Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Pynchon & Coulter

Two names pynchonoid wasn't expecting to hear together (given Pynchon's scorn for the Bush Administration in his post-9-11 Playboy Japan interview and in his introduction for a recent edition of George Orwell's 1984), but there they are, in the context of a Mock Election 2004 debate between right-winger, National Review editor Rich Lowry and left-leaning The Nation editor David Corn, at Pynchon's alma mater:
Referring to conservative Cornellians (Wolfowitz is a 1965 Cornell graduate in mathematics), Corn showed his familiarity with university alumni when he said: "I was accepted at Cornell and nearly attended. Thank you for giving us both Thomas Pynchon and Ann Coulter." (Columnist Coulter, a 1984 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, was a founder of the conservative student paper, the Cornell Review. Noted and reclusive author Pynchon, a 1958 graduate, hasn't written for either Review, although he did work briefly as a technical writer for the military aircraft company Boeing.)
Given the way Pynchon depicts Reagan's 1984 America as a country either in the neofascist twilight or already consumed by neofascist night in Vineland, it's debatable that he merits the "conservative" label.

Shell's new premium gasoline carries a name, V-power, that recalls a memorable moment in Mr. Pynchon's best-known novel.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 241:
"I mean," Slothrop now working himself into a fuss over something that only disturbs him, dimly, nothing to kick up a row over, is it? "doesn't it strike you as just a bit odd, you Shell chaps working on your liquid engine your side of the Channel you know, and their chaps firing their bloody things at you with your own . . . blasted . . . Shell transmitter tower, you see."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

O when, O when, O when?

The Millions blog engages in a round of bootless speculation about the next Pynchon novel, offering up the various bits and pieces of rumors that have been aired many times on PYNCHON-L. Pynchonoid continues to expect TRP's next in the fall of 2005, according to a little bird who knows.

Monday, September 20, 2004

the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep

U-2 photo of Cuban missiles, USAF Museum

From a review of Alice L. George's Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced the Cuban Missile Crisis:
She then examines the United States's civil defense preparations for nuclear war. In such an event, the President, his Cabinet, and the Supreme Court justices could find shelter in Mount Weather, a massive underground complex, 48 miles from Washington, lavishly equipped with offices, a hospital, dining and recreation areas, and sleeping quarters. Congressmen had the benefit of their own bunker, located in West Virginia. Inevitably, the general public was not so well served, because in the 1950s neither the Eisenhower administration nor Congress had shown much zeal for a major outlay for civil defense. Planning was also haphazard at the state and local levels.

As a result of the Berlin crisis of 1961, the Kennedy administration increased spending on public shelters, but support for civil defense measures declined soon after. By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, existing shelters could only house about 60 million people--about a third of the population. Later, federal authorities decided to lower the standard for what constituted adequate "shelter" from the effects of radiation. Although this "doubled" the amount of protection for the general population, the measure was, in George's words, a mere "sleight of hand maneuver" that obviously did little for people's safety (p. 67).

George argues that the government's limited ability to provide the population's most basic survival needs led some citizens to respond to the threat of nuclear war with sheer panic, clearing retailers' shelves of bottled water, food, guns, and transistor radios. In the absence of adequate shelter provision, some city-dwellers responded by traveling to relatively safe, rural areas. Others refused to allow events to intrude on their daily lives, either out of conviction that nuclear war would not come or because they thought that any means of preparation was simply an act of futility.

....The gist of Awaiting Armageddon is that the domestic experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis represented "an often overlooked national passage that almost certainly contributed to changes in the American mind," and helped foster the growing social and political instability that would reach a crescendo in the late 1960s (p. 169). The emphasis on the longer-term as well as the more immediate results of the crisis deserves commendation. The focus on the domestic effects of the crisis, rather than the more customary diplomatic and strategic dimensions of the episode, is refreshing and original. Certainly, it resonates with our current preoccupations with homeland security....

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 760:
The true moment of shadow is the moment in which you see the point of light in the sky. The single point, and the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep ...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

mau-mauing the children of the surfing class

60s' revolution factional infighting, infiltration by FBI agents provocateurs: a recent review of Scot Brown's Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism may be of interest to Pynchon readers puzzling through the 60s revolution factional politics in Vineland. Excerpts from the review:
Moving beyond the "good sixties, bad sixties" narrative, scholars have begun to complicate the narrative of the Panthers and other proponents of Black Power, placing them in local, national, and historical contexts. Historians such as Komozi Woodard and Robert Self have broadened this approach beyond the Panthers, showing the place of cultural nationalism in the African-American freedom movement. Their work has begun to break down the misleading interpretation of Black Power as a declension from the earlier Civil Rights Movement. Self and Woodward instead argue that both ideologies were and are deeply intertwined expressions of African-American aspirations for liberation.

....Brown also provides an excellent analysis of the troubled relationship between US and the Black Panther Party (BPP). Both groups drew inspiration, politically and ideologically, from Don Warden, who founded the Afro-American Association in the Bay Area in 1962. Warden espoused a community-based ethos of activism that saw value in describing "the African American dilemma in cultural terms" (p. 28). Warden's critique of integrationism resonated with Karenga, who for a time became the group's LA representative. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who studied with Warden at Oakland's Merritt College, also soaked up Warden's critique of the non-violent civil rights movement, although they went in another direction.

According to Brown, "the rivalry between the two organizations set in motion a binary discourse grounded on false assumptions. The choice between African culture as represented by images of military resistance and a central value system and rituals is a manufactured one.... nuances of this sort were replaced by sectarian allegations as the US/Panther conflict became intensified" (pp. 115-16). This insight forms one of the book's major contributions to our understanding of the complexity of Black Power, and challenges historians to avoid the sectarian divisions that trapped the two groups in a vicious cycle of organizational jealousy and destructive violence.

Brown depicts the January 1969 shootout between members of the US Organization and the Black Panther Party, which resulted in the deaths of Panther activists Alprentice 'Bunchy' Carter and John Huggins, as the pivotal and tragic turning point for US. He does not provide a definitive answer as to precisely what transpired on the UCLA campus that day thirty-five years ago, but perhaps it is impossible to do so. What Brown does show is how the violence forced US to shift tactics, which limited the group's overall effectiveness. In defense of Karenga, US members closed ranks and virtually abandoned political organizing, as well as cultural and artistic programs.

The role of the FBI in this affair, though critically important, also remains unclear. During the 1960s and 1970s, the counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) undertook repeated efforts to disrupt organizations on the radical left. In the case of the US/Panther conflict, Brown uses previously published FBI documents to show how the FBI actively worked to sow discord between US and the BPP by drafting a letter, ostensibly from a member of US, stating that US planned to kill LA Panther leaders. The FBI intended that "this counterintelligence measure will result in an 'US' and BPP vendetta" (FBI file, quoted on p. 95). Brown is unable to determine the full extent of the FBI harassment, especially concerning the UCLA shootings. Was Maulana Karenga right to blame the struggles of US and his failing leadership on the stress caused by COINTELPRO (p. 126)? Brown, unfortunately, does not provide a clear answer to this question; thus, historians will continue to debate the role of the FBI in the demise of Black Power.

....Brown has made a significant contribution by placing Karenga's cultural nationalism in both historical and global context, reminding us that the ideologies of the Sixties had deep, often global roots. The author has also helped to reconfigure the Black Power declension narrative by showing how US was, at times, able to promote cultural identity and mobilize political action within a volatile but, at times, stable coalition. The fact that Afrocentricity and the holiday of Kwanzaa have not only survived but thrived suggests that Black Power was and is far more than a destructive outgrowth of the civil rights movement.

Vineland, p. 230:
Long might the automotive idyll have gone on had the PR3 Exterior Bureau, in its search for allies in the world at large, not initiated talks with the Black Afro-American Division, who all wore shiny black Vietnam boots, black-on-black camo fatigues, and velvet-black berets with the off-black wide-point stars on them ChiCom-style just to lounge around in, who showed up by invitation at the clifftop republic and got into an all-day argument with its indigenous, whom they kept referring to as children of the surfing class.