“Bright Days for the Black Market”: Color-Coded Crises in Contemporary U.S. Fiction and the Works of Thomas Pynchon
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In this article, I explore how and why the black market, an economy initially identified as a response to the exigencies of wartime scarcity and prohibitions of contraband, has come to represent not a temporary alternative economy, but a permanent and predominant method of exchange in a specific strain of post-war U.S. culture. Many of the works I address treat the black market both as a manifestation of an historically-specific economy in crisis, and as a broader trope to address society as a whole and draw connections to discourses beyond those of the market. The pivotal texts in my assessment are Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” and “Bleeding Edge”, published forty years later, in part because they provide one emblematic arc that allows one to track developing notions of the black market, and the crises they often reflect, in U.S. culture. While economies have often been corrupt, the United States has been facing an escalating cycle of market-related crises since World War II (and some would argue since the nation’s founding). Pynchon tracks how a fraudulent war economy evolves into a fraudulent information economy, which he also depicts as contributing to a crisis in representation itself.
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