“Falling Away from What Is Human:” Thomas Pynchon and the Posthuman Gothic (PhD Thesis)

After much work and waiting, my PhD thesis is now available online. The topic of the thesis is Thomas Pynchon and the posthuman Gothic, with chapters on the themes of terror and horror in The Crying of Lot 49; the Gothic spaces and times of Mason & Dixon; the strange blend of posthuman Luddism of Pynchon’s nonfiction; and the ambivalent cybergothic of Bleeding Edge. An archived copy may be accessed here (or via this backup). The abstract may also be read below:

Long recognised as one of the preeminent writers of literary postmodernism, Thomas Pynchon’s reputation appears set in stone. Yet, I argue, beneath the postmodern appearance of Pynchon’s writing lies a much older form: the Gothic. This thesis contends that Pynchon participates in several broad conventions of the Gothic genre by way of his dramatisation of anxieties surrounding the place of humanity and rationality within inhuman environments. This reading of Pynchon’s Gothicism places his work within the contemporary subgenre of the posthuman Gothic, primarily due to his preoccupation with humanity’s integration into machines, and also by way of the accompanying concerns with the loss of bodily integrity, psychological autonomy, and spiritual agency.

By examining Pynchon as a specifically posthuman Gothic writer I wish to show that the course of human history imagined in his novels does not lead solely to apocalypse or extinction—as critical commentary on his early fiction tends to suggest—but toward a transformation of humanity by its technical and ecological surroundings. Beyond this re-reading of Pynchon’s work, this thesis also attempts to theorise the posthuman Gothic as being more than simply a rehashing of Gothic tropes with sputtering robots instead of cackling villains: in short, I suggest that the structural anxieties of the inside and outside identified by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick as hallmarks of the Gothic are isomorphic to the structures of the posthuman subject which is similarly invaded and confined by its environments.

From within this framework of the posthuman and the Gothic, I argue that Pynchon’s various aesthetic and political commitments may be drawn into focus, as the seemingly archaic forms of the Gothic re-emerge once again to name an emerging posthumanity haunted by its recent human past while descending into a monstrous future.

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