Title page for ETD etd-03182011-210113

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Spencer, Benjamin Paul
URN etd-03182011-210113
Title Memory Machines: Exploring Moby-Dick and Gravity's Rainbow Through the History of Film
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Siegle, Robert B. Committee Chair
Kiebuzinska, Christine Committee Member
Salaita, Steven G. Committee Member
  • Pynchon
  • Film
  • Gravity's Rainbow
  • Moby-Dick
  • Melville
Date of Defense 2011-03-16
Availability unrestricted
For close to a decade, I have weighed comparative approaches to “the Great American Novel”. Progress increased as soon as I resolved on selecting Moby-Dick as the work originally responsible for issuing that slogan. Making this particular selection required the application of a dynamic concept which, appropriately, reflects critiques of knowledge production: “the Archive”. Perhaps the most direct references to a conceptual archive appear in Derrida’s Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, which addresses the dual forces –preservation/destruction– that influence allegory and mythology.

Other critical writers refer to a similar concept through various other terms, ultimately equipping my thesis with a method for studying the relation between myth and allegory. The method draws from each writer’s focus on the form and content dynamics of artifacts, and how these dynamics reflect the historical conditions that affirm or produce them. Specifically, all the writers I have selected to study, in some way consider the play between the mechanical apparatus and the representation it produces. Thus, I concluded that my literary comparative approach could involve juxtaposing a different, historically concurrent mode of documentation: film media and photography.

Gravity’s Rainbow is often considered, after Moby-Dick, the most universally-recognized “Great American Novel”. Pynchon spends a lot of time referring to mass-produced films, their effects on the global order emerging with WWII, and to the material occurrence of film technology as it relates to the book as a material artifact. For Pynchon, the backlots built up by such “greats” as D.W. Griffith constitute the twentieth-century frontier.

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