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    Groundwork: digital approaches to changes in Thomas Pynchon’s style

    Ketzan, Erik (2020) Groundwork: digital approaches to changes in Thomas Pynchon’s style. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This thesis is the first long-form analysis of formal, especially stylistic changes in Thomas Pynchon’s oeuvre by digital methods. By digitally examining stylistic aspects which scholars have described as “Pynchonian” or characteristic of Pynchon’s texts — including ambiguity/vagueness, acronyms, ellipsis marks, and profanity — I present evidence that some of these devices are not as characteristic of Pynchon’s texts as previously assumed, while considerable variation in frequency between texts challenges our assumptions of Pynchon’s style. Within a literature review of formal, stylistic, and digital Pynchon studies, I demonstrate how digital humanities may confirm, contest, and improve upon a wide variety of Pynchon scholarship. Through experiments on formal overviews of Pynchon’s oeuvre, results indicate that songs/poems decrease in later works, while direct discourse generally increases over time, and I present hypotheses to understand these trends. By closely examining stylistic features of the mock 18th-century pastiche of Mason & Dixon — archaic spelling, censored words, and irregular capitalization — I argue that these should be interpreted within continuities across Pynchon’s oeuvre. Pynchon has been dubbed “The Voice of Ambiguity” by Thomas Schaub, and in experiments to quantify ambiguity/vagueness in texts, Pynchon’s works do indeed score highest by certain measures, while Pynchon is increasing the use of his “preferred” vagueness words (lexis used statistically higher than comparison corpora). By querying acronyms and ellipsis marks, it emerges that certain novels by Pynchon reduce their use dramatically, while the historical backgrounds of these devices in English literature challenge and contextualize prior understanding of Pynchon’s use of these. Finally, distant and close reading of profanity in Pynchon’s texts reveal an early pattern of “coded” profanity via non-English words and character names. In the Conclusion, I draw these results together to present the most extensive description of Pynchon’s “late style” thus far.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Additional Information: This thesis is not currently available for public use. Date of PhD award confirmed as 2020 by registry
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2020 09:16
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 14:24


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