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Thomas Pynchon (1937- ) : A Bibliography of Secondary Materials

Always judge a book by its cover : Reading Pynchon's Paratexts

Pawel Frelik

Of Pynchon And Vice: America's Inherent Others, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin. 9-12 June 2010

Literary theorist Gérard Genette defines “Paratext” as those things in a published work that accompany the text, things such as the author’s name, the title, preface or introduction, illustrations or covers. Genette states: “More than a boundary or a sealed border, the paratext is, rather, a threshold. [. . .] a zone between text and off-text, a zone not only of transition but also of transaction: a privileged place of pragmatics and a strategy, of an influence on the public, an influence that [. . .] is at the service of a better reception for the text and a more pertinent reading of it.” After Lejeune, Genette also describes paratext as that “which in reality controls one’s whole reading of the text.”

While Pynchon’s novels do not possess introductions, illustrations or frontispieces and the author’s name remains unchanged (although over time it has come to trigger a plethora of varied associations), there is at least one paratextual element that offers more than an ample opportunity for analysis – the covers. Given the ever-growing number of editions of all novels, almost each of which seems to come with a different front, Pynchon’s covers open up numerous avenues to the interiors of his novels.

In my presentation I would like to use Genette’s theories of paratext to analyze selected covers of the writer’s all novels from two specific angles: 1) what the covers tell us about the editorial but also social constructions and perceptions of both the writer’s identity and the novels’ plots; 2) how they enrich and expand the understanding and interpretations of the novels themselves. The analysis will include both images and lettering used on the covers.