Chill Out America

We spent a lot of time last week discussing the fact that Pynchon only gives the actual event of 9/11 a few pages, why he did this, and what he could be trying to tell us. I originally thought it was because we all already have an image and understanding of what 9/11 is and how it looked, so why would he spend time on it? But as I continued to think about it, I feel like that is an easy way out of the question. Yes, of course we already have an image of 9/11, but if that was the only point of the brevity with which he addresses the day, then it would seem that Pynchon is simply being lazy, which I have a hard time believing. So here is where my thought process brought me after last class.

Maybe it’s not that big of a deal.

Of course it is a tragedy, of course the loss of life is abhorrent and we should mourn those lost, in the planes, the towers, and the rescuers who spent their lives trying to help. But look at what the rest of the novel is about. It is about the Internet, the loss of freedom that occurred around the event. The ease with which the population handed over their privacy and freedoms to the govermnet. The way in which the country went straight into crisis oriented thinking, a la Kermode’s crisis. This is the only way that the country was prepared to think about the attacks. With some removal from the loss, and an understanding of the importance of the day in history, I believe Pynchon is inviting us to think about 9/11 in a new way, to think about it as Miranda Zero would think about it, namely from outside the crisis of the moment.

If you remember Kermode’s main point, that we live in a perpetual crisis of the moment, it is easy to see how and why the United States, both the government and the people, responded in the way that they did. The perpetual crisis was finally realized in the image of the towers smoking and falling. The imagination that Benjamin talks about is realized. The United States was attacked on sovereign territory, in the middle of the biggest city in the country. The World Trade Center was attacked. The United States responded in the only way they knew how. By making the attack the realization of the fears that had haunted the country since the beginning of the Cold War. The named the rubble of the towers Ground Zero. A Cold War term for the center of a NUCLEAR BLAST. That’s a bit heavy handed don’t ya think. I think that the main goal of Pynchon with this novel is to reframe 9/11 in realistic terms. Not to focus on the day itself, because A.) We know what we know about the day and B.) Because the day itself is not the most important part of the history of the last 14 years. Yes, it may be the cause of a lot of things that have happened since, but Pynchon is inviting us to see it as the cause of a lot of problematic, fear fueled decisions that need to be rethought on a national scale. This was not the realization of the crisis of the moment, but it was close enough that it could be twisted to meet those expectations. The crisis of the moment is the destruction of humanity, the loss of the world. While perhaps the United States lost some of its innocence and gullibility in the belief that we were safe from all death because of our big, strong government, Pynchon is trying to tell us this is a good thing. Yes, the U.S. was attacked, and people died, and people realized that the world is not as safe as they thought, but this does not mean that we should run screaming and crying, throwing our freedoms at the government in return for a false sense of security.

Ben Franklin, a font of wisdom and one of my favorite people, said it best, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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2 Responses to Chill Out America

  1. dfw1alskare says:

    I really like and completely agree with your analysis of Pynchon’s short address to the moment the Twin Towers were attacked. Like we said in class, the entirety of Pynchon’s novel after 9/11 occurs in his narrative is the looming effects of the terrorist attack on New York City and, on a more important scale, our country. I think Bleeding Edge is a 9/11 novel most Americans need to be exposed to because of the very points you’ve made–we have reacted like babies all while neglecting matters that are slowly creeping, affecting our country and our people for the worse. The bit about Ground Zero resonated similarly with me when Pynchon explained that it is a Cold War term. It is deeply saddening to consider the power a people’s government propaganda has over them and how it can impressively–yet sad, still–affect us as a people 10 years after this has occurred. Even in present day, this past summer I went downtown and visited the World Trade Center out of curiosity to see the extent of the publicity we have with the 9/11 museum and an entire gift shop devoted to evoking nostalgia and–for lack of a better way to put it–joie de victimizing our “poor, sad selves”. I was sad but still peeved because I know it is a sad event, but I know it has also occurred a long while back and has created problems on a grander scale. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

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  2. danwillisdan says:

    It seems you’re saying that 9/11 was not so much an inciting event or a historical turning point (although it certainly was) as a symptom of a philosophy that was brought about beforehand. And that that philosophy is not motivated by individual acts of terrorism as much as the pervasive fear of terrorism. I’m inclined to think that Pynchon would agree. There’s also a nice parallel to Protocol here. Perhaps the shift from thinking about viruses as diseases to acts of terrorism is indicative of this pre-9/11 shift that made our country’s response to the events of 9/11 so telling.

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