Inherent Vice, Chapter 2

pynchon

PLOT

Doc goes to Channel View Estates to find Glen Charlock, Tariq’s friend (and Wolfmann’s bodyguard). On arriving the scene morphs into a brothel, then Doc loses consciousness, only to wake up with Charlock murdered and himself a suspect. Bigfoot Bjornsen of the LAPD eventually releases him, then tries to persuade him into becoming an informer. Mickey is reported as missing, as is Shasta. Doc gets a call from a woman named Hope Harlington, asking him to try and find her dead husband Coy.

The chapter opens with a description of the different kinds of vehicles on the freeway, what amounts to social typology, all of whom are subject to

the white bombardment of a sun smogged into only a smear of probability, out in whose light you began to wonder if anything you’d call psychedelic could ever happen or if- bummer!- all this time it had really been going on up north.

There is lot to unpack here. First, a general proposition about the unreliability of knowing even something as concrete (and natural) as the sun (and light, for Pynchon, is a frequent image- e.g. the frequent mention of splitting and refraction in Against the Day); then there is the uncertainty that in such light, which has been filtered through smog (an industrial product), anything psychedelic can happen. Before we go any further, let’s define some terms.

Psychedelic adj. 1a Expanding the mind’s awareness. (Oxford Concise English Dictionary)

My feeling, then, is that we shouldn’t get too hung up on the drug use in itself. What perhaps matters more is their effect (and also, I guess, that they are prohibited, controlled substances). I would like to plop down the opinion that this passage is about how constricted our awareness is in the modern world, how everything is mediated and controlled by the technological web (as also symbolised by the cars which everyone, despite differences in age, wealth and status, are driving) we have enmeshed ourselves in. The only snag is that I have no frakkin’ idea what that bit about ‘going on up north’ means.

There is a recurrence of the epigraph on page 20, but instead of beach, there is now ‘desert beneath the pavement’ , a much starker image, with connotations of ruin (past, future, imagined, actual) and sterility.

Doc, after realising that the ‘Pussy Eaters Special’ does not require his participation, experiences a spatial distortion and passes out. It’s too early to say whether this blackout is mainly for the purposes of plot (it also makes the transitions between scenes much simpler) or whether it is motivated (as a kind of avoidance, denial etc).

Nice piece of irony on page 24. Bjornsen, after being exposed as an avid collector of ‘all kinds of Wild West paraphenalia’, is quick to agree with Doc that it is a ‘man’s own business what he puts in his pick-up’ (p.25), yet constantly mocks Doc’s drug use and calls him ‘hippie scum’.

Hilarious notion of Donald Duck having to shave his beak (p.28).

When Bjornsen explains the murder on TV (p.30), he concocts a story about it being from some civilians taking place in a ‘training exercise in anti-guerrilla warfare’, what he calls a ‘harmless patriotic scenario’ gone tragically wrong. In addition to satirising the media’s need to make everything into a synecdoche (a crime one could never accuse a literary analyst of), Pynchon may also be making a wider political comment on American militarism.

Ominous predictions on page 32 and 40- the former from Bjornsen about Nixon having ‘the combination to the safe’, the latter from Doc about it being ‘perilous times, astrologically speaking, for dopers’ who’d been born between ‘Neptune, the doper’s planet, and Uranus, the planet of rude surprises’. Which I think we can also take as meaning that the counter-culture is about to be  shit on.

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2 responses

  1. “Going on up north” refers to San Francisco, the center of the counterculture, versus Los Angeles and Southern California, where the hippie dream was mitigated and transformed by other cultures and influences, to the point where it becomes possible for Doc to start doubting it.

  2. “Going on up north” refers to the Northern Californian city of San Francisco, where the counterculture was born. Doc is musing that the hippie Utopia might be impossible to successfully transplant, especially to Los Angeles, the setting of the novel.

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