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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


Curious Performance of Nescience: The Ear as a Cryptophore in Mason & Dixon
Zofia Kolbuszewska

Scheduled in the Hôtel Fleuriau: Tuesday 6 June, from 09:00 to 09:30

In other words…it is
the ear of the other that signs. The
ear of the other says me to me…
The Ear of the Other

In 'Making the Rounds of History' Elizabeth Jane Wall Hinds proposes that Pynchon introduces Jenkin's ear and other supernatural motifs in order to create border spaces where rational and irrational, natural and supernatural, universes coexist. Yet, Jenkin's ear and the museum that houses it, play also a very important role by presenting in miniature the mechanisms of functioning of the global capitalist world. Hosting a commercial historical show, an enactment of the Jenkin's Ear War, the Jenkin's Ear Museum presented in the chapter 17 of Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon can be considered a model of the (non)transmission of the secret of modernity's complex of power and knowledge shaped by the circumstances of the colonial expansion in the New World(s). The site of the Museum emerges as a palimpsest conjoining the sacred space of an oracle, a shrine holding relics, the early-modern anatomy theater, a curiosity cabinet, and a baroque whispering gallery, while an object on display, Jenkin's Ear, functions as a cryptophore that carries the secret of the dissociation, dispersion, degeneration, ruin, and death. In addition within the space of the Museum the visual epistemological regime of modernity undergoes defamiliarization by simultaneous separation from and inflection through aurality and embodiment: ';The Walls are markedly higher  in here than he remembers them from the Street,—whose ev'ry audible Nuance now comes clear to him, near and far, all of equal Loudness, from ev'ry part of the Town,—but invisible'(M&D 180). The Museum space constitutes a melancholy heterotopia: ';In its suggestion of Transition between Two Worlds, the space offers an invitation to look into his Soul for a moment, before passing back to the Port-Town he has stopped from…' (180). As a heterotopic space of both excess and lack, a site of both the critique and the celebration of the visual regime of modernity, Jenkin's Ear Museum, as politically compromised as it is, also enables the negotiation of the solidarity of the preterite where the ear functions as a means of alternative communication.