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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


'[C]omputer horror tales’: The Evolution of the Internet in Thomas Pynchon’s Universe
Georgios Maragos

Scheduled in the Auditorium - Médiathèque: Thursday 8 June, from 09:00 to 09:30

This presentation will focus on the evolution of the Internet, examining the relevant novels in historical sequence and not according to their time of publication. There is a shift, rather gradual, from a nascent, university-run, accessible to all –even Doc Sportello– ARPAnet to a corporate-and-government-infested, with pockets of assumed resistance Internet of Bleeding Edge, with a half-way stop at Vineland, where a rather pronounced imbalance in favor of the government can be observed. While it is impossible to ignore the new information available to Pynchon at the time he was writing both Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge about how the Internet works and used to work, I believe there is a certain progression from the early 70s of Inherent Vice to the mid 80s of Vineland and to the early 2000s of Bleeding Edge that mirrors the way other technologies, such as cinema and television, have progressed in his universe, with their birth providing opportunities to create enclaves of resistance, until they are taken up by the ‘ancient forces of greed and fear.’ From this it can be surmised that the Internet is not treated the same way in all three novels as each is attempting to depict and comment on both the reality and the potentiality of computer networks.

The presentation will start with a short examination of Inherent Vice’s ARPAnet, a rather democratic network of computers. Doc Sportello has ample –and hidden from the authorities– access to the information available and is in almost equal footing with the government agencies. In Vineland, on the other hand, there is a very oppressive, all-embracing Internet. There is still no world wide web and access to the Internet is mostly exclusive to the government. Prairie (in the Kunoichi retreat) and various other characters can still use computers for their own benefit, but control is rather centralized and, in the case of Frenesi, can even alter or erase the identity, even the existence of a person, assuming a presence in the system is necessary for participation in the public sphere.

While it would be impossible to address every facet of the Internet in Bleeding Edge, the focus will mainly be on how ‘neutral’, as it is called early in the novel, this technology can be since it can now be used by everyone, individuals and authority alike, as well as created by the government, by corporations, and by lonely, paranoid hackers. With DeepArcher as a starting point, three issues, first encountered in the other two novels, will be discussed: 1) Where does or can truth, reality and identity lie in this plethora of information, 2) What are the possibilities of resistance within the Deep Web, 3) How does the latter handle the invasion of power and/or capitalism?

In order to better depict and realize the development, rise and subsequent ubiquity of the Internet, as well as the parallels to other media in Pynchon, the work of major media theorists will be used, such as Raymond Williams, Marshall McLuhan, and Neil Postman, whereas Michel Foucault will provide an excellent stratum to examine the shifts and imbalances of power.