One of the most memorable scenes of the Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge thus far is the descriptive moment when Maxine is exposed to DeepArcher for the first time:
“A splash screen comes on, in shadow-modulated 256-color daylight, no titles, no music. 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. Down the road behind, in forced perspective, recede the sunlit distances of the surface world, wild country, farmland, suburbs, expressways, misted city towers. The rest of the screen is claimed by the abyss—far from an absence, it is a darkness pulsing with whatever light was before light was invented. The Archer is poised at its edge, bow fully drawn, aiming steeply down into the immeasurable uncreated, waiting. What can be seen of the face from behind, partly turned away, is attentive and unattached. A light wind is blowing in the grass and brush. “Looks like we cheaped out and didn’t bother to animate much,” Justin comments, “but look close and you can see the hair rippling too, I think the eyes blink once, but you have to be watching for it. We wanted stillness but not paralysis.” When the program is loaded, there is no main page, no music score, only a sound ambience, growing slowly louder, that Maxine recognizes from a thousand train and bus stations and airports, and the smoothly cross-dawning image of an interior whose detail, for a moment breathtakingly, is far in advance of anything she’s seen on the gaming platforms Ziggy and his friends tend to use, flaring beyond the basic videogame brown of the time into the full color spectrum of very early morning, polygons finely smoothed to all but continuous curves, the rendering, modeling, and shadows, blending and blur, handled elegantly, even with . . . could you call it genius? Making Final Fantasy X, anyway, look like an Etch A Sketch. A framed lucid dream, it approaches, and wraps Maxine, and strangely without panic she submits.”
(Bleeding Edge, pg. 74-75)
When looking at the page, the large block of text that is this paragraph stands out. As in most of his writing, Pynchon was very deliberate in the structuring of this paragraph. For this reason, it almost seemed inappropriate to break down this passage as Pynchon so clearly intended it to be taken as a whole. From the moment the screen comes to life in front of Maxine, her focus is not once diverted. The complete immersion in DeepArcher that Maxine experiences is able to be shared with the reader due the methodical way that Pynchon textually structures this event. There are no breaks in the paragraph, which keeps the attention of the reader, with no intermediate distractions or shift in thought, for the course of Maxine’s experience. Pynchon begins the paragraph with short, choppy, yet descriptive sentences, which I found myself reading at an increasing pace (and maybe even with an increasing heart rate)… as if I could feel the anticipation that Maxine was feeling as she awaited the next fantastic image to appear before her. It was almost as if I felt myself taking Maxine’s seat in front of the screen as I read further and further into the paragraph. Just as Pynchon has his character immersed in DeepArcher, so too does he immerse the reader in the same event by the use of his sentence and paragraph structure.
Within this experience that Pynchon has immersed the reader in, the Archer is presented. The Archer, figure in black, sex indistinguishable, surrounded by darkness, standing on the edge of the abyss with bow and arrow fully drawn and aimed down into the dark, immeasurable uncreated. This image is very significant for Pynchon. An arrow held against a bowstring is in the control of the archer, the moment that arrow is released; the archer has no power over it. An arrow in flight is fluid, it influenced by the wind and obstacles in its path and where it will land is never guaranteed. The archer can do his best to set the arrow on the path that he desires but ultimately it is out of his control. Entering DeepArcher means setting the arrow free into the abyss where its ability to light the way and created are unknown but more importantly potentially limitless. The user may be able to guide this creation to a certain extent but ultimately, like the archer’s arrow, DeepArcher is a living and fluid environment, the growth of which can not be predicted or controlled but merely guided and influenced by anyone who looses their arrows into the void.
The allure of DeepArcher is not only attributed the living and ever-changing world that waits to be created, but also the physical beauty and detail that Maxine finds herself in awe of. Of all the references that Pynchon makes throughout the novel, I found his graphical comparison of Final Fantasy X to an Etch A Sketch to be one of the most significant. The novel is set in 2001, a time where the dominant gaming console was the Playstation 2. Final Fantasy X (FFX) was released in the same year that the novel is set. For the non-gamers out there, at the time of its release FFX was critically acclaimed for its visual beauty. At the time there were few games, if any, that could compete with the graphical excellence that the FFX developers had achieved. When reading Pynchon’s description of the visuals created in DeepArcher, saying from Maxine’s point of view of DeepArcher in the statement that begins “is far in advance of anything she’s seen on the gaming platforms Ziggy and his friends tend to use….,” I was for the most part unimpressed. So what, it’s 2001 and DeepArcher has good graphics… so what is the big deal? There are plenty of games at this time with good graphics. But then Pynchon makes the reference that for me was vital in understanding what it really was that Pynchon was trying to describe. DeepArcher (2001) graphically makes FFX (released in 2001) look like an Etch A Sketch?
(cutscene from the PS2 version of FFX, 2001)
Um. Wow. For the time, this technology must be groundbreaking if that is true. Without that reference, my appreciation for DeepArcher would have been completely different. The fact that Pynchon uses this comparison and others like it throughout the novel to provide the reader with familiar reference points is absolutely crucial in the structure of Bleeding Edge. Pynchon appreciates the form of art that game design is and for a man his age to be able to paint a scene with such a specific and yet perfect comparison, from a generation long after his, just reinforces the fact that he puts significant care and thought into the way he builds every scene that he describes.