The One in Black

Thomas Pynchon’s most recent novel, Bleeding Edge, is just the latest in a long string of contemporary masterpieces. The novel is set after the recent dot com crash and during the eventual terrorist attacks of September 11th. Pynchon’s prose has been shown to have great depth and a certain unique style to it. Utilizing run on sentences, slang, and other pop-culture references of the time in which the novel takes place, Pynchon is able to craft a novel that allows the reader to be immersed in the time period in which it is set. One passage that was particularly intriguing was in Chapter 7 on page 75.

“A tall figure, dressed in black, could be either sex, long hair pulled back with a silver clip, The Archer, has journeyed to the edge of a great abyss.”

Pynchon’s prose is immediately identifiable with the long list of attributes that The Archer has which is then followed by the declarative statement. This character is introduced immediately as Maxine logs onto DeepArcher. The Archer is the reader’s first image of the simulation that has been previously discussed at length. This man or woman exudes an air of mystery and power that further increases the scope and impact of DeepArcher itself.

“A tall figure” embodies a feeling of being larger than life and exhibits a commanding nature. The following words, “dressed in black,” furthers that feeling of power. Black: the absence of color, absence of The Archer’s personality, a feeling of the unknown, even death. The color black is a very powerful descriptor for a character and is commonly used to evoke nothingness and the unknown. The archer himself “journeyed to the edge of a great abyss.

One of my favorite opening lines of a novel (The Dark Tower): “The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” Utilizes the same color description as well as being heavily inspired by a poem written by Robert Browning: “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.” Both works rely on utilizing the color black or similar forms of darkness to convey this feeling of the unknown. The poem written by Robert Browning can even be related to this Archer that has “journeyed to the edge of a great abyss.” In Browning’s poem, the protagonist travels across a wasteland on an empty quest. The description of the wasteland reminiscent of that feeling of urban emptiness: being surrounded by so many people yet no one to talk to. It is full of grey modernity and man’s increasing sense of separation with nature and color.

So, how does this poem relate to The Archer? Much like the guide in the first stanza of Roland’s quest, The Archer sets you on a quest through DeepArcher. However, the poem describes a quest through “gray plain all around” (line 52) which seems to contradict Maxine’s “256-color” quest through cyberspace. I say “seems to” since the “256-color” display is just as gray as the wasteland when it is compared to the infinite amount of color of the world outside of DeepArcher. Both the poem and passage still culminate in an empty quest in which nothing is achieved. The protagonist of Browning’s poem, Childe Roland, is even applicable to Maxine. Childe, a term for an untested knight, applies to Maxine’s lack of experience in navigating DeepArcher and the deep web itself. Outside of navigating that deep web she must also navigate an even more intricate web of deceit and lies as she follows her fraud case to conclusions that she cannot neither foresee nor fathom. Will she end just as Roland did and fully understand the futility of her even larger quest outside of DeepArcher? Or will she succeed and be able to win recognition for her efforts?

The Archer is the personification of DeepArcher.  The Archer has been shown once so far and the ominous feeling associated with him makes the very world he is a part of just as ill-omened.

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5 Responses to The One in Black

  1. djs125 says:

    This was a fantastic approach to this scene and offered me great input to what exactly was happening here because as I was reading it, I was quite confused at first and reread it a couple times and I still had a hard time grasping what was happening. But your explanation and input on what Pynchon meant with this character The Archer was very well said. Your comparison to the two other works that referenced the color black only made it more clear that Pynchon used this color to allude to the emptiness of what is being achieved. And I couldn’t agree more with you when you say that this poem and the Archer relate perfectly to Maxine as she embarks on her journey to the end of her fraud case. The similarities are amazing and I am even more excited to get to the end of this novel to find out if Maxine gets to the end like Roland or if she is just left her recognition of her efforts.

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    • raddishspirit says:

      I’m glad you liked it. I really wanted to highlight some additional works that not many other people will have recognized or thought to relate to this book. It really is just one type of interpretation and come Tuesday, I believe other people will be putting forth their own interpretations of that particular scene.

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  2. Pingback: The One in Black Pt II | Narrative and Technology, Spring 2015

  3. danwillisdan says:

    Furthering the Pynchon-Browning connection, do you see the actions of DeepArcher users as equally meaningless? Is their quest “empty” as you describe it? Or could there be some greater purpose?

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    • raddishspirit says:

      After finally finishing the novel, I’m still on the fence on the “greater purpose” narrative. I feel like the people who log onto DeepArcher are doing so in order to find a purpose yet from Maxine’s perspective it is a deserted, yuppified wasteland. The desert that she traverses from all the dead links is eerily similar to the barren gray wasteland that Roland travels through. She views what her kids build as this beautiful city, yet she knows that it will be corrupted. All in all, I feel like DeepArcher is this mirror of society in which they try to build something unique yet it ultimately is corrupted by faceless organizations. I’d be happy to hear what others interpret this program to mean.

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