PLOT- Tito drives Doc to the Kismet casino, a joint that has fallen on hard times. After placing a deliberately suspicious bet on the ‘Mickey book’, he is taken into the office of Fabian Fazzo, who tells him that Mickey was trying to build a new city out in the desert. In a private area he runs into the man himself, in the arms of the FBI. Out in the desert, he finds the half-completed, half-destroyed dream city of Arrepentimiento. Finally, Tito and Doc lose themselves in a Toob-fest.
Here, at around the two-thirds mark, a lot of the novel, both in terms of plot and also thematically, seems to come together.
In a Pynchon novel, this is somehow disquieting.
p.235 In the description of North Las Vegas- the neglected sibling of the Strip to the south -as being ‘away from the unremitting storm of light’ and this same glow then disappearing ‘as if into a separate “page right out of history”, as the Flintstones might say’, there is perhaps a somewhat optimistic message. On one level this can be viewed as prophetic- that all structures are subject to inevitable ruin. If this fate can befall North Las Vegas, there is no reason why the Strip, that accumulator of Profit (see Chapter 13) should not one day submit.
However, the presence of a second, also ruined city in the chapter, perhaps undermines this hope- unlike North Las Vegas, Arrepentiemento was envisaged by Mickey Wolfmann as as act of atonement, and it too was quickly destroyed. One reading of this is that in the world to come (which we live in) intentions count for even less against the profit motive.
p.238 One of Pynchon’s favourite tropes- the relationship between cartography and power.
He says when Americans move any distance, they stick to lines of latitude. So it was like fate for me, I was always supposed to head west.
And just for good measure there is both the invocation of manifest destiny and the colonisation of the West.
p.238 Doc and Fabian’s long conversation about what might have happened to Wolfmann, during which they run through all the possible alternatives, nicely trivialises the whole Quest aspect of the plot (and the genre). They’re only talking about these outcomes in terms of gambling odds, not because anyone particularly cares. From what little I know of classic detective fiction (Chandler, Hammett) this is very much a staple of the genre. One could, I suppose, construe a more depressing interepretation- that someone’s life is only worth discussing in terms of how it might yield profit.
p.240 Even money is not to be trusted.
The half-dollar coin, right? ‘sucker used to be ninety percent silver, in ’65 they reduced that to forty percent, and now this year no more silver at all. Copper, nickel, what’s next, aluminium foil, see what I’m saying? Looks like a half-dollar, but it’s really only pretending to be one.
p.241 Doc remembers his acid trip as ‘trying to find his way through a labyrinth that was slowly sinking into the ocean’. As well as being a description of the present (both then, and now) ecological and political crisis, it is also a reference to the sunken continent of Lemuria, suggesting, somewhat gloomily, that even our impending disasters are far from original.
p.243 When Doc glimpses Mickey Wolfmann, he has
the same look as he had in his portrait back at his house in the L.A. hills— that game try at appearing visionary —passing right to left, borne onward, stately, tranquilized, as if being ferried between worlds
It is, alas, only an attempt at appearing (as opposed to being) visionary. But perhaps it still counts for something- whether or not it does depends on how we view his building the city in the desert- whether it is a meaningful (albeit doomed) attempt at atonement.
We might also ask which worlds he is being ferried between.
p.244 The FBI agent accuses Doc and his ilk of being the ones to inspire Wolfmann’s guilt.
It’s you hippies. You’re making everybody crazy.
It is undeniably unpleasant to reflect on the inequalities of the world, and especially on one’s own complicity in this state of affairs. So many of the book’s characters are doing their best to retreat from the world, by any means- psychedelic, mystical, insanity.
Wolfmann’s mea culpa, which summarises a persistent sentiment of the novel:
I feel as if I’ve awakened from a dream of a crime for which I can never atone, an act I can never go back and choose not to commit. I can’t believe I spent my whole life making people pay for shelter, when it ought to’ve been free. It’s just so obvious.
It is, however, not in a dream that these things were done, but by himself, in reality. This kind of distancing suggests that even when admitting responsibility, he is still preserving a modicum of denial. Furthermore, whether or not the wrongness of his acts is ‘so obvious’ is perhaps not the point. People are able to supply a justification for even the most obviously heinous acts e.g. mass murder, bombing civilians, genocide, etc.
p.246 The wackiness of the Gilligan’s Island/Godzilla clash gives way to Henry Kissinger on TV saying “Vell den, ve should chust bombp dem, schouldn’t ve?” There is then a ‘lengthy honking’ which drowns him out.
On the one hand, the funny voice, and juxtaposition with Godzilla,, serves to satirise Kissinger. However, there is also an argument that TV, by presenting the banal and the serious in alternation, trivialises all it depicts. As for the lengthy honking, I’m starting to notice the way that Pynchon’s characters are often quick to change the subject when something of importance is said- the honking (from a car, not a goose) feels like more of the same.
p.247 Classic the-conspiracy-is-only-a-cover-for-the-real-conspiracy stuff
“Ain’t like this is the Mob. Not even the pretend Mob you people think is the Mob.”
p.248 Arripentimiento is ‘Spanish for ‘sorry about that’.’
Also on this page, Doc gives Trilium and Puck his rental car. This, and the amount of time devoted to Coy Harlingen and his wife, reminds me that Pynchon, for all his pessimism, rarely strays into direct cynicism- there is nothing ironic about the way love is portrayed.
p.249 ‘Like spacemen in a space ship, they were pressed violently into the seat’
Further images of moving into the future- which, I think, is maybe what we, as readers of this historical novel, end up doing to the characters, in that we relate them to our present.
Is the idea of ‘a wake-up joint’ a contradiction? Or a nod to the need to disengage with reality in order to be able to cope with it?
p.250 Out in the desert, ‘the zomes ahead, like backdrop art in old sci-fi movies, never seemed to come any closer’.
Nor, alas, does the promised future where harmony prevails.
p.251 Spatial distortion inside the zome.
More space, judging from the outside, than there could possibly be in here.
Some paranoia about how things, even when destroyed, cannot be ‘history’, “because they’ll destroy all the records, too”.
p.253 The disruption, then resumption of the TV signal occurs ‘as if through some form of mercy peculiar to zomes’.
Though TV has been portrayed in mostly negative terms in the book thus far, here, in the wreckage of a supposed dream city, the TV appears to be almost a necessary means of escape.
This TV theme continues on p.254, but here the tone seems to have shifted, and the TV, for Doc, is once again disturbing. Watching John Garfield’s last picture ‘before the anti-subversives did him in’ (again, the sense of the patterns, and repetitions, of history) was
Somehow like seeing John Garfield die for real, with the whole respectable middle class standing there in the street smugly watching him do it.
After a litany of TV scenes, there is this passage, which I will, if you’ll forgive me, allow to speak for itself.
And here was Doc, on the natch, caught in a low-level bummer he couldn’t find his way out of, about how the Psychedelic Sixties, this little parenthesis of light, might close after all, and all be lost, taken back into darkness… how a certain hand might reach terribly out of darkness and reclaim the time, easy as taking a joint from a doper and stubbing it out for good.
Doc didn’t fall asleep till close to dawn and didn’t really wake up till they were going over the Cajon Pass, and it felt like he’d just been dreaming about climbing a more-than-geographical ridgeline, up out of some worked-out and picked-over territory, and descending into new terrain along some great definitive slope it would be more trouble than he might be up to turn and climb back over again.
OK, what I will say about this is that it could be read as TV being one of the things to ‘reclaim the time’, literally as well as metaphorically.