Pynchon’s Malta

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A heavily bombarded Valletta. Credit: J.E. Russell.


The Cold War era was not a happy time to be a mannequin. On May 5, 1955, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb at the Nevada Test Site on a mannequin population living in a model suburban neighborhood that included all the essential buildings: a fire station, a school, a library, and a tract of single-family homes outfitted with the latest consumer durables, the appliances and amenities that Nixon would later celebrate to Khrushchev in the 1959 Kitchen Debate. After the blast, which was dubbed "Operation Cue" and viewed on television by one hundred million people, officials and volunteers began the post-apocalyptic cleanuprummaging through the rubble in search of torched and dismembered dummies, inspecting large-scale infrastructural damage, salvaging foodstuffs. Chicken potpies were excavated from underground bulk freezers and tested for radiation, nutritional value, color, and flavor; roast beef and baked beans, accompanied by tomato juice and coffee, were prepared on-site and served to rescue teams administering first aid to the wounded. The most severe cases were helicoptered to nearby hospitals, while others were sent on national tour, artfully displayed in J. C. Penney stores, still dressed in the scorched tatters of an otherwise stylish wardrobe. These mannequins (displayed with a sign that read "this could be you!") invited American citizens to imagine themselves as the battered survivors of a nuclear attack while encouraging them, as the anthropologist Joseph Masco explains, "to contemplate life within a postnuclear ruin." 1

As a result of work at the Nevada Test Site, the United States is the most nuclear-bombed country on earth, and spectacles like "Operation Cue" reveal that Cold War American culture was marked by a perverse fixation on ruins and ruination, particularly in the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. 2 During this period, Thomas Pynchon turned his attention to the ruins of World War II-era Malta, a tiny archipelago that lies approximately ninety kilometers south of Sicily. 3 Among the most poignant and perplexing scenes in V.the remarkable debut novel that he published in 1963are those conjuring "bombed-out buildings" and "buff-colored rubble." 4 Examining several of these scenes in the context of the Cold War, this essay develops two interrelated claims. The first is that Pynchon deploys what I will define as the logic of the ruin in his representation of Maltese ruins, thereby establishing a complex, mimetic relationship between V. and one of the sites that it so vividly depicts. The second is that Pynchon, through his specification of Maltese ruins, engaged a formal and conceptual paradox, representation without resemblance, which animated the emergence of site specificity in the visual and plastic arts. These claims will unfold through a critical practice that I want to name site readingexamining the relation between a literary setting (Pynchon's Malta) and one of the real, material sites that helped to inspire itwhich I will define most fully in the final section of this essay. In short, site reading devotes to setting the sort of attention that is most often reserved for other literary elements, such as plot, character, and theme, as a means of apprehending how literature mediates the tangible world, thereby perpetuating the materialist emphasis of recent literary-critical scholarship, while posing new historical and conceptual questions.

Here, site reading takes the form of an extended analysis of chapter 11 of Pynchon's novel, which, set in a ruined Malta, narrates the death of The Bad Priest, one of the many embodiments of V. in the story. A humanoid figure trapped at a bombsite, The Priest recalls the mannequins of "Operation Cue," while functioning most emphatically, I will argue, as a riposte to Norbert Wiener and the vision of the cybernetic being that he develops in The Human Use of Human Beings, a text Pynchon knew well. After tracking Pynchon's dialogue with Wiener, I will go on to show how The Priest participates in the novel's dynamic of representation without resemblance, wherein Malta represents America but does not resemble it, in order to identify and elaborate a link between postwar verbal and visual art that has yet to be explored. Although V. parodies abstract expressionism and the heroic figure of the postwar male artist in a character, a self-described "Catatonic Expressionist" who paints "Cubist, Fauve, and Surrealist cheese Danishes," the full scope of the novel's relationship to other arts is irreducible to this parody (307). Indeed, Pynchon's treatment of Malta aligns him with Robert Smithson, one of the earliest and most influential practitioners of site specificity. As I aim to demonstrate, both the author and the artist pursued the paradox of representation without resemblance through an engagement with the physical properties of specific sites, and both developed highly original, yet curiously similar, conceptions of time and history by concentrating on rocks and rock formations. Exploring these parallels, this essay provides a fresh account of a groundbreaking literary text, a novel that helped to introduce what we call literary postmodernism, while telling a new story about the relationship between literature and visual art during "the period formerly known as contemporary." 5

While art historians have produced sophisticated taxonomies of site specificity in the visual arts, and while literary critics have begun to theorize site-specific poetry and poetics, I seek in what follows to take a step toward conceptualizing novelistic site specificity. 6  Miwon Kwon explains, in her influential "genealogy of site specificity," that early site-specific artsuch as Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970)"gave itself up to its environmental context, being formally determined or directed by it." 7 Emerging from what Hal Foster calls the "crux of minimalism," such work insisted on both the bodily presence of the viewing subject and the materiality of a given locale, rejecting the abstract, pure, idealist space of modernist beholding that was defined and championed most emphatically by Michael Fried. 8 The viewer was meant to experience such work in real time, not through what Fried described as disembodied visual epiphany, at a specific site whose parameters were multiply understood. Surveying nearly half a century of artistic practice, Kwon elaborates three overlapping "paradigms of site specificity" that correspond to three distinct notions of site: the first, "phenomenological," refers to the "agglomeration of the actual physical attributes of a particular location"; the second, "institutional," refers to the "network of interrelated spaces and economies" that "frame and sustain art's ideological system"; and the third, "discursive," refers to an "intertextually coordinated, multiply located, discursive field of operation." 9 Because it is less intuitive than the others, and more obviously problematic, the third has attracted the most scrutiny. Recently, for instance, Lytle Shaw proffered "a critique and revision of the theory of the discursive site," examining the relation between site-specific art (the work of Mark Dion and Renée Green, in particular) and contemporary poetry by Robert Fitterman, Lisa Robertson, and others. 10

Turning to a different genre, the postmodern novel, raises decidedly different questions. While Shaw pursues "the problem of what might count as the raw materials, scales, and intertextual logic or coherence of a discursive site," claiming that some contemporary poetic practices address this problem head-on, I am eager to track what happens when, in Kwon's terms, a phenomenological site becomes a discursive figure: a novelistic mise-en-scène. 11 How does the "agglomeration of the actual physical attributes of a particular location" attain a narrative function, and to what extent does this agglomeration govern narrative form? Can a novel, in other words, "g[i]ve itself up" to an "environmental context" to such a degree that it becomes "formally determined or directed by it"? What follows is an attempt to answer such questions, however partially and provisionally, by analyzing Pynchon's Malta.

Novel and Ruin

"Nothing more intricately conceived than Thomas Pynchon's first novel," wrote Richard Poirier in The New York Review of Books in 1963, "has appeared in American fiction since the work in the thirties by Faulkner, Nathanael West and Djuna Barnes." 12 He was among the first critics to note the "cryptographic" quality of a text that, two months earlier, George Plimpton had described in The New York Times as "brilliant and turbulent." 13 Much of the novel's turbulence derives from its Joycean play with reference, along with its unconventional mode of storytelling and its vertiginous shifts in historical time, space, and point of view. V. comprises two interrelated and intercalated narratives: the first, whose protagonist is Benny Profane, unfolds mostly in New York City circa 1956, while the second, whose protagonist is Herbert Stencil, unfolds between 1898 and 1943 in a series of disparate locales, including New York, Mallorca, Alexandria and Cairo, Paris, Florence, German Southwest Africa (Namibia), and Malta. The latter is first mentioned in the opening chapter when Profane and another character, Pappy Hod, are discussing Pappy's estranged wife, Paola. "She'd said sixteen" was her age, "but no way of telling because she'd been born just before the war and the building with her records destroyed, like most other buildings on the island of Malta" (6). This passage, which goes on to pinpoint precisely where Pappy first met Paola"the Metro Bar, on Strait Street. The Gut. Valletta, Malta"exemplifies how concretely Pynchon means to render this site, whose many "topological deformities" he describes at length (521). Moreover, it depicts Malta as a ruin, a besieged island that has suffered massive architectural damage, thereby anticipating chapter 11, "Confessions of Fausto Maijstral," which details the utter devastation of World War II: "the bombed-out buildings, buff-colored rubble" (423).

Pynchon's treatment of Malta as a ruin calls to mind a theoretical discourse on ruins that includes the seminal work of thinkers such as Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin. Tracking the dialectic between "the will of the spirit and the necessity of nature," Simmel argued in 1911 that ruins reveal "the present form of the past," and Benjamin echoed this point about a decade later, asserting that "[i]n the ruin history has physically merged into the setting." 14 Siegfried Kracauer appreciated how Simmel "reads a deeper symbolic meaning into" the ruin by charting "the impact [it] ha[s] on our feelings," while for Benjamin, he pointed out, "knowledge arises out of ruins." 15 Ernst Bloch understood the ruin along similar lines, but after World War II he sought to draw a sharp contrast between two kinds of ruin and processes of ruination: "How different these sentimentally contrived ruins," he wrote, regarding those found in the gothic novel, "from the horribly real ones which the American terror-attacks have left behind." 16 These observations have influenced much recent scholarship that cuts across the humanities and interpretive social sciences. Ann Laura Stoler, for example, asserts that ruins "condense alternative senses of history" and "draw on residual pasts to make claims on futures," even as they "create a sense of irretrievability or of futures lost." 17 Likewise, Nick Yablon concentrates on the peculiar temporality of these sites. "To some extent, all ruins exhibit a degree of nonsynchronicity," he claims, "[...] that belies any simple notion of a completed past or a self-contained present." 18 All told, this discourse repeatedly draws attention to what Yablon (following Nietzsche) calls the "untimeliness" of ruins: the way that they spatialize multiple times, as well as multiple senses of time, within a single site. At Pompeii or Machu Picchu, visitors embarking on what Bloch called an "antiquarian sojourn" can experience a distant time as fully proximate, whereas at abandoned factories and bombed-out cities they can experience a proximate time as distant, encountering the architecture of the modern era in a patina of decay that makes it almost seem ancient. However, the ruin does not merely join one historical epoch and another, but situates one in the context of another that, to a certain extent, shapes it: this is what Simmel meant when he claimed that ruins divulge the present form of the past.

Pynchon visualizes this point at the end of chapter 16, just before Profane disappears into the sea with his new companion, Brenda Wigglesworth: "Later, out in the street, near the sea steps she inexplicably took his hand and began to run. The buildings in this part of Valletta, eleven years after war's end, had not been rebuilt. The street, however, was level and clear" (506). Ambling around Valletta, Malta's capital city, in the autumn of 1956, Profane is surrounded by soldiers preparing for war: "As an indication of the military buildup in Malta since the beginning of the Suez crisis, there overflowed into the street a choppy sea of green Commando berets, laced with the white and blue of naval uniforms [...] Nearby at a newspaper kiosk, red scare headlines proclaimed BRITISH INTEND TO MOVE INTO SUEZ!" (477). Here Profane encounters what Andreas Huyssen calls an "urban palimpsest," wherein the interplay of ruin and repairbombed-out buildings on a "level and clear" streetdramatizes the friction between one historical epoch and another, disclosing both the passage of time and a kind of temporal stasis, as the buildings appear lodged in 1943 while their environs, from the street to the city to the whole of Malta, have advanced to 1956. 19 By representing these buildings from the viewpoint of Profane, who was once a naval officer and whose comrades are among those stationed on Malta, Pynchon seems to be suggesting that "the ruin," as Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle argue, "is predicated on a particular gaze cast upon it [...] The beholder defines the ruin, and the ruin could not exist without such creative appropriation." 20 Profane does not linger at the site, and his "particular gaze" hardly amounts to an act of "creative appropriation," but this scene begins to indicate that Pynchon understood the ruin as a site where one historical epoch is contextualized by another through the glance of a beholder. This is what I want to mark as the logic of the ruin.

Pynchon deploys this logic most fully in chapter 11. At the end of the preceding chapter, Paola Maijstral, one of the characters who helps to bridge the gap between the novel's two narratives, hands Stencil a document, the "confession" of her father, Fausto. This document contains information pertaining to V. that Paola knows will be of great interest to Stencil, who is on the hunt for the novel's title character. "'Read,' she said, 'and see'" (331). What follows is the text of the confession, which is addressed to Paola and read by Stencil, two characters residing for the time being in New York City during the late 1950s. Thus, when Fausto, a Maltese citizen writing from Valletta, goes on to portray the siege of Malta, his depiction is situated in the context of Cold War America by both its addressee (Paola) and its diegetic reader (Stencil). Besides evincing the complexity of narrative technique for which Pynchon is so often celebrated, these formal particulars generate a compelling question: How does World War II Malta appear, literally, from the vantage or the standpoint of Cold War America; or, in figurative terms, what happens to the ruins and ruination of Malta under the pressure of a cultural imaginary that is deeply anxious about its own, seemingly imminent, ruination by nuclear disaster? To address this question, which I mean to do by analyzing Fausto's confession, is not only to apprehend how V. arrogates the logic of the ruin, contextualizing one historical epoch with another through the glance of a beholder, but also to articulate how Pynchon approaches a foundational concern of site-specific art: the way that, as Smithson put it, "one site can represent another site which does not resemble it." 21

The Logic of the Ruin

Critics often overlook the fact that the confession, which comprises all but the last page of chapter 11, is read by Stencil, that it comes to us through his eyesthe eyes of a subject residing in Cold War America. I will return to this crucial feature of the text, but first I want to consider Fausto, the confessor himself, whose unwieldy narration delineates a "successive rejection of personalities," quoting lengthy segments from old journals and diaries as a means of illuminating significant autobiographical scenes and previous selves (335). Pynchon deploys the trope of the palimpsest as these selves (literally: Fausto I, II, III, and IV), and the texts that conjure them are layered and contextualized by the most recent Fausto. This trope in its own way links the novel to the ruin, given that the latter, as Huyssen and others demonstrate, is marked by layering and stratification. Although Fausto means to draw a detailed self-portrait while covering a great range of topics, from war and history to poetry and art, he seems especially preoccupied with the built environment, or on a certain relay between the built and the destroyed, as he situates his sins in space and time. He begins with a meditation on the site of confession"It takes, unhappily, no more than a desk and writing supplies to turn any room into a confessional" (333)which inaugurates a broader architectural concern: "The room is in a building which had nine such rooms before the war. Now there are three. The building is on an escarpment above the Dockyard. The room is stacked atop two othersthe other two-thirds of the building were removed by the bombing, sometime during the winter of 1942-43" (334). His attention to destroyed urban space intensifies as he describes Paola's childhood amid the turmoil of war, growing up in "the ruin their island was becoming" (367). Paola is among the throng of Maltese children who "swarmed among the ruins" (379); much like those in Benjamin's Einbahnstraße, she and her cohort are "drawn by the detritus" in "site[s] where things are being visibly worked on." 22 Similar accounts appear in many actual diaries from the period.

"Like other children," writes Maltese diarist Laurence Mizzi, "I used to spend hours watching the miners wielding massive picks to dig into the hard stone inch by inch and occasionally using dynamite to blast the rock." 23 He is referring to the bomb shelters, hastily carved into the indigenous limestone, where people slept, ate, argued, had sex, and even gave birth. The siege began on June 11, 1940, and lasted until January 20, 1943; all told, there were 1,409 casualties and 35,000 homes destroyed by both Italian and German bombers. 24 During the most intense period, which began in April 1942, air raids numbered in the double digits on most days, effectively transforming Malta into a subterranean society; as Pynchon himself puts it, "everything civilian and with a soul was underground" (357). People "sheltered themselves in whatever cliffs they could find," explains one historian, and most "inhabitants preferred to remain below during this period of heavy bombardment, rarely ever coming up into the daylight." 25 Despite tremendous hardship, though, the Maltese withstood the siege. "The sudden offensive turn-around of Malta," wrote Jack Belden in Time on February 15, 1943, "is one of the most dramatic incidents of three and a half years of war." 26 He was among the few American writers to depict this event in any detail, and his account may have influenced Pynchon, whose research for V. included stints at the New York Public Library poring over texts on Malta. 27 "Week by week the attack was stepped up," Belden continued, "until Malta was being pounded by an average of 175 bombers a day [...] After April 1, except for three days of bad weather, Malta lived constantly underground." 28 For his part, Fausto depicts a brief lull in the bombardment that gives the children the opportunity to emerge and to gather around "a broken structure" (379). He himself descends from "the top of a slope of debris" in order to get a better view: "I felt like a spy," he confesses (379). Within a few moments, it becomes clear to him that the children are transfixed by The Bad Priest, a mysterious figure who hails from Sliema on the island's northeast coast. By concentrating on this figure, specifically the circumstances of his death, we can see how V. manifests the logic of the ruin in its eleventh chapter. The Priest is the latest victim of an air raid; "[w]edged under a fallen beam," he is "impassive" (379). From a safe distance, Fausto watches the children pick at his clothes and mock him. "Speak to us, Father," they goad, "What is your sermon for today?" (380).

Initially, The Priest is taken to be a man, but eventually the children realize that he is...something else. They begin an act of disassembly that quickly becomes an act of discovery. First they remove his hat to expose a tangle of long white hair that turns out to be a wig. At this point, they realize that The Priest is female. Then they unlace and remove her shoes, slide off her robes, and forcibly strip off her pants with a stolen commando's bayonet, exposing a nude body that is "surprisingly young" (381). When an artificial foot suddenly pops loose from its slot, one of the children remarks, "She comes apart" (381). The Priest is silent as the boy with the knife cuts into her navel to dislodge a star sapphire, while the others pry a set of false teeth from her jaws and gouge a glass eye from its socket. Fausto wonders how far the children will go: "Surely her arms and breasts could be detached," he surmises, "the skin of her legs be peeled away to reveal some intricate understructure of silver openwork. Perhaps the trunk itself contained other wonders: intestines of parti-colored silk, gay balloon-lungs, a rococo heart" (381). The disassembly ends here, though. Another air-raid siren scatters the children to shelter, leaving Fausto to administer last rites to the dying Priest, while the darkness that surrounds them is sporadically lit by "flares over Valletta, incendiary bombs in the dockyard," their voices "drowned in the explosions or the chattering of the ground artillery" (382).

This scene resonates with several others in the novel that feature two characters named SHOCK and SHROUD. Both are technologically advanced mannequins whose names are acronyms: SHOCK stands for "synthetic human object, casualty kinematics," and SHROUD stands for "synthetic human, radiation output determined" (309-10). Pynchon drew inspiration for these characters from a New York Times article, published in April 1959, profiling a company, Alderson Research Laboratories, that was in the business of manufacturing mannequins designed to test the effects of nuclear radiation on the human body. 29

At "Anthroresearch Associates," Pynchon's version of Alderson Labs, SHROUD is bombarded with radiation, while SHOCK, an "entirely lifelike" mannequin, is put through a battery of crash tests: "It scared the hell out of Profane the first time he saw it, lying half out the smashed windshield of an old Plymouth, fitted with moulages for depressed-skull and jaw injuries and compound arm and leg fractures" (311). SHROUD proves even more unsettling. "What's it like," Profane asks the mannequin one night; "Better than you have it," replies SHROUD. "Me and SHOCK are what you and everybody will be someday... All I am is a dry run" (311-12). To be like SHOCK and SHROUD is not only to be routinely battered, bombarded, and radiatedsubjected to a range of brutal tests at a site "jokingly referred to as the chamber of horrors" (310)but also to be less than fully human, which is why Kathleen Fitzpatrick takes these mannequins to be "a representation of the human as a machine for bombardment." 30 Blurring the boundary between human and machine, while calling attention both to the violence of technology and to the technology of violence, The Priest can be understood along similar lines. Moreover, by combining a desire for prostheses with a play on gender norms, s/he anticipates Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto," engaging many of the problems that structure what we now call posthumanism. 31 The scene of her/his death, in particular, seems to function as a riposte to Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics and one of the forefathers of posthumanist thought. 32

Drawn to cybernetics in the 1950s, Pynchon cites Wiener as an inspiration for his widely anthologized "Entropy," explaining that The Human Use of Human Beings, Wiener's introduction to cybernetics for the nonspecialist, was intriguing for its "spectacle of universal heat death," which accorded with the "somber glee at any idea of mass destruction or decline" that he felt at the time. 33 Although this comment suggests that Pynchon was interested primarily in mass destructionin what Wiener terms "the ultimate heat-death of the universe"he seems to be grappling as well with the cybernetic notion of dangerous machines, or what Wiener often refers to as "automata." 34 During World War II, as Peter Galison has shown, Wiener was heavily involved in weapons science, working for the Allies to combat an enemy that he conceptualized, in Galison's words, as "a tense concatenation of human and machine." 35 This concatenation formed the basis for cybernetics as Wiener later theorized it. At times throughout The Human Use of Human Beings, Wiener appears anxious about his project: in the chapter dealing with "a variety of problems concerning automata," he describes a "class of machines which possess some very sinister possibilities." 36 Katherine Hayles argues that these "possibilities" are really variations of a single possibility: the potential of the machine to threaten the coherence and agency of the liberal humanist subject. "When machines are evil in The Human Use of Human Beings," she asserts, "it is usually because they have become rigid and inflexible." The "ultimate horror" for Wiener, as she reads him, is that "the rigid machine" will "absorb the human being, co-opting the flexibility that is the human birthright," ultimately to rob the human of its agency. 37

But the death of The Bad Priest is devoid of such horror, which is why this scene can be understood to reorient Wiener's worry about "sinister" machines. The children are motivated by something like wonder, which turns to cruelty but never to disgust, and Fausto is moved by pity to act when the children depart: "At the time," he declares, "I only knew that a dying human must be prepared. I had no oil to anoint her organs of senseso mutilated nowand so used her own blood, dipping it from the navel as from a chalice" (382). On the one hand, then, s/he forms a strange and astonishing composite of human flesh, prosthetic devices, precious stones, and perhaps even an interior made from the materials of arts and crafts and decoration, a rococo latticework of silver and silk. On the other, s/he is akin to "a dying human." In either case, she is no rigid machine. The only rigid machines in this scene are the bombs. "These children knew what was happening: knew that bombs killed," Fausto rues; "But what's a human after all? No different from a church, obelisk, statue. Only one thing matters: it's the bomb that wins" (367). His fundamental pointthat bombs impartially pulverize humans, nonhumans, and human-nonhuman hybridsrecasts World War II into a conflict between bombs and everything else: whatever does not fall from the Luftwaffe or the Regia Aeronautica and explode on impact. If you can build a bomb powerful enough, he suggests, then you can destroy cities, islands, archipelagoes, the whole world. Such a scenario might have seemed implausible in 1942-1943, but it seemed imminent in 1963, the year V. was first published, which sits squarely within a period in American culture, running from the mid-1950s (when Stencil reads the confession) to the mid-1960s, that was, as Paul Boyer puts it, "pervaded by the nuclear theme." 38 Given this historical context, the death of The Bad Priest reads as a retort to Wiener that expresses an anxiety about a machine other than a cyborgwhat Pynchon elsewhere calls "our common nightmare The Bomb"by portraying a pseudocyborg as a victim of bombardment. 39

Thus, following Daniel Grausam, we might say that this scene exemplifies how Pynchon's fiction addresses "the horror of a fully thermonuclear war" even (and most profoundly) when nuclear weapons are not "explicitly revealed or named." 40 By doing so, it manifests the logic of the ruin, the contextualization of one historical moment by another through the glance of a beholder, as it has been defined by a long tradition of thought since Simmel. Recall that the confession is literally situated in the context of the Cold War by Stencil, its diegetic reader. This formal structure raises the question of what role he plays in mediating Fausto's narration. Elsewhere in the novel, Stencil is described as an agent of distortion: "Stencil listened attentively. The tale proper and the questioning after took no more than thirty minutes. Yet the next Wednesday afternoon at Eigenvalue's office, when Stencil retold it, the yarn had undergone considerable change: had become, as Eigenvalue put it, Stencilized" (246). But by the end of the confession, when he "let[s] the last thin scribbled sheet flutter to bare linoleum," there seems no clear indication of what role he has played in its transmission, how exactly it has been "Stencilized" (384). I want to propose that, in chapter 11, "Stencilization" takes the form of what Grausam, referring to Gravity's Rainbow, terms the "nuclear subtext" of Pynchon's writing. 41 As it plays out in the death of The Bad Priest and elsewhere, this subtext subtly registers what Hell and Schönle would call Stencil's "particular gaze" on the confession and its main referent, the ruins of Malta. In keeping with Pynchon's most sophisticated responses to "our common nightmare The Bomb," Stencil himself never "explicitly reveal[s] or name[s]" nuclear weapons, for he is singularly focused on his hunt for the novel's title character, but his act of reading situates the confession in a context of pervasive nuclear fear. This context shapes scenes of nonnuclear ruination, endowing them with an anxiety that predominated only after 1945. Here Pynchon's experimentation with narrative form obeys the logic of the ruin, as one historical moment (the Cold War) frames and shapes another (World War II) through the device of "Stencilization," the particular gaze of a beholder.

Representation without Resemblance

Another way to put this claim, emphasizing space rather than time, would be to say that through Pynchon's play with narrative form, Malta comes to represent America without resembling it. The death of The Bad Priest does not only constitute a challenge to cybernetic thought; it also helps the novel to establish a complex structure of representation without resemblance that, as I read it, suggests a connection between Pynchon and Robert Smithson, and thus between postwar literary and visual art, that is worth pursuing for how it might revise and expand prevailing theories of site specificity to account for the novel form. Exploring this connection, moreover, can further refine our understanding of what might be called Pynchon's posthumanism, for both he and Smithson developed the notion of history as a material accumulation or "sedimentation," to borrow one of Smithson's favorite words, rather than a sequence of events precipitated by human actors and actions. Of course, there are crucial differences between discursive and material versions of representation without resemblance, as there are between literary and sculptural art-making practices. 42 Nonetheless, there are many striking parallels between the author and the artist. Both are seen as key figures in the emergence of postmodernism in their respective disciplines; both were preoccupied with questions of history and temporality in the 1960s and 1970s; both drew inspiration (in different ways) from the concept of entropy; both cultivated an interest in ruins and in processes of destruction and decay; and both explored the paradox of representation without resemblance in some of their most influential works.

This paradox structures Smithson's famous series of Sites and Non-Sites, and he described it in numerous interviews and written pieces, such as "A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites" (1968):

The Non-Site (an indoor earthwork) is a three dimensional logical picture that is abstract, yet it represents an actual site in N.J. (The Pine Barrens Plains). It is by this three dimensional metaphor that one site can represent another site which does not resemble itthus The Non-Site [...] Between the actual site in the Pine Barrens and The Non-Site itself exists a space of metaphoric significance. It could be that 'travel' in this space is a vast metaphor. Everything between the two sites could become physical metaphorical material devoid of natural meanings and realistic assumptions. 43

Part of a theory that he said "could be abandoned at any time," this characteristically brilliant and playful passage adumbrates a number of enigmasindoor earthwork; three-dimensional picture; physical yet metaphorical; abstract yet actual; representation without resemblancein order to transform dichotomies into dialectics. "The range of convergence between Site and Nonsite," Smithson wrote elsewhere, "consists of a course of hazards, a double path made up of signs, photographs, and maps that belong to both sides of the dialectic at once. Both sides are present and absent at the same time." 44

A Nonsite, Franklin, New Jersey (1968). Credit: Robert Smithson/James Cohan Gallery.


He was thinking of an installation like A Nonsite, Franklin, New Jerseyfirst shown in the massively influential "Earthworks" exhibition at Dwan Gallery in 1968which consists of bins containing limestone from the vicinity of the Franklin Furnace Mines, as well as an aerial map of the site. 45 An avid student of geology and crystallography, Smithson carefully examined the limestone that he exhibited. "I chose this site because it has an abundance of broken rock," he wrote; "I needed fragments 2" to 15" thick for the six [sic] bins of The Nonsite. The most common minerals found on the dump are calcite (physical properties: crystalhexagonal, cleavageperfect rhombohedral, fractureconchoidal, glows red) and willemite (physical properties: crystalhexagonal, cleavagebasal, fractureuneven to subconchoidal, glows green)." 46 Each of the trapezoidal bins containing these minerals corresponds to a specific segment of the map on the wall, and the ore is distributed proportionally. In its precisely structured form, therefore, this installation exemplifies how Smithson's Non-Sites are, as W. J. T. Mitchell points out, "defined by [their] reference" to a site beyond the exhibition venue. 47 Without "resembling" an open quarry, it nonetheless "represent[s]" the mine in Franklin where Smithson excavated the limestone that it contains. Pynchon also engages the paradox of representation without resemblance through a concentration on limestone. "Don't touch them, these walls," Fausto reminds himself, referring to the rock-cut shelters where he and his fellow Maltese take cover; "[t]hey carry the explosion for miles" (352). His description becomes more bizarre as he continues:

The rock hears everything, and brings it to bone, up the fingers and arm, down through the bone cage and bone-sticks and out again through the bone-webs. Its little passage through you is accident, merely in the nature of rock and bone: but it's as if you were given a reminder. The vibration is impossible to talk about. Felt sound. Buzzing. The teeth buzz: Pain, a numb prickling along the jawbone, stifling concussion at the eardrums. Over and over. Mallet-blows as long as the raid, raids as long as the day. You never get used to it. You'd think we'd all have gone mad by now. What keeps me standing erect and away from these walls? And silent. A brute clinging to awareness, nothing else. (352)

This passage begins by anthropomorphizing limestone"The rock hears everything"with a clause that directs our attention to the physical (which is to say, the acoustic) properties of the shelter. Then, focusing on "the nature of rock and bone," Fausto describes the eerie and ominous sensation of a sound wave, produced by an explosion, traveling from the built environment through the human body. He concludes by suggesting that only "awareness" has kept him from experiencing the unpleasantness of "[f]elt sound," or worse. What is the purpose of the phenomenological richness of this passage, its self-conscious emphasis on the way that a human subject perceives the physical properties and stimuli of a specific site? Given that this passage is situated in the context of the Cold War by Stencil, and given that Pynchon himself was deeply troubled by "our common nightmare The Bomb," one of its purposes seems to be to draw a vivid contrast between the bomb shelters that it describes and those that the novelist was encountering regularly in American mass culture as he was drafting V.

"At cocktail parties and P.T.A. meetings and family dinners, on buses and commuter trains and around office watercoolers," Time reported in October 1961, "talk turns to shelters. Almost everyoneman, woman and childhas an opinion." 48 A few weeks before the Time article appeared, CBS had aired an episode of The Twilight Zone, titled "The Shelter," in which suburbanites, upon hearing an air-raid alert, fight bitterly for spots within the only shelter in the neighborhood. This episode dramatized what Kenneth D. Rose calls the "new morality necessary for the nuclear age," anticipating the failure of the national fallout shelter program, which President Kennedy had proposed in his radio address on July 25, as the failure of individuals and families to negotiate "personal ethics and relationships with [their] neighbors" in the event of a nuclear attack. 49 Pynchon published "Under the Rose"the short story that eventually would become the third chapter of V.in the May 1961 issue of The Noble Savage, just two months prior to Kennedy's address. 50 Kennedy outlined a plan "to identify and mark space in existing structures public and private that could be used for fall-out shelters in case of attack" and "to stock those shelters with food, water, first-aid kits and other minimum essentials for survival." If "the lives of those families which are not hit in a nuclear blast and fire can still be saved," the president declaimed, then "[w]e owe that kind of insurance to our familiesand to our country." 51

The shelters in Pynchon's novel, limestone caves beneath ruined city streets, hardly resemble fortified basements in suburban homes or high schools, but nevertheless realize the ideals of the national fallout shelter program.

Underground Shelter in Malta. Credit: Vaughan Williams.

They protect a populace under attack, while sustaining what Fausto terms an "island-wide sense of communion," without occasioning any of the social and ethical problems that are so vividly thematized by The Twilight Zone and chronicled by Time (347). The siege can be dispiriting: "With the next raid," Fausto laments, "all our filling and leveling is blasted away into pits and rubble piles which must then be refilled and relevelled only to be destroyed again" (347). But the challenge of survival is collectively ennoblingeven beatifying: "Surely if war has any nobility it is in the rebuilding not the destruction... There is, we are taught, a communion of saints in heaven. So perhaps on Earth, also in this Purgatory" (347). Thus, just as The Bad Priest interrupts Cold War science, so the shelters, and the social solidarity that they help to sustain, reshape Cold War politics, giving it a decidedly utopian cast. And if The Bad Priest points to the way that Malta is contextualized by America through Stencil's "particular gaze," then the shelters help us to grasp how Malta mediates America, how it represents America without resembling it.

But there is more to the link between Smithson and Pynchon than their mutual interest in the paradox of representation without resemblance. As Jennifer L. Roberts has demonstrated, Smithson's "entire career can be understood as a continuing, and constantly renegotiated, engagement with the practice and philosophy of history." 52 The same has been said of Pynchon, whose novels have been understood "to translate the narrative techniques of Joyce to the problems of historical enquiry," making him "the preeminent postmodern novelist-as-historian." 53 Certainly this is true of his first novel, which charts "history's gray turbulence" through Stencil's quest for V. while developing a peculiar image of historiography: "People read what news they wanted to and each accordingly built his own rathouse out of history's rags and straws" (161, 243). It is evident, then, that both Smithson and Pynchon were responding in the 1960s and '70s to what Roberts calls the "profound uncertainty about the shape and meaning of historical time" and to what Grausam calls "the problematic assumptions that undergirded history as a discipline" by imagining new temporal and historical frameworks. 54 Their respective responses, however, were not grounded in the discipline of history per se. They were literally grounded in similar practices of excavation, precise yet uncommonly imaginative studies of rocks and material forms at specific sites.

We have already seen that Smithson was very attentive to the ore deposits at Franklin FurnaceNancy Holt, his wife, explains that Franklin was chosen because it is one of the few sites in the world containing the mineral smithsoniteand it is clear from his published and unpublished writings that he had a deep knowledge of crystals and crystallography. 55 One book in particular, Charles Bunn's Crystals: Their Role in Nature and Science, was crucial to his thinking; reading this book enabled him to develop a model of nonlinear temporality, which he himself names "the crystalline structure of time," that organizes some of his most famous works, such as Mirrored Ziggurat (1966) and Spiral Jetty (1970). 56 This model, as Roberts puts it, "disturbs many of the essential metaphors that have been commonsensically used to understand temporality" by "imagin[ing] it as a material sediment that remains on hand indefinitely." 57 For Smithson, in other words, time did not emanate from an origin toward some indefinite end; it did not "fly" or "flow" or "pass," but rather amassed. In addition to appearing within crystalline structure, including that of the salt crystals that encrust Spiral Jetty, this conception of time was spatialized for him by the city of Rome, an urban palimpsest where multiple times had accumulated into what he called "a kind of collection" that constitutes a "junk heap of history." 58

Pynchon developed a similar conception of history and temporality by exploring a different site of ruin: a five-thousand-year-old Maltese temple called Ħaġar Qim.

Ħaġar Qim. Credit: Susan Silberberg-Peirce.


Noticeably infatuated with Ħaġar Qim, Fausto mentions it at two crucial junctures in his confession. Pynchon may have gleaned topographical and historical data on this ruin by making a site visitthat is, by undertaking the sort of aesthetic pilgrimage that would become so important to Smithson's practicefor there is credible evidence to suggest that he saw Malta in the fall of 1956, exactly when Profane visits. And he almost certainly consulted a scholarly book, Themistocles Zammit's Malta: The Islands and Their History, for information on Ħaġar Qim. 59 Just as Bunn's seminal monograph on crystals clearly influenced Smithson, so too did Zammit's foundational study of Malta, with its eloquent though perplexing descriptions of Maltese history, topography, and geology, clearly influence Pynchon. This influence is legible throughout V. Zammit describes, for instance, the prehistorical cart trackstopographical oddities that appear on "most of the barren rock-surfaces" in Maltaas "shaped like the letter V, tapering to a width of 5½ inches." 60 Pynchon no doubt anticipated that his readers, miming Stencil's quest for V. in their own search for meaning, would puzzle over this connection. More to the point, Zammit's discussion of Ħaġar Qim ramifies both in Fausto's thinking and in the formal structure of the novel. Using the spelling"Hagiar Kim"that Pynchon would adopt, Zammit explains that the ruin, through its confounding design, "represent[s] centuries of human activity" because its various segments were constructed sequentially over many generations. As he understands it, in other words, Ħaġar Qim does not simply materialize the prehistorical past; it also spatializes the flow of prehistorical time. Call this the paradox of Ħaġar Qim: time is calcified there, yet not arrested.

Fausto is attuned to this paradox and to the way that Ħaġar Qim unsettles ordinary conceptions of time and history. He refers explicitly to the ruin when quoting a sentimental passage from his journal that deals with Elena, his wife and Paola's mother: "Pain, nostalgia, want mixed in her eyes: so it seemed. But how could I know: with the same positive comfort in knowing the sun grows colder, the Hagiar Kim ruins progress toward dust, as do we, as does my little Hillman Minx which was sent to a garage for old age in 1939 and is now disintegrating quietly under tons of garbage-rubble" (374). Analogizing several distinct types of ruincosmological, prehistorical, industrialthis passage evokes the theme of entropy that so many critics find everywhere in Pynchon's work. 61 Ħaġar Qim serves here as a figure of decay and decline, but Fausto mentions it elsewhere to illustrate something slightly different: a lack of progress. "In the midst of the bombing of '42," he writes:

Our poets write of nothing now but the rain of bombs from what was once Heaven. We builders practice, as we must, patience and strength butthe curse of knowing English and its emotional nuances!with it a desperate nervous hatred of this war, an impatience for it to be over. I think our education in the English school and University alloyed what was pure in us. Younger, we talked of love, fear, motherhood; speaking in Maltese as Elena and I do now. But what a language! Have it, or today's Builders, advanced at all since the half-men who built the sanctuaries of Hagiar Kim? We talk as animals might. (338-339)

This journal entry seems to be most concerned with war, language, and the relation between the two. A poet as well as a diarist, Fausto is influenced by T. S. Eliot and other Anglophone writers, and his wide-ranging interests include the form and function of literary expression. Since the onset of the siege, however, he has also assumed the identity of a "Builder." As such, he understands himself to be practicing a craft"with pick, shovel and rake we reshape our Maltese earth" (347)dating back approximately five thousand years to the Ġgantija phase of Maltese prehistory. Yet the last line of this entry does not exactly indicate that he and his fellow Builders are participating in a long history of architectural labor; it suggests, rather, that no such history exists because history itself, in the sense of linear progress and evolutionary development, does not exist. What if "today's Builders," Fausto speculates, have not "advanced at all" but remained the same, so that they are no different from the "half-men" who built Ħaġar Qim?

This speculation appears alongside other ruminations that defamiliarize time and history. "It must be an alien passion in Malta," he writes, "where all history seemed simultaneously present [...] In London were too many distractions. History there was the record of an evolution. One-way and ongoing. Monuments, buildings, plaques were remembrances only; but in Valletta remembrances seemed almost to live" (534). While history constitutes a teleological narrative in London, in Malta there is "[n]o history, all history at once," for "Malta itself was alienated from any history in which cause precedes effect" (539, 544). Distinguishing between two locales, Fausto contrasts two historical models: one involves the incremental unfolding of events according to a logic of cause and effect; the other denies cause and effect, denies the incremental unfolding of events, because it accepts no temporality other than instantaneousness. Both models appear at Ħaġar Qim. As Zammit suggests, and contemporary archaeologists confirm, the ruin makes several centuries "simultaneously present," while revealing a causal, developmental narrative in the form of a sequence of construction. 62 Maltese prehistory manifests on the one hand, then, as a composite of epochs distributed laterally across the ruinscape; on the other, as a series of construction episodes, one after another. This tension between succession and simultaneity structures much of the novel, not just Fausto's confession; for V. narrates a causal sequence of events, yet also relies on a number of devices that make distinct epochs seem simultaneous, as when World War II Malta appears in the context of Cold War America.

It would hardly be enough, then, to say that V. describes Ħaġar Qim. Indeed, this ruin is not merely described by the novel, but imagined into its very form through Pynchon's experimental storytelling techniques, which replicate its strange temporality. Many critics have argued that these techniques bespeak Pynchon's debt to Joyce, yet they may actually reveal his debt to "the half-men who built [...] Hagiar Kim." At the very least, they suggest not just that V. obeys a generic logic of the ruin, but that there is a mimetic relationship between V. and Ħaġar Qim, between the novel and what Kwon would call a specific "phenomenological site" on Malta. This is why V. can be understood as site specific in the Kwonian sensethe novelistic answer to an earthwork like Smithson's Spiral Jetty. Smithson suggests, in the essay that he wrote to accompany the earthwork, that "the possibility of the Spiral Jetty" was contained within the site itself, and that it "emerged" for him almost epiphanically as he was surveying a particular part of the lake. 63 Hence the reason Spiral Jetty so often serves to illustrate how early site-specific art "gave itself up to its environmental context," to recall Kwon's influential formulation, "being formally determined or directed by it." Insofar as V. deploys the logic of the ruin in its representation of Maltese ruins, and insofar as it transposes the peculiarities of Ħaġar Qim into narrative form, it too appears at least partly "determined or directed" by a given "environmental context." Like the Great Salt Lake for Smithson, in other words, Malta seems to have functioned as a kind of co-author, helping Pynchon to shape the aesthetic object. 64

Site Reading

Still, a novel is obviously not an earthwork. By pointing out certain affinities between Pynchon and Smithson, I do not mean to collapse the distinction between literature and sculpturetwo media, as Clement Greenberg would remind us, with very different histories and formal conditions of possibilitynor even to argue that they share a common "genealogy of site specificity," but finally to propose that Pynchon's Malta exemplifies a more widespread turn to sites during the post45 period. Kwon examines this turn in the visual arts; Shaw explores it in poetry and poetics; and I have tried, by concentrating on V., to take a step toward showing how it appears in novelistic prose. Here I want to conclude with a more general point. The turn to sites across artistic disciplines, as I see it, registers and responds to the changing character of what Foucault termed "living space" in the post45 era, or the "mutation in built space itself" that Fredric Jameson famously defined as a hallmark of the postmodern. 65 Yet this turn amounts to more than a cultural symptom of late capitalism. Near the end of Postmodernism, Jameson suggests that "Pynchon's interest in Malta" is just an example of "idle curiosity"as opposed to a sustained engagement with the site and its historyevincing a set of "ideological mechanisms." 66 I hope to have shown that this hardly tells the whole story. Pynchon's Malta is not merely a cultural symptom; it also should be understood, along with other site-specific projects, as a conceptual resource that can facilitate our efforts to apprehend space and spatiality. For scholars of the novel, one way to activate this resource would be to focus on the relationship between spatial and literary form, tracking what happens when real sites become literary settings.

As I suggested in the introduction, this method might simply be called site reading. It begins by taking setting seriouslyat least as seriously as we have taken, say, plot, character, and themewhich allies it with two burgeoning critical paradigms: environmental criticism and new materialism. 67 The former, through analyses of both natural and human-built environments, demonstrates that setting is so much more than, as Lawrence Buell puts it, "the mere backdrop for the human drama that really count[s]" in a literary text, while the latter draws attention to the oft-overlooked yet remarkably complex ways that literature mediates the tangible. 68 As I want to imagine it, site reading perpetuates the materialist emphasis of recent literary-historical scholarship while turning attention away from particular things, or from the thing/commodity distinction, and toward real, material environments that have captivated both authors and artists. 69 Although addressed to an earlier literary-historical period, the work of Cynthia Sundberg Wall sets a precedent for what I have in mind. Tracking the transformation of eighteenth-century prose from Robinson Crusoe (1719)which "presents things" but does not conjure "fully visualized spaces"to The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), with its "excruciatingly elaborate landscapes," she argues that the "sheer material variety" of the eighteenth-century world exerted profound pressure on "textual praxes of description." 70 Her fundamental point is that alterations in what Foucault termed "living space" are both registered in and accommodated by the vicissitudes of textual form, particularly through the techniques that novels use to describe the material world. By pairing literary texts with the specific sites that they figure as settings, site reading can enable us to develop a very fine-grained impression of how this happens and why it matters. Analyzing Pynchon's Malta, for example, provides what I hope is a clear and concrete sense of the way that a certain spatial formation, the ruin, impacted the development of postmodernist prose. More than that, though, V. appears, when read in relation to the ruined archipelago, to be making its own conceptual contribution to the discourse on ruins, disclosing how physical structures like Ħaġar Qim spatialize time, while simultaneously clarifying and complicating the claims of thinkers like Simmel and Benjamin.

By doing so, moreover, Pynchon's Malta points toward a broader relation between aesthetic practice and speculative thought. If the spatial thinking of Jameson and Foucault, as well as that of Simmel and Benjamin from an earlier moment, apprehends in a theoretical idiom the problems of living space, then literary and visual site specificity might be understood as something like an aesthetic counterpart to what we call critical spatial theory. 71 After all, art and theory both turned to sites at the same moment. Three months after Foucault asserted, in the famous "heterotopias" lecture at the Cercle d'études architecturales in Paris, that "[o]ur epoch is one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites," Smithson argued, in the pages of Artforum, that "[t]he unknown areas of sites can be best explored by artists"a statement that nicely captions his excursions to Franklin Furnace and elsewhere. 72 But by calling site-specific art a counterpart to critical spatial theory, I do not mean simply to point out their historical coincidence. Rather, I want to propose thatprovided we resist the critical tendency, exemplified by Jameson's Postmodernism, to see aesthetics as an epiphenomenon of economicssite-specific art can make vital contributions, both conceptual and methodological, to our scholarly practice. Pynchon, for example, suggests both a challenge to our thinking and a method for addressing it. The challenge, effected through Fausto's descriptions of Malta in ruins, is to think of sites as repositories (or, following Jani Scandura, as "dumps") of historical knowledge whose excavation could help to organize new narratives of the recent past. 73 How would our understanding of the post45 period change if we thought of sites this way?

Beginning to answer this question, for literary critics at least, may involve no more than following the lead of Pynchon's Stencil, himself a devoted site reader. Studying the setting of Fausto's confession, its vivid description of Malta in ruins, eventually leads him to the site itself, where he undertakes a kind of fieldwork in the hope of finding V. He "investigate[s] the inventories of curio merchants, pawnbrokers, ragmen," and he prays not to follow a false lead, not to "roam out all Gothic some night with lantern and shovel to exhume an illumination" (496, 497). His research in Malta then sends him to Stockholm, yet another site to investigate, perpetuating the quest that is both his raison d'être and the engine that drives the plot. While this quest has been read as a critique and parody of so many other queststhe sleuthing of detective fiction; the literary-critical search for meaning amid ambiguity; the historiographical drive to order the pastperhaps it also illustrates a method for producing positive knowledge. What if we take Pynchon to be portraying a fresh way of reading rather than simply parodying the obsessive pursuit of truth after the collapse of grand narratives? At the very least, then, he is inviting us to think very hard about the function of setting in an era when, as Foucault put it, "space takes for us the form of relations between sites."

David J. Alworth is assistant professor of English and of History and Literature at Harvard University. He is currently at work on his first book, Site Reading: Postwar Fiction, Visual Art, and Social Form. He can be reached at alworth[at]fas.harvard.edu.


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  1. #1 Joseph Masco, "'Survival is Your Business': Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America," Cultural Anthropology 23.2 (2008): 361-398. Also see Laura McEnaney, Civil Defense Begins at Home: Militarization Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 54-55. []
  2. #2 Following Paul Boyer, Daniel Grausam calls these years a "crisis point" in the Cold War (Daniel Grausam, On Endings: American Postmodern Fiction and the Cold War [Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2011], 57). The scholarly bibliography on American Cold War culture is vast; in addition to the sources listed above, I have learned from the following: Joseph Masco, The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Deak Nabers, "Hiroshima and the Nuclear Event," Post45, September 12, 2011 (accessed March 7, 2012); Alan Nadel, Containment Culture: American Narratives, Postmodernism, and the Atomic Age (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995); and Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994). Much of this scholarship engages a more theoretical discourse, what Nabers calls "the contentious and animated discussion" surrounding nuclear weapons, that includes among other titles: Jacques Derrida, "No Apocalypse, Not Now (full speed ahead, seven missiles, seven missives)," Diacritics 14.2 (1984): 20-32; Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977); Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: HarperCollins, 1971); Paul Virilio and Sylvére Lotringer, Pure War, trans. Mark Polizzotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 1997); Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985); and Rey Chow, The Age of the World Target: Self-Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006). Focusing on ruins, this article is informed more directly by a different though related body of theoretical writing (see notes 13-19). []
  3. #3 In what follows, I build on the meticulous work of Arnold Cassola, who has examined Pynchon's archival and ethnographic research on Malta; see Cassola, "Pynchon, V., and the Malta Connection," Journal of Modern Literature 12.2 (July 1985): 311-331. []
  4. #4 Thomas Pynchon, V. (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005), 423. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text. []
  5. #5 Amy Hungerford, "On the Period Formerly Known as Contemporary," American Literary History 20.1-2 (Spring/Summer 2008): 410-419. By telling a new story about the relationship between literature and visual art in the context of Cold War culture, I seek to contribute to what Hungerford calls the "revisionary work" of post45 literary studies (412). []
  6. #6 On site-specific visual art, see James Meyer, "The Functional Site; or, The Transformation of Site Specificity," in Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art, ed. Erika Suderburg (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000); and Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002). On site-specific poetry and poetics, see Lytle Shaw, "Docents of Discourse: The Logic of Dispersed Sites," boundary 2 36.3 (Fall 2009): 25-47; and Jennifer Scappettone, "Utopia Interrupted: Archipelago as Structure in A Draft of XXX Cantos," PMLA 122.1 (January 2007): 105-123. []
  7. #7 Kwon, One Place After Another, 11. []
  8. #8 Hal Foster, The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 35-71; Michael Fried, "Art and Objecthood," in Art and Objecthood (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 148-173. []
  9. #9 Kwon, One Place After Another, 3, 159. []
  10. #10 Shaw, "Docents of Discourse," 26. []
  11. #11 Shaw, "Docents of Discourse," 27. []
  12. #12 Richard Poirier, "Cook's Tour," The New York Review of Books, June 1, 1963,  (accessed November 3, 2011). []
  13. #13 George Plimpton, "Mata Hari with a Clockwork Eye, Alligators in the Sewer," The New York Times, April 21, 1963, BR3. []
  14. #14 Georg Simmel, "Two Essays," trans. David Kettler, The Hudson Review 11.3 (1958): 379, 385; Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: Verso, 1998), 177-178. []
  15. #15 Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans. Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 229, 264. []
  16. #16 Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, Volume 1, trans. Neville Plaice, et al. (Cambridge, MA; MIT Press, 1995), 385. []
  17. #17 Ann Laura Stoler, "Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruins and Ruination," Cultural Anthropology 23.2 (2008): 194, 202. []
  18. #18 Nick Yablon, Untimely Ruins: An Archaeology of American Urban Modernity, 1819-1919 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 12. []
  19. #19 Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). []
  20. #20 Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle, eds., Ruins of Modernity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 7. []
  21. #21 Robert Smithson, "A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites," in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), 364. []
  22. #22 Walter Benjamin, "One-Way Street," trans. Edmund Jephcott, in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings: Volume 1, 1913-1926, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 449. []
  23. #23 Laurence Mizzi, Wartime Diary of a Maltese Boy (Rabat, Malta: Wise Owl, 2006), 35. []
  24. #24 These statistics come form Carmel Cassar, A Concise History of Malta (Msida, Malta: Mireva, 2000), 225. For a thorough account of Malta during World War II, see James Holland, Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940-1943 (London: Orion, 2003). []
  25. #25 Cassar, History of Malta, 222. []
  26. #26 Jack Belden, "Malta Wins the Siege," TIME, February 15, 1943, 86. []
  27. #27 Pynchon gives rare insight into his research for V. in a letter written to David Hirsh in which he explains that he was "looking for a report on Malta" at the New York Public Library when he discovered the text on the Bondelzwarts affair that informs chapter nine of the novel (quoted in David Seed, The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon [Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1988], 240). []
  28. Belden, "Malta Wins," 86. []
  29. #29 Will Lissner, "Mannequins to Take Man's Risk in Nuclear and Space Research," New York Times, April 9, 1959, 33 [click through to download the article]. In 1965 Jules Siegel identified this article as the source for SHOCK and SHROUD; see J. Kerry Grant, A Companion to V. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001), 142. []
  30. #30 Kathleen Fitzpatrick, The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2006), 93. []
  31. #31 Donald Brown reads The Bad Priest as a figure of the uncanny, but he also suggests that s/he "anticipates ideas of the inanimate that have been presented" in posthumanist works such as Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" (56); see Brown, "Uncanny Confession: Thomas Pynchon's Fausto Maijstral," Modern Language Studies 29.2 (1999), 49-71. Pynchon thematizes the inanimate throughout the novel; for a recent study of V. that thoroughly addresses this theme, see W. Lawrence Hogue, Postmodern American Literature and Its Other (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 42-65. By analyzing Pynchon's representation of the physical properties of Maltese limestone, as I do below, I mean to provide a different sense of his interest in the unstable boundary between animate and inanimate. []
  32. #32 On Wiener's role within posthumanism, see N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 84-113. []
  33. #33 Thomas Pynchon, Slow Learner: Early Stories (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1984), 13. []
  34. #34 Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (New York: Da Capo, 1954). []
  35. #35 Peter Galison, "The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision," Critical Inquiry 21.1 (Autumn 1994): 236. []
  36. #36 Wiener, Human Use, 163, 175. []
  37. #37 Hayles, How We Became Posthuman, 105. []
  38. #38 Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, 353. []
  39. #39 Pynchon, Slow Learner, 18. []
  40. #40 Grausam, On Endings, 45, 51. For a detailed reading of The Crying of Lot 49 that also accounts for other works by Pynchon, see chapter 2. []
  41. #41 Grausam, On Endings, 48. []
  42. #42 In a novel as long and as dense as V., there are many other examples of representation without resemblance that can be identified, but rather than taxonomize them, I seek to understand the extent to which Pynchon's interest in this paradox coordinates with Smithson's. While a quantitative study of this topiccounting all the tropes and devices in the novel (e.g. metonymy, metalepsis, apophasis) that produce some version of representation without resemblancecould be valuable, that is not my ambition here. []
  43. #43 Smithson, Collected Writings, 364. []
  44. #44 Smithson, Collected Writings, 153. []
  45. #45 Smithson's interest in maps, as Walter Benn Michaels has asserted, also points to his concern with the paradox of representation without resemblance: "It is because they are irreducibly representational (whether or not they are mimetic) that maps are critical to Smithson. Even if, in other words, they cannot be understood as looking like the thing they represent, they also cannot be understood except as representations." I quote from Walter Benn Michaels, The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 93-94. Tracking the late-1960s conversation between Smithson and Michael Fried, Michaels examines how the artist engaged poststructuralist theory in his treatment of language as material, and thereby mediated two problemsthe ontology of the text and the primacy of the subjectboth of which fall outside the scope of this essay. Rather than examine Smithson's understanding of what is often still called the materiality of the signifier, I mean to show how his attention to the materiality of matter (i.e. limestone) correlates with Pynchon's. For an excellent essay on Smithson's understanding of language, see Richard Sieburth, "A Heap of Language: Robert Smithson and American Hieroglyphics," in Eugene Tsai, ed., Robert Smithson (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2004), 218-224. []
  46. #46 Quoted in Robert Hobbs, Robert Smithson: Sculpture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), 108. []
  47. #47 W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 261. In this sense, as Caroline A. Jones has argued, Smithson's sites and nonsites were "rejections of the unitary object" as well as ambitious efforts to expand the field of sculpture; see Jones, Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 319. Also see Rosalind E. Krauss, "Sculpture in the Expanded Field," in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), 276-291. []
  48. #48 "Civil Defense: The Sheltered Life," TIME, October 20, 1961 (accessed November, 13, 2011). []
  49. #49 Kenneth D. Rose, One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture (New York: NYU Press, 2001), 10. []
  50. #50 On the relation between "Under the Rose" and the third chapter of the novel, see Douglas Fowler, "Story into Chapter: Thomas Pynchon's Transformation of 'Under the Rose,'" The Journal of Narrative Technique 14.1 (1984): 33-43. []
  51. #51 John F. Kennedy, "Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis," July 25, 1961 (accessed November 13, 2011). []
  52. #52 Jennifer L. Roberts, Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 1. []
  53. #53 Timothy Parrish, From the Civil War to the Apocalypse: Postmodern History and American Fiction (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008), 33-34. Parrish echoes a significant strain of Pynchon criticism. For a recent study of Pynchon's historiographical techniques that examines V. as well as Gravity's Rainbow, Vineland, and Mason & Dixon, see Shawn Smith, Pynchon and History: Metahistorical Rhetoric and Postmodern Narrative Form in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon (London: Routledge, 2009). []
  54. #54 Roberts, Mirror-Travels, 4; Grausam, On Endings, 4. Grausam, it should be noted, argues that the crisis in history was "conditioned by the Cold War's nuclear threat," an argument not put forth by Roberts (4). []
  55. #55 See Hobbs, Robert Smithson, 106. []
  56. #56 Robert Smithson, Collected Writings, 53. Smithson's thinking on time was also deeply inspired by George Kubler's The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, which first appeared in 1962. The latter provides another example of the widespread concern with time during the 1960s. Following both Grausam and Roberts, I treat this concern as one of the key contexts for understanding the literary and visual art of the period, but my primary goal in this essay is to address the affinities between Pynchon and Smithson, not to produce an overview of the cultural representation of time. For a thorough discussion of Pynchon's debt to Kubler, see Ann Reynolds, Robert Smithson: Learning from New Jersey (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004). And for a broader analysis of how temporal anxiety influenced the development of postwar visual art, see Pamela M. Lee, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004). []
  57. #57 Roberts, Mirror-Travels, 44. []
  58. #58 Smithson, Collected Writings, 293. []
  59. #59 See Cassola for the details regarding Pynchon's research on Malta. []
  60. #60 Themistocles Zammit, Malta: The Islands and Their History (Valletta, Malta: The Malta Herald Office, 1926), 33-34. []
  61. #61 "Thomas Pynchon made his intentions clear from the outset," writes Tony Tanner in his widely influential City of Words: "The title of his first important short story is 'Entropy' and it contains specific references to Henry Adams" (Tanner, City of Words [New York: Harper & Row, 1971], 153). Tanner's argument has been both echoed and challenged by several generations of readers; for a recent example, see Julián Jiménez Heffernan, "Ironic Distance in Thomas Pynchon's 'Entropy,' Contemporary Literature, 52.2 (2011): 298-329. []
  62. #62 See Christopher Tilley, The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2004), ch. 3. []
  63. #63 Smithson, Collected Writings, 146. []
  64. #64 David Heymann elaborates the notion of the site as co-author here. []
  65. #65 Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," trans. Jay Miskowiec, Diacritics 16.1 (Spring 1986): 23; Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 38. []
  66. #66 Jameson, Postmodernism, 361, 374. []
  67. #67 I take the term "environmental criticism" from Lawrence Buell, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), 1-29. The term "new materialism" comes from Bill Brown, "Object Relations in an Expanded Field," differences 17.3 (2006): 90. []
  68. #68 Buell, The Future, 4. []
  69. #69 This is one way that site reading can be distinguished from some of the new materialist scholarship of the past decade. Exemplified by the work of critics such as Bill Brown and Elaine Freedgood, such scholarship draws from anthropological work on the "social life of things" in order to examine what happens when things are released from the commodity form, especially (but not only) when literary texts perform such a release; see Brown, A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003) and Freedgood, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). As I hope my analysis of Pynchon's Malta makes clear, site reading extends this interest in the way that literary texts mediate the physical world, but it is not especially concerned with the relationship between thing and commodity. []
  70. #70 Cynthia Sundberg Wall, The Prose of Things: Transformations of Description in the Eighteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 1, 6, 20-21. []
  71. #71 There are, of course, many more thinkers and texts in the canon of critical spatial theory than it would be prudent to name here. For a useful introduction to the field, see W. J. T. Mitchell, ed., Landscape and Power, second edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). []
  72. #72 Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," 23; Smithson, Collected Writings, 60. []
  73. #73 Jani Scandura, Down in the Dumps: Place, Modernity, American Depression (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 5. Scandura provides what could be called a site-specific cultural history of the American 1930s, using four sites (Reno, Key West, Harlem, and Hollywood) to tell the story of American depression as both an affective and economic condition. Her book provides a compelling example of what can happen when historical scholarship is mediated by archival and empirical encounters with specific sites. []