Brenda and Basil

“SHE’S IN THE SHOWER trying to get lucid when somebody sticks their head around the curtain and begins making with the shrill ee-ee-ee shower-scene effects from Psycho (1960). Time was she would have screamed, had some kind of episode, but now, recognizing the idea of merriment here, she only mutters, “Evening, honeybunch,” for it is who but the of course nowhere-near-history Horst Loeffler, showing up, like Basil St. John in the life of Brenda Starr, unannounced, another year’s worth of lines deepening on his  face, poised already for departure, while in the reverse shot the little polarized tear flashes, right on cue, appear along the edges of Brenda Starr’s eyelids.” (Bleeding Edge, 92)

I chose this passage because I wanted to analyze something other than DeepArcher and this paragraph intrigued me with the descriptiveness and the references made within it. The first reference to the shower-scene from Psycho was an easy scene to imagine even without having seen the movie because I feel like this is a cliché scene in many different horror films. However, I looked up the movie and it was a 1960 black and white horror movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock whom Pynchon has referenced other times in the book. It was a notable movie of its time period, which is surely the reason that Pynchon decided to use it to describe this very specific scene in Bleeding Edge.

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The second reference “like Basil St. John in the life of Brenda Starr” refers to the comic strip Brenda Starr, Reporter. This comic strip ran in the Chicago Tribune for nearly 70 years from 1940 – 2011. The first thing that caught my attention was that there was a comic in 1940 with a female main character, which reminded me of how Miranda Zero was the main character in Global Frequency and Maxine Tarnow is the main character in Bleeding Edge. Brenda Starr, Reporter was also authored by female writers throughout its entire duration of publication, which I found interesting.

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The comparison that Pynchon makes between Horst Loeffler and Basil St. John is very clever indeed. I wouldn’t have realized this if I did not take the time to look up the comic and its characters. Basil St. John was known to be a mysterious character in the comic strip that wore an eye patch. Although Horst does not wear an eye patch, he has been a rather mysterious character in the story so far. Later in the comic series Brenda Starr and Basil St. John got married and had a baby together. However, their marriage did not last long before getting a divorce. This is very familiar to the situation of Maxine and Horst. In Brenda Starr, Reporter, it also goes into detail of how “sparks flew” between Brenda and Basil, upon meeting again later after the divorce. This makes me wonder if it is possible for Maxine and Horst to get back together at some point later in the book especially since he is called “nowhere-near-history Horst Loeffler”. I believe Horst will have a bigger part in the rest of Bleeding Edge.

Once I learned that Pynchon was referring to a comic strip during the second half of this selected passage, it was much easier to imagine the scene he was describing. There is a cartoonish man with deep lines on his face about ready to head out the door. In the next pane of the comic, there is a woman with a single tear coming from her eyelid because she does not want him to leave.

Thomas Pynchon’s ability to make so many accurate and clever references has amazed me so far in this book. The fact that he ranges from 1940’s comics to 1960’s movies to 1990’s sitcoms like Friends to 2000’s video games like Daikatana is very impressive. These really help to set the stage of the time period as well as make connections that would otherwise be very difficult. They could be easily overlooked if one is not reading the text very closely. I have learned that if I don’t immediately understand a reference that it is worth the time to stop and look it up because it will greatly help my understanding of the story and the context.

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4 Responses to Brenda and Basil

  1. tomhaverford says:

    Probably my favorite aspect of Pynchon’s writing, his references spanning from Final Fantasy X to comics originating in the 40’s are constantly on-point. It ties his writing together in a way not many others can emulate, and it makes his reading so enjoyable. I plan on taking the time to diagnose more of these references along with you.


  2. cso9 says:

    Like you, I had assumed the scene by using context clues upon initially reading it. I supposed it wasn’t hard to imagine the scene of someone being startled in reference to a movie called “Psycho,” however I do think your in-depth analysis of why Pynchon chose this particular movie is neat. Leaves me to think that Alfred Hitchcock must be an influential person on him and his writing. The same goes for the reference to Brenda Starr Reporter. I would have never known the possible ties between Brenda and Basil St. John with Maxine and Horst. It goes back to the idea that Pynchon wants his readers to do more than read his work, he wants us to analyze it, as well.

    I hope to do more research on his references as you have as well. I think it will provide a lot clearer understanding of the novel, not to mention promote engaging ideas such as your’s regarding the future of Maxine and Horst.


  3. burgleyourturts says:

    I had no idea what the reference to Basil St. John and Brenda Starr was and at the time I guess it did not really catch my attention because I did not remember it until I read this post. In my blog post I talked about how Pynchon, being the older gentleman that he is, truly impressed me with some of his later generation references (I specifically discussed the Final Fantasy X reference). This post opened my eyes to the fact that Pynchon also uses references like this from as early as the 1940’s as well as the some from newer generations. This really added to my appreciation of the meticulous writing and thinking that Pynchon does in selecting how he structures his novel and makes use of such a variety of cultural references. Thanks for sharing!


  4. A very interesting exploration of some of Pynchon’s references, but I wonder what you might do w/ these–i.e., how does understanding these references allow you to read and interpret the novel?


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