Reading: Management and Chaos: Masculinity and the Corporate World From Naturalism to Gravity's Rainbow

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Management and Chaos: Masculinity and the Corporate World From Naturalism to Gravity's Rainbow

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Christophe Den Tandt

Free University of Brussels
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Abstract

In an often-discussed scene of Gravity's Rainbow, elite members of "the corporate Nazi crowd" (164) attending a séance circa 1930 ask the ghost of Walter Rathenau about the future of the corporate-dominated world economy. Rathenau replies that wisdom in this matter is gained by considering two key issues: '''what is the real nature of synthesis?'" and '''what is the real nature of control?''' (167). In these words, Rathenau describes the corporate world as a constellation of commercial and human aggregates with the same degree of complexity and unnaturalness as synthetic polymers. Indirectly, he also defines the psychological profiles of the human beings who inhabit the novel–the persona of Pynchon's engineers, managers, military researchers and intelligence operatives. Indeed, since the inception of the corporate economy about a hundred years ago, social scientists and business ideologues have assumed that control–the art of "thriving on chaos," as 1980s business guru Tom Peters puts it–must be the keystone of a manager's personality. Corporate leaders, business analyst Michael Porter contends, have to learn "strategy formulation under uncertainty" (qtd. in Cannon 93). In this essay, I wish to highlight how central this model of the corporate personality is in Gravity's Rainbow. To some extent, I deal with Pynchon's mapping of the post-Second World War economy as if it were a manual of industrial psychology–a typology of the rituals and strategies adopted by characters whose lives are defined by corporate ideology, whether they align themselves on this economic pattern or develop oppositional practices against it.
How to Cite: Den Tandt, C., (1998). Management and Chaos: Masculinity and the Corporate World From Naturalism to Gravity's Rainbow. Pynchon Notes. (42-43), pp.73–90. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/pn.141
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Published on 22 Sep 1998.
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