In the previous blog post (seen here), the role of The Archer’s description created a somewhat ominous feeling to the scene Maxine eventually embarked on. This character serves the purpose of sending her on her journey through DeepArcher with no goal in particular. It is eerily similar to an arrow fired into a great abyss. It is impossible to begin discussing DeepArcher without first analyzing the very personification of this program. Throughout history, archery has been an important facet of life and has manifested itself in a variety of ways. Pynchon specifically chose an archer for the splash screen of DeepArcher and by unpacking the meaning behind that choice, the nature of this program will become clearer to the reader.
“The Archer is poised at its edge, bow fully drawn, aiming steeply down into the immeasurable uncreated, waiting.”
Chapter 7, page 75
The scene presented in the above sentence creates a feeling of anticipation. Drawing a bow is no easy feat as it requires an enormous amount of force to maintain composure and prevent any sort of movement. Justin even comments on this scene by saying “We wanted stillness but not paralysis.” It is important to make the distinction between the two as they have slightly different meanings. Paralysis would have absolutely no movement whatsoever, while stillness would have the most miniscule of movement attached to it. Being paralyzed amounts to zero movement, yet trying to stand still results in the slightest of swaying motions. Stillness breathes life into the simulation and creates an atmosphere of anticipation for what is to come.
Why did Pynchon choose an archer for introducing someone to this deep web program? Bows throughout history have been tools of destruction, capable of killing at great distances. It is a symbol of destruction yet DeepArcher is one of construction or creation. Hunters utilize it to kill prey while soldiers utilize it to kill their enemies. This tool became such an important factor in civilization that Gods themselves are attributed to carry them.
One of the most famous examples of the role of archers in mythologies is that of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. Both are of similar appearance and are of either sex, much like the description of The Archer: “could be either sex.” Apollo, the god of the sun, plague, and archery, was known to shoot invisible arrows that cause sickness. In a similar function to Apollo, Rudra, from ancient Indian mythology, was commonly known as The Archer. He shot arrows of death and disease and is a precursor to Shiva, God of Destruction. While both of these deities are forces of destruction, they were also associated with healing in some form or fashion. Apollo’s son Asclepius is the Greek god of medicine and is the source for the Rod of Asclepius, a common symbol for modern medicinal organizations. Rudra was known to be a healer and a source of 1,000 remedies .
Artemis, sister of Apollo, was the Goddess of the Hunt and is commonly seen carrying a bow and arrow. Like her brother, she is associated with healing and relieving the suffering of humans. As a goddess of childbirth she is not just a destructive force, the hunt, but also one of creation. One particular story of Artemis’ that is quite interesting is that of her one love affair. She was known to not develop any lasting or involved relationships due to her being a maiden deity. Orion, a mortal, became her one affair but Artemis was tricked into slaying him by Apollo. It was through her skills as an archer that she destroyed the one thing she loved. In the end, she shot him into the night sky where he remains in the form of the Orion constellation. Through her destructive acts she creates an illuminative force in the night sky.
Artemis had another role in mythology, that of illumination. Her Roman counterpart, Diana, was also goddess of the hunt and birthing but had another role. She was commonly associated with the moon and a crescent moon diadem was an important attribute of her character. Again, Artemis is related to a being of illumination.
Returning back to the passage on The Archer:
“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…The Archer is poised at its edge, bow fully drawn, aiming steeply down into the immeasurable uncreated, waiting.”
Chapter 7, page 75
Archers in mythologies are these beings of destruction that utilize that weapon to plague mortals. Apollo and Rudra bring sickness and death while Artemis utilizes it in the practice of hunting prey. Yet, The Archer is not aiming at any one object in particular. He is aiming it at the unknown. By doing so, he is attempting to destroy that which is not known or created. To destroy the uncreated, creation must take place. This dark abyss is destroyed through the illumination of DeepArcher. Immediately following the image of The Archer, the program is loaded in all its glory. In addition, all three of the above deities had associations with medicine or healing or creation or preservation. The role of the archer is a complicated one in mythology. Destruction, preservation, and creation are seemingly contradictory forces yet the deities presented above found ways to balance them.
Pynchon utilizes what appears to be a destructive force and allows it to create and illuminate that which does not exist. The Archer ultimately fulfills two roles: to send Maxine on her path of illumination (much like an arrow is sent on its path to a target and Roland was sent on his empty quest) and to send this force into the unknown in order to create DeepArcher itself. A program of illumination or one of destruction?