Y2K to 9/11

As Pynchon is highly allusive to other works of culture, I tried to understand this book as deep as I could. Of course, the major historical event of this book is the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, there are small minor events that happen around the same time or close range. One of them that I want to interpret that is used by Pynchon is the Y2K conspiracy theory. Y2K was first brought up in page 302, and it occurs the night before 9/11. Maxine, Horst and others are partying at the bar, and the theme of the party is “1999”:

“The theme of the gathering, officially ‘1999,’ has a darker subtext of Denial. It soon becomes clear that everybody’s pretending for tonight that they’re still in the pre-crash fantasy years, dancing in the shadow of last year’s dreaded Y2K, now safely history, but according to this consensual delusion not quite upon them yet, with all here remaining freeze-framed back at the Cinderella moment of midnight of the millennium when in the next nanosecond the world’s computers will fail to increment the year correctly and bring down the Apocalypse” (P302).

In my research on Y2K I found an article specifically talking about Y2K: “The Y2K bug was due to a common source code used in computer software. Computer systems routinely were programmed for two-digit year entries to save storage space. Therefore, computers could have read 00 as 1900 and failed to recognized 2000 on January 1, 2000” (Feijóo,2007). Governments around the world gave enough attention to this problem since the early 1960s. Therefore, there are no severe problems that occurred around 1990 to 2000. This paragraph provides a short description of the Y2K-themed party on the night before 9/11, in which a nostalgic celebration of an avoided disaster plays as unknowing prologue to a fast-approaching one, which is the 9/11 attacks the next day(Tanz, 2013).

In the Pynchon Wiki, there is a small reference concerning this paragraph: “This line (and this whole paragraph in general) may be about Y2K and the financial crash, but it’s really about 9/11. No?” It is interesting to see the question being left on the wiki. Obviously different readers will give different responses. As for me, looking at the whole novel in one context, the whole book is happening under the shadow of 9/11, such as the novel started on the first day of spring in 2001 and Maxine cannot contact Horst on 9/11. Therefore, I am convinced that this paragraph, although superficially, is talking about how while people are celebrating the safeness of Y2K, they are still undergoing the dotcom bubble crash. On the other hand, there is an unpredictable attack coming that is going to start the War on Terror, which horrified people. Pynchon plays a psychological difference in providing this historical reference. The happiness Pynchon created here made next chapter, which introduced the 9/11 attack more shock.

I think Pynchon provides this historical event to mimic the reality that before the attack took place; people are still doing their regular routine and having fun, which creates a larger contradiction to the later disaster that happened.

Y2K is a bug due to coding. In the later section of the book, Vyrva called in and told Maxine the random-number sources are going nonrandom. In the “Networking Survival” era, global residents consciousness has a common structure in some mysterious ways. In addition, this thought can be used to perceive the future and to interact and communicate with machines, and even influence the behavior of the material world. People have realized the problem of Y2K, however, they cannot foresee the 9/11 attack coming, even though the connection is built. I think this historical reference providing two ways to interpret how Pynchon introduces the 9/11 attacks.

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3 Responses to Y2K to 9/11

  1. trafalgarlaw9 says:

    Along with your analysis, I think that it is worth noting the parallels between Y2K and 9/11 and specifically where they differ. Y2K was a pre-conceived event that consumed the lives of many people up until the proposed date before ultimately resulting in nothing significant. 9/11 wasn’t foretold explicitly, depending on who you talk to, and hit America like a truck in an instant with lasting after effects. I think that Pynchon really wants the reader to heavily compare and contrast the two events and this is why he places the throwback party directly beforehand.


  2. adeledazeem says:

    Building off of @trafalgarlaw9‘s insightful comment, I think the two events are actually mirror opposites. The heart of Y2K was rather explicitly understood and it’s effects could be predicted. Ultimately, there was little effect and the crisis quickly dissipated. In terms of 9/11, there was no warning and the nation as a whole remained stunned for months on end. The crisis wasn’t fully understood in the first few days and action overall was slower. 14 years later and we’re still seeing the impact, where as a programmer in the mid-80s might begin to consider Y2K as a crisis but wouldn’t be readily called to action. Pynchon is symbolically aligning these two events so what does that mean for the time in the middle? Is an entire year insignificant? How does the dot com bubble bursting bubble fit?


  3. rivaiheichou says:

    A similar Y2K-esque event would have occurred (assuming the Microsoft developer who gave his insight is correct) with the upcoming release of Windows 10. For compatibility code in programs, a small ‘if’ statement is put at the beginning of the code to check for the version of Windows, in order to jump to the branch which corresponds to the correct OS. Were Windows 10 named Windows 9, the code in those programs would fail to work properly, as that is how the programs were coded to search for Windows 95 and 98: something along the lines of: if(OS_Name.contains(“windows_9”))
    This goes to show how people learn and adapt to situations which could pose much larger-scale issues.


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