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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


The Construction of Space as Utopian-Dystopian Projections and the Question of Alternative Worlds in Thomas Pynchon's Recent Fiction
Ali Dehdarirad

Scheduled in the Hôtel Fleuriau: Wednesday 7 June, from 09:30 to 10:00

Regarding the development of Thomas Pynchon's fiction in the last years, a fundamental question is that of the alternative utopian worlds as a "subjunctive space, the space of wish and desire, of the hypothetical and the counterfactual, of speculation and possibility", as Brian McHale puts it. From the very beginning of Pynchon's career, the creation of these parallel worlds served, at least in part, as a way of establishing his style in fiction as a postmodern writer. Nevertheless, what critics did not agree upon is whether these multiple worlds can be really considered as a substitute for today's technological space or whether the present day's scientific world view is simply a re-writing of the old postmodern one? In my paper, I intend to analyze how the process of the construction of space in Pynchon’s fiction helps provide a better understanding of the passage from alternative utopian worlds to that of the present day.

In this sense, my paper aims at investigating the development of Pynchon's fiction by looking at some theoretical studies pertaining to the peculiar space of California, from the viewpoint of the creation of space as utopian-dystopian projections. In this respect, Michael Dear and Steven Flusty's proposal of an alternative model of the urban structure, based on Mike Davis's City of Quartz, provides a collective universal city or “Citistāt” containing many fragmented cities, each developing on its own. Interestingly enough, this invitation to a new postmodern urbanism seems to be in tune with James Liner's discussion on the position of Pynchon's fiction in the category of postmodernism. He believes that the spirit of postmodernism in Inherent Vice is preserved by a utopianism which recalls Deleuze's notion of minor literature, where the dominant code is capitalism and the minor element is a certain kind of postmodernism, which works within the majoritarian capitalist model and is supposed to be able to deviate from it.

Dear and Flusty's alternative model of the urban structure, together with Liner's utopian explanation of the validity of postmodernism, remind me of Pynchon's essay A Journey Into The Mind of Watts, where many fragmented neighborhoods live independently forming a "junkyard of dreams"(Davis) within a supposedly utopian new world. But similar scenarios can be found in his recent fiction, namely in Inherent Vice: has Pynchon in Inherent Vice come to "a worst-case scenario" (Hume 2) where "no other level of reality offers us any escape or compensation or alternative or hope" (Hume 2), compared with what he offered in his previous novels, or does the novel evince “both the continuing relevance of postmodernism as an aesthetic category and the political imperative to think through postmodernity as an historical-economic totality in order to imagine and enact alternatives" (Liner 11)?