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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


'This Land Is My Land, This Land Also Is My Land ': Real Estate Narratives in Pynchon’s Fiction
Tiina Käkelä-Puumala

Scheduled in the Auditorium - Médiathèque: Friday 9 June, from 14:30 to 15:00

Among the numerous binary oppositions recurring in Pynchon's fiction there is one between those who own the land and those who don't. This opposition is played out via landowners and real estate moguls on the one side, and squatters, indigenous peoples, refugees, drifters, hippies and anarchists on the other. The question as to whom the land belongs to is political per se, and Pynchon elaborates it throughout his fiction by showing how ownership is created and maintained.

This can be seen most clearly in the figure of the land-owner which keeps reappearing in Pynchon's fiction (The Crying Lot 49, Inherent Vice, Against the Day). Be it a real estate mogul, a venture capitalist or a feudal landlord, Pynchon often uses this character type to represent a wide scale of questions related to land – land as nature, common resource, commodity and property – and the social, political and economic struggles connected to it. Even in Mason&Dixon, where the narrative focus is on two land-surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, their scientific work eventually benefits the feudal landlords of colonial America. In Pynchon's latest novel, Bleeding Edge, the theme of estate has been modified again. This time the 'real economy' of real estate moguls is complemented and partly replaced by the immaterial 'new economy' of IT business, and the land, the 'crust and mantle' (Lot49, 123) by the immaterial surfaces and depths of the Internet.

As a counterforce to the land-owners and real estate moguls in Pynchon's fiction there are always the dispossessed – the people who have been evicted from their homes and their land, or who simply have no property. These dispossessed, Preterite groups always appear to be on the other side of administrative control, economy, law, and cultural values, thus providing the reader a glimpse of an alternative way of life.

To understand the antagonism between the land-owners and the propertyless people, and the role of land in Pynchon's work as both common and private, both sacred and commercialized, both material and virtual, I will use the notion of common from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2009). The common designates both commonly shared natural resources and immaterial resources such as knowledge and social practices. Hardt & Negri view the common as a 'social product' – a form of production that is antagonistic to the notion of private property, and everything that it entails: the social and legal control, and the capitalist valorization process. In his novels, Pynchon frequently shows how the creation of private property starts with the exploitation of the common. However, the common always survives: because of its versatility it recreates its form over and over again.