Denying the Machine: Luddites, Monsters, and Pynchon’s Posthuman Gothic


As the Liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!

With these lines from Lord Byron, Thomas Pynchon ends his essay on technology and humanity, titled “Is It O.K. To Be A Luddite?” (1984), with a resounding affirmation of the Luddite cause. The “‘Luddite’ skepticism that dominates Pynchon’s politics” has been well-noted elsewhere, but nowhere is it clearer than in this essay just what a fraught and ambiguous conception of Luddism Pynchon adheres to (Thomas 2007, 146). Far from espousing a simply anti-technological position, Pynchon’s essay is shot through with ambivalence, moving from the revolutionary hopes of Byron’s poem to the recuperation of those same energies to the ends of an eventual entente between humanity and machine. Pynchon equivocates between these two positions, suggesting in one paragraph that “if the logistics can be worked out, miracles may yet be possible” and in another revealing that promise of perfection to be the scam of “an emerging technopolitical order that might or might not know what it was doing” (Pynchon 1984).

It is the object of this paper to interrogate these equivocations in Pynchon’s essay, between humanity and technology, between miracles and machines, and to formulate what I identify as a specifically Posthuman Gothicism at the heart of this conceptual nexus. I wish to argue that in giving a contemporary voice to the Luddite cause, Pynchon simultaneously proposes both a Gothic aesthetics able, in his words, “to insist on the miraculous” and a paradoxically posthuman ethics able to “deny the machine at least some of its claims on us,” which together may “assert the limited wish that living things, earthly and otherwise, may on occasion become Bad and Big enough to take part in transcendent doings” (Pynchon 1984). Further still, I suggest that Pynchon’s own fictions may in turn be read through this Gothic formula.  Continue reading “Denying the Machine: Luddites, Monsters, and Pynchon’s Posthuman Gothic”

More Than This: Notes on Acid Communism

“A new humanity, a new seeing, a new thinking, a new loving: this is the promise of acid communism” (Fisher 2018, 767).

 “Acid gave us the X-ray vision to see through [their lies], so of course they had to take it away from us” (Pynchon 1990, 314).

Time stands still. Out of joint doesn’t even cover it. Get in your car and drive around the grey circuits of highways, looping over the city, through the country. The nights are marked by the strobing rhythm of streetlights, and the days blur into one another. On the radio Bryan Ferry croons: “Tell me one thing more than this — oh, there’s nothing.” Endless re-runs, ever-lengthening work days, and hopeless election cycles all keep us caught in a monotonous present. The past is just a setting for the new HBO costume drama. A future different from the present is unimaginable. What alternative could there be? The mantra is this: “nothing has ever happened, nothing can ever happen” (Fisher 2018, 602). Continue reading “More Than This: Notes on Acid Communism”