Untraceability an Impossibility?

And here they all are tonight, converged into this born-again imitation of their own American heartland, here in the bad Big Apple. Blending with this for as long as she can, Maxine finally seeks refuge in the subway, takes the Number 1 to 59th, changes to the C train, gets off at The Dakota, threads in and out of a busload of Japanese visitors snapping photos of the John Lennon assassination site, and next time she looks back, she can’t see anybody following her, though if they’ve had her on their radar since before she walked into the Bucket, then they probably also know where she lives.

– Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon, 52

While meeting with Driscoll, former hwgaahwgh.com employee, Maxine notices two cop-like men watching them, unsure at first as to which of the women is their “Person of Interest.”  They follow Maxine as she leaves the Bit Bucket so she hops in a cab and, after traveling in the opposite direction, instructs her driver to take her to Times Square where she can lose her tail in a sea of tourists. She makes a number of deliberate changes in route, eventually recognizing that those following her very likely know how to find her home.

Pynchon pauses in this section of action to artfully describe the tourists in Times Square. His word choice is critical in this passage. His reference to the American heartland alludes to the transformation of New York; it is a bold statement to put Times Square in the same realm as the Midwest. The heartland has a sense of calm, unexciting commonality. In the same tangent, Pynchon calls it “Disneyfied and sterile” (51). There is this subtle nod to a nostalgic “what was” or “what used to be” throughout the novel. It appears when Maxine recalls her first encounter with March and when she visits the empty office buildings of former dot coms. This thread encourages the notion that advancements and progressions haven’t been successful.  It’s juxtaposed with DeepArcher, an incredible technology, and Gabriel Ice’s looming success. Though this sentence suggests an underlying meaning, the rest of the paragraph suggests a more obvious theme.

The passage recommences, without transition, Maxine’s journey throughout Manhattan in her efforts to lose the men. Pynchon quickly and explicitly lists her route. The series of actions, taking one train, changing to another, getting off, threading into the crowd, are written without the detail Pynchon usually writes, allowing the reader to pick up on the speed of Maxine’s moves, the hint of danger evident in her vigilance. Each route change working to erase her previous move, this segment is consistent with some of the overarching themes in the novel. DeepArcher’s selling point is not its trance-like, front-end interface that Maxine experiences in her first encounter, but rather its capacity to obliterate its prior movements.  We see this idea appear again when Reg and Maxine discuss hawaldars—individuals who move money around without a trace. This theme, that actions are untraceable, is evident in Gabriel Ice’s interwoven story but is challenged by Maxine’s investigation.

The closing sentence in the passage, and ultimately the chapter, acknowledges that if the men were able to locate Maxine at the Bucket, they know enough to find her home. This signifies that despite attempts to make one’s actions indiscernible, there remains a means of uncovering the truth, or in this case, finding Maxine’s home.  Gabriel Ice is presented as this elusive persona, executing a secret agenda, steps ahead of any surveying agency.  Ice takes great measure to cover his tracks, spreading his money over a number of companies, hiding laboratories in lavatories, etc. His attempts to cover the trail of his surreptitious scheme are consistent with Maxine’s efforts to lose the men tailing her; just as the men are capable of finding Maxine at her home, Ice is vulnerable to those determined to discover his dealings, whether they follow the winding trail or are gifted with tips to jump ahead in his plot, closing in on real-time. Even DeepArcher, seemingly infallible, is presented as bleeding edge technology, which is defined as technology so new it has a high risk of being unreliable. Perhaps this passage, as it plays into the theme of the untraceable remaining vulnerable, foreshadows the destiny of DeepArcher.

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One Response to Untraceability an Impossibility?

  1. rivaiheichou says:

    “Untraceable” is a concept which implies that one is completely, 100% devoid of any means of being discovered. In very modern computing (last few years or so), this term is thrown around all willy-nilly when someone uses a proxy or even two at one time, when some “professional” and “untraceable” hackers use dozens from all over the globe. It is interesting that DeepArcher, a program meant to surf the deep web, and one that was “developed” 14 years ago is seen as unstable and not fully untraceable. Back then the NSA was significantly less relevant and (as far as I know) did fewer acts of spying, especially since the events of 9/11 had not happened yet, which would cause the U.S. government to beef up security/intel. A few proxies might have been more than sufficient to prevent some prying eyes from peeping in on the DeepArcher user’s whereabouts.

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