Vineland 35-67

August 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

p. 37  A possibly wishful affinity between surfers and drivers.

Beer riders of the valleys having found strange affinities with surfers and their music. Besides a common interest in beer, members of both subcultures, whether up on a board or beind a 409, shared the terrors and ecstacies of the passive, taken rider, as if a car engine held encapsulated something likewise oceanic and mighty- a technowave, belonging to distant others as surf belonged to the sea, bought into by the riders strictly as is, on the other party’s terms.

The interesting thing about this is that we might expect Pynchon to place these groups at odds with one another- mainstream vs counterculture. Both, however, are ‘subcultures’, not least in the sense that they are beneath, and subservient to, the ‘distant others’, who dictate the ‘terms’. Both share ‘the terrors and ecstacies of the passive, taken rider’, one via technology, the other via the sea. Pynchon may intend to suggest that there is also political common ground between these (and other) groups, because whether one is driving a car, or riding a board, one is still far from being in control of the forces (natural, financial) that shape one’s environment. It is questionable whether Pynchon really intends the description of the car engine as encapsulating ‘something likewise oceanic and mighty’ as a simile- it can also be taken as synedoche of the whole socio-economic system of consumption. Another effect of pairing surfers and drivers in this fashion is to reduce the extent to which the surfers can really be said to be an alternative lifestyle. They, too, are no less in thrall to the ‘distant others’.

p.38 has what begins as a piece of nostalgia for the unhurried, ‘Mellow Sixities’, one where people’s sense of time, as a continuous flow, has not yet been disrupted (see all the stuff about temporal distortion (Currie, Huehls et al) in the Inherent Vice posts).

It may have taken hours or been over in half a minute, there were few if any timepieces among those assembled, and nobody seemed restless, this after all being the Mellow Sixties, a slower moving time, predigital, not yet so cut into pieces, not even by television.

However, this is not being shown, it is being remembered (like so much else in the book).

It would be easy to remember the day as a soft focus shot, the kind to be seen on ‘sensitivity’ greeting cards in another few years.

The fact that this is remembered as ‘a soft focus shot’ is telling- it suggests that our vocabulary (lexical, visual, memorial) has been changed by film and TV. Even if the actual moment was experienced as a temporally uncertain event, it is not recalled this way. And perhaps, to return to an earlier thought, this pre-digital ‘timelessness’ is no more socially beneficial than the ‘crisis of historicity’ that many new media are said to have produced. The paragraph continues in a supposedly rosy tone:

Everything in nature, every living being on the hillside that day, strange as it sounded later whenever Zoyd tried to tell about it, was gentle, at peace- the visible world was a sunlit sheep farm. War in Vietnam, murder as an instrument of American politics, black neighborhoods torched to ashes and death, all must have been off on some other planet.

But they weren’t (and aren’t) ‘on some other planet’. These horrors were happening concurrently. Though at the time, and also in memory, they have escaped into the fantasy of everything being a ‘sunlit sheep farm’, such a view is only possible if one ignores, or forgets, what else was happening. However, this is probably the only way that we can live on a daily basis- by denying what we know to be happening, while telling ourselves that we care. This is a delicate balancing act, this satisfying of one’s (inevitably) selfish urges, while trying to maintain the self-image of being a ‘good’ person (which brings us back to Weber’s ideas of ‘the elect’ seeking reassurance that they were in fact so).

The description, and the erasure of evil, has been said to be reminiscent of Emerson’s passage in Experience:

When I converse with a profound mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at once arrive at satisfactions, as when, being thirsty, I drink water, or go to the fire, being cold: no! but I am at first apprised of my vicinity to a new and excellent region of life. By persisting to read or to think, this region gives further sign of itself, as it were in flashes of light, in sudden discoveries of its profound beauty and repose, as if the clouds that covered it parted at intervals, and showed the approaching traveller the inland mountains, with the tranquil eternal meadows spread at their base, whereon flocks graze, and shepherds pipe and dance. (41).

As Dickson(1998) argues, Emersonian ‘transcendence takes place through a removal not of the self from the realm of ordinary activity, but through a removal of ordinary reality away from the self.’

Emerson is directly referenced at the end of the novel, on page 369.

p. 41 has a reference to karma:

He wrote her a postdated check he’d still have to scramble, this day already so advanced, to cover.

p. 51 Hector wants to make a movie of the whole Zoyd, Frenesi, and Brock Vond story.

Ernie’s been waitin years for the big Nostalgia Wave to move along to the sixties, which according to his demographics is the best time most people from back then are ever goin to have in their life

In a sense, this is what we are watching for most of the book, given how much of it is flashback, and only rarely in the voice of the person telling/remembering what happened.

And it is worth asking what good nostalgia does, in a political sense? is there any real difference between being nostalgic for the ‘Mellow Sixties’ or a (possible equally) imaginary past like Lemuria in Inherent Vice? Are either an impetus to an action which might lead to change?

p. 58 Frenesi as portayed as a habitual escapist.

Sasha was as angry as she’d ever been at Frenesi’s habit, developed early in life, of repeatedly ankling every situation that it should have been her responsibility to keep with and set straight. Far as Sasha could make out, this eagerness to flee hadn’t faded any over the years, with its latest victim being Zoyd.

In her case, the question is not only what she is fleeing from, but also what she is fleeing to- why does she flee  Zoyd (as an exemplar of the counter culture of which, she herself, via her role in guerilla film making, is a part) and end up with with his opposite (Brock Vond) and even as the opposite of herself (from documenting the ills of the powerful, to being an informer who conspires with them). What does her narrative suggest about our need to Fall?

p. 60 Death, the greatest form of escape, is also commodified. Hawaii is said to be ‘where men from California bring their broken hearts’. Zoyd is offered ‘several travel agents who offer Suicide Fantasy packages.’

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