International Pynchon Week,
La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017
Pynchon’s New Worlds
Convenors: Gilles Chamerois (Université de Brest) and
Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd (Université de Poitiers)
The 2017 International Pynchon Week will be held on the French Atlantic coast in the old harbor of La Rochelle, from which a number of Europeans set sail for the New World. The conference will be hosted by the Musée du Nouveau Monde, among its collection of Allegories of America. The conveners hope this liminal space on the margins of Europe will inspire Pynchon scholars to sail out towards yet unexplored territories, following some of the leads below or picking up any related or unrelated Pynchonian line.
Literary new worlds
Pynchon’s early fiction was published under the auspices of “new worlds:” “Low-Lands” was issued by New World Writing, a paperback magazine (volume 17, 1960); speculative fiction writer Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine ran “Entropy” in 1969. How “new” were and still are Pynchon’s fictional worlds? How do old and new interweave in the fabric of his texts – intertextuality, syntactic and lexical archaisms, variation and invention? Is Pynchon a belated modernist, a post-modernist, or a post-post-modernist? Is he forever striding in-between worlds?
A New World inhabited by the Old
Pynchon’s novels cast half-nostalgic, half-ironic glances back at America’s history – from the most remote to the most recent – and both conjure up and challenge visions of the New World as an earthly paradise. Is the new, revolutionary world of Mason & Dixon ‘the elder World turned Upside Down’ (M&D 263)? Or is it reclaimed by melancholy as its ‘Borderlands’ are gradually included into ‘the bare mortal World that is our home, and our despair’ (M&D 345)? And to what extent is the Puritan heritage of its founders, so pervasive in the earlier works, still at work in Pynchon’s most recent America, in Gordita Beach or post-9/11 Manhattan? Phantoms from the old world haunt America, just as its songs and music haunt Pynchon’s texts; to wit, the resilience in America’s most native expressions of the oldest European musical modes, the songs of Europe carried across to the bars and stages of the New World and the modern avatars of the ancient mixolydian mode – the most bluesy / jazzy /funky mode, a sound made flesh in the person of Fergus Mixolydian in chapter 2 of V. What distant echoes from the old world can still be heard through the “surf music” beating in Mason & Dixon or in the Californian trilogy?
America Revisiting the Old World
Pynchon’s fictions also foray with characteristic ubiquity – bilocation applying both to characters and texts – into European history, from the Mediterranean’s most ancient shores (V.) to the waste lands of WWII (Gravity’s Rainbow). The Old World is an archival trove for American figures wandering in search of elusive roots, roaming free regardless of historical and geographical boundaries (Benny Profane, Tyrone Slothrop, but also Against the Day’s Chums of Chance). Can it be argued that Pynchon’s writings, from the very beginning (starting with “Under the Rose”), have been composing an alternative, de-centered narrative of European history, a series of Baedeker guides gone rogue?
Fantasized new worlds
At their most utopian or dystopian, balancing as they do between social, revolutionary or anarchist forms of idealism and post-modern nihilism, the novels of Thomas Pynchon offer pictures of “America as it might be in visions America's wardens could not tolerate” (ATD, 51). Do parallel worlds – other worlds ‘humming along out there’ (Slow Learner) – underworlds, the ghostly presence of Thanatoids and other Preterites offer alternatives, if but fleetingly, to an impossible “New” World? Under the cover of novelty, is scientific and technological progress the mere re-combination of the old? Is the virtual Deep Web of Bleeding Edge a new world, or the continuation of the old by other means?
Following the democratic tradition of IPW, the whole conference will be held in plenary mode. Individual contributions as well as full-panel proposals will be welcome. For individual papers, please send 500-word abstracts for twenty-minute presentations; for full panels bringing three or more papers under one common heading, please provide an overall statement of the panel’s aims as well as the contributors’ abstracts (1000 to 1500 words in all). The notification of acceptance for both individual paper submissions and panel/roundtable submissions will go out by mid to late November.