Pynchon the post-Marxist

Rowcroft, Andy (2015) Pynchon the post-Marxist. In: International Pynchon Week 2015, 8th - 12th June 2015, Athens.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


Pynchon’s fictions have always proved a direct challenge to the Marxist tradition. In Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon appears openly hostile to the discourse, calling Marx ‘that sly old racist […] trying to make believe it’s nothing but Cheap Labor and Overseas Markets’.

Indeed, Pynchon’s writing has helped to ‘problematize […] the entire notion of historical knowledge’ through vast and complex fictional meditations on the philosophy of history (Hutcheon 1988). As critics such as Elias (2011) and Berressem (2011) have noted, Pynchon seemingly reads teleological and determinist readings of history as a movement towards standardization, a position that ultimately allows ‘History [to be] hir’d, or coerc’d, only in Interests that must ever prove base.’ (M&D).

This paper introduces the theoretical discourse of post-Marxism to Pynchon studies. While Marxism has been largely unable to accommodate the polyphonic nature of Pynchon’s historical novels – his interest in pursuing an ethical imperative that seeks to move beyond the framing logic of teleology (Elias, 2011) – I want to claim that post-Marxism, with its attendance to radical social justice through contingency, pluralism, scepticism and difference, offers a more productive framework for reading Pynchon’s work.

The paper is split into two sections. The first offers a brief historical account of post-Marxism that maps its social, political and cultural context alongside Pynchon’s Against the Day (2006) and Bleeding Edge (2013). Using Laclau & Mouffe’s (in)famous Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), the paper seeks to raise a number of conceptual questions: how can Pynchon be regarded as post-Marxist, how should we specify the criteria for post-Marxism, and how do we delineate a seemingly contradictory theoretical position? To this end, I propose Pynchon allows a new understanding of post-Marxism that can productively be applied to cultural studies.

Keywords:Thomas Pynchon, post-Marxism, Ernesto Laclau
Subjects:R European Languages, Literature and related subjects > R990 European Languages, Literature and related subjects not elsewhere classified
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V520 Moral Philosophy
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
ID Code:17469
Deposited On:19 May 2015 08:27

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