I hesitated posting this since you’re all a week done with the book. But this is Infinite Zombies, where the literati stay and play and discuss awesome books ad infinitum. Right?
Good. Because I’m finally liking this book. Section 4 is just delightful. So far. No use anymore pretending I’m caught up. Unlike Jeff, I’m not escaping the worst job of my adult life. I just have two small children and no outside help. Like, zero. I have 45 minutes a week to read and this book made me not want to read.
Until Byron the Bulb.
I know we have a WTF post on Byron, but I wanted to add my thoughts here. Because I have not pulled my weight on this read and want to try to make up a bit of that lack.
One slight factor in Byron’s favor is that he arrives more than forty pages after Major Marvy’s castration, which, if you didn’t notice, was the end of the last sexual escapade of the novel. [NB: I’m not done yet and I will not be shocked is Pynchon gets down and funky again. Also NB: I will also not be shocked if the gratuitous and torturous sex is done since Section Four seems to be about post-war, post-missile Europe, which means all is now limp and we can get some damned work done for once.]
A second reason Byron tipped the scales for me into full GR reading pleasure is that his narrator is funny. “When the War came, some people thought it unpatriotic of GE to have given Germany and edge like that. But nobody with any power. Don’t worry” (775). This is the narrator I’ve wanted all along. Don’t bother me with conspiracies and corporate malfeasance if you can’t be sarcastic about it.
But the joy of Byron lies in his placement within the novel and his fundamental functions. The immortality of what-one-would-believe-is-an-inanimate-object opens gorgeous windows into the rest of the novel. He condenses paranoia at its more pure: the light itself is watching us. The light has memory. And is nursing a grudge.
Freaking resonant and brilliant paranoia, that is. As Paul and Daryl point out, the conspiracy of a cartel that controls light, bulbs, tallow, electricity, tungsten, etc. was based on a real case of capitalism gone awry. Dennis notes that seeing overdeterministic forces suggests paranoia in the preterite. While I don’t disagree, I offer an alternate reading that, rather than showing a Calvinist-described control that filters down into even the electrical wires, Byron’s sentience and permanence offer hope.
Bryon, after all, is preaching a message of revolution. He’s gone from Bulb Baby Heaven to earth to foment resistance not in ohms but in refusal to be controlled. Byron is our novel’s hero, since we’ve been failed by Pirate and the merry band of creeps: Pökler, Pointsman, Katje, Blicero, and Margherita. And it should go without saying that we’ve been failed by Slothrop.
As Slothrop loses his mind and is sprawled in a bullseye on the forest floor, Byron is teaching, evading, and surviving. He’s chased, but unlike Slothrop, does not falter. He’s flushed down the toilet, too, and floats on the sea (773). Slothrop is given as a dream to Prentice but Byron gets the Savior treatment and appears in a dream to a priest (773). Slothrop screws woman after woman in pursuit of and pursued by rockets; and Byron is “screwed into mother (Mutter) after mother” (774) which seems to get better results.
[I find the previous sentence goofy and ridiculous, but it’s true. Blame Pynchon. And the fact that I’ve been reading for almost two hundred pages without an IPR.]
As comic and slapstick as Slothrop’s various escapes are, “through all his years of survival, all of these rescues of Byron happen as if by accident” (774). His wisdom grows as he endures, and “he has come to see how Bulb must move beyond its role as conveyor of light-energy alone” (774). Byron is fighting the system, and not just by growing pot (774).
Not too long after we’re asked anachronistically to read Ishmael Reed, Byron is fighting from outside the system, forcing through simple manipulations and seizures a reexamination of what happens in sunlight versus bulblight versus dark. Byron is what turns black into white and white into black.
Byron knows more than all of our narrators put together.
And Byron is why I’m finally picking up steam reading this text.
Anybody else find the fourth section the most compelling? Anyone else think Byron holds the key to the text? Anyone else still reading?
A neat reading here. By the time I get into section 4, I’m on the fatigued downhill slide that leads to slovenly reading, and I find the way this section sort of begins to come apart sort of odd. I’ll be curious whether you feel the same lift you do now as you progress toward the end of the book.
I suppose Byron is in a way the/a hero of the book, but I have trouble viewing Byron’s story as one of hope. It’s a fantasy, maybe with the implication that his sort of heroism/success as a counterforce is in fact unattainable by human beings. In other words, maybe Byron’s is a story of hope that illuminates the hopelessness of the sort of aimless counterforce assembled here at the end of the book.
Is anyone home? Is this thing on?
I was looking at the Byron the Bulb episode with an eye on your analysis and had a few thoughts.
First, stylisticly, the prologue to it has the feel of a ’60s public information film aimed at children, but also Disney information ride like the GE Carousel of Progress or Monsanto’s Journey to Inner Space or any number of corporate sponsered “rides” that used to sprinkle Tomorrowland. The early ’60s, of course, spawned the rise of corporate benevolence and safeness that the government sponsered, partly as a way to provide an safe haven for returning war vets (PTS was not invented in Iraq). This corporate collection is exactly what Eisenhower was warning against, but, more importantly, it was touchpoint for the beatnics and their tangential offspring, the hippies.
But the style is obviously satirical and has more to do with the works of the Firesign Theatre and especially “I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus”, but also the earlier “Waiting for the Electician or Someone Like Him” whose title track provides a good deal of flavor of some of the goofy Slothropian paranoia sections. I don’t know why I never saw the connection before, but I believe that it accounts for the stylistic differences between _GR_ and _V_.
And, finally, in response to Christine’s hero story and Daryl’s response: I think that Christine is correct in connecting Byron with a heroic counter movement. His quiet revolution meshes well with Pynchon’s own rejection of society and contrasts with the explicit counter revolutionaries we first met at the begining of this section. That group, with Roger, Pirate, etc, seemed more modeled after groups like the Weathermen and the rest of the more radical groups splintering off of the SDS. Those groups had, by the early ’70s shown themselves to be impotent against their declared enemies.
One difference I would make in the analysis, however, is that Byron is indeed fantasy. In his introduction the connecting character is Paddy Mcgonigle. Initially, he is transmitting information subliminally through variations of speed while cranking a dynamo. Later, Byron’s is given the role of transmitter through a feedback loop with Paddy. This is a reversal of cause and effect since either Paddy is unaware of the changes and not affected by them or he is the source himself. But it is exactly that reversal of cause and effect that the Powers That Be exploit to explain the deaths that occurred during the war. The fictional man who controls the tracks to lead you to either happyville or pain-city is exactly that, fictional. The story of Byron the bulb is one of subversion that needs a sensitive and enquring mind to discern, but if it comes out of anywhere then it’s a story told by Paddy to the corporal and in that sense, I don’t think it is unattainable.
It is also a story of wisdom gained by perseverence. Slothrop’s transcendence is one in which he is lost to the world at large, but he fulfills two of three charges that Stephen Daedalus places on himself as an artist at the end of _A_Portrait_of_the_Artist_, so instead of silence, cunning and exile we now have silence, innocence and exile. But for those of us left behind there is byron’s message.
Oh, yes, this thing is still on. And I won’t admit I’m still 50 pages from the end because I can’t be bothered now that everyone else is done.
YES to the public info films. Journey to Inner Space was my very favorite, but even the pharmaceutical infomercials from the 60s that rock bands sample into their tunes fit the same mood: now viewed ironically, then ads for panacea via science.
I never thought of the Daedalus charges, but I’ll reread with that gem in mind, for it seems absolutely spot on.
Yes, the hyper-surreality of a cartoonish bulb trying to overthrow the world through longevity is so fictional it’s almost meta-fiction. Michael Cera would surely play Byron in the film adaption for that underdog, self aware, tongue-in-cheek attempt to let the geek win the day.
Oh how I love the hopeful levity and break from cynicism (by using a whole new style of conspiracy-theory hypercynicism) that Bryon brings.