In 1967, in an article entitled, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” the novelist and critic John Barth suggested that the novel as traditionally conceived was facing a serious crisis. In his analysis of the state of contemporary fiction he noted an increased tendency and need on the part of many “serious” writers to engage in a kind of fiction that took writing as its subject. Barth saw this increasingly self-reflexive fiction as a tacit admission that traditional forms of narration were becoming outmoded and were perhaps on the verge of becoming obsolete. Citing Borges and Beckett as writers who had successfully responded to the literary legacies left by Eliot and Joyce, Barth’s essay effectively laid down a challenge to contemporary writers to find new ways of renewing the novelistic genre. Six years after Barth’s influential article, Thomas Pynchon published Gravity’s Rainbow, which, in its hugely complex encyclopedic nature, suggested not only that the novel as a form was alive and well, but equally that, in Pynchon, a highly original writer capable of creating new spaces and modes of narration had emerged. In the nearly four decades since its publication, Gravity’s Rainbow has consistently frustrated attempts by critics to provide totalized interpretations. The novel has fallen under the rubric of the postmodern and has come to be considered as an open text par excellence, a work whose magnitude and scope resists both traditional hermeneutic and poststructuralist modes of interpretation.
How to Cite: Quinn, M . (2011) “Seeing the Wood for the Trees: Levels of Reading and Intertextual Mythmaking in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow”, Pynchon Notes. doi: 10.16995/pn.14