The critical response to Gravity’s Rainbow has been strongly shaped by an interest in the politics of language. Pynchon’s exploration of language politics invites an array of questions, many involving the individual’s cooptation by paranoia-inspiring bureaucratic structures and the prospects for subversion of, or escape from, these forces. These questions frequently lead critics to consider the structure of the narrative itself and its political implications. As part of this process, the novel has been read as an example of various genres. This paper contributes to these inquiries by exploring the work’s encyclopedic features, and the claim, first made by Edward Mendelson, that these aspects constitute defining aspects of a rare form, the encyclopedic narrative. The most interesting aspects of Gravity Rainbow’s encyclopedism only come to light when one contextualizes Pynchon’s engagement of the genre by turning to the emergence of the modern encyclopedia, a moment of intellectual creativity as well as bureaucratization and cooptation. Prominent features of Gravity’s Rainbow,its title, structure and dominant metaphor, suggest that Pynchon is reading the novel’s most obvious historical context (World War II) through the rise of the modern encyclopedia, and through Ephraim Chambers’ ground breaking contribution, Cyclopaedia, or A Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1728) in particular. In the process, Pynchon suggests that prominent Western attempts to organize knowledge have animated sacrificial logics that are both exhibited and profoundly contested by Chambers.
|Keywords:||Encyclopedic Narrative, Encyclopedia, Thomas Pynchon, Ephraim Chambers, Gravity’s Rainbow|
Professor, Department of English, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, USA
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