Pynchon and DeLillo

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Editor: Jennifer Stock
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,659 words

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[(essay date 2002) In the following essay, Parrish calls Gravity’s Rainbow the one book that defines the way we see the postmodern era, with Don DeLillo’s career being an attempt to make sense of the implications of Pynchon’s work. According to Parrish, where Pynchon demonstrates the shift to a technology-centric world, DeLillo explains what happens after we get there.]

Don DeLillo’s remarkable body of work emerges out of his engagement with the interconnected systems of meaning-making that define the postmodern era. As a novelist DeLillo is a genius of multimedia mimicry; everything he writes exhibits his uncanny ability to absorb within his fiction competing technologies (video, film, radio, television, photography, music, tape recorders). Pointing to the ways in which people might be seen as the effects of a particular technology, DeLillo has also been centrally interested in the possibilities and limitations of authorship. Mao II, for instance, imagines an author, Bill Gray, who has gone underground in order to preserve the doomed hope that he might write “what the culture needed in order to see itself” (163). No longer confident of his ability to create worlds that can withstand the media machinery that transforms everything—person, idea, thing—into images, Gray chooses to surrender the idea of himself as an author and maker by drifting into an anonymous, futile death. Gray’s embrace of oblivion is less a consequence of the familiar observation that neither author nor reader can transcend the language one uses to communicate than the fact that Gray cannot come to terms with how his language is inscribed within various systems that also encode how that language is used and received. Gray makes this point obliquely when he observes that “Beckett is the last writer to shape the way we think and see” (157). DeLillo speaking through Gray does not mean that writing ends with Beckett but that Beckett was the last writer who created narratives that could be imagined to be separate from the systems they described. His suicide at the end of the novel finalizes the death he initiated earlier when he allowed his picture to be taken by a professional photographer. In Gray’s mind the writer becomes not his work—his words—but his picture. Gray martyrs himself to the idea of himself as image, one whose reproduction will now be at the mercy of the technological systems of communication and information that his art could not control.

Although Bill Gray may point to Beckett as the last writer to construct narratives untainted by anything except what might be loosely called literature, DeLillo’s work points to the central author of the postmodern era, Thomas Pynchon, the one author who might be said to have written the one book—Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)—that defines the way we see the postmodern era. DeLillo’s career might be productively understood as an attempt to make sense of the implications of Pynchon’s seminal work. Both DeLillo and Pynchon portray technology as a type of narrative and narrative as a type of technology. Both suspect...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100126883