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Pynchon's California Trilogy and the CIA

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Pynchon's "California Trilogy"—The Crying of Lot 49, Vineland & Bleeding Edge—all cite the CIA in the context of drugs.

The Crying of Lot 49 does so covertly—the only time we encounter the name CIA is during Oedipa’s hallucinogenic night in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley:

"You remember everything," Oedipa said, "Jesus; even tourists. How is your CIA?" Standing not for the agency you think, but for a clandestine Mexican outfit known as the Conjuration de los Insurgentes Anarquis-tas, traceable back to the time of the Flores Magon brothers and later briefly allied with Zapata. . ."

. . .So her eyes did fall presently onto an ancient rolled copy of the anarcho-syndicalist paper Regeneracion. The date was 1904 and there was no stamp next to the cancellation, only the handstruck image of the post horn.

"They arrive," said Arrabal. "Have they been in the mails that long? Has my name been substituted for that of a member who's died? Has it really taken sixty years? Is it a reprint? Idle questions, I am a footsoldier. The higher levels have their reasons." She carried this thought back out into the night with her.

This might constitute Pynchon’s most blatant act of misdirection.

If one knows the history of LSD then one remembers all those Stanford/Palo Alto tests, like the ones that turned Ken Kesey into King of the Pranksters, way back in the early sixties. Little hints dropped in CoL49—like Mucho's DJ job located “further along the Peninsula”—point to South San Francisco and Stanford. Judging from the description of the landscape in and around San Mateo/Palo Alto, Pynchon was aware of that particular cultural subdivision when he wrote The Crying of Lot 49. Dr. Hilarius "Die Brucke" sounds like a private practice doing beta testing on local neurotics from in and around the greater South San Francisco suburbs.

Note Dr. Hilarius' "Die Brucke":

"We still need a hundred-and-fourth for the bridge." Chuckled aridly. The bridge, die Brucke, being his pet name for the experiment he was helping the community hospital run on effects of LSD-25, mescaline, psilocybin, and related drugs on a large sample of suburban housewives. The bridge inward. "When can you let us fit you into our schedule."

Dr. Hilarius' "Bridge" points to CIA's drug research programs—specifically Project MKULTRA.

Headed by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the MK-ULTRA project was started on the order of CIA director Allen Dulles on April 13, 1953, largely in response to Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind-control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea. The CIA wanted to use similar methods on their own captives. The CIA was also interested in being able to manipulate foreign leaders with such techniques, and would later invent several schemes to drug Fidel Castro.

Early efforts focused on LSD, which later came to dominate many of MK-ULTRA's programs. Experiments included administering LSD to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, prostitutes, mentally ill patients, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions. . .

. . . Historians have asserted that creating a "Manchurian Candidate" subject through "mind control" techniques was a goal of MK-ULTRA and related CIA projects Wikipedia

Later in the novel we return to Dr. Hilarius, this time hysterically shooting off a vintage hunk o’ Nazi weaponry:

"He's gone crazy. I tried to call the police, but he took a chair and smashed the switchboard with it."

"Dr Hilarius?"

"He thinks someone's after him." Tear streaks had meandered down over the nurse's cheekbones. "He's locked himself in the office with that rifle." A Gewehr 43, from the war, Oedipa recalled, that he kept as a souvenir.

"He shot at me. Do you think anybody will report it?"

"Well he's shot at half a dozen people," replied Nurse Blamm, leading Oedipa down a corridor to her office. "Somebody better report it."

As Charles Hollander points out in Pynchon, JFK and the CIA: Magic Eye Views of The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon doesn’t always speak directly:

. . .Chapter by chapter, step by step, Pynchon leads us to the assassination of President Kennedy, without ever mentioning the then–recent event directly. . .

If my response to The Crying of Lot 49 differs from Mr. Hollander's, it is in emphasis. My "Magic Eye" reading doesn't locate JFK nearly as much as the CIA, and when it comes down to CIA related times, places and names, Thomas Pynchon can get downright coy. But Dr. Hilarius' involvement in "die Brucke" points to both of CIA's little projects Operation Paperclip and MK-ULTRA:

Operation Paperclip was the code name for the 1945 Office of Strategic Services, Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency recruitment of German scientists from Nazi Germany to the U.S. after VE Day.

President Truman authorized Operation Paperclip in August 1945; however he had expressly ordered that anyone found "to have been a member of the Nazi party and more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Nazism militarism" would be excluded.

Under this criterion many of the scientists recruited, such as Wernher von Braun, Arthur Rudolph and Hubertus Strughold, who were all officially on record as Nazis and listed as a "menace to the security of the Allied Forces," were ineligible. All were cleared to work in the U.S. after having their backgrounds "bleached" by the military. The paperclips that secured newly-minted background details to their personnel files gave the operation its name.Wikipedia

The events the LSD doctor describes—the worst of the worst stuff—really happened in this world:

. . . So they had gone at their subjects with metronomes, serpents, Brechtian vignettes at midnight, surgical removal of certain glands, magic-lantern hallucinations, new drugs, threats recited over hidden loudspeakers, hypnotism, clocks that ran backward, and faces. . .

. . . If I'd been a real Nazi I'd have chosen Jung, nicht wahr? But I chose Freud instead, the Jew. Freud's vision of the world had no Buchenwalds in it. Buchenwald, according to Freud, once the light was let in, would become a soccer field, fat children would learn flower-arranging and solfeggio in the strangling rooms. At Auschwitz the ovens would be converted over to petit fours and wedding cakes, and the V-2 missiles to public housing for the elves. I tried to believe it all. I slept three hours a night trying not to dream, and spent the other 21 at the forcible acquisition of faith. And yet my penance hasn't been enough. They've come like angels of death to get me, despite all I tried to do."

Quite a lot to take in a single dose—as a final fillip, Pynchon glances off of the wings of one of Rilke’s Angels. But it’s still there, an arch recitation of Jacobean Tortures, “The Courier’s Tragedy” now funded by your United States Government, With Doctor Hilarius now functioning inside of CIA’s “Operation Paperclip” budget. This story thread continues and deepens in Gravity’s Rainbow.

In Vineland the reference is overt:

". . .notice how cheap coke has been since '81? However in the world do you account for that?"

"Roy! Is you're sayin' the President himself is duked into some deal? Quit foolin'! Next you'll be tellin' me George Bush."

"Roy kept a prop Bible on his desk, useful when he needed to get along with the born-agains in the Agency. He opened it and pretended to read. "Harken unto me, read thou my lips, for verily I say that wheresoever the CIA putteth in its meathooks upon the world, there also are to be found those substances which God may have created but the U.S. Code hath decided to control. Get me? Now old Bush used to be head of CIA, so you figure it out."

Vineland, pages 353/354

And of course there’s a jillion more doper’s laments in Vineland, every tweaker’s rant who ever ran across a really bummer batch of Orange Sunshine, anyone who paid real money for a bag of Bisquick or basil, a voice given to every drug burn and every burn notice. Cointelpro is exhumed at its Late-Sixties apogee and yet everybody lives “happily ever after” [more or less] except Brock Vond—and he had it coming anyway.

Which brings us to Bleeding Edge. Simultaneously we find the CIA everywhere and nowhere. Chapter 4—pages 50 through 54—simultaneously gives us the particulars of the CIA’s activities in and around Los Angeles and the interconnected webbing of national security interests and the military industrial complex. All the while Doc Sportello’s stoned oblivion either prevents him from seeing what’s right under his nose or sedates him enough that he doesn’t smash his head up against the wall just from thinking about it. I choose the latter.

In any case, the 5 pages of chapter 4—pages 50 to 54—contains arrows, signs and pointers to CIA operations related to to satellite spying and the internet and those places in L.A. one might pass by any day of the week while shuttling between Manhattan Beach and Hollywood, the names of corporations emerging out of Eisenhower's programs in the late fifties that helped create the military industrial complex of 1970. When Pynchon names Hughes Corporation, ARPA & ARPAnet, TRW and Ramo, Woolrich & Thompson, he's naming a nexus of credit card data providers, spy networking and data collectors for the now-operational spy-satellite network that constantly circles the globe, providing us with "Google Maps" and other services and diversions. If there is a specific Bleeding Edge here, it is that the CIA-developed system is the network we all are reading this on, the internet. It just so happens that in this chapter, the CIA is once again cited in such a way as to invoke the MK-ULTRA program:

"Truth serum. Same kind the CIA uses. Just stab 'em anyplace that's easy to reach. . ."


The Agency poured millions of dollars into studies probing dozens of methods of influencing and controlling the mind. One 1955 MK-ULTRA document gives an indication of the size and range of the effort; this document refers to the study of an assortment of mind-altering substances described as follows:. . .

. . .Materials which will render the induction of hypnosis easier or otherwise enhance its usefulness.

Substances which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion during interrogation and so-called "brain-washing".

Materials and physical methods which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use. . .

. . . A material which will cause mental confusion of such a type that the individual under its influence will find it difficult to maintain a fabrication under questioning. . .

. . . A knockout pill which can surreptitiously be administered in drinks, food, cigarettes, as an aerosol, etc., which will be safe to use, provide a maximum of amnesia, and be suitable for use by agent types on an ad hoc basis.

. . . A material which can be surreptitiously administered by the above routes and which in very small amounts will make it impossible for a man to perform any physical activity whatsoever. . .

Historians have asserted that creating a "Manchurian Candidate" subject through "mind control" techniques was a goal of MK-ULTRA and related CIA projects. . .Wikipedia

Meanwhile back at Gordita Beach, Doc Sportell has some interesting interactions with The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a group from Laguna Beach who manufactured and sold an amazing quantity of LSD before diversifying and ending up more like street hoods than the visionaries they started out as with their leader, Timothy Leary. A Crucial text is Nick Schou’s article “LORDS OF ACID: How the Brotherhood of Eternal Love Became OCs Hippie Mafia” from the July 7 2005 issue of the OC Weekly.

To be continued . . .

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