Reading: History, Utopia and Transcendence in the Space-Time of Against the Day

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History, Utopia and Transcendence in the Space-Time of Against the Day

Author:

Heinz Ickstadt

Kennedy Institute, Free University of Berlin
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Abstract

Of all American contemporary writers, Thomas Pynchon has been the most consistently cosmopolitan. Even when his novels seem to be primarily concerned with the United States (or with a mythological "America"), as they evidently are in The Crying of Lot 49, Vineland and Mason & Dixon, their narrative range extends from the American continent to contexts, episodes and conflicts throughout the history of Western civilization, its beliefs, its scientific thought and its colonial conquests. Indeed, on the basis of his first three novels, one might even have assumed that it was German more than American history (especially that of the twentieth century) that occupied Pynchon almost to the point of obsession. But even in V. and Gravity's Rainbow, where that history enters his fictions most extensively, it is clear that the German is only a special case in what one might call a narrative history of transnational modernization. Although in Against the Day, Pynchon's sixth and by far longest novel, Germany still figures prominently as the locus of higher mathematics (and lower imperial politics), it has been assigned a comparatively small place in a much larger historical panorama. Pynchon has given his cosmopolitan interests even a global twist in so far as the book's tangled plotlines run through real and invented places in the U.S., Europe and Asia, on the margins but also at the centers of the political crises that marked transatlantic history between the 1890s and the First World War.
How to Cite: Ickstadt, H., (2008). History, Utopia and Transcendence in the Space-Time of Against the Day. Pynchon Notes. (54-55), pp.216–244. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/pn.37
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Published on 22 Sep 2008.
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