peteg's blog - noise - books - 2015 08 23 Pynchon BleedingEdge

Thomas Pynchon: Bleeding Edge

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Where to start. Roman W. suggested this one. I extracted it from the Chicago Public Library, where it is filed under popular fiction, mysteries. I don't usually read mysteries, and for that reason I may not have properly engaged with that aspect of it. This is Pynchon's take on 9/11 (starting p316) and the financialization craziness of the years following. And, as Roman reminds me, of the years before, and the bursting of the dotcom bubble. He does a good job of spelunking through the internet of the day and Silicon Alley, with the odd anachronism which may be nods to his younger readers and the time at which he was writing this. His cyberspace somewhat evokes William Gibson and made me wonder if it was going to be Wintermute at the bottom of the deep web; instead it was dead souls. To me that space was mapped out more by the dying protocols (NNTP, IRC, gopher) than HTTP or VRML; now it would be Bitcoin and TOR, and hacking Facebook's APIs. Perhaps it's Minecraft. I don't know, but I'm sure its corporate.

Pynchon jumps around a lot, and doesn't try to justify his heroine's actions too much; on occasion he seems surprised at what he's got her doing. There is a boatload of American sentimentality and myth-minting, and insights into communities that I will never have access to. I wonder what Pynchon expected to happen once there was plenty; surely not anything as unAmerican as an end to unnecessary suffering. Dissing the yuppies while glamorizing the startup parties and strip clubs seems a bit cheap, and we all have our moments when we dream of this complexity evaporating (p465), leaving us in a state of bucolic grace, everything back to normal, but with an internet of unbounded content. Is a Russian mobster with a heart of gold so very different to the prostitute of cliché? Pychon offhandedly paints the social spaces of New York City as so intrinsically valuable that every extant subculture will be studied in the future.

Chicago gets a capsule portrait which doesn't go much further than the Loop. His image of women hailing cabs (p412), arm raised to an empty street, is pure Americana to me, as is the easy familiarity with concealed-carry handguns. There are plenty of geek tropes wonderfully pressed into descriptive service, sometimes so apt that I wonder how non-geeks even experience those things. Take, for instance, his description of an IKEA store:

Like millions of other men around the world, Horst hates the Swedish DIY giant. He and Maxine once blew a weekend looking for the branch in Elizabeth, New Jersey, located next to the airport so the world’s fourth-richest billionaire can save on lading costs while the rest of us spend the day getting lost on the New Jersey Turnpike. Also off it. At last they arrived at a county-size parking lot, and shimmering in the distance a temple to, or museum of, a theory of domesticity too alien for Horst fully to be engaged by. Cargo planes kept landing gently nearby. An entire section of the store was dedicated to replacing wrong or missing parts and fasteners, since with IKEA this is not so exotic an issue. Inside the store proper, you walk forever from one bourgeois context, or “room of the house,” to another, along a fractal path that does its best to fill up the floor space available. Exits are clearly marked but impossible to get to. Horst is bewildered, in a potentially violent sort of way. “Look at this. A barstool, named Sven? Some old Swedish custom, the winter kicks in, weather gets harsh, after a while you find yourself relating to the furniture in ways you didn’t expect?”

The whole thing is a bit overwhelming. Pynchon is a lot of fun, and I'm certainly going to keep ploughing through his other stuff.