Thomas Pynchon brings us to New York in the early days of the internet
It is 2001 in New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11th. Silicon Alley is a ghost town, Web 1.0 is having adolescent angst, Google has yet to IPO, Microsoft is still considered the Evil Empire. There may not be quite as much money aroundThomas Pynchon brings us to New York in the early days of the internet
It is 2001 in New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11th. Silicon Alley is a ghost town, Web 1.0 is having adolescent angst, Google has yet to IPO, Microsoft is still considered the Evil Empire. There may not be quite as much money around as there was at the height of the tech bubble, but there’s no shortage of swindlers looking to grab a piece of what’s left.
Maxine Tarnow is running a nice little fraud investigation business on the Upper West Side, chasing down different kinds of small-scale con artists. She used to be legally certified but her license got pulled a while back, which has actually turned out to be a blessing because now she can follow her own code of ethics—carry a Beretta, do business with sleazebags, hack into people’s bank accounts—without having too much guilt about any of it. Otherwise, just your average working mom—two boys in elementary school, an off-and-on situation with her sort of semi-ex-husband Horst, life as normal as it ever gets in the neighborhood—till Maxine starts looking into the finances of a computer-security firm and its billionaire geek CEO, whereupon things begin rapidly to jam onto the subway and head downtown. She soon finds herself mixed up with a drug runner in an art deco motorboat, a professional nose obsessed with Hitler’s aftershave, a neoliberal enforcer with footwear issues, plus elements of the Russian mob and various bloggers, hackers, code monkeys, and entrepreneurs, some of whom begin to show up mysteriously dead. Foul play, of course.
With occasional excursions into the DeepWeb and out to Long Island, Thomas Pynchon, channeling his inner Jewish mother, brings us a historical romance of New York in the early days of the internet, not that distant in calendar time but galactically remote from where we’ve journeyed to since.
Will perpetrators be revealed, forget about brought to justice? Will Maxine have to take the handgun out of her purse? Will she and Horst get back together? Will Jerry Seinfeld make an unscheduled guest appearance? Will accounts secular and karmic be brought into balance?
The first thing to know about Pynchon books is that they fall into two pretty distinct categories, with Gravity's Rainbow and Against the Day on one side—the side of sprawling epic, of insane depth of characterization and range of setting—these are books that you don't really read, you just dive on into, in all their jagged crazy bottomless mystery. I once said that reading Against the Day was less like reading a book than reading a chunk of a river, and I stand by that.
Then on the other side yoThe first thing to know about Pynchon books is that they fall into two pretty distinct categories, with Gravity's Rainbow and Against the Day on one side—the side of sprawling epic, of insane depth of characterization and range of setting—these are books that you don't really read, you just dive on into, in all their jagged crazy bottomless mystery. I once said that reading Against the Day was less like reading a book than reading a chunk of a river, and I stand by that.
Then on the other side you have the wacky capers of Vineland, Inherent Vice, and Bleeding Edge. I suppose these books are equally immersive, equally replete with paranoia and feverish rambling and myriad in-and-out characters and unexpected song breaks and punning turned into high art (this one has a titty bar called Joie de Beavre, to give just one shining example). But while his historical epics flout all traditional novelistic conventions by blowing them completely on their ass, the modernist novels do it in a different way, one mostly of caricaturization. The characters are cartoony, the hijinks are bananas, the twists and dips and feints are piled so helter-skelter that it's generally impossible to have any real idea what's going on, let alone where it's all headed.
Also they're so slangy, which is always such a shock from erudite genius Pynchon; he uses "spoze" for "suppose," "rilly" for "really," "sez" for "says," that sort of super-casual conversational thing. Rilly it's all broken phrasing and grammatically incomprehensible sleights of hand—a copyeditor's nightmare, I can only imagine. Also unexpected: so much pop-culture minutia, from '80s fashion accessories to obscure Norwegian death-metal bands to a t-shirt reading "ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US," which, now that I think of it, is actually an anachronism since this book takes place in 2001. (J/k, not an anachronism! I have been summarily corrected!)
Anyway! What is actually in this book, you ask? Well, for once the back-cover blurb is pretty well done, if you want to go ahead and read that. It's like historical fiction but set in 2001, starring sexy Maxine, mother of two and bad-ass quasi-legit fraud investigator. She starts looking into some small financial thing with a hot-shit web property, which is really a string that leads her into a gigantic tangled ball of lies and deceptions and insider trading and money laundering and dot.com craziness and maybe down into Hell itself, sort of. There's a plethora of bonkers characters along the way, like a Russian ex-gulag rapper duo, a foot-fetishist hacker, a tween krav maga expert, a surfer acupuncturist, a Buddhist kids' videogame designer who accidentally maybe creates a parallel universe, Furbys with tracking devices under their fur, the Journal of Memespace Cartography, a haunted hotel pool, and on and on and on.
Another way of looking at this book (and another way that Pynchon seriously could not give a shit about the way a novel is supposed to be constructed) is that it's a nearly unending string of deus ex machina—things and people constantly just happening to appear on the scene at the exact moment they're needed. Like at one point our heroine is stumped about a crime investigation, having already been on the scene and uncovered absolutely nothing, and she's got an appointment with her acupuncturist, who is late, and it just so happens that the sexy stranger in the waiting room with her is a "professional nose," so of course through a series of clever subterfuges she sneaks him over to the crime scene and he recognizes the lingering whiff of an obsolete cologne in the air, which gets her that much closer to figuring out whodunit.
The whole book is like this. In a random bar bathroom, in the café at her new gym, wandering around lost on the Upper West Side, at a slinky dot.com party—everywhere she happens to go, why, wouldn't you know it? There's just the person she needed to see! There's even a character whose job is literally a secret delivery man: you never call him, but when he shows up at your door, he's carrying exactly the bootleg VHS tape or the secret dossier or the encrypted flash drive that holds the very information you so desperately need.
So yeah, it's all kind of strange. With these Pynchons it's always a wild ride, a fun but very intense disbelief-suspension, a wonky, weird-ass spin through a thickety overgrown maze world. Which I like but don't exactly love, not all the time anyway.
Except that his language, his language, his language, oh my god. It is so bizarre and brilliant and weirdly beautiful sometimes that it literally stops me in my tracks. I'll just be toodling along the pages, half-attentioned, in the midst of some strange gathering peopled with characters I only semi-remember who are talking about things I only sort of understand, words flowing by beneath my eyes to the point where I'm mostly only noticing the rhythm, lost and lost in his endless twists and feints—and then will come these passages that just slam through and make me gasp with joy, or rearrange my thinking in such a profound way that I don't know how I even was before.
Here's a paragraph for you, and if you don't react to it with a literal tingling in your fingertips and the ends of your hair, just please shut up and don't tell me about it:
Sometimes, down in the subway, a train Maxine's riding on will slowly be overtaken by a local or an express on the other track, and in the darkness of the tunnel, as the windows of the other train move slowly past, the lighted panels appear one by one, like a series of fortune-telling cards being dealt and slid in front of her. The Scholar, The Unhoused, The Warrior Thief, The Haunted Woman . . . After a while Maxine has come to understand that the faces framed in these panels are precisely those out of all the city millions she must in the hour be paying most attention to, in particular those whose eyes actually meet her own—they are the day's messengers from whatever the Beyond has for a Third World, where the days are assembled one by one under non-union conditions. Each messenger carrying the props required for their character, shopping bags, books, musical instruments, arrived here out of darkness, bound again into darkness, with only a minute to deliver the intelligence Maxine needs. At some point naturally she begins to wonder if she might not be performing the same role for some face looking back out another window at her.
Thank you Tom, you marvelous mad genius. May I never look at a subway ride the same way again....more
Mental note to self, next time you read a book but you can't post a review for a couple of months why don't you try writing the fucking review soon after you read the book, and not wait till the day before the book is to be published? Just a thought, stupid.
Whenever I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver. - attributed to Goering.
The re-occurrence of this line in the book for some reason sums up the book for me. I'm not sureReal-ish Review
Dwell upon our memories, but there are no facts.
Mental note to self, next time you read a book but you can't post a review for a couple of months why don't you try writing the fucking review soon after you read the book, and not wait till the day before the book is to be published? Just a thought, stupid.
Whenever I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver. - attributed to Goering.
The re-occurrence of this line in the book for some reason sums up the book for me. I'm not sure what that says about the book though. But every time I think of the book, this what I think:
Maxine reached for her revolver.
Two months and change I've had to write this review.
I just haven't been able to do it.
Oh, yeah I'm supposed to mention that I got this book for free, from either Netgalley, the publisher, author or through some other way that I get books to read before they are published. Apparently it's a federal law to mention this (for reals?) and not just a cheap reason to float the shit out of my reviews. I haven't been given any monies, nor have I been coerced in anyway to write the review you just read. Huzzah! Except for my screaming teen novelty review of Gravity's Rainbow, I've never reviewed Pynchon before. I've only grudgingly ever reviewed DFW before. It was a dare. I wouldn't have written about Infinite Jest otherwise.
I don't like to write reviews for my favorites.
Fuck yous are so much easier.
Song number one is not a fuck you song, we'll save that that thought for later on. You want to know if there's something wrong? ...You want to know what it all means? It's nothing.
Where to start?
First, this is minor-Pynchon. I'm expecting that there is never going to be another major-Pynchon novel, I hope that I'm wrong, but this is the Pynchon who gave us Vineland and Inherent Vice. It's not the Gravity's Rainbow / Against the Day Pynchon.
Not that they are really separate people, or that there is a massive difference in quality between the two, but there is something un-massive about some of his works. This is one of those books.
I kind of like them more when they feel all-encompassing.
In a way I'd best sum up this book as a more accessible version of Crying of Lot 49, one written by an older writer who no longer feels the need to confuse and obscure at almost every turn. It's got the same sort of female protagonist. She is caught up in the churning of events outside of her immediate control. She is sometimes more just floating through the events taking place than actively controlling her own destiny, but in Pynchon's world is anyone really in control?
While the work is more straight-forward than some of his other books, it's still filled with the slap-stick absurdity, paranoia conspiracies and screw-ball characters that categorize Pynchon's work (or at least to me). It's got all the good stuff, and a style of writing that will undoubtedly piss off that person at the New York Times.
Second, this is a early 2000's novel of New York City. You know, dot come bubble burst and collapsing buildings. Do you think there is room for some conspiracy riffing in those events?
Third, are you looking to see Pynchon really skewer the internet? Maybe you'll read the book differently than me, but that skewering doesn't happen. It's shitty and it's good. It's filled with villains and people futility trying to do good and create spaces outside of commerce. It's got Utopian dreams and unrelenting greed. But mostly it's just a bleeding edge--technology being created without the realization of what the technology can or will actually be used for. I guess one could say that the interwebs are sort of the rockets in this book, a technology everyone is scrambling around and which will ultimately change the world, but is it the technology itself or just human nature that is really at play here?
"Just to say evil Islamics did it, that's so lame, and we know it. We see those official close-ups on the screen. The shifty liar's look, the twelve-stepper's gleam in the eye. One look at these faces and we know they're guilty of the worst crimes we can imagine. But who's in any hurry to imagine? To make the awful connection? Any more than Germans were back in 1933, when Nazis torched Reichstag within a month of Hitler becoming chancellor. Which of course is not to suggest that Bush and his people have actually gone out and staged the events of 11 September. It would take a mind hopelessly diseased with paranoia, indeed a screamingly anti-American nutcase, even to allow to cross her mind the possibility that that terrible day would have deliberately been engineered as a pretext to impose some endless Orwellian 'war' and the emergency decrees we will soon be living under. Nah, nah, perish that thought.
But there's still always the other thing. Our yearning. Our deep need for it to be true. Somewhere, down at some shameful dark recess of the national soul, we need to feel betrayed, even guilty. As if it was us who created Bush and his gang, Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld and Feith and the rest of them-we who called down the sacred lightning of 'democracy' and then the fascist majority on the Supreme Court threw the switches, and Bush rose from the slab and began his rampage. And whatever happened then is on our ticket."
The word zeitgeist may make you reach for your own revolver, but that's what this novel has succeeded in capturing. It's quite successful at capturing New York in the early oughts.
The novel feels like the New York I first moved to. Maybe it's that Pynchon captures so many minor and fairly inconsequential details of the city that makes his feel like a success. It felt like Pynchon had been walking among us back then, that it's quite possible he was that weird old guy who was also at some dive bar that had some Minor Threat blasting out of a Jukebox, or passing through neighborhoods that still stand but no longer have any of the same feelings about them. Trudging down that awful hallway that connects Times Square with Port Authority, telling you to abandon all hope. I think of the media-shy Pynchon as someone apart from the world, like Saligner hiding in his New Hampshire cabin, but he was really a guy living on the Upper West Side, who walked his kids to school and apparently also did a lot of other things in the city. When people don't know what you look like you can be the most reclusive media shy writer in the world and never have to lock yourself indoors (except when you get ambushed walking your kid to school one day).
Windust seem to think it's a date. he is done up, otherwise inexplicably, in somebody's idea of hipster gear-jeans, vintage sharkskin sport coat. Purple Drank T-shirt, enough dress code violations to get him thrown off the L train.
I feel like I should be giving thoughts, instead of just some vague and general impressions, but my shitty mind has nothing to analyze. Nothing to offer as criticism. Nothing but faint memories of the book, it's pitiful how quickly my wind cleans itself of so many details.
On some obscenely hot and humid July afternoon I should have jotted something down and given a review that would have said more, but even then I couldn't think of what to really say about this novel.
It wasn't just laziness.
I enjoy Pychon, I guess it can make me feel smart, but I mostly just get a pure enjoyment out of his books, I enjoy the dumb humor and the crazy conspiracies. The paranoia. The wonderfully bizarre characters. I'm sure other people will write much much much better reviews talking about how he succeeded or failed with the brainy stuff.
"For many people, especially in New York, laughing is a way of being loud without having to say anything."
What was here before the book was released Fuck yeah! I have the best best friend ever!
Bleeding Edge begins after the dotcom crash and takes us through to a few months after the events of September 11. It is a portrait of New York during this period. A "lovably scruffy comedy of remarriage," as the Publishers' Weekly review calls it, and a really wonderful piece of urban literature, keenly detailing the visible and invisible environs of New York City and its psyche at that time. The back of the advance reading copy I got calls it a "historical romance." That too is accurate.
It'sBleeding Edge begins after the dotcom crash and takes us through to a few months after the events of September 11. It is a portrait of New York during this period. A "lovably scruffy comedy of remarriage," as the Publishers' Weekly review calls it, and a really wonderful piece of urban literature, keenly detailing the visible and invisible environs of New York City and its psyche at that time. The back of the advance reading copy I got calls it a "historical romance." That too is accurate.
It's also a very funny, very Pynchonian crime thriller. Think Raymond Chandler-as-Jewish-mother. There's a strip club named "Joie de Beavre."
Dividing any writer's output into categories is problematic, but the impression I got while reading the first three hundred or so pages of Bleeding Edge was that it was more like Vineland or Inherent Vice than Pynchon's other work, while also reading a bit like a revision of The Crying of Lot 49 at times (Maxine is reminiscent in many ways of Oedipa Maas). In other words, this book feels, for most of its length, like an "accessible read" (and I know that's problematic too), relative to Gravity's Rainbow or Against the Day.
Then the events of September 11 enter the novel's world, and they immediately alter the way this book reads. The stunning way Pynchon handles the impact of September 11, on these characters and on New York and on the USA's mentality, has a retroactive impact on the first two thirds of the book, and on any retrospective thought about the book.
I doubt I'm the only person who wondered, when this novel was announced, what Pynchonian paranoia would look like when it met the Information Age more or less approaching full stride, and/or when it met the events of September 11. What this book does with paranoia is utterly fascinating. I think I'd have to read Bleeding Edge again before attempting any lit-crit-type analysis of paranoia's role in this novel vs. its role in, say, The Crying of Lot 49 or in Gravity's Rainbow. So I won't attempt any such analysis. But I'll say that just as a reader, as an admirer of Pynchon's work, I really dug reading this book's rendering of paranoia, of the Information Age and post-September 11 versions of paranoia. Differences and similarities between paranoia as rendered in this book and paranoia as rendered in Pynchon's other books are worth noting, and smarter people (or people more or less exactly as smart as I am, as in the future version of me when I've thought about this some more) will likely comment on this stuff more eloquently.
In many ways, and maybe it's just because I haven't read many of the other contemporary novels that probably exist and deal with the internet and its impact on today's world, Bleeding Edge does a better job than any other work of fiction I've read of detailing the exact weird realities (and exactly what's weird about those realities) of living with this stuff and all it entails, yes for the paranoiac but also just for everyday life. Puts a lot of stuff into perspective that we probably really need a seriously great fiction writer like Pynchon to put into perspective.
Bleeding Edge is linear and straightforward, relative to some of Pynchon's other work, though Maxine's quest makes for an endlessly complicating adventure with a stellar cast of supporting characters, and relentlessly multiplying red herrings. But the book's weight and depth both grow and grow more apparent as it goes along, though it only briefly and appropriately stops being funny. I think this is ultimately a scary and profound book, but there's of course lots of fun to be had, even with fairly serious stuff ("The Wahhabi Transreligious Friendship (WTF) Fund").
Pynchon is, of course, a master of portraying pop culture, regardless of which time period is in question. He manages here to find space even for a Kenan and Kel reference.
Nobody's better than Pynchon at communicating the full range of human experience. This is partly a virtue of the high-low divide meaning absolutely nothing to Pynchon, but he collapses that distinction in a much less trivial way than most writers have since the whole pomo thing got started. Very few writers can write novels that are real funny and real frightening, real serious and real ridiculous, real human and real artificial. Pynchon's books are all these things at once. Bleeding Edge is no exception. This is a serious historical novel, one that expresses real important truths about the human condition, whether specific to the age we live in (internet stuff, terrorism, and other stuff) or universal (love, this being emphatically one of the better love stories I've read, and paranoia, and other stuff). It's also a love/hate letter to NYC and the USA. It's also one of the funniest books I've ever read. It's also a paradise of language and style. Plus none of this stuff makes the whole thing fragmented or disjointed. Plus the stuff Pynchon writes about, whether love, sex, paranoia, violence, whatever, he's also capable of evoking their corresponding emotions. So it's never this distant exercise and instead it's always immediate. You get the idea.
There's an impulse somewhere in my gut to call this one of my favourite Pynchon novels, but that's not the kind of distinction worth making because there really aren't "minor" and "major" novels by Thomas Pynchon.
This is not one of my better reviews, I'm afraid, a fact made more embarrassing by my having had the honour of receiving an advance copy and being one of the first people to review this book on GR. But I hope I've communicated, somewhat at least, why and how Bleeding Edge offered me a glimpse, as Pynchon's stuff always does, of the heights of literary experience, and of its value to us as human beings. Or something like that.
There've been a few novels written about the 11th September 2001 attacks – DeLillo's Falling Man and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close come to mind – and most of them try to induce, not unreasonably, a visceral and immediate reaction to the tragedy. Pynchon has written about atrocities and tragedies before (most recently in Against the Day), but what's striking about Bleeding Edge is how determined Pynchon is to avoid talking about 9/11 in anything like the same terms. AThere've been a few novels written about the 11th September 2001 attacks – DeLillo's Falling Man and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close come to mind – and most of them try to induce, not unreasonably, a visceral and immediate reaction to the tragedy. Pynchon has written about atrocities and tragedies before (most recently in Against the Day), but what's striking about Bleeding Edge is how determined Pynchon is to avoid talking about 9/11 in anything like the same terms. After huge amounts of foreshadowing, the event itself is thrown away almost in passing two thirds of the way through the novel, a remote occurrence that comes mediated through strangers and TV:
Maxine heads for work, puts her head in a local smoke shop to grab a newspaper, and finds everybody freaking out and depressed at the same time. Something bad is going on downtown. ‘A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center,’ according to the Indian guy behind the counter.
‘What, like a private plane?’
‘A commercial jet.’
Uh-oh. Maxine goes home and pops on CNN.
What follows is a lengthy examination not of the event itself – which is merely the pretext for a lot of conspiracy-theoretic playfulness – but rather of how people reacted to it. Pynchon sounds angry about it, angrier than I can remember him sounding for a long time. Typically, he hones right in on the vocabulary, objecting in particular to
‘Ground Zero,’ a Cold War term taken from the scenarios of nuclear war so popular in the early sixties. This was nowhere near a Soviet nuclear strike on downtown Manhattan, yet those who repeat ‘Ground Zero’ over and over do so without shame or concern for etymology. The purpose is to get people cranked up in a certain way. Cranked up, scared, and helpless.
Ah, the ‘purpose’. As with many of his books, it's never clear whose purpose, exactly, we're talking about, but there is a strong sense that there's one out there. Something to do with keeping everyone staring at the replaying images on the news channels, US citizens reduced to ‘a viewing population brought back to its default state, dumbstruck, undefended, scared shitless’. ‘Can't you feel it,’ one character asks—
‘how everybody's regressing? 11 September infantilized this country. It had a chance to grow up, instead it chose to default back to childhood.’
This sense of opportunity wasted runs throughout the book. The other opportunity under examination is the internet. The book is set in large part among the early 2000s geek culture, and there is a feeling of almost limitless potential that's about to be exploited or squandered. One pair of programmers has developed an interface for trawling the deep web (a version of the deep web that I don't think ever existed), and their software is being pursued aggressively by ultracapitalists and national governments – they're facing the
same old classic dotcom dilemma, be rich forever or make a tarball out of it and post it around for free, and keep their cred and maybe self-esteem as geeks but stay more or less middle income.
The internet for Pynchon is a way of transcending the constraints of reality – characters can log on and have conversations with people who seem already to be dead, victims of 9/11, victims of secret governmental machinations, whatever…an online version of the much-misunderstood ‘thanatoids’ from Vineland. The web offers a vision of the almost spiritual interconnectedness of humanity, it's a ‘small part of a much vaster integrated continuum’. And yet at the same time this is somehow thematically tied to the twin towers, so that when they come down, the possibilities of this new medium also seem increasingly to be built on very shaky ground.
And all of this is told in Pynchon's characteristically sly, amused, polymathic, stoned-incisive American narrative voice which fascinates me as much as it ever did. He writes dialogue like no one on earth: having spent the last few books doing away with such irritating formalities as ‘he said’, ‘she replied’ etc., he now relays lines of speech with no finite verbs at all, merely leaving you with a few present participles like the stage directions to a radio play:
‘So…’ some presentable young lady spreading her upturned palms, ‘warm and friendly here, right?’
‘And after the stories we heard,’ Lucas nodding, gazing amiably at her tits.
And this technique, writ large, is how he works at the level of paragraph and novel as well. He no longer does the boring necessities; he's found a way to jump straight from incident to incident. Key events or explanations arrive, smilingly without reason; characters bump into each other, simply because it is now necessary that they meet. (‘It seems accidental’, we are told at one point, ‘but there may be no accidents anymore, the Patriot Act may have outlawed them along with everything else.’)
He still believes as strongly as ever in the power of triviality and jokes, which is one of the reasons I'm able to take him so seriously. In this book we have comments about a woman on the side ‘stashed in London he's playing FTSE with’ – cute – a strip club called Joie de Beavre, and a long description of a Scooby-Doo cartoon set in Colombia which concludes with the line, ‘and I would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those Medellín kids!’
His long ecstatic flights of descriptive fantasy are fewer here than in some earlier books, but he still puts phrases together perfectly when he needs to. Here's the last description we have of one character:
He's silent, wherever he is. By now one more American sheep the shepherds have temporarily lost track of, somewhere in the high country above this ruinous hour, cragfast in the storm.
Elsewhere attention focuses in on the sky, which is very typical of Pynchon: the threat in his books is always either somewhere above you, or deep below your feet. The sky here ‘takes on a brushed-aluminum underglow’; and later it's ‘a pale battle flag of the ancient nation of winter’. (I love that.) Near the end, our heroine notices ‘clouds moving across a smear of light, maybe the sun, maybe something else’, which is precisely the sort of minatory vagueness that Pynchon has made all his own. There is a paragraph along similar lines in Against the Day, and for that matter in this context one can't help also thinking of the famous opening line to Gravity's Rainbow.
How does he do it? There are lines in his books I read over and over and I still have the feeling that the sense can't be reduced to the words on the page. And this may be the last book we get from him: he was 76 when it came out, half a century since the publication of V. You don't expect people in their mid-seventies to be writing about (to pick an example from this book almost at random) a couple dressing up for Hallowe'en respectively as ‘a NAND gate and Aki Ross from the Final Fantasy movie’.
Bleeding Edge does include one para that's as good a summary of Pynchon's general philosophy as any:
‘No matter how the official narrative of this turns out,’ it seemed to Heidi, ‘these are the places we should be looking, not in newspapers or television but at the margins, graffiti, uncontrolled utterances, bad dreamers who sleep in public and scream in their sleep.’
What he's been bringing us for fifty years. And still showing people a third of his age how it should be done....more
There's always something about Pynchon that renders me mute. Too much to talk about, I suppose. It's always hard to find a place to start.
So this is a novel 'about' Silicon Alley in the early 2000s during the Yuppie Babylon of the tech boom and the first months of the Giuliani/Bush regime. Our protagonist, Maxine, reminds me of Oedipa from Crying of Lot 49 a bit, as a professional women who is gradually entangled into a conspiracy of unknowable and incorporeal proportions. It's not as vast as GrThere's always something about Pynchon that renders me mute. Too much to talk about, I suppose. It's always hard to find a place to start.
So this is a novel 'about' Silicon Alley in the early 2000s during the Yuppie Babylon of the tech boom and the first months of the Giuliani/Bush regime. Our protagonist, Maxine, reminds me of Oedipa from Crying of Lot 49 a bit, as a professional women who is gradually entangled into a conspiracy of unknowable and incorporeal proportions. It's not as vast as Gravity's Rainbow or Against the Day, but very few books really are. It's actually easy for a Pynchon, even easier than Lot 49 or Inherent Vice.
It's sometimes unbecoming to 'compare' various parts of an author's collective work, but Pynchon has produced so much that it's easier to point out more common trends. There is still a taste for doggerel, for hilarious puns, silly names and sex jokes.
About halfway through the book, 9/11 happens. I won't count this as a spoiler for there is a continuous sense of foreboding in the chapters preceding it, but he still makes it affecting, but not melodramatic or kitschy. I mention this because Pynchon's fondness for the coping mechanisms of conspiracy theories makes an appearance here as well, although he is actually very restrained compared to some of the more outrageous possibilities I've heard. (No laser beams or lizard people.)
That leads to the other main theme of the book — the Internet. Instead of a 'cyberpunk' view of what the Internet might be in the future, he instead takes a historical interpretation of its past. This is the Internet Version 1.0, before Goodreads, Facebook, or even Myspace. Even in this cruder form, still dominated by IRC chat and BBS boards, the Internet still represented a faster yet still unknown means of communication. I do not rightly know whether the 'Deep Web' Pynchon describes existed then, but it certainly does today. Secret things are said and done here, and people act without restraint when they are anonymous and have no social restraints or inhibitions.
Pynchon is also eerily prescient, and this is one of those eras where it is more prevalent to whisper on conspiracies and fear. It might be only a matter of good timing that this book was released a few short months after Edward Snowden's revelations, but Pynchon's questions seem more relevant now, about the non-neutrality of technology and how it is used and co-opted by power. Perhaps right after that age of euphoria, we had a reminder that we were all living on foundations of fragile steel, which will bend and break as history moves on....more
Okay, here’s what I think: more women need to read this book. Looking over the reviews I note that most are from men who have read everything Pynchon has written. I hadn’t read anything by him (no, not even Gravity's Rainbow) and I thought the time was right for me to begin. He is considered a writer of great stature and I couldn’t remember why I ignored him.
This is a valentine to women. Even the title refers to women, in all its interpretations: The bloody edge of a knife held against the neckOkay, here’s what I think: more women need to read this book. Looking over the reviews I note that most are from men who have read everything Pynchon has written. I hadn’t read anything by him (no, not even Gravity's Rainbow) and I thought the time was right for me to begin. He is considered a writer of great stature and I couldn’t remember why I ignored him.
This is a valentine to women. Even the title refers to women, in all its interpretations: The bloody edge of a knife held against the neck of the forces that will subjugate us; the (monthly) bleeding forward edge of an insurgency resistant to control; the bleeding heart of a mother's love for her children and the fury that unleashes itself when they are threatened. This story is about cool (mostly), calculating (sometimes) resistance against the machine. And it is so funny. I found myself shaking with laughter about three-quarters of the way through. His humor is cumulative. At some point you have to crack a smile, snort at a joke, choke out a guffaw.
I also didn’t know Pynchon was reclusive. My first thought that came to mind when learning this was that he doesn’t like the rest of us very much and can’t stand to interact. But that doesn’t appear to be the case from reading this book. Don’t think for a moment that because he is not in view, we are not in view. He is relentless in his observation, prodding and measuring our postures and attitudes. He apes us, “cans” us for future use. Now I know why he insists on anonymity: the better to catch us at our unconscious most. (best?)
But he likes us. He is gentle with his characters and the characters are us. Except Gabriel Ice. Pynchon is not nice to Ice, the cold industrialist who will collaborate with the forces of evil to achieve power at any cost to others. There is a thick vein of paranoia pushing the narrative forward: “paranoia’s the garlic in life’s kitchen…you can never have enough.”
Pynchon is described in articles about him as an ”incomparable mimic,” which may be why, reading this latest novel, I thought he was Jewish. The novel in set in New York in 2001 and he has captured the speech patterns, the attitudes, the atmosphere precisely, though perhaps with more wit and humor than we usually enjoy there. This is a man who mines deeply what he encounters in his experience.
The first 85 pages or so may have been deliberately obscure--to keep out day-trippers perhaps--but starting any book is complicated, and this has lots of characters to introduce, including the Deep Web. We all get lost there the first time in. He tells us to hold on: “'It's all right, the dialogue boxes assure her, 'it's part of the experience, part of getting constructively lost.'” After this point, he becomes positively lucid.
He helps us along by including a woman for those of us “whose eyes glaze over” without a woman in the story. In fact, he makes her the lead: Maxine. She is a fraud investigator who’s had her license revoked, leaving her free to use slightly-less-than-perfectly-straight methods to find out about her clients and the objects of their scrutiny. She can also pack a Beretta. (I told you forensic accounting was hot: check out the Ava Lee series by Ian Hamilton.)
Maxine is a mother first and last, wife, and skeptic with antennae for a scam. She enjoys a wide circle of dubious contacts on the margins, and has an erotic liaison with an ambiguous hosiery-shredding King Lud Windust, a government (double?) agent. In the post internet boom of the nineties one firm, hashslingrz, the brainchild of Gabriel Ice, has come on her radar.
This feast of symbols has a larger message that is not too difficult to understand, but mostly it is just a fun ride. Not having encountered Pynchon before gave me an advantage, perhaps. I certainly didn’t think he was more difficult than others I have read, Bolaño for one, Pamuk for another. And he is a lot funnier. I did find myself wondering who is this guy?
Little is known of Pynchon the man, but a few souls have attempted to share what they’ve found out, including a 2013 vulture.com article by Boris Kachka: “For much of his life he would flee crowds and cities, dipping a toe into cultures and communities and then leaving and skewering them in turn.”
So this is what I’ve been able to glean about him from reading the book: he watches a lot of movies; he listens to music; he has a wide circle of friends who preserve his deliberate inconspicuousness. He listens. He observes. But does he read? Voraciously. Everything. But does he read novels? Recent novels? I think he does. I trust he does.
I like to think Pynchon has a measure of stability and pleasure in his home life now. Bleeding Edge doesn’t have the emptiness and alienation I associate with someone who is completely outside the life the rest of us enjoy. He is one of us.
I wish him well. Good vibes, coming your way.
The following writings will help immeasurably with your understanding of the novel. For a writer, Pynchon has a remarkably small body of published work, but he is consistent.
I have a reputation on goodreads for being hyper-intelligent, indulging in reading difficult novels. It’s a reputation I like to nurture. It’s been many years of failure, in fact.
Back in college daze I was at the check-out desk of the smucker=jam/jelly library and this friend of mine comes in, fresh out of one of his English=major classes. This is one of those rare-birds on college campuses, an intellectual who actually gave a damn about getting an education beyond mere job=training
Me and Tome
I have a reputation on goodreads for being hyper-intelligent, indulging in reading difficult novels. It’s a reputation I like to nurture. It’s been many years of failure, in fact.
Back in college daze I was at the check-out desk of the smucker=jam/jelly library and this friend of mine comes in, fresh out of one of his English=major classes. This is one of those rare-birds on college campuses, an intellectual who actually gave a damn about getting an education beyond mere job=training. He came up to me all thumbs up saying, Pynchon is where it’s at. That was a strong enough argument and I’ve been failing to read Pynchon for many years now. Well, I mean, right up to 2009 when I read Inherent Vice.
In short order I gather’d together V, Lot 49, and gravity’s rainbow courtesy of one of those use’d book=shops I hung out at (hipster!!). Lot 49 I read twice and didn’t see too much to make a fuss about. I read V with what I recall from today’s point=of=view as zero understanding except the nose;job chapter and at least once reading it at dip=co with a couple rounds of sam adams at the bar looking like a real Pynchon hipster before I used the word hipster like this in a self-deprecating manner. Well, whatever the hell that was, I mean V, I still have that same Bantam edition. A few short years later I believe following on the heels of reading IJ I started into gravity’s rainbow and said, Ah, Yes, I get it ; This is fantastic and I have no idea what’s going on. But so I only got about 2/3 through what is today simply call’d “GR” due to some non-literary distractions. Still haven’t gotten back to it.
Meanwhile, Mason and Dixon was published and I got one of those hot=off=the=presses exemplaren. Over the course of several highly distractive months I read the words on its pages ; I recall a few nice things like presidents getting high, big rounds of cheese, a mechanical duck ; snow=balls chance in hell of me understanding it. But anyway I even bought a copy for a friend of mine who taught English, or was it History. Anyways, total failure.
Then I bought a copy of Against the Day, also hot off the presses. In fact, it may have been my first amazon PRE=order -- I order’d it before I order’d it. It sat beautifully on my dresser for approximately three years. [meanwhile, somewhere along the line, I placed one of those ubiquitous used copies of Vineland and probably Slow Learner on my shelf]. Pre=order’d Inherent Vice in 2009 ; received it in the Post ; read it ;; and Pynchonian=shape’d light bulbs began to light up in my meager brain. I GET IT NOW!!! I sail’d through Against the Day at speeds air=ships can only fantasize about. I dove quickly into Vineland -- thankful that I hadn’t read it in 1990 with all the other post-GR Disappoint’d. I was a slow learner, but I read that one too. I mean, by this time of course I was well and deep into Encyclopedic Novel Territory (“ENT”=space?), having enter’d via IJ, Sot=Weed, and The Don of Quixote.
Now here I stood, looking forward to what I’ve come to think of as Type II PYNCHON == Lot 49, Vineland, IV. Those Pynchon=Lite volumes. What I want’d from Bleeding Edge was some of that Lite Tome. That’s what it is. And I’m a Pynchon FAN=BOY. So whatever, I’ll read it. I read it. Here I am. See, I’m a DFW FAN=BOY too. And but I’ve move’d on, see. I’ll read everything that says “DFW” but mostly I’ve moved onto fanning other flames. With Tome too I’ve moved on ;; but in the case of Tome I’ve move’d on by moving backwards -- 2014 I need to retrace my steps from V through GR to M&D ;;; to make up for that failure I mention’d up there above.
Read Bleeding Edge ; don’t be disappoint’d ;; take the ride with Maxine. It’s still Tome. And something about the world feels different today....more
My friends and I created our online reading group samizdat in the summer of 1999. Our first selection was Gravity's Rainbow and we've made a number of efforts since then to recreate that cherry high. Those distant days of yahoo and dial up are recreated in Bleeding Edge, though most of its characters play with a heavier set of clubs. The Kabbalic notion of a deep web where the eschatological becomes, well, virtual is hardly a new idea. Pynchon drapes it all in a noir apparatus with a crime sceneMy friends and I created our online reading group samizdat in the summer of 1999. Our first selection was Gravity's Rainbow and we've made a number of efforts since then to recreate that cherry high. Those distant days of yahoo and dial up are recreated in Bleeding Edge, though most of its characters play with a heavier set of clubs. The Kabbalic notion of a deep web where the eschatological becomes, well, virtual is hardly a new idea. Pynchon drapes it all in a noir apparatus with a crime scene at Ground Zero.
Pynchon goes with a female protagonist, Maxine - mother of two and fraud investigator - Frau investigator. It has been a long time since Oedipa Mass and I think Maxine finds her form with verve. It is rife with all the standard Pynchonian parodies. There is a biopic channel where all notable personalities receive 100 minute, big screen treatment. there are song lyrics at every turn and an entire football roster of blurry men on the grassy knoll. There are fingers pointed to Wahabi networks funded from dot.com dividends, a scratchy DVD showing a fail-safe with Stinger missles being used if the planes didn't complete their mission. There is also a host of Mossad and Russians running around, not to mention an entire room of Jihadis with an ElectroMagnetic Pulse. Oh well, one shouldn't expect subtlety.
There is a scene towards the end where Maxine is discussing the internet with her father. He rebukes here deterritorialized utopian view and tells her point blank that it was designed by cold warriors, that intent has to linger. ...more
(This review was originally written for and posted at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography's site. I paid for and preordered this book back in March? April?, which was months before I knew I'd be writing for CCLaP.)
It is all too easy to dismiss Thomas Pynchon's most recent novel as another one for the "Pynchon Lite" pile, which is by no means fair to a book that can't help counting the likes of such heavyweights (both in the literary and literal senses) as Against the Day, Mason &am(This review was originally written for and posted at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography's site. I paid for and preordered this book back in March? April?, which was months before I knew I'd be writing for CCLaP.)
It is all too easy to dismiss Thomas Pynchon's most recent novel as another one for the "Pynchon Lite" pile, which is by no means fair to a book that can't help counting the likes of such heavyweights (both in the literary and literal senses) as Against the Day, Mason & Dixon and the undeservedly Pulitzer-snubbed Gravity's Rainbow among its older, beefier brothers. Bleeding Edge takes place in a world immediately surrounding September 11, meaning that it is finally a Pynchon book set in a time period with which all of its readers, especially its American audience, are familiar (this is, of course, assuming that there aren't any post-millennium-born kids out there surreptitiously paging through their parents' copies of a tantalizingly shiny-covered tome), thus minimizing the frantic research that usually punctuates a Pynchon novel's obscure cultural allusions and mathematical formulae rendered in high-minded gibberish, allowing for an appearance of simplicity and uninterrupted reading that may lull one into a false sense of knowing which way's up when Tommy P. is navigating the screaming that comes across the sky.
No, this is not a postmodern labyrinth housing a lunatic beast that is just itching to pummel the unsuspecting and unprepared with tricksy words and engineering metaphors. This is a love letter to New York City that knows all too well how The Big Apple can be a finicky--but ultimately rewarding--mistress. This is a September 11 story that does not cash in on a day burned into a nation's collective conscience. This is, quite possibly, the most from-the-heart novel Pynchon has written since Vineland--though it's still peppered with paranoid brilliance and an understanding of early-aught pop culture and tech savvy that most septuagenarians simply can't summon.
Bleeding Edge follows Maxine Tarnow, a defrocked fraud investigator and mostly divorced mother of two elementary-school-aged boys, on a madcap rush that scrambles atop NYC rooftops and dives to the depths of the as-of-yet unexplored nether regions of an internet the public was just beginning to embrace en masse. It is the standard Pynchonian detective fare in that it derives its own flavor from a cast of characters bearing Muppetesque monikers, a balance of humor and heartache that is nothing short of scientifically calibrated for maximum effect, a tangled web of paranoia surrounding a shady computer-security firm that only works itself into a tighter knot the more Maxine prods at it, and a healthy dose of parental concerns augmented by a Jewish mother's terminal worry.
While Pynchon's previous works had a tendency to spiral off into myriad directions, Bleeding Edge seemed more streamlined than its predecessors. An old acquaintance brings the questionable finances of an as-of-yet defunct dotcom to Maxine's investigatory attention before the pages even reach the double digits and the plot tirelessly tears ahead from there. Each question posed by our unflinching protagonist does, unsurprisingly, bring three more questions to the surface but there is a sense of overall connectedness and bigger-picture relevance threading its way through each new twist and turn that Maxine & Co. face.
Allowing the plot to remain unusually unfettered by carefully choreographed chaos and divergences, along with wrangling a comparatively small cast, allows Pynchon's writing to take center stage in Bleeding Edge. For all his ability to weave masterfully complex scenarios into a rich tapestry of life-imitating, intricately layered storytelling, Pynchon cannot ever get enough credit for simply being one hell of a writer. The man knows his way around the English language like few others do, deploying ten-dollar words just as easily as he plays casual comedy against understated devastation.
The events of September 11 occur more than halfway through the book, and the day itself is relegated to roughly three pages. It is tempting to submit to the urge that allows that day to dominate whatever it touches; however, Pynchon's deliberately tactful approach to encapsulating the day allows for its aftermath to come to the forefront, as its lasting effects and the inevitable changes it brought--especially to New York City and the areas close enough to both it and Washington, D.C. to feel the ripple effects for years to come--were the true test of a population's endurance. This is where so much of the book's heart comes into play, as September 11 and parenthood become inextricably linked: As we cannot protect our children from the unpleasant truths of life, we could not protect ourselves from one Tuesday in September that rocked everything we thought to be true more than a decade ago. For all of her professional acumen, Maxine is, at her very core, a loving Jewish mother who wants to give her boys the world and can't shake the guilt over such a world being a dangerous place that, like the parade of girlfriends they'll one day bring home to her, will never be good enough for them.
The point is, one has to adapt to and learn from life after trauma, as one can't become stronger without facing an event that demands personal growth and paradigm-shifting perspective tweaks to overcome it. Which is as close to a resolution as Bleeding Edge really has. Because sometimes things aren't neatly settled. People die but the world marches forward and will not stop as a courtesy to all the survivors who are left shaken and grieving. Unplanned growth is the universe's way of pushing us beyond our comfort zones to become the best version of ourselves. Admittedly, it is initially frustrating to come to an end of the book that leaves a trail of loose threads in its wake but the questions that this novel asks still don't have answers. And the questions aren't nearly as important as the discoveries made while searching for a solution, anyway....more
There are some really fabulous reviews of this book by some of our common GR friends, and so I’ll simply (and gladly) defer any future readers to those; I will just make one brief point, which seems to have been missed by other readers, but which I think is quite certain and obvious about this book.
There is a lot of fabulous writing here, but (as others have certainly noted) also a lot (too much, for my taste, frankly) of monkeying-around. This can get kind of tedious – and so the book gets a loThere are some really fabulous reviews of this book by some of our common GR friends, and so I’ll simply (and gladly) defer any future readers to those; I will just make one brief point, which seems to have been missed by other readers, but which I think is quite certain and obvious about this book.
There is a lot of fabulous writing here, but (as others have certainly noted) also a lot (too much, for my taste, frankly) of monkeying-around. This can get kind of tedious – and so the book gets a lot of four-stars (including from me) and gets classified as ‘Pynchon-lite’. Fair enough…
But here’s what needs to be said about Bleeding Edge. The book mainly deals (of course) with the somewhat slapstick spy-capers of Maxine Tarnow. But the Deep Web runs through this plot line as a leitmotif, and it is in these sections on the Deep Web that one finds the most compelling and seductive writing.
What Maxine finds there, in DeepArcher, is kind of a Second Life series of topographies and avatars. But Pynchon describes these inhabitants with obvious allusions to the shades and dead who inhabit the underworld in Homer (Od. 11), Vergil (Aen. 6), and in Dante (Inferno). They are the dead, lining up along the rivers that course through the nether regions. Thus, descriptions of the Deep Web, DeepArcher, as Sologdin reminded me the other day, are but a Pynchonian Katabasis. This, I think, is textually certain.
Lke the reader, Maxine is utterly captivated by what goes on there – and thus we are led (throughout the course of the book) to think that what goes on down there in the netherworld is ‘realer’ than what occurs up here, in the slapstick world of meatspace.
But none of it, in fact, as a minor character points out at the very end (Chazz Larday, Tallis’ fiber-salesman and boyfriend), is real. Fiber is real – but the Deep Web is just code… and when the power systems go out, all this Second Life bullshit will vanish – into nothingness – into insubstantial shades. (Maxine, of course, herself makes this point about ‘just code’ several times throughout the book.)
What is real, then, is just our life – our First and only Life – in meatspace – which consists of love and sex and laughter and slapstick and capers and parties and humor and jealously and television and… most novel for Pynchon – of one’s children (Ziggy and Otis)…. And THAT is the life that is real and that we must learn to value and enjoy – not the seductive and poetic illusions of DeepArcher.
This, then, is Pynchon’s final message to us…, as he turns the corner into the final course of his own life – he is now nearly 77 years old – and THAT is a message, despite all the (oft-commented upon) cultural date-stamping of so much of this text, for the ages.
Pynchon could write the linear notes to an obscure hipster band and I would track that CD down and read it. At one level there is a certain amount of potential, sulfuric, fizzle genius that you can definitely smell but in this novel never quite explodes (gets expelled?). Pynchon is tracing and mapping the same subterranean ground he has fixated on from the very beginning: technology, paranoia, humor, dark entropy, etc., it is all here. It just isn't<$> REAL GEEKS USE COMMAND PROMPTS $>
Pynchon could write the linear notes to an obscure hipster band and I would track that CD down and read it. At one level there is a certain amount of potential, sulfuric, fizzle genius that you can definitely smell but in this novel never quite explodes (gets expelled?). Pynchon is tracing and mapping the same subterranean ground he has fixated on from the very beginning: technology, paranoia, humor, dark entropy, etc., it is all here. It just isn't masterpiece level. It surfs at the same literary shelf as Inherent Vice and Vineland. A 4-star, VG PoMo novel, sure sure, just not a Gravity's Rainbow, a Mason and Dixon, or an Against the Day.
Another challenge Pynchon is facing is the world and its interwebs have just grabbed his schtick with both invisible hands and apparently most of us in meat world just don't give a flying purple Leonhart Fuchs that there is nowhere left to hide. My own private Idaho mother is now slowly feeding info into Pinterest's and FB's databases, my brother and father I recently read are both in a heavily redacted FBI file dealing with Michael Hastings, and I'm writing reviews on Goodreads and Audible (read AMZN; all your reviews are belong to us), cross-posting it on FB/Twitter, etc., and helping the overlords of Zuckerberg, Bezos, et al. make their next few $Billion$.
Maybe, one-day (like an oversexed Oneida Community) this complexity will all get worked out in the end. Maybe with Jesus 2.0's help, one-day, we will join hands to feed the world's hungry with more than bytes, but like Pynchon, I'm not going to hold my breath for that WTF moment....more
A parable of reading. Protagonist is a fallen CFE, with her “skill set being a tendency to look for hidden patterns” (22), which is the sole necessary skill for reading a Pynchon novel. We have met the protagonist, and found that she is us.
Principal text that CFE reads is work product of a film bootlegger, whose poor hand-recordings in the theatre are taken to be “leading edge [NB] of this post-postmodern art form” with “neo-Brechtian subversion of the diegesis” (9). We should take this commentA parable of reading. Protagonist is a fallen CFE, with her “skill set being a tendency to look for hidden patterns” (22), which is the sole necessary skill for reading a Pynchon novel. We have met the protagonist, and found that she is us.
Principal text that CFE reads is work product of a film bootlegger, whose poor hand-recordings in the theatre are taken to be “leading edge [NB] of this post-postmodern art form” with “neo-Brechtian subversion of the diegesis” (9). We should take this commentary as both lovingly satirical and smugly self-reflexive. Despite the irony (or maybe because of it?), one film by bootlegger eventually becomes the keystone object of interpretation, out of which spins the normal pynchonian paranoia.
Novel is structured around the binary of surface/depths. Bootlegger engages CFE early, for instance, on a whistleblower case regarding a “dotcom that didn’t go under last year in the tech crash” (9). Client confides that the information he seeks “probably won’t be anyplace any search engine can go” (10), but rather in the “deep web” (id.). Believes it to be more than mere embezzlement, which belief is confirmed by the uncovery of the principal text-within-the-text, supra.
This structuration is eponymous, as the principal mystery, DeepArcher, is “bleeding edge technology […] No proven use, high risk, something only early-adoption addicts feel comfortable with” (78). Its “roots reach back to an anonymous remailer,” “looking forward to various onion-type forwarding procedures nascent at the time” (id.). Whereas remailers “pass data packets on from one node to the next with only enough information to tell each link in the chain where the next one is, no more,” “DeepArcher does a step further and forgets where it’s been, immediately, forever” (id.). It is “an invisible self-recording pathway, no chance of retracing it” (79), which gets us into Derrida pretty quickly.
The surface/depth structure also pulls us into Foucault, with the appearance of “freelance professional Nose” (201), who can smell what has happened “all in time sequence, each indication layered on top of the one before. You can put together a chronology” (202)--an olfactory archaeology, “nasal forensics” (203). Because it’s Pynchon, nasal guy is crazier’n a shithouse rat, as he’s obsessed with “what did Hitler smell like?” (234). Dude nevertheless knows another Nose, who is “proosmic--she can foresmell things that’re going to happen” (236), which indicates that not only is nasal archaeology useful in reconstructing foucauldian historical discontinuities, but can be used to predict on the basis of continuities.
A couple of nice architectural palimpsests (4, 241) demonstrate Benjamin’s notion of progress from thesis on the philosophy of history #9.
The structure finds its way into a story of Xibalba (443), “a vast city-state below the earth, ruled by twelve Death Lords. Each lord with his own army of unquiet dead, who wander the surface world bringing terrible afflictions to the living.” The depths are accordingly not necessarily a good thing here.
There’s plenty more surface/depths tropes & figures in here, but we might sum up how this structure works with “Everybody thinks now the Eisenhower years were so quaint and cute and boring, but all that had a price, just underneath was the pure terror” (419).
With that last bit in mind, we might then identify the master figure as late capitalism, as designated in these bits: "i don’t do lunch. Corrupt artifact of late capitalism” (115); “Doom […] just came out for Game Boy. Post-late capitalism run amok. ‘United Aerospace Corporation,’ moons of Mars, gateways to hell, zombies and demons” (139); “late capitalism is a pyramid racket on a global scale, the kind of pyramid you do human sacrifices up on top of, meantime get those suckers to believe it’s all gonna go on forever” (163); “everything’ll be suburbanized faster than you can say ‘late capitalism’” (241); “there was AIDS and crack and let’s not forget late fucking capitalism” (308); “U.S. engineered regime changes, children with AKs, deforestation, storms, famines, and other late-capitalist planetary insults” (378-79); “it’s a Twelfth Night of late capitalist contradictions” (395).
This concept has a long marxist lineage, most recently given serious attention in Jameson’s Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Frankfurt marxism tended to see it as a system of “bureaucratic control” with “state capitalism” such that “Nazism and the New Deal are related systems” (loc. cit. at xviii). Jameson’s usage supersedes Adorno’s, though, which has become “natural” (id.); rather, “not merely an emphasis on new forms of business organization […] but above all the vision of a world capitalist system fundamentally distinct from the older imperialism, which was little more than a rivalry between the various colonial powers.” (loc. cit. at xix). Other features include “new international division of labor, a vertiginous new dynamic in international banking and the stock exchanges […] new forms of media interrelationship, […] computers and automation, the flight of production to advanced Third World areas, along with all the more familiar social consequences, including the crisis of traditional labor, the emergence of yuppies, and gentrification on a now-global scale” (loc. cit. xix) (emphasis added).
Two thirds the way through, a screaming comes across the sky. Not those famous words, of course, but the same factual scenario. Destruction of lower Manhattan is ironized by the imagined destructions that precede it, such as some kids playing “a first person shooter, with a generous range of weaponry in a cityscape that looks a lot like New York” (33), wherein the player “swivels to point at the human pest, and, accompanied by bass-boosted machine pistol sound effects, blows her away clean. She just disappears, not even a stain on the sidewalk. ‘See? No blood, virtually nonviolent’” (34)--the game is designated as “yuppicide” (35): “they’re blowing away New Yorkers, how cute?” (id.). Kids later play at “violent assault, terrorist shoplifting sprees, and yup discombobulation, each of which ends in the widespread destruction” (68) of a toy shopping center. New York cab driver intones that “Jesus would love it if every Jew got nuked” (123). Kids play game set in “post apocalyptic New York, half underwater” (292). The novel’s characters envision the destruction of Manhattan in numerous ways, prefiguring 9/11 and echoing the ruin that the US had made of other states during its history. Looped back through the Jameson bits, supra, it’s fairly plain that 9/11 is held out as an epiphenomenon of late capitalism--as Ward Churchill said, “some people push back”--all that is solid melts into air, after all, and some true rightwingers don’t like that.
There’s plenty of techtalk and internet nerd stuff. No idea about any of that; it’s about as interesting to me as what the bleeding edge of tech would’ve been in 1950 or 1850 or 1550. What’s important is not the engineering details, but the fact that there is a bleeding edge--and that it really is irrelevant. The depths can be razor sharp; but old tech always beats new tech; that's why the surface attack of 9/11 can bring all that shit down, whereas the use, if any, of DeepArcher, or why anyone would want it, remains nebulous throughout the novel.
Otherwise, speculative element in the inclusion of the Montauk Project (117 et seq.), which apparently is filled with fey or ghosts or something (no shit--see 193-94). Further speculative bits regarding a boot camp for time-travellers (242), given weird pseudo-confirmation thereafter. We also have a Ring of Gyges/Sauron’s ring (430-31): wtf? (Perhaps tied in the lack of phenomena as the surface impression, whereas the depth of the noumenal remains unaffected?) A ghost figure runs throughout, which someone with more energy might turn into a derridean reading of hauntology from Spectres of Marx.
Just as leftwing as ever, though, presenting the normal radical critiques of surface propaganda:
“The trolls and wicked sorcerers and so forth were usually Republicans of the 1950s, toxic with hate, stuck back around 1925 in almost bodily revulsion from anything leftward of ‘capitalism’” (101); or
“How right-wing, Maxine wonders, does a person have to be to think of the New York Times as a left-wing newspaper?” (105); or
“one of the globetrotting gang of young smart-asses, piling into cities and towns all over the Third World, filling ancient colonial spaces with office copiers and coffee machines, pulling all-nighters, running off neatly bound plans for the total obliteration of target countries and their replacement by free-market fantasies” (110); or
“her M.B.A., ordinarily a sure sign of idiocy” (128); or
“Addiction to oil gradually converging with the other national bad habit, inability to deal with refuse” (166); or
“Same as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ronald Reagan and his people, Shachtmanite goons like Elliott Abrams, turning Central America into a slaughterhouse all to play out their little anti-Communist fantasies. Guatemala had by then fallen under the control of a mass murderer and particular buddy of Reagan named Rios Montt, who as usual wiped off his bloody hands on the baby Jesus” (170); or
“all ‘being Republican’ meant really was a sort of principled greed. You arranged things so that you and your friends would come out nicely, you behaved professionally, above all you put in the work and took the money only after you’d earned it. Well, the party, I fear, has fallen on evil days. This generation--it’s almost a religious thing now. The millennium, the end days, no need to be responsible anymore to the future” (284); and
Chapter 30 is almost entirely a beautiful little rant about 9/11.
Plenty of baudrillardian hyperreality moments: e.g., “the dark focus of Big Apple waste disposal, everything the city has rejected so it can keep pretending to be itself” (166). Plenty of dream narratives, fertile for the Freudian & Lacanian interest noted in the text expressly at several points. Both are riffs on the surface/depths structure: On the one hand, Freud & Lacan will eschew the surface emanations in order to pull from the depths of the unconscious mind, whereas Baudrillard, on the other, will locate the surface emanations as the fundamental reality: the copy that is more real than the original.
Lotsa Jewish jokes; plenty of silly absurdities; standard pynchonian allusiveness to mass culture--but no pynchonian analepsis. Usual fascination with persons on the margin. Protagonist has at least as much Tyrone Slothrop as Oedipa Maas; she notices arousal on most men whom she meets, and ends up in plenty of bizarre sex acts with them. Accessible, smart, committed. Go read now. ...more
and late capitalism dissolves/(d?)evolves into messy virtualworld complete with pynchonian paranoia, truther conspiracies, ADHD hyper-prose, forgettable characters, a pun a minute, convoluted pomo-chandlerian plot 5 steps ahead of a (probably intentionally) passive lead heroine. disappointing.
Not Pynchon lite! Not heavy either. More like Pynchon pot-bellied but taut. What at first struck me as a slackness in the prose, became over time and into a second reading an intentional casual naturalness. Casual and natural because speech (and thought) based. This is Pynchon the pal, exuding kookily aloof warmth, while still insightfully penetrating into sociopolitical machinations. Warm because he loves Maxine, the adorable mid-aged mule who carries his (admittedly borderline schematic at timNot Pynchon lite! Not heavy either. More like Pynchon pot-bellied but taut. What at first struck me as a slackness in the prose, became over time and into a second reading an intentional casual naturalness. Casual and natural because speech (and thought) based. This is Pynchon the pal, exuding kookily aloof warmth, while still insightfully penetrating into sociopolitical machinations. Warm because he loves Maxine, the adorable mid-aged mule who carries his (admittedly borderline schematic at times) byzantine story of layer upon layer of corruption and collusion in NYC and beyond. Yes it is also his “9/11 Novel”, and though he handles the attack and its immediate aftermath with sensitivity and a Manhattanite’s engagement, the real point here is that the attacks were not our loss of innocence (as so often trumpeted) but rather the culmination of systemic nefariousness, both political and corporate (or is there any difference?). Yessiree Late Capitalism is the culprit, though to even track that down is impossible, it is so shape-shiftingly pervasive… The only out? Keep pressing toward the edges and beyond, maintaining the Weird while keeping alert and caring for whatever constitutes family. Bleeding Edge is a hymn to Motherhood and must in some way constitute a late love letter to his wife. For all its investigative adventuring into heinous levels of corruption, this novel still filled me with warm fuzzies. Warm dark urban fantasy fuzzies. Admittedly this is largely due to my abiding interest in how paranoia widens one's eyes to perverse wonders of the world, so that while reading Pynchon my daily world and my mind unfurl petal by petal flowerlike enhancing mundane details with auras of possible significance. My first time through I was haunted while reading during lunch by a strange co-ed military fashionisto who on three consecutive days walked around me handlessly talking on his phone to surely some unseen other strange military fashionisto about wars and killing and conspiracies and such. At one point I heard him say “You’re not thinking about burying your id while tomahawking children.” And on the third consecutive day, as I approached the accounting of the 9/11 attacks in the novel, I heard him mention 9/11. It freaked me out! But I loved it! This is what I want while reading Pynchon. Reading Pynchon never fails to add a layer of Dark Romance to my daily life, and as this Pynchon details a world that is closer than ever to my current world I felt my life more altered than ever while reading it. So altered in fact that I jonesed upon finishing it, and so started in on it again in a week. I’m still rereading it in fact, and this time, as I am wont to do while reading Pynchon, I am compiling a character list so that I can keep tabs on his relentless stream of characters who are admittedly usually so poorly developed that only my list helps me know them. But compiling my character list draws me ever deeper into Pynchon, as I reference and add to it from page to page reading closer and closer, and since knowing Pynchon and all his tics and quirks at the word level as his mind transfers his vision to the page is tantamount to enjoying Pynchon, I end up knowing them and enjoying them as if known and enjoyed through Pynchon’s own mind; and Pynchon’s mind is a wonderful place to be. It is after all the mind that put me fresh on the trail of the Deep Web just as so much shit when down in there… Pynchon’s world’s a miraculously deep dark place lit by doubly and triply (and trippily) reflected flashes of brilliant light....more
Don't expect an astute review comparing this to any other Pynchon novels. This was the first one of his I've completed. Perhaps I'm not "ready" to read him yet - or maybe, rather, Pynchon was not ready to write a book like this?
Although it seems to be part of his "schtick", Pynchon's jivey, wisecracking voice grew tiresome to wade through. The narrative was punctuated with moments of true beauty - describing passengers you glimpse in an opposite train as a tarot card draw, and the geeks' cotillDon't expect an astute review comparing this to any other Pynchon novels. This was the first one of his I've completed. Perhaps I'm not "ready" to read him yet - or maybe, rather, Pynchon was not ready to write a book like this?
Although it seems to be part of his "schtick", Pynchon's jivey, wisecracking voice grew tiresome to wade through. The narrative was punctuated with moments of true beauty - describing passengers you glimpse in an opposite train as a tarot card draw, and the geeks' cotillion, were two of my favorite scenes - but the rest was an onslaught of forced hipness and disembodied voices. Perhaps our humors are on different wavelengths, and I certainly am not savvy when it comes to NYC, but few of the jokes amused me, the Jewish tropes grew stale, and Pynchon's random forays into songwriting - well, I'll leave it there.
A primary theme in this book, in terms of the readers' experience, is nostalgia. Chances are, if you're reading Pynchon a the date of this review, you probably lived through September 11 (or 11 September as the book had formatted it, which seemed odd considering the "Americanness" of the story). References popped up that drew me back to my own childhood, like Melanie's Mall (what!) & even a bizarre mention of my birthplace.
But what was disheartening is that Pynchon completely failed to capture the spirit of what it was like to truly be immersed in the Internet at that time period. Sure, I was a "start up" myself back in 2001, but already a lot of my life and friends, mystery and (dare I say) magic exploded from wires hooked up to my computer. Of course this story takes place on a grander scale than a teen's bedroom, but Maxine's travels in DeepArcher, a kind of (from what I gathered) Secondlife virtual reality, was almost laughable. It was a bizarre deviation into cyberpunk territory. Would I next be reading Maxine downloading a Russian form of Kung fu to her head to combat the Russian mafia twins?
Pynchon invents something called the "deep web" where people can get lost looking for themselves it seems, a place where you glimpse celebrities and witness beautiful graphics. But frankly, in those nascent days, the tech was just not that available to consumers to power such a program that it would work. I willingly suspended disbelief but after a few bouts it just seemed that Pynchon was not truly writing about the tech of 2001. Another nitpicky thing that would have been amusing in a mid 80s cyberpunk novel was his continual "hash slinging" (hah) of web and programming terms that seemed out of place or used inappropriately. Another reviewer noted that there's also occasional heavy handed foreshadowing. Ooh, this guy's talking about YOUTUBE. Clever.
I'm totally willing to admit that I had a difficult time a. following the narrative, b. staying invested in the heroine(more on that later) and c. understanding the plot. So I could be wrong about the plot point in my next bit. But the real shocker was the bizarre "truther" undercurrent to this story. Um, Mr. Pynchon, your tinfoil hat is showing? If you want to use that as the crux of your book, fine. But such a debatable and far fetched conspiracy theory is going to detract from the rest of your book which, despite my qualms, does a decent job of depicting the era.
The characters seemed stereotypical and cartoonish - Maxine and Windust's affair was so bizarre. And WE GET THAT SHE IS JEWISH! Even the big, scary, microchipping villain is a letdown. In the end, the affair is taken care of with a screaming match in the streets that seems more appropriate for some alley in a ghetto (or MTV reality tv). There's no real resolution, no big sigh at the end, no pay for slogging through the flights of fancy prose. Quite frankly the only character I could identify with and wanted to read more about was Maxine's Ben & Jerry's scarfing, biopic watching, Midwestern "silo" husband Horst, but perhaps that says something about the types of books I SHOULD be reading instead! ...more
Pre-Script and a Parable The reading of this book was necessitated by it's formal residence at a library, and the long digital line of people stacked in ones and zeroes who have put it on hold. While I own Inherent Vice and Gravity's Rainbow, I've only ever read Pynchon books that I've picked up from the library (add to that I've also read about half of Slow-Learner in book store perusings). It feels a bit like a Kafkaesque parable that to own a certain book reduces the urgency with which to re Pre-Script and a Parable The reading of this book was necessitated by it's formal residence at a library, and the long digital line of people stacked in ones and zeroes who have put it on hold. While I own Inherent Vice and Gravity's Rainbow, I've only ever read Pynchon books that I've picked up from the library (add to that I've also read about half of Slow-Learner in book store perusings). It feels a bit like a Kafkaesque parable that to own a certain book reduces the urgency with which to read. They are as much comfort unread as they are read.
Gum On The Shoe Is The Crying of Lot 49 a Detective novel? Both Bleeding Edge and CoL49 feature sleuthing, but not by stock detective characters (not the stock that Doc Sportello appears to be). I don't even recall Oedipa's day job. Here, Maxine is a fraud investigator, unlicensed, because licensing comes not only with complications for her, but limitations for the author. Yet I would hesitate to call this a "detective novel" (though let it be noted that I am not exactly richly read in the genre. Mostly I am informed by the endless amount of detective/cop/invesitigative/mystery TV shows that populate the big screen). There is not the great urgency in this book, to find The Culprit, but rather a continual due diligence into a web of suspicion. There's always a curiosity to see more of the picture, understand more of hashlingrz or video tape with implications to 9-11, but it never seems that Maxine is focused on the endgame like so many detectives would be; that being How does Gabriel Ice get put behind bars, or at least exposed. How do certain points of data point to what really happened behind the events of 11 September? If anything "really happened."
9-11 The book detours, or webs into questions of 9-11, possible conspiracies, a mysterious video tape. The day, at least in my memory, and I suspect in collective memory, was a moment when the world stopped to ask Are You Ok? But there is no sentimentality for it. Sure, couples long split walk with their children to school for a few days but as Eric Outfield observes, "You'd think when the towers came down it would've been a reset button for the city, the real-estate business, Wall Street, a chance for it all to start over clean. Instead lookit them, worse than before." The reality was that life was more like The Thomas Hoepker photo.
In My Lifetime This is the first (and only) Pynchon novel that includes dates from my lifetime. Which may be this book's largest achievement. A new generation, in on all the pop-culture quirks and cues may understand slightly better these characters in a more personal context.
Transhumanism It began as far back as V. with Pynchon in which characters believed that making the jump out of the physical body was not just the direction of humanity but an objectively better ideal. Here we see dead characters' avatars appearing in the Deep Web--is this the new afterlife? What the afterlife will end up being? But also the deterioration--a psychosis really--of reality and what exactly that feels like.
The Internet I think one of the interesting directions of literature is how it will go about writing about and recording the internet. Pynchon's world (which vaguely seems a little too technilogically advanced given the '01 setting) tries to direct it as another dimension, something with depth, DeepArcher being something that is on the "Deep Web" as opposed to the surface level. But it seems, more than anything a cute way to add a sinister unknown element. Give something a dimension or a depth the audience doesn't quite understand. But I don't know that this is how it is. Perhaps the Internet is a place with space (a vegetarian yin to the real world's meatspace yang), perhaps it is just the extension of nerves and is more of a bodily function. Either way, I haven't come across a novel that really engages with the experience. Possibly because the Internet is a space in the same way a book is: something with depth yet lacking a tangibility. It's not even a deeper part of the mind. It's a slightly different configuration of realities where data, words are air. ...more
Everyone's favorite parlor game for BE is to decide whether it's major, minor, or minor-major Pynchon, except that nobody can even decide what other books go in which slots, let alone where this one falls.
Another fun game is to decide whether this is a 'now' book, or a 'then' book, with the temptation being to say that his late-twentieth-century books are minor (with the exception of V., which doesn't count).
And finally there's the all time punk classic parlor game of complaining that IlikehisEveryone's favorite parlor game for BE is to decide whether it's major, minor, or minor-major Pynchon, except that nobody can even decide what other books go in which slots, let alone where this one falls.
Another fun game is to decide whether this is a 'now' book, or a 'then' book, with the temptation being to say that his late-twentieth-century books are minor (with the exception of V., which doesn't count).
And finally there's the all time punk classic parlor game of complaining that Ilikehisoldstuffbetterthanhisnewstuff*, because his old stuff was, like, incomprehensibly difficult and this just seems too easy.
None of these games makes for a very good review, let alone good literary history or criticism. It's worth comparing BE to Pynchon's other late work: it's like Inherent Vice, yes. It's closely tied to one investigator's point of view, that investigator is dealt with sympathetically, and it's in the late twentieth century. Like IV and Against the Day, BE concerns the possibilities and limitations of novel phenomena, whether that be IV's hippy California, AtD's development of modern industrial capitalism or, as in BE, the internet. All three of them are more or less linear stories, without much of a conclusion--but the indeterminate endings to these shaggy dog stories point out the uncertainties of the world they're depicting, rather than just trying to piss off the audience. Also, they include lots of puns and--a word I just learned, which is worth it--feghoots.
[Before I get to why this is a great book, I should point out one very odd element of it: Pynchon has written an historical novel, full of period detail, about a period of time 10 years ago, which means his readers get *all* the references. Some reviewers have complained about this, which suggests that they really only like his other books because, hey, if you're cool enough to read a book that not even you understand, how much cooler must you be than people who don't read it at all? Pretty *damn* cool, that's how cool. 'I don't like this book because I understand it' is a pretty Twainian complaint, but there is something weird about the way BE wallows in shit culture. I hope it's connected to my defense of the book below, in a positive way.]
But BE gets very interesting when you compare it to what Pynchon is *supposed* to be about (cue: I like your old stuff...) He's all about epistemological uncertainty, ontological weirdness, the End of the Subject, The Death of the Author, self-undermining literature and what-am-I-rebelling-against-well-what-have-you-got? BE makes it very clear that he's not about that anymore, if he ever was (and I don't see how you could read V. and believe any of that about that novel).
Here, postmodernism (a catch phrase for the above themes) is relegated to the toilet, literally: at the party which stands at the intellectual heart of the book, "Eric and Maxine enter the godfather of postmodern toilets... with three dozen stalls, its own bar, television lounge, sound system, and deejay." This is what postmodernism-the-theory was c. 2001, and what it still is--the swan-song party of the decadent rich who would rather claim that There Is No Truth Nor Subject than accept the truth that their own lives contribute to the massive injustice of "that unquiet vastly stitched and unstitched tapestry they have all at some time sat growing crippled in the service of". The internet is just late capitalism. The day after the party, planes crash towers, and everything changes.
What precisely changes? Now we have to be post-ironic; cultural norms suggest that irony "actually brought on the events of 11 September, by keeping the country insufficiently serious... So all kinds of ake-believe... must suffer as well. Everything has to be literal now." The children aren't allowed to read fiction. Maxine's friend Heidi suggests that reality TV exists mainly to convince people that they're now "hardened and hip to the human condition, freed from the fictions that led them so astray, as if paying attention to made-up lives [i.e., fiction] was some form of evil drug abuse that the collapse of the towers cured by scaring everybody straight again." But all this 'reality' doesn't make people grown-up and mature at all, instead "11 September infantilized this country. It had a chance to grow up, instead it chose to default back to childhood." Lest we miss the point, Eric later says that 9/11 could have been "a reset button for the city, the real-estate business, Wall Street, a chance for it all to start over clean. Instead lookit them, worse than before." Even 'Ground Zero' is claimed for profit.
And the men and women of Bleeding Edge do indeed regress, searching out ever new ways to appear wise and hardened--all of which are ultra-commercialized or simply depraved. Compare, for instance, our ideologues of meaningless and pessimism (all too prevalent among the literati), all trying to out-realist each other ("death is my copilot"), and ignoring the fact that life somehow continues to be worth it.
But this is not because we/they are actively evil: we/they've been made this way by some "new enemy, unnamable, locatable on no organization chart or budget line." There was always someone to point to in previous Pynchon novels; here, the great big bad guy is just another dickhead who doesn't seem to have much control over anything. The evil is completely diffused throughout the population. As with the internet, "Call it freedom, it's based on control. Everybody connected together, impossible anybody should get lost, ever again." Unlike industrial capitalism, capable of making everything we need with minimal effort, but perverted by the profit motive, the internet never had any liberatory potential at all. The Deep Web may have done at some point, but it's doubtful even that could shake off the military-industrial origins of the www.
So without any pure places left, and with everyone so guilty, where can we find innocence? Only with Tallis (presumably named for the 16th century English composer), "running with Gulf Coast gangsters, party to international money laundering, any number of Title 18 violations..." How can she be innocent? "Everybody thinks they live in 'the real world' and she doesn't... that's what it is, to be an 'innocent person.'"
Innocence, which is worth finding, can only be found beyond the real world; we can't live beyond the real world, sure, but we can aspire to do so. And so the novel ends, incongruously for a Pynchon book, with Maxine looking at her two kids, thinking about how 'good' (i.e., innocent) they are. "She can watch them into the elevator at least." Keep alive, in them, the hope and promise of innocence; keep them protected from the 'real world' that everyone--I.R. gurus, military strategists, public philosophers, academic intellectuals, financial consultants--seems so eager to promote.
Another place we can find some kind of innocence: non-self-undermining fiction, which is willing to be ironic but not cynical. Fiction like Bleeding Edge.
2001? The dotcom bubble? Bursting? I thought I could handle it? After about fifty pages I was about to pull the plug. Did I really think I was hip enough? Edgy? Naturally not, but I decided to stick around, employing a skill set acquired while reading Ulysses and trying to read Finnegans Wake—full torpedoes ahead and damn it all. Pynchon's prose batters you from all points, tumbling you in its wake of digressions, its undertow of sheer incomprehensibility, in which you can only hope to absorb by2001? The dotcom bubble? Bursting? I thought I could handle it? After about fifty pages I was about to pull the plug. Did I really think I was hip enough? Edgy? Naturally not, but I decided to stick around, employing a skill set acquired while reading Ulysses and trying to read Finnegans Wake—full torpedoes ahead and damn it all. Pynchon's prose batters you from all points, tumbling you in its wake of digressions, its undertow of sheer incomprehensibility, in which you can only hope to absorb by osmosis. (Does not apply to people who get many of the references).
Of course Pynchon's up to his usual no good, wink nudge nudge, elbowing your ribs, going, "Hey, did you see what I did there?" to his assortment of puns, jokes, and juxtapositions. Pynchon makes you feel stupid, but I don't think he means to. He's just having fun. He's just trying to give you a feel of New York City during a bad start of the century. He gives you a sharp, sarcastic fraud investigator who you find's all over the place. The usual cast of hundreds. She stumbles into some tough shit that could get her killed, but you never feel she's in any real danger. Everyone knows everyone by at least two degrees of separation, and even some of the bad guys are real nice. Then everything peaks right in the middle of the book, and spend the next half in the denouement.
Pynchon pulls a trick like he did with Gravity's Rainbow, only he doesn't make the protagonist disappear. He makes the story disappear. The reader is buffeted by Maxipad's increasing domestically inclined emotional events until the creeping paranoia that settles into the bones and sighs outward with every conspiracy laden gasp quietly slinks from the narrative to lurk with sheepish smiles behind the Statue of Liberty.
Who is Thomas Ruggles Pynchon and how the fuck does he do it? Keep his finger on the pulse of the times, and churn out a convoluted novel that manages to say everything about the times and make you feel like you didn't know anything? Does he, recluse, perch at an impressive array of high-end electronic devices piping in Popular Culture from thousands of channels of radio, television, a veritable database at his fingers along with radio waves beamed in from space, statistics of animal migratory patterns, the wave modulation of certain lights hitting certain objects during sunset on another or so street intersection? Does his anonymity allow him to travel the world, absorb a million narratives to distill into the building blocks of a novel?
Perhaps he's the ultimate wikileaks, the secrets and the grandiosity of the previous generation of government laid out in black and white. A high-echelon officer walks up to his superior and sez "Sir, Pynchon's written another book." to a fusillade of higher-echelon abuse of words unfit for print.
Perhaps reclines in one of those Swedish chairs Joyce so liked to the point of many impulsively purchases, eyes closed, a thin line of spittle on chin as his mind, mightily psychic, expands to fill the world and its stories in the little details of countless lives,his fingers record by automatic writing upon a pad whose pages are turned by a myopic-gazed attendant.
Perhaps he is not from this world, chronicling adventures a dimensional curtain away, stepping in only to hand in a manuscript. To take it further, he is a faithful biographer in the style of Tom Wolfe's New Journalism, chronicling not merely individuals, but the history of forever hidden eras always too large for his larger than life stories.
Whoever Pynchon is, whatever his reasons are for writing the secrets of the world with cues taken from a humanist comedian's oeuvre, it's always a delight because I love me a song and dance routine in a novel. ...more
A staggering weight comes across the shelf. It has happened before, but at this point in his career there are quite a few masterpieces to compare it to now. As America's greatest living novelist, each book he releases feels like it should be a bombshell, ever-escalating shocks of genius radiating out for as far as there's literary terrain left to expose to new light. Bleeding Edge, which is unquestionably a great novel, funny and moving and as clever as any number of competitors put together, isA staggering weight comes across the shelf. It has happened before, but at this point in his career there are quite a few masterpieces to compare it to now. As America's greatest living novelist, each book he releases feels like it should be a bombshell, ever-escalating shocks of genius radiating out for as far as there's literary terrain left to expose to new light. Bleeding Edge, which is unquestionably a great novel, funny and moving and as clever as any number of competitors put together, is not on the same level of revelation as the Three Doorstops of Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixon, and Against the Day. It's instead by far the most "normal" book he's ever written, meaning it contains the fewest goofy songs, ludicrous Dickensian names, drug-addled digressions, or egregiously stupid/brilliant puns, though all of those elements definitely appear. I won't call it "mature", since he's been ahead of the game ever since his very first book, but this is his first novel to seem like it was written by a father, someone with real roots in the ordinary quotidian life of school days, sleepovers, and the rest of the thankless but necessary work done by any ordinary parent.
Maxine Tarnow, the star of this particular show, will conjure up inescapable memories of Oedipa Maas in The Crying of Lot 49. They're similar in many ways, in only one of the elements of resonance that this book has with his earlier works - they're both smart, inquisitive women with husbands in varying stages of detachment, who investigate rapidly expanding mysteries with some degree of illumination, bafflement, and mildly erotic peril. Maxine is far more of a real human being, however, with a job, children, and friends, none of which Oedipa seemed to have. It's difficult to read the book's opening and closing scenes of maternal concern and not think that Pynchon's own fatherhood has changed his writing dramatically, in the sense of getting him more interested in the day-to-day details of people's lives, and less interested in stringing scenes together around obscure trivia he dredged up from an atlas or dictionary, as he claimed he used to do in his introduction to Slow Learner. Not only do people worry about their children in Bleeding Edge, they have real conversations; in particular, the banter between Maxine and her friend Heidi is some of the funniest dialogue he's ever written. Even Maxine's relationship arc with her ex-husband is well-done; the scene where their kids catch them slow-dancing together is a combination of funny and moving that he's done only rarely before.
Another change in his writing, besides the focus on grown-up themes, is how much calmer it's gotten, to the extent that it's hard to believe that he once wrote books featuring immortal light bulbs, robot ducks, or sentient tornadoes. He's still the same writer who seemed to know everything there was to know about the history of Malta, medieval postal societies, the orthography of Central Asian languages, or Chinese occult practices, but he's turned his eye back to New York City again, giving it much more attention and detail than he did when he used it as part of the setting of V. I once read a quote to the effect that New York is the only city you can write about without sounding provincial; whether that's true or not, since I can imagine it being both a small canvas for a great artist and an impossibly daunting one for a lesser artist, Pynchon gives the city the same treatment he's given to the more exotic locales he's used over the years, filling it with all the little details that will jump out at anyone who's ever visited or lived there. Additionally, instead of throwing in highbrow references to Maxwell's Demon or quaternions, there's Dragonball Z, Jennifer Aniston hair, Final Fantasy X, Pokémon, and countless more pop culture items, handled with a deftness amazing for a 76 year-old, or indeed most people. It's hard to write about pop culture and not sound clunky, if you're old, or shallow, if you write for an indie music review site, so although it's less "mindblowing" that he's writing about all this familiar everyday stuff instead of his more abstruse encyclopedia findings, his evocation of the 9/11 era is still impressive.
Speaking of 9/11, I really appreciated the way he handled it. It would be easy for a lesser writer to milk the event for tears and sentiment through some pompous literary overwriting, but instead everyone in the book behaves like a normal person and has exactly the kind of emotions you remember from 12 years ago. There's a nod to quasi-truther theories, but only as a way for him to work in his trademark paranoia theme, which aside from a joke or two like "Paranoia is the garlic in life's kitchen", is absent here to a degree greater than every other book aside from maybe Mason & Dixon in spite of Maxine's investigation's resemblances to Oedipa's famously paranoia-soaked quest. One irritating trope I've noticed among critics of his more recent works is this idea that he writes "shaggy dog" stories - that is, his books are merely extended versions of the famous "We're the aristocrats!" routine or that knock-knock joke that ends in "Orange you glad I didn't say banana again?" - the implication is that Pynchon is just stringing the reader along like a sucker, rambling on about paranoia, conspiracies, and so forth, teasing with the possibility of meaning, and then ending his books with a yuk and a rimshot, cheating them of the glorious sense of emotional, aesthetic, and narrative closure you get in a true masterpiece like, say, a Jonathan Franzen novel. I would be tempted to dismiss this stupid, borderline illiterate criticism as either sour grapes or straightforward philistinism, but I was glad to see that Pynchon decided to make fun of that line of thinking himself with a literal Shaggy+dog story, a description of the unfortunately fictional "Scooby Goes Latin!" cartoon Maxine's kids are watching:
"Shaggy, somehow allowed to drive the van, has become confused and made some navigational errors, landing the adventurous quintet eventually in Medellín, Colombia, home at the time to a notorious cocaine cartel, where they stumble onto a scheme by a rogue DEA agent to gain control of the cartel by pretending to be the ghost - what else - of an assassinated drug kingpin. With the help of a pack of local street urchins, however, Scooby and his pals foil the plan. The cartoon comes back on, the villain is brought to justice. "And I would've got away with it, too," he complains, "if it hadn’t been for those Medellín kids!"
I personally can't get enough of those amazing/retarded puns, and I vehemently disagree that they make the book any less meaningful. Where did this idea come from that the only way to make real points about life is to be as grim and unsmiling as possible? To embed a silly throwaway joke like that into a scene of parental worry and care might strike some as perversely unserious, but I prefer to think of it as a greater appreciation for the way that different feelings can coexist with each other at the same time, as well as an admirable refusal to let a good joke go to waste (though it's not as ludicrous as Gravity's Rainbow's incredible "For De Mille, young fur-henchmen can't be rowing" pun). It's not like the book doesn't have a lot of feelings in it, despite the existence of things like strip clubs called Joie de Beavre; on the contrary it has plenty of moments as heartfelt as Roger and Jessica's doomed love affair, Mason and Dixon's enduring friendship, or the fidelity of the Chums of Chance. The DeepArcher webspace that drives Maxine's actions becomes, instead of a bland technothriller or cringe-inducing salad of unhip hacker jokes, a great vehicle for ideas about freedom, privacy, and choice, which will resonate even for those not as infamously attention-averse as Pynchon.
To the extent that it's possible to be disappointed by this book, it can only be due to a failure to meet impossibly lofty expectations, that every Pynchon novel will be a brand new wildly soaring V2 rocket of words airbursting new relationships to Art, Life, and Literature above the reader's head each time. As a massive fan of his, it's true that Mason & Dixon was the last time I felt that Pynchon was writing with the sense that he had something to prove; certainly there's nothing here that would challenge anyone in the same way that his earlier tomes did and still do. Yet it's impossible to read this product of time and experience and not feel amused, entertained, and moved. I'll leave it to future generations of critics to determine exactly where in the literary hierarchy this portrait of a city and country at a critical moment fits; as a fan of words in books, I thought it was great....more
We didn’t know it at the time, but Dickens’ phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” could be applied to the period of time following the dot-com bust and preceding 9/11. This novel is an exploration of life in New York City about six months prior to 9/11 and then about six months after. It's a reminder of how that moment of disillusionment caused by the evaporation of the dot-com dream suddenly turned into the innocent golden age of the past once 9/11 occurred.
The book isWe didn’t know it at the time, but Dickens’ phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” could be applied to the period of time following the dot-com bust and preceding 9/11. This novel is an exploration of life in New York City about six months prior to 9/11 and then about six months after. It's a reminder of how that moment of disillusionment caused by the evaporation of the dot-com dream suddenly turned into the innocent golden age of the past once 9/11 occurred.
The book is also a reminder of the collective paranoia that bounced around after 9/11. Conspiracies were seen everywhere. Truthers who continue to seek conspiracies will want to read this novel for inspiration, but I suspect they will be disappointed. This novel doesn’t have a Clancy novel ending with a clear victory for freedom and the American way. The ending is instead a bit reflective of life’s realities with no definitive conclusion and with the daily grind of life continuing.
This novel's story follows the activities of a Jewish Mother (two young children) who runs her own private detective agency in New York City. She receives an assignment to investiage a mysterious company that seems to be prospering among the wreckage of failed dot-com companies. There are also hints of secret government funding and the involvement of Arab speakers. (This is where truthers begin to salivate.)
I have been an admirer of Pynchon’s writing since 1997 when I listened to an audio edition of Mason & Dixon. It has been my intent since to listen to another book of his, but I never got around to it until this year when this book was published.
Indeed, his writing skills are on display in this book, but Pynchon is not exactly kind to the reader. Reading his prose is similar to groping one’s way through a fog of words. It has prompted the development of an ON-LINE WIKI for the purposes of deciphering Pynchon’s writing. It provides annotations of Pynchon’s books that are tailored to be spoiler free. I didn’t make use of this wiki so presumably I missed much of the depth of meanings found in this book. But there’s something to be said for allowing the story to flow naturally.
The following are example quotes from the book that caught my attention.
A demonstration of Pynchon's contorted humor:
“Maxine notices this one party out on a remote curve of the bar, drinking you’d say relentlessly what will prove to be Jägermeister and 151, through a Day-Glo straw out of a 20-ounce convenience-store cup. . . . Sure enough it’s him, Eric Jeffrey Outfield, übergeek, looking, except for the bare upper lip and a newly acquired soul patch, just like his ID photo. He is wearing cargo pants in a camo print whose color scheme is intended for some combat zone very remote, if not off-planet, and a T-shirt announcing, in Helvetica, <'P'>REAL GEEKS USE COMMAND PROMPTS<'/P'>, accessorized with a Batbelt clanking like a charm bracelet with remotes for TV, stereo and air conditioner, plus laser pointer, pager, bottle opener, wire stripper, voltmeter, magnifier, all so tiny that one legitimately wonders how functional they can be.” (p 222)
The following quotation could serve as a soliloquy about that moment in history, the end of the summer of 2001 which was the last summer before 9/11. It can also serve as an example of Pynchon's challenging prose. This quotation is describing the collective mood of people returning home after a late night party. The cyber speak portion reflects the left over trauma from the dot com bust, and if you look for it there are hints of ominous future happenings:
"... the crowds drifting slowly out into the little legendary streets, the highs beginning to dissipate out into the casting off of vails before the luminosity of dawn ... Which of them could see ahead? Among the microclimates of binary, tracking earthwide everywhere through dark fiber and twisted pairs and nowadays wirelessly through spaces private and public, anywhere among cybersweatshop needles, flashing and never still, in that unquiet vastly stitched and unstitched tapestry they have all sat growing crippled in the service of, in the day imminent, a procedure waiting execution, about to be revealed, a search result with no instructions on how to look for it." (p312)
“Bleeding Edge” (2013) is the most recent novel by Thomas Pynchon. The action takes place in NYC, some twelve years before publication, around the traumatic time when the World Trade Center collapsed under terrorists attacks (although 9/11 only appears in the background). We are invited to follow the investigations of Maxine, a fraud examiner and housewife, through a maze of illegal Internet and financial activities, linked to Middle-Eastern and Russian connections, all steered by a mysterious m“Bleeding Edge” (2013) is the most recent novel by Thomas Pynchon. The action takes place in NYC, some twelve years before publication, around the traumatic time when the World Trade Center collapsed under terrorists attacks (although 9/11 only appears in the background). We are invited to follow the investigations of Maxine, a fraud examiner and housewife, through a maze of illegal Internet and financial activities, linked to Middle-Eastern and Russian connections, all steered by a mysterious magnate called Gabriel Ice.
The plot is an indecipherable and paranoid labyrinth, where we come across Bernard Madoff’s rotten investments, illicit videotapes, underground complexes haunted by dwarves, Web ventures with strange names (hashslingrz.com, hwgaahwgh.com), a Deep Web virtual reality by the name of DeepArcher (departure ?), a man who has a superhuman sense of “foresmell”, debauchery parties, conspiracy theories, microwave attacks on server farms, a joint called Joie de Beavre (wtf?), so on and so forth. In the end, nothing much to hold on to but the tasty and colorful dialogues that intersperse this chaotic roman-noir-ish plot (by the way, I was much impressed by the "swag" and vitality of Pynchon’s language).
All this is at the same time fascinating, puzzling, mysterious, daunting and totally annoying, perhaps just like the author himself, perhaps just like our postmodern reality....more
Everything must come to an end, and this includes my journey through Pynchon's novels, which wrapped up just a few minutes ago. Yes, there's still Slow Learner: Early Stories, but it isn't as though I'm expecting the whole world from that, you know? So I can now say, with a certain bittersweet pride, that I've finished every Pynchon novel, at least until he gets around to the next one.
My opinion on Bleeding Edge? It's good! Better than Inherent Vice, which was fun but, like Vineland before it,Everything must come to an end, and this includes my journey through Pynchon's novels, which wrapped up just a few minutes ago. Yes, there's still Slow Learner: Early Stories, but it isn't as though I'm expecting the whole world from that, you know? So I can now say, with a certain bittersweet pride, that I've finished every Pynchon novel, at least until he gets around to the next one.
My opinion on Bleeding Edge? It's good! Better than Inherent Vice, which was fun but, like Vineland before it, suffered from not adding a whole lot to the Pynchon canon. This does. While it's not one of Pynchon's longer works, it operates according to the same principle as his three tomes, by proving how a past period really isn't all that different from, and in fact paved the way for, our modern era. So Gravity's Rainbow drew parallels between the paranoia, disillusion, violence and nascent colonialism of its '70s publication and its WWII setting; the more optimistic Mason and Dixon showed how the revolutionary, inventive American spirit held through from the country's birth to the modern era, while not forgetting to bring up the negative side of that progress; and Against the Day spoke to both the romanticism and the chaos of America post-9/11, using America pre-WWI as its model. This uses the birth of Web 2.0 and the revolution it caused as a blueprint for our modern age, bringing up the exploitable loopholes of "late capitalism" and suggesting the internet can be a tool for both positive social change and government power.
Yes, that's right, someone finally wrote a novel about the internet. DeLillo had hinted at it with "Das Kapital," the magnificent epilogue to Underworld that this novel harkens back to in places (to the point where I have to wonder if Pynchon is a DeLillo fan), especially regarding the metaphysical capabilities of the internet: data outlasting its creators as a form of immortality, that sort of thing. With Wallace and Gaddis deceased, Barth rumored irrelevant, and DeLillo in far different territory than he used to be, Pynchon is left with arguably Gass as America's preeminent novelist of ideas, and while I will always be hostile towards 9/11 truther conspiracies (yes, even the true believer in me almost set this novel down when Pynch raised the possibility it was an inside job, before the logical half of my brain told me that of course he did, the idea was to capture the zeitgeist and suspicion of authority is definitely part of the modern zeitgeist, and anyway, (view spoiler)[it's never revealed whether or not it was an inside job, that's just a possibility raised by paranoid minds (hide spoiler)]), Pynchon's ideas hold up. It's also damned funny, riding on that typically Pynchonian mix of absurdity and pop-culture references. Plus, here, he references the pop culture I grew up with! Pokemon! Dragon Ball Z! "Ride Wit Me!" Nas vs. Jay-Z! The Simpsons, albeit the damnable Scully-era Simpsons! Memory lane, man.
The biggest downside of this novel is the loss of momentum in the last eighty pages. I get that you don't want to pull a Neal Stephenson and end your book right after the climax, but I think Pynchon belabors the point just a little, especially when contrasted against the pitch-perfect denouements of the aforementioned Against the Day and Mason & Dixon. This is also the Pynchon novel that sells me the most on the common criticism that his characters are flat, with only Maxine seeming grounded in any sort of recognizable reality. Of course, this isn't our reality we're working with, but Pynchon's, and so it's a much easier thing for me to accept. You did well, Pynchon. You did well. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The other day we were talking about the Awkward Role of Technology in Fiction: tech talk tends to sound instantly dated and embarrassing. Bleeding Edge takes place in 2001 as the tech bubble was bursting, and it's a prime example of that problem. Pynchon actually does have a pretty good handle on the state of the internet in 2001 - I say this as someone who was right in the middle of that - but it still doesn't really work. A lot of scenes remind me of Gibson's trippy descriptions of hacking inThe other day we were talking about the Awkward Role of Technology in Fiction: tech talk tends to sound instantly dated and embarrassing. Bleeding Edge takes place in 2001 as the tech bubble was bursting, and it's a prime example of that problem. Pynchon actually does have a pretty good handle on the state of the internet in 2001 - I say this as someone who was right in the middle of that - but it still doesn't really work. A lot of scenes remind me of Gibson's trippy descriptions of hacking in Neuromancer, but without the graceful "I'm not even trying" feel that Gibson gave it. (And what he's referencing with DeepArcher is Second Life, a weird little cul de sac of the internet that should never have gotten the attention it did.) It takes place in the uncanny valley of nostalgia: far enough back that everything sounds dated (Shaq reference! "That time they had all the naked chicks out in the freight elevator covered with Krispy Kreme donuts!") but not far enough back for it to be cool again.
And Bleeding Edge wears the costume of a mystery, but it doesn't proceed fairly. Instead of dropping clues that one might follow, a guy with a magic nose just shows up and tells you, "I smelled that this guy did it." This is one of Pynchon's more annoying trademarks; it feels unsatisfying.
And then there's Daytona, who would like to know, "What you be lettin all these ghetto-ass g's walk in here all the time?" If that's not actively racist, it's certainly not pleasant to read either. Pynchon is making a point here - he's aware of how that will make me feel - I just think it's a stupid point.
And then there's the language. Would you like "says" to be spelled "sez"? Are you sure you'd like that, even after the 100th time? What about this construction: "A single beet, sitting, one would have to say insolently, on a plate." That happens a lot. I thought it was funny the first three times.
Because this is a book set in Manhattan in 2001, you know one major plot development going in. And just when you thought you couldn't dislike Bleeding Edge any more, Pynchon lends serious weight to the Truther conspiracy theorists. And one of Pynchon's trademarks is conspiracy and paranoia, yes, and it can be effective. When he deals in vague, vast, shadowy conspiracies, it taps into some essential societal feeling: the feeling that we're not in control of our destinies, that we're cogs. The feeling that for all our posturing, for all our grasping towards decisions, we don't get it. That feeling is real and true. A feeling of conspiracy is one thing. A specific conspiracy, though - 9/11 conspiracies, JFK conspiracies, moon landing conspiracies - these are different, more tawdry things. And they're not true.
So: we've covered theme, plot, language and politics. What else? Sex? Female protagonist goes undercover as a pole dancer. And I sez man, why you be writin this, one would have to say terrible, fucking book?...more
This makes two novels in a row where Pynchon gives us a pseudo-detective story in a single authorial voice from a single point of view, little more than sight gags and shadowy conspiracies in the service of capital. Yeah, okay, the internet and 9/11 combined to bring us a world where we're more monitored and less private yet also more alienated and solitary than ever, where fiction is deprecated but reality is pasteurized and spoon-fed - that's all you've got for us, Sr. Pinchón? To look at it aThis makes two novels in a row where Pynchon gives us a pseudo-detective story in a single authorial voice from a single point of view, little more than sight gags and shadowy conspiracies in the service of capital. Yeah, okay, the internet and 9/11 combined to bring us a world where we're more monitored and less private yet also more alienated and solitary than ever, where fiction is deprecated but reality is pasteurized and spoon-fed - that's all you've got for us, Sr. Pinchón? To look at it another way, Pynchon's novels are either about characters or about ideas (M&D is about both, Lot 49 isn't especially about either, but you get my drift), and his presentation of the latter is much more intriguing and rewarding than his presentation of the former. Yes, Maxine, Heidi, March, etc. are recognizably real Giuliani Era New Yorkers, but so what? To put it a third way, the Pynchon novels I love make my brain hurt, allude to a few dozen spheres of knowledge I'm barely if at all conversant with, give me the impression that if I were only 50% smarter I would Really Get What's Going On Here, and that's not what this is....more
Let's get it out of the way, right off the top, virtually anything is going to be better than discussing this book. Anything else qualifies. Right now, the radio is on, for example. That qualifies. In fact, it compares; it's National Public Radio.
Strangely appealing as it may be, the national non-commercial radio network in the United States, NPR, is actually kind of bland, and if the truth isn't too harsh, also a little bit Canadian. Lush choirs of the Mildly Amusing sing daily from a hymn booLet's get it out of the way, right off the top, virtually anything is going to be better than discussing this book. Anything else qualifies. Right now, the radio is on, for example. That qualifies. In fact, it compares; it's National Public Radio.
Strangely appealing as it may be, the national non-commercial radio network in the United States, NPR, is actually kind of bland, and if the truth isn't too harsh, also a little bit Canadian. Lush choirs of the Mildly Amusing sing daily from a hymn book that was created by the ghost of pre-net mainstream media; staying fervently within its time-honored motto, "First, Do Nothing To Draw Undue Attention". Soloists step up to the microphone to draw convenient narrative rings around the news, and to dot the 'i's of their accounts with little hearts and happy faces.
There are the close-miked heavy breathers, the regular-guy-types, the new-kids-who-get-it, and the old guard who specialize in those script-cued, deeply-reflective, santa-style chuckles. Those are the standard bearers, without whom the broadly vanilla sounding network would have no natural timbre, no feeling for its own brand.
Contrarily, there are the divas, and the coloraturas, the ones who make it all worthwhile. The demure if droll "Eleanor Beardsley, Paris" whose taut delivery and reserve immediately call to mind snappy dress and neat shoes; the hearty, grown-up tonal complexity of "Sylvia Poggioli, Rome", with whom we may picture ourselves having a quick Ricard & Espresso; or the smoky-voiced insights of this listener's favorite, the exotic mezzo, "Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Dakar", who simply must be heard to be believed, and savored. All master journalists, all practitioners of the arcane & articulate science of the Foreign Correspondent.
But they are the few and far between. There must be understudies and stand-ins in any production, and NPR has a continent's worth of communications majors rushing the doors and elevators to take their part. But this brings us to the dimmer side, the bleeding, wasted edge of Npr. Newsertainment. Infomedia.
For reasons that aren't exactly transparent, NPR also showcases brain-numbingly stupid segments -- meant more as entertainment. The minimally-newsy "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" was, as far as I can tell, created as a kind of forerunner to Reality Television that withholds, as radio must, any diversionary visual layer as it grinds on and on... And even the creators and perpetrators of "Car Talk" have long ago left the building, for the witness protection program; this is the reason that the car troubles keep centering on cars like the 1987 Taurus-- tape is eternal. But enough.
Winding back around to Thomas Pynchon's insufferable, arch-corny megaspam of a 9/11 novel, stuffed with cliché and recycled schtick-- I can only think of a single comparison. (Right now, anyway, and, well, that's the window I'm willing to dedicate to the search.) Pynchon's new novel is the "Prairie Home Companion" of novels : larded with an authorial presence that is smirkily sophomoric, situations that are old-hat at their best, and, by turns, dopily sci-fi on the slippery-slope comic-con tip, "Bleeding Edge" reminds the casual reader of national public radio gone unavoidably stale. In a novel that wants to be new-yorky and edgy, Pynchon has instead given us Lake Wobegon on the Hudson. An appalling waste of his talent, and my time.
“What might only be a simple point on the workday cycle . . . becomes a million pedestrian dramas, each one charged with mystery, more intense than high-barometer daylight can ever allow. Everything changes. There’s that clean, rained-on smell. The traffic noise gets liquefied. Reflections from the street into the windows of city buses fill the bus interiors with unreadable 3-D images, as surface unaccountably transforms to volume."
***Future actual review forthcoming. The following is a paranoid rant:
I'm not a fan of advertising. I choose my media and clothes in ways that neither follow advertising campaigns nor advertise for themselves as items while I'm consuming or wearing them. I'm not allergic to advertising say like Cayce Pollard, the protagonist of William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, because that isn't an allergy. It's a preference.
Sidenote: the concept of allergy has gotten muddled these days by people, who in t***Future actual review forthcoming. The following is a paranoid rant:
I'm not a fan of advertising. I choose my media and clothes in ways that neither follow advertising campaigns nor advertise for themselves as items while I'm consuming or wearing them. I'm not allergic to advertising say like Cayce Pollard, the protagonist of William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, because that isn't an allergy. It's a preference.
Sidenote: the concept of allergy has gotten muddled these days by people, who in their need to feel unique, place restaurant and coffee orders like Sally in When Harry Met Sally (1989), and go so far as to justify these perverse orders on the basis of allergies, real or imagined (i.e. preferences rounded up to allergies in order to strengthen their argument. The latter being such a whiny bastard move. If you're not going to bleed out, shit yourself, swell or lose consciousness: let's just say you don't like something). Not all the blame lies with neurotic consumers, since North American corporate chains encourage this behaviour by giving consumers 1000 inflated ways to have their coffee and food. The chains also passive-aggressively insist you learn their menu at the risk of looking like a moron ("Coffee with milk, and whatever passes for the standard hamburger here, please." Whatta rube for failing to ingest lots of marketing. God, go back to whatever TV-less hole you crawled out of.) Save a prayer for the poor baristas and waiters everywhere, contorting themselves to meet everyone's inverted ideas about how special they are vis-à-vis what will soon either be piss or shit.
Side-side-note: Being Canadian these days, I experience this at least once whenever I return to the US and try the new fast-food chain du jour, because Canada is provincial and takes 3-5 years to adopt or copy a successful US chain. "Whatta you mean you don't have Sad Clown Taco Surprise in Canaydia?! Here, let me show you how this works, like I did for my Amish friend. Pick a sad clown, level of spice, sizes are piqueno, grande, and borracho, etc"
William Gibson will bring me back to my original point. Gibson's Spook Country and Pychon's Bleeding Edge have many similarities, but the one I want to harp on is that the dubiously rich characters in both novels drive Maybachs.
Maybachs, go look at them. Maybachs are black and white German luxury sedans with a pricetag of >$400K. They are uninspiring mini-tanks, that if painted yellow would be mistaken for taxis with swollen hoods, manufactured by the same company that built panzer tanks for nazis. Late capitalism doesn't seem to mind about the nazis, because any German company surviving from that era was nazi at the time. For example, Hugo Boss still makes suits, despite designing the black SS uniform. The difference being, if any, is sometimes Hugo Boss suits look good. Maybachs don't. Maybachs are rich people toys because rich people can afford them and advertising says they are rich people toys. Duh, non-rich person. So un-suh-mephisto-mah-cated.
Gibson, Pynchon, and Kanye West all use Maybachs similarly in their recent works to move shady, shark-like characters around their stories and songs. For the authors, some savvy editor may have said "Hey Gibson/Pynchon, if you gotta mention a villain car, why not get paid doing so?" The authors did the math, thinking about however many Soviet-era hand calculators or croissants they could buy, and made the sinister luxury car in their novels a Maybach. Kanye either was told about them by his PR firm or just thinks they are is dope, and either way he got paid, because damn right. Whatever the pathway, this is product placement.
Product placement is advertising. I'm sure product placement in novels has happened before, but not so obviously and so quickly to me. I was tipped off after looking at one of these dumb cars (Online, natch, since there probably isn't a dealership in Canada and I'm lazy and would rather read than look at any car). Why would all three artists mention them, rather recently, as cool sinister things when they are lumpy dumb car-blocks? While I'm flattered that I'm mistakenly being pitched to like I'm Jay-z and Mark Zuckerberg, I don't like advertising, especially in NOVELS.
I was neither paid nor given a Maybach for this review, since the cars are dumb....more
*I received this book via Goodreads's First Reads.
Well, what can I say about this book except that, like all of Thomas Pynchon's novels, it is a fun read, amazingly well-written, witty, funny and very entertaining. Thomas Pynchon has not lost his great way of communicating a story. The novel takes place in 2001 and it feels 2001. There are so many references to the pop culture of that year (Britney Spears! Jennifer Aniston!) that it would be quite easy to believe that it was written over 10 year*I received this book via Goodreads's First Reads.
Well, what can I say about this book except that, like all of Thomas Pynchon's novels, it is a fun read, amazingly well-written, witty, funny and very entertaining. Thomas Pynchon has not lost his great way of communicating a story. The novel takes place in 2001 and it feels 2001. There are so many references to the pop culture of that year (Britney Spears! Jennifer Aniston!) that it would be quite easy to believe that it was written over 10 years ago. I smiled/laughed a lot throughout the book (which I read extremely quickly!). If you are a fan of Mr. Pynchon's work, then you will certainly not be disappointed with this book. You will mostly be entertained and amazed, just like I was. ...more
It feels rather unfair to be disappointed, but on the other hand also hard to keep entirely out of the assessment that Pynchon beside this book has written at least three totally Masterworks (Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixson and Against the Day, I'd say) and a couple of Very Very Good Books beside this also (especially Vineland being a bit underrated), and so Bleeding Edge, like Inherent Vice, just feel a little slight in comparison.
That said, Pynchon can still write, and I found the book vIt feels rather unfair to be disappointed, but on the other hand also hard to keep entirely out of the assessment that Pynchon beside this book has written at least three totally Masterworks (Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixson and Against the Day, I'd say) and a couple of Very Very Good Books beside this also (especially Vineland being a bit underrated), and so Bleeding Edge, like Inherent Vice, just feel a little slight in comparison.
That said, Pynchon can still write, and I found the book very entertaining and funny even though theres a lot of missed possibilities in the shape of promising stuff he touches on, but not really takes anywhere after all: the abstractions of the internet spilling into the everyday world, the attacks of September 11th (which he wrote so chillingly about in Against the Day), the strange bitterness and defeatism of the last third of the novel.
But again, the book was a catching and quick read, and I loved the nerdy stuff about the early internet. Quite often it almost felt like William Gibson with upgraded prose and better jokes. So: Perhaps not very good Pynchon, but still a good enough book. Definitely not the place to start if you are new to the man (there I'd go for Vineland or Lot 49), but if you're already a fan, then I wouldn't call this a waste of time. (It won't be among my top reads of 2013 though.)
Pynchon presents a book somewhere between his lighter cartoony romps (Crying of Lot 49, Vineland, and Inherent Vice) and his more epic works. A strangely accessible work that parodies some recent crime fiction and cyberpunk, but is still recognizably Pynchon and shows off his obsessions with paranoia, secret worlds, and the fading of promise. He fixes on the dot com crash, the internet and 9-11 as the moments where an irreversible change occurred in our world and I find him profound as ever if aPynchon presents a book somewhere between his lighter cartoony romps (Crying of Lot 49, Vineland, and Inherent Vice) and his more epic works. A strangely accessible work that parodies some recent crime fiction and cyberpunk, but is still recognizably Pynchon and shows off his obsessions with paranoia, secret worlds, and the fading of promise. He fixes on the dot com crash, the internet and 9-11 as the moments where an irreversible change occurred in our world and I find him profound as ever if a little goofy in the virtual reality parts. The cultural references were strange in this one I could have been convinced a Gen x writer wrote this or maybe William Gibson. The conspiracies surrounding 9/11 made me fear for a second that Pynchon was handing us a “truther” manifesto, but as usual resolution and clear political agenda are not Pynchon’s game, and every clue and hint is another sign in his labyrinth of elusive meaning and shadows. A book easier to digest than most of his work and one as filled with little shards of dissonance to ponder over. ...more
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American writer based in New York City, noted for his dense and complex works of fiction. Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon spent two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known today: V. (1963Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American writer based in New York City, noted for his dense and complex works of fiction. Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon spent two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known today: V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Vineland (1990), Mason & Dixon (1997), and Against the Day (2006).
Pynchon is regarded by many readers and critics as one of the finest contemporary authors. He is a MacArthur Fellow and a recipient of the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Both his fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a vast array of subject matter, styles and themes, including (but not limited to) the fields of history, science and mathematics. Pynchon is also known for his avoidance of personal publicity: very few photographs of him have ever been published, and rumours about his location and identity have been circulated since the 1960s. ...more
“Not me, paranoia's the garlic in life's kitchen, right, you can never have too much.”
“You remember those twin statues of the Buddha that I told you about? Carved out of a mountain in Afghanistan, that got dynamited by the Taliban back in the spring? Notice anything familiar?"
"Twin Buddhas, twin towers, interesting coincidence, so what."
"The Trade Center towers were religious too. They stood for what this country worships above everything else, the market, always the holy fucking market."
"A religious beef, you're saying?"
"It's not a religion? These are people who believe the Invisible Hand of the Market runs everything. They fight holy wars against competing religions like Marxism. Against all evidence that the world is finite, this blind faith that resources will never run out, profits will go on increasing forever, just like the world's populations--more cheap labor, more addicted consumers.”