I want to admit something at the very start: getting back into this series is going to be a little rough. I read the first two chapters of V. about three months ago. As my long absence from the site may suggest, life got in the way of blogging. Suffice to say, work was a little overwhelming. There’s an odd symbolism to the timing of my return to writing longer pieces for the blog though. I’m actually sitting in the exact same spot at my parent’s house where I did the last bit of serious writing. That was back in December and I was writing a eulogy for my Grandpa. I’ve been slowly building up steam to return to Pynchon over the last few weeks, but it’s fitting that I’m hitting the reset button now.
I just wish it wasn’t 100+ degrees outside. Honestly, in what segment of the multiverse are these sort of temperatures ok? So, of course, I’m going to write about Benny Profane freezing his butt off on Christmas Eve, 1955.
There are two aspects I want to focus on in this first chapter: Benny Profane’s symbolic yo-yo status and the first appearance of V. in the novel. (Side note, is Benny Profane a great Pynchon character name or the greatest Pynchon character name?)
The chapter’s subtitle sets up the role Benny plays and the extreme we’re about to see him in. As Pynchon’s narrator explains (in a line that for the love of me I can’t find in the book right now): “If you look from the side at a planet swinging around in its orbit, split the sun with a mirror and imagine a string it all looks like a yo-yo. The point furthest from the sun is called aphelion. The point furthest from the yo-yo is called, by analogy, apochair” (Apologies again for the lack of citation). I’m not certain that I fully understand the symbolism in this description and how it applies to Benny. Benny’s position is dependent upon a few things: one is perspective. Another is our definition of who is Rachel Owlglass (the sun or the hand controlling the yo-yo?). A controlling aspect of the symbolism seems to be his relationship with Rachel, as it is when she “catches up” with him at the bus station in Norfolk. His ambiguous relationship with Paola seems to emphasize the emptiness that a relationship with Rachel would counteract, though there’s no guarantee of that. That possible relationship with Rachel is undercut by Profane’s refusal to seek Rachel out when he gets to New York. Instead he sends Paola to Rachel promising Paola that “she’s a good woman. She’ll put you on to a job, find you a place to stay. Don’t ask me if we’re in love. The word doesn’t mean anything” (36). The echo here seems to be of Saul’s commentary in “Entropy.”
Also crucial to this symbolism is Benny’s return to yo-yo hood on the Subway sonn after he sends Paola to Rachel. It’s a different scale, but Benny moves to two extremes on a set course. The distance between is perhaps the most difficult challenge he faces. Which brings me to my next point about the chapter and our first introduction to V.:
Since his discharge from the Navy Profane had been road-laboring and when there wasn’t work just traveling, up and down the east coast like a yo-yo; and this had been going on for maybe a year and a half. After that long of more named pavements than he’d care to count, Profane had grown a little leery of streets, especially streets like this. They hand in fact all fused into a single abstracted Street, which come the full moon he would have nightmares about . . . receding in an asymmetric V to the east where it’s dark and there are no more bars (10).
I’ve done a severe injustice to this passage for the sake of space by omitting the most intriguing descriptions. The essence of the passage is still apparent though. From the start of the novel we have a bleak picture of V. For Profane, I the V of streetlamps seems to represent the linear motion of his yo-yo path. It’s the path in-between the extremes found in each city he swings through. More tellingly is the lack of end point. The destination is unclear, perhaps because there is no final stop?
These are all tricky passages and in all a set of difficult questions. I’m a bit more tentative with this reading of V. as I try to regain my sea legs. Next up, the whole sick crew.