In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

POSTMODERN EXHAUSTION: THOMAS PYNCHON'S VINELAND AND THE AESTHETIC OF THE BEAUTIFUL Marc C. Conner University of Notre Dame Since the publication of his first novel, V, in 1963, Thomas Pynchon's novels have stood as the paradigm ofliterary postmodernism. Rife with ontological disturbance, fragmented consciousness, unknowable cabals, disrupted narration, and technological wizardry, Pynchon's work has set the standard for the postmodern novel. In particular, his distinctive metaphysical cosmos and apocalyptic vision both defines and is defined by the category that has emerged in recent years as the pivotal term in various debates on the postmodern: the sublime. Several prominent theorists of postmodernism, most notably Jean-François Lyotard and Fredric Jameson, have argued that the sublime is the definitive postmodern category, marking the limits ofrepresentation that are transgressed in postmodern art, and also suggesting the apocalyptic doom prefigured in that art.1 Pynchon's work has always been fundamentally concerned with the terrain of the sublime: his fascination with what one critic terms "the Other Kingdom,"2 his efforts to present the unrepresentable, and his obsession with mysterious, gnostic realms mat constantly threaten and oppress his characters have led Harold Bloom to describe him as "the greatest master of the negative sublime at least since Faulkner and West."3 When Pynchon's long-awaited fourth novel, Vineland, appeared in 1989, most prominent Pynchon critics were dismayed with the work. Frank Kermode described Vineland as "a disappointing book," and David Cowart complained that Pynchon had "made no effort to surpass Gravity's Rainbow."4 Indeed, Vinelanddoes not operate under the same literary and philosophical assumptions as does Pynchon's earlier work; yet to describe this as a disappointment or decline in Pynchon's powers is to fail to understand the importance ofthe novel, and also to fail to see the major aesthetic shift announced in its pages. For Vineland quite consciously refuses Pynchon's earlier poetics, and demands new terms and new categories by which it may be interpreted. The differences between Vineland and Pynchon's previous writings are remarkable. The mysterious, always-unknowable cabals and conspiracies so characteristic ofPynchon are largely absent from the novel; 66Marc C. Conner the principal villain is given a name and a face, and his defeat is possible by the novel's close; the impossible quests ofPynchon's earlier characters give way in Vineland to longings that are more limited and that can be realized; and the threat of apocalypse—perhaps the dominant characteristic ofPynchon's earlier novels—recedes before a conclusion that emphasizes survival and regeneration. In Vineland the individual, the family, and tiie community are restored and reconciled, offering a dramatic contrast to the overwhelming isolation and estrangement depicted in V, The Crying ofLot 49, and Gravity's Rainbow. The novel closes in a series of scenes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and regeneration. With Vineland, the philosophical terrain ofPynchon's writing shifts dramatically from the metaphysical and ontological to the social and ethical. That most Pynchon critics seem reluctant to embrace this dramatic shift in his writing reveals a gap in current critical practice, an inability to grapple with the very issues that Vineland dramatically depicts. Yet the concerns of this novel do suggest a critical vocabulary that could account for the work, although a vocabulary that is hardly in fashion today. The aesthetic of the beautiful—long the traditional contrary to the aesthetic ofthe sublime—defines the very terrain Pynchon explores in Vineland. The integrity of the individual, the relations between the individual and the social realm, the preservation ofthe community, and the emphasis on reconciliation, regeneration, and forgiveness, all fall within the domain of the beautiful. The dramatic shift in Pynchon's fiction can be understood as a movement from an aesthetic of the sublime to an aesthetic of the beautiful. This progression augurs as well a more general shift in sensibility, in which the accepted terms and categories of postmodernism are rejected in favor of a new array of concerns more suited to the ethical demands of the late twentieth century. The versions ofthe sublime presented by postmodem theorists differ significantly from the original formulations ofthe sublime. The Romantic Sublime, as elaborated by Burke, Kant, Wordsworth, and Schiller, is...