Pynchon, Kermode, and 9/11 as Damoclean Disaster

During class discussion, I’ve called Bleeding Edge a transitional novel, couching it in terms of being between crises: the dotcom crash in the novel’s past, its ripples still being felt, and the shadow of 9/11 looming on the terrible horizon, dreadful foreknowledge we have as readers living more than a decade beyond the event.  This was before we reached Pynchon’s interaction with the day of the attack, however, and thus before I had read how he interacted with 9/11 in its aftermath.  Having read this now, however, I think Bleeding Edge is an exemplar of Kermode’s theory of apocalypse.  In “The End” in The Sense of an Ending, Kermode writes, “eschatology is stretched over the whole of history, the End is present at every moment, the types always relevant” (Kermode 26).  I argue Bleeding Edge finds Pynchon interested in every moment containing a capital-E End.  One disaster does not end disasters.  There is always another in the future, and until the next crisis breaks, humanity is haunted by the one previous.

The dotcom bubble becomes relevant early in the novel, most explicitly with Maxine’s visit to the offices of and her first meeting with Driscoll.  When Maxine suggests it was a surprise hwgaahwgh collapsed, Driscoll says, “Nah, it was obvious from the jump they were spending way over their head tryin to buy traffic, the classic dotcommer delusion, before you know it here’s another liquidation event and one more bunch of yups goes blubberin down the toilet” (Pynchon 44).  hwgaahwgh’s demise leaves behind an office abandoned and employees adrift, relics that can remember its End, reliving and replaying it over and over again, trying to forget the Dream.  Driscoll frames it as a familiar narrative played numerous times during the dotcom boom as it became a dotcom bust.  So not only is it an End that exists after its ostensible ending, but the Ends of a multitude of companies just like hwgaahwgh were a constant presence as the bubble burst.

Bleeding Edge constantly reminds its readers of the impending 9/11 attacks.  It starts with the phrase, “It’s the first day of spring 2001” (Pynchon 1).  This sets the stage.  The reader, in 2013 and beyond, knows what happens in September of 2001, a dramatic irony that casts a pallor on the rest of the novel.  Reg “walks through the wrong door” and finds “all these jabberin A-rabs around, who the minute I come through the door dummy up” (Pynchon 90-91).  Reg’s racial insensitivity, a bigotry shared by other characters in the novel, aside, the incident highlights the wave of Islamophobia in the United States after the discovery of al-Qaeda’s involvement in the attacks.  And of course, there’s the passage we read in class from after the “Geeks Cotillion,” which describes some “Y2K of the workweek that no one is quite imagining” (Pynchon 312).  This metaphor evokes the doomsday scenarios people thought possible in the transition from 1999 to 2000, wherein computers would experience catastrophic failure from believing the year to be “00.”  The night before the attack is on the precipice of an End nobody can predict.

And when the attack finally happens, “Maxine goes home and pops on CNN.  And there it all is.  Bad turns to worse.  All day long” (Pynchon 316).  The moment of the End is repeated on endless loop throughout the day, another ending constantly re-experienced.  The moment of crisis is only a moment, but it becomes immortal through the media, always present.  Even “seven weeks post-atrocity, the fearful day [is] still reverberating” (Pynchon 376).  The attack created reverberations, vibrations, consequences still felt almost two months afterward.  The air is suffused with the aftermath of the crisis, the eternal presence of that End.

I think that by writing this novel, Pynchon argues that the reverberations are still being felt over a decade later.  We haven’t escaped it, not yet.  I don’t think he can be said to offer relief from those reverberations, but he can make us aware.  Maybe then we can find relief for ourselves.

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2 Responses to Pynchon, Kermode, and 9/11 as Damoclean Disaster

  1. yuc46 says:

    Awesome Response. I agree with your idea about “Pynchon argues that the reverberations are still being felt over a decade later.” In addition, i agree with your ideas about the relationships between Kermode’s ideas and Pynchon’ opinions. I really like the sentence “One disaster does not end disasters.” Nice response!


  2. Mingyue Yan says:

    I have a same opinion as yours. Mentioned people in Manhattan in 2001 at the beginning of the novel simply helped me to connect the novel with 9/11 attack, even though Pynchon only spent last one third of book to talk about 9/11, which makes me feel less abrupt to connect dot-com boom, Internet with 9/11 attack.


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