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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


The Pynchon Playlist: A Statistical Analysis
Christian Hänggi

Scheduled in the Hôtel Fleuriau: Tuesday 6 June, from 10:00 to 10:30

Music is one of Thomas Pynchon’s most important cultural referents. Four statistics seem to confirm this: throughout his published writings, the author has 720 references to 136 different musical instruments; he created more than 200 songs; and refers or alludes to more than 900 non-fictional musicians or works of music. Finally, key words such as “music” or “song” occur with a much higher frequency than in the Google Books corpus of English-language fiction.

“The Pynchon Playlist” is a compendium of all identified non-fictional musicians and works of music. It allows for a bird’s-eye view on the relative importance of different genres and time periods throughout Pynchon’s career and will systematically answer some questions that have hitherto mainly been addressed in an intuitive manner: which novels have the highest density of musical references? what musicians and works of music are referred to most often? are the songs Pynchon created in an inverse relation to the non-fictional works of music? what is the gender distribution of musicians? is there a noticeable cluster of music from a certain period? Is there a correlation between the characters’ singing and music-making and the mass distribution of recorded music?

This paper locates itself in a tradition of itemizing and listing certain aspects of Pynchon’s work, a tradition that has brought forth “The Index Issue” of Pynchon Notes or Patrick Hurley’s Pynchon Character Names to only name two. It goes beyond these efforts in its focus on music and in attempting to provide a statistical overview in the form of graphs. Such a distant look cannot replace close readings but it can serve as an invaluable companion for future research.