Pynchon Notes 42-43 (Spring-Fall 1998). Pp. 342. $14.00. ISSN 0278-1891.
Pynchon Notes was founded in 1979 as a modest newsletter giving details of publications by and about Thomas Pynchon. Since then under its main editor John M. Krafft (E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) it has developed into a major forum for Pynchon criticism.
This double issue, guest edited by Luc Herman, assembles 18 papers from the 1998 Pynchon conference at Antwerp, all being devoted to aspects of Gravity’s Rainbow. In that respect the essays can be seen as an extension of Charles Clerc’s 1983 collection, Approaches to ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’.
As in that volume, there is no general agreement over whether or how Pynchon can be seen as a Postmodernist. This is a term which features little in the essays. However, two themes do keep emerging: that Gravity’s Rainbow explores transformations of desire, most obviously in the displacement of male sexual energy on to military weaponry; and secondly, that the novel reflects Pynchon’s distrust of explanatory systems.
A number of the contributors have earlier published monographs on Pynchon. Thus Deborah Madsen explores the significance of Pynchon’s Puritan ancestor William Pynchon and in one of the best essays Thomas Schaub discusses Pynchon’s relation to a ‘discourse of environmental dissent’ which was emerging in the 1960s. In an impressively concise way Schaub identifies links between Pynchon and such formative figures as Rachel Carson in order to contextualize the novel’s negative account of plastics and linearity.
Among the other topics discussed are cultural containment (Bernard Duyfhuizen), the corporate personality (Christophe Den Tandt), the city, and the use of aesthetic models of the state (Denis Crowley).
In the final contribution Brian McHale considers Pynchon’s ‘angelology’, relating the novel to subsequent popularizations of angels. Here again, the astonishing mobility of Pynchon’s verbal reference could be brought out to include the semantic shifts in the term ‘angel’ between a transcendental being and military slang for enemy aircraft. All in all this is a valuable collection of essays which shed much new light on Pynchon’s third novel.
University of Liverpool