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Martin Paul Eve

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

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The abstract for my paper, to be presented at International Pynchon Week 2015, in Athens on Wednesday 10th June.

Towards the end of Thomas Pynchon’s most recent novel, Bleeding Edge [2013], the reader is introduced to the academic research of Heidi, a character who is working on an article for the “Journal of Memespace Cartography” (334-5). Clearly supposed to be humorous, the passage ridicules the academic debates over irony and sincerity that have raged in recent years as a result of David Foster Wallace’s well-known essay, “E Unibus Pluram”, a piece that itself targets Pynchon.

Despite its parodic nature, however, this passage is symptomatic of a broader trend in Pynchon’s later writing: direct engagement with and representation of academic communities. Indeed, Bleeding Edge parodies Otto Rank and Jacques Lacan throughout (2, 245) and mocks the academic who uses the terms “post-postmodern” and “neo-Brechtian subversion of the diegesis” (9). Likewise, Pynchon’s preceding novel, Inherent Vice [2011], connected the supposedly innocent academics working on the ARPAnet to the sinister histories of the ICBM traced in his earlier work, Gravity’s Rainbow [1973].

This paper, moving to focus primarily upon Bleeding Edge, will examine the ways in which Pynchon’s later novels interpellate their academic readers. Arguing that this is, in some ways, a continuation of a strategy that Pynchon has deployed since his earliest work (as noted by Mark McGurl in his seminal book, The Program Era), I will also here work to think more broadly about the wider political connotations of this representation of academia. As with many of the seemingly superficial aspects in Pynchon’s novels, I contend that his academics are more politically charged, more over-determined than a surface reading alone might conclude.