The first 275 pages of Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge are rather heteronormative. This in itself is not a problem – it’s welcome material in a world where the media is saturated with embracing alternative norms. This response paper will explore how the first 275 pages of Bleeding Edge are heteronormative, the question of desiring – as a woman – a man who has power and seems morally deviant, and how these norms are telling of 21st century sexual morality.
There are ample examples of heteronormativity in Bleeding Edge. From female-to-female suspicion of cheating (38), how Rocky behaves at lunch towards the waiter (65), the narrator’s implicit comment on girls ‘whose fashion thinking included undead signifiers’ (73) to Conkling ‘the simp’ inquiring about Heidi (255). The biggest heteronormative citer in the first half of the novel seems to be the protagonist however, with her valuing Windust’s character based on his shoes (102) (maybe this is just a New York thing) while later also – ironically – enabling a foot fetishist (224-225), the same protagonist who uses her sexuality to gain information at a strip club (219-229). Et cetera.
Although Maxine does not judge Windust as attractive or well-dressed (102-103, 253), she still has sex with him (258) after learning that he has the resources of an entire economy (109), gained through abjectly engaging in the capitalisation of third-world countries. What drives Maxine to engage in sexual relationships with this man? She rejects Windust on the conscious level, but Pynchon makes it seem like thoughts will only protect a woman so far. Pynchon poses power and deviancy as attractors to the woman. It is the bad boy image novelized.
The novel is citing 21st century heterosexual normativity, and can be seen as a mirror of our times. A protagonist, who meets the current norms and trends by being a divorced mother, who lets herself be objectified sexually and engages in loose relations with dangerous men, who has multiple exes, all while she is supposed to come from a traditional Jewish-New Yorker background. Reading the novel makes the reader wonder how a woman can act like this, and indeed, the critical eye wonders often at the way relationships are handled in mainstream culture in the twenty-first century.
In conclusion, the first
275 pages of Bleeding Edge are riddled with heteronormative citations.
In this novel we have a protagonist who acts sexually irrationally and by
acting like this, places herself in danger. The novel makes ‘bad boy’ status
something to be considered from a male and a female perspective.
Pynchon’s work is like a mirror to the reader, reflecting norms of
heterosexuality in the New York of the twenty-first century.
Pynchon, Thomas. Bleeding Edge. Vintage Books, 2014.