Jewish and Russian Trends in Bleeding Edge

“’I knew most of it already, but thanks.’ ‘You know about Ice being Jewish.’ ‘Yes and Superman too, so what, excuse me, it’s 1943 again? what’s the obsession with you people?’ ‘He did hire your brother-in-law’ ’So? You’re saying these Jews, they really stick together? That’s it?’ ‘The thing about Mossad—they’re America’s allies, but only up to a point. They cooperate, and they don’t cooperate.’ ‘Yes Jewish Zen, quite common, Al Jolson in blackface one minute, singing in temple the next, remember that one? Let me invite your attention to Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, which should clear up any lingering questions you might have plus allow me to get back to a demanding workday which does not grow any less so with phone calls like this one. Unless you would like to just what we call spit it out’” (Bleeding Edge, page 263)

“‘Oh and by the way.’ Casual as a sanitation truck. ‘You’ve heard of the Civil Hackers’ School in Moscow?’ ‘No,uh-uh.’ ‘According to some of my colleagues, it was created by the KGB, it’s still an arm of Russian espionage, its mission statement includes destroying America through cyberwarfare. Your new best friends Misha and Grisha are recent graduates, it seems.’ Surveillance, OK, russophobic reflexes to be expected, and yet what goes on here, the chutzpah. ‘You don’t like me socializing with Russkies. Excuse me, I thought all that Cold War drama was over. Is it mob allegations, what?’ ‘These days the Russian mob and the government share many interest.’” (Bleeding Edge, page 264)

These two passages come from chapter 24 of Bleeding Edge. This is the chapter in which Maxine gives Nicolas Windust a visit in his desolate rental building on the west side. He and Maxine have sex before she is given a folder to look through. This folder holds information showing a connection between bank accounts in Dubai and Gabriel Ice. This leads into a later phone conversation between Maxine and Windust, from which these passages are taken. These passages made me think about how other cultures perceive Americans. In the first passage, Windust, when referring to Jewish peoples, says “’They cooperate, and they don’t cooperate.’” A couple of paragraphs removed, the Russian Civil Hackers’ School is discussed in a similar fashion. I believe that Pynchon uses this moment to compare the two and show the similarities between Older Jewish views about Americans and present Russian views about Americans.

The Pynchon Wikipedia page mentions a portion of the first passage about Ice’s Jewish heritage asking “Is this just a simple ‘Superman was created by Jews, and Germany was killing them in 1943’ thing? Or was something more specific going on with Superman in 1943?”1 I believe that the use of the word “Superman” was very intentional used by Pynchon. While Pynchon wiki infers that this might have something to do with the justification of a “’Aryan superior race’”, I believe that this is more likely a reference saying that not all Jewish people should be characterized as bad people. Maxine furthers this notion when saying “’excuse me, it’s 1943 again?’” (Bleeding Edge, page 263). This is a reference to World War II and also draws on the earlier discrimination Windust showed toward Avi and Mossad. This allows us to understand Windust’s impression of Jewish people and leads into his invitation for Maxine to read Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. 

Published in 1946, Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism discusses trends and beliefs of Judaism. This collection of lectures points out the mystery of Kabbalism and Kabbalists. I found Scholem’s work difficult to read, so in order to help understand the lectures, I found a chapter by chapter analysis done by Commentary Magazine. In regards to the Civil Hackers’ School, I found an article talking about the school in the year 2000. This article, written for the Toronto Globe and Mail, discusses the school and its purpose as well as several negative hacking incidents that are credited to students from the school.

The first reference material, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, gave me great insight into what Pynchon was intending when mentioning this collection of essays in Bleeding Edge. At first, I believed that Windust was referring to a writing that reflected very poorly on the Jewish religion. In my reading of the book, I realized that Scholem’s book gives a very fair interpretation of how Judaism has taken the mysticism of the past and translated it for the 20th century audience with many appeasements made toward modern rationalizations. And while this isn’t a negative text about the Jewish faith, it does work toward highlighting the inconsistent nature of Jewish faith.

The second reference is to the Civil Hackers’ School in Russia. The Toronto Globe article I found painted the school similarly to the way Pynchon did in Bleeding Edge. The article included several negative accomplishments that school graduates have been blamed for. These include stealing Microsoft source codes, invading Pentagon computers, and stealing money from western banks.4 Pynchon uses this reference to indicate to Maxine about the scheming and negative natured abilities of some Russians. This reference made me think about how Windust views Jews and Russians in a similar light. This section will play a role when Maxine encounters Igor Dashkov later in the book. It bring suspicion into the mind of the reader that the Russians are behind the events of 11 September. It also casts a shadow on the figures of Misha and Grisha as the book progresses and brings back a picture of Cold War era discrimination against the Russians.

I think that these two references tie together with his description of Mossad as cooperating and not cooperating as American allies. This is made clearer by his reference to Scholem’s book and their inconsistent nature. This is then compared to the unreliability of Russians through the Civil Hacker’s School. I believe this allows for the argument to be made that Pynchon is painting the Russians and Mossad in the same light with these references. This is to say that the Mossad (Jewish) historic way of dealing with Americans is the same as the current way that the Russian mob is to be viewed and trusted by America. This can be further extrapolated to his possible conspiracy plots about 11 September involving the Russian mob and Igor. Close reading of these passages allows the reader to bring into their frame of view both Mossad and Russian espionage as possible sources for the impending 11 September attacks to come in Chapter 29. Specifically, Avi and his Mossad ties as well as Igor and his Russian mob affiliation and Misha and Grisha’s Russian affiliation.



1. Thomas Pynchon Wiki. Wikipedia, Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

2. Baumgardt, David. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, by Gershom G. Scholem. Commentary. 7 Jan. 1947. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

3. Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York. Schocken Books, 1946. Print.

4. York, Jeffrey. “Russian youths study the modern art of hacking.” Seclist. Toronto Globe and Mail., 18 Dec. 2000. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.


This entry was posted in Bleeding Edge, Narrative, Reading Response and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Jewish and Russian Trends in Bleeding Edge

  1. I’m not quite following your thinking here, and wish you had been quite a bit more careful in your thinking, writing, language, and research. There are also a number of things you say here that might be read as slightly offensive even though obviously that is not your intention.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s