Seventy-One: The Bladder Knew Where to Go

05.03: Bleeding Edge

In which we continue our look at Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge with a discussion on chapters six through eight.

For the next episode, we’ll look at chapters nine and ten.

Alan mentions a Hulu show titled The Looming Tower. You can check it out on IMDB here.

He also mentions a movie called Voyage of the Damned (1976). You can find that here.

If you want to see the glory that is the Melanie’s Mall commercial, you can find it on YouTube.

According to Wikipedia, not only was Jolt still being made in the 90s, it’s still made today.

2 thoughts on “Seventy-One: The Bladder Knew Where to Go

  1. I wanted to expand on something talked about in the discussion of Chapter 6 that I think can help to provide some additional context to the references made in this section but also a lot of Pynchon’s late work at large, particularly this and Inherent Vice.

    You guys touched on the topic of “gentrification” and of the quote “Culture attracts the worst impulses of the moneyed, it has no honor, it begs to be suburbanized and corrupted”. While I think you guys were basically correct in terms of this being a mix of two important Pynchon themes (preterit v elect AND real estate development) I wanted to hone in on this in a bit more detail, and would like to draw your attention to the figure Robert Moses, who is described in this section as singing in a Leonard Bernstein (of West Side Story) musical number with the following lyrics:
    Throw those Puerto
    Ricans out in the
    street – it’s just a
    slum, Tear it all
    d-o-o-own!

    (Note the way “own” is seperated in the final line. )

    I think Robert Moses and his ideology and impact on NYC (and North America) is an important reference for Bleeding Edge specifically, and to a lesser extent Inherent Vice (In Inherent Vice, there is another glancing mention of Moses, something to the effect of Doc or maybe the narrator noticing that Crocker Fenway has a bronze bust of Robert Moses in his office).

    Basically (and this will be a LARGE oversimplification and based on some entry level planning courses), their have been two major competing schools of thought in North American city planning over the past 100 years or so. One could be represented by Robert Moses that took off post WWII that was highly focused on development that favoured the car, expressways, and ultimately (this would be more post-Moses but is very much derived from Moses) Power Centre style mega-malls, and general urban sprawl. Though not so much part of his over-arching ideological impact, personally Moses was also characterized as someone who tore up existing neighbourhoods, mostly of POC and other non-white groups. Moses was accused of being a racist in his policies (having expressways pass over ethnic neighbourhoods entirely, decimating the neighbourhoods, or by tearing up these neighbourhoods for other projects, etc.). He is also accused of being on the take for various interest, including the car manufacturers and various other people who he would do political favors for through planning (having an exit on his expressway go to their neighbourhood vs another, etc).

    This sort of school is opposed by the Jane Jacobs school, which is in higher favour among urban planners today, and puts emphasis on multi-use neighbourhoods, public transportation, high-density housing, etc. as a means of a more efficient, sustainable way of life.
    The stand-off that basically marked this shift in ideology is represented by this section from Moses’ wikipedia page:

    “Moses’s reputation began to fade during the 1960s. Around this time, Moses’ political acumen began to fail him, as he unwisely picked several controversial political battles he could not possibly win. For example, his campaign against the free Shakespeare in the Park program received much negative publicity, and his effort to destroy a shaded playground in Central Park to make way for a parking lot for the expensive Tavern-on-the-Green restaurant earned him many enemies among the middle-class voters of the Upper West Side.

    The opposition reached a climax over the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, which many attributed to the “development scheme” mentality cultivated by Moses[28] even though it was the impoverished Pennsylvania Railroad that was actually responsible for the demolition.[29] This casual destruction of one of New York’s greatest architectural landmarks helped prompt many city residents to turn against Moses’s plans to build a Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have gone through Greenwich Village and what is now SoHo.[30] This plan and the Mid-Manhattan Expressway both failed politically. One of his most vocal critics during this time was the urban activist Jane Jacobs, whose book The Death and Life of Great American Cities was instrumental in turning opinion against Moses’s plans; the city government rejected the expressway in 1964″

    Anyways, In terms of Bleeding Edge (and Inherent Vice), it’s clear Pynchon, and the character March (like a political march?), side with Jacobs in this fight, and it is clear that much of the development that was done during and post WWII (Moses era) is the status quo even today, and even though sentiment in this field (urban planning) has largely shifted to siding with Jacobs (likely the most influential urban planning thinker of the past 50 years) the effects of the Moses era and the huge amounts of development all across America are felt to this date, and are not easily converted to something that would be more in-line with Jacob’s ideology.

    So the phrase “suburbanized and corrupted” takes a different slant within this context, as one could use suburbanized as a derogatory in terms of the negative impacts of suburbanization/suburban sprawl. Pynchon them seems to take it another step further when he takes to task (through March) the hypocrisy of the type that would enjoy a “Cultured” piece like West Side Story but not see the irony in enjoying West Side Story while simultaneously gentrifying and destroying the Puerto Rican neighbourhood that would have begot West Side Story in the first place. Pynchon is not necessarily criticizing “Culture”itself but rather it’s consumers, particularly the upper-middle class “suburban” white who is coming into the city for a certain type of experience, but only wants it so long as it is an indicator of culture.

    Anyways, this is probably not a totally concise rambling on this topic. My main point was to draw your attention to Robert Moses as a figure in opposition to Pynchon’s ideologically, and to Jane Jacobs as a thinker who Pynchon likely (and I am speculating) agrees with a lot. As a lot of Pynchon’s late work focuses on Urban Development, and how those in power have used it to shape our world today (Mason&Dixon, Inherent Vice, and Bleeding Edge come to mind here) I thought it’d be good to make note of the fact that Pynchon has made repeated references to Moses and that his ideas on the subject as a whole are similar to those of Jane Jacobs.

    Jacobs final book, Dark Age Ahead, is a work of non-fiction that speculates on the areas that she thinks are the pillars of society and how they are decaying failing. The pillars she mentions are : 1) Community and Family ; 2) Higher Education ; 3) Bad Science ; 4) Bad Government ; 5) Bad Culture. One can easily read these themes into a lot of Pynchon’s criticisms, and in the event you weren’t aware of Jacobs, I thought I’d mention her as a companion to Pynchon, especially considering his references to Urban Development and Moses in his recent work.

    Some Links for additional reading:
    Robert Moses wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Moses
    The Power Broker (a largely critical biography of Moses that Alan or someone may have mentioned previously): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_Broker
    Jane Jacobs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Jacobs
    Dark Age Ahead: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Age_Ahead

    I hope this was useful

    1. Wow. This might be the most thorough response we’ve ever gotten to a post. Holy moly.

      Thank you so much for adding all of this. I think I’ll post a link to it on our Twitter page, or a screenshot or something, so that the community can talk about it at large.

      Thanks for listening!

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