Assertion-through-structure: some formal considerations in the fiction of Thomas Pynchon
Isle, Walter W.
Master of Arts
Pynchon's early fiction establishes the idea of "social thermodynamics"; events in society are subject to impulses of decay parallel to entropy. The human condition is composed of extremes/ the "street" and the "hothouse," i.e., synchronic and diachronic modes of perception; and both for contrasting reasons are inadequate. The second chapter discusses the problem of metaphor and its limitations in dealing with the world. Metaphor for Pynchon in V is a deception; this is contrasted with Emerson's use of metaphor to define human activity. In V., metaphor is the basis of constructing patterns, and patterns ultimately falsify the world they are intended to order. Chapter three discusses "Mondaugen's Story" as a microcosm of V; "Mondaugen's Story" is a parable of Wittgenstein's first proposition; Pynchon's fiction is compared to propositions, since both undergo a projective relation to the world. Both V. and the Tractatus are "hollow" works, denying their own media. Chapter four develops the metaphor of the interface in Gravity's Rainbow; because based on a physical phenomenon, it is an externally observable metaphor, and consequently is not subject to the distrust elicited by Stencil's V-symbols. The novel's interfaces appear first in a psychological context, and then are extended to "different orders of reality." Pynchon, through a process of establishing realistic fictional illusions only to break them, sets up and breaks the interface of his fiction. Chapter five considers an interface of some importance, deferred from chapter four, films film provides a referent inside the novel for the processes of art as they affect the lives and behavior of the characters. By its use of film devices, the novel shapes how we perceive its structure and thus meaning; paradoxically, film is both an expression of communal dreams or fantasies and an individual, one-to-one address. Chapter six develops the concept of the Zone as interface The Zone is the occupied territories after Germany's fall, a system of provisional reality and thus of infinite possibility, and a means of suggesting the need for systems and the difficulty of constructing them. Slothrop's disappearance is one mode of dealing with paranoia and limiting systems. The Zone finally is a metaphor for contingent existence.