In 1976 Edward Mendelson introduced the terms encyclopedic narrative and encyclopedic novel in two articles on Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and offered a definition that seems to be primarily geared toward totality. The history of the encyclopedia, however, shows a transition from the idea that everything can be encompassed to an awareness that the encyclopedia necessarily needs to be an open form. During the Enlightenment, Denis Diderot posited that every delineation always implies an exclusion of information. Consequently, the Encyclopedists of the Enlightenment transformed the image of the encyclopedia as a hierarchic totalizing tree into the encyclopedia as a network (ideally a rhizome) that contains a constant tension between totality and open-endedness. With this tension as its core characteristic, the encyclopedic narrative becomes useful as a generic designation and answers to the continuously expanding boundaries of text, data, and knowledge. The redefined encyclopedic novel can therefore be connected with more current forms of textuality, like hypertext and database.

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