Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chapter 16: Every True Story Ends in Death

Chapter 16 is neither humorous nor fantastic. In some ways this chapter harkens back to those great American novels of the late 19th and early 20th century which chronicled the mistreatment of average men and women in a capitalist world, works by the likes of Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, and Upton Sinclair. Or as the writer of the brilliant Elegant Variation literary blog ( puts it, “like a Louis L’Amour novel in reverse.” Lake Traverse’s descent into prostitution, and Webb’s brutal murder by thugs working for the mine bosses are certainly reminiscent of these genres.

Webb’s final break with his family members leads him to “shift over to the Uncompahgre for a while” (193). The Uncompahgre (a Ute word meaning where the water meets the red rock) is a remote region of western Colorado encompassing mountains, a national forest, plateaus, a valley, and a river with this name. It seems also to remind me of the Spanish expression for “I don’t understand.” The chapter certainly gives one a feeling of horror and bewilderment. This chapter is Pynchon at his most Marxist, the Pynchon who saw in his friend Richard Farina’s death in a motorcycle accident the actions of the invisible hand of repression silencing a progressive voice. And the Pynchon who, like Farina, knows that every true story ends in death.

I’m sorry these annotations aren’t spoiler-free.

As Webb dies, he watches “the light over the ranges drain away” (198). The writer of the Pynchon wiki notes the connection to the title of Part 1, but is confused by the plural "ranges", when he sees the literal reference to Webb seeing the light over the Unompahgre Range. I think Pynhcon is referring to light over “ranges of wavelengths or frequencies,” and this somehow may refer back to Tesla, and perhaps to the way in which shifting a wavelength (a property of double-refracting crystals like Iceland Spar) changes what we see, i.e. transports us to another reality. This scene may connect Part 2 (Iceland Spar) not only to Part 1 (The Light Over the Ranges), but also anticipates Part 3 (Bilocations). Or it is a simple nod to a kind of “Afterlife.”


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