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  • Professor Amy Hungerford: Before launching

  • into Pynchon today, I thought I would just take a

  • few moments to look back over the books that we've read and

  • talk about the visions of language that they have offered

  • us, and also just to reflect for a

  • moment on the relationship imagined between those visions

  • of language and what is happening outside of fiction in

  • what we might call the real world.

  • We started this course talking about Black Boy and the

  • way that a whole world of pressure--political pressure,

  • racial tension--pushed on the borders of that work and

  • actually changed its very material form.

  • After that, I began a series of readings of novels that

  • emphasized more what you might call the history of literature,

  • the history of literature's forms and ambitions.

  • And so, beginning that series we had O'Connor embodying a new

  • critical craft of fiction that comes out of modernism,

  • imagining nevertheless that the craft is reflective of a

  • transcendental order in the world,

  • a religious order. When we moved on to Nabokov,

  • we had an author trying to imagine a work of art so

  • autonomous from the world that it could be something like an

  • autonomous form of life. That, of course,

  • I argued in those lectures, opened it up for the threat of

  • mortality. If you imagine your artwork is

  • living, it can also die. It's a kind of hauntedness that

  • surrounds Nabokov's vision of aesthetic bliss as one's

  • response to that autonomous artwork.

  • Kerouac represents a whole group of writers,

  • the Beats, who reject the formalism embodied by both

  • O'Connor and Nabokov. They reject that formalism as

  • an impediment to language's access to the real,

  • and to our access to the real through language.

  • They dream of an unmediated relationship between experience

  • and the word. They don't think so much of

  • language as a mediating force as an expressive force.

  • I argued in my second lecture on On the Road that,

  • in the end, that dream looks quite deflated when Dean can't

  • even speak in a coherent sentence,

  • and he has to be rejected by Sal as Sal drives off to the

  • jazz concert at Carnegie Hall. Nevertheless,

  • that dream is spiritualized. It's a way of becoming not just

  • close to the real, but also part of some mystical

  • unity. That thread of the mystical

  • quality of language at its extreme of literary power is

  • what I drew out of Franny and Zooey. So,

  • Salinger, too, has the dream that the artifice

  • of literature, of literary language,

  • the performance of language in the style of his novels,

  • can somehow be the essence of the human soul,

  • that it can somehow communicate the truth of the universe just

  • through its form: its human,

  • distinctive form. It's a way of thinking about

  • form that has more to do with individuality than it does with

  • convention. Remember that way that Franny

  • can identify the timbre of her brother's voice very

  • specifically: it's like no other.

  • So, Salinger imagines that the literary art imitates that kind

  • of voice, and in that way it is a sacred practice,

  • a sacred art. Barth rejects the idea that

  • language is an unmediated form of access to the real:

  • absolutely impossible for Barth to countenance that idea.

  • He sees life as continually, always already mediated by

  • language. Now, I should say,

  • as someone from the class who came up to me after lecture and

  • asked me about this, that Barth's understanding of

  • language as preceding human understanding,

  • preceding any sense of ourselves,

  • in a sense always slipping out of our control,

  • is very much in concert with what was going on at very

  • high-level language theory at that time.

  • So, the work of Jacques Lacan in France in the 1950s and '60s

  • and of Jacques Derrida who brought deconstruction to the

  • United States, actually to Johns Hopkins first

  • of all in the 1960s where Barth was teaching.

  • He presented that work in a very famous lecture in the late

  • '60s. This is all part of a way of

  • thinking about language that became very powerful through the

  • next decade and a half, and we're going to see it some

  • too next week when we read Morrison and Maxine Hong

  • Kingston. So, this is part of a larger

  • intellectual trajectory. Barth is not alone in thinking

  • these things about language. I argued that Barth tried

  • to counter that sense of helplessness at the hands of

  • language by imagining that the human effort at connecting with

  • another person through the mechanisms of love and desire

  • always renewed the possibility for language to do new kinds of

  • work in the world. So, if language seems exhausted

  • because it's always preceding you, everything has always

  • already been said, there's no new plot to be had,

  • the world is full of stock phrases, how do you use them to

  • embody an experience that seems fresh to you?

  • How do those stock phrases alienate you from the very

  • experience you hope that they can describe?

  • He thinks that following out desire can renew language,

  • and Menelaiad, I think, is his attempt at doing

  • that. So, now we arrive at that

  • tension, and I want to suggest that Barth was still dreaming of

  • a pretty autonomous version of the literary art,

  • even though in his 1987 preface to Lost in the

  • Funhouse--I don't know if any of you read it--he says

  • about these stories, which were published throughout

  • the '60s: The high '60s,

  • like the roaring '20s, was a time of more than usual

  • ferment in American social, political, and artistic life.

  • Our unpopular war in Vietnam, political assassinations,

  • race riots, the hippie counterculture,

  • pop art, mass poetry reading, street theater,

  • vigorous avant-gardism in all the arts together with dire

  • predictions not only of the death of the novel but of the

  • moribundity of the print medium in the electronic global

  • village: those flavored the air we breathed then,

  • along with occasional tear gas and other contaminants.

  • One may sniff traces of that air in the Funhouse.

  • I myself found it more invigorating than disturbing.

  • May the reader find these stories likewise.

  • It's a very interesting little comparison he makes at the end.

  • He takes that whole foment of 1960s politics and

  • counterculture, and essentially he says,

  • "I found that invigorating as I hope you will find these stories

  • invigorating," as if the stories in this

  • very--almost, seemingly, hermetically--sealed

  • literary world that he offers us are somehow meant to have the

  • effects of a whole decade of foment,

  • social foment. If Barth only gestures

  • towards that world, the politics of that decade,

  • Pynchon actually lets us see it.

  • And if you look on page 83, this is just one of many,

  • many examples. But I choose this one just

  • because it's so obvious.

  • Oedipa is going to Berkeley looking for Emory Bortz,

  • and she comes on a summer weekday in the mid afternoon.

  • No time for any campus Oedipa knew of to be jumping,

  • yet this one was. She came down the slope from

  • Wheeler Hall through Sather Gate into a plaza teeming with

  • corduroy, denim, bare legs,

  • blond hair, horn rims, bicycle spokes in the sun,

  • book bags swaying, card tables,

  • long paper petitions dangling to earth, posters for

  • undecipherable FSMs, YAFs, VDCs, suds in the

  • fountain, students nose to nose in dialog.

  • She moved through it carrying her fat book,

  • attracted, unsure, a stranger, wanting to feel

  • relevant but knowing how much of a search among alternative

  • universes it would take for she had undergone her own educating

  • at a time of nerves, blandness and retreat not only

  • among her fellow students but also most of the visible

  • structure around and ahead of them [that whole world of

  • government and social life].

  • Oedipa is in a different generation, of a different

  • generation, but we can see the social foment just in that

  • little snapshot of the Berkeley campus.

  • I don't know all of the acronyms.

  • I don't know what the FSMs are, but the YAFs are the Young

  • Americans for Freedom. The VDCs are the Vietnam Day

  • Committees. The Vietnam Day Committee

  • organized a 24-hour teach-in in 1965 against the Vietnam War.

  • There is a little anecdote from that teach-in that I want to

  • share with you, that I think embodies some of

  • the tensions in this novel. They invited Ken Kesey to come

  • and speak at the convention, at the teach-in.

  • Now, Ken Kesey, some of you probably know,

  • was a sort of performer, writer, not really an activist.

  • He was a purveyor of street theater and most famously the

  • advocate of LSD, and he and his Merry Pranksters

  • would ride around the country doing street theater,

  • advocating the use of LSD and marijuana.

  • Who, in 1964, do you think drove their bus,

  • which was called Further? Who do you think drove their

  • bus? Neal Cassady drove their bus.

  • When they came to the Vietnam Day at the Berkeley campus,

  • Kesey addressed the assembled people saying,

  • "Turn your back on the war. Look at the war,

  • turn your back on the war and say 'fuck it.'"

  • This is a group of people he was addressing who were intent

  • on doing something to stop the war, and this was Kesey's

  • response. That moment,

  • for me, embodies this tension right at the center of the

  • 1960s, a tension between

  • countercultural self-development and an ethos of play,

  • "drop out,

  • tune in," and (I can't remember Kesey's little motto).

  • Essentially, leave the institutional life of

  • America--that means schools, government,

  • politics, all those traditional sources of order--and create

  • disorder. And do that as a way of finding

  • what's true about yourself; do it in the company of others.

  • It had this communal aspect, for sure.

  • On the other side, you have a growing political

  • movement among young people, and of course it's legendary.

  • By 1964, the Civil Rights movement had accomplished

  • amazing things. As a result of the Freedom

  • Rides, they had integrated interstate transportation,

  • at great cost to the volunteers who rode those buses.

  • They were beaten. Some were killed.

  • Civil Rights workers were murdered in various states.

  • It had come to a kind of crescendo with voter

  • registration drives and the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

  • At the same time, Lyndon B.

  • Johnson was ratcheting up the Vietnam War, so the Gulf of

  • Tonkin Resolution was passed in 1964, which authorized bombing

  • raids on Cambodia. This was a new turn in the war,

  • and it promised to escalate it, and this really

  • galvanized--especially student--resistance.

  • So, this was a time of major political stakes,

  • and young people at universities--primarily at

  • universities, but also people out doing the

  • March on Washington, in the South,

  • in small towns--were really changing the face of America and

  • its role in the world. So, Ken Kesey,

  • on the one hand, is looking for that internally

  • directed, playful response to the oppressive order of the

  • world. And then there is this very

  • political response. Pynchon lets us see both.

  • And he's parodying both kinds of response in this novel,

  • so in that sense, the novel is very much of its

  • time. Now, I want to pause for a

  • moment there and ask you a question.

  • I want you to think about what kind of protagonist Pynchon

  • sends out into this world. What do you think of Oedipa

  • Maas? How does she strike you as a

  • character? How would you describe her?

  • Yeah. Student:

  • Desperate.Professor Amy Hungerford:

  • Desperate. Okay.

  • How else? Yeah.Student:

  • Powerless.Professor Amy Hungerford:

  • Powerless. Uh huh.Student:

  • Very confused.Professor Amy

  • Hungerford: Confused. What else?

  • Those are all pretty negative adjectives.

  • Does she bring any resources? Yes.Student:

  • She's especially attractive.Professor Amy

  • Hungerford: She's attractive.

  • Yes, she is. What else?

  • What other resources does she bring?

  • Yeah.Student: She's

  • curious.Professor Amy Hungerford: She's curious.

  • Yeah. What else?

  • Anything else? Student:

  • She's determined.Professor Amy

  • Hungerford: Determined. Uh huh.

  • When this book first came out, critics called her a

  • lightweight. Was that a word that ever

  • occurred to you? Did anyone think,

  • "this is just a fluff character"?

  • I would suggest to you that the difference in your response and

  • the critics' is the difference that feminism in the '70s made.

  • In the 1960s, to have a protagonist go into

  • the world and discover this incredibly complex set of

  • patterns, and to have that protagonist be