Somewhere Under Pynchon's Rainbow: Pragmatism, Protest, and Radical Democracy in "Gravity's Rainbow"

Dissertation, Purdue University (1995)

The present study enacts a "pragmatic criticism," contextualizing Pynchon's novel within its social/cultural milieu and examining the Deweyan "experience" of the text both aesthetically and politically within that context. In Gravity's Rainbow, much of the ideology of the radical counter-culture of the American sixties which helped inform Pynchon's novel derived from the radically democratic philosophies of John Dewey and, later, his student, C. Wright Mills. Thus, American pragmatism offers a series of ideological, political, and aesthetic rubrics through which Pynchon's novel is contextualized and examined. ;Chapter I examines the Rocket "system" as analogous to the pragmatists' "idealist" tradition which is characterized by an hypostatizing and "transcendent" thoughtway. The "movement toward stillness" which the pragmatists criticize as a "death-directed" platonism becomes a gloss on Their "death-structures" in the novel, and helps to contextualize Their systems within Western intellectual history. Chapter II examines the "idealist" tradition as it manifests itself in Blicero's romanticism, comparing his obsession with "destiny" with a similar Nazi affinity in the imperialistic notions of Weltpolitik and Lebensraum. This Chapter also identifies the analogies which were being made between the imperialist and repressive Nazi regime and the radicals' perception of imperialism and repression in Nixonian America, allowing the novel to be read as an implicit critique of Roosevelt's New Deal policies and the collusion of government and big business which characterizes both the Reich's as well as contemporary America's war-based economies. Chapter III validates the pragmatists' view that no "idealizing" system is capable of accounting for the entirety of existence by examining the breakdown of Franz Pokler's system and his eventual capitulation to the more complex world which escapes its grasp. Chapter IV then examines the novel's structure, which provides the reader with an opportunity to experience living in the kind of discontinuous and provisional "pluriverse" Dewey thought prerequisite to a culture of democracy. In offering up the cultural alternatives embodied in William Slothrop's tract "On Preterition," and in Slothrop and Geli's "ad hoc arrangements," Pynchon affirms an egalitarian impulse toward democratic culture very much in keeping with the sixties counter-culture's own radically democratic politics
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