International Pynchon Week 2022 in Vancouver BC (June 5-11, 2022)

deadline for submissions: 
November 15, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Jeffrey Severs
contact email: 


June 5-11, 2022

University of British Columbia


(and Overview of the Conference’s Local Connections)

*Deadline for paper and panel proposals: November 15, 2021*

Conference Website:


Pynchon and BC: A Mini-Essay

            International Pynchon Week 2022, held June 5-11 on the campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver BC, will for the first time bring Pynchon scholars together in North America and on Pynchon’s coast, about 150 miles north of Seattle, where he lived while working for Boeing and finishing V. from 1960 to 1962. Given all of Pynchon’s scrutiny of national borders and his adoration of ecological order, though, Vancouver might be seen as the hub of the author’s former bioregional home, the Cascadia, which extends from southern Alaska in the north, through most of BC, and south into parts of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and northern California, including the real-life counties (Mendocino, Humboldt . . .) in which Pynchon set Vineland, California. Many Vancouverites feel more kinship with the Cascadian cities of Seattle and Portland than with Toronto and Montreal. The Cascade Mountain Range is a defining feature, and California’s Mount Shasta (namesake of Doc’s ex-girlfriend in Inherent Vice) is the Cascades’ southernmost peak. And British Columbia, with its capital in Victoria, embodies the language and perceptual apparatus of colonial “discovery” and exploitation that Pynchon has been critiquing his whole career, whether in Victoria Wren’s evocation of the British queen in V. or the Columbian Exposition that kicks off Against the Day.

            Pynchon’s direct references to Canada are scarce: a few references to Canadians dot Slow Learner, and the Chums of Chance, heading south from Arctic wastes, for just a paragraph speed high above the “sombre brown landscape of north Canada, perforated with lakes by the uncountable thousands.” But perhaps the US/Canada border which Vancouver sits just above served as distant inspiration for key Pynchon motifs that he later moved to other settings: in an 11 April 1964 letter auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2017, Pynchon writes from Mexico to his former Boeing colleague Bob Hillock, whose wife Virginia worked at the Washington State Museum.

Also I find I need some input on the Pig War up in the San Juans. Do you think the Wash. State Museum would have anything on that? I don’t mean Ginni should steal me a stuffed pig or a British flag or anything, but maybe she, or you, know of pamphlets, &c. that have been put out under state auspices. And as long as I’m at it, what do you know about Russian colonization, sealing, whaling, fishing and/or trading around Seattle in the early 1870’s? Information on any or all of the above would be appreciated.

Pynchon did get a stuffed pig from somewhere apparently – the lore says he had one by his side when writing Gravity’s Rainbow – and he put a ton of pig imagery into that novel. But he’s never published whatever fiction about the Pig War in the San Juan Islands he might have been researching in 1964. Named for the fact that it was ignited by a farmer who shot a neighbor’s pig for eating his potatoes (the other farmer reportedly said, “It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig”), the Pig War became a non-shooting 1859 border dispute between British and American military forces stationed on San Juan Island, which is situated between Bellingham Bay and Vancouver Island. The conflict was over where American territory would give way to British territory. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 had set the 49th parallel as the border, but how exactly would it bend as it passed south through the ocean and around various islands – down Haro Strait to the west or Rosario Strait to the east? The former put the San Juans in the U.S.; the latter would have put them in BC (and, in 1867, a confederated Canada). The standoff produced no fighting and a temporary joint military occupation of the island was decided on later in 1859, but the joint occupation would last 12 more years, with the U.S. embroiled in Civil War to the east and some on the British side saying they should seize Puget Sound while the Americans were distracted. The “British flag” Pynchon mentions may refer to the fact that the Union Jack is still to this day raised and lowered daily by rangers at the preserved “English Camp” at the San Juan Island National Historical Park . . . a strange little Zone of unstable sovereignty at the far edge of the American map.

           The Pig War – a militarily strategic island, a somewhat wacky cold war over a border in flux, with all this taking place far from what would become much better-known historical events like the Civil War – will strike Pynchon readers as just the sort of arcane material that has fueled his imagination over more than 60 years of work. Maybe research into nineteenth-century “Russian colonization,” mentioned in his letter, fed into his creation of absurdly deep roots for the Cold War in the Peter Pinguid Society in The Crying of Lot 49. And surely some seed of Mason & Dixon lay in the Pig War and the fight between the U.S. and Britain over laying a border through ocean channels. The story of the surveyors, charged with making a perfectly straight line over land, has near its end speculation that they, feeling neither British nor American, do not belong on “either side of the Ocean. They are content to reside like Ferrymen or Bridge-keepers, ever in a Ubiquity of Flow, before a ceaseless Spectacle of Transition.” Was Pynchon’s first border of interest the 49th parallel – or (forgive this) Lat. 49 – as it trailed off into the Pacific? His 1964 letter offers a brief glimpse of a historical novel involving BC that never was . . . or maybe, just maybe, for this 84-year-old author, still will be?


The Call For Papers

            As is customary for IPWs, we invite paper and panel proposals on any and all Pynchon-centered subjects. Scholars may well be spurred to topics by the above, but as interesting as they are, know that we surely don’t expect any papers to focus on the Pig War or BC! This call is wide. But as is also customary we will welcome in particular IPW 2022 papers and panels that speak to the following very broad Vancouver/Canada-associated areas. In all cases, we strongly encourage scholars of course to propose arguments that arise from their current research, are conversant with existing bodies of critical work, and say something new about the texts at hand. New areas in Pynchon criticism are especially encouraged: for instance, the study of sex, gender, sexuality, and misogyny in Pynchon has been a significant subject in the past five to seven years, and (as suggested at a few points below) we hope to see that and other innovative topics covered by panels and papers.


            The perennial Pynchon topic of political borders drawn on natural landscapes is suggested by the brief history above, and we invite reconsideration of Pynchon’s thoughts about border-drawing and sovereignty across many of his works. How such long-time themes feed into dissections of localized real estate practices, say, in the more contemporary settings of Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge,might be good new avenues for critics to explore (mind-bogglingly expensive property is a huge Vancouver concern!). Scholars might take the border metaphor in other directions to consider divisions on other levels, too. As this conference devoted to an American writer is held on his home continent for the first time ever, are there analyses of Pynchon as American, global, and transnational author to be mounted? What about the divisions of period, style, and thematic concerns within the now eight-novel-strong Pynchon corpus, with four new novels and 32 years having passed since Vineland, often taken as the borderline between early and late? Does the turn to themes of sentiment and family (a subset of scholars’ investigations of gender roles and affect) mark the true dividing line in Pynchon’s oeuvre, or are there others?

Space, Place, Cities, and Ecology

             The rain forest of Vancouver as an IPW setting invites further consideration of Pynchon’s relationship to the Pacific Ocean, California, the west coast, Seattle (and Boeing), the Pacific Northwest, family paper companies, advice for removing logging tractors’ oil filters, and more. These subjects, as well as Pynchon’s environmental values, are welcome topics for papers given in Vancouver BC, where the provincial slogan is “Super, Natural.” Greenpeace was founded in this city in 1971 (it grew out of a late-1960s protest of the detonation of a nuclear weapon near Alaska that some feared would cause a tsunami or earthquake – a very Pynchonesque moment). The logging wealth that from the nineteenth century till now has staked Vancouver would draw the ire of the Traverse family and other Pynchon characters. Mining in the mountains of BC (rich in minerals and coal) is another connection to the ecocritical Pynchon. We invite as well papers on urban landscapes, under-studied in Pynchon by comparison to forests and more exotic or pastoral landscapes, but now a renewed point of focus with Bleeding Edge. Vancouver, dubbed the “City of Glass” by local author Douglas Coupland for all its reflective condo towers, has often been seen as the postmodern cityscape par excellence. William Gibson, a UBC alum in English, is a longtime Vancouver resident; in a 1986 interview he calls Pynchon “a kind of mythic hero of mine” and credits watching players stare raptly into screens at arcades on Granville Street (“It was like one of those closed systems out of a Pynchon novel”) for his invention of “cyberspace” in Neuromancer (1984). We invite scholars to consider Pynchonian space, place, and ecology in all the many dimensions (plenty of them connected to the supernatural) that he presents.

Race, Ethnicity, and Colonial Critiques

            Black Lives Matter protests of police violence in the U.S. in summer 2020 served as another occasion to re-read “A Journey into the Mind of Watts,” as well as the literary criticism that has addressed Pynchon as an analyst of race, racism, policing, and genocide, from the depictions of the Hereroes in V. and Gravity’s Rainbow to the Aryan Brotherhood and Adrian Prussia in Inherent Vice. We invite papers that consider issues of race in Pynchon broadly speaking, but especially a few under-studied areas and peoples: citizens of Asian countries and members of the Asian Diaspora, Native American cultures, and indigenous peoples. Vancouver, a cosmopolitan city of the Pacific Rim, has been deeply influenced by Asian cultures and is home to many generations of Chinese immigrants. Asian-Canadian and Asian Migration Studies and First Nations and Indigenous Studies are thriving programs at UBC, and we welcome papers that scrutinize Pynchon’s portrayals of Asian characters, settings, cultures, and spiritual practices, from the Buddhism explored in several texts to the multi-novel arc of the Japanese karmic adjuster, Takeshi Fumimoto. What analyses might be out there of the indulgence of ethnic stereotype, caricature, and the generic characterizations of movies and comic books in Pynchon’s pastiches? How do race and gender intersect in Vineland’s “Ninjettes” or Dally Rideout’s time in what Pynchon parodically calls the “white-slave simulation industry and tunnels of Chinatown” in New York in Against the Day? Likewise, this IPW could be occasion for more critical work on Pynchon’s responses to Native American suffering and indigenous cultural values in Vineland, Mason & Dixon, and Against the Day, including but not limited to the Yurok, the massacre of Susquehannock at Lancaster, and the Tarahumare tribe in Frank Traverse’s travels.

Simulated Worlds, Cinematic and Digital

            Vancouver is often called “Hollywood North” for the hundreds of films and TV shows that have shot here, drawn by tax credits, varied natural settings, and a city that can play as Seattle, LA, DC, and many other places. UBC as a conference setting would fascinate der Springer, Tube addicts, and others in Pynchon who question the film-set/reality divide: UBC’s library figures in Battlestar Galactica, other spots serve as settings in The Man in the High Castle, the English Department’s building plays a gem smugglers’ hideout in X-Men Origins: Wolverine . . . the list could go on, and IPW attendees are likely to see productions in progress around town. Vancouver is also home to major visual effects, animation, and video game industries. We welcome papers that tackle anew Pynchon’s simulated cinematic and digital worlds, especially considerations of the Internet and DeepArcher prompted by his most recent novel, Bleeding Edge. P.T. Anderson’s film of Inherent Vice, Jim Gavin’s TV series Lodge 49, and other explorations of Pynchon adaptation, inspiration, and audiences could make worthy subjects too. 

Pynchon’s Politics and Paranoia in a New Era

            Pynchon fled his native land across the southern border as a young man, but what country has figured in the American imagination as the nearby space of freedom, liberalism, Vietnam draft resistance, and socialist policies for much of the twentieth century – and of Bush- and Trump-fleeing in the twenty-first? Canada, of course. We invite scholars to consider enclaves, (failed) political escapes, anarchic and other social orders, and recent attempts to understand Pynchon as a critic of the neoliberal assault on socialist and communal principles. We also in this context invite scholars to ponder what paranoia and the critique of (U.S.) (neo-)fascism have meant in Pynchon’s various texts across the decades, as well as now, in the 2020s, when a disturbingly large percentage of U.S. citizens believe in (and some even act on) conspiracy theories about American power. What, if anything, can specific Pynchon texts teach us about a new age of Trumpian right-wing politics, white supremacy, and the open wearing of Winthrop Tremaine’s swastika armbands? Nonsensical Trumpian conspiracy theories are far from the leftist paranoia and resistance to shadowy corporate cabals that Pynchon has in mind, it could readily be argued, but papers might explore how and why this new paranoid style in American politics is different from or related to Pynchon’s analyses.

Pynchon and Public Life

            UBC’s Public Humanities Hub will be a co-sponsor of this conference, and we invite papers that consider the many meanings of “the public” in relation to Pynchon’s work. Pynchon in the publishing industry, his readership among the general public, archival research into unpublished works, digital humanities projects, perhaps even Habermas’s public sphere in connection with Mason & Dixon or other texts – all possibilities. In Pynchon, what resources, from electricity and infrastructure to the Internet, are seen as what economists call public goods? Also, is Pynchon’s image as a recluse due for reconsideration? Can ideas about private and public life throughout Pynchon be interwoven with his recent novels’ interest in the origins and growth of the Internet? If Pynchon’s reading public is historically a “boys club” or overwhelmingly made up of white males, what has recent feminist scholarship taught us about gender, claims of misogyny, and a wider readership? And finally, given the delay of our conference from 2021 to 2022, this cfp cannot end without asking whether Pynchonian apocalypticism and disaster can illuminate the global public health crisis we are all still enduring. Is Pynchon in any way among those authors who prepared our imaginations for a pandemic, social disorder, and the suspension of public life as we used to know it?


            Long though it is, the above list of provocations and associations is not meant to be exhaustive – Murphy’s Law or Gödel or plain old limits of time and space always apply when trying to suggest critical subjects for Pynchon papers. Nor should these Vancouver/Canada associations set the boundaries for paper and panel topics. Submitters of abstracts should get “constructively lost” and fight that notorious “absence of surprise to life.” We do welcome panel proposals but will gladly shape individual papers into thematic clusters once accepted.


Practical Details of Submission

Please submit 20-minute paper proposals of 300 words or fewer to by November 15, 2021. Panel proposals of three papers should be 1000 words or fewer. Include with either kind of proposal each author’s contact information, affiliation, and hundred-word bio sketch listing any relevant publications, papers, and projects. Decisions will be sent out by the end of December 2021. Any questions about the call for papers or the conference can be sent to that same email address or to Thanks, and keep it bouncing.