Centering the Reader

In Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, many different moments stood out to me, but the one that I chose to write about was on page 107 to page 108. The line goes:

“Time to seek the advice of an expert. (Maxine says) ‘Ziggy, what is this thing?’

“’Looks like one of those little eight-megabyte flash drives. Like a memory card, only different? IBM makes one, but this is some Asian knockoff.’

”’So there could be files or something stored on this?’”

In this scene, Maxine had just been visited by Martin. Martin is a bit of a mystery to me still, but he seems to show up out of nowhere with useful items. The items are never ordered by Maxine, they seem to just appear when she needs them. This time Martin showed up with a flash drive. At this point in the story, the reader does not know what is on the flash drive; just that it was delivered without request.

The reason that this particular scene stood out to me is because of the vast difference from today’s technology. Bleeding Edge took place in 2001, when technology was not as advanced and items such as flash drives were not as well known. Today, everybody knows what a flash drive is and how to operate it. But in 2001, Maxine felt the need to consult her son in order to find out what this mysterious item was.

These lines seem insignificant when reading the book, something that could easily be passed over. But if you think about it longer, the importance of these lines becomes clear.

First, Pynchon is giving the reader a better idea of the technology of the time and peoples’ relationship with it. Most people, especially younger people, of this day and age take for granted that everyone knows what a flash drive is and how to operate it. But by putting in a few brief lines, Pynchon is forcing the reader to realize that in 2001 flash drives were not standard for everyone. Pynchon uses details throughout his story to center the reader in 2001, but this particular detail seems so different from the world that we currently live in that it stuck out to me.

Second, Pynchon uses this opportunity to subtly inform the reader that Maxine, though she is investigating a high tech company, is not some type of technological genius. She is simply a woman, somewhat out of her depth attempting to solve a fraud case. While Maxine is out of her depth, oddly enough her son is not. Flash drives had first been developed in the 1980s, but were clearly not widely used yet. It seems odd that while Maxine does not know what Martin gave her, Ziggy is able to identify it right away.

This could easily be written off to the popular notion that younger people have an intuitive knowledge of technology. If that is true, then Maxine turning to her son for help would not seem that out of the ordinary. But I think Pynchon writes this, not as a way of saying younger people have an affinity with technology, but as a way of showing that Maxine knows less about technology then maybe the average person would.

Throughout his story, Pynchon writes subtly clues to ground his audiences.

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3 Responses to Centering the Reader

  1. Dandy Mott says:

    I do agree with you that Pynchon is commenting about technology in this scene. It is crazy to think about how something like a flash drive, which is so common today, could have been unfamiliar in the past. In a way, Pynchon may be showing how rapidly technology is changing. You mention that Maxine knows less about technology than maybe the average person does, but I’m not sure that I agree with this. Thinking back to the section about DeepArcher and how she is asked what an avatar is, she acts clueless at first but explains that she’s definitely knows what an avatar is. I’m not sure that my mom would know what an avatar is! Regardless, interesting post!

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  2. lostmythics says:

    Yeah. Pynchon really attempts to do much to reinforce the time in which this novel is written in. The references to the inspirations for the visuals described of DeepArcher all originate in the late 80’s or 90’s, and the games that Ziggy and Otis are playing, especially FFX were at the time the most impressive visuals (FFX was the first to include fully voiced dialogue). Compared to the technology and entertainment of today, one would think that they are archaic. Also, I think that Maxine asking Ziggy about the flash drive is an anachronistic act, one that is more in lines of our society today. While more and more parents are tech-savvy as our generation ages, only a few years ago many adults were not well versed in technology. Many times it was children and young teens who were keeping up with the cutting edge tech. Definitely Ziggy knowing about flash drives is odd, but I think it is something Pynchon is using to get us thinking about the difference in people’s relationship with technology based on generational differences.

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  3. An interesting moment to explore, but I cannot yet tell what you are arguing, as this seems to simply be an accurate description of what this moment is communicating, and there are many further directions one could take this (esp. the fact, that no one mentioned, that 8MB is quite small by today’s standards . . .).

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