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In this second post discussing aspects of David Cowart’s Thomas Pynchon & the Dark Passages of History (2011), specifically his reference to Foucault’s work on genealogy as a way of reading Against the Day (AtD, 2006). I want to explore further what Cowart thinks AtD is ‘about’. In Chapter 7 (‘The Historiographer Historicized: Pynchon and Literary History’), we find, after Mendelson, a reference to ‘Pynchon’s encyclopedism’ (198). Cowart writes of Pynchon’s work generally: ‘Pynchon seduces the reader with the promise of something like the big picture: read this book and you’ll understand the age and its enormities.’ And then, a couple of pages later, this encyclopedism is related to Frye’s work on Menippean satire, ‘characterised, from antiquity into modern times, by its ungainliness, its voluminous, encyclopaedic ambitions, its scatology, its digressiveness, and its descents into the fantastic’ (200). Pynchon is here constructed as a writer whose narrative is discursive, availing itself of no end of connections; yet to suggest the reader might believe they will, or indeed ought to, ‘understand the age and its enormities’ is to invoke a very simplistic view of the transmission of knowledge. It is striking that this (modernist) line of inquiry remains blissfully unaware of Foucaultian genealogy. One might make the point that the perceived encyclopedism of Pynchon and others (as listed) is a way to resist closure (on ‘the labyrinth’ as a possible, Foucaultian, alternative to ‘the encyclopedia’ see Gerhard Hoffman, From Modernism to Postmodernism: Concepts and Strategies of Postmodern American Fiction, 2005: 414ff).

 

To better understand Pynchon’s supposed encyclopedism in relation to Foucaultian genealogy, we might return to the essay quoted at the beginning of Chapter 6 (‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ in The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought, Paul Rabinow ed, 1984). Here, Foucault suggests that genealogy ‘must record the singularity of events outside of any monotonous finality’ (Foucault, 76). This ‘monotonous finality’ would be the closure brought about by generalisation; hence, ‘the singularity of events’ must avoid the predictability that generalisation confers. Later, in deconstructing the quest for origins that conventional history is concerned with, Foucault insists that ‘[g]enealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of a people’ (81). Cowart does not explore these arguments in relation to AtD, even though, in this chapter, he goes on to claim that ‘Pynchon … aspires to the calling of fictive genealogist’ (Dark Passages, 164). Subsequently, there is an apparent confusion of form and content: ‘Against the Day sketches the genealogy of the world conflict that sets its stamp on the twentieth century’ (174), which recalls the suggestion that AtD be grouped with the first three novels in dealing with ‘the unfolding of the twentieth century’ (60). By implication, the novel itself, as written, is somehow separable from ‘the world conflict’ that provides subject matter. This might be what Cowart means by encyclopedism. However, it is not the genealogy that Foucault has outlined.

 

Cowart suggests that AtD belongs to ‘a neo-Continental or global period’ (59); and we might ask if this is an attempt to deconstruct the nation state (as suggested in Sascha Pöhlmann’s ‘Introduction: The Complex Text’ in Against the Grain: Reading Pynchon’s Counternarratives, Pöhlmann ed, 2010). Again, we never really find out, given the treatment of content and form. On 18 there is a reference to the novel’s ‘extraordinary geographical range’ and Pynchon’s ‘global perspective’; and then, on 173, he mentions the way Pynchon chose to introduce his novel (the jacket ‘blurb’ posted on Amazon.com in August 2006, some three months or so before the novel was published). This ‘witty description of the novel’ is used to bear out the view that ‘[t]he past actually mirrors the trajectory of the present’ (emphasis in the original). However, there is no attempt to follow up this particular construct as a way of addressing discourses of globalism, and this is what I would now like to do.

 

In August 2006, reading the Amazon.com blurb with nothing else to go on, it was striking to see how the narrative flowed, as the first paragraph, below, illustrates:

 

Spanning the period between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, Against the Day moves from the labour troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-last-century New York to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska event, Mexico during the revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

 

In a few lines we have chronology (‘the period between …’ etc); specific events (‘the Chicago’s World Fair …’ etc); as well as geographical locations. The listing of signifiers in this way – in itself a very Pynchonian construct – encourages the reader to ask how the narrative will link them.

 

Further, we should read the blurb in tandem with the novel extract published in Penguin’s catalogue (4-5, still available here). One can infer that publication of these two texts (unlike the Guardian’s publication of a version of Chapter 8 in November 2006) were sanctioned by Pynchon as a way of introducing the novel (if the strategy invokes the cinematic trailer, an alternative to the absent film it suggests, one has only to think ahead to the trailer produced, in 2009, for Inherent Vice). The extract is taken from Chapter 25, and features the meeting of Willis Turnstone and Jimmy Drop (309-310). Willis is ‘freshly credentialed from the American School of Osteopathy’ (309) and here confronted by Jimmy ‘in classic throwdown posture’ (310). Most obviously this scene articulates an uneasy relationship between tradition and modernisation, as signified by Willis’ ‘antiquated Colt, in whose use he was far from practiced’ (309). Yet one should also take into account that Willis, as an osteopath, is far from representative of an unproblematic modernisation or Weberian disenchantment (much later in the novel, on 996, he will introduce Frank to Zhao, the acupuncturist). Not least, juxtaposition of these texts draws on a macro-micro spatial metaphor: the blurb constructs a macro level, and begs the question as to how the narrative relationship between ‘events’ and ‘places’ is going to be written, not least with a final comment (‘one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all’) that emphasises the writing of social reality. The Willis/Jimmy extract then offers a micro-level or interactionist alternative, one that, again, draws attention to the contested nature of any knowledge. We shall find this spatial metaphor challenged again and again throughout AtD.

David Cowart’s Thomas Pynchon & the Dark Passages of History (2011, details here) is made up of chapters published at different times, from the late-1970s to one (‘The Historiographer Historicized: Pynchon and Literary History’, 189ff, offered here as a conclusion of sorts) that has also been published, in a shorter version, in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon (Dalsgaard, Herman & McHale eds, 2012). Dark Passages discusses all of Pynchon’s work but I shall confine myself to comments on Against the Day (AtD, 2006).

Chapter 6 (‘Pynchon, Genealogy, History’) begins by emphasising ‘the centrality of historical questions’ to Pynchon’s work (159), and Cowart here brings in Foucault. Indeed, the chapter heading echoes Foucault’s own ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ (in The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought, Paul Rabinow ed, 1984), an essay cited when Cowart refers to Foucault’s use of genealogy as a kind of historiography: ‘gray, meticulous and patiently documentary’ (160). Previously Cowart has focused his attention on the content of Pynchon’s novels, hence the importance accorded German culture in Chapter 3 (57ff). Now, to put it in perhaps simplistic terms, he addresses form to describe the work of genealogy: ‘the genealogist-historian lays bare the play of power that so swiftly seeks to disguise its workings’ (160). Hence, ‘readers who find the overall point of Against the Day elusive’ might still ‘recognise the technique as that of the genealogist’ (160); and then, a few pages on, ‘Pynchon … aspires to the calling of fictive genealogist, the most historically meticulous of storytellers’ (164). But what does this mean? Cowart has already concluded the reference to Foucault’s work by suggesting that Pynchon, the novelist, might be better at ‘imagining a world in which various oppressive forces can be countered, dismantled, resisted’ (161); and one might ask if this is what Pynchon, indeed, is – and always has been – about. Nonetheless, for Cowart, the novelist enjoys a licence denied the historian/genealogist (ie Foucault); and so ‘what hybridizes Pynchon’s work is his contempt for objective distance, his passion for justice-based chronicle’ (165). It is the ‘justice-based chronicle’ – ‘Pynchon insists on writing the history of the marginalized or, as he calls them, the preterite’ – that gives the novelist an advantage here.

With regard to AtD Cowart now goes on to refer to Scarsdale Vibe’s lengthy speech, the ‘orgy of self-congratulation’ (168) that opens Chapter 67 in AtD. He concludes that ‘the author makes his political views clear, but such extravagance is balanced and framed by incremental intimations of other ideas the more powerful for their oblique presentation’ (169). Here we see, juxtaposed, the real beliefs of the text’s author – which pre-exist the text but shape the writing of character (‘Pynchon makes no effort to temper the expression of his disgust’) – and ‘other ideas’, the ‘oblique presentation’ of which will emphasise the role of the canny reader in deciphering the text: one must ‘peel the onion of appearances’ (169). Do these ‘other ideas’ also belong to the author? Presumably so, but Cowart appears to distinguish between the mere content of Vibe’s speech and another kind of expression: the example he gives is AtD’s use of ‘artful indirection’ in the writing of World War I (170), eg Franz Ferdinand’s visit to the United States rather than his assassination (171, followed on 173 by War references that ‘do not gather to a narrative climax’ but ‘fall as solitary pebbles in history’s great, echoing bucket’). Given the way Cowart moves rapidly from Vibe’s speech to a consideration of the writing of War, we might ask if, indeed, we are expected to conclude that ‘artful indirection’ is absent from the passage that features Vibe’s speech.

At the start of Chapter 67 (AtD, 1000-1001) Vibe addresses a like-minded audience (the L.A.H.D.I.D.A.) of rich white men. On 1000 the narrative indicates (‘Scarsdale well into what by now was his customary stem-winder’) that some at least will have heard it all before: hence ‘the expected arm gesture’. The speech is a performance, a rehearsal of agreement; however, on 1001 it ends with Vibe betraying the distance between him and Foley Walker. Vibe speaks generally of those ‘whose future … was always to toil for us’ and then avoids eye-contact with Walker. The latter (‘attentive back in the shadows’) might now be aligned with the ‘observer’ of the opening paragraph on 1000, implicitly an outsider called upon to interpret what he sees, an outsider with whom the reader might be positioned. If we read the speech as no more than the author’s heavy-handed signposting of political views we miss the substance. On these two pages, then, the speech constructs the general while the narrative disrupts that overview with the writing of agency (a feature of the text that I shall discuss in my next post). If nothing else we might also recall the times when AtD offers that kind of political statement, or history lesson, as a speech delivered by a character: as examples, consider the narrative function of speeches by the Cohen (230-231), Ratty (808-809 and 937-938) and Danilo (828).

What Foucault calls effective history ‘deals with events in terms of their most unique characteristics, their most acute manifestations’ (‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,’ 88). One can indeed see here the strategy adopted by AtD, where the content of the Vibe speech (and the others indicated above) is challenged in the writing; and one would have liked more than the brief references to Foucault that do appear in Dark Passages (Foucault does not feature at all in Chapter 5, ‘The Luddite Vision: Mason & Dixon’, originally published in 1999; and should also be considered influential in the writing of Vineland and Slow Learner).

Which is not to say that Pynchon has been directly influenced; it would matter little if he announced he had never heard of Foucault, let alone read his work. Concluding his discussion of V, Cowart offers Pynchon as ‘one of [the] most important harbingers’ of  Said’s postcolonialism and White’s postmodern historiography (56), intellectual developments he associates with the 1970s, although that should not lead us to suppose that Said and White have been directly influenced by their reading of Pynchon. Elsewhere, Cowart relates Pynchon’s work to the history of criticism, specifically Watt (23) and Frye (200) in the 1950s; and White is also discussed in relation to Frye (45). In such passages Dark Passages starts to outline the manner in which the Pynchon-text emerged (and has continued to re-emerge). However, given the genesis of the book over more than 30 years, it is not surprising that there are two brief references to Shawn Smith’s Pynchon and History: Metahistorical Rhetoric and Postmodern Narrative Form in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon (2005); and no references to Amy J Elias’ description of a metahistorical romance in Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction (2001), even though Cowart does mention the challenge postmodernism poses to historical fiction (161-162, with implicitly a reference to the effective history outlined by Foucault).

I shall speculate a little more on the way Pynchon has used the tourism trope to organise the narrative of Against the Day.

In ‘Plots, Pilgrimage and the Politics of Genre in Against the Day’ (in Pynchon’s Against the Day: A Corrupt Pilgrim’s Guide, 2011) Amy J Elias develops her reading of metahistorical romance in Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction (2001). The metahistorical romance renders representation problematic, asking how we know what we know; the pilgrimage offers a narrative towards a goal that can never be reached, one always elsewhere, precisely because we can take no reading for granted. In my last post the historical sublime was related specifically to the representation of war. However, in Chapter 40 (AtD: 568ff), Dally has just arrived at Venice and the historical sublime is expressed as a function of tourism: ‘that irregular seethe of history reduced to a few simple ideas’ (574). Later, with reference to Venetian history, Hunter speaks of ‘a hundred forms of bourgeois literalism, leading to its ultimate embodiment, the tourist’ (579).

On 568, as Dally arrives in Venice, the narrative describes her reaction to a tourist speaking ‘in a vilely mucous specimen of British Accent’ (568). An outsider herself, Dally wishes to distance herself from

… this pest and his replicas in their thousands, they were like the gnats who rose in clouds here at nightfall, their purpose to infest the Venetian summer, to enhance its splendour with earthly annoyance, to pass quickly as they must, driven off, forgotten. (568)

One might see the ‘effusive companion’ here as doubling Dally for, immediately preceding this passage, we have read her own reaction to ‘the pure Venetian evening …’ etc, explicitly a representation: the scene given as ‘the blue-green shadows, the lavenders, ultramarines, siennas and umbers of the sky’ might be recalled later when we find Hunter ‘work[ing] at getting Venice “down”, as he put it’ (575). However, on 568, both passages have emphasised the failure of representation, by drawing attention to the sound of the tourist’s voice and the sight that has so affected Dally, one that has been put into words we are not given access to. Subsequently, on 575, a reference to the Chums again emphasises representation with ‘stories about [the Campanile’s] fall had multiplied’ and ‘reports of an encounter in the sky’. Certainly the reader should remember the event from earlier in the novel; but the account offered here by ‘[s]treet urchins and lucciole’ reminds us that this is Dally’s highly subjective reading, one dependent on her own response to Venice. Put simply, she has no access to the reader’s recollection of 255-257.

In her discussion of quest, picaresque and pilgrimage, Elias emphasises the importance of movement in Against the Day and notes that ‘the system of pilgrimage complexly reconfigures time and space’ (Elias 2011: 34); her discussion here could be illustrated by Dally’s progress through this chapter.

By 574 she has been left alone in Venice, ‘earning a living …, putting to use the many light-handed and quick-fingered skills and the fast talk that went with them …’ etc, even taking advantage now of those same tourists as they pause ‘on the way to better-known landmarks around town’. From Dally’s point of view, tourists are

changing [Venice] from a real city to a hollow and now and then outright-failed impersonation of itself, all the centuries of that irregular seethe of history reduced to a few simple ideas, and a seasonal human inundation just able to grasp them.

A page later, on 575, Dally is distanced from ‘the American girls, breezing along the Riva without a care …’ etc, her own gaze juxtaposed to ‘the covetous gazes of naval officers, guides, and waiters’. Moreover, by this time, of course, Dally is in disguise, ‘brown from the sun’ and ‘dress[ing] these days as a boy’; hence, when the following paragraph announces that ‘[i]t was not quite the Venice older folks remembered’, one might add that Dally also has been transformed as she ‘escaped all male attention other than that directed at boys’. Further, one might say she has replicated Kit’s descent ‘into the engine spaces of the Stupendica’ on 516.

In my last post on recent Pynchon criticism I briefly compared the introductions to Against the Grain: Reading Pynchon’s Counternarratives (ed Pöhlmann, 2010) and Pynchon’s Against the Day: A Corrupt Pilgrim’s Guide (ed Severs & Leise, 2011).

In A Corrupt Pilgrim’s Guide the first group of essays is gathered under the heading ‘Narrative Strategies’ and this is where we find ‘Plots, Pilgrimage and the Politics of Genre in Against the Day’ by Amy J Elias, author of Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction (2001), where she describes a metahistorical romance based on the radical historiography associated with Foucault and White. In her contribution to Corrupt Pilgrim’s Guide she argues that pilgrimage becomes an alternative to both hero quest and picaresque, ‘a form of journey narrative with a chronotope appropriate for our own time’ (Elias 2011: 32). Pilgrimage, then, is a way of understanding the postmodern narrative. In keeping with Severs’ Introduction, Elias here focuses on character, noting that the quest requires some kind of character development, lacking here; and the picaresque, while ‘eschew[ing] depth of characterisation’ (30), borrows from both realism and romance without ever resolving that contradiction (32).

According to Elias in Sublime Desire the metahistorical romance comes in the final part of the twentieth century, a response of sorts to war, Holocaust and nuclear weapons. As such it resists any notion of Western progress, but it also rejects the modernist alternative of alienation. The historical sublime is that which cannot be represented, bringing into play deferral and allusion: any discussion of history will expose it as a narrative, which means there are always alternative versions, and alternatives to those alternatives (Elias 2001: 51ff). Further, in her contribution (‘History’) to The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon (eds Dalsgaard, Herman & McHale, 2012), Elias develops the concept of the sublime subjunctive as a way of describing the way the narrative is organised round the opposition of alternative, not to say conflicting, narratives (Elias 2012: 129).

To discuss the usefulness of these ideas I shall now briefly consider Pynchon’s writing of warfare in Against the Day. Elias (2011: 32) says that the pilgrimage is ‘directed to a shrine site’ and, by way of example, ‘Reef, Cyprian and Yashmeen travel from one secular, tourist “shrine” to another – Venice, the Riviera – until they arrive at the military-industrial complex’s true shrine of death in the Balkans’ (33). I cite this passage because, in my previous post on Pynchon criticism, I commented on the frequent use of tourism in Pynchon’s writing. Moreover, my ongoing explication of the novel has just come to the end of Chapter 64 and I have in mind the sections following Reef/Yashmeen’s separation from Cyprian (AtD 962ff). As Reef puts it to Cyprian just before they leave him: ‘Figure on heading west, through the mountains to the Adriatic coast. Any hot springs, hotel de luxes up that way you could recommend?’ (961). Their goal (the shrine their pilgrimage takes them towards) is whatever constitutes safety and, upon reaching Corfu, ‘the first thing they did was go to the Church of St. Spiridion, patron saint of the island, and light candles and offer thanks’ (972). A page later, surprised, Yashmeen finds her father, who says he has been waiting for them, knowing they would end up at Corfu (973). The point of course is that their journey has been unpredictable and inscrutable/unreadable, and yet, as Auberon Halfcourt explains it here, anything but.

Further, we might consider the way the narrative has been organised. The characters we follow are always located in relation to the war, ie action that is always elsewhere, even if ‘[e]ach day brought them closer to the horizon of the unimaginable’ (964; although, on the one occasion when Reef’s personal safety might be said to be threatened, he is rescued by Ramiz and the narrative tells us it has something to do with the Chums of Chance, 969-970).

Most clearly, the writing brings representation into question by emphasising discourse. There is ‘a storm of fearful hearsay from gatherings at street corners and well-heads’ (963), the first reference here to the way the war is constructed through talk. A page later there is the aftermath of, ‘[a]ccording to rumor’, defeat for the Turks with evidence in the form of ‘Turkish soldiers either cut off from their units or in flight’; ‘Monastir was said to be a Serbian objective now’ (964). In the same section, there is the precarious nature of ‘collective dreams’ leading to ‘a popular, perhaps someday a national, delusion’ (964). Finally, ‘as if they were only out here on holiday’ (968, recalling Reef’s suggestion on 961 that this might be some kind of tourist jaunt), there are ‘postal cards illustrated with scenes of the War’; ‘[s]ome of the photographs showed terrible scenes of slaughter and mutilation, reproduced not in simple black and white but varying shades of green’ (968), as close as we come to that which cannot be represented.

Thomas Pynchon published Against the Day (AtD) in November 2006. At that time, the response from reviewers was mixed; and some, perhaps, did not bother to finish reading the novel. Perhaps the best review was written by Bernard Duyfhuizen (2007) and published some months after Against the Day appeared. In his opening paragraph Duyfhuizen notes that he has now read the novel twice; this careful approach was in marked contrast to the dismissive attitude of many other reviewers publishing at the end of 2006 (a selection can be accessed here). Since 2007 there have been papers by Ickstadt (2008, details here) on Against the Day’s relationship to earlier novels; Kohn (2008/2009) on idiosyncratic writing; Aghoro (2009) on identity and bilocation; and Staes (2010) on the writing of time. Furthermore, Gilles Chamerois (2008) has edited an issue of Graat devoted to Pynchon. In addition, there are now two full-length collections. Pöhlmann (2010) edited Against the Grain; Reading Pynchon’s Counternarratives (AtG); and Severs & Leise (2011) edited Pynchon’s Against the Day: A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide (CPG; available with the usual omissions at Google Books here).

Alert to the way critical discourse is being constructed, we should note that A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide, the most recent collection, contains references to only one of the papers listed above: Ickstadt’s (2008) paper, published in Pynchon Notes, is cited twice. Given that we are discussing an emergent field in studies of Against the Day, one might anticipate some recognition of less traditional web-based sources. Leise’s introduction mentions pynchonwiki.com in passing and that is it. Without doubt, the timing of A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide might have precluded any serious consideration of papers by Aghoro (2009) and Staes (2010); however, the Graat issue was seemingly published in good time and might have been acknowledged. There is, of course, no mention in A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide of Against the Grain. One of my purposes, then, is to consider Against the Grain and A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide as, to borrow Against the Grain’s subtitle, counternarratives.

I begin here with the two introductions and consider the ways in which they construct the critical field for Against the Day. In Against the Grain Pöhlmann (2010) begins by suggesting we should ‘reconsider the postmodernism of Pynchon’s writing’ as Against the Day ‘significantly transcends the limitations of that concept’ (9) or ‘exceeds the conceptual framework of postmodernism’ (11). A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide, however, begins with an introduction by Leise (2011) that considers the early reviews with which I began this post, concluding that ‘the scale and intensity of so much disappointment deserve consideration’ (3). For Leise, the central debate is that between a critical approach devoted to characterisation and (psychological) realism and one that dwells on, and draws attention to, the writing of fiction.

In particular, Pöhlmann (2010: 17) introduces a ‘[p]ostnationalism, which I define as the theory and practice of challenging the hegemony of nation-ness’. For Pöhlmann Against the Day ‘dismantles the myths and symbols that work to transform the narrative of nation-ness into a metanarrative’ (19). Here he refers to the Chums passage on the Fourth of July (AtD, 111-112, cited in AtG on 19-20) and one is reminded of Chapter 8 when ‘Dynamite’s National Holiday’ (AtD, 81) is the occasion for a retrospective account of Webb Traverse’s family life (88-96): Webb’s career as a bomber is inseparable from his career as a husband and father, and we might see how the (at the very least) ironic renaming (and reorganising) of the Fourth of July is juxtaposed to the genealogical (specifically, I would argue, in the Foucaultian sense) account of personal history.

Pöhlmann also suggests that reading Against the Day should also affect the way we (re)read earlier novels: ‘instead of making the [new] novel fit the oeuvre, one does well to read the oeuvre anew and see how it is changed by the addition’ (10). This is a key point and, for my own part, for example, returning to Vineland after Mason & Dixon emphasised the importance of that novel as a transitional text mediating between Mason & Dixon and the earlier Gravity’s Rainbow. Not least, that we might challenge the ‘author-function’ (10) explains the presence, in Against the Grain, of chapters that do just that by scarcely, if at all, mentioning Against the Day. By way of introduction to A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide, Leise also considers the way in which the reception of Against the Day was shaped by perceptions of a Pynchon-text. Here, with regard to, specifically Mason & Dixon, Leise juxtaposes one approach to reading Pynchon, looking for ‘a presumed trajectory of more believable, even likeable, characters’, to another, aware that Against the Day ‘follows the track of generic exploration’; hence, ‘its highest genius lies in the ability to occupy so many genres of American ideological indoctrination to dramatically repurposed effect’ (4). This is not so far removed from Pöhlmann’s concern with postnationalism.

According to Leise (2011: 5) Pynchon is interested in ‘not just the history but also the literature that composed the narrative of America’. By way of response I would frame the argument a little differently and say that Pynchon has always dealt with how we know what we (think we) know, as opposed to, more simply, what we know. As an illustration of how Pynchon dramatises this concern there is the frequent use of the tourist as a figure in Against the Day, or tourism as a way to position the reader (see in particular Chapter 40 with Dally in Venice, 568ff). This has been a feature of Pynchon’s writing from the outset, and early examples include the story ‘Mortality and Mercy in Vienna’ (1959) and the essay ‘A Journey into the Mind of Watts’ (1966), which should always be read alongside The Crying of Lot 49 (1966).