Thomas Pynchon has been critically considered, for almost the whole of his writing career, to hold an idealist stance, both epistemologically and ontologically. Objects, in the strange counter-universe of his novels, are held to be projections, unrealities of deluded questing subjects. Meanwhile, simultaneously, the oneiric states into which these characters enter construct and disassemble reality as we know it.
In this paper, against thirty years of criticism, I will present the cumulative evidence that Pynchon actually holds a firmly materialist stance aligned with Theodor W. Adorno's Negative Dialectics that scorns synthesis and spurns traditional readings of utopianism. Such an identification profoundly changes the nature of Pynchon's novels from one of subjectivist domination to a mode that permits the possibility of true redemption through the priority of the object.
This will be presented through a tripartite structure: 1.) an outline, in clear language, of Adorno's terminology and the idealist traditions with which he interacts; 2.) the way in which Adorno's “Priority of the Object” is clearly aligned with Pynchon's notions of domination and control; 3.) a refutation of idealism in Pynchon with reference to the genre conventions of Gravity's Rainbow, a query on the accessibility of Pynchon's “beyond” and the political ramifications of the German idealist tradition.
Through this philosophical take on the way in which objects are transformed in Pynchon's writing, it will become clear that the currently-held stance is untenable and that, for Pynchon, if the world is to be transformed for the better, it will not be in the realm of the mind, but rather in the determinate negation of the reality that is at fault.
Featured image by Martin Tews under a CC-BY-NC-SA license.