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 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 [b:Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism|204011|Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism|Fredric Jameson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347983283s/204011.jpg|2288972]. 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 [b:Spectres of Marx|80473|Specters of Marx|Jacques Derrida|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1349039201s/80473.jpg|1966868].
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.