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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


Cognitive Mapping of the City Space: The Rewrite of the Hard-boiled Detective Fiction of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice
Li Rongrui

Scheduled in the Hôtel Fleuriau: Tuesday 6 June, from 14:30 to 15:00

This paper examines Thomas Pynchon's detective novel Inherent Vice's rewrite of the hard-boiled detective fiction. In contrast to the golden-age detective fiction's usually closed and fixed space which corresponds to its conservative view of an ordered world and limited crime, the hard-boiled detective fiction adopts an episodic plot with a mobile and changing story space which Pynchon's novel borrows in order to present a totally corrupted world. Yet in spite of this similarity, a close examination of their treatments of the narrative space will show that the mobile space of the hard-boiled detective fiction actually functions as the expression of individual alienation. Whereas Pynchon's novel transforms the episodic plot into a spatial form dedicated to the cognitive mapping of the postmodern city, which the hardboiled fiction has never really achieved.

Then the paper goes on to discuss the issue of the subject's position in Fredric Jameson's concept of cognitive mapping and its indication of the limits of the individual. It argues that the subject's internal position in cognitive mapping means differently from that of the hard-boiled detective fiction. Though the latter abandons the classical detective's outside omniscient position, it still inherits the classical detective fiction's binary opposition of subject/object and achieves the classical detective's authority through the detective's narrative authority. Instead, the concept of cognitive mapping admits the individual's limitation which Pynchon's novel also embraces by its emphasis on the importance of the community, and in due reveals the distinction between the city's impenetrability in Pynchon's novel and the uncertainty of the world in the hard-boiled fiction. I hope through this analysis of Pynchon's rewriting of the hard-boiled genre, my research can help to shed a light on the author's attitude towards the totality view of the social system, and to show how his revelation of the ideological implications in the paranoiac protagonists' quest for meaning and order is not a negation of the total view.