Thomas Pynchon and the Black Panther Party: revolutionary suicide in Gravity's Rainbow

Freer, Joanna (2012) Thomas Pynchon and the Black Panther Party: revolutionary suicide in Gravity's Rainbow. Journal of American Studies, 47 (1). pp. 171-188. ISSN 0021-8758

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Abstract

This article pertains to the recent upsurge of interest in the politics of Thomas Pynchon. It considers Pynchon as an author very much of the 1960s counterculture, and explores the countercultural values and ideals expressed in Gravity's Rainbow, with particular emphasis on revealing the novel's attitude to the Black Panther Party. Close textual analysis suggests Pynchon's essential respect for Huey P. Newton's concept of revolutionary suicide, and his contempt for Marxist dialectical materialism, two core elements of Panther political theory. Drawing on an analogy between the BPP and Pynchon's Schwarzkommando, an assessment is made of the novel's perspective on the part played by various factors – including the Panthers’ aggressive militancy, the rise of Eldridge Cleaver through the leadership, and the subtle influence of a logic of power influenced by scientific rationalism – in bringing about the disintegration of the Panther organization by the early 1970s. Given the similarities between the paths taken by the BPP and the wider counterculture in the late 1960s, the article considers Pynchon's commentary on the Panthers to be part of a cautionary tale for future revolutionaries fighting similar forms of oppression.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > American Studies
Subjects: E History America
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature > PS0700 Individual authors > PS3550 1961-2000 > PS3566.Y55 Pynchon, Thomas
Depositing User: Joanna Freer
Date Deposited: 07 Jan 2013 14:52
Last Modified: 21 May 2013 09:09
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/43420
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