The University of Texas at Austin

Law in Popular Culture collection

Oklahoma City University Law Review
Volume 24, Number 3 (1999)
reprinted by permission Oklahoma City University Law Review



     This Article argues that there is an anarchist dimension in the novels of Thomas Pynchon, and that these texts can be read with an attention to the historical development of the political philosophy of anarchism. As Pynchon represents constellations of controlling systems of power that entangle his subjects in social structures, a concept of anarchism invites us to interrogate the world as it appears and to question the realities that are produced and tailored for public consumption. Moreover, anarchism cannot simply be reduced to "a state of society without government or law," but rather is comprised of a family of discourses that vary widely in the degree to which the government, the state, and forms of authority in various institutions are held in contempt. Looking specifically at episodes from V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity's Rainbow, the Author institutionalized the orders that are legislated and enforced and that have come to be viewed as just and natural.
     We begin by knowing that anarchy opposes law. Law claims to be the necessary instrument of that degree of order and justice which society can expect to achieve. Law, in the words of its adherents, is the glue that holds society together, the language of human interaction, the expression of social solidarity, the objectification of social relations. 

Yet those who embrace anarchy say that law cannot lead to justice, cannot establish order. Law, in their experience, only denies freedom, represses individuality and maintains that greatest of all thieveries--property. Law cannot create; at best it can clear a path for creativity. Yet each obstacle it removes appears on closer examination to be but something that law itself had placed in the way, and somehow the work of removal, arduous as it is, only serves to establish a new set of legal barriers.1

'Nothing to declare?' 'Nothing.' 'Very well!' Then political questions. He asks: 'Are you an anarchist?' I answer ... 'First, what do we understand under "anarchism"? Anarchism practical, metaphysical, theoretical, mystical, abstractional, individual, social? When I was young,' I say, 'all these had for me signification.' So we had a very interesting discussion, in consequence of which I passed two whole weeks on Ellis Island .... 2


     In the final pages of The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Maas--fatigued and suffering from sleep deprivation due to a harrowing twenty-four hour tour of the San Francisco Bay Area, during which the sign of the muted-horn cryptogram appeared to be scrawled everywhere, and in the most unlikely of places--tries to make sense of the recent strange events she has witnessed. Oedipa seems to have experienced a series of ontological disjunctions which served to fracture any cohesive and comfortable vision of the world around her. In reflection, Oedipa convinces herself that either she has stumbled
onto a secret richness and concealed density of dream; onto a network by which X number of Americans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even onto a real alternative to the

exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know .... Or you are hallucinating it. Or a plot has been mounted against you .... Or you are fantasying some such plot, in which case you are a nut, Oedipa, out of your skull.3
     None of these four possible explanations ever assumes primacy over the others, and the text refuses to resolve this quandary as it closes with Oedipa still in pursuit of The Tristero, the mysterious and menacing transhistorical agency, which may or may not offer a "real alternative" to the "exitlessness" that characterizes her lived reality in the California of the 1960s.
     But before the reader is left hanging with Oedipa (as we silently await The Tristero's return) she embarks on a project of literary scholarship to trace the history of this elusive and shadowy agency. In her research, Oedipa comes across a translation of an article from the 1865 issue of the Bibliotheque des Timborphiles describing the rift that occurred within the Tristero in their struggle with the monopolistic Thurn and Taxis courier organization during the French Revolution:
Thus, the article smugly concluded, did the organization enter the penumbra of historical eclipse. From the battle of Austerlitz until the difficulties of 1848, the Tristero drifted on, deprived of nearly all the noble patronage that had sustained them; now reduced to handling anarchist correspondence; only peripherally engaged--in Germany with the ill-fated Frankfurt Assembly, in Buda-Pesth at the barricades, perhaps even among the watchmakers of the Jura, preparing them for the coming of M. Bakunin. By far the greatest number, however, fled to America during 1849-50, where they are no doubt at present rendering their services to those who seek to extinguish the flame of Revolution.4
     The penumbra of history, not quite analogous to that "dustbin of history" into which Trotsky banished his menshevik opponents in 1921, nonetheless, raises similar concerns in regard to movements and individuals 


whose revolutions have failed and whose histories have been repressed by those whose cause has triumphed. More specifically, the eclipsed historical trajectory of The Tristero is intertwined with the history of anarchism: from the student-led uprisings in Budapest to the anarcho-syndicalization of the watchmakers union in Switzerland, The Tristero lends its services to anarchist movements that oppose centralized forms of government and the communication networks they foster to maintain and regulate control. Later, as refugees in America, members of The Tristero discover that the land of freedom is itself being torn asunder, and instead of signing up "to preserve the Union," they "change oppositions" (hence their contradictory alliance with those bent on extinguishing Revolution--the revolution implied being that which forged the American Republic). "Their entire emphasis," explains the English professor Emory Bortz, is "now toward silence, impersonation, [and opposition masquerading as allegiance."5 For Pynchon, The Tristero functions as a kind of formalized repository for an anti-statist posture or sentiment which is resilient and persists through history, even as the history of this stance comes under erasure. The Tristero "stay on," says Bortz, "in the context of conspiracy."6 This force is always present in the margins, sometimes revealing itself under the right conditions, but most often hidden under the radar of representation.
     Quite simply, what Pynchon is doing, by procuring the possibility of a sustained oppositional force that survives and modifies itself despite, but perhaps because of, the dominant social and political networks, is suggesting that there is always an undercurrent to oppressive structures, and he identifies this undercurrent with anarchism. Moreover, this movement is not always rendered so formidably as is the case with The Tristero, but emerges in many different shapes and guises throughout the novels. Indeed, it manifests itself not only as a formalized anti-authoritarian agency (besides The Tristero, the somewhat ineffectual Counterforce in Gravity's Rainbow readily comes to mind), but also as a diffused and disembodied presence permeating the lives of Pynchon's subjects. For Oedipa, the desire to "project a world" is a desire to imagine another plane of existence--actuated by "an anarchist miracle"--which resides behind the wastelands, the disposable commodity culture, and the mechanistic circuitry that constitutes her present reality. To glimpse this fantastic (and 


threatening) world is to surrender to a new way of imagining possible modes of social and political relations.
     As Oedipa contemplates the possible existence of The Tristero, she begins to imagine its pervasive presence everywhere; that it shows itself whenever she is willing to see it:
Suppose, God, there really was a Tristero then and that she had come on it by accident. If San Narciso and the estate were really no different from any other town, any other estate, then by that continuity she might have found The Tristero anywhere in her Republic, through any of a hundred lightly- concealed entranceways, a hundred alienations, if only she'd looked.... Becoming conscious of the hard, strung presence she stood on--knowing as if maps had been flashed for her on the sky how these tracks ran on into others, others, knowing they laced, deepened, authenticated the great night around her.7
Therefore, The Tristero can be perceived from any number of places by looking hard at the cracks in the system, to find the portals that mark "a hundred lightly-concealed entranceways." One may perhaps have to go through "a hundred alienations" before recognizing this, but such a process would allow one to read the ruptures that signpost these entries. To invoke the project outlined by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, these entranceways may also be imagined as plateaus that link together and intersect and serve as maps to be used freely and experimentally in order to circumnavigate the rigid lines of foundational thinking that enforce and regulate order. In other words, if the state maintains order through repressive and ideological apparatuses, through legal and extralegal machinery, then an anarchic way of thinking which interrogates how such order gets constituted is an appropriate cognitive stance from which to engage resistance and disobedience. Oedipa's epiphanies suggest a kind of freedom from the patterns of thought and behavior that the state demands of its subjects.
     Despite the destructive and malevolent nature that seems to characterize the Tristero, Oedipa finds herself curiously drawn to this phenomenon, because she realizes that either there "was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or there was just America and if there 


was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue, and manage to be at all relevant to it, was as an alien."8 The America of used car lots, damaged sailors, muzak, television re-runs, inamorati addicts, Tupperware parties and concrete freeway overpasses, is a nation hopelessly mired between slow decay and the fabrication of plastic, devitalizing orders, and the only escape from this prison house is to hold faith in something "beyond the legacy of America," or to live as an alien in opposition to it.
     The Tristero, while textually linked to anarchist movements, cannot be construed in and of itself as anarchic in orientation. It is (or was) after all an "Empire," and therefore, conflicts with basic principles of anarchist philosophy. It does, however, register with many issues analogous to anarchist practice--anti-authoritarianism, conspiritorialism, and terrorism, and as such, it offers a suggestive opening avenue of exploration from which to situate my understanding of Pynchon's application and interrogation of anarchist discourse.
     On an elementary level, the prominence of anarchist characters and their actions and speech in Pynchon's novels alone would justify an analysis of the "anarchist presence" in these works. Besides the mystico-political theories advanced by Jesus Arrabal in Lot 49 (whose longing for an anarchist miracle is "one world's intrusion into this one"), the Venezuelan agitator "the Gaucho" (of the bomb-throwing school of social upheaval) clashes with the violence-weary Signor Mantissa in Florentine riots in V.; Squalidozzi (imagining himself as a "gaucho Bakunin") in Gravity's Rainbow contemplates the utopic potential of The Zone; and in Vineland, the Wobblies, the members of 24 fps and other countercultural drop outs and revolutionaries also adopt anarchistic positions. Most recently, the title characters of Mason & Dixon often self-reflexively question their roles as paid mercenaries charged with subdividing America, just as revolutionary fervor grips the colonies. Besides these evident textual references, Pynchon often sympathetically represents varied forms of civil disobedience, resistances to corrupt and confining institutions, and other libertarian behavior which may be characterized as anarchistic in orientation. Thus, the novels could be seen as thought experiments in anarchist possibility--Pynchon plays with how anarchy has operated in history, how anarchy might operate today, and how it might have looked in the past.


     Anarchism thus occupies a serious and important presence in the novels; anarchism is not only an exterior political doctrine that is assessed and evaluated by Pynchon characters, but must also be acknowledged as a mode of thinking and acting. Moreover, this mode, which operates through history and across planes of a lived reality, can be traced by recognizing the textual ruptures that mark the passageways into anarchist discourse. Contrary to many popular invocations of the term, anarchism cannot be simplistically reduced to "a state of society without government or law"; rather, anarchism is comprised of a family of discourses that vary widely in the degree to which the government, the state, and forms of authority in various institutions are held in contempt.
     Anarchists have provided a fundamental critique of the modern concept of state and have challenged the assumptions of many schools of political thought. Anarchism is not merely an abstract theory about society (although it has been characterized like this at different times) but rather, as George Woodcock states, "[it has developed out of social conditions; it has been shaped by cultural influences; it has expressed itself in varying forms of actions, by which in turn it has been modified."9 Furthermore, anarchism is treated as a fluid and highly contradictory discursive field that not only contains a utopic dimension but also raises questions concerning the dismantling of the state apparatus, the role of violence, and the constitution of the subject. Anarchism surfaces as both a potentially utopic aspiration and a horrific plunge into chaos, annihilation, and destruction. For every articulation of anarchism as an ideal of human achievement, there is a demonic anarchism which serves to reduce human society to a state of savage brutality. In V., for example, the siege party at Foppl's gothic retreat can be read as a hallucinatory excursion into the heart of darkness, where violence is first articulated in sensual, eroticized terms, and order collapses into a series of nihilistic experiences. This representation better resembles Yeats' cry of "mere anarchy loosed upon the world" than Emma Goldman's call for an organization that "will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations."10
     So, to read the Pynchon texts as experimenting with the idea of anarchism is to, of course, acknowledge and negotiate the ways that 


Pynchon gathers and incorporates the wide repertory of images, thoughts, and actions that fall under the rubric of an anarchist imagination. Accordingly, the following section is an attempt to provide a theoretical and historical context from which to read Pynchon through anarchist thought, and the subsequent sections will explore this thesis through an examination of two important episodes, one from V. and the other from Gravity's Rainbow.


     To begin to think through anarchism as an object of inquiry--as a philosophy of history, as a critique of political institutions, and as a program for social transformation--is to confront a protean cluster of attitudes and beliefs so diffuse and so internally contradictory that any attempt to elicit meaning, even meaning that recognizes contingency and allows for plurality, remains an elusive and frustrating enterprise. This difficulty transcends the complexities usually associated with the study of anarchism--that it means different things to different people in different contexts, that it meant something different in the nineteenth century than it does today, and that it is invoked and inflected differently in different discourses.11 Instead, the problem of tackling the question "what is anarchism?" cannot be answered without first acknowledging that any procured interpretation involves the rewriting of a complex reality in terms of a master code or master narrative, however transparent or innocent this interpretive act appears to be. Thus, anarchism is "categorized" as a doctrine or movement that rejects the principle of political authority; anarchism is "situated" as a theory of history which envisions the complete eradication of hierarchical structures in social formations; or anarchism is systematically "classified" as a philosophy born out of the confluence of European socialism and classical liberal ideals.


     Even these basic precepts, generally agreed upon, hinge upon a way of identifying, processing, and organizing anarchist theories by constructing and then operating from under a governing vision that is antithetical to anarchist thought. "No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will ever save the world," Mikhail Bakunin declares; "I cleave to no system, I am a true seeker."12 Put another way, the resistance toward representation extends from the anarchist rejection of political representation (the delegation of power from one group or individual to another) to the problem of artistic or historical representation. What motivates the anarchist critique of representation, Todd May argues, "is the idea that in giving people images of who they are and what they desire, one wrests from them the ability to decide those matters for themselves."13 This reluctance to adhere to any master narrative as a viable representational means of theorizing the anarchist project, besides resonating with poststructuralist critiques of foundations, demands an open-ended configuration of structures of power and strategies of resistance. According to the syndicalist historian Rudolph Rocker, "[anarchism recognizes only the relative significance of ideas, institutions, and social forms. It is, therefore, not a fixed, self-enclosed social system, but rather a definite trend in the historic development of mankind."14 Anarchism, conceived as a "trend" instead of a hermetic system, continuously seeks to disown itself from any structure that portends to speak for its actions and motivations.
     Of course, the "idea" of anarchism, like any idea, gains coherence only when situated in relation to other ideas: no thought is conceivable outside an ordered structure of knowledge. We understand anarchism only when it is viewed as one school of political thought among many, or as a radical gesture of resistance on the extreme end of a spectrum of available possibilities. It is precisely this desire to organize knowledge, however, that anarchism teaches us to suspect. Once systems of order are established, they often become naturalized, then reified, and used as instruments of domination and oppression. The most astute anarchist thinkers recognize that anarchism itself is not immune to this false transformation: "Beware of considering anarchy to be a dogma, a doctrine above question or debate, to be venerated by its adepts," Emile Henry proclaimed in a prison note 


shortly before being guillotined in 1894. "No! The absolute freedom which we demand constantly develops our thinking and raises it toward new horizons (according to the turn of mind of various individuals), takes it out of the narrow framework of regulation and codification. We are not 'believers."'15
     The meaning of anarchism, Henry seems to say, is one that can never fully be grasped without paying attention to the unimagined possibilities that exist on the horizon: to understand anarchism is to accept that such an understanding is always and necessarily incomplete. This cognitive act demands a way of thinking that partially resides outside established systems of organizing knowledge by acknowledging the potential of the future to alter the way we presently conceive systems of order and categories of freedom.
     This ephemeral and slippery character of anarchism--besides frustrating the scholarly intent on unearthing its "essence"--is instrumental in forging the utopic dimension so important in anarchist discourse. What we consider today to be the limits of freedom are merely provisional boundaries enforced by the current episteme, and these are liable to shift in the future. Anticipating postmodern and poststructuralist critiques concerning the nature of foundational thought, the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta wrote in 1921:
    We do not believe that we possess absolute truth; on the contrary, we believe that social truth is not a fixed quantity, good for all times, universally applicable, or determinable in advance, but that, instead, once freedom has been secured, mankind will go forward discovering and acting gradually with the least number of upheavals and with a minimum of friction. Thus our solutions always leave the door open to different and, one hopes, better solutions.16
Anarchism, therefore, is constituted in part by a critical skepticism that constantly interrogates the narrative upon which it is conceived: it is always possible that even this narrative may have to be reconsidered at some future moment.


    How is one then to resolve these contradictions? How can one distrust the narrative-making impulse, when viewed as a process that constructs artificial configurations of knowledge and power, from within the framework of a master narrative that envisions set roles and predetermined, desired outcomes for players on the world-historical stage? The fiercely nonconformist anarchist thrust to challenge multifarious manifestations of authority is compromised by the need to organize and plan in the face of such opposition. The quandary which led a frustrated Roger Mexico to urinate on a conference table during one of their meetings synecdochically reflects the dilemma at the heart of any anarchist enterprise: how do we "build" a counterforce and agenda for resistance without replicating the hierarchical pattern of existing political, legal, and economic institutions that serve to dehumanize us?
     The impasse cannot lead to aporia, because freedom, for the anarchist, "is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account."17 The concept of freedom as a "vital, concrete possibility" in this sense is made possible by the very real, felt experience of oppression as a constitutive feature of everyday life. Although one may have difficulty conceptualizing what "absolute" freedom might feel like (hence the need to project it onto the ever-receding horizon), everyone knows what oppression feels like, even as oppression is manifested in gradated levels across categories of race, gender, and class, and instigated from above by economic, legal, and social strictures. The contemporary anarchist Colin Ward notes that "[there isno final struggle, only a series of partisan struggles on a variety of fronts."18 Similarly, Foucault tells us:
the state consists in the codification of a whole number of power relations which render its functioning possible, and ... revolution is a different type of codification of the same relations. This implies that there are many different kinds of revolution, roughly speaking, as many kinds as there are possible subversive recodifications of power relations ....19

By realizing that oppression operates on multiple fronts, anarchist calls to action necessarily fragment and appear as localized, strategic interventions. It is this sensitivity to real oppression that serves as the tangible basis from which anarchism functions.
     While anarchism may have directed its initial energies towards the radical reconstruction of political formations, like any movement that challenges fundamental organizing norms and structures, it has broader implications which extend from a critique of the state as the source of social and economic disparity and executor of limited, measured freedoms, to a critique of the apparatuses of domination and exploitation as they filter down and are made manifest as components of a lived reality. And although it is important to guard against subsuming all politicized struggle into an anarchist agenda--all anarchists seek to dismantle oppressive structures but not all resistance movements are anarchist in orientation--the degree to which this deregulatory impulse attaches itself to various causes cannot be underestimated. Sebastian Faure proclaims:
    That which exists and constitutes what one might call the anarchist doctrine is a cluster of general principles, fundamental conceptions and practical applications regarding which a consensus has been established among individuals whose thought is inimical to Authority and who struggle, collectively or in isolation, against all disciplines and constraints, whether political, economic, intellectual or moral.
    Thus, whoever denies Authority and fights against it is an anarchist.20
      Herein, too, lies a crucial distinction between anarchist formulations of historical process and deterministic utopian formulations: as Richard Falk has noted in Anarchism and World Order, instead of dichotomizing the lived present with the desired future, anarchists integrate their "present behavior with ... future hopes.... [The future is the eventual culmination of the present and liberty is an existential condition enabling degrees of immediate realizations."21


    Anarchist thought is put into practice, then, as both a staunch position (no compromise in the rejection of power!) and as a posture (a vigilant but fluid corrective to bureaucratic and repressive politics). The contradictions inherent in anarchist theory--the perceived lack of an overarching vision coupled with an urgent need to check and reverse the growing consolidation of statist powers--prove not to be a handicap but rather a potent and efficient resource when considered in tactical terms. The flexibility of anarchist thought allows it to be tailored to a great number of localized struggles, which is congruous with the anarchist stress on the importance of local autonomies as opposed to centralized concentrations of power. The vision of pure liberty may never be realized, says George Woodcock writing in the 1960s:
But the very presence of such a concept of pure liberty can help us to judge our condition and see our aims; it can help us to safeguard what liberties we still retain against the further encroachments of the centralizing state; it can help us to conserve and even enlarge those areas in which personal values still operate; it can help in the urgent task of mere survival ....22
Conceived in the broadest sense, anarchism branches out from its roots in the mid-nineteenth century as a philosophy which competed with socialist doctrine for the allegiance of intellectuals and workers to develop, permeate, and attach itself to various political, social, and cultural movements through history.
     Obviously, certain dangers arise when any term is widely dispersed and deployed across multiple discourses, and "anarchism" is no exception. Whether it is invoked as a noble ideal or dismissed (from any number of argumentative platforms) as an unacceptable option, it is at least recognized that anarchism is a highly-charged, contentious and engorged term that is made all the more problematic by its rampant (mis)appropriation in both critical and popular usage. As the legal historians Gerald Gaus and John Chapman ask, "[i]s anarchism merely a label we attach to doctrines, movements, and moods so inchoate that their only unifying theme is emotive opposition to authority and hierarchy?"23 This semantic dissemination serves to hollow out the signifier to such a point that, to echo 


the frustration expressed in the introductory paragraphs of this section, even a contingent, working definition of anarchism appears to be an elusive objective.
     And yet, the metastasis of the anarchist impulse and its application towards variegated contemporary realities is in accord with the fundamental anarchist ethos. That is, the logic which demands a rigorous interrogation of the limits of freedom across discursive fields requires a cognitive stance that envisions the possibility for new frontiers of freedom to open up in spaces not expressly co-opted by the state apparatus, and this cognitive stance corresponds to an anarchic consciousness that understands that the struggle for a free and spontaneous human society must be waged not only on traditional political fronts, but also through a vigilant recognition of the significance of all actions and behavior. Anarchism, therefore, cannot be bound to the confines of political discourse, but transmogrifies into "a moral attitude, an emotional climate, or even a mood.24
     The long shadow cast by the black flag of anarchism encompasses many movements, postures, and styles (including some that refuse identification as such). Agitations that disturb established hierarchies, dissent directed at gigantic and impersonal structures, and refusals to submit to higher authorities all owe a debt to, and must claim a place in, the anarchist tradition. With vitriolic zeal, Emile Henry characterizes anarchism as that which "represents the egalitarian and libertarian aspirations which battle against present authority; it is everywhere, which makes it invisible."25
     The inclination to recognize that the anarchist impulse is  "everywhere"--that it weaves invisibly through social and cultural networks-- provides the nexus from which this analysis emanates. It is a wide and generous conceptualization of anarchism that I bring to bear on a study of Pynchon's novels, and it is a formulation that is not without certain hazards. But as a point of departure for such an investigation, it becomes apparent that the difficulties one struggles with in a study of anarchism are analogous to the difficulties encountered in a study of Pynchon. For Pynchon's novels, too, resist any easy interpretation, and likewise, the organizing structures we use to infer and bestow literary meaning are themselves treated by Pynchon and his critics with suspicion.


     Pynchon invites us to participate in the frightening task of imagining the existence of a constellation of systems of power that collude to exert pressure on members of communities and serve to entangle the subject in social structures. As he represents the colonizing machinery and hegemonic functions of exterior forces and the worlds they create, he also seeks to find expressions that reside outside or underneath this inclusive grid. As lensed through the consciousness of Oedipa Maas, Roger Mexico, or Herbert Stencil, Pynchon asks us to read this confluence of controlling networks as an anarchist: to interrogate the world as it appears, and to question the realities that are produced and tailored for public consumption. Of course, this task of identifying patterns of authority runs the risk of capitulating to a paranoid mindset, which is in itself a feature of a great deal of anarchist writing. Herein, then, lies a crucial and unresolved tension that is central to an understanding of Pynchon: even as readers are invited to share in (and indeed made to desire) a paranoid fantasy that sees conspiratorial complicity everywhere, they are simultaneously reminded to resist any formulation that imagines a totalizing structure at work behind the curtain of a lived reality. This bind mirrors the hermeneutic difficulty critics encounter in Pynchon studies: the desire to "stitch together" the clues that the novels proffer is frustrated by the texts' anarchic current that "unravels" patterns that are already implied or set in place. The lust for closure is constantly checked by an unaccommodating narrative.
     The critical paths one travels in the pursuit of unearthing meaning in the novels, then, resemble the paths one travels when trying to map the trajectories of anarchist discourse: hints of signification are omnipresent, but the links that would assure their validity are absent or unreliable. And anarchism itself (now conceived as an object within the novels), is also textually rendered as an evasive field weaving through the narratives, refusing to be appropriated and foreclosed as an exegetical key to unlocking the mysteries of the texts. Instead, anarchism flickers as a presence, revealing itself as a "miracle," as a counterforce, as momentary epiphanic realizations, but resisting co-optation as formalized resistance. Much like the muted horn cryptogram in The Crying of Lot 49 that appears scrawled on bathroom walls, scratched on city bus seats, in laundromats, diaries, trash bins (and even in place of postage on a Syndicalist newsletter), anarchism is, to reiterate Emile Henry, "everywhere, which makes it invisible." Just as Pynchon's agencies of restriction and control are, in Linda Hutcheon's apt phrase, "intertextually overdetermined, [and]


discursively overloaded,"26 so too is anarchism presented as a disseminated force permeating the narratives.


     If Pynchon utilizes anarchist doctrine as a means of advancing a critique of the growing consolidation of statist powers and other forms of control that seek to legislate individual actions and behavior, he also offers a critique of the very methods and practices adopted by proponents of anarchism. Pynchon never advances a wholesale and univocal validation of anarchism; rather, his novels interrogate the often naive utopic aspirations and facile attitudes toward revolutionary fervor that characterize anarchic resistances to authoritative agencies. For every glassy-eyed Jesus Arrabal, Squalidozzi or Thanatz bent on evangelical anarchism, there is a Profane, Slothrop, or Wheeler who remains rudderless and unswayed by such rhetoric. Also, at many junctures, horrific and dystopic representations which figure the triumph of the "dark side" of anarchist activity serve to oppugn the zealousness and fanaticism that often accompanies the disintegration of an existing social fabric and its constitutive moral codes. We must read Pynchon, then, as not only a writer who teases out the possibilities that a progressive anarchist stance may proffer, but also as one who makes a serious contribution to anarchist discourse by amplifying the flaws inherent in anarchist theory.
     As most fully realized in the political philosophy of Bakunin, anarchist theory and practice is drawn to the expression of violence, and thus an analysis of anarchism's vexed relation to the process and function of destruction becomes paramount. Bakunin's notorious dialectic of creation and destruction envisions the role of history as the revolutionary negation of the past: "Let us therefore trust the eternal Spirit which destroys and annihilates," he claims, "only because it is the unfathomable and eternally creative source of all life."27 Nowhere is this concept made as explicit as in the episode in V. documenting the attempted theft of Botticelli's Birth of Venus and the ensuing Florentine riots.


    If we read the character of the Gaucho as a composite or caricature of Bakunin, then the flair and gusto of this Venezuelan agitator is unflatteringly contrasted with the figure of his agent in Florence, Signor Mantissa. We are introduced to Mantissa as a cynical veteran of political struggle, a man who contemplates the futility of violence as a means of advancing a specific cause: "Like Machiavelli he was in exile, and visited by shadows of rhythm and decay. He mused inviolate by the serene river of Italian pessimism, and all men were corrupt: history would continue to recapitulate the same patterns."28
     Mantissa tries to accommodate the Gaucho, to show that they are indeed working for the same cause, but he cannot find the words to express his distaste for the Gaucho's emphasis on propaganda by deed: "'of course, Signor commendatore, to the military mind ... direct action, of course ... but in such a delicate matter ...."'29 The delicate matter he alludes to is the theft of the painting. The Gaucho, who has never visited the Uffizi, explodes when he hears the intricacies of the plan, and instead opts to build "[a] bomb, a small bomb which I'll provide. Anyone who tries to interfere will be disposed of by force."30 Besides figuring the Gaucho as the dynamitard of the cliched anarchist terrorist, this passage also reveals his utter ambivalence toward art. Mantissa wishes to steal the Venus out of love, for he sees in it a kind of aesthetic ideal that may correspond to (or compensate for) his unfulfilled political idealism (and significantly, this symbolic transgression is never carried out). For the Gaucho, the Venus is simply a "confusing picture" which appeals only to his base sensibilities which reduces the aesthetic to the pornographic.
     The plot to steal the Venus, however, is only a diversionary tactic for the Gaucho. His main objective in Florence is to organize and lend support to the growing unrest that had been building among the Venezuelan laborers in the city. The Gaucho's frustration with the "foxlike" machinations required for such an uprising are evident in his harsh assessment of Mantissa's "soft ways." The Gaucho laments:
    Last year in Venezuela it was not like this. Nowhere in America was it like this. There were no twistings, no elaborate maneuverings. The conflict was simple: we wanted liberty, they 

didn't want us to have it. Liberty or slavery, my Jesuit friend, two words only. It needed none of your extra phrases, your tracts, none of your moralizing, no essays on political justice. We knew where we stood, and where one day we would stand. And when it came to the fighting we were equally as direct.31
While Pynchon clearly sympathizes with such divisions between us and them--a distinction most fully realized in Gravity's Rainbow--he also cautions against the reductive distillation of political struggle that reads the world in binary terms. The "action" so desired by these anarchists is checked by the narrative which never loses sight of the fact that any formalized revolutionary energy necessitates an organized pattern that too closely resembles the forces being struggled against. With perverse irony, the Gaucho is unable to instill in his insurgent workers a collective political consciousness, and instead opts to conscript them under a neo-Machiavellian banner: It was:
[n]ot that they had any particular fondness for authority; nor that they were, politically speaking, especially liberal or nationalistic; it was simply that they enjoyed a good riot now and again, and if martial organization and the aegis of Machiavelli could expedite things, so much the better.32
The appetite for a good riot provides the Gaucho with the raw materials necessary for revolution, but success is contingent upon his ability to replicate the discipline and violent tactics of the Florentine gendarme. The "anarchistic" tendencies of the mob must be tamed in order to advance a radical agenda.
     The march down Via Cavour "was the most splendid the Gaucho could remember" and the street fight quickly escalated into an uncontrollable spasm of mayhem: "Shots began to ring out. Blood began to stain the pavements, screams to punctuate the singing of the Figli di Machiavelli."33 Victoria Wren, caught in the crossfire on the street, "saw a rioter in a shirt of motley, sprawled over the limb of a tree, being bayoneted again and again by two soldiers."34 Clearly, the street scene is one of total chaos, a 


scenario perhaps envisioned by Bakunin when he writes: "Revolutions are not child's play, nor are they academic debates in which only vanities are hurt in furious clashes, nor literary jousts wherein only ink is spilled profusely. Revolution means war, and that implies the destruction of men and things."35 And yet the Gaucho, even in the center of the chaosmos (or perhaps because of this position), has time to evaluate The Situation. As he watches "the carnage," he reflects: "don't they look like apes, now, fighting over a female? Even if the female is named liberty? [...]Perhaps it is all a mockery, and the only condition we can ever bring to men a mockery of liberty, of dignity. But that cannot be. Or else I have lived ...."36 The Gaucho cannot complete his thought, because it would mean reevaluating his lifelong stance on the necessity of violence. The ellipsis in the text effectively amplifies the unspeakable terror of standing on the brink of the complete annihilation of civilization which turns men into "apes." According to Bakunin, man has "separated himself from animality ... by rebellion and thought.... Man, a wild beast, cousin of the gorilla, has emerged from the profound darkness of animal instinct into the light of the mind ...."37 "[T]he progressive denial of the primitive animality of man,"38 continues Bakunin, is accomplished through the revolutionary negation of his past. According to the Gaucho though, the process of negation transfers men into "apes," and converts the struggle for liberty into "a mockery [or aping] of liberty."
     By rewriting Bakunin's script through the Gaucho's momentary self- reflective contemplation on the debased character of violence for the sake of violence, Pynchon effectively censures that strain of revolutionary thought that would condone destruction by any means necessary. Embedded in the very narratives that articulate and enact an anarchist vision resides a critical dimension that refuses to validate such a vision when it presents itself as the only rightful path to emancipation: the extent to which anarchists privilege the function of destruction often overwhelms or displaces the progressive elements of their programs. However, the degree to which destruction may ultimately provide a space from which new forms 


of social relations may arise is treated anew in Gravity's Rainbow, in the potential of the Zone.


     In Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon again draws on many issues that had concerned him in V.: the construction and destruction of Empire, the utilization of South American political history as a vehicle for critiquing European affairs, and a recurring preoccupation with anarchist discourse as a way of talking about cycles of history and the return of a motivation in history that survives, even as nations undergo cataclysmic transformations. Just days after the Potsdam conference, a loose international collective roams the European countryside, AWOL from their respective regiments. This time it is an Argentinean anarchist, Squalidozzi, who voices his dreams of a post-war utopia to the American officer Tyrone Slothrop:
    "In the days of the gauchos, my country was a blank piece of paper. The pampas stretched as far as men could imagine, inexhaustible, fenceless. Wherever the gaucho could ride, that place belonged to him. But Buenos Aires sought hegemony over the provinces. All the neuroses about property gathered strength, and began to infect the countryside. Fences went up, and the gaucho became less free. It is our national tragedy. We are obsessed with building labyrinths, where before there was open plain and sky. To draw ever more complex patterns on the blank sheet. We cannot abide that openness: it is terror to us. Look at Borges. Look at the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The tyrant Rosas has been dead a century, but his cult flourishes. Beneath the city streets, the warrens of rooms and corridors, the fences and the networks of steel track, the Argentinean heart, in its perversity and guilt, longs for a return to that first unscribbled serenity ... that anarchic oneness of pampas and sky...."39
Squalidozzi continues on, explaining to Slothrop that
"[i]n ordinary times [...] the center always wins. Its power grows with time, and that can't be reversed, not by ordinary means. Decentralizing back toward anarchism needs extraordinary times 

... this War--this incredible War--just for the moment has wiped out the proliferation of little states that's prevailed in Germany for a thousand years. Wiped it clean. Opened it."40
The implication here is that history marches "forward" according to narratives of progress only when progress is defined as the consolidation and expansion of political power and control. Decentralizing back to anarchism requires an extraordinary event, such as global combat, to erase centuries of bloody territorial positioning. And yet, anarchism in this case is not exclusively invoked as a nostalgic longing for some idealized and romantic pastness in history, but as a repressed yearning awakened only through the devastation engendered by warfare. Anarchism here, as John McClure has noted, "is not the original sponsor of potentially positive unmappings.... Rather, anarchism seeks to exploit the deadly unmappings of empire, to cultivate, in the rubble of its wars, ways of life that will not simply rehearse its history."41
     Squalidozzi's last comments on the fragile promise offered by this deterritorialized space metaleptically stands in for the anarchist problematic in general: "'We want it to grow, to change,"' he says, "'[i]n the openness of the German Zone, our hope is limitless.' Then, as if struck on the forehead, [...] '[s]o is our danger."'42
     The tensions between these hopes and dangers in Pynchon's assessment of anarchism are never resolved: the hope that anarchism may deliver us from a world feeding itself on its own destruction is tethered to a persistent feeling that the very vigilance anarchist practice requires may at any moment capitulate to institutionalized patterns of control and domination. The drive toward anarchism may lead us to a more humane realm unfettered by the burden of history, but to imagine the possibilities of non-hierarchical configurations of truly free social relations is also to confront the possibility of horrific chaos and terrifying vulnerability.


     From Squalidozzi's dreams to Arrabal's anarchist miracle, from the Gaucho Bakunin to Wobbly family reunions, and from opposing them to de-territorializing all kinds of boundaries and precepts, anarchism is a 


serious and important presence in Pynchon's novels. By rewriting the past and producing alternative presents, Pynchon promulgates and extends an anarchic vision in his exploration of historical and psychic territories: social, political, and cultural forms are filtered, assessed, and evaluated through an anarchist consciousness. This involves a way of thinking which challenges any and all attempts to legislate and enforce order from above, whether that order takes the form of the centralization and consolidation of statist powers over the subject; whether it emerges as organized violence in the service of or in resistance to the state; or whether it is manifested on a global level with imperialist powers vying for control of contested territories. The project at hand, then, is to trace the way Pynchon utilizes a political philosophy of anarchism to combat the ways these multifarious structures arise and come to be viewed as just and natural. There are many touchstones that mark the passageways to anarchist discourse, and I have tried to remark upon a few of them. It should be understood, however, that an anarchist reading of the novels does more to explode meaning-making systems than it serves to construct or define the ways in which these novels can be read. Anarchism in this sense is not (only) a speculative imagining of a possible society, nor is it the inchoate assemblage of strategies of resistance to oppressive governmental forms; rather it is rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with, and in spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society. Anarchism is marked as much by, in Murray Bookchin's central terms, spontaneity, differentiation, and experimentation,43 as it is by the explosive denunciation of power from above. It is this vision of a possible way of living which Pynchon holds dear, and it is a vision that holds particular relevance in any radical assessment of the structures, legal and otherwise, under which we live.



* Graham Benton is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He currently lives and teaches in Northern California, and has published articles on Thomas Pynchon, Charles Dickens, and Paulo Friere.

1. Lestor J. Mazor, Disrespect for Law, in ANARCHISM 147 (J. Roland Pennock & John W. Chapman eds., 1978).


3. THOMAS PYNCHON, THE CRYING OF LOT 49 170-71 (1986). I have used elipses in brackets [...] to distinguish my omission of words from Pynchon's frequent use of elipses as stylistic elements.

4. Id. at 172-73.

5. Id. at 174.

6. Id. at 173.

7. Id. at 179.

8. Id. at 182.

9. George Woodcock, Anarchism: A Historical Introduction, in THE ANARCHIST READER 27 (Woodcock ed., 1986).


11. These differences are, of course, extremely important, as this Article should demonstrate. Instead of eliding difference to implement a more manageable object of inquiry, however, a more appropriate and astute analysis would recognize the existence of multiple anarchisms, which intersect and diverge across any number of discursive platforms. The purpose here is not to offer a summation of anarchism--either its political philosophy or its historical development and transformation--nor should this analysis be mistaken for a synthesis of the ways anarchism is invoked. Rather, at the risk of promulgating an ahistorical critique, for reasons which should become clear the following observations about anarchism resist schematic formulations that advance tidy narratives suggesting patterns of influence and continuity.






17. ROCKER, supra note 14, at 31.

18. COLIN WARD, ANARCHY IN ACTION 26 (2d ed. 1996).

19. Michel Foucault, Truth and Power, in THE FOUCAULT READER 64 (Paul Rabinow ed., 1984).

20. Sebastian Faure, Encyclopedie Anarchiste, in THE ANARCHIST READER 62 (1977) (emphasis added).

21. Richard A. Falk, Anarchism and World Order, in ANARCHISM 70 (J. Roland Pennock & John Chapman eds., 1978).


23. Gerald F. Gaus & John W. Chapman, Anarchism and Political Philosophy, in ANARCHISM, at xxiv (J. Roland Pennock & John Chapman eds., 1978).

24. Id. at xvii.

25. HENRY, supra note 15, at 32.


27. Michael Bakunin, The Reaction in Germany, in MICHAEL BAKUNIN: SELECTED WRITINGS 58 (Grove Press, NY 1974) (1973).

28. THOMAS PYNCHON, V. 160 (Harper and Row 1986) (1963).

29. Id. at 162.

30. Id. at 165.

31. Id. at 162.

32. Id. at 179.

33. Id. at 209.

34. Id.


36. PYNCHON, supra note 28, at 211.

37. BAKUNIN, supra note 35, at 172-73.

38. Id. at 173.


40. Id. at 264-65 (first emphasis added).


42. PYNCHON, supra note 39, at 265.

43. GOLDMAN, supra note 10.