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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


Δt and Pynchon’s Vision Machines: Photography and Cinema in Against the Day and Gravity's Rainbow
Arkadiusz Misztal

Scheduled in the Auditorium - Médiathèque: Thursday 8 June, from 14:30 to 15:00

Towards the end of Part One of Gravity’s Rainbow Leni Pökler in a strenuous effort to explain to her scientifically minded but politically disengaged husband Franz the peculiar intensity of being involved in a street protest resorts to calculus: “She even tried, from what little calculus she’d picked up, to explain it to Franz as ∆t approaching zero, eternally approaching, the slices of time growing thinner and thinner, a succession of rooms each with walls more silver, transparent, as the pure light of the zero comes nearer. . . . ” (GR 159). Leni’s references to slices of time growing thinner and thinner calls up the image of layers of emulsion in the celluloid film, in which the layers (made of silver halloid crystals sensitive to light exposure) are thin and nearly transparent. It is interesting to note that Pynchon employs this metaphor to articulate the temporal dimension of political or civic engagement as well as the experience of “penetrating the moment” and simultaneously being aware of its possibilities.  In Against the Day Pynchon returns to the “convergence of silver, time and light” (AtD 454) to explore again “The Mysteries of Time” that the new photographic medium promises to reveal.  If this convergence in Gravity’s Rainbow has a rather pejorative character, film and calculus being “both pornographies of flight” (GR 567), the early photography appears to retain its aural potential that escapes the fixating gaze of “the cause and effect men” such as Franz Pökler.  It is after all photography that allows Merle, one of the main characters in Against the Day, to study time, “to bring it [time] a little closer to his face, squint at it from different angles, maybe try to see if it could be taken apart to figure how it might actually work” (AtD 454).

In my presentation I will seek to trace the trajectory that connects photography and cinema, two vision machines that allow Pynchon to study the modern temporal dimension of culture and its knowledge frame grounded on the conceptual principles of mathematics and physics. I will pay particularl attention to the concept of „delta-t approaching zero“, which Against the Day foregrounds and Gravity’s Rainbow explicitly explores.  I will also study how Pynchon’s narrative deconstructs the idea of “a slice of time” (a snapshot or decisive moment) by replacing it with more complex visions revealing the temporal multi-layeredness of the photographic and cinematic image.