Built like a Battleship?

“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?

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5 Responses to Built like a Battleship?

  1. KeepCalm22 says:

    I like that you chose the passage regarding the structural soundness of the World Trade Center, as it does foreshadow the events of 9/11. The novel also implies various other connections to the event, such as the middle eastern men depicted on Reg’s film footage who work for Gabriel Ice, a man also suspected of having secretive middle east connections. While there are lots of moments that seem to foreshadow 9/11 to the unsuspecting characters, I think this section also questions how adults (have have naturally had more exposure to technology at the time) can be blinded and all-trusting in technology, while children who are encountering it for almost the first time can see technology for what it truly is in the most unbiased way possible. Ziggy’s innocent interpretation of the situation reaffirms the point that while technology can advance, it is not infallible, just a the battleship has weaknesses as well.

    Also, the question that you pose at the end regarding Bleeding Edge technology is interesting as well. While leading edge technology is the technologically advanced, bleeding edge technology goes beyond that. It is technology that is so advanced that it has yet to be perfected, sometimes causing more risk by using it. I think that by showing how even more perfected leading edge technology is not perfectly sound, the idea of “built like a battleship” strongly affirms that bleeding edge technology, as highly advanced as it may be, is unstable and unpredictable, the risks not always outweighing the benefits.

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  2. useltime says:

    I too felt that this dialogue was incredibly important and almost wrote my blog on this section as well. I appreciate the parallels that you draw between the once seemingly indestructible battle ship and the now superior aircraft carrier with the once seemingly untouchable twin towers to the present site of a memorial. The mention of young Ziggy foreshadowing the events of 9/11 more accurately than a fully grown/educated man really got me thinking to how unprepared we were for the attacks and that we (including the engineers of the building) were naïve to the possibility of an such an act. When I was thinking about this piece I also thought back to when Horst is described as a “pig” and in a rather negative light by Heidi. This too foreshadows that Horst is possibly going to get what he deserves by possibly being in the tower when it is destroyed, while this is a very morbid thought it deems appropriate in the essence of symbolism.

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  3. tspace22 says:

    One key part of your analysis is the generation difference between Jake and Ziggy, and how this affects their opinion of the World Trade Center. The notion that someone of Jake’s generation couldn’t imagine a building such as the World Trade Center as being destroyed in an instant without notice is interesting. Ziggy has been shown to be very adept regarding technology and computers and perhaps it is due to his experience in the realm of technology that he is able to imagine something capable of destroying something so massive, while Jake is not.

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  4. ideasbylocke says:

    Your comparison to the battleship is something I would like to key in on. In WWII battleships were considered the pinnacle of naval technology. Aircraft carriers were not as efficient, certainly not nuclear powered as they are today. However, I digress,.. revisiting Pynchon’s comparison between a battleship and the World Trade Center now. On February 26, 1993, a bomb was detonated below the north tower of the World Trade Center. This would further support Ziggy’s lack of understanding that the World Trade Center could be brought down. It should also be noted that Jake has lived through this bombing, which is why he may not feel the same way about the World Trade Center.

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  5. This is a very perceptive reading, but I cannot yet discern what you are arguing here. I think there are a number of directions you could have taken this further that are suggested by your reading here.

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