Read, Rework, Repeat

“Guess I’m running a little late, guys.”

“Go to your room,” Otis shrugging into his backpack and out the door, “you are, like, so grounded.”

Ziggy Surprising her with an unsolicited air kiss, ”See you later at pickup, OK?”

“Give me a second, I’ll be right with you.”

“It’s all right, Mom.  We’re good.”

“I know you are, Zig, that’s the trouble.”  But she waits in the doorway as they go on down the hall.  Neither looks back.  She can watch them into the elevator at least.  (Pynchon, Bleeding Edge, Page 476-477).

“It’s the first day of spring 2001, and Maxine Tarnow, though still some have her in their system as Loeffler, is walking her boys to school.  Yes maybe they’re past the age where they need an escort, maybe Maxine doesn’t want to let go just yet, it’s only a couple blocks, it’s on her way to work, she enjoys it, so?” (Pynchon, Bleeding Edge, Page 1).

These two perfectly parallel passages come from the final paragraph and the opening paragraph of Bleeding Edge respectively to unify the end to the beginning.  The novel both opens and closes with similar a spring setting with the main protagonist, Maxine Tarnow, internally conflicted over the extent of watch she places over her children which together link the two “edges” of the novel. Michel Foucault suggests in Discipline and Punish that the full effect of his cyclical Panopiticon is not fully achieved until those inside realize that their position is entirely transparent, revealed and exposed to a watchful eye with the potential to always be present.  Regarding Panopticon, the full beauty, recognition, and absorption of references in Bleeding Edge is not able to be fully realized let alone appreciated until one begins a “second lap” with the piece.

After reading many reviews on the meaning of the end of the novel, I argue that there really is no end to Bleeding Edge, that many of the references, and even the main takeaway, are not possible to grasp while on the “first lap,” if ever.  The end “edge” of the novel literally “bleeds” right back into the beginning as the sun shines on the pear tree in the end which can flow right back into the opening scene of the book.  Suggesting that the pear tree is the tree of life, it symbolizes the circle of life that Maxine ultimately experiences throughout the book in dealing with her children and their protection.  I support my argument of there being no end by suggesting that this novel is instead an instrument, a vehicle, a tool, or an experiment through which the reader can continuously play with and develop what the atmosphere surrounding 9/11 means personally.

This cyclical thinking relates to the title of the novel itself, Bleeding Edge, which is defined as: “the most advanced stage of a technology, art, etc., usually experimental and risky.” The definition provides validity to the notion that the novel itself is an experiment that plays with the thoughts, emotions, and feelings surrounding the time period of 9/11 as a whole.  The hypothesis of said experiment represents the reader’s preconceived stance or state regarding the atmosphere of 9/11 and each read through the book represents a new experimental trial, forever melding the mind of the reader.  Just like in an experiment, the end prompts a return to the beginning.  The difference this time is that during the next experiment, the reader is armed with prior experiment experience ultimately leading to different results. The point of all of this is that the thoughts change because “you” change; you know more and have had more experience than prior “experiments.”

An example of the benefits of a second lap arose when I noticed the name Maxine, or Maxi, to be strikingly similar to the word maximum.  As Maxine is introduced in the first paragraph she is described as taking the protectiveness of her children to a maximum from standing between the road and her sons, to holding their hands as they walk down the street.  Fast forward to the last word of the book: least.  On the last page of the book Maxine is shown admitting to herself that her young boys are going to be alright without her and merely “watches them into the elevator at least” completing the transformation from maximally watching to the least amount possible while still being present.  By setting the scenes as similar, the only variable that has changed in this experiment is Maxine herself.  This brings Maxine full circle from maximum to minimum, one seasonal tree bloom to another, and the reader right back to where they started their journey to another first day of spring.

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4 Responses to Read, Rework, Repeat

  1. ideasbylocke says:

    I find it very interesting that you keyed into Maxine and the amount of protection that she provides for her children. The maximum protection that she placed around Ziggy and Otis in the beginning of the novel was again mirrored immediately after the 11 September attacks. Except, this time, it was not just Maxine, it was every parent in the school, every parent in New York. I think it important that Pynchon draws us to this comparison. He goes from the overzealously protective image of Maxine in the beginning to every parent protecting their children the same way. In reality, the possibility of another attack was lower after the first attack than any other day, however, every parent made a point to stay by their children on the way to school. This could be a very interesting point to address in class, where we could further discuss Pynchon’s opinion on how “America” reacted to the attacks on 11 September.


  2. tspace22 says:

    I think the way Pynchon deals with Maxine’s children should be brought up here as well. They both seem to be intelligent, but also advanced in some way. Think of the ‘battleship’ reference atop the World Trade Center, or Ziggy commenting that the United States couldn’t go to war with Saudi Arabia because of war. I think the end of the novel is not only Maxine accepting that her children are physically growing up, but also mentally, as they no longer need Maxine to answer all of the questions they have about the world.


  3. pittpanther22 says:

    I love the parallelism between the beginning and ending of the book, in that sense I found the ending to be extremely well structured–despite the fact that I find the ending to be uncanny. I really like how you used the title of the book to make sense of the unfinished ending, it is true, Pynchon constantly leads bleeding edges to many questions that had risen throughout the novel. I think that we can relate this idea to the area where Pynchon speaks about 9/11. As we all know, Pynchon does not really give that much space in the novel to the actual event. Rather, throughout the entire book, he bleeds into it, and hints towards the event, then he briefly speaks about it, and then bleeds out, never really making it a huge ordeal. But in some ways I feel as though there is beauty to how he structured it. He left the event of 9/11 opened to discussion, open to analyzation, and did not pick at it too much. I think that holds so much truth to how we now view 9/11. We can never fully comprehend as to why this event happened, and what was exactly going through the terrorists’ heads, we can only predict, discuss, and analyze, that’s it.


  4. This is a very nice reading, but I wish you had engaged with some of the theory more (perhaps esp. Kermode?), as then you would have been fulfilling what the assignment asked of you here.


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