Monday, December 2, 2013

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

Another great multidimensional conspiracy adventure from one of the  world's greatest living writers, actually one of the greatest alive or dead ... or in between.  Bleeding Edge is a work of genius, as good or better than anything else Thomas Pynchon has produced. I have a few observations on some of the magical allusions that caught my attention.  This is by no means a comprehensive review.  You can find a short conventional review HERE.

That review sums it up as:

While the state of Pynchon’s art may not be pushing the bleeding edge in the ways that “Gravity’s Rainbow” did, his comic vision is nearly as absurd as ever and is never satisfied unless it outdoes itself, and as a result “Bleeding Edge” is a seriously funny book that’s also deadly serious.

Pynchon's art pushes and advances the edge of mind expansion in new ways.  Many reviewers seem to think that Bleeding Edge, although good in itself, doesn't live up to Pynchon's best work.  I disagree. 

Bleeding Edge begins and ends with main protagonist, Maxine Tarnow, watching out for her kids.  Walking them to school in the beginning, seeing them on to a elevator at the end.

She is introduced in the first paragraph. Maxine suggests maximum. The last word in the book is "least."    Bleeding Edge goes from "maximum" to "least" though the similarity of its beginning and ending - both have the same characters present, both occur on spring-like days, both have pear trees blossoming, suggests a circularity in the narrative.  The ending of Bleeding Edge connects to the beginning.

Going from maximum to least and cycling back around again appears isomorphic to Aleister Crowley's cosmology.  In his view, the infinitely large (NUIT) combines with and marries the infinitely small (HADIT) to produce the manifested Universe ( RA HOOR KHUIT).

In an earlier blog I related a couple of other likely Crowley references in Bleeding Edge.  One from p.11 is worth looking at again.  The discussion regards the primary antagonist, Gabriel Ice:

"...'He makes Bill Gates look charismatic.'
'That's only his party mask.  He has deep resources.'
'You're suggesting what, mob, covert ops?"
... a purpose on earth written in code none of us can read.  Except maybe for 666 which tends to recur..."  

Could Pynchon be referring to the code of qabala?  Qabala certainly qualifies as 'deep resources'.  Looking at Bleeding Edge through a qabalistic lens reveals much useful information to the up and coming bardo explorer.  Qabala - another of the several bleeding edge technologies presented in this book.

Let's look at Mr. Ice in this light.  His first name, Gabriel, suggests the Archangel Gabriel who corresponds with the element of Water.  Ice, obviously, is frozen water, water blocked from flowing by a cold temperature.  In the Tarot, and in other occult symbolism, water = emotions.  Therefore, a simple interpretation of Gabriel Ice = blocked emotions, or a blocked emotional center.

That may sound a little far out, but I have some corroborating evidence.  On p. 25 Maxine's husband Horst is described as, "The big alexithymic lug."  Wikipedia defines alexthymia as:

Alexithymia /ˌlɛksəˈθmiə/ is a personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self.[1] The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating.[2] Furthermore, individuals suffering from alexithymia also have difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which is thought to lead to unempathic and ineffective emotional responding.

According to the OED, the word comes from the Greek words "a" (no) "lexi" (word) and "thumia" (emotion or feeling), literally meaning "no words for emotions."

In other words, an inability to communicate emotionally.

Maxine turns out to be friends with Tallis Ice, Gabriel's wife and has a climatic scene with her just before the end.  So these two women, who are friends, one is married to someone described as alexthymic and the other's husband has a name which suggests it.  We see another qabalistic congruency between the two couples.

As said in the post linked to above, Pynchon appears to use the qabalistic device of attaching the letter T to phonetic associations in people's names to suggest or create very expansive imagery.  The rationale looks like this:
 T = Tau = cross = rosy cross
 Grace Tarnow and Tallis Ice:
 Tallis  = T + all + is
Tarnow = T + ar + now

Then you have Horst Loeffler, Maxine's husband:
Horst = Horus + T

It seems basically the same image expressed in 3 different fashions.  We see two couples that both have these two motifs associated in their names, a very expansive energetic one and alexthymia, or blocked water flow.

More evidence for this line of speculation occurs on the first page which gives this theme in an innocuous looking sentence:

"As Maxine watches (her children), sunlight finds its way past rooflines and water tanks to the end of the block, and into one particular tree, which all at once is filled with light."

Sunlight goes beyond any previously established limits and ends the blockage of water, filling the tree with light.  It should come as no surprise that I interpret this tree as the qabalistic Tree of Life.  The higher emotional center on the Tree of Life (Tim Leary's circuit 6) corresponds with the sphere of Tiphareth that also corresponds with the Sun.

If Bleeding Edge reads as an alchemical manual on one level, then Pynchon can't get any more transparent when he has Maxine say:  "Guys, check it out, that tree?" right after the last quoted sentence.  About as clear of an instruction as you can get.

So the solution and resolution of an underlying core problem gets handed to the reader on a platter in the second paragraph.  Of course, you don't know this at all on the first read through having only read one prior paragraph.  However, the circular nature of Bleeding Edge - the two ends really do connect up, the two edges bleed into one another - turns it into, perhaps, the book's final reveal brilliantly coming AFTER the end when you circulate back to the beginning for the next go 'round.  The end bleeds in to the beginning, the least into the maximum.  This literary device infinitely expands the book, it never ends.  Each time you read it it's different because you are different. 

Like Finnegans Wake, which Bleeding Edge clearly shows influence from, especially with its circular aspect, the flowing water, and the 'how to" nature of both books as consciousness manuals, it demonstrates the principle of Eternal Recurrence, an ancient idea more recently taken up by Fredrich Nietzsche and P.D. Ouspensky and still explored in various schools including Robert Anton Wilson's not so long ago Tales of the Tribe class.

Eternal Recurrence basically holds that you repeat this lifetime infinitely until you get it right.  When you die, you get born back into the life you just lived.  I'm probably simplifying way too much.  Every time you start your life again, you appear different due to the experience and lessons (hopefully) of the life you just lived.  The life always seems different because the perspective you go through it with always changes.  In this model, the phenomena of deja vu, indicates a crossover of remembering a previous lifetime in this lifetime.

I don't know if Eternal Recurrence is literally true or not but it makes a useful model for observing certain repetitious actions, or just self-examination in general.  Don't recall the official Buddhist name for it, but there exists an exercise of recapitulating past actions in your meditations, going through them again.  Aleister Crowley used to recommend this as did Robert Anton Wilson.  Other contemporary schools do as well.  I believe it's a strong part of Carlos Castenada's shamanism practices.  It definitely makes up an important element of bardo training.  A variation on this is to recapitulate your actions through a different centrum (in Leary's terms, a different circuit).  Rereading certain books, especially circular ones, shows what it's like to repeat the same actions and events from a new perspective.  Nearly anyone who has done this knows that you pick up more information the second or third or x number of times you read it.  Information that you hadn't seen on previous readings.  In a similar way, doing the Buddhist meditation of recapitulation can give new information initially missed or overlooked.  A floatation tank makes one excellent locale for this practice.

A day after writing the above paragraphs, I saw on page 2 that the school Maxine takes her boys to "is named for an early psychoanalyst who was expelled from Freud's inner circle because of a recapitulation theory he'd worked out."  Again, something that had much less significance reading it the first time.  At the end of this paragraph quoted, Pynchon quite obviously (to me) connects recapitulation with bardo training.  Now, I read on Tom Jackson's RAW blog that Wilson refers to the beginning of his book Coincidance right at the very end of that book with the same quote from Mr. Synchronicity himself, Carl Jung.  Now there's a coincidence!

Maxine works as a fraud investigator. I had made the association fraud = Freud.  As a "freud" investigator, Maxine investigates the unconscious mind. 

Back to page 1 of BE.  After Maxine points out the illuminated tree to her boys, they continue walking and she instinctively moves between them and the road " so as to stay between them and any driver whose idea of sport is to come around the corner and run you over."  This illustrates another hugely important shamanic instruction: protect your work!

It could seem like I'm arbitrarily imposing a qabalistic grid over ordinary prose.  My rationale for inferring Pynchon's hierophantic communications rests in the fact that he wrote explicitly ( and implicitly) about qabala, gematria, tarot, alchemy, time anomalies and other esoteric subjects, phenomena and realizations in Against the Day, a book that also shows strong influence in Bleeding Edge.  In some regards, especially along these esoteric lines, Bleeding Edge seems a continuation of Against the Day.

The opening sentence of BE reads: "It's the first day of spring, 2001."  I submit to you, dear reader, that this is the same kind of "day" that something was "against" though this seems a stretch until further references make it more apparent. 

On page 12, talking about Maxine's separation from her husband Horst, occurs the line, "back in what still isn't quite The Day."  The caps are Pynchon's.  There immediately follows a reference to the song Landslide by Stevie Nicks and an image presented which strongly resembles the poem found in chapter 84 of Crowley's Book of Lies titled The Avalanche.  I remember posting awhile back that Against the Day contains the only known ( to me) usage of the words avalanche and popcorn in the same sentence.  Both words indicate different metaphors for the exact same alchemical process.  Avalanche from Crowley's system, as noted,  and the popcorn metaphor derives from chapter 1 in Practical Work on Self by E.J. Gold.  A reference to that metaphor appears on page 1 of BE.

When reading Against the Day I felt initially puzzled by what "the Day" meant.  Then one day, listening to Heroes by David Bowie and Brian Eno with the line: "we can be heroes just for one day", and recalling that Robert Anton Wilson said On A Clear Day You Can See Forever was the best example of magick he knew of on film,  it suddenly made sense.  I wrote of this about halfway into a blog concerning Space Migration.

I noticed another shared metaphor originally found in Against the Day close to the end of Bleeding Edge.  Pynchon brings in Timothy Leary and 2/3rds of his most famous shamanic instruction which was widely and mistakenly taken to refer solely to the use of psychedelic drugs.  Two short paragraphs later, the imagery becomes mildly but distinctly psychedelic as they "...ascend to the street..." where the "pear trees have exploded into bloom..."

Many explosions occur in Against the Day.  Blowing things up is the occupation of some of the main characters.  Several, if not all of these explosions suggests psychedelic drug trips, in one interpretation.  They give a context for Pynchon to dish on the pros and cons ( mostly cons) of psychedelics.  Please don't make the mistake that I'm suggesting Pynchon advocates this activity, or that I advocate this activity.  I remain unqualified to endorse or condemn psychedelic research, so I prefer to stay agnostic about the subject.  The strongest message I picked up from reading about psychedelics as explosions in Against the Day was WARNING!  Even the paragraph mentioned above in Bleeding Edge ( last one from p.475 to p.476) points to the dark side of psychedelics.

One last potentially Crowley inspired quote:

(p.127) "'Suppose something is going on that they're not catching?"
Suppressing the urge to scream "Al-vinnn?" Maxine gently inquires..."

Aleister Crowley sometimes gets affectionately called Uncle Al.  I once heard him referred to as Big Al.  Al also conjures up Liber Al vel Legis, The Book of the Law, the central document of Crowley's school and the origination of his cosmology discussed above.  Al also represents the key to the Book of the Law as discovered by Charles Stanfeld Jones aka Frater Achad in his book Liber 31.

Ostensibly, "Al-vinnn" refers to the famous scream for the lead singer of Alvin and the Chipmunks. But if you look it up, no one spells the scream with a hyphen except Pynchon, though they do use the 3 "n"s.  I'll resist further interpretation.  There's more, of course, but there's only so much Illuminati secrets I'm willing to dish out at one time from a Pynchon usage of a famous cartoon summoning.  It reminds me of Crowley's essay about the qabala of Mother Goose rhymes in Book 4.

I have barely scratched the surface.  This is cutting edge, graduate level material even if presented more subtly than in Against the Day.

I'll leave off with a great quote from another good review, the best and most comprehensive that I've come across, that ties in with the Here To Go subject matter on this blog.

More than any other American writer, Mr. Pynchon brings the whole cosmos—not only as it’s known to philosophers and poets, but also to science and history—crashing down on his characters. Informed by modern physics, he has always refused to embrace linear cause and effect, in plot or in character. Of course, the author is capable of portraying conventional psychological development, particularly in Slow Learner, his early collection of stories, but this style of character development has rarely been a priority. Rather, he prefers to set his characters up as charged particles and send them hurtling out of a cyclotron, subjecting them to multiple interacting fields to disrupt their movements. Their intentions (their “character”) only play a very small part in their fate, as large-scale macro forces send them hurtling. The more characters he sets going, the more interference there is, and the greater the chaos that results.