Wolfgang Karrer

Thomas Pynchon and Antifascism

In the following contributions I want to show that Thomas Pynchon has pursued the continuity of Fascism  and Nazism in the USA. 

In V. he traces the impact of Italian fascism on British colonialism through the first half of the 20c and shows how the Suez crisis in 1956 meant the transition of both into US dominance in the Mid East. (see my article under Publications, 2004).

In The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon shows how Young Republican Oedipa Maas, a former Goldwater campaign worker, comes to realize that the USA Pierce Inverarity has left her is a society run by big armament companies and conspiracies that are about to lead to another war in Vietnam.

In Gravity's Rainbow, the missile and  oven state of Hitler shows close relations to big corporations in the USA, and the ending of the novel illustrates the missile's transfer to the USA and the Nixon oven-state. It expands and elaborates the continuity thesis of V.

Vineland caricatures California as an almost perfect Nazi Amerika with  traits of totalitarian control and mind manipulation. It continues and expands the California analysis in The Crying of Lot 49.

The antifascist themes seem to retreat in Pynchon's later novels, taking us to the 18c and the time before WW I, that is, back to the Mason Dixon Line  and the Anarchist tradition that led to Sarajewo and WW I in Against the Day, but the anticapitalist argument remains as strong as ever.

I will begin with an abstract of my article on V. and follow up with new essays on the other novels.

I might start with Inherent Vice (2009) which just came out. It seems to me Pynchon-lite, a potboiler, but it unites many topics, including the antifascist line Pynchon has been drawing since 1962, at least. Here is a first draft  of a different reading of this novel.

Gleichschaltung 70: Pynchon's Inherent Vice

There are at least two readings of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (2009). The first is concerned with the California subcultures of surfers, hippies, and leftists early in 1970. This is taking Larry’s, the main character's slightly dazed point of view, as he looks into the disappearance of Michael Wolfmann, a real estate tycoon, at the bequest of his former girl friend Shasta Fay. Larry Sportello  chain-smokes marihuana as he finds himself embroiled in a murder at the moment of Wolfmann’s disappearance. The search takes us through more disappearances, and Larry moves through a dazzling gallery of Black Nationalists, drug users, pop musicians, deputy District Attorneys, Mexican maids, Nazis, Las Vegas mobsters, dentists and real estate moguls, always accompanied or crossed by Detective Lieutenant Bigfoot Bjornsen who, together with a mysterious organization called Golden Fang, turn out to be main villains behind most of the crimes and disappearances. The story with appropriate surprises in each chapter is too complex to justify the many humorous scenes satirizing the police, the surfers, and the hippies in Gordita Beach. Much of it reads like a nostalgic look back at Pynchon's own time spent in Manhattan Beach around the 1970s. The novel might be read as “Pynchon lite,” a pot boiler, a repeat of The Crying of Lot 49, a spin-off from Vineland, as Lot 49 seemed a spin off from V. There is the usual paranoia angle which allows one to write off much of the plot as a conspiracy fantasy of the protagonist. There is the usual garnering of Nazi paraphernalia, and even the Nixon baiting from Gravity's Rainbow and Vineland. Also a replay of the counterforce against the establishment, very much a book from the sixties and seventies of the last century. Even the disturbing leitmotif of the Charles-Manson murder case that runs through the novel could be read as another signal that the innocence of the Endless Summer of California was finally over. Much of this reading can be found in  the reviews of Inherent Vice that recommend the novel to readers who shun away from the more difficult plots of V., Gravity's Rainbow or Against the Day, Pynchon's major novels. And Pynchon’s voice, impersonating Larry Sportello, in an ad on the internet, seems to encourage such a reading.

I want to propose a different reading of the novel from another angle, one that runs through his fiction from his first novel: Pynchon's thesis that since 1956 the USA has become the successor of the Fascist regimes in Europe in using German technologies and propaganda techniques. From this point of view, the drugged state of California hippies is part of a government program to keep the criminal activities of US government from their perception Their culture is a product of late capitalism, a Gleichschaltung through consuming the same addictive products from cars, radio stations, football games, gambling to drugs. In this view, the double crossing cop Bigfoot is only a minor cog in a military-industrial complex (Howard Hughes, CIA, Cointelpro, ARPA Net etc.) that keeps the novel spinning around. The role of the Golden Fang seems so foggy that the drugged private eye Larry Sportello ends up doubting whether it even exists. Larry is trapped in “a desert of perception” (page). He cannot have the hindsight that Pynchon and his readers might have almost forty years after. Inherent Vice is a historical novel, a parable on the Patriot’s Act.

I. The police and governor Reagan
Let me begin with the role of Lieutenant Detective Bigfoot Bjornsen and the LADP. In the  traditional detective story ever since E. A. Poe the private eye competes with the police and the private citizen is often more successful than his bureaucratic alter ego. During the Great Depression, the detective novel turns black, noir. Crime has become organized, as in The Big Sleep, and gumshoes like Philip Marlowe are actually hindered by the police to uncover the criminal connection between organized crime and the upper class of Los Angeles. James Ellroy takes this a step beyond Raymond Chandler and the Depression: the LAPD itself has become a partner in organized crime. These changes in the detective genre reflect certain general changes from competitive to late capitalism (Mandel 1987) and very specific changes of crime in Los Angeles (Mike Davis City of Quartz, 1990).
The FBI and the Cointelpro program (Perkus 1976). Jackson, Karenga etc.

The militarization of public space in LA.

The murder assignments of the LAPD and the protection of governor Reagan.

A comparison with James Ellroy's Blood's a Rover (2009).


II. The CIA and President Nixon
The Golden Fang represents crime as a vertically integrated trust and a conglomerate at the same time. It is also a multinational corporation, using the services of the Secretary of State and the CIA.
Pynchon uses the revelations about the drug trade of the CIA with the Golden Triangle in Burma, Laos and/or China/ to finance the Contras in their war on Nicaragua (Weiner 2007) with California conspiracy stories about programs to control urban ghettos with drug saturation. A collection of these conspiracy theses can be found in a book coming from the Lyndon LaRouche group (Mirak-Weißenbach, Muriel. Der gerechte Krieg. Das Rauschgiftkartell besiegen. Wiesbaden: Dr. Böttiger Verlag, 1990, 64-68.).
There are more reliable sources ...

Henry Kissinger and the China connection.

The NSA and its spying boats on the coasts (Bamfield 2002, 124-81).



III. The Pentagon and the ARPANET

Supportive evidence here from Castells (2001): the role of UCLA, Stanford and UC Santa Barbara. The Pentagon.

The Howard Hughes connection (Higham 1993).

The title,

the Fritz connection to Germany

IV. The Media and Youth Culture


 as parts of a huge industry of mind managers creating addictions and diversiions of all sorts.

The open trails
The parallels and references to Vineland and Lot 49.