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In his introduction to Slow Learner, Pynchon mentions two aesthetic movements which influenced his own writing: that of the Beats, and Surrealism. While he says the effect of the Beat writers was "exciting, liberating, and strongly positive" (7), he also positions his own writing as "post-Beat" (9). In contrast, he says he has "abuse[d]" Surrealism even more extensively than other influences in the years since writing his early stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s (20). This remark suggests that the influence of Surrealism continued to grow rather than wane as Pynchon wrote V. and his other novels, and that Surrealism may be an even more important influence on Pynchon than the Beats. Although the Beats share certain narrative techniques with the Surrealists, as exemplified by works like Burroughs's Naked Lunch and Ginsberg's Howl, the focus in this essay will be on the Surrealist techniques advanced by Andre Breton as they are manifested in V. Michael Vella has followed Pynchon's references to Surrealism to what he sees as an inevitable conclusion: Pynchon is a Surrealist "perpetuating the literary project of Andre Breton" (TPI 136). However, while Vella sees Pynchon as reverential toward Surrealism, Pynchon actually parodies the Surrealist movement, just as he parodies various other styles and themes in V. He does not declare his "political affinities" (TPI 144) with Surrealism; to use Pynchon's own word, he "abuses" Surrealism, recombining elements of Surrealist theory and practice in new ways to achieve a proto-postmodern form of writing. Despite Surrealism's seemingly liberatory nature, Breton, the "pope" of Surrealism, was actually dictatorial, and Surrealism, as he defines it, consists of a rigid set of artistic theories. Breton decried several Surrealist artists, claiming they did not adhere closely enough to his theories to be considered true Surrealists. This is the aspect of Surrealism that Pynchon parodies throughout V., as can be shown by comparing Pynchon's novel with Breton's 1928 novel, Nadja. While Nadja is remarkably similar in some ways to V., notably in the narrative device of searching for an elusive idealized woman, certain crucial differences indicate how Pynchon deviates from Surrealist orthodoxy.

Professional & Technical
March 22
Pynchon Notes

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