Vineland 91-140

p. 92 Ralph Wayvone’s momentary escape:

[He] could take another of what he’d come to think of as microvacations on an island of time fragile and precious as any Tahiti or one of them.

This is perhaps the only kind of escape that is accessible and unproblematic. Grace, but only for an instant. Later, in Mason & Dixon, Pynchon will explore the way in which many different temporal experiences can be embedded in a single perceptual/narrative moment.

p.97 A little joke for postmodern theroists. The band consult The Italian Wedding Fake Book by Deleuze and Guattari. Who also authored Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which consists of A Thousand Plateaus and Anti-Oedipus.

p.117 Whilst Wayvone’s escape is a solitary moment of peace, for Frenesi ‘the best chances of light’ are to be found in action. The final sentence, however, may possibly undermine the sacrifices described.

Frenesi dreamed of a mysterious people’s oneness, drawing together toward the best chances of light, achieved once or twice that she’d seen in the street, in short, timeless bursts, all paths, human and projectile, true, the people in a single presence, the police likewise simple as a moving blade- and individuals who in meetings might only bore or be pains in the ass here suddenly being seen to transcend, almost beyond will to move smoothly between baton and victime to take the blow instead, to lie down on the tracks as the iron rolled in or look into the gun muzzle and maintain the power of speech- there was no telling, in those days, who might change unexpectedly, or when. Some were in it, in fact, secretly for the possibilities of finding just such moments.

The first thing to say is that all this is only a dream of Frenesi’s, how she would like things to be. Does that mean this cannot exist? Not necessarily, but the fact that the people are ‘a single presence’,  and the police are ‘likewise simple’ almost seems to echo the accusations of childishness levelled by Hector at Zoyd earlier in the novel. And again, there is this notion of an altered temporal sense.

p. 127 DL’s sensei offers advice that addresses a rather different notion of grace and election- one which does not deny our Fallen status, and our own limitations.

This was what he felt he had to pass on- not the brave hard-won grace of any warrior, but the cheaper brutality of an assassin. When DL finally tumbled, she brought it to his attention.

“Sure,” he told her, “this is for all the rest of us down here with the insects, the ones who don’t quite get to make warrior, who with two tenths of a second to decide fail to get it right and live it with the rest of our lives”

When DL protests that ‘everybody’s a hero at least once’ he tells her she is ‘seeing too many movies, maybe’.

p.131 Wayvone tells DL

“We know your history, it’s all on the computer.”

p 133-134 A long passage where DL tells Frenesi about how “Superman could change back into Clark Kent”.

“Don’t underestimate it. Workin’ at the Daily Planet was the Man o’ Steel’s Hawaiian vacation, his Saturday night in town, his marijuana and his opium smoke, and oh what I wouldn’t give…”

What’s interesting is that it is Frenesi, not DL, who tries to live this fantasy, that of giving up on anything remotely heroic. By throwing in her lot with Brock Vond, and then becoming an informer, Frenesi ends up living a perverted version of this, one where all the solid normality is bought at other’s expense. Which makes her objection to DL’s daydreaming (and DL has arguably had to deal with far worse than Frenesi, which in some ways would make any such escape, however it was bought, more understandable) all the more ironic.

Why should anybody want to be only mortal? Better to stay an angel, angel.”

If DL did go on to try and escape, in a literal sense, by moving to Columbus and compiling an ‘invisibility wardrobe’ it was for good reason. If Frenesi thinks of DL as an ‘angel’, it is because she doesn’t grasp what DL has had to do.

p. 139 Ralph says to DL (in flashback)

“All that great gift? You wanted to just escape it?”

She doesn’t even bother to address this when she answers him, so obviously is her situation not a ‘great gift’.

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Vineland 68-90

p.71 Frenesi on remembering the Sixties:

Sure, she knew folks who had no problem at all with the past. A lot of it they just didn’t remember. Many told her, one way and another, that it was enough for them to get by in real time without diverting precious energy to what, face it, was fifteen or twenty years dead and gone.

The idea of having no problem with the past is reminiscent of the mentions of being blessed with Doper’s Memory in Inherent Vice– the best thing, even better than nostalgia, is to forget. Nostalgia whilst being a crutch, is also a distraction.

Frenesi goes on to consider the strange form of ‘freedom’ she hoped to gain at the end of the 60s by collaborating with the authorities. In an inversion of the usual liberal view of the period, she sees the ‘Nixonian repression’ as ‘her Woodstock, her Revolution’ (which echoes Hector’s comments on p. 27).

She understood her particular servitude as the freedom, granted to a few, to act outside warrants and charters, to ignore history and the dead, to imagine no future, no yet-to-be-born, to be able simply to go on defining moments only, purely, by the action that filled them.

But even this escape (which is not really an escape) is going to be taken away by the economic forces of the Reagan era.

p.76-77 has a different kind of nostalgia, one that perhaps isn’t even that, if by this we mean something sentimental, and somewhat selective in a self-serving way.

[Eula] discovererd what she really wanted- the road, his road, his bindlestiff life, his dangerous indenture to an idea, a dream of One Big Union, what Joe Hill was calling “the commonwealth of toil that is to be”.

This has a markedly straigher tone than all the talk of the Magic Sixities- and is an interesting contrast to the nostalgia for, or denial of, the past in the novel thus far.

Growing up, Frenesi heard stories of those prewar times, the strike at the Stockton cannery, strikes over Ventura sugar beets, Venice lettuce, San Joaquin cotton… of the anticonscription movement in Berkeley, where, as Sasha was careful to remind her, demonstrations had been going on before Mario Sava was born.

Sasha continues in this vein on p. 82

After a while her thoughts started falling into place. The injustices she had seen in the streets and fields, so many times, too many times unanswered- she began to see them more directly, not as world history or anything theoretical, but as humans, usually male, living here on the planet, often well within reach, commiting these crimes, major and petty, one by one against other living humans. Maybe we all had to submit to History, she figured, maybe not- but refusing to take shit from some named and specified source- well, it might be a different story.

Though Sasha herself is immediately undercut by Hub saying how he wasn’t really listening, this does not necessarily refute what she has said. And there is something refreshing about bringing it all down to a very human level- where it is not some ‘distant others’ or some abstract force like Capital or Technology, but a ‘named and specified source’, which is for the most part where most of the ills of the world come from (please supply your own list of these). It is far from the defeated tone one often gets from Pynchon’s characters.

p. 81 has a passage that almost seems to be against the metahistorical (the idea that there are can only be Histories)

“History in this town,” Sasha muttered, “is no more worthy of respect than the average movie script, and it comes about in the same way- soon as there’s one version of a story, suddenly it’s anybody’s pigeon. Parties you never heard of get to come in and change it. Characters and deeds get shifted around, heartfelt language gets pounded flat when it isn’t just removed forever.

It is as if she is lamenting that there are these multiple histories, which is unusual, as the idea of plurality is commonly thought to be a beneficial corrective to the homogenising, and usually deeply compromised, narrative that is presented as History.

p. 83 Magical properties are ironically imputed to the TV.

Believing that the rays coming out of the TV screen would act as a broom to sweep the room clear of all spirits, Frenesi now popped the Tube on.

While watching a motorcycle cop show, she gets aroused, which is offered as part of the explanation for why she ends up with Brock.

Since her very first Rose Parade up till the present, she’d felt in herself a fatality, a helpless turn towards images of authority, especially uniformed men.

Sasha (who suffers from the same fetish) is obliged to face ‘the dismal possibility that all her oppositions, however just and good, to forms of power were really acts of denying that dangerous swoon’. Though this unsurprisingly angers Frenesi (it seems incredibly sexist and patronising to argue that women have this kind of uncontrollable, almost hysterical weakness), she eventually more or less accepts it. ‘Let the grim feminist rave’ she thinks (or at least we are encouraged to think that she does) and then, unexpectedly, Pynchon does not undercut this idea. One possibility is that mother and daughter would rather believe it was due to some uncontrollable urge, instead of a series of decisions, or choices ignored, that has led to the submission (sexual and otherwise) to authority.

p. 87 Frenesi’s son goes to find his parents, the ‘cartoons having ended and his parents now become the least objectionable programming around here’. Reality is thus just another show that one sometimes must unhappily turn over to.

p. 90 on how we will be executed:

It would all be done with keys on alphanumeric keyboards that stood for weightless, invisible chains of electronic presence or absence.

Vineland 35-67

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.’

Vineland 1-34

After the feral success of my posts on Inherent Vice– we’re talking about daily hits sometimes in double digits -I thought I’d do the same for Vineland because a) it’s an obvious point of comparison, in terms of setting (California), time period (the 70s and 80s)  and preoccupations (the many ways that the counter culture has been, um, countered) and b) because it’s my ‘job’ to (in terms of being a doctoral student, though let’s face it, it’s a pretty strange job where you have to pay your employer for the right to work, and then still find yourself slacking off).

Anyway, my reading of Vineland is going to be based around two interests- its similarities with Inherent Vice, and how the characters in the novel use different strategies to escape/deny/avoid various mental and emotional states, with a particular emphasis on ideas of Redemption, Transcendence etc. (which is starting to sound dangerously like I might have some notion of what this PhD is about).

Given that the book doesn’t have numbered sections, I’ll just be doing it in as large a chunks as I can. And forgive me if I don’t provide much in the way of plot summaries- life, I am given to understand, is really very short. All page numbers from the Vintage UK 1990 edition.

Pages 1-14

Introduces Zoyd Wheeler, his daughter Prairie and Hector Zuniga, DEA field agent. The novel opens with Zoyd waking to hear blue jays, which reminds him of his dream where carrier pigeons have a special message for him that he can never receive. He understands this as ‘another deep nudge from forces unseen, almost surely connected with the letter that had come along with his latest mental-disability check.’

Of course, there’s no necessary connection between the real and dream birds and the letter, and Pynchon quickly undermines Zoyd’s reliability with the reveal of mental-disability. One reading of this is to satirise people’s tendency to see significance and pattern (not to say conspiracy) where there is mostly randomness. (As Sortilege says in Inherent Vice, “That’s because you think everything is connected”).

As in Inherent Vice, there is also the start of a thread about going over to the other side by becoming a snitch.

Hector had been trying over and over for years to develop him as a resource, and so far- technically -Zoyd had hung onto his virginity.

That ‘technically’ is pretty damning- and maybe also softens the realisation that ‘one day, just to have some peace, he’d say forget it, and go over.’

14-21

Zoyd watches himself on the TV (‘in Tubal form’) jumping through a window, ‘in midair with time to rotate into a number of positions he didn’t remember being in’

TV thus distorts memory, either by showing us what didn’t happen, or what did but we have forgotten. Memory is thus as rewritable a medium as any other technology.

p.19 has a bit on the commodification of violence

Isaiah’s business idea was to set up first one, eventually a chain, of violence centres, each on the scale, perhaps, of a small theme park.

p.27

“This ain’t tweakin around no more with no short-term maneuvers here, this is a real revolution, not that little fantasy hand-job you people was into, is it’s a groundswell, Zoyd, the wave of History, and you can catch it, or scratch it.”

The Right (as personified by Hector- an equivalence that will blur as the novel goes on) is here appropriating the terminology of the left- a revolution that is not Progressive, but is actually the opposite, in that it solidifies the exisiting structures of power and wealth.

p.28 In the same vein, Hector attacks 60s radicalism

I know you still believe in all that shit. All o’ you are still children inside, livin your real life back then. Still waitin for that magic payoff.

There’s a lot of talk in the novel about ‘innocence’ and other supposedly child-like states, which although is meant by Hector in a derogatory way, can be viewed in a more tolerant fashion. The retreat back into childhood, or nostalgia (the ‘real life back then’) may be the only safe haven (and it’s worth noting that at least half of the novel occurs in flashback, as a tale related). But even this innocence must be questioned

Impossible to tell with you, Zoyd. Never could figure out how innocent you thought you were.

Hector then asks a difficult question.

I won’t asks you to grow up, but just sometime, please, asks yourself, OK, ‘Who was saved?’ That’s all, rill easy, ‘Who was saved?’ “

Of course no one can be ‘saved’ (unless we buy into a non-secular world view) but the idea of personal redemption, of joining some kind of ‘elect’ or at least not being so clearly part of the preterite (yes, I have been reading Weber), is a powerful impulse, one that it is difficult to discount.

p. 29 Already Hector is becoming a deeper character:

It was the closest Hector got to feeling sorry for himself, this suggestion he liked to put out that amongst the fallen, he had fallen further than most

This notion of the Fallen recurs in Inherent Vice, and with it all the talk of karma.

p .31 Further talk from Hector of  youth and innocence being a kind of distortion that needs, by implication, to be rubbed off.

“I used to worry about you, Zoyd, but I see I can rest easy now the Vaseline of youth has been cleared from your life’s lens by the mild detergent solution of time, in its passing….”

There seems like a extra level of disingenuity in this use of the language of advertising- a consequence of Hector being a TV addict. The changes wrought by time (especially in historical terms) are not usually ‘mild’.

Hector then refers to the counterculture as

“A certain kind of world that civilians up on the surface, out in the sun thinkin’ em happy thotz, got no idea it’s even there”

Rather than it being a place to escape to, for Hector it is more like a dark sercet, a Welles-ian subterranean nightmare. This seems like an inversion of how we like to think of the 60s- rather than a happy, carefree time, with a dark undercurrent (Manson, riots, Nixon, Vietnam) it is here the counterculture that is the corrosive force.

Of course, the loss of innocence (or rather the belief in one’s own innocence), and the ensuing inability to escape into nostalgia, leads to bitterness. At the end of Inherent Vice Doc talks about how hippies ‘don’t know nuthin’. And as Zoyd says to Hector on p. 31

“Nothin’ meaner than a old hippie that’s gone sour, Hector, lot of it around.”

To which Hector answers, “You pussies set yourself up for it”.

p. 33 TV equated with any other harmful substance. There’s the ‘National Endowment for Video Education and Rehabilitation’ whose acronym is ‘NEVER’. Maybe this stands for the possibility of us ever recognising and being willing to actually confront this aspect of TV.

There’s also talk of ‘Tubal abuse’ and ‘A dryin’-out place for Tubefreeks.’

Which raises the question- how much of Hector’s worldview is supposed to be attributable to watching too much TV? And isn’t it also perhaps his partial salvation, in terms of how he acts at the end of the book, when trying to make the film?

‘A conjuror of high magic to low puns’

It’s definitely more fun to write about being an academic than to actually do academic stuff.

As proof, I cite this piece of mine in n + 1 and Elif Batuman’s The Possessed.

***Thanks to The New Yorker, American Fiction Notes, The Millions, Longform.org, The New York Observer and other places for linking to the piece.

The Year of the Metal Tiger

So I went to the Pynchon conference. In Poland. A marvellous time was had. In addition to being promised a certificate proving that I am now a bona fide scholar, the lovely people at Marie Curie University recorded everyone’s talks. So delete your playlists. Sit in a dark room. You’ll be amazed at what you end up doodling.

Click on the names on the abstract page to hear the talks- My suggestions would be Simon de Bourcier on Aether, David Letzler on character, Sascha Pöhlmann on games, Jeffrey Severs on women and capitalism, and for sheer verbal brio, Douglas Lanark on the year of the metal tiger.

Here is mine which is about 15 minutes long. It’s about how to escape.

Inherent Vice, Chapter 20

PLOT- Doc’s parents try to score weed off him… Sauncho and Doc go to watch the Golden Fang being repossessed… Coy is finally freed of his obligations.

p.351

While gazing at photos Doc sees their details become little blobs of colour.

It was as if whatever had happened had reached some kind of limit. It was like finding the gateway to the past unguarded, unforbidden because it didn’t have to be. Built into the act of return finally was this glittering mosaic of doubt. Something like what Sauncho’s colleagues in marine insurance liked to call inherent vice.

“Is that like original sin?” Doc wondered.

“It’s what you can’t avoid.”

This is about the problem of knowing the past (history), and with the added spin being what seems to underline last chapter’s conclusion- it really is what you can’t avoid. But maybe this is a step sideways from the karmic equation- there isn’t the suggestion of wrongdoing.

p.353

Doc’s parents complain that after smoking weed the soap they watch becomes hard to understand- identities and faces shift, either because they are befuddled, or because some veil has been stripped away.

p. 354

I think there’s a joke in the fact that Doc is still only wearing one shoe here, long after his escape from Prussia’s place. I’d like it to be suggesting that he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop- which would tie in nicely with the whole this-is-a-mystery-but-everyone’s-avoiding-answers theme.

p. 355

Doc imagines, then perhaps shifts to remembering, Bigfoot when he first came to Gordita.

“This place has been cursed from the jump” he told anybody who’d listen. “Indians lived here long ago. they had a drug cult, smoked tolache which is jimsonweed, gave themselves hallucinations, deluded themselves they were visiting other realities- why come to think of it, not unlike the hippie freaks of our present day. Their graveyards were sacred portals of access to the spirit world, not to be misued. And Gordita beach is built right on top of one.”

The jump seems part of the record/groove image set- and Bigfoot is of course missing the point. There’s no need to make a supernatural explanation up- the reality of disposession is bad enough.

They were hard to see and hard to catch hold of, these Indian spirits. You plodded along in pursuit, maybe only wanting to apologize, and they flew like the wind, and waited their moment…

“What’re you looking at?” Saunco said.

“Where I live.”

There is a sense of complicity in Doc’s reply.

p.363

At the end of the chapter, when Coy is thanking Doc, what should be a happy moment instead has a sour tone.

“Yeah, yeah, some hippie made that up.” These people, man. Don’t know nothin.

It is as if, after all Doc has seen and heard, he can no longer count himself among the ranks of the happily unenlightened. This is an old theme, that of the hero-becoming-an-exile-from-the-community-he-has-fought-to-protect. Like John Wayne in The Searchers (1956).

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