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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


Experiencing Against the Day Through a Teenage Storyworld Possible Self
Maria Ángeles Martinez

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

In this study I explore ways in which the notion of storyworld possible selves may enhance our understanding of Pynchon’s Against the Day, and, more specifically, of the role that the Chums of Chance episodes play in processes of reader engagement and in the construction of narrative meaning. Storyworld possible selves (Martínez 2014; 2016) are formally conceived as blends of two mental spaces, or inputs: on one hand, the mental constructs which individual readers and audience members construct for narrative perspectivizers (narrators, focalizers), on the basis of textual clues, and, on the other, the individual reader’s self-concept network, or set of mental representations that individuals entertain about themselves. In the opening section of Against the Day, narrator explicitly constructs himself as a writer of adventure books for boys, and also explicitly constructs his readers as his teenage audience. Readers who choose to go along with these identity bids are likely to experience resonance effects that activate their young reader past possible self, as well as many of their past SPS blends resulting from past narrative experiences (Martínez 2014) with a variety of fictional adventurers.

In my presentation I will briefly revise the notion of storyworld possible selves, with a focus on SPS projection in the first section of Pynchon’s novel. I will also revise criticism on the role of the Chums of Chance in the novel (Vernon 2007; Pöhlmann 2010; Leise 2011; McHale 2011, Duyfhuizen 2012, among others), highlighting those aspects which may be enhanced using SPS theory in the analysis, and discussing relevant connected episodes involving these young adventurers. My approach draws on several disciplines, mainly cognitive narratology, social-psychology, and interactional cognitive linguistics, in order to explore the narrative and linguistic mechanisms whereby the narrator manipulates readers’ perception of the storyworld in Against theDay by pushing them into their past young fiction reader SPS from the very beginning, and by keeping that SPS alive at strategic points throughout the novel, up to the memorable flight towards grace.

Interactional cognitive linguistics may complement an SPS analysis by providing a theoretical framework within which to conceive the narrator as a conceptualizer (Conceptualizer 1) verbally engaging in intersubjective cognitive coordination (Verhagen 2005, 2007; Langacker 2008; Feyaerts 2013) with an addressee (Conceptualizer 2), in order to focus their joint attention on the Chums first, and on the novel as a whole through them. In this construal operation, the two conceptualizers usually remain in a safe shady ground, as their attention is turned towards the object which they are trying to co-construct. However, language occasionally makes them overt, and, in the last part of my presentation, I will discuss some of the linguistic devices which contribute to making the reader’s past young reader SPS visible. Most fiction writers resort to certain linguistic devices to ensure intersubjective cognitive coordination with their audiences – doubly-deictic ‘you’ and ‘one’, SENSERless transitivity processes, ambiguous inclusive reference, or narrated perception (Martínez, forthcoming). However, it is possible to identify certain strategies which seem to be recurrent in Pynchon’s style, namely the use of nominalized mental processes.

The fact that the narrator in Against the Day makes readers enter the storyworld in their past teenage SPS possible selves may have strong effects on engagement and emotional response, as the teenage features in that SPS construct will indubitably have a bearing on the ways in which readers perceive and evaluate the events and episodes in the novel. It seems as if the writer, by using this pastiche narrative technique that evokes the genre of ‘mass market juvenile adventure series’ (McHale 2011: 16) is purposefully making us navigate an increasingly grim and adult storyworld with the clean, hopeful, even naïve mind and eyes of an immaculate, still unspoiled young one. This has its outmost manifestation in good-natured, innocent Miles Blundell. It is through Miles Blundell’s eyes, it should be remembered, that readers witness the horrors of the Great War devastating the fields and lives of Old Europe (Against the Day: 1023-1024), dimly perceived – as conveniently fits both the altitude of the Inconvenience and young Miles’ dim perception of grimness. Imagine the defamiliarization effects involved in our perceiving the cruelty we now know surrounds us through an adolescent’s still underdeveloped capacity to conceive human evil. These defamiliarization effects suggest the generation of heightened, intensified emotion. Furthermore, in terms of world bilocation, it could be argued that we are made to witness the Old World’s self-destruction from a young SPS perspective that could well be taken to stand for the New World’s bewilderment at such a pitiful spectacle, in the belief that young innocence may still be our – and the New Continent’s - salvation.