Add Location: Some Thoughts on Paranoia

[by Jenny Holzer]

Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop, nomadic centrifuge, is also something of a model of paranoid connectivity in Gravity’s Rainbow. What gives access to conspiracy is a type of practice that overdetermines meaning even as it provides only spurious empirical knowledge. 

The day he sat with Säure in the café, smoking that reefer . . . oh, that was day before yesterday, wasn’t it? Rain drips, soaking into the floor, and Slothrop perceives that he is losing his mind. If there is something comforting–religious, if you want–about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long. (p. 441)

For Pynchon, the homology between narrative organization and the desires and inhibitions of consciousness are very close indeed, although not completely overlapping as they are in several of his predecessors; the straight-talk noir panache gives his experimentation a bit of crass instead of class, though his awareness of elite institutional affiliations complicit in Western empire management speak to a classicism in tension with the liberal romanticism at the core of his characters.

In a preceding section of the book, Pynchon punctuates his storytelling with proverbs to navigate the site of this tension when (where?) being oneself precludes knowledge of the self’s limits. The shadowy accomplices that bring our interpretations into real-time action feel very much like avatars designed to supplement that lack of knowing, but also to hold us accountable. The whole Pavlovian/Freudian axis vibrates with a kind of preternatural intensity as reflexes unlock appearances and dramatis personae function like internal reminders and assignments. Pynchon’s “Proverbs for Paranoids”:

  1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures. (p. 240)
  2. The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master. (p. 244)
  3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers. (p. 255)
  4. You hide, they seek. (p. 265)

The bureaucratic imagination seems to be an effect of the great Cultural Toggle rather than a faculty intrinsic to a condition. We don’t rebuff attacks so much as manage expectations, even when they concern cellular function, proprioceptive awareness and caloric intake. But is paranoia a reflex generated by an external stimulus, or an internal hemorrhage of connectivity that ebbs or bleeds out depending on circumstances more or less locked in by the ole’ impermanent mind record? The Neurosenwahl is also an Analogiewahl, after all. The messy currency of interpersonal exchanges looms in the paranoiac as a fundamental aberration that needs correction; the concept of law is psychotic in this sense, both by its enforcement of the Master’s tickles, prods and incisions as well as by its procurement of creatures who delight in compliance.

One more thing: this comment about paranoia by Michel Serres from The Troubadour of Knowledge:

Paranoia could be defined as the expansion of a local, exacerbated trait vitrifying mental space so as not to leave any chance of growth to another variable. When present, a psychotic eradicates all other presence, just as psychosis has leveled everything in him. Royal, imperial, solar, he perseveres in his being, expands, converts his entourage. The propagation of pathology overcomes everything that it finds before it and absorbs it while preserving itself. Nothing new under this madness. (p. 120).


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