New New York: Pynchon’s criticism of Virtual and Real Estate
Scheduled in the Auditorium - Médiathèque: Friday 9 June, from 15:00 to 15:30
In hindsight, a recurring experience reading Pynchon novels can be the appearance of foresight and cautionary content on which we only pick up belatedly in his writing. This may not be an expression of the author’s Cassandra-like talent to pick up issues not yet on the general or global radar as much as an expression of the collusion of his encyclopaedic literature with the contexts and preoccupations of the individual reader. As an example, when Bleeding Edge came out in September 2013 I knew of Donald Trump only at a tabloid sort of level. Rereading references to him in that novel in September 2016, however, makes Pynchon’s inclusion of Trump suddenly seem prescient as well as ominous.
Had I paid closer attention I would have noticed and remembered his attempts to run for president in 2000 and 2012 (coinciding with the setting and writing of Bleeding Edge) and wondered why Pynchon was not paying more attention to what seems his ascendancy towards the highest public office. One reason could be that though he would throw gibes at politicians like Nixon and Reagan in Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland, the real critique Pynchon properly reserves for the systemic circumstances in which they operate which “thoroughly democratizes the pending doom” (Herman, Weisenburger, 217).
If the political Trump was not on the horizon in Bleeding Edge, long-time New Yorkers certainly would have had a common knowledge about Trump’s primary activities for years before Pynchon’s latest novel came out. It evokes their memory of “the old Hayden Planetarium, the pre-Trump Commodore Hotel, upper-Broadway cafeterias that have not existed for years” (BE 428) and the experience of “tabloid figure Donald Trump's . . . guiding principle of the moneyed everywhere” (BE 188).
This paper argues that Trump appears in the context of another enduring focus in Pynchon’s work -real estate – and his ambivalent stance on communication technologies. A famous image from The Crying of Lot 49 – in which Oedipa Maas compares the concealed communication of suburban development to that of a printed circuit board – sets the tone for Pynchon’s future writing on computing as much as real estate. By Inherent Vice his critique of the human cost of urban development was fully fledged. In Bleeding Edge land development enterprises meet cybernetic technologies again when Maxine’s children Ziggy and Otis resurrect or rather translates the pre-Trump “city that can never be” into their Zigotisopolis in DeepArcher. If this were Pynchon’s final words on virtual and real estate the question is whether they were elegiac or nostalgic for an irretrievable American past from long before the 1769 Portola expedition (IV 353), or open to the hopeful promise of technological healing.
Pynchon’s indignation on behalf of such vestigial sanctuaries as the Island of Meadows (BE 166) is still felt, but has the “most unreconstructed of Luddites” been “charmed into laying down the old sledgehammer and stroking a few keys instead”? Does Pynchon look forward to a new world achieved through technology or is Zigotisopolis just another doomed reservation in a world where Trump’s principles guide developments?
- Herman, Luc and Steven Weisenburger, Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom (The University of Georgia Press, 2013)
- Pynchon, Thomas, “Is It O.K. To Be A Luddite?” The New York Times (October 28, 1984)
- Pynchon, Thomas, Inherent Vice (Penguin, 2009)
- Pynchon, Thomas, Bleeding Edge (Penguin, 2013)