restricted access Pynchon's Poetics: Interfacing Theory and Text (review)
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Reviewed by
Hanjo Berressem. Pynchon's Poetics: Interfacing Theory and Text. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1993. xii + 273 pp. $34.95 cloth, $15.95 paper.

Thomas Pynchon's writing was recognized early on as having affinities to many strands of poststructuralist thought; however, as Hanjo Berressem observes in the opening of his study Pynchon's Poetics: Interfacing Theory and Text , "[t]he creation of a 'poststructuralist Pynchon' is long overdue." Why the delay is open to many speculations, but one that comes to mind is that we are still coming to grips with both Pynchon and poststructuralism, and "interfacing" the two charts a move into a territory of double indeterminacy. Neither our experience of Pynchon's texts nor our experience of the theories labeled poststructuralist remain stable long enough for critical reading to reach a satisfying hermeneutic wholeness. Of course the point with both Pynchon and poststructuralism is routinely to defer and displace from our reading practices any sense of hermeneutic nostalgia for a final totalizing unity. Alec McHoul and David Wills in Writing Pynchon: Strategies in Fictional Analysis (U of Illinois P, 1990) also pose this problem of poststructuralism and Pynchon, but they choose to leave their examination floating in the aporia of indeterminacy, marking our many critical difficulties with reading Pynchon's writing but deferring from satisfactorily resolving any of them (they would argue, however, that any such resolution is always already a diminishment of Pynchon's texts).

Berressem's study traces a different poststructuralist line through Pynchon's texts, taking on the challenge—not always unproblematically—of pushing his readings to a conclusion. To achieve this move, Berressem foregrounds his method by working with the theoretical approaches to the question of "subjectivity" that have been formulated by Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Jean Baudrillard. Berressem asserts that this move "facilitates parallel rather than contrary readings, for it centers the discussion on a term that functions as an interface between various frames—psychoanalytical, philosophical, social, and literary—into all of which it is inscribed simultaneously." Despite the restricted focus on subjectivity, this is still a tall order, and it is necessary to note that, although Berressem does a fine job mapping the theoretical territory before turning to Pynchon's texts, readers will need to have some familiarity with the different projects of Lacan, Derrida, and Baudrillard to feel fully at home on the interface. Nevertheless, by bringing these theorists together, Berressem has opened many opportunities for further work on Pynchon's fiction.

Further work is possible because Berressem avoids the trap of trying within a single study to construct totalizing readings for each of Pynchon's novels. Instead, Berressem again focuses his attention on specific aspects of Pynchon's texts to demonstrate how the interface of subjectivity can produce critical reading. Pynchon's Poetics is at its best in the readings relating to V., Vineland, and the function of "text as film—film as text" in Gravity's Rainbow (on this last Berressem revitalizes an area of Pynchon criticism that has been recycling the same ideas for some time now). On the other hand, Berressem misses some opportunities; for instance, he does [End Page 163] not use the theories of subjectivity to question the highly deterministic behaviorist interpretation Edward Pointsman projects onto Tyrone Slothrop in Gravity's Rainbow. Instead, he adopts Pointsman's reading of Slothrop's map as a text charting a specifically conditioned subjectivity—even though the strangeness of that subjectivity, connecting Slothrop's sexual encounters with V2 strikes on London, should give any critic more pause than it usually has heretofore. It is precisely moments such as this one, of Pointsman's absurd prepoststructuralist reading of subjectivity within Pynchon's fiction, that needs careful attention using Berressem's interface between theory and text to reach an understanding of Pynchon's representational poetics.

Overall, Pynchon's Poetics: Interfacing Theory and Text is a significant contribution to the ever expanding universe of Pynchon criticism, and it will certainly become one of the bright stars by which we navigate future readings of Pynchon's fiction.

Bernard Duyfhuizen
University of Wisconsin —Eau Claire