- Please keep these annotations SPOILER-FREE by not revealing information from later pages in the novel.
Page numbers refer to editions with 385 pages, where the story begins on page 3. Not sure if there are other editions with variant pagination. Please let us know otherwise.
"legendary Trasero County coast"
Why legendary? This is Pynchon's second reference to an unexplained "legendary" location. Is he just hot on this locution, or are we missing something? In any case, Trasero is probably San Clemente. Why else a statue of Nixon?
- A fine naming. In Spanish Trasero is "buttocks" if used as a noun, or something that is in the back if used as an adjective. So we have in one name yet another ass reference and the information that this county is behind the other counties, geographically and ideologically. Stressing its meaning, we even can read that this is a preterite county.
- Pynchon may enjoy exploiting the ambiguity in the meaning of "legendary". It can mean either "famous" or "famous but invented".
- "Legendary" is a word commonly used when talking about famous surfing spots. My guess is that Pynchon, among all the above, is also playing with that cliche. Nice phrase.
"a military reservation"
Probably Camp Pendleton. However, military bases are everywhere in California, and especially everywhere in this novel. Note the shadowy Base in Chapter 6. The Base itself is unknown, but its periphery is marked by sub-communities like "Gate 9."
"College of the Surf"
Probably Whittier College, Nixon's alma mater.
Trasero County and College of the Surf are Pynchonian inventions. College of the Surf is "bracketed by the two ultraconservative counties of Orange and San Diego", so Trasero County lies on the border between Orange and San Diego Counties, just as mythical Vineland County lies between Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. There are no actual colleges near this border, although Camp Pendleton is close. Whittier College is far northeast, and away from the coast. Nixon didn't become President until 1969, roughly the time frame of this part of the novel. As Pynchon indicates, he was living in San Clemente. Since statues of former Vice Presidents and newly elected Presidents are rarely erected by the public, presumably the statue was constructed by the rich "Southern California money, oil, construction, pictures" men who endowed the college. They viewed him as their hope to conquer the rest of the country, which is why Nixon's statue faces inland.
The Southern California university that closest resembles College of the Surf is Pepperdine University. It sits on a bluff overlooking Malibu north of Los Angeles and is extremely conservative. A giant white monolithic cross towers over the campus. It is close to the former home of Ronald Reagan in Pacific Palisades. It used to be located in South Central LA, where it was attacked in the Watts Riots of 1965 (Pynchon wrote about the aftermath). In 1969 it was almost burned down by demonstrators, which precipitated the move to Malibu.
"music...finding the ears of sentries...like hostile-natives sounds in a movie about white men fighting savage tribes."
Great writing, and a powerful vision of a "free" campus next to a military base.
"the brand-new field of Computer Science"
Those zeros and ones again...
"dissent from official reality...the same dread disease..."
David Earl "Dewey" Weber (1938-1993), a legendary Sixties longboard surfer and builder, known for his trademark red trunks, his peerless style, and his capacity for alcohol. At one point in the mid-Sixties Weber was the largest surfboard manufacturer in the world. His New York Times obituary:
- Dewey Weber; Surfing Legend, 53 [sic]
- Dewey Weber, a surfer who became a designer of surfboards and a legend on Southern California's beaches in the 1950's and 60's, is dead. He was 53.
- The police said Mr. Weber had been ill for several weeks and that his doctor said the cause of death was liver problems. They said a friend found him dead Wednesday in his surfboard shop here. Mr. Weber appeared in Bruce Brown's 1959 movie "Slippery When Wet."
"Mike Curb Congregation records"
Mike Curb (b. 1944), who later became lieutenant governor of California, worked at one point as an MGM Records executive—and while he was there he formed this vanity group. Its one and only hit was a tune called "Burning Bridges," a heavy-handed criticism of the hippie lifestyle. Before the song fell off the radar forever, it was featured in the film Kelly's Heroes. Funny that Pynchon never mentions this.
"California mopery statutes"
Mopery = an obsolete term for loitering. Clearly an appropriate crime for California, where slow driving is close to a capital offense. Pynchon manages to work mopery into virtually every book he's ever written.
"potent Vietnamese buds"
What a shock, to find that you can't fight a war overseas without some feedback back home!
"long crowdwaves, carrying smaller bursts of violence that exploded like seeds in a surfer's cigarette"
That's a marijuana cigarette. Also a comically mixed-metaphor that combines mathematical/signal analysis and doper imagery.
"Weed Atman, preoccupied with the darker implications of a paper on group theory"
As has been remarked, Pynchon lived in this area of California during this period. Pynchon applied to the UC Berkeley mathematics department but was rejected. Pynchon has been described by those who know him as being very tall. Wee dat man? Pynchon bio
In mathematics, group theory is, very roughly, the study of symmetry. The symmetries occurring most in Pynchon's novels are bilateral (binaries, doppelgangers) and triangular (love triangles). Also, Pynchon may be making a pun, since Weed is going from isolation to involvement in political groups.
"the tallest person"
So Weed has a weedy build. Cf page 188 for more on Weed's name.
"a domain bounded by a set of points partway to the next person of height equal to or greater than..."
An extended conceit in mock geometric clothing. Like the example on p. 117, this is probably self-satire, as indicated once again by the concluding em-dash as Pynchon restrains himself. Ostensibly mathematician Weed is thinking this thought, but it's clearly Pynchon stepping in front of the curtain for a second.
"...a throb of fear went right up his asshole..."
Another visceral fear reaction. See also pages 10, 45, 116, 299.
"I'm just tall, that's all."
Borrowed from Jimmy Reed's (1925-1976) blues, "Big Boss Man."
"Greg Noll Lab"
Greg Noll (b. 1937), "Da Bull," is another legendary surfer, same vintage and hangouts as Dewey Weber. See page 205.
Presumably named for the singing group ("My Baby Loves the Western Movies," "I’m a Hog For You, Baby") rather than the Greek sporting event.
"Las Nalgas Beach"
Spanish for "the buttocks," or "the spankings." More badasses.
Another cool name.
"lost tribe with failed cause"
Thanatoids? Hippies? Herreros and/or Gauchos in Gravity's Rainbow? It would be easy to come up with lots of other examples.
"geist that could've been polter along with zeit"
Clever wordplay on poltergeist and zeitgeist, but essentially meaningless -- much like the chipmunks on page 180.
"not much by Berkeley or Columbia standards"
These were the days of the Free Speech Movement, the Days of Rage, etc.
"Rex did manage to place Weed in what looked like the emerging junta"
Notice how Rex is doing the maneuvering. It would seem as if he worked for Vond even before Frenesi.
It's good to be the King. Rex Snuvvle The Latin Rex is obvious, his cognomen is revealing if we look at the Language of Leif the Lucky. Etymologically King Snuvvle is related both to the Swedish snubbla = to stumble and the Norwegian Snovle = to sniffle
"A sudden lust for information"
Not often seen in SoCal, but it serves to reveal the usual sleazy land deals.
"a 16mm Arri 'M' on a Tyler Mini-Mount"
Arri = Arriflex, a good, light, 16mm camera. Tyler Mini-Mount = a small, shock-absorbing camera mount, spring-loaded and counterweighted to soak up the low-frequency vibration of rotating helicopter blades (and not much use for anything else). All in all, this is state of the art hardware, guerrilla-film-wise.
"He paid no more than the lab costs"
Suddenly Frenesi is shooting film for Vond. How come? This key plot event is never really explained.
COINTELPRO, short for Counterintelligence Program, was a secret and sometimes illegal series of FBI projects aimed at infiltrating and undermining dissident groups within the United States. It was begun by J. Edgar Hoover in 1956 during the Eisenhower Administration and continued until 1971 during the Nixon Administration, when it became public knowledge and was shut down by Hoover.
COINTELPRO is the real-world model for Brock Vond's projects. Pynchon has moved the program from the FBI to its parent agency the Department of Justice in order to emphasize the parallels with Orwell's Ninteen Eighty-Four and remove the specific association with J. Edgar Hoover.
"zooming in and out every chance she got on Weed's crotch."
Apparently Frenesi is hung up on Weed too.
"'Subtle,' remarked DL."
Cutback to DL and Ditzah watching footage. As before, this effect is both effective and striking.
"She hitched a ride up to LAX with Jinx..."
Is Frenesi already "the latest girlfriend?"
"just kept on writing equations"
Nice scene of the wives and girlfriends de-mystifying Weed's mathematical preoccupation.
"gray mother storms..."
Fine, scary description of the gathering storm.
Department of Justice. Or maybe Department of Jesus (See p. 213).
"For what? The fucking? Anything else?"
Maybe the old American weakness for authority.
Looks like we're in the hands of Jesus again ... Fu-Jesus"
The preacher identifies the storm as being sent by God. He eschews the superficial (to him) scientific explanations of the storm in favor of a deeper supernatural explanation. He predicts that someday, under a different president, the US government will be reorganized according to a Christian ideology (Department of Jesus) rather than a rationalist ideology (Department of Justice). In fact, the preacher's explanation of the storm is correct. It has been sent by the author of Vineland for symbolic reasons, not meteorological reasons.
"I want his spirit..."
Here Vond is portrayed like the Devil, or at least a vampire. (See p. 217 and 376.) Or the snake in Sister Rochelle's feminist Eden fable (See p. 166).
Vampires don't want their victims' spirits or souls, just their blood. The other analogies make more sense.
Also, to a fetishistic sadist, the most satisfying slave is one who resists at first but eventually accepts slavery voluntarily. This confirms to the sadist his (or her) own power.
"a secret about power in the world ... missed the point again"
Brock is trying to tell Frenesi that he wants to crush Weed simply to exert power over him. It's not homophobia, since he wants to exert power over Frenesi too, not just have sex. But Pynchon asserts that Brock is too young, there's more to it than Brock understands, and it's not a secret.
"She gave him the little-girl photofloods, 4800 degrees of daylight blue"
Pynchon is riffing on Frenesi's beautiful blue-on-blue eyes, her "wide invincible gaze....useful in a lot of situations, including ignorance." And sure enough, Daylight Blue Photoflood lamps do produce a color temperature of 4800 degrees Kelvin, with wavelengths short enough so you can shoot "outdoor," or daylight, film indoors.
On page 136, the slave auction in Tokyo also took place in a room with rubberized drapes.
"a funnel cloud...swung slowly..."
The storm continues. Amazing. Usually storms in fiction signify. What does this one mean? The uprising at CotS? The larger social conflict: fuzz against junk? Or Dorothy Gale's cyclone, the agent of her not being in Kansas any more?
This is a key moment for Frenesi, since she is deciding to betray Weed to Vond. The storm signifies the power that attracts Frenesi, that she wishes to surrender to, a power greater than herself. She dreamed of it on page 202. This is what attracts her to prosecutor Brock Vond, ninja DL, Weed when a leader, Zoyd when a rock-star, and men in uniforms, any uniforms. That is why the storm turns her on. The preacher saw in the storm the power of God, and predicted that someday the entire nation would surrender to it. God represents the ultimate power, the power to transcend time, mortality, life. The desire to transcend ordinary life, here ascribed to Frenesi, is a constant theme in Pynchon's novels, and in Vineland, as in Gravity's Rainbow, he usually (but not always) focuses on its evil consequences. Perhaps this is what Pynchon means when he says that Brock and Frenesi are too young to understand.
"sword-shape of outside patio light...to fall across the bed"
What is happening outside the room also affects what is happening inside. Brock Vond has been given a sword.
"She might do it--not for him, but...because it looked like Brock's stretch of the river..."
Does this mean Frenesi "turns" for purely opportunistic reasons? Because she thinks Vond is gonna win? If so, she abandons her ideals amazingly easily. It might be that she feels so powerless and caught.
Probably the last is closest. The storm attacks her metaphorically, just as it attacks the city. It seeks to paralyze her, remove her ability to freely act. Shock and Awe. She has lost control, and is surrendering herself to fate and the flow of time, not just Brock Vond. He's only a stage in her life, she feels, and she must soldier on. She hasn't lost her ideals; she tries to rationalize her betrayal by imagining that she could redeem Brock Vond through love. But she doesn't really believe it, and neither does Pynchon, as the next page shows.
"light she imagined as sun plus sky, with an 85 filter in"
An extended cinematic metaphor, seemingly designed to impress us with how much Frenesi knows about film exposure. An 85 filter lets indoor film, rated at 3200 degrees Kelvin, be used outdoors (in the light of Frenesi's 4800-degree K baby blues). The metaphor's deeper function is as a fantasy about getting Brock out from under his rock.
"daylit commodity of the sixties"
daylit = Frenesi's blue orbs again.
"to redeem even Brock"
"what she thought were closed eyelids had been open all the time"
Vampires sleep with their eyes open.
This could mean many things. He could be watchful or paranoid. He could be a snake, which has no eyelids. He could be dreaming while awake, i.e. mad.