Twayne Publishers, 1992 - 229 ページ
When in 1989 Thomas Pynchon came out with his fourth novel after a 17-year hiatus from publishing, it was perhaps not without a hint of irony that the New York Times Book Review turned to Salman Rushdie for commentary. Here was an author forced into exile (literally to save his life) reviewing the work of one who has chosen his own exile (perhaps to guard his gift) - a man who has studiously avoided interviews and about whom little is known. The horrific and absurd situation to which Rushdie found himself consigned was not far from the stuff of Pynchon's fiction, where readers enter a world in which the grotesqueries and banalities of modern life are inescapable by conventional means. With his extravagant imagination and wild sense of humor, Pynchon maintains a revered place in postwar American literature: many believe that his 1963 novel V. anticipated much of the most advanced philosophical and literary-critical reflection that would follow in the next 20 years.
Judith Chambers's comprehensive study of this enigmatic writer outlines a definite progression in his work, identifying his early short stories as more aesthetic than his later work. With V. and The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), she argues, Pynchon's writing became more existential and ironic in that the reader is much more an intellectual participant in recovering "meaning."
By Gravity's Rainbow (1973) Pynchon's style was most decidedly experiential, according to Chambers - experiential in that the novel's truths are contained not just in its content but in its structure and language, which leads readers away from analysis and toward a kind of suffering and risk that become the basis of the novel's affirmation. Chambers places Vineland (1989) even farther along on the road away from an aesthetic or intellectual style. By avoiding "spellbinding" prose, Pynchon in Vineland forces readers to experience a world in which "heartfelt" language is almost "pounded flat" and yet some people do find the courage to act - a courage motivated by the simple values of kindness and love. And, adds Chambers, Pynchon does so without a trace of mawkishness.
Throughout this study Chambers explores the theory of language and thought that Pynchon developed in his writing, looking specifically at his meaning of "decline" by applying the theories of philosophers and writers as radical as he - Robert Graves, Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, and John D. Caputo. The fundamental question for Pynchon, Chambers contends, is one of hope; this weaver of dark, labyrinthine tales asks whether we can have ethics in a post-modern world. Pynchon answers this question in his novels by creating what Caputo has termed a "cold hermeneutics" - an amalgam of Heidegger and Jacques Derrida - a form of radical thinking that avoids transcendental justification.
Ultimately, Chambers finds that with his eclectic, poetic texts Pynchon destroys the illusions of "truth" and uses the very remnants of this destruction to develop a style that restores the mysterious poetic faculty to thinking. However Pynchon is labeled in this post-everything era of critical inquiry, his embrace of radical and experiential fiction as the appropriate idiom for depicting twentieth-century American life has changed the way a generation of writers has approached their craft.
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