Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon

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Ohio State University Press, 1983 - Literary Criticism - 183 pages
Somewhere near the beginning of this incisive critical study of perhaps the most elusive and, to some minds, structurally disordered of living writers, Molly Hite notes that the idea of order has always fascinated novelists. She attributes this to the genre's being a hybrid, committed as it is, on the one hand, to a rigorous teleology in which events exist for the sake of resolution, and, on the other, to imitating a world that stubbornly refuses to ad up. the teleological impetus of narrative, she notes, reflects a 2a God-ordered universe,3 while the mimetic tendency describes 2a man-centered world. 3 And because the two world views are irreconcilable, they pose a dilemmathe dilemma that Pynchon treats satirically in his three novels: that the alternative to theology is paranoia. In confronting his characters with evidence that either a transcendent power imposes order on the world, or that, in the absence of such a power, all order is illusory, Pynchon parodies a postromantic attitude that takes these extremes as exhaustive. He invites his charactersand his readersto consider and to regard as somehow 2authorized3 such interpretations as that either some version of Providence, be it benign or malign, is directing history to its own ends, or events are perfectly discrete and human life is meaningless. And these are interpretations that Pynchon regards, not only as opposing, but as exclusive; and they exclude not only one another, but claim also to exclude that 2middle3 region of meaning and discourse that is the traditional subject matter of the novel. By manipulating these extremes, Pynchon provokes his readers to reconsider the grounds for meaning and value that characterize the secular human world the novel traditionally produces. Like all great innovators in fiction, he reinvents his form by discovering new possibilities in the novel's defining conditions. Like his heroine Oedipa Maas, he sets out to 2project a world3the novelist's fundamental taskbut unlike Oedipa he recognizes that a world adequate to human reality must remain open to possibility. It can neither be eternally ordered toward a predestined end, nor can it be chaotic. Pynchon's fictional worlds are, accordingly, pluralistic, and are governed, not by a rigid, absolute, transcendentally imposed idea of order, but by multiple partial, overlapping, and often conflicting ideas of order. - Publisher.

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