Saturday, February 3, 2007

You. Never. Did. The. Kenosha. Kid.

What better way to break a bottle on the bow of our blog than with a post about an attempted interracial gang rape and subsequent escape through the business end of a toilet into a magical subterranean world? In what is easily the most surreal episode of the novel thus far, we get to follow Lt. Slothrop through a series of events that are hard to make sense of. The section is Part 1, Episode 10 (pp. 61-72). The episode seems to be a drug-induced vision. Slothrop is administered Sodium Amytal in what appears to be a controlled experiment in a hospital. This drug is widely known as “truth serum,” though it has been discredited since it would often give subject false memories, which is exactly what we have here.

The whole episode is framed by a play on the phrase, “you never did the Kenosha Kid.” Wonderfully ambiguous, the Kenosha Kid may be a dance, a cowboy, or even Slothrop himself. The first mention of KK is a letter written from Tyrone Slothrop with a mailing address of Kenosha, WI. Slothrop inquires: “Did I ever bother you, ever, for anything, in your life?” The reply simply states, “You never did. The Kenosha Kid.” The phrase goes through several different permutations. The device serves to show Pynchon’s playful use of language. Without ever really tipping his hand as to the true nature of the Kenosha Kid, Pynchon uses this whole passage like a kid uses monkey bars. It’s fascinating to see the meaning shift slightly at times and radically at others as he changes the punctuation and emphasis to different words in the phrase.

There’s something distinctly postmodern about this. If the moderns set out to illustrate the difference between the sign and the signified, the postmodernists sought to completely destroy the connection between the two. The Kenosha Kid is practically an exercise in divorcing words from their meanings. It really fits with the themes of the novel so far. In the same way that the V2 rockets cause dissonance and confusion with the people of London, so does the Kenosha Kid with the reader. The KK is a maze that I’m not sure we’ll ever get out of, much like this brave new world with weapons that you only hear after they kill you.