In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think!
Often when talking about quantum theory in the context of literature we take note of language or structure that feels granular or quantized. Resembling the feel of particles, these quantized aspects of literature feel isolated from the rest of its context; however, the reader is still aware that these tiny elements are nevertheless part of the larger whole. I struggle to find a better way to articulate the experience of reading Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge. Each interaction between characters felt weighed down in detail: Pynchon would set up the scene with specific descriptions of venues, clothing, personalities, and atmospheres before launching into pages of sharp, fast-moving dialogue. Because the cast of characters in this novel is so large I often found myself confused, forgetting who exactly was married to who or who worked for which boss. This sense of constantly being one step behind also contributed to the quantized nature of the novel as the reader tries to determine how all of these seemingly independent scenes connect.
One example of a passage that feels particularly quantized is when Maxine is at a party and remembers partying when she was a teenager:
Not everybody benefits from a misspent youth. Teen contemporaries of Maxine’s got lost in the club toilets of the eighties, went in, never came out, some with luck grew too hip or not hip enough to appreciate the scene at all, others, like Maxine, went on only ot flash back to it now and then, epileptigogic lighting, Quaaludes for sale on the floor, outerborough hair statements… the Aqua Net fogs! The girl-hours lost sitting in front of mirrors! The strange disconnects between dance music and lyrics, “Copacabana,” “What a Fool Believes,” heartbreaking stories, even tragic, set to these strangely bouncy tunes… (Pynchon 308).
Not only does this passage show the density of the novel in terms of details, but it also reflects the specificity and obscurity of those details. The use of references that many readers may not understand creates a certain distance between the reader and the novel, since such a reader will not be able to fully understand the perspective of or point that a character is trying to make. This disconnect between reader and text reflects the levels of reality that the characters experience with their journeying through the Deep Web. I felt like I could never really go below the surface of this novel because there were so many details to wade through first. However, I would venture to say that this sense of layering was Pynchon’s goal in structuring the novel this way. From learning the inner workings of the Deep Web to grappling with life in New York City after 9/11, there are numerous instances of reality and illusion being blurred, many of which have to do with different levels of understanding one’s surroundings. By including a plethora of obscure references and creating a sense of disconnected quantization in the novel, Pynchon forces the reader to confront the feeling of not fully understanding reality–in this case, reality as we understand it in Maxine’s world.
Thoughts on Bleeding Edge? Have you ever read a book that feels granular or “quantized” in this way? Let me know in the comments section below!