Pynchon’s Criticism of Gentrification

“The sleazy old Deuce she remembers from her less responsible youth is so no more, Giuliani and his developer friends and the forces of suburban righteousness have swept the place Disneyfied and sterile—the melancholy bars, the cholesterol and fat dispensaries and porno theaters have been torn down or renovated, the unkempt and unhoused and unspoken-for have been pushed out, no more dope dealers, no more pimps or three-card monte artists, not even kids playing hooky at the old pinball arcades—all gone.

Maxine can’t avoid feeling nauseous at the possibility of some stupefied consensus about what life is to be, taking over this whole city without mercy, a tightening Noose of Horror, multiplexes and malls and big-box stores it only makes sense to shop at if you have a car and a driveway and a garage next to a house out in the burbs.”  — Bleeding Edge, pg. 51

This passage stuck out to me initially for its incredible, creative descriptions and particular word choices.  Pynchon displays his proclivity for infusing witty language and vernacular slang into his writing here: the use of “cholesterol and fat dispensaries” as an allusion to greasy fast food joints is at once humorous and mocking.  The alliteration displayed in “unkempt, unhoused, and unspoken-for” provides a natural rhythm to the text while also using rather apt words to describe the riff-raff that once occupied the streets of Times Square.

Although I first appreciated the clever writing style evident in this passage, I began to wonder about the placement of this particular section of description.  Why here, in the middle of a paragraph describing Maxine’s efforts to evade a pair of cops by going to Times Square?  It was curious to me that in a tense and potentially serious situation, Pynchon decided to dedicate these 145 words to describing Maxine’s pessimistic thoughts about Times Square: what it used to be versus what it has become.

It was interesting to see Maxine’s juxtaposition of the old, unsavory Times Square (“full of dope dealers, pimps, kids playing hooky, etc.”) with the gentrified, cleaned-up Times Square of the present (“multiplexes and malls and big-box stores.”)  Rather than this being a good thing, as one might expect, Maxine finds it upsetting, even to the point of feeling “nauseous” about such development.  Gentrification continues to be painted in negative terms: “taking over this whole city without mercy, a tightening Noose of Horror,” which I find to be an interesting personification, as though it were a monstrous creature that might strangle and ravage the city.

This is not the only instance of negativity against gentrification. We continue to see the same sort of criticism through March Kelleher’s thoughts in the very next few pages as she discusses her picketing activities with Maxine: “She hated Lincoln Center, for which an entire neighborhood was destroyed and 7,000 boricua families uprooted, just because Anglos who didn’t really give a shit about High Culture were afraid of these people’s children.” (pg. 55).  March’s relationship to Gabriel Ice is also interesting/ironic, considering his wealthy life in the Hamptons is representative of the very people who might benefit from such development (and the very people that she rallies against). Perhaps this also symbolizes conflict between Maxine and the mystery surrounding Gabriel and his work.

What does this all mean?  Clearly Pynchon is criticizing this aspect of American urban development that caters to well-off, suburban families at the expense of poorer residents (often immigrants) who suffer the challenges of displacement.  Additionally, Pynchon may be capturing this aspect of contemporary American life in his novel as representative of our time (gentrification has also hit Pittsburgh, with both good and bad reception).  It also contributes to an overall tone of negativity in this novel, which may or may not be telling of the events to come.  It is very interesting to pick up on things like this, as Pynchon criticizes and reflects on other aspects of modern American life which may not be ideal.

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One Response to Pynchon’s Criticism of Gentrification

  1. lostmythics says:

    I actually somewhat agree with Pynchon here. I live in the gentrified suburban areas that Maxine is criticizing where we have driveways and cars. One big thing I was always irritated with is the lack of reliable public transportation. Pittsburgh is not really that bad but there are some cities that have horrible transportation. Indeed as cities are more gentrified cars inevitably become more and more necessary to get around. This also sucks because the advent of more middle to high income families means a greater demand of service industry jobs, which are invariably low income positions. Which means those workers, if they aren’t students, need motor transport to get to work since most likely they can’t afford the new gentry rents or property values. The American Dream is getting more and more pricey.


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