As a novel based around the events of September 11, 2001, Bleeding edge shows, through a fictional story, how everyday life went in the city before the attack. This was, of course, before measures of ensuring security were as strict as they are now (e.g. airline TSA). Throughout the novel, the overarching theme of the Deep Web and the fictional program DeepArcher, made to aid in traversing the Deep Web in the most secure environment possible, rear their heads, showing that there are still ways of avoiding authority and a governing body. In this way, Bleeding Edge and its themes can be compared to Foucault’s idea of the Panopticon, and even Deleuze’s Postscript on Control Societies.
The Deep Web, as by now we all should know, is affectionately known as the “Dark Side of the Internet,” and for good reason. Among other illicit activities, the ne’er-do-wells who inhabit this architecture are able to sell drugs, purchase illegal weapons, and even hire assassins, with the help of the anonymous Bitcoin. This level of anonymity leaves the average Internet user in the dark, and comes across as a shady activity, even if the user does not know about the specifics of the Deep Web.
Early on in the novel, Maxine is introduced to DeepArcher, and it is brought to her attention that most of “the visuals that [she thinks] she is seeing are being contributed by users all over the world. All for free. Hacker Ethic. Each one doing their piece of it, then just vanishing uncredited. Adding to the veils of illusion” (Pynchon 69).
The Panopticon is what I would mainly like to focus on here, namely in the way it is theorized to work. Foucault describes explicitly “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (201) This idea is not fiction, but a theory, or even fact. People have proven themselves to work more diligently and to obey social customs when under the self-induced psychological influence of the mere concept of being observed. When the eyes are lifted, the accepted customs are dropped in favor of what pleases the individual. Such is the Deep Web compared to the Internet. The Internet, the safe (generally speaking) cozy abode of such sites that can connect one with friends and sites that can aid in research, among others, is an embodiment of the Panopticon. We know generally that the Internet is a public object, and that it is easy to find and watch the habits of another through the standard Internet’s set of websites. The Deep Web, however, is anonymous to a fault. The aforementioned eyes are lifted, and the users begin their descent to madness. Or rather, they are inclined and attracted to illicit activities that normally would be frowned upon near the “surface.”
In the same way, the novel’s portrayal of the Deep Web’s anonymity, coupled with the ideas on human behavior in such situations as I had mentioned above, the novel’s Deep Web theme can be related in part to Deleuze’s Postscript. He summarizes his thoughts on what control has become synonymous with in our society (schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.). This, I believe, is another way of showing our society’s focus on our social customs, and what is accepted to be the norm. Within a group such as a school or hospital, there is a series of behaviors which must be upheld in order to maintain a healthy symbiosis with what end the group is trying to achieve (e.g. in a school, one must study, do homework, and obey the teacher [the behaviors] in order to graduate [the end result, the achievement]).
Pynchon, Thomas. Bleeding Edge. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on Control Societies.” Negotiations, 1972-1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. 177-82. Print.
Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1977. 195-228. Print.