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Mechanical Alienation

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In Pynchon’s V., the title character is of course the primary reference point for exploring this longed-for transformation of self into object. She is moreover, the narrator tells us, the ultimate signifier of female sexuality: “As spread thighs are to the libertine, flights of migratory birds to the ornithologist, the working part of his tool bit to the production machinist, so was the letter V to young Stencil” (62). V., in taking on the very shape of the parted thighs, becomes the ultimate coupling/uncoupling machine. For “young Stencil,” that is; before turning to V. herself, it is important to note the textual means by which the reader is led to her discovery. Our first introduction to the character arises from Sidney Stencil’s journal entry, the same entry that spurs his son Herbert on his mad pursuit of V. across history: “There is of course more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she” (53). As punctuated in the text, this sentence (like many other such sentences throughout) is not a question, but a statement, betraying both flatness of affect and the presence of conviction: V. is a what, a thing, that seems to produce a deep “thingification” in the culture around her. Stencil fils for instance, in his pursuit of the “what” behind and inside V., practices a form of self-denial designed to let himself slip in and out of personas and temporalities: the “forcible dislocation of personality” (62), which includes perpetually speaking about himself in the third person. Stencil thus intentionally joins V., on some level, in the realm of whatness.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Stencil’s excursions into the past–his self-insertion into the past as narrative–should be considered in connection to Fredric Jameson’s conception of Pynchon’s project in the novel, in which

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 a semblance of historical verisimilitude is vibrated into multiple alternate patterns, as though the form or genre of historiography was retained (at least in its archaic versions) but now for some reason, far from projecting the constraints of the formulaic, seems to offer postmodern writers the most remarkable and untrammeled movement of invention. In this peculiar form and content–real sewer systems with imaginary crocodiles in them–the wildest Pynchonesque fantasies are somehow felt to be thought experiments of all the epistemological power and falsifiable authority of Einstein’s fables, and in any case to convey the feel of the real past better than any of the “facts” themselves. (368)

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 This “fantastic historiography” is as much Herbert Stencil’s project as it is Pynchon’s; his dislocation into alternate historical personae is imagined within the context of the novel to be just this kind of “thought experiment,” producing a more accurate rendering of V. than any of the “facts” would permit. History itself thus becomes an object to be manipulated, a technology of reading. Stencil’s portrait of V. is built, he admits, of “a nacreous mass of inference, poetic license, forcible dislocation of personality into a past he didn’t remember and had no right in, save the right of imaginative anxiety or historical care” (62), thus aligning the imaginative and the historical in one technology of reading. Through this simultaneously personalized and mechanized history, Stencil conducts a peculiarly postmodern investigation, looking backward for that “telltale instant” when it all changed.[23] This same historical project is at the heart of Gravity’s Rainbow, whose “present” may be thought of more accurately as “the future-shocked American landscape of the 1960s and 1970s” (Slade 72) than as the immediate postwar period that appears to occupy most of the novel. This representation of events surrounding World War II can be more deeply understood precisely as a representation, a speculative, causal reading of history much like Stencil’s forays into the past, a reading that attempts to find the origins of the Nixon era in the development and firing of the V-2. Given the foregrounding of history as technology, however, we should begin to find this drive toward causality suspicious. Gravity’s Rainbow is ultimately, like V., less about the events of the past than about the technologies in the present through which we read those events, and the tendency of all systems of historical “facts” toward conspiracy when read by postmodern sensibilities. These are Jameson’s “shifts and irrevocable changes in the representation of things and the way they change” (ix, emphasis mine); it is less true, in this sense, that from the firing of the 00000 comes Richard Nixon than it is that from Richard Nixon comes the firing of the 00000.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 And similarly, via Stencil’s “forcible dislocation” of self, the novel begins to suggest that V. is the driving force at the heart of twentieth-century decadence; if she is not strictly responsible, she is nonetheless a prime mover in what Stencil père refers to as “The Situation.” This hopelessly confused and explosive set of persons and intelligences and events that structure the hidden center of twentieth-century political life–the Fashoda crisis, the Vhiessu affair, the June Disturbances on Malta–is, it seems, wrapped up in progressive self-mechanization. The first glimmers of this human drive toward the functionality of the machine appear during the Fashoda crisis, as Victoria Wren (the first presumed incarnation of V.) is caught up with several members of the intelligence community, including Porpentine and Bongo-Shaftsbury, with whom Victoria’s sister Mildred later sits on a train. As Stencil, in the projected persona of Waldetar, the conductor, watches from outside the compartment, Bongo-Shaftsbury torments Mildred, asking her if she’d like to see an “electro-mechanical doll.” When she at last relents, Bongo-Shaftsbury rolls up his sleeve, revealing that “shiny and black, sewn into the flesh, was a miniature electric switch. Single-pole, double-throw. . . . Thin silver wires ran from its terminals up the arm, disappearing under the sleeve” (V. 80). At least some of the operators in the “human engineering” of politics, it is thus suggested, may have so firmly committed to their view of the human other as a manipulable mechanical object that they have begun a similar transformation of the self.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This commitment, while literalized in Bongo-Shaftsbury’s arm switch, is equally operative in the appalled Porpentine, if on an emotional level. Mildred flees in horror into the next compartment, as Porpentine demands that Bongo-Shaftsbury stop–not out of concern for Mildred, but because “one doesn’t frighten a child.” Bongo-Shaftsbury responds:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “Hurrah. General principles again.” Corpse fingers jabbed in the air. “But someday, Porpentine, I, or another, will catch you off guard. Loving, hating, even showing some absent-minded sympathy. I’ll watch you. The moment you forget yourself enough to admit another’s humanity, see him as a person and not a symbol–then perhaps–“

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 “What is humanity.”

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 “You ask the obvious, ha, ha. Humanity is something to destroy.” (V. 81)

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 In the end, this hinted plan comes to fruition: Porpentine, distracted from his machinelike “general principles” by his unrequited love for Victoria, is killed by Bongo-Shaftsbury. But in this passage, the players in The Situation reveal the purpose of twentieth-century political intrigue: Politics is not here a game played on behalf of human society, or even a social manipulation undertaken with some vague concept of “humanity” in mind. It is rather a project of engineering, one steering, as Mondaugen suggests, toward a fully mechanized society, in the service of which humanity must be destroyed.[24]

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 This trope of the destructive, mechanizing force of politics returns in Herbert’s reading of the back story of Schoenmaker, the plastic surgeon. As a youth during World War I, Schoenmaker worked as a grease monkey on airplanes that flew missions out of France. In the midst of this story, the reader is suddenly informed that “since those days as we know democracy has made its inroads and those crude flying machines have evolved into ‘weapons systems’ of a then undreamed-of complexity” (V. 97). The intimate correlation of the spread of democracy and the development of technologies of destruction suggests a relay system between the two: democracy as technologized politics; weapons systems as democratic machines; each aimed at parallel forms of human destruction.[25] Given these ties, Mondaugen’s comment to Weissman becomes all the more potent; the two are of course destined to meet once again, in Gravity’s Rainbow, over the development of the V-2. Politics as human engineering thus gives way to weapons engineering with ease, and both are revealed to have the same goal in mind: a mechanized, if not yet properly cybernetic, social control.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 But Schoenmaker’s story also reveals–as does Bongo-Shaftsbury’s arm switch–the levels on which this transformation of human into machine is not simply metaphorical or ideological but very physical. Schoenmaker, working on the airplanes and watching the heroic figures of the pilots, develops a crush on the dashing young flyer Evan Godolphin (son of Hugh Godolphin, one of the players in The Situation). This crush reveals another negative-feedback loop at work between technology and male sexuality; Schoenmaker’s work as a mechanic redirects his desire onto “improper,” nonheterosexual objects, a redirection that has the effect of intensifying his involvement in the mechanical. This intensification begins when Godolphin’s plane, crippled in a dogfight, misses the runway and crash-lands. Godolphin miraculously survives, though he limps away from the wreckage as “the worst possible travesty of a human face lolling atop an animate corpse” (V. 98″“99). A young plastic surgeon named Halidom attempts reconstructive surgery on Godolphin, using a controversial procedure known as “allografts: the introduction of inert substances into the living face” (99). This melding of the human and the inanimate, put into practice during the exigencies of the war, has two practical effects. The first is the destruction of the human element of this cyborg body: Godolphin’s face is ravaged by a “foreign-body reaction” that causes his immune system to attack the “inert substances” implanted in his flesh. The second, of course, is the rise of modern cosmetic surgery. Schoenmaker (“beauty maker”), in his outrage, determines to become a plastic surgeon, dedicated to “prevent[ing] a takeover of the profession by its unnatural and traitorous Halidoms.” In this fashion, the narratorial voice informs, Schoenmaker imagined he would promote the natural, the human: “If alignment with the inanimate is the mark of a Bad Guy,” the reader is told, “Schoenmaker at least made a sympathetic beginning” (101).

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 This beginning does not last, however, as the technologies of plastic surgery, the subordination of the human form to a kind of fleshly engineering, lead Schoenmaker further and further down the road toward the inanimate. He is ultimately inspired not to fight such implantations as Godolphin suffered but to find ways of ensuring their acceptance by the body, of subduing the body’s responses to such technological infiltrations. By the time of the novel’s present, and Esther’s nose job, he has suffered a clear “deterioration of purpose; a decay” (V. 101) that unmistakably connects him to the Whole Sick Crew’s decadent alienation. His desire for Esther becomes a desire to continue operating on her, which he attempts to rationalize as creating, rather than destroying, her humanity:

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Did she want him so shallow he should only love her body? It was her soul he loved. What was the matter with her, didn’t every girl want a man to love the soul, the true them? Sure, they did. Well, what is the soul. It is the idea of the body, the abstraction behind the reality: what Esther really was, shown to the senses with certain imperfections there in the bone and tissue. Schoenmaker could bring out the true, perfect Esther which dwelled inside the imperfect one. Her soul would be there on the outside, radiant, unutterably beautiful. (296″“97)

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 But clearly, as even Esther recognizes through Schoenmaker’s sophistry, the “plastic” in plastic surgery signifies not merely malleability, but also artificiality; he wants to create of her, like Bongo-Shaftsbury, like V., a living doll.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 It is interesting to note, given her resistance to him in this instance, Esther’s quasi-ecstatic response to her initial surgery. “It was almost a mystical experience,” she recalls. “What religion is it–one of the Eastern ones–where the highest condition we can attain is that of an object–a rock. It was like that; I felt myself drifting down, this delicious loss of Estherhood, becoming more and more a blob, with no worries, traumas, nothing: only Being. . . .” (V. 106). But Being and such a rocklike state do not wholly correlate; as Heidegger argues, individual coming to Being (Dasein) requires self-awareness, and particularly an awareness of death. This acceptance of Being’s vulnerability, which Heidegger calls Sorge, or “care,” is at the root of human freedom. And techniques–or technics–are “radically dishonest” when used to escape “care.”[26] If, as Don DeLillo suggests in White Noise, “it’s a mistake to lose one’s sense of death, even one’s fear of death,” it is precisely because death represents “the boundary we need,” giving life “a sense of definition” (228). Death is the boundary that defines being exactly because it separates life from its true opposite: not death, but inanimateness. Death gives life its separateness from technology; thus the danger in attempting to escape death, or even an awareness of death, through technics lies in the power of those technics to mechanize being, to transform the living into the inanimate.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 This, then, is the significance of Esther’s nose-job dissociation in V.: not a discovery of a higher level of being but an escape from being, a self-objectification. The desire Esther reveals runs rampant through the Whole Sick Crew; even Benny, whose schlemihldom should cause him to resist the object world, succumbs to its pressures. Were he an object, he fantasizes, he would not be responsible for acting or reacting, for he would be subject to outside control. Thus the many games he plays with himself, including his aleatory choice of employment agency: his erection having created a “crosswise fold” in the newspaper on his lap, and that fold running through a list of employment agencies, Benny decides that “just for the heck of it I will close my eyes, count three, and open them and whatever agency listing that fold is on I will go to them. It will be like flipping a coin: inanimate schmuck, inanimate paper, pure chance” (V. 215). Inanimate schmuck with involuntary erection–desire thus becomes no more than a tool of the random, a means of escaping responsibility for one’s choices. And thus, upon rediscovering Rachel in the agency his erection selected, his longing to give up all control:

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Any sovereign or broken yo-yo must feel like this after a short time of lying inert, rolling, falling: suddenly to have its own umbilical string reconnected, and know the other end is in hands it cannot escape. Hands it doesn’t want to escape. Know that the simple clockwork of itself has no more need for symptoms of inutility, lonesomeness, directionlessness, because now it has a path marked out for it over which it has no control. That’s what the feeling would be, if there were such things as animate yo-yos. Pending any such warp in the world Profane felt like the closest thing to one and above her eyes began to doubt his own animateness. (217)

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Benny’s desire for complete passivity within the comfort of external control is metaphorized as a longing to be a mechanical object twice over: first, of course, the yo-yo, which Benny has imitated throughout the novel; but second, and more importantly, the “simple clockwork” of self, the ego captured within the automaton, the human freed from all desire.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 This fantasized “simple clockwork” of self–as well as the clockmaker-run universe it suggests–in which desire, death, and language can all be evaded through technology reaches its crux in V. and her intimate, libidinal couplings with objects. The first of these objects is an ivory comb, “whose shape was that of five crucified, all sharing at least one common arm. None of them was a religious figure: they were soldiers of the British Army.” This secularized and politicized religious imagery has its origins in Victoria Wren’s desire for a world ordered according to semi-religious principles. In “her private, outré brand of Roman Catholicism,” we are told, Victoria has “crystallized into a nun-like temperament pushed to its most dangerous extreme.” Her variant on this nun-like temperament is of a decidedly different physical character; feeling herself “married” to Christ, she believes that “the marriage’s physical consummation must be achieved through imperfect, mortal versions of himself–of which there had been, to date, four. And he would continue to perform his husband’s duties through as many more such agents as he deemed fit” (V, 167). In this apparent abdication of responsibility for her desires, in her willingness–in fact, her longing–to submit to the greater desire of a force outside her control, Victoria, like Benny, enters into a kind of collusion with the object world, readily giving up agency over her own desires to submissive abandon.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 In the episode entitled “V. in love,” the relationship between V. and the young dancer Mélanie l’Heuremaudit (“cursed hour”) is similarly both sensualized and dehumanized, both passionate and objectifying.[27] V. defines the relationship for Mélanie: “Do you know what a fetish is? Something of a woman which gives pleasure but is not a woman. A shoe, a locket . . . une jarretière. You are the same, not real but an object of pleasure” (V. 404). Mélanie is apparently for V. no more than such an unreal object; in fact, the narrator insists, lesbianism, “we are prone to think in this Freudian period of history” (407), arises precisely from a narcissistic longing to experience the self as an object and a projection of that longing onto another, similar object. Mélanie, for instance, in her many mirrors, becomes the object of her own aggressive gaze, wishing to “fragment herself into an audience” (410) but unable to achieve such self-objectification on her own. V. is able to provide the audience: “she recognized–perhaps aware of her own progression toward inanimateness–the fetish of Mélanie and the fetish of herself to be one” (410). This longing for the decadent pleasures of the object world finally leads to Mélanie’s death, however, during the sadistic ballet in which she dances, “The Rape of the Chinese Virgins.” Having grown accustomed to thinking of herself as an automaton, like the mechanical dolls that also appear in the ballet, Mélanie fails to wear the chastity belt designed to protect her and so is viciously impaled: “Adorned with so many combs, bracelets, sequins, she might have become confused in this fetish-world and neglected to add to herself the one inanimate object that would have saved her” (414). Unable to distinguish between herself as object and the objects by which she is surrounded, and, the suggestion goes, unwilling to protect the chastity her culture suggests she ought to value, Mélanie dies. Finally, with this destruction of her human fetish, V. turns wholly to an objectification of herself, transforming herself into the clockwork automaton Mélanie impersonated.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 V.’s replacement of her human parts with artificial ones continues until, like Gravity’s Rainbow‘s Tchitcherine, V. is “more metal than anything else” (GR 337). When Sidney Stencil meets V. (as Veronica Manganese) on Malta during the June Disturbances of 1919–the crux moment for which Stencil fils appears to be searching–she expresses her desire for further self-objectification:

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 “See my lovely shoes,” as half an hour before he’d knelt to remove them. “I would so like to have an entire foot that way, a foot of amber and gold, with the veins, perhaps, in intaglio instead of bas-relief. How tiresome to have the same feet: one can only change one’s shoes. But if a girl could have, oh, a lovely rainbow or wardrobe of different-hued, different-sized and -shaped feet.” (V. 488)

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 By the time of her final appearance, chronologically speaking, V. has achieved just such an accessorized self. The last persona she assumes in the novel is that of the Bad Priest, in which she has cast away even the confining roles of sex and gender and returned to her own “outr锝 theology. As the Bad Priest, the reader is told through Fausto’s memoir, V.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 taught no consistent philosophy that anyone could piece together from the fragments borne back to us by the children. The girls he advised to become nuns, avoid the sensual extremes–pleasure of intercourse, pain of childbirth. The boys he told to find strength in–and be like–the rock of their island. He returned . . . often to the rock: preaching that the object of male existence was to be like a crystal: beautiful and soulless. (V. 340)

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 The object of existence for V., then, in both her gendered and genderless manifestations, is to achieve the same sort of objecthood Esther finds in her nose job: to be deadened to all sensation, to be a rock. But as we have seen, such an escape from the “care” that goes hand-in-hand with Being is inextricably tied to a fundamental dishonesty, a soullessness, which makes itself evident in the “bad”ness of her priestdom.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 It is important to remember at this juncture, however, the technologies of reading through which V. is constructed in the novel. Not simply a product of the mechanical parts with which she couples, she is a product of Herbert Stencil’s mechanized reading process. As Stencil dislocates himself into alternate historical personalities, he gathers the textual pieces of which V. is composed. V., in fact, exists outside of Stencil’s consciousness in only one section of the novel, the epilogue on Malta. Aside from this passage, V. is wholly constructed by Herbert himself. The significance of this work of historical construction becomes most clear at precisely the moment at which we at last see the inert, technological substances with which Sidney Stencil had noted V.’s “obsession with bodily incorporating” laid out before us: the “disassembly of the Bad Priest” (V. 488, 343). First, of course, there are her inanimate component parts: an ivory comb, a long white wig, a tattoo of the Crucifixion on her bare scalp; prosthetic feet with attached golden slippers; a star sapphire sewn into her navel; a set of false teeth; a glass eye. The key to this scene, and in fact to Stencil’s production of V., lies less in the parts than in this “disassembly” itself, which replaces any conception of V. as a coherent individual with a fragmented jumble. Phillip Brian Harper has explored the implications of the distinction between “dismemberment” and, in his term, “dismantling,” and its implication for the fragmentation of the subject in the postmodern novel, pointing out that

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 [if] “dismemberment” connotes the destruction, through fragmentation, of an organically integrated physical whole, “dismantling” suggests the division of an assembled entity into its constituent parts. The very form of “dismantling” suggests its origin as a designation for the removal of a person’s outer garment, or mantle. Insofar as a garment and its wearer’s body are not organically united, “dismantling” suggests the demonstration of essential discontinuities rather than the disintegration of essentially integrated wholes. (48)

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 However, while “dismantling” connotes the removal of an outer garment from an essentially human body, “disassembly” suggests the taking apart of a machine into components that not only are not organically united, but also are not human in the first place. V., as the product of Herbert Stencil’s mechanical reading process, has never been allowed human integrity, human unity, but has always been a technological assemblage. V., the signifier of parted thighs, the ultimate coupling-uncoupling machine, the lesbian fetish best able to “stack” with its like, is prevented throughout the novel from achieving genuine subjectivity, instead remaining trapped within the realm of objects. Furthermore, in Stencil’s construction, several of V.’s “parts,” though not living elements of her body, are sutured in. Her connections of self to machine take place at so fundamental a level that, separated from her inorganic parts and literally crushed by a collapsing church, the two mechanical means by which her life has been kept running, V. dies.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 The most central, most focal (if you can pardon the pun) of those technological components that finally comprise the assemblage V. is the glass eye. In the Südwest, in 1922, Kurt Mondaugen meets Vera Meroving, the sado-masochistic partner of Lieutenant Weissman. As he approaches, he notices that her left eye is artificial. This replacement of V.’s own eye with the manmade, particularly after Mélanie’s death by fetishizing, calls to mind the biblical dictum, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out” (Mark 9:47). However, V., as always carrying religion forward into her own realm of the earthly, has replaced her eye not simply with an artificial, inanimate eye, but with a mechanical one. In this mechanical eye, V. echoes Andreas Huyssen’s thoughts on the fundamental problem of the dominance of vision in contemporary culture: “Vision as pleasure and desire has to be subdued and manipulated so that vision as technical and social control can emerge triumphant” (76). V. has in fact replaced her own gaze with the mechanism of that technical control, the regularity of clockwork:

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 A bubble blown translucent, its “white” would show up when in the socket as a half-lit sea green. A fine network of nearly microscopic fractures covered its surface. Inside were the delicately-wrought wheels, springs, ratchets of a watch, wound by a gold key which Fräulein Meroving wore on a slender chain around her neck. Darker green and flecks of gold had been fused into twelve vaguely zodiacal shapes, placed annular on the surface of the bubble to represent the iris and also the face of the watch. (V. 237)

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 This replacement of the “natural” processes and materials of vision–a vision already transformed in V.’s relationship with Mélanie into a cruel, objectifying gaze–with those of clockwork produces a complex relation among visuality, the mechanical, the passage of time, and the structure of the universe, all of which homes in on V. as its center; in this construction, Vera is literally “a Hand to Turn the Time” (GR 760), the driving force behind the clockwork universe. Stencil’s quest has sought all along to place V. at the heart of The Situation, to lay at her feet all responsibility for the decadence of midcentury culture, and this determination to connect herself with clockwork is a strong indictment indeed of V. and her effect on the century, given the novel’s insistence that “alignment with the inanimate is the mark of a Bad Guy” (V. 101). We can see this indictment even more clearly when read in connection with Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings: “When human atoms are knit into an organization in which they are used, not in their full right as responsible human beings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it matters little that their raw material is flesh and blood. What is used as an element in a machine, is in fact an element in the machine“ (185). V.’s transformation of her body into a clockwork assemblage, and her mechanical relationships with those around her, reduces all of what remains of the human to mere elements in a machine. Or, more accurately, Stencil’s construction of V.’s body as a clockwork assemblage reveals his mechanized desire to localize the responsibility for the twentieth century’s mechanical alienation.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 That Stencil traces V.’s history across the twentieth century–that V. is in fact a product of the technology of history itself–suggests a key difference between the representations of the contemporary mechanical alienation of the human in Pynchon and DeLillo. Where Pynchon historicizes this development, drawing parallels among many disparate technologies–including television, plastic surgery, clockwork automata, and the rocket–DeLillo, as I explore more fully in the next chapter, focuses on the present machinic ecology and its tendency toward technologies of simulation. Thus, while television, for Pynchon, represents a new and particularly effective mode of technological engagement, the specific engagement with the medium is merely a symptom of the movement of the human toward mechanicity begun long before. For DeLillo, by contrast, television itself, as part of an expansion of the mediation of experience in contemporary culture, is responsible for this movement into mechanicity. Thus, in DeLillo’s Running Dog, Lightborne holds film’s mechanicity responsible for the shifts in contemporary libido that render traditional erotica dull: “Movement, action, frames per second. This is the era we’re in, for better or worse,” he argues. “Sure, a thing isn’t fully erotic unless it has the capacity to move” (15). Similarly, David Bell’s literal movement toward the machine in DeLillo’s Americana:

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 I looked at the TV screen for a moment and then found myself in a chair about a foot away from the set, watching intently. I could not tell what was happening on the screen and it didn’t seem to matter. Sitting that close, all I could perceive was that meshed effect, those stormy motes, but it drew me in and held me as if I were an integral part of the act, my molecules mating with those millions of dots. (43)

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 A mere glance at the machine seems to induce a catatonic state, a complete loss of consciousness of the self, as David “finds” himself before the television seeking a kind of metaphysical union with the machine, a “mating” destined to produce a new hybrid culture, inhuman and yet alive. Fergus’s coupling with the machine, by contrast, produces nothing but stasis, product itself of the culture’s pre-existing drive toward self-destruction.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 The mating of self to the television set must draw us, finally, back to Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Recalling for a moment the peculiarly “erectile” nature of Imipolex G “under suitable stimuli,” we might question precisely what those “suitable stimuli” are. The stimulus, we are told, “would have had to be electronic,” though why remains unclear (699). However, the three possibilities outlined for this sort of electronic stimulus are themselves interesting. The first, “a thin matrix of wires” that sends “commands” to the surface evokes printed circuits, transistors, and computer chips (699″“700). The third, even more interesting, is described as “the projection, onto the Surface, of an electronic ‘image,’ analogous to a motion picture,” suggesting film’s power to produce an erectile response. The second possibility, however, is the most peculiar of all:

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 a beam-scanning system–or several–analogous to the well-known video electron stream, modulated with grids and deflection plates as needed on the Surface (or even below the outer layer of Imipolex, down at the interface with What lies just beneath: with What has been inserted or What has actually grown itself a skin of Imipolex G . . . ). (700)

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 A beam-scanning system: television. What lies just beneath, in his skin of Imipolex G: Gottfried. In addition to the erectile system of Imipolex G, however, we find Gottfried at blastoff encased within the rocket with a small green window through which he can watch, and “in one of his ears, a tiny speaker [that] has been surgically implanted” (GR 751). Gottfried has, as the culmination of Weissman’s rocket plan, thus completed Fergus Mixolydian’s project in advance of Fergus himself; he has become wired into a television set. This intimate coupling of human and machine does something more than simply mechanize (and destroy) Gottfried; it creates a living television set, an animate machine that approaches life faster than the speed of sound.

  • [23] See Jameson, ix. It should also of course be noted that certain aspects of Stencil’s investigation decidedly predate the postmodern, particularly his game of cherchez la femme.
  • [24] Numerous critics explore this tie between the political and the mechanical in Pynchon, including Bruce Herzberg, who argues that the “imperial power struggles” in V. “exemplify the institutional belief that mechanical order is an appropriate model for the conduct of human affairs” (87), and Lance Schachterle, who acknowledges that “Pynchon sees technology as rules for manipulating more than just material objects; technology extends as well to principles for organizing whole societies along certain lines” (257).
  • [25] This intimate tie between democracy and weapons of mass destruction is suggested in Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, in which, in the fully technologized society, “even the existing liberties and escapes fall in place within the organized whole. At this stage of the regimented market, is competition alleviating or intensifying the race for bigger and faster turnover and obsolescence? Are the political parties competing for pacification or for a stronger and more costly armament industry? Is the production of ‘affluence’ promoting or delaying the satisfaction of still unfulfilled vital needs? If the first alternatives are true, the contemporary form of pluralism would strengthen the potential for the containment of qualitative change, and thus prevent rather than impel the ‘catastrophe’ of self-determination. Democracy would appear to be the most efficient form of domination” (52).
  • [26] For an in-depth Heideggerian reading of Pynchon’s representations of technology, see Schachterle.
  • [27] For a full reading of this episode, which unpacks the fetish and the desire for the object therein, see again Hanjo Berressem.
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    Source: http://www.anxietyofobsolescence.com/chapter-2/mechanical-alienation/