Reading: In Fascism’s Footprint: The History of “Creeping” and Vineland’s Poetics of Betrayal

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In Fascism’s Footprint: The History of “Creeping” and Vineland’s Poetics of Betrayal

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Jeffrey Severs

University of British Columbia
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Abstract

Why have critics of Vineland failed to agree on the nature and scope of the fascist menace looming over the novel? Brad Leithauser’s review typified the book’s negative early reception in claiming that Vineland lacked something “overarchingly malignant” for its characters to combat. Federal agent Brock Vond, while clearly intended as a scaling-down from the operatic portrayal of evil in Gravity’s Rainbow’s Blicero, looked to Leithauser, “even by cartoon standards, . . . insubstantial,” unable (as his budget line is miraculously cut at the end) to disturb the book’s cloying recurrence to themes of family and home (9, 8). Subsequent, subtler readings noted Pynchon’s reinventions of Orwell, from the 1984 setting to warnings against television’s mind-control and new and improved Thought Police—“Tube Police, Music Police, Good Healthy Shit Police” (313). In more concrete terms, David Thoreen undercut critiques like Leithauser’s by showing Vineland’s true backdrop of fascist apocalypse to lie in foreboding references to Reagan’s potential invocation of emergency powers and a police state (“Fourth Amendment”). But the surprising trend of recent readings, more rooted in American political philosophy, has been to put Vond’s vision of former radicals as infantilized members of an “extended national Family” on a rational and manageable footing, regarding Vond as extreme but placing him in the broad context of US liberalism’s difficult relationship to community (VL 269). Thus Jerry Varsava and Cyrus R. K. Patell independently argue for seeing Vond as representative of a communitarianism that is, in Patell’s words, “coercive, majoritarian, and bad”—the wrong path for community to take, they show Pynchon arguing, but far from the accusations of a totalitarian America which Vineland still, however reduced its scale, seems intent to make (Varsava 65, Patell 171).
How to Cite: Severs, J., (2009). In Fascism’s Footprint: The History of “Creeping” and Vineland’s Poetics of Betrayal. Pynchon Notes. (56-57), pp.212–228. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/pn.15
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Published on 22 Sep 2009.
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