Oppositional Discourses, Unnatural Practices: Gravity's History and "The '60s"



Re-reading Gravity's Rainbow today, it is possible to see from a critical distance how much it is a product of its particular historical situation. Pynchon's text is a novel of "The '60s"--not only because it is about that now mythic period, but because it is demonstrably of it as well. Specifically, many of the text's obsessive concerns--with "the War," with propaganda and psychological manipulation, with genocide and the treatment of racial/ethnic subcultures, and with the paranoiac entity called "The Firm" or "The System"--are concerns that reproduce in displaced forms the anxieties of an America At War both at home and abroad, caught up in the traumatic cultural upheavals of what we now nostalgically call "The '60s." It might seem excessively culturally deterministic to insist that the structure of the text, with its strange, destabilizing shifts in modes of cultural/textual production so blatantly at odds with each other, recapitulates the historical conditions of the period. But to say that the chaotic clash and clatter of competing codes that intersect in "the Zone" of the text reproduces the similarly dispersed array of forms-in-conflict that traversed the cultural field during the period of its production is not only defensible but, once brought into focus, almost self-evident. The text, like the decade it reproduces, is a conflictual site in which disparate discourses struggle to be heard against the general cacophony of languages that is the social text; and Gravity's Rainbow can most productively be examined, not as a fixed, static, and iconic text, but as a linguistic arena of contestation in which is enacted in dramatic form the battle against hegemony that V. N. Volosinov calls "the struggle for the sign."


How to Cite:

Meyer E., (1989) “Oppositional Discourses, Unnatural Practices: Gravity's History and "The '60s"”, Pynchon Notes 0(0), p.81-104. doi: