Authority and authenticity in Gravity's rainbow and Mason & Dixon
Crowley, Michael James
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This dissertation analyzes Thomas Pynchon’s two major works in the context of postmodern encyclopedic novels and argues for a new understanding of how such novels are constructed. Examining Gravity’s Rainbow and Mason & Dixon as paradigmatic examples reveals a pattern common to other major instances of the form as well. I begin by examining various conceptions of encyclopedic narrative. Pynchon’s novels, though consistently described as encyclopedic, necessitate a revision of the concept. Encyclopedism provides a means of establishing narrative authority. In Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon’s narrator both cultivates authority through encyclopedism and subverts that authority through self-parody. In Mason & Dixon, Pynchon’s narrator claims an unwarranted authority for his encyclopedic tale. Both narrators, however, wield their authority with an eye toward guaranteeing the authenticity of their narratives. Lubomír Dolezel’s concept of authentication authority provides a framework in which to analyze Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke in greater detail. After considering style and narration, I proceed to the plot structure of the two novels. In each case, the organization contributes to the overall representation of authenticity. Pynchon frames the central narratives of both works within events that combine elements of technological apocalypse with the possibility of the miraculous. Pynchon describes events of this nature as singular points, moments of radically undetermined potential. In doing so, he joins a long line of diverse thinkers who have similarly associated singular points with authenticity. Pynchon and other postmodern encyclopedic novelists have appropriated singular points as a means of resisting technological determinism. By using singular points to mark moments of discontinuity, they paradoxically frame their novels as unframed and undetermined. Within this frame of authenticity, their encyclopedic style allows them to suggest that the events function as a synecdoche for history at the same time that they are discontinuous from history. Having developed this model with reference to a number of variations on the notion of singular points and several prototypical postmodern encyclopedic novels, I offer detailed analyses of how Gravity’s Rainbow and Mason & Dixon establish and modify the pattern. Previously overlooked, Pynchon’s representation of authenticity comes to the foreground.