Til bevillingsoversigt

Planetary Pynchon

Carlsberg Foundation Monograph Fellowships


The American author Thomas Pynchon is widely considered as one of the most significant novelists since World War II. The project analyzes his three largest novels, Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Mason & Dixon (1997), and Against the Day (2006). These novels are usually treated as separate works, but the monograph argues that they should be read as an ambitious world-historical trilogy that tells the story of the global rise of modernity and attendant phenomena such as industrialization, capitalism, and colonialism. The project also shows how Pynchon's depiction of modernity's longue durée portrays humanity's exploitation of natural resources in ways that grow out of the ecological thinking of the 1960s and clearly prefigure current discussions of planetarity and the Anthropocene.


Fredric Jameson claims that postmodernism is fundamentally uninterested in history, but the project's analysis of Pynchon's world-historical trilogy challenges predominant views of postmodernism and Pynchon's relation to the period. Furthermore, it shows how globalization and planetarity are closely interrelated concepts. Thinkers like Spivak and Chakrabarty argue that the idea of globalization is an anthropocentric abstraction whose focus on human activities (such as migration and global trade) prevents a proper understanding that humans only inhabit the planet "on loan" (Spivak), but Pynchon's novels show how an adequate concept of humanity's fraught relation with the planet depends on a thorough historical analysis of the global processes that have led to the Anthropocene condition.


Pynchon's depiction of how the emergence and global spread of modernity led invariably to the age of the Anthropocene will be analyzed in a way that combines close readings and a thorough study of a single author with wide-ranging theoretical perspectives from literary history, historiography, and ecology. The project is thus interdisciplinary in scope. The most significant outcome of the project will be a monograph published with an international academic publishing house. Furthermore, selected key findings of the project will be communicated to a broader Danish audience through public lectures and shorter articles.


In an age when humanity's coresponsibility for climate change has been definitively established by the latest report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and when the sixth mass extinction seems well on its way, discussions of our impact on the planet remain as important as ever. Studies of literature's treatment of the Anthropocene condition usually delimit the discussion to works published on this side of the millennium (e.g., Kate Marshall's "What Are the Novels of the Anthropocene?"), but my analysis of Pynchon's world-historical trilogy will help show that literary fiction and art in general are not merely belated reactions to current scientific debates but can function as early and clear-sighted engagements with some of the global challenges we all face.