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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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An announcement that I will be speaking at the "Enslavement: Colonial Appropriations, Apparitions, Remembrances, 1750-Present Day" conference at the University of Portsmouth on the 17th of June.

In this paper I will explore the twofold enmeshment of Thomas Pynchon's 1997 masterpiece, Mason & Dixon, with notions of slavery. While examining the central episode in which Dixon is reputed to have snatched a whip from the hands of a slave driver – which Charles Clerc has called that for which Pynchon “saves his greatest wrath” and which could be said to constitute the mimetic level – I will then move to show how Pynchon situates this scene within a genealogical history of Enlightenment: a counterpoint to Kant's self-incurred tutelage, or Foucault's enslaved sovereign; a historico-philosophical strata of enslavement.

In seeking out Pynchon's inextricably entwined aspects of enslavement and Enlightenment, I will make additional reference to his 2006 novel, Against the Day, which features a white slave simulation industry, alongside the notions of Enlightenment framed by Kant and Michel Foucault with occasional reference to the Frankfurt School. The conflict between positivist thought and the disruptive tripartite anachronistic structure of Pynchon's narrative will be shown to reveal the deceptive mechanism behind the progression from human beings as property, to human beings as disempowered subjects within abstract fiscal systems. In light of this, I will finally discuss whether such literary appropriation is ethically tenable for, when confronted with the true horrors of slavery in its most corporeal forms – both historically, and today – does this analogy stand up as a valid critique of Western capitalism?

Featured image Copyright 2011 University of Portsmouth.