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?