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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


The Moment of 9/11 Pitted Against the Momentousness of the Deep Web: Reversing Reality
Melissa Leismer

Scheduled in the Auditorium - Médiathèque: Thursday 8 June, from 09:30 to 10:00

9/11, considered the most cataclysmic moment of recent US history, seems to take center stage in Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge (2013), an event so often relived in fiction that initially questions were raised as to whether this latest addition to Pynchon's oeuvre would fall into the ever-growing pile of redundant 9/11 novels.  Yet as the reader wades through the first three hundred pages in pursuit of the Pynchonian 9/11 moment, the endeavor seems foiled when, upon arrival at 'the moment,' we find a vacuous, simplistic retelling that feels much more like the crater left in the ground after the two towers fell than the moment that would redefine US foreign policy, lifestyle and identity.

This paper delves into the question that emerges from the discovery of this lackluster 9/11 retelling—if Pynchon does not summon up his most emotive descriptive language for this definitive moment, when does he choose to unfurl his literary acumen? I will argue that Pynchon deliberately abstains from the emotion of 9/11 in order to force the reader into a reversal of reality, thus vitalizing his quasi-imagined world of Deep Archer within the deep web.

Therefore, in this paper I will first establish and support this claim through a close analysis of Maxine's journey through both 9/11 and Deep Archer.  With this evidence from the text in place, I will then turn to my theoretical framework, using New Narratives :Stories and Storytelling in the Digital Age (2011) to expound upon  what scholars have identified as the impact of the digital age on literature.  From this framework, I will comment on Pynchon's decision to draw upon vivid, sensationalist tones when describing the digital world.

In his review of Bleeding Edge for Atlantis, Nathaniel Rich (2013) similarly defines the 9/11 moment in the novel as the 'anti-climax,' but when he mentions the deepened sense of reality found in DeepArcher, he turns to questioning the neutrality of technology.   While this paper agrees with Rich's textual analysis, I will focus on how Pynchon uses this reality reversal to illustrate the death of one narrative at the birth of a new one.  For that reason, the final section of this paper will cross over into broader issues found in Bleeding Edge, discussing how this reality reversal adds further insight into the novel's themes of agency, safety and the reigning institutions of the Western world.