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Captivity without Redemption: Pynchon's Allegories of Empire in Mason & Dixon

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Submitted to Pynchon Notes. 2016
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Abstract In chapters 53 and 54 of Mason & Dixon (1997), Thomas Pynchon inserts a remarkable narrative interpolation. “The Captive’s Tale,” as it is subsequently named, represents the popular colonial captivity narrative but in simulacra or pastiche, correct in its details but substituting a peculiarly contemporary set of references for the colonialist ideology of the early narratives. Pynchon uses the captivity narrative, a popular vehicle of imperialistic values, to deconstruct the metanarrative of American Exceptionalism. Exploiting the inherent doubleness of allegorical representation, present in colonial captivity narratives, this interpolated story emphasizes the contingent relationship between literary signifier and historical signified. The failure of semantic closure sustains a linguistic doubleness that is matched in Pynchon’s narrative by a motif of historical anachronism. Linguistic and chronological doubleness in Mason & Dixon work with various structural forms of doubling that articulate a sense of entrapment from which there can be no escape: characters are situated in a liminal state between putative “inside” and “outside” spaces that, like the Moebius strip, converge and refuse to be separated. In this way, patterns of inclusion and exclusion are articulated in the very texture of a narrative that places in question the issue of sovereignty as the power to create what Georgio Agamben calls “states of exception.” Exceptional individuals and groups can benefit from exemption from the law by the intervention of a sovereign power whose sovereignty and own transcendence of law is confirmed by the act of creating the exception. Though this exception is enacted as exceptional, Agamben points out that in fact such exceptions prove the rule of sovereign power and confirm the impossibility of distinguishing inside from outside in relation to systems of power. Mason & Dixon takes the seemingly exceptional case of captivity to be a paradigm of the rule of power under Empire, a boundless transnational order where we are all held captive without the prospect of redemption.
Keywords Thomas PynchonCaptivity narrativeAmerican ExceptionalismAllegoryInterpolated narrativeNarrative anachronism
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MADSEN, Deborah Lea. Captivity without Redemption: Pynchon's Allegories of Empire in Mason & Dixon. Submitted to: Pynchon Notes, 2016. https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:88197

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Deposited on : 2016-10-13

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