So we're wrapping up in class tomorrow, and I'm trying to anticipate how we might pull all the books together. I think that the whole idea of World War II as a focal point for post modern novels is a cool one to discuss, but what I really want to know is what is POST post modern? Is Cryptonomicon post post modern in its linearity? And why are the critical texts of post modernism all so long?
I loved this portion on 641 where Randy is describing his grandmother, Mary Smith, wife of Lawrence Waterhouse. "the world of physical objects seemed to have been made solely for the purpose of giving the men around Grandma something to do with their hands; and not, mind you, for any practical reason, but purely so that Grandma could twiddle those men's emotional knobs by reacting to how well or poorly do it." I thought this was hilarious, but it also reminded me of the discussions we've been having about gender. She has the last word here and it seems like she has the power, but it seems like this paragraph is talking about insignificant stuff.
We were talking today in class about the way that the book portrays everything as some type of code. There is the way that we percieve people, which Enoch Root theorizes is not who that person actually is but rather who we have catalogued that person as. Lawrence imagined that there were people across the ocean who were reading the waves of the ocean that had changed due to footprints he'd made in the sand. On page 670, Randy uses the phrase, "The most cigarettes" which meas nothing to other people, but to Avi and Randy, who understand it, it is a shortened version of the phrase, "We could end up in prison married to the guy with the most cigarettes." I really liked this use of code because Randy and Doug use predetermined words that they use to stand for other things, but we rarely see our everyday conversation as a type of code.
For all the terrible things that can be said about war and the effects that it has on humankind, there was one part of the novel that really touched me:
"But then much brighter, warmer light floods the interior of the V-Million. Bischoff looks back and up, and sees the forward end of hte pressure hull turned into a dome of orange fire, the silhouette of a man centered in it, lines of welds and rivets spreading away from that center like the meridians of a globe. It's bright as day. He turns around and swims easily down the gangway" (906).
So. The U-boat was in deep trouble and pretty much everyone on it realized that they were going to die in the very near future. But Rudy promises Bischoff that he will live. And then Rudy opens the U-boat hatch and lights a match, killing himself but allowing Bischoff to swim out of the boat to safety. Yes, terrible, awful, inhuman things happen during the war, but there are also tiny moments of goodness that occur--like one man giving up his life for that of another.
Okay, I have more coherently formulated my thoughts from class. What I find problematic (which is not the same thing as "inexcusable" or "should have been omitted") in Stephenson's depiction of Goto is that this individual representations too easily stands in for an entire group of disparate people. This is the function that representations serve; they are thus, in some sense, always violent. The decision to be made for individual authors, filmakers, theorists, etc., is not so much "should I produce representations?," because of course (it seems to me) Stephenson should be writing, as "How can I counteract the tendency of this representation to violently stand-in for a much larger whole." The way we read Goto Dengo and his relationship to the prototypical Japanese person of course depends on where we are coming from as readers; but that is not to say that the matter is completely out of Stephenson's hands.
I wanted to continue a thread of discussion from I think Monday's class regarding personal responsibility in the WWII and contemporary contexts in Cryptonomicon. Someone mentioned that whereas Bobby and Lawrence's responsibility is simply to take orders that aid an obviously morally justified cause (the war), Randy's responsibility and complicity in 1990's geopolitics is much more intricate and, furthermore, individualistic. It seems that Randy's worldy engagement often comes down to his whim, especially as someone of the professional class: he gets in and of romantic relationships, he starts business ventures, he picks and flies accross the world whenever the situation calls for it.
I thought the scene where the Waterhouse Family splits the inheritance was absolutely hilarious (Origin 620-633). The notion that the contentious process of equally dividing all of Randy's grandmother's possessions by reducing their worth to two relatively simple variables, monetary and sentimental value which then have to be crunched by a supercomputer. In spite of the supposed equality and objectivity, Rnady admits that "certainly there won't be a mathematically exact solution" (630). With everyone's fixation on getting what they want, it seems that they may as well have just fought it out and settled it the good old fashioned way!
One of the major themes of the other three novels that we've read so far has been entertainment, particularly film. I feel like I even wrote a blog entry or had a discussion with someone or something pretty early on in the course talking about how people sometimes imagine their lives to be a movie. And voila, in this section of Cryptonomicon we get people imagining another person's life as a movie:
"Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse's widow and five children agree that Dad did something in the war, and that's about it. Each of them seems to have a different 1950s B-movie, or a 1940s Movietone newsreel, in his or her head, portraying a rather different set of events. There is not even agreement on whether he was in the Army or the Navy, which seems like a pretty fundamental plot point to Randy" (639-640).
Our discussion in class today kept me thinking about this whole notion of whether WW2 was really a morally ambiguous or straight cut war. Certainly, I would find it hard to argue that at least in Allied countries it was PERCEIVED as a morally unambiguous war. Afterall, many people call WW2 the last good war, because after that, few wars garnered so much public support. That being said, WW2 in truth, was not a morally clean war. It was a war which resulted in the dropping of two atomic bombs which to this day, is still a point of moral contention for some people. And certainly, Allied actions following WW1 created conditions ripe for the rise of Adolph Hitler.
I'm really loving this book, largely because I find the characters so identifiable. I'm constantly reminded, especially by the Waterhouses, of xkcd, a webcomic that is repeatedly quoted by nerds because it's so ubiquitous. The entire archives of this comic should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves to have an even remotely nerdy bent, but a few seem to speak to Cryptonomicon in particular. (Make sure you hover your mouse over the comic and read the alt-text for an additional punchline/explanation of the really obscure punchline.)