Glyphs and Holographs
I would suggest that at least one of the things these encodings indicate is a world, a necessarily noisy, infinitely complex, three-dimensional, palpable world. A feature of Pynchon's syntax is the constant reiteration of certain constellations of words: flatness, touch, palpability. The flatness of pages and of symbols is over and over again set off against the fullness and volume of a lover's body, of a human touch. In the epilogue of V, Herbert Stencil's father dies when his boat is suddenly and miraculously destroyed by a geiser shooting forth from a the flatness of an otherwise perfectly calm sea, like a hellish clarion call from the third dimension. (The Mediterranean can change after all.) And Lot 49's Oedipa seeks a fleshy, living, breathing man, not a symbol. Her final failure to communicate suggests that somehow, the world is being overlooked by a host of symbol-junkies, people who cannot see complexity staring them right in the face, people who see only linear progressions, single lines of signification. But the world is always at least three-dimensional. And so, left only with two dimensional pages, Pynchon's referential prose attempts to point to the inadequacy of the page-space to project a world. Pynchon, like Driblette, would like to cast the light of his imagination on the roundness of a planetarium, to create whole worlds, but since he cannot, he can at least suggest that world's complexity by firing a barrage of places, dates, people, and sayings at the reader. For Pynchon, there is no world in a grain of sand. There are only beaches upon beaches of other grains, each one distinct and each one never reducible to a single, easy metaphor. Pynchon asserts the primacy of the world over the text, and that the text should reveal itself as a single thread confined to a single dimension. Texts do not create worlds or circumscribe them or act as surrogates for them. To believe that they can is a dangerous pretense. It is a pretense that traps people in a tower of flat signification and convinces them that they create the world they inhabit.
Pynchon's prose, then, is holographic. What Pynchon's glyph is to symbols, Pynchon's holography is to prose. In one kind of holography, a laser is cast through a holographic screen. This screen has on it seemingly random and noisy colors, but when the light passes through it, three-dimensional shapes are projected out into space. Similarly, Pynchon's prose, allusive along multiple vectors, looks like noise when it is actually a screen. The multiplicity of its meanings, and its often contradictory statements, have as their collective referent a contradictory and multiple world, where no single person or single cultural framework alone has domain over the activity of meaning-making. The source of the light that passes through that screen might be the reader's mind, or the collective attentions of a group of readers. But whatever the source, noise is part and parcel of the complexity of the rendering process. Dealing with noise is the real work of communication, and a concern for origins and identities simply distracts people, especially white men, from the important and mundane task of just speaking and hearing.
Like a snake biting its own tail, Pynchon's works both present and resolve an epistemological problem. Rather than ask, "Who are we?", Pynchon asks, "How will we speak to one another?" The answer is not determined within the small circle of Pynchon's novels. Rather, Pynchon's answer is that the question will be resolved out there, in the world. Therefore, to say that Pynchon resolves the epistemological problem of communication in a complex world is merely to say that he acknowledges the absence of a single, satisfying, writable answer. Every new word is an answer to the problem, every altered inflection, every new layer of connotation and denotation. The answer is oral, visual, often palpable, sometimes textual. But to the extent that texts and symbols attempt to act as substitutes for contact betweeen humans and human cultures, they can never be an engaging answer. In this sense the glyph will always haunt the symbol after Pynchon. The Trystero and V both represent a signifier that can never present its referent because of the need to account for what lay outside of its proper realm of signification. The problem of multiplying cultural contexts, then, is America's greatest blessing in disguise. With its chingas and maricones, multiplicity assaults the space of the calcified professional discourse that is our enlightenment-rationalist inheritance. Pynchon's endless stream of encodings is not merely a series of distractions from the important problems of identity and origin. Rather, it is the important problem, the problem whose solution, gratefully, is only ever a temporary illusion.