Evgeny Morozov reads Pynchon’s „Bleeding Edge“ The Deepest of Webs

This Tuesday, a new novel by Thomas Pynchon is published in the United States. „Bleeding Edge“ presents the vision of a world which can be free again only without the internet: a paranoid, necessary book by one of America’s most important writers.

© Archiv If the internet had any tangible architecture, it would look like this: plan of the new Apple headquarter in Silicon Valley

Why would Thomas Pynchon waste his time on writing a novel about the world of dotcom entrepreneurs, hackers, and venture capitalists? Pynchon has always preyed for the eerie, the uncanny, and the conspiratorial but, once on the digital terrain, he’s up against a motley crew of real-world characters who have long turned their own weirdness into a marketable asset. And what an asset it is: Just look at all the odd items – from mugs to tote bags – on sale at the online store run by WikiLeaks!

(German version: „In der Tiefe“ - Evgeny Morozov liest Pynchons „Bleeding Edge)

Could Pynchon outdo someone as odd as Peter Thiel? Here is a self-made billionaire who a) hopes that one day we would live on permanent dwellings, out at sea, away from any state jurisdiction b) bankrolls a foundation that promotes the ideas of the French philosopher René Girard c) pays talented students to quit college while teaching at Stanford Law School d) chairs the board of Palantir, a company deeply embedded with the military-industrial complex, which claims to support tools „for users who require ... carefully crafted safeguards that protect privacy and civil liberties“ through its philanthropic division? Or think of John Perry Barlow, who wrote the „Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace“ in the mid-1990s. This is a man, who, in the 1970s, worked on Dick Cheney’s first run for Congress while writing lyrics for The Grateful Dead. Or consider Elon Musk’s recent plan – the loopy project known as HyperLoop – of connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. These people don’t need a novelist – they need a documentary film-maker and, perhaps, a psychoanalyst or two.

Furby gets hacked

Somehow, Pynchon still manages to do these guys one better. „Bleeding Edge“ is Pynchon at his best: paranoid, terrifyingly erudite, completely at home in the cultural milieu of his characters – and as prescient as a novelist could be. Anyone feeling traumatized by the ongoing Snowden affair would be well-advised to seek catharsis in this novel. „Catharsis,“ for Pynchon, is achieved with an overdose of nihilism, peppered with cynicism and excellent jokes. Should we laugh or cry when one of Pynchon’s characters blurts out that the unofficial motto of the National Security Agency is „no keystroke left behind“? And, let’s face it, „Louche and De Toilet“ does sound like a much better name for „Deloitte and Touche“ (Pynchon is a master of such corporate wordplay: „Gravity’s Rainbow,“ his 1973 masterpiece, featured a law firm called Salitieri, Poore, Nash, De Brutus, and Short.)

Set in New York – the novel kicks off a few months after the dotcom bust of 2001 but before 9/11 and ends a few months after the tragedy – „Bleeding Edge“ brims with references to real-world characters. That notorious financial innovator Bernie Madoff appears right next to Detsl, the Russian hip-hop star, while innocent technologies like the Furby – yes, the toy – get hacked, modified with a voice-recognition chip, and used for spying.

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