Seeking hopelessly to fill the void: Postmodern subjectivity in Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" and "The Crying of Lot 49
Rosborough, Mark Richard
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How does the process of searching by a protagonist within a novel develop subjectivity? Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49 focus on the characters of Tyrone Slothrop and Oedipa Maas, respectively, as they both search for answers to puzzling questions, whether it be Slothrop's mysterious connection to a World War II German rocket, the V-2, or Maas's attempt to uncover a secret underground mail system that functions in California in the 1960s. I wish to argue that through recognizing these searches as processes of becoming, rather than depending entirely upon the end game of finding solutions, one can recognize subjectivity as an always changing and never final understanding that opens up the possibilities of subject-positions. Through these processes the individuals create connections with others to form their own selves, become better readers of their surroundings, and ultimately learn how to exist within a postmodern culture that rejects foundations and determinism. By utilizing theories postmodernism, I situate my argument amongst a number of theorists, such as Fredric Jameson, Linda Hutcheon, and Judith Butler to argue that postmodernism, while often not directly discussing subject formation, all the while creates a discourse that rejects foundations and finality while supporting multiplicity and the fragmented subject. Through reading contemporary French theories on subject formation, I develop a conception of the postmodern subject as being formed through a process of becoming that relies on the being-with of subjectivities in a constantly changing environment that allows for the freeing up of the self as individuals occupy multiple subject positions, even simultaneously. My reading of the two texts inserts a new argument into a long line of criticism on Pynchon that recognizes the postmodern aspects of his texts, but has ultimately failed to adequately address questions of subject formation within the novel. While other individuals, such as Brian McHale, have noted the possibility for multiple narratives existing simultaneously or the fragmentation of power and discourse in its ability to control large masses of people, my argument parallels many other postmodern readings of Pynchon's work by suggesting a similar line of reasoning but with a focus on subjectivity rather than narrative, scientific discourse, or a number of other prevalent readings. Ultimately, I wish to suggest that the unresolved searches of Tyrone Slothrop and Oedipa Maas point to a postmodern subjectivity that favors the being-with of other individuals over a modernist conception of subjectivity that requires a unique style of the individual that leads to alienation and anxiety. The characters, though never fully realizing the answers to the questions that spark their searches, nonetheless highlight the ways in which subject formation allows for a freeing up of the individual to occupy multiple subject-positions. Through traversing different currents of ideology and discourse, the being-with of subject formation creates an environment in which individuals do not require foundations or deterministic constructions of the self to function in a world that is unstable and non-linear. This new understanding of subjectivity in the context of postmodern theory points to the potential for individuals to better understand their selves in relation to the world in which they exist and creates the possibility for new readings of characters that resists the restrictive and limiting understanding of singular and determined nature of subjects that has come before.