Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Cyberspatial paradigms in Thomas Pynchon's “The Crying of Lot 49” and Don DeLillo's “White Noise”
by Lento, Stephen C., Ph.D., Temple University, 2011, 197; 3440093
Abstract (Summary)

Between the 1960s and 1990s, Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo both registered and attempted to influence the development of a mode of cultural perception organized around computer technologies that we can call a “cyberspatial paradigm.” This cyberspatial worldview involves a dual ontology in which experienced reality is generated by a fundamentally different, hidden one. This way of organizing experience parallels the structure of cyberspace, in which a hidden set of data gives rise to a world that is experienced spatially. This dissertation examines the responses Pynchon and DeLillo mount to their shared perception that American culture is beginning to be organized around this paradigm. Their responses are particularly clear in The Crying of Lot 49 and White Noise, and the dissertation focuses on those texts.

While sharing many similarities in the way in which they respond to the cultural paradigm of cyberspace, Pynchon and DeLillo primarily differ in the degree to which they sense the interactive potential in the cyberspatial paradigm. Pynchon sees American culture as setting the stage for meaningful collaboration between individuals. This interactive potential in Pynchon’s novels involves a search for a way out of the system of simulation and control, which raises the possibility of intervening in the creation of experienced reality in a way that—since it is fundamentally cooperative in nature—skirts the hegemonic demands of a dominant, totalitarian culture. However, this collaboration comes at the cost of the individual. The collaboration of individuals dissolves into a totalitarian demand for obedience. DeLillo, on the other hand, doesn’t see escape from the system of simulation and control as a viable possibility. Neither does he see collaboration along the fringes of society as possible in a culture that has become so adept at absorbing the fringe into the mainstream of corporate profitability. The task for his characters, then, is to find a way to live within the constraints of simulated, virtual reality. In the process, his characters create themselves as individuals, carving out a small pocket of space in which they can create their own universe without giving in to the demands of the system.

The two authors represent opposing impulses that are connected in a cyclical way: Pynchon’s impulse creates a collaborative space, but, since this space is inevitably taken over by powerful others, it results in the dissolution of the individual that originally made this collaborative space possible. DeLillo’s impulse starts from the end point of the Pynchonian one: the individual has become nothing more that what the marketing departments of corporate America has said it is. By going deeper into this unsettling reality, DeLillo demonstrates how the individual can re-emerge under these circumstances, thereby creating the sorts of individuals capable of engaging in Pynchonian collaboration.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Brivic, Sheldon
Commitee: Kaufmann, Michael, O'Hara, Daniel, Osteen, Mark
School: Temple University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 72/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American literature
Keywords: Crying of Lot 49, Cyberspace, DeLillo, Don, Pynchon, Thomas, White Noise
Publication Number: 3440093
ISBN: 978-1-124-46549-4
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