Reading: Vineland and Dystopian Fiction

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Vineland and Dystopian Fiction

Author:

M. Keith Booker

University of Arkansas
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Abstract

Pynchon's Vineland (1990) presents a vivid and chilling picture of contemporary America as a land of lost hopes and broken dreams, a place where huge, impersonal forces have subtly gained the power to dictate the courses of individual lives. It therefore has much in common with the modern tradition of dystopian fiction, as its setting in 1984 indicates, including, in addition to George Orwell's 1984 (1949), Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1924) and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932). All these dystopian fictions involve an opposition between rationality (usually the cold rationality of official control) and irrationality (typically the irrational passion of human feeling). This conflict between society and individual, or reason and passion, figures in dystopian fictions in a variety of ways. For example, the authoritarian governments depicted by authors of dystopian fiction tend to regard sexuality as a focus for social control of individual lives, just as those who rebel against such governments often consider sexual emancipation an important part of their rebellions. Dystopian governments also frequently proscribe practices (like the taking of mind-altering drugs) that might lead to alternative states of consciousness or ways of viewing reality. The treatment of the rationality-irrationality and society-individual oppositions by Zamyatin, Huxley, Orwell and Pynchon can be usefully illuminated within the framework of theories of modern culture like those proposed by Michel Foucault. Indeed, the treatment of this issue in dystopian fiction resonates with a number of modern theoretical debates concerning the merits of reason as the paradigm of modern society.
How to Cite: Booker, M.K., (1992). Vineland and Dystopian Fiction. Pynchon Notes. (30-31), pp.5–38. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/pn.231
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Published on 22 Sep 1992.
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