The United States of Fear

Kalashnikov AK-47

Kalashnikov AK-47

When we won the Second World War, we changed as a people. It’s like the gunfighter who’s gained such a fearsome reputation that everyone comes gunning for him. And, indeed, as a nation we got our asses kicked in Korea, Viet Nam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and a number of other places we never heard of before our famous victory. (Besides, truth to tell, the Second World War was more of a Russian victory than one for America and Britain: Stalin did far more to destroy the German war machine than we did.)

Sometime later, after we clumsily started being the world’s policeman, we discovered that we were not liked. For me, it all started in Caracas, Venezuela, in May 1958 when our Vice President, Richard M. Nixon, was met by an angry mob which attacked his limo. “How could that be?” I thought as a grade school student at the time. “Aren’t we the good guys?”

Then, shortly after I returned from Iceland in September 2001, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by Al Qaida terrorists. Then we learned there are all these Muslims out to get us, people who revered the terrorists and decided to name their sons Osama. As recently as yesterday, I heard a Syrian refugee blame Washington and Moscow for destroying his country—as if ISIS, Al Qaida, and the Syrian Baath Party had no part to play in it.

With the world turning against us, we started to look fearfully at Afro-Americans and Mexican immigrants (whom Trump calls “rapists,” except for a handful of good ones). Among our own kind, there were these strange homosexuals who started attacking our cherished institution of marriage.

Well, I guess we should all buy guns, the more the better. Let’s all build ourselves a fort and blow the heads off anyone who crosses its perimeter. Or if we’re feeling particularly depressed, maybe we could shoot up our old school or our workplace. How dare anyone criticize us? After all, aren’t we the good guys?

Not any more we aren’t.

 

 

 

The Whole Enchilada

A Server Farm at Night

A Server Farm at Night

Oscar Wilde said it: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” For Thomas Pynchon, it’s not only the true mystery, but the whole enchilada.

There is no introspection or doubt in his novels: Things happen according to a kind of internally generated gonzo energy. In the case of Bleeding Edge, that energy involves—most especially—the Internet, September 11, hidden server farms, insane conspiracies, Russian gangsters, bent right-wing government men, Satanic CEOs, and a sinister firm called hashslingerz.com that could be either pro or anti government.

What is nowhere are any steps one millimeter closer to finding the meaning of life. That gonzo energy is life itself. Why be paralyzed by doubts, when those omnipresent marionette strings are urging you on to the next adventure?

Okay, no, scratch introspection. What there is, is the energy—and great gobs of interesting trivia and wit. Whenever heroine Maxine Tarnow jumps into action, I want to know what will happen in all these terribly involved situations that would have me, were I in her shoes, edging out the door, down the street, across the country—hell, halfway to Argentina.

Maybe I’m just a big coward. But at least I know what I like, and I do like Thomas Pynchon with his paraphernalia. Maybe Horace Engdahl of the Nobel Prize for Literature selection committee was right about American literature:

“There is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world … not the United States,” he told the Associated Press. “The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature…. That ignorance is restraining.”

But it sure is fun.