Time and Vision Machines in Thomas Pynchon’s Novels

by Arkadiusz Misztal (Author)
©2019 Monographs 172 Pages


This book studies the complex relations between time and visual technologies in the oeuvre of Thomas Pynchon within the general framework of the culture and politics of time. It argues that notwithstanding a postmodern tendency towards the spatialization of experience, temporality constitutes a major concern in Pynchon’s novels, which explore the problematic of time-experience and temporal representation against the background of the contemporary technosphere and its temporal regimes. By examining photography, cinema, television, computers, and the Internet, this book puts Pynchon’s engagement with visual technologies into a perspective that elucidates their workings as time machines in relation to both experientiality and materiality.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One Temporal Imagination and Luddite Horology
  • 1.1 Clocks, Experience, and the Making of the Modern World
  • 1.2 Orthogonal Temporality, Dream, and Video Time
  • 1.3 Luddite Sorrow and “Temporal Empires” of Modernity
  • 1.4 Counterfactual Imagination and the Subjunctive
  • Chapter Two Against the Day and Pynchon’s Photo-Time(s)
  • 2.1 Photography, Temporal Grid, and the Engines of Modernity
  • 2.2 Photographic Convergence of Silver, Time, and Light
  • 2.3 Temporal Light and Haunting Time
  • 2.4 Quarterionism and Time Travel
  • 2.5 Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter Three Cinema and Time in Pynchon’s Theater of War
  • 3.1 ∆t and Zeno’s Paradoxes
  • 3.2 Cinematization of Temporality and Reversing the Great Irreversible
  • 3.3 Escaping Entropy
  • 3.4 Filmic Simultaneity
  • 3.5 Frame, Light-time, and the Moving Cinematic Image
  • Chapter Four Pynchon’s Video Technologies and Televisual Temporality
  • 4.1 Vineland and the Postwar Culture of TV
  • 4.2 Flow, Plastic Temporality, and Video Time
  • 4.3 Television Time and Economy of Attention
  • 4.4 Beyond the Big Screen: Televisual Framing
  • Chapter Five Beyond the Shallows: Time and Bleeding Edge Technologies
  • 5.1 Cyberperspective and Network Time
  • 5.2 Deep Web and the Shallows
  • 5.3 Temporal Ecology of DeepArcher and Vertical Time
  • 5.4 Re-Decade and Instant Nostalgia
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index


This project required more time than I initially anticipated and its completion would not be possible without the help and support of many individuals that I had the good fortune to engage with in the course of my research. My special thanks are due to Professor John Krafft for showing me the way into Pynchon studies, for his keen interest in my work and many helpful suggestions, to Professor Brian McHale for helping me to articulate my ideas with greater clarity and precision, to Dr. John Kearns for his advice and persistent editorial encouragement. I have profited enormously from discussions with other friends and colleagues – in particular Zofia Kolbuszewska, Marek Wilczyński, Andrzej Ceynowa, Luc Herman, Terry Reilly, Samuel Thomas, Douglas Lannark, Sabine Goss, Steven Ostovich, Jim Phelan, and Corey Efron. I wish to thank the International Society for the Study of Time (ISST) and Polish Association for American Studies (PAAS) for offering me the occasion to address them on these matters. I’m also indebted to Professor Brian McHale and Professor Sean O’Sullivan for inviting me to participate in Project Narrative at the Ohio State University in Columbus, and to Professor Heinz Ickstadt for his invitation to John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin. I’m grateful to Professor Maciej Michalski, Dean of Faculty of Languages at the University of Gdańsk and to Professor Mirosława Modrzewska, Head of the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Gdańsk, for their support that made the publication of this volume possible. Finally, I’d like to thank my family and friends for their good humor and unwavering enthusiasm; my profoundest gratitude goes to my wife Iza for her constant encouragement and infinite patience.

Earlier versions of some of the discussions here exist in the following publications, material from which is reprinted with the permission of the publishers: part of Chapter 1 appeared as “Studying Pynchon’s Horology: Orthogonal Time and Luddite sorrow in Mason & Dixon” in Beyond Philology vol. 10, 2013; part of Chapter 2 appeared in slightly different form as “Delineating Pynchon’s Timescapes: Time and Photography in Against the Day” in AmericaScapes volume, edited by Ewa Bańska, Mateusz Liwiński and Kamil Rusiłowicz, Wydawnictwo KUL, 2013 and as the paper “Visual simultaneity and temporal multilayeredness in Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day”, Image & Narrative, vol. 18, no. 3, 2017.


References are given in the body of the text by author name and page number, following the MLA system. The following abbreviations are used for frequently cited titles:


This book seeks to analyze the problematic of time-experience and temporal representation in the oeuvre of Thomas Pynchon within the general framework of the culture and politics of time. Echoing Ursula K. Heise, I argue that notwithstanding a tendency, in terms of which postmodernism has often been analyzed, to spatialize time and proliferate spatial categories, temporality constitutes a major concern in postmodern novels, which explore the possibilities and modalities of time-experience in terms that differ from those of high-modernist writings. My objective is to study how innovative postmodern narrative structures articulate the contemporary culture of time distinguished by changes in science, technology, socio-economic structures, and aesthetic practices.

The oversimplified and reductive view of postmodernism as atemporal and inimical to the notion of time-experience seems to have been inspired by the emphatic turn1 to space and spatiality in the 1970s and 1980s, a turn that sought to undermine the predominance of historical perspectives grounded on evolutionist conceptions of time, chronology, history, and progress.2 Influenced by French theory, in particular the work of Foucault, Lefebvre, de Certeau, and Virilio, postmodern theorists such as Edward Soja, David Harvey, Derek Gregory, and others3 analyzed contemporary spaces with an increased attention to finance capitalism, surveillance, and power relations implicit in landscape as well as to neglected spatial aspects of the historical world. This critical understanding of postmodern space and territoriality as infused with power and authority was articulated even more radically by Fredric Jameson, whose work on postmodernism from the 1980s onward argued that the culture of “late capitalism” is characterized by the dominance of space over time. In his influential analyses of the economic, political, and cultural practices and ideals of postmodernity, he saw the dominance of spatial logic as a result of the weakening or loss of historicity, the depthlessness generated by the new technologies of reproduction, and the general affectlessness of postmodern culture: “our daily life, our psychic experience, our cultural languages are today dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time, as in the preceding period of high modernism” ←13 | 14→(Postmodernism 16). By Jameson’s account, time is no longer an organizing factor for the fragmented, decentered, and unstable subject, who is denied its former unique identity. The destruction of the temporality of the subject has brought about an increasing spatialization of time. The emerging antinomy between space and time is, for Jameson, the constitutive feature of postmodern society and culture, in which time is continually collapsed and reduced to a perpetual present.4 Space and spatialization thus became the dominant conceptual frames for postmodernism.

If, undeniably, Jameson’s influential analyses have brought to the fore the problematics of space, they have not completely removed time from critical reflections on the postmodern. As Joel Burges and Amy J. Elias point out, “the 1980s and the 1990s also saw groundbreaking scholarship that was sharply focused on postmodern time and did not reduce history to a spatial model” (7). David Harvey’s study of time-space compression in The Condition of Postmodernity (1989) offered a more balanced critique than Jameson’s. Rooted in Marx’s theory of the “annihilation of time and space”, and in the deep-structure concepts of capital, value, and the commodity, Harvey’s analysis sought to explain, among other contemporary phenomena, the radical restructuring of the nature and experience of both time and space. In Time and Commodity Culture (1997), John Frow also rejected exclusively spatial modes of thinking about the cultural systems of postmodernity and argued instead that these modes should be understood as strategies for organizing time and social order within the context of the anxieties and the possible opportunities created by the commodification of culture. In her study of social temporalities, Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience (1994), Helga Nowotna explored the new modality of postmodern Zeitgefühl, which is characterized by the replacement of the future with the “extended present” and by the rise of simultaneity introduced by modern technologies of communication. Likewise, Ursula Heise, in Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative and Postmodernism (1997), studied how new developments in transportation, communication, and information technology have constructed a new culture of time in Western societies and contributed to a radical transformation in our understanding and experience of time. These and other studies5 paved the way for the emergence of the new field of discourse that Burges and Elias call “time studies”: “In the humanities after the turn of the millennium, for example, ←14 | 15→new critical attention to temporality is seen in the claims of affect studies, studies of the ‘everyday’, posthumanism, ecocriticism, and the expanding territory of media studies” (2). For David Scott, this critical attention reveals an even more fundamental reorientation he has recently described as “a new time consciousness emerging [now—AM] everywhere in contemporary theory” (qtd. in Burges and Elias 2).

The postmillennial emergence of time studies has also brought a renewed interest in the problematic of experience. In his comprehensive study of the concept of experience in the modern Western intellectual tradition, Martin Jay detects in the early decades of the 20th century a dominant critical attitude that called into question not only the long-range significance but also the very possibility of having experiences. In the course of the 20th century, many thinkers from different theoretical traditions and backgrounds regarded the depreciation and eradication of experience as dominant qualities of modernity. Theodor W. Adorno saw the very possibility of experience in jeopardy, Walter Benjamin lamented its pauperization in the age of modern technology and capitalist commerce, and Peter Bürger bemoaned “the loss of opportunities for authentic experience” (Jay 2). Following in their footsteps, Giorgio Agamben announced the death of experience. In Infancy and History: Essays on the Destruction of Experience (1978), he concluded that

[t];he question of experience can be approached nowadays only with an acknowledgement that it is no longer accessible to us. For just as modern man has been deprived of biography, his experience has likewise been expropriated. Indeed, his incapacity to have and communicate experience is perhaps one of the few self-certainties to which he can lay claim. (13)


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (August)
Contemporary American Literature Time Studies Visual Technologies Postmodernism Luddism Philosophy of Technology
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 169 pp.

Biographical notes

Arkadiusz Misztal (Author)

Arkadiusz Misztal is Assistant Professor in American Studies at the University of Gdanìsk, Poland. His research and teaching interests focus on contemporary American fiction, narrative theory, and the philosophy of time. He is a member of the International Society for the Study of Time and Polish Association for American Studies.


Title: Time and Vision Machines in Thomas Pynchon’s Novels
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174 pages