I read an interesting critique by Leo Bersani called Pynchon, Paranoia, and Literature that not only discussed Pynchon’s use of the word “paranoia” but the very idea of paranoia itself. He also engages in countless questions about the true meaning of Pynchon’s writing, and even asks, “What is Gravity’s Rainbow?” (Bersani 107).
Bersani begins by talking about the complexities of paranoia. While it has a medical, psychiatric, and psychoanalytic definition, he claims that Pynchon tends to use it as a synonym for “unfounded suspicion about a hostile environment…” (99). Using paranoid in the sense of that definition, I would most definitely say that all of the characters in Gravity’s Rainbow are indeed quite paranoid. In fact, one might say that reading the book itself could make the reader paranoid, using it in the synonymous definition. By our desire to to connect each event in occurring in the story, keep track of the multiple plots and their interconnectedness – by that definition, we are all indeed paranoid as well.
Bersani continues on to state that “Pynchon is less interested in vindicating his characters’ suspicions of plots than in universalizing and, in a sense, depathologizing the paranoid structure of thought.” (101). By doing this we are lead to believe that Pynchon doesn’t want to verify his characters’ suspicions to merely prove a political point, and Pynchon’s use of paranoia is much more complex than that. Pynchon even writes that war is just a cover up, a “spectacle”, or “diversion from the real movements of war”, confirming his own paranoid beliefs (102). Paranoia is a intuition of “invisible interconnectedness”, and leads one to believe that there are reasons behind visible occurrences, and secret connections of events. Bersani says that by trying to escape paranoia would to be like trying to escape the movement that is life, leading me to believe that paranoia is almost a necessary characteristic to our lives (if we use paranoia in the definition of believing everything is connected).
Gravity’s Rainbow is “obsessed” with the idea that paranoia is a necessary product of all information systems. There would be no “They” without a “We”, and vice versa. Bersani proposes the question “Can we escape being manipulated – perhaps even destroyed – by such systems?” (103). There are always those who are suspicious and suggest an alternative to the “way of life” but is there truly another way? Power depends on the control of information, and without that control and power, what would there be? Chaos?
The most interesting question I found in this piece by Bersani was, “And whose side is Pynchon on?” (107). This novel seems to be so clearly against the control of information and machines, but yet Bersani suggests that Pynchon is one of “Them”. Is this because Pynchon is orchestrating the occurrences and paranoia in the novel? Bersani says that it is because Pynchon “willingly tortures his characters” (107). What are your thoughts on that? Is Pynchon part of the preterite? Or is that idea ludicrous based on the very idea of this novel?
And my final question: Is paranoia inescapable?
Bersani, Leo, “Pynchon, Paranoia, and Literature,” Representations 25 (Winter 1989): 99- 118.