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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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An announcement that I will be speaking at the "Symbiosis" conference at the University of Glasgow on the 24th of June giving a paper entitled "Whose Line is it Anyway? Geographical specificity of Enlightenment in Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon".


While Enlightenment is often posited as the key thematic engagement of Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, Hanjo Berressem has correctly pointed out that such studies rarely define the precise context of Enlightenment to which they are referring and all too often ascribe a straightforward antirationalist approach to Pynchon's text, while neglecting the fact that a Humanist Pynchon must, in some manner, also be accredited to an Enlightenment tradition. In short, it becomes necessary to ask: whose Enlightenment?

In this paper, I will present the points of convergence and departure between the Enlightenment stances of Pynchon and Michel Foucault in his 1978 introduction to Georges Canguilhem's piece The Normal and the Pathological (DÉ219). Crucially, in this work Foucault asks “why this question of the Enlightenment […] has such a different destiny in Germany, France and the Anglo-Saxon countries,” the primary distinction drawn being the German lineage of a “historical and political reflection on society” evidenced by “the Hegelians to the Frankfurt School […] and Max Weber,” whereas in France, Foucault believes it was the history of science, “through Duhem” and “Poincaré” in which the philosophical stakes of the Enlightenment were invested.

Such geo-specificity provides a new means to evaluate Pynchon's Enlightenment through an intersection of his treatment of francophobia, the Jesuits, German mysticism, political critique and techno-rationality, all underwritten by the subjunctive overlay of America. In this examination I will consider the complex trans-European interactions which contribute towards Pynchon's Weberian cage of Enlightenment and demonstrate that, while Pynchon's dreamer of America must necessarily be Britannia, the oneiric capacities of his France and Germany must also be considered in the constitution of any “Rubbish-tip for subjunctive Hopes”: America.

Featured image by jbachman01 under a CC-BY-ND license.