Marvin the Kozmonaut

“Maxine squints through the peephole and here’s Marvin the kozmonaut, dreads pushed up under his bike helmet, orange jacket and blue cargo pants, and over his shoulder an orange messenger bag with the running-man logo of the recently failed kozmo.com.”

Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge 106

This passage of Bleeding Edge occurs directly after Maxine has awoken from her sexual dream about Winston and begins her day, only to be greeted by Marvin, the bike messenger who has been delivering things to Maxine.  Pynchon makes great use of references in Bleeding Edge, and the reference here to kozmo.com is no different.  kozmo.com was a company funded by venture capitalists in 1998.  The business design of the company was free one hour delivery of anything from food, video games, or even Starbucks.  In April of 2001, the company folded (interestingly, the company announced a comeback in 2013), which means that the timeline of the company is the same in both the universe of Bleeding Edge, as well as the real world.  What is notable here, is that the narrator refers to Marvin as a ‘kozmonaut’, a play on the word ‘cosmonaut’, which means an astronaut, specifically a Russian astronaut.  As the Cold War and specifically the technologies of the Cold War have been a factor of Pynchon’s work, this reference is layered and purposeful, ultimately making a statement on kozmo.com’s place within the dotcom bubble.

The Space Race (1955-1972) was a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for supremacy in the arena of spaceflight and exploration.  While dealing directly with science and technology, the race was also symbolic in nature.  Sure, both sides desired to explore space, but both countries also wanted to win, and be first.  Astronauts/cosmonauts were the people trained by state organizations (NASA, Soviet Space Program) to venture out into the unknown realm of space using the cutting edge of technology at the time.

In this passage, the narrator refers to Marvin, the bike messenger as a ‘kozmonaut’.  Directly after that, the narrator describes Marvin’s attire, which is likely a uniform decided upon by kozmo.com.  Marvin’s dreadlocks are pushed up behind his helmet, hiding part of his physical appearance.  He is wearing a blue and orange colored outfit, complete with a bag that has the logo of kozmo.com on it.  Because Pynchon makes a parallel between Marvin and an astronaut, it is interesting to look at the similar function and nature of both.  To begin, Marvin has a designated attire or uniform, like an astronaut would.  The detail included of the logo is also notable as it can essentially function as a flag placed on the uniform of an astronaut.  A flag is placed on an astronaut to clarify the origin of said astronaut, as well as place a sort of ownership of the astronaut.  So if Marvin, as a ‘kozmonaut’ is acting as an astronaut, what exactly is he exploring, or aiming to accomplish?

A possible answer lies in the nature of kozmo.com as a business.  kozmo.com is only able to exist as a company because of the internet; people are able to visit the website and place on order that will be delivered within the hour.  What is notable is the clientele that kozmo.com commonly serves, “…dopers, hackers, instant gratification cases who thought the dotcom balloon would ascend forever.” (Pynchon, 107).  kozmo.com was able to exist, albeit shortly, not just because of the internet, but the community that the dotcom bubble helped to create.  So, if astronauts explore space, a once new frontier, Marvin is exploring the forefront of what the dotcom bubble helped to create, people for whom that it is necessary to remain connected to the internet to the point of paying for a service to deliver donuts to their door.

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6 Responses to Marvin the Kozmonaut

  1. I really like your post. Marvin has been a thorn in my side (he still is), but after your description I think I can understand a little bit better why Pynchon chose to write this character. I still dislike Marvin and see him as a shortcut that Pynchon is using (this might change, I have not finished the book) in order to make Maxine’s life easier. Though now that you have explored some of the layers around Marvin, I can see that he might have other qualities then merely being a shortcut.

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  2. KAK249 says:

    I was intrigued by Marvin’s character (as I also chose to write about him). I read your blog post several times. The first time, I was not quite convinced with your theory as Marvin paralleling an astronaut. I then read it again, and once more and I started to draw my own parallels of him being an astronaut. Although, originally, I thought of him as a representation of an avatar of DeepArcher…I can agree that he also may parallel an astronaut. Another blogger wrote about Marvin as well describing him as a supernatural entity. It is quite interesting to note the different ways his character is being interpreted by students reading a text in the same classroom.

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  3. adeledazeem says:

    I have also found Marvin’s role intriguing. As @katherinesheila mentions, his presence and actions are pushing the boundaries of plausibility for me as a reader. I thought Maxine’s bladder propelling her towards new findings was a bit of a stretch, and then enter Marvin, literally handing her exactly what she needs. I think your analysis lends itself to argue that there’s greater significance behind Marvin, especially with the connection to a Cold War astronaut. While astronauts were able to explore the space frontier, it was motivated by political antagonism. The benefactor behind Marvin, and ultimately Maxine’s investigation, is likely motivated in a similar way.

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  4. spelunkingseahorse says:

    This a very interesting point of view on Marvin. While I have been reading Bleeding Edge, I have not really taken the time to consider the representation of Marvin because I guess I have been focused on other aspects. Although I did get excited when Marvin shows up in the story because I want to see what he is bringing Maxine. Making the comparison to an astronaut is interesting though. It is certainly not something that I would had connected Marvin to on my own. I am interested to see how Marvin evolves in the story moving forward and I will pay closer attention to him now.

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  5. danwillisdan says:

    So, are you saying that there’s an exploitative component to Marvin’s involvement with kozmo? That he is enabling people who abused the service by continuing to serve them? What do you mean by “exploring the forefront”

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    • tspace22 says:

      By “exploring the forefront”, I mean that Marvin’s job sends him to a number of people that are a result of the dotcom bubble and the internet. He is sent to deliver objects to people that are so glued into their computer’s it is more convenient to use kozmo’s service.

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