“On days of storm, according to Horst’s co-tenant Jake Pimento, it’s like being in the crow’s nest of a very tall ship, allowing you to look down at helicopters and private planes and neighboring high-rises. “Seems kind of flimsy up here,” to Ziggy.
“Nah,” sez Jake, “built like a battleship” (Pynchon 95).
This moment occurs in chapter nine when Horst Loeffler visits Maxine. We learn that Horst has leased office space at the World Trade Center, and the following day, he takes Otis and Ziggy to visit. On this day, there is an above average wind that causes the towers to sway, which leads to the above exchange between Ziggy and Jake.
This stood out as one of the more significant passages with regards to form in the reading so far. This passage is structured as a disagreement between Ziggy and Jake; Ziggy being a naïve, schoolboy, in contrast with Jake, Horst’s co-tenant. Ziggy notes right away that the building seems flimsy in the wind, suggesting that it is unsafe and foreshadowing the events of 9/11 that are imminent. Interestingly, Jake first equates the building to the “crow’s nest of a very tall ship,” then later compares it to a battleship. This is odd because Jake seems to contradict himself in this passage. To me, a crow’s nest is not a safe place; I would be more inclined to label it as flimsy than compare it to a battleship. Because of this, it is confusing that Jake describes the World Trade Center as a crow’s nest then immediately rejects Ziggy’s notion of it being flimsy after. Jake seems to be confident in the strength and integrity of the building yet at the same time unsure, which again, seems to foreshadow the events to come.
It is interesting that Ziggy is the one to foreshadow the collapse of the World Trade Center by describing it as flimsy. In a sense, it is ironic that this young, inexperienced kid challenges the integrity of the building, whereas a more experienced adult, Jake, believes it to be sturdy and durable and almost considers Ziggy’s comment ridiculous. He simply rejects it with a casual “nah.” Before 9/11 happened, I feel that the common person would have agreed with Jake; the fact that such a massive building could be destroyed completely and without warning was shocking. Ziggy seems to be wiser beyond his years, in believing that this “battleship” was actually flimsy.
At first thought, the idea of being “built like a battleship” evoked characteristics such as strong and sturdy; however, after thinking more technologically, these perceptions changed. At one point in time, battleships were the quintessential technology to control the sea. They were the strongest type of ship and had powerful guns and armor. Nowadays, this once “leading edge” technology is obsolete, vulnerable to torpedoes and aircraft, and replaced by the aircraft carrier. With this in mind, Jake’s comparison of the World Trade Center to a battleship has new meaning. The building may be “built like a battleship,” but today that is not even strong enough. Even though he seems to disagree with Ziggy at first, Jake may in fact be in agreement with him.
This is the way to unpack Pynchon’s difficult prose. As shown in this passage, form and diction are key in understanding meaning. Pynchon could have described the building as “strong as an aircraft carrier” yet he chose “built like a battleship.” The fact that a battleship was once the leading edge of technology but is now outdated may show how Pynchon feels about technology. Technology is evolving at such a rate that even leading edge technologies become obsolete. If this is happening with leading edge technology, what are we to make of bleeding edge technology?