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Revisiting Style in Literary and Cultural Studies

Interdisciplinary Articulations

Edited By Jasmin Herrmann, Moritz Ingwersen, Björn Sonnenberg-Schrank and Olga Ludmila Tarapata

The collected volume brings together leading scholars from a broad range of disciplines in the humanities to interrogate the productivity of style as an element of cultural expression and a parameter of cultural analysis. Despite its ubiquity in examinations of artistic singularity or postulations of epochal patterns, style remains a notoriously elusive concept. Suspicious of monolithic definitions, the contributions assembled in this volume address style from a multiplicity of methodological and conceptual angles, drawing from fields that include literary studies, film and media studies, post-structuralist philosophy, philosophy of science, and American cultural studies.

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25 Style in Gravity’s Rainbow: Deweyan Art as Democratic Experience


Abstract: This article examines Pynchon’s pyrotechnic style in his most famous novel in order to emphasize the political underpinnings and cultural implications of the novelist’s heteroglossic literary style. Looking through the lens of 1960s radicalism, and, more specifically, how that political movement was shaped by American pragmatists C. Wright Mills, and, especially, John Dewey, this study argues that Pynchon’s fragmented, elliptical, and ontologically unstable narrative can be seen as mimicking the instability and “unfinished” qualities of a Deweyan culture of democracy—that is, by forcing the reader to accommodate the instability and inconclusiveness of the novel’s stylistic techniques, that reader undergoes a kind of “training” for the negative capability of living within a culture of indeterminacy that Dewey argued was prerequisite to a realizing culture of true democratic openness and amelioration.

Keywords: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, Democracy, John Dewey, Louise Rosenblatt, 1960’s radicalism, Counterculture, Reader-response criticism, C. Wright Mills, Postmodern, Resistance Movement, Anti-platonic

The American author Thomas Pynchon has the ongoing reputation of being, in Hanjo Berressem’s words, a “notoriously difficult writer” (168). Pynchon’s incorporation of “an incredible amount of often extremely arcane cultural knowledge,” conveyed in a writing style which “constantly modulates narrative voices and stylistic registers” amounts to a narrative strategy Berressem calls “eminently heteroglossic” (ibid.). Moreover, Berressem argues, Pynchon’s narratives are “labyrinthine, with countless characters, and pages crammed with irredeemable diverging plots and sub-plots, many of which go off on tangents or simply dribble way” (ibid.). It is this level of...

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