To be sure, there were already plenty of computers around then, but they were not quite so connected together as they were shortly to become. Data available these days to anybody were accessible then only to the Authorized, who didn’t always know what they had or what to do with it. There was still room to wiggle — the Web was primitive country, inhabited only by a few rugged pioneers, half loco and wise to the smallest details of their terrain. Honor prevailed, laws were unwritten, outlaws, as yet undefinable, were few. The question had only begun to arise of how to avoid, or, preferably, escape altogether, the threat, indeed promise, of control without mercy that lay in wait down the comely vistas of freedom that computer-folk were imagining then — a question we are still asking. Where can you jump in the rig and head for any more — who’s out there to grant us asylum? If we stay put, what is left to us that is not in some way tainted, coopted, and colonized, by the forces of Control, usually digital in nature?
I have always considered Pynchon’s introduction to Jim Dodge’s Stone Junction a masterpiece (and I must say I am more than envious of Jim Dodge for the honour to have such an essay like this in his first pages of his book). It appears that Pynchon not only read and enjoyed Stone Junction but actually went into a depth on commenting about its story and structure which reveals in a sense his own analytical mind, and I like to think the process of his own research for preparing for a book.
The passage I included above from this introduction is also quite revealing of the sentiments that Pynchon has about ‘networked computers’, the collection of data, the internet. It appears that if not entirely negative it is cautious of the consequences of this networked world which is about to flourish. Pynchon writes this introduction on 1997. He has just published the rather melancholic Mason & Dixon, and the internet is a mass of computers and servers linked with random information with very few organization points and its more chaotic – and uncontrollable – than it is today.
Someday – he figured Sparky would confirm it – there ‘d be phones as standard equipment in every car, maybe even dashboard computers. People would exchange names and addresses and life stories and form alumni associations to gather once a year at some bar off a different freeway exit each time, to remember the night they set up a temporary commune to help each other home through the fog.
Yet twelve years later the above passage from the last pages of Inherent Vice shows a glimpse of a rather different view of networking and the web. In the same sense as Web 2.0 is not simply the data and the networked computers Pynchon talks about the people, the relationships between them, the prosaic (like annual alumni meetings) and the important (like making communes to make it through the fog). I find that this is probably a rather remarkable change in Pynchon’s feelings about the world today.
I ve always considered Against the Day a rather optimistic book. And Inherent Vice is certainly a very optimistic book (for many reasons). Both of the also seem to talk about the ‘power of the commune’ compared to the innefectual acts of a single individual, contrary to what I believe is apparent in all his previous books.
These two books are also the two most personal books that Pynchon has ever written and just for these reasons they mark a rather strong difference with all his other works. This is the mature, open minded, community-believing, Pynchon. Different than the Pynchon of Gravity’s Rainbow, different than the Pynchon of Mason & Dixon. This is Pynchon 2.0.