Thomas Pynchon in TV Land: The Televisual Culture in Vineland

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Thomas Pynchon in TV Land: The Televisual Culture in Vineland Mark Robberds’ 1995 Article "The New Historicist Creepers of Vineland" is an insightful look into how Thomas Pynchon’s 1990 novel fits the new historicist criteria of Michel Foucault, Stephen Greenblatt, and other new historicists. He convincingly argues for the "vinelike" characteristics of the novel, and shows how it is "genealogical in structure and archeological in content" (Robberds 238). What Robberds means is that Vineland is a complex narrative with more characters than a three-part miniseries. The book, which opens in 1984, is set as much in the sixties as in the eighties. After meeting each character, we are treated to their history and interaction with other characters over the previous fifteen to fifty years, in some cases tracing back to their parents and grandparents. All this personal and cultural history fits into Robberds’ definition of Foucault’s new historicism nicely, but Robberds seems so eager to fit Vineland into this box that he misses one of the true pleasures of reading Pynchon. Robberds writes that Greenblatt and others treat texts as "‘cultural artifacts’ with no intrinsic aesthetic value, but as microcosms of cultural and institutional patterns" (Robberds 238-9). He expands on this idea in a section of his article called "Cultural Artifacts: A Televisual Guide to Vineland:" Vineland does not seem to provide an avenue for directly mimetic passage from text to reality, unless one intends to read all mention of popular culture in the text as essentially parodic. The text neither applauds nor parodies the televisual but presents it instead as "cultural artefact." (244) This position is contradicted by the text, in which Pynchon parodies television to no end. Robberds supports his statement by quoting characters saying, "It was like being on Wheel of Fortune" (Pynchon 12), but he doesn’t mention passages like "…Twi-Nite Theatre, which tonight featured John Ritter in The Bryant Gumbel Story…" (Pynchon 355). Television is more than just "cultural artefact" in Vineland; it is a medium for Pynchon to parody and over which to pass judgement. J. A. Cuddon’s A Dictionary of Literary Terms defines parody as: The imitative use of words, style, attitude, tone, and ideas of an author in such a way as to make them ridiculous. This is usually achieved by exaggerating certain traits, using more or less the same technique as the cartoon caricaturist. In fact, a kind of satirical mimicry.

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