The Clockwork Eye: Technology, Woman, and the Decay of the Modern in Thomas Pynchon’s V.

Document Type

Book Chapter


Media Studies (Pomona)

Publication Date



technology, literature


Thomas Pynchon's V explores, through the "degeneration" of its mysterious title character into a machinic approximation of life, a threatened inversion of the traditional cultural dominance of human over machine. Pynchon describes this shift as a "decadence," an intentional descent of the human toward technological inanimation, heavily figured throughout the novel by the replacement of parts of the human body with various prosthetics, such that the body itself comes to appear a machine. Mark Seltzer, writing in his landmark study Bodies and Machines, seems to see in such a "transposition of the character of the energy-converting machine and the character of the natural body[,] not the demotion of the living body to the machine but their intimate correlation."2 Pynchon reads nothing so benign in such a connection; "intimate correlation" here euphemistically hides grave dangers. Seltzer's text explores these dangers in some depth, despite the initial impression it gives as a champion of the cyborg. Using Foucault's notion of "bio-politics," Seltzer describes the manner in which the metaphorization of the body as a machine was used to produce, in the late nineteenth century, "a single technology of regulation,"3 a mechanism of control for both body and machine. This connection of body and machine, like many drawn from such Foucauldian genealogies, is built of a combination of social institutions and the patterns of thought those institutions have fostered. By the second half of the twentieth century, in Pynchon's novelistic representation (which might usefully be subtitled "Bodies and Machines"), human culture has lost any possible means by which to think itself out of this connection with the machine, as the once metaphoric link has become somehow literalized. The machine's proliferation has only increased human identification with it, as has the rise of the field from which, interestingly enough, Seltzer takes his metaphors of connection--"relays, transit points, paths of least resistance"4--electronics. Late twentieth century culture need no longer metaphorize the body as machine; technology's dominance has irrevocably wired the two together.

2 Mark Seltzer, Bodies and Machines (New York: Routledge, 1992), 13.

3 Ibid., 44.

4 Ibid., 4.


Chapter in Thomas Pynchon: Reading from the Margins.

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© 2002 Fairleigh-Dickinson University Press