The Rats of God: Pynchon, Joyce, Beckett, and the Carnivalization of Religion



Numerous recent commentators have pointed out the advantages of using the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin to read the works of Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, though, as far as I know, no one has attempted to read all three simultaneously in this way. But viewing all three of these writers through the common optic of Bakhtin reveals certain family resemblances among them, in particular their participation in the Menippean tradition privileged by Bakhtin. Such a reading strategy also highlights the intensely political vision that informs the works of these three writers, all of whom mount fierce assaults on authoritarian ideologies of all kinds. Since a full study of the political similarities among Pynchon, Joyce, and Beckett is obviously beyond the scope of any single essay, I will concentrate here on the ways these writers use organized religion as a central instance of the authoritarian ideologies they oppose, particularly the ways they carnivalize religion by juxtaposing the high-minded idealistic claims of the Church with images of the mortality and physicality Christianity attempts to repress. One specific image cluster reappears in the work of all three authors. Pynchon, Joyce, and Beckett all use rats as images of abject physicality to subvert the spiritual/physical hierarchy maintained in traditional Christian thought.


How to Cite:

Booker M. K., (1989) “The Rats of God: Pynchon, Joyce, Beckett, and the Carnivalization of Religion”, Pynchon Notes 0(0), p.21-30. doi: