By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Thomas Pynchon may be the John Coltrane of American fiction. It's not just the complexity of his novels, nor is it the meticulous research that goes into them; it's not only that there are multiple plots, some working together in harmony, some bouncing off one another in counterpoint; it's not even the humor and texture of his prose. It's that there's a logic to his novels that is more intricate and poignant than the familiar plot devices that carry protagonists from point A to point B. Furthermore, by utilizing what could be described as polyrhythm in the way his novels flow, there emerges a far more profound observation of capitalism, power, knowledge and information than what his typically paranoid characters initially let on.
One can read Pynchon novels like Against the Day, Gravity's Rainbow and V. multiple times and still have only a vague understanding of what the greater point, the Grand Truth, hiding between the lines really is. The more you try to conjure up a single explanation to rationalize the entire work, the greater you distance yourself from that initial spark of Truth that either a passage or a line elicited. The more you behave like one of the paranoid characters traipsing through the pages of his novels, the more the larger picture loses focus—you end up dissolute and even dissolved like Tyrone Slothrop. Though Bleeding Edge may not have a narrative that is as dense or a structure that is as multi-dimensional as, say, Gravity's Rainbow, it is a book that only Pynchon could have produced.
Bleeding Edge takes place in New York City between the vernal equinox of 2001 and early 2002. It is a difficult time for Maxine Tarnow, a rogue CFE, as she's raising two kids on the Upper West Side and still trying to get her life in order after a recent divorce, but she's making due. However, when her friend Reg Despard asks her to look into hashslingrz, a computer security firm, and their CEO, Gabriel Ice, things begin to get a little weird. Very weird. It seems that everywhere Maxine goes, she finds Ice's fingerprints—all over the Silicon Alley, the Web, even in her own neighborhood. This includes the creepy building down her block, the Deseret. The deeper Maxine looks into this guy, the more she falls in with creeps, oddballs and hacker geeks for whom the great question in life is whether or not to sell out to the evil empire, Microsoft. When one of these sources turns up dead beneath the top floor swimming pool of the Deseret, Maxine begins to realize that Ice is up to something far more sinister than she could have realized.
Though this may sound like a noir storyline, Bleeding Edge is far more, even if it clearly borrows heavily from this genre. Unlike Inherent Vice, this is just the vehicle to make a more profound statement about the trajectory of the world in which we live. While no one would assert that Pynchon is a blind optimist, few would say that he's out to bum his readers out. Bleeding Edge (as well as Against the Day), however, is far more pessimistic than some of his earlier work. It's not that the bad guys end up winning, but rather that money and power continue their corrupting ways, assuring that the preterites remain disadvantaged, dispossessed and disorganized. Whether the side of power is hiring out Pinkertons to brutalize strikers, buying up the entire of island of Manhattan to turn it into a yuppie paradise or converting the Internet into nothing more than the ultimate medium for consumerism and corporate hegemony (buttressed by myriad private-public agreements between governments and defense contractors) he sees that it's becoming difficult to be anything more than a martyr in the fight against an increasingly concentrated nexus of money and power.
What this means is that the protagonists don't always come out on top. It means the antagonists don't always face justice. It means the world changes, what once seemed unthinkable becomes normal (via Snopesism or, as Naomi Klein might say, shock therapy) and the world adjusts. As Pynchon wrote in Against the Day, "It means do what they tell you and take what they give you and don't go on strike or their soldiers will shoot you down." To put it in perspective: The recent revelations about anti-poaching agreements throughout Silicon Valley will cause some minor waves. Five years from now this will be standard procedure.
It's not merely the preterites that Pynchon had focused upon over the years. So, too, has he examined spaces where boundaries breakdown, where the mores of society dissolve. Some of these boundaries are geographical, like the Zone in Gravity's Rainbow; some are drug-induced; some of them occur at the horizon between lucidity and dream. Bleeding Edge is concerned with two spaces—the rapidly gentrifying Upper West Side and a frontier space that has yet to be developed—the Internet, particularly the Deep Web. The Deep Web is not like the normal Internet that most people use every day (the Surface Web). According to The Guardian, about .03% of the Internet can be accessed by using a search engine like Google. This is the Surface Web.
What remains is the Deep Web, which, in Bleeding Edge, is accessed by using a program called DeepArcher. This program, created by two of the novel's characters, is a bit like a community-designed World of Warcraft, minus the fighting and quests. Those who initially design portions of the world of DeepArcher don't do it for material gain. In a way, they are merely artists creating a space of their own for no reason beyond the desire to create an idyll. The enemy is corporate development—the flood of capital into space, virtual or otherwise, which will create structures that will enable capital to flow freer into and out of this space, to replicate itself and its structures on and on toward infinity. Security and surveillance will inevitably follow in order to protect these structures.
Given that we are currently, and have been for some time, living between two forms of capitalism, it is no wonder that Pynchon's work focuses on such blurred lines. It is a confusing time. However, his work does not idolize the losers of history, nor does he seek to create a false narrative framed by nostalgia. Rather, his goal is to look into history's landfills, to find those who proposed idyllic spaces that perhaps never could be.