Thomas Pynchon: The Art of Allusion

Thomas Pynchon: The Art of Allusion

Thomas Pynchon: The Art of Allusion

Thomas Pynchon: The Art of Allusion

Synopsis

This fresh examination of Pynchon's use of painting, film, music, and literature shows that his true art lies in humanistic allusions that stress the possibility of spiritually separating oneself from the modern wasteland.

Cowart disagrees with critics who see Pynchon as a scientist writing about entropy, although Pynchon does illustrate the nihilistic world for which he is famous in allusions to painting and film, both of which mask a Void. But more important, these allusions call into question what is real and what is not. Through musical and literary allusions Pynchon suggests the speculative world, the world of unrealized possibility. Music hints at the dimensions of experience people miss because of the narrow range of experiences to which they are attuned. Literary allusions support and extend the almost mystical sense created by musical allusions, thus suggesting that in Pynchon's view, human consciousness need not be trapped by entropic drift.

Excerpt

Thomas Pynchon impresses his readers as that rarity, the literary artist undaunted by science and technology. While many twentieth- century writers have had to contend with what one observer calls "the proliferation of things" in the modern world -- an enterprise demanding at least some involvement with technology -- few have done so with as much panache as the author of V., the Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity's Rainbow. in this respect Pynchon lies in the apostolic succession from James Joyce, who felt compelled to master in lucid prose not only the process by which thermal energy from the sun, stored for millenia as fossilized vegetable matter, eventually came to heat Leopold Bloom's shaving water, but also the process by which the water itself got from Dublin's reservoir to Bloom's tap. Joyce once described his mania for detail by saying that he had the mind of an assistant greengrocer. With a similarly all-embracing mind, Pynchon joins the staff of Joyce's implied world-grocery, with an even more formidable determination not to leave the higher or more remote shelves uninventoried.

Yet because of the scarcity of the Renaissance intellect in our time, Pynchon's mastery of science and his frequent, casual shifts into its language tend to impress us somewhat disproportionately. Such awe need not dismay, inasmuch as an interest in Pynchon's fiction may seduce readers not scientifically inclined into investigating subjects to which they thought themselves indifferent or hostile -- into discovering, in other words, the contributions to human knowledge of James Clerk-Maxwell, Willard Gibbs, Rudolf Clausius, Hermann Helmholtz, Kekulé von Stradonitz, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg. We must guard, however, against the notion that we can . . .

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