Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

Anarchist Miracles: Distributed Communities, Nodal Subjects and the Crying of Lot 49

Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

Anarchist Miracles: Distributed Communities, Nodal Subjects and the Crying of Lot 49

Article excerpt

Throughout his works, but especially in Gravity's Rainbow and Vineland, Pynchon is concerned with the ability of individuals and groups to resist forces of domination and control. In Gravity's Rainbow, the preterite must struggle against those who see them as little more than human resources subject to cybernetic manipulation. Resistance finds expression in the actions of the Counterforce, but the dialectic that eventually evolves between the Counterforce and the anonymous forces of control characterized as Them is clearly worrisome:

   [T]he failed Counterforce, the glamorous ex-rebels, half-suspected
   but still enjoying official immunity and sly love, camera-worthy
   wherever they carry on ... doomed pet freaks.

      They will use us. We will help legitimize Them, though They
  don't need it really, it's another dividend for Them, nice but not
  critical. (713)

Here the problem of resistance is one of the Counterforce's becoming the esteemed opposition, integrated into the overall system instead of actively opposing it from outside. In Vineland, I have argued elsewhere (Gochenour 1995), Pynchon poses a different form of resistance, one that situates individual memory and storytelling as a counter to media representations and Official History. There, rather than solidifying into a counterforce that becomes only the other half of a destructive parabola, resistance is distributed, dependent on the relay of information from one individual to another.

Both novels can easily be related to the cultural context in which they were produced. Gravity's Rainbow, published in 1973, responds to the countercultural movements of the late 1960s, which came to the edge of overthrowing dominant authority, only to settle for compromises that kept the entire system intact. Vineland, published in 1990 and set in 1984, satirizes the increasing hyperreality of American politics, and urges the necessity not only of avoiding the traps of media representation (in which resistance has indeed become camera-worthy) but also of instructing another generation in the possibilities and perils of resistance.

Compared to these two novels, which carry impressive theoretical and critical weight as well as political import, The Crying of Lot 49 may seem lightweight. Extraordinarily short by Pynchon's standards, and dismissed by Pynchon himself as a "story ... marketed as a 'novel' ... in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I'd learned up till then" (SL 22), Lot 49 is often taught to undergraduates as a typical text of postmodernism, with attention to problems of narrative and reading. All the Pynchonian themes are there, from the preterite to paranoia, making it a good introduction to Pynchon; but rarely is Lot 49 seen as having the same political urgency as Pynchon's other works. (1)

Can any political lesson be gleaned from Lot 49? If so, does that lesson have any relevance for us today? In the era of virtual communities, nodal subjectivity and broad-based cultural movements such as rave culture, we have now reached the point where we can derive relevant political content from Lot 49. To do so, we must first explore the vision of political utopia in the novel, the "anarchist miracles" that appear in various guises in its pages.

Networks of Consensus and Nodal Subjects

Lot 49's exiled Mexican revolutionary, Jesus Arrabal, describes an "anarchist miracle" for Oedipa Maas:

"You know what a miracle is. Not what Bakunin said. But another world's intrusion into this one. Most of the time we coexist peacefully, but when we do touch there's cataclysm. Like the church we hate, anarchists also believe in another world. Where revolutions break out spontaneous and leaderless, and the soul's talent for consensus allows the masses to work together without effort, automatic as the body itself. And yet, sena, if any of it should ever really happen that perfectly, I would also have to cry miracle. …

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