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Forms of Culture: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow

Class at Faculty of Arts |



This seminar explores one of the key fat 700 page plus works of twentieth-century fiction in English, Gravity?s Rainbow (1973), the most complex and important text by the contemporary avant-garde American novelist-recluse Thomas Pynchon (1937-present). Critical and theoretical matter will also be enlisted in our collective enterprise of encountering Gravity?s Rainbow, a text now seen as the paradigmatic postmodernist epic and novel by a male author in English. Emphasis will be placed on questions of what precisely are the diverse forms of culture illuminated through Gravity?s Rainbow?s modes of representation in regard to questions of aesthetics (including of aesthetic pleasure), of epistemology (i.e., of knowledge), of ethics (and so by extension of evil), and of ontology (i.e., of selfhood and of subjectivity). In this way, special focus will also be given to trying to define more exactly the good pleasure that Pynchon?s multi-cultural art gives us, and on the other hand to investigate art?s interrogation of and complicity with evil.


Pynchon: Gravity?s Rainbow (1973) _____ . ?Foreword? (2003) to Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell _____ . The Crying of Lot 49 (1965, general reference) _____ . Mason & Dixon (1997, general reference) _____ . V (1963, general reference) _____ . Vineland (1989, general reference)

Plus films from the video series

Selections from the following critical and theoretical texts will be available in a course reader:

Roland Barthes: The Pleasure of the Text (Le plaisir du texte 1973, trans. 1975).

Michael Davitt Bell: ?Some Things That ?Happen? (More or Less) in Gravity?s Rainbow?: pp. 1-20.

Leo Bersani: ?Pynchon, Paranoia, and Literature? in The Culture of Redemption (1990) pp. 179-99.

Eric Cassidy: ?Cyberotics: Markets, Materialism and Method in Pynchon and Deleuze? in Pynchon Notes 34-35 (1994) pp. 107-28.

William Dawers: ?That Other Sentimental Surrealist: Walter Benjamin? in Pynchon Notes 20-21 (1987) pp. 39-60.

Edward Mendelson: ?Gravity?s Encyclopedia? in Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon (1976) pp. 161-95.

Erik S. Roraback: ?Para-Baroque Conceptual Intersections: Finnegans Wake, Gravity?s Rainbow and The Writing of the Disaster.? (First version given as a paper at the XIVth James Joyce Symposium, London, 27 June 2000 and a second version subsequently published in Hypermedia Joyce Studies 5.2 (2005).

?Literary Space; or, Folding Blanchot onto Pynchon: Enlightenment Reason, the Global System and the Literary Baroque? (A first version given as a presentation at the XXVIIth Congress of the Russian Society of American Culture Studies, Moscow State Univ., Moscow, 30 November-7 December 2001. Parts of subsequent drafts were given at Charles University in two American Cultural Studies lecture series.)

Steven Weisenburger: For general consultation: A Gravity?s Rainbow Companion: Sources & Contexts for Pynchon?s Novel (1988). One copy on reserve in the library.


To receive credit for the seminar students will be required to have no more than three absences and to submit a final essay of 2000-2500 words that will be graded písemná práce. (Specialization students will need to produce another longer final essay of 3000-3500 words that will be graded písemná práce.)