’s action, protagonist daughter Prairie Wheeler notes she is “[f]eeling totally familied out” (VL 374). After finishing Pynchon’s novels, especially those after Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), readers, too, could feel totally familied out. The adventures of a variety of families and family-like groups are important in each novel. However, this significance has been overlooked by scholarly readers – understandably, with so much else of academic interest to puzzle out in the books. Pynchon’s “decentered subjectivity,” well described by McHale, has caused readers to attend to unusual, “postmodern” aspects of Pynchon’s fiction at the expense of traditional aspects such as families. Yet the early novels feature children and neglectful parents, and in the novels after Gravity’s Rainbow, families become increasingly central and noticeable. The action from Vineland on often illustrates troubled families remedying their troubles. Families or family-like groups (such as cults) appear in all Pynchon’s main plots, even when family members are conspicuous by various forms of absence. Ongoing thematic concerns of Pynchon’s like alienation, the attraction to death, the perils of science, the power of history, and the limits of knowledge are expressed through parents and children. The following reviews the secondary literature on families in Pynchon, surveys specific instances of families, considers the significance of Pynchon’s families for his vision of American culture, and examines families in relation to pedagogy.
Thomas Pynchon has long had a place in the pantheon of Great American Writers. His status lies in the scope of his work – the number of publications, the prodigious detail and expansiveness of his topics – as well as the sheer quality of his writing, all of which quickly led to comparisons with Herman Melville and James Joyce. His writing is widely taught (as part of required literature survey courses at universities, for example), and remains the subject of many scholarly articles, dissertations, and monographs not just in the United States and other English-speaking countries, as one might expect, but also across Europe and Asia. According to the database of publications compiled on Vheissu.net, more than 400 doctoral dissertations have been accepted and more than 100 monographs and essay collections published on his writing already, mostly in English but also in other languages such as Spanish, Italian, and German, with a handful from publishers in Korea, China, and Japan. However, Pynchon is not just a canonical writer within scholarly research and teaching communities. Because of their scope and imaginative richness, his novels also have great appeal outside academia, and many devoted readers share their interest in his novels on websites dedicated to exploring his work. It is to help all such readers and students that Thomas Pynchon in Context brings together forty-four essays by some of the foremost specialists in the field, providing the most comprehensive resource yet published on the many ways in which his writing engages the wider world.
“Narratology” is a term coined by Tzvetan Todorov for the structuralist brand of narrative theory he and various Parisian colleagues started developing in the mid-1960s. “Classical narratology,” as it has now come to be called, primarily searched for narrative universals, but in the process it also provided critics with a handy toolkit for the study of any literary narrative. Thanks to the work of Gérard Genette, for instance, the concept of “focalization” now helps us to be precise when describing the (possibly varying) perspective on characters and events in a story. More recent work in “postclassical narratology” (a term proposed by David Herman in 1999) tries to overcome the flaws of its predecessor by paying attention “to the historicity and contextuality of modes of narrative representation as well as to its pragmatic function across various media, while research into narrative universals has been extended to cover narrative’s cognitive and epistemological functions.” As a result, the classical toolkit is also under scrutiny, but it does still keep the proliferation of new approaches to narrative together. If, for instance, the notion of the narrator has to be adjusted for the medium of film, that does not mean it simply goes out of the window.
Thomas Pynchon in Context guides students, scholars and other readers through the global scope and prolific imagination of Pynchon's challenging, canonical work, providing the most up-to-date and authoritative scholarly analyses of his writing. This book is divided into three parts. The first, 'Times and Places', sets out the history and geographical contexts both for the setting of Pynchon's novels and his own life. The second, 'Culture, Politics and Society', examines twenty important and recurring themes which most clearly define Pynchon's writing - ranging from ideas in philosophy and the sciences to humor and pop culture. The final part, 'Approaches and Readings', outlines and assesses ways to read and understand Pynchon. Consisting of Forty-four essays written by some of the world's leading scholars, this volume outlines the most important contexts for understanding Pynchon's writing and helps readers interpret and reference his literary work.
The most celebrated American novelist of the past half-century, an indispensable figure of postmodernism worldwide, Thomas Pynchon notoriously challenges his readers. This Companion provides tools for meeting that challenge. Comprehensive, accessible, lively, up-to-date and reliable, it approaches Pynchon's fiction from various angles, calling on the expertise of an international roster of scholars at the cutting edge of Pynchon studies. Part I covers Pynchon's fiction novel-by-novel from the 1960s to the present, including such indisputable classics as The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow. Part II zooms out to give a bird's-eye-view of Pynchon's novelistic practice across his entire career. Part III surveys major topics of Pynchon's fiction: history, politics, alterity ('otherness') and science and technology. Designed for students, scholars and fans alike, the Companion begins with a biography of the elusive author and ends with a coda on how to read Pynchon and a bibliography for further reading.
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