The reader's progress: Thomas Pynchon's novels as allegories of critical reading practices since 1945

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University of Alabama Libraries

This project describes the influence of post-1945 cultural, societal, and political developments on reading practices in literature departments in the United States. Reading has been central to the way academics saw themselves in relation to their socio-political surroundings and has been a direct response to or expression of contemporary pressures between the years after World War II and the present. The distinct reading zeitgeist of each of these decades allows us to identify a number of paradigmatic reading stances: readers in the ivory tower, paranoid readers, doubtful readers, resisting readers, meta-readers, Luddite readers, and iconoclast readers. Thomas Pynchon is one of the few American authors who have published over this exact time span. His novels, when interpreted as allegories of reading, not only reflect the complex changes that have taken place in the reading zeitgeist since 1945 but also lure their readers into assuming certain roles. This "interpellative" function of Pynchon's novels works in a way that disrupts and challenges the dominant reading paradigm. Pynchon's sustained preoccupation with reading not only unifies his later novels with his "classical" work of the 1960s and 1970s but also shows him as the most prominent observer of and commentator on post-1945 reading practices in the academy.

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American literature