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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


Chaotic DeepArcher: Technology and Liminality in Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge
Doug Stark

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

In Pynchon’s 1984 essay, “Is It O.K. To Be A Luddite?”, he proposes that the Luddites were not acting upon a primitive technophobia but instead reacting against “the concentration of capital that each machine represented, and … the ability of each machine to put a certain number of humans out of work — to be ‘worth’ that many human souls.” Pynchon reveals Luddism to be inherently anti-capitalist. While critics such as Mark L. Greenberg, Inger H. Dalsgaard, John O. Stark and Brian Jarvis have noted that “the redemptive possibilities for science and technology in Pynchon are inversely proportional to their intimacy with money” (Jarvis, 226), little scholarly work has been dedicated to a positive analysis of science and technology in Bleeding Edge (2013). This paper intends to first appraise the creative potential DeepArcher holds in its liminal, Beta state and then consider why, unlike the traditional cyberpunk novel, Pynchon chose a historical rather than futuristic setting for the exploration of digital novelty.

Hacker Felix Boïngueaux sets the scene for Bleeding Edge’s enquiry into the essence of technology: “we’re beyond good and evil here, the technology, it’s neutral, eh” (89). Pynchon thus invokes a reappraisal of Martin Heidegger’s definition of the role of technology in society (“The Question Concerning Technology”) as DeepArcher in its Beta state serves not as an ‘enframing’ device that limits human experience but instead acts as a revealing tool that expands user experience. Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers (Order Out of Chaos (1984)) provide a positive interpretation of chaos and therefore a way to theorise DeepArcher’s randomness as a producer of uniqueness and diversity. DeepArcher is the embodiment of a “dynamical system” that Prigogine argues allows science and technology to escape “immutable universal laws” and move into the creative realm of literature (306). Significantly, the narrative of Bleeding Edge mirrors this spontaneous generation: plot developments in the text are frequently the result of random encounters. The interplay of technology and literature thus simultaneously approaches Heidegger’s conceptualisation of “techne” but also challenges Heidegger’s assertion that scientific thought is antithetical to creativity as DeepArcher functions algorithmically. Pynchon, therefore, explores humanity’s complex relationship with a modern technology which is responsible for both our gilded cage and, perhaps, a key to escape.

As DeepArcher is hacked on September 11, it is subsumed into the capitalist machine and the previously subversive space becomes a caricature of progress which appears on Maxine’s next login as “a Jetsons-era spaceport with all wacky angles” and “advertising everywhere” (354). Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde depressingly argued in a recent interview (2015) that the concept of an open internet is a fallacy: ultimately the internet has merely emulated “the real world” along with the problems of a capitalistic agenda.  Pynchon’s nostalgia for the developmental stages of the web reveals a similar latent dissatisfaction with the modern market dominance of the internet. A return to the relative internet freedom of 2001 allows a consideration of the potential for subversion bleeding edge technology holds in the liminal space between its production and inevitable integration with big industry.