Reading: Prurient Ethics: Representing Multiple Subjectivity in Gravity's Rainbow


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Prurient Ethics: Representing Multiple Subjectivity in Gravity's Rainbow


Joel Bettridge

University of Redlands
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To discuss subjectivity in relation to ethics is difficult because such a focus necessarily invokes ideas of difference, and difference as a theoretical term has many definitions in a variety of critical conversations. On the one hand, poststructuralism–the work of Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze–theorizes difference in terms of linguistic instability and textual indeterminacy. Alternatively, in many contemporary social fields, difference is the political recognition of the sexed, gendered and raced variety of a nation's citizenship. As theoretical and political vocabularies mix, each different use of the word difference hijacks each of its alternative meanings; each new use attempts to change the criteria of ethical judgment. On this uncertain ground we in the United States arrive at a place where difference stands as a significant measure of moral reasoning at the same time its theoretical uncertainty hinders our ability to know the subjects of inquiry. What follows is the disappearance of the other that our concern with difference set out to locate, and with that erasure comes the isolation of the individual subject. The impossibility of knowing the other, that is, the death of the subject, is well established; and yet the impossibility of the impossibility of the subject is equally clear, for as soon as the universal subject disappears, individual subjectivity, our own particularity, takes its place. Evidently, once we recognize the impossibility of any stable self or any fixed meanings, we are cast back onto the self we thought abandoned, namely, the particular physiological and philosophical body we carry around with us (or that carries us around) each day.
How to Cite: Bettridge, J., (2003). Prurient Ethics: Representing Multiple Subjectivity in Gravity's Rainbow. Pynchon Notes. (52-53), pp.53–74. DOI:
Published on 22 Sep 2003.
Peer Reviewed


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