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The American Reading Conspiracy: Paranoid Interpretations of US History and Pynchon Novels

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Puritan ideas of close reading of the Good Book to interpret the greater divine plan for their lives in the new American colonies are the foundations of a conspiratorial mindset in the USA. Personal biblical exegesis was in essence an antiestablishment activity, where personal interpretation could supersede dogmatic readings. At the same time, pursuing signs and patterns fostered a paranoid reading strategy in which “everything is connected” and confirmed a (sinister) establishment.
Conspiracy has never seemed more central to the ontological understanding of the USA than now. This paper reviews the way Pynchon has handled this particular worldview in his novels, practically and historically, before arguing that our acts of interpretation of his work may themselves actually use the epistemological tools of conspiracy theory.
The qualitative analysis of “elite” academic readers adjoins the quasi-scientific practices of conspiracy theorists: thorough research filtered by subjective insights. Both groups pursue textual traces and connections to reveal unseen truths. Puritan readers sifted information for God’s true plan rather than that established of Roman clergy; QAnon activists look for the veiled plan Trump has mounted against a “they”-system of the hidden “Deep State” establishment. In both cases signs and interpretations proliferate around an author(itarian) figure.
Early Pynchon novels arguably invited this sort of paranoid reading activity as a postmodern insight. In a post-factual world, where conspiracy theory approaches the main stream, I question whether recent novels can work this way without changing our role as readers and Pynchon’s as the author of our pursuit.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year13 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2019
EventInternational Pynchon Week 2019: Pynchon In Rome - Sapienza University, Rome, Italy
Duration: 10 Jun 201914 Jun 2019


ConferenceInternational Pynchon Week 2019
LocationSapienza University
Internet address

    Research areas

  • Thomas Pynchon, Puritanism, paranoia, conspiracy theory, Reading cultures, Literary criticism. Literary theory, Donald Trump

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