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Fictions of Fact and ValueThe Erasure of Logical Positivism in American Literature, 1945-1975$
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Michael LeMahieu

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199890408

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199890408.001.0001

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“Illogical Negativism”

“Illogical Negativism”

Thomas Pynchon, the Critique of Modernism, and the Erasure of Logical Positivism

(p.155) 5 “Illogical Negativism”
Fictions of Fact and Value

Michael LeMahieu

Oxford University Press

The typescript drafts of Thomas Pynchon’s first novel V. demonstrate the depth and extent to which Pynchon struggled to come to terms with the influence of logical positivism. Although Pynchon would strike most of the extended passages on positivism and the fact/value problem, traces remain in the published version. Pynchon explicitly refers to positivist doctrines such as the verificationist criterion of meaning and the emotive theory of ethics, particularly with reference to the word “love.” His reference to the first proposition of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus in the “Mondaugen’s Story” chapter testifies to his critique of literary modernism and logical positivism alike: their aspirations for totality are premised on a false and solipsistic concept of completeness, one that simply ignores that which falls outside of its purview, including questions of value and the voices of objectified colonial subjects. In response, Pynchon develops a negative aesthetic strategy that represents an ethical relation to others based on acknowledging their status not as sovereign subjects but as material beings, a relation characterized not by totalizing representation but by incomplete knowledge.

Keywords:   Thomas Pynchon, logical positivism, fact/value problem, modernism, postmodernism, colonialism, Ludwig Wittgenstein

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