Date of Award

6-8-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

David B. Downing, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Thomas J. Slater, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Todd Thompson, Ph.D.

Abstract

Vineland marks a significant turning point in Pynchon’s oeuvre, specifically with regard to Pynchon’s politics. Previous to Vineland, Pynchon’s work was concerned largely with the radicalism of the sixties and seventies as a resistance to totalitarian powers. Pynchon’s early works tended to feature paranoid characters swept up in a conspiracy beyond their comprehension and hurtling toward fragmented and somewhat dismal ends. Beginning with Vineland, this paranoia gives way to a more fully articulated global system of power. Pynchon’s four most recent novels (Vineland, Mason& Dixon, Against the Day, and Inherent Vice) feature an examination of neoliberal capitalism’s exploitive system of privatization, deregulation, militarization, and free market fundamentalism. The novels also seek sites for resistance to this exploitative system. This study elaborates upon the global systems of power that Pynchon constructs in his four most recent novels and examines the possibilities Pynchon explores for resistance to and advancement beyond these systems of power. Pynchon’s description of a global network of sovereignty exemplifies Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s conception of an “Empire” consisting of government agencies, multinational corporations, and international financial institutions that work like governments but beyond the jurisdiction of national rule. This is not an empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth century model, which is characterized by governments and their militaries colonizing a foreign region to exploit it for its natural resources. Instead, it is Empire without a single sovereign. This Empire works as a network with various negotiations of power occurring between a limited number of players who contend for a greater share of it while ensuring that power does not expand beyond this network. In opposition to this network of global sovereignty, Hardt and Negri discuss the formation of a multitude. Pynchon likewise examines this formation. Vineland and the three novels that succeed it differ from the three novels that precede it by exploring the possibilities for resistance represented in the multitude. Breaking from Marxist and Enlightenment ideologies, Hardt and Negri resist the notion of the multitude as a unified whole. Instead, the multitude consists of discursive voices with various concerns. Key to the concept of the multitude is the idea that the many who construct the multitude never lose their singularity. They remain many. Nonetheless, they share in common their exploitation by Empire and by the neoliberal capitalism that drives it. They must resist Empire by remaining a horizontal network without a single goal or sovereignty. In the end, applying Hardt and Negri’s concepts of Empire and the multitude to Pynchon’s novels helps to remove the shackles of sixties counterculture from Pynchon’s works and recognize the complex view of global commodity culture, neoliberalism, Empire, counternarratives, countermovements, singularities working as a multitude, and creative commons that Pynchon has constructed over his four most recent novels. Perhaps we can all find inspiration in the hopeful endings that these four novels provide and begin to envision for ourselves a world that promises a greater freedom than the failed neoliberal utopia that has become hegemonic.

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