“Bright Days for the Black Market”: Color-Coded Crises in Contemporary U.S. Fiction and the Works of Thomas Pynchon
Pages 411 - 434
This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
In this article, I explore how and why the black market, an economy initially identified as a response to the exigencies of wartime scarcity and prohibitions of contraband, has come to represent not a temporary alternative economy, but a permanent and predominant method of exchange in a specific strain of post-war U.S. culture. Many of the works I address treat the black market both as a manifestation of an historically-specific economy in crisis, and as a broader trope to address society as a whole and draw connections to discourses beyond those of the market. The pivotal texts in my assessment are Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” and “Bleeding Edge”, published forty years later, in part because they provide one emblematic arc that allows one to track developing notions of the black market, and the crises they often reflect, in U.S. culture. While economies have often been corrupt, the United States has been facing an escalating cycle of market-related crises since World War II (and some would argue since the nation’s founding). Pynchon tracks how a fraudulent war economy evolves into a fraudulent information economy, which he also depicts as contributing to a crisis in representation itself.
1 Acker, Kathy. Empire of the Senseless. New York: Grove P, 1989. Print.
2 Agamben, Giorgio. State of Exception. Trans. Kevin Attell. Chicago, IL: U Chicago P, 2005. Print.
3 Alcorn, Ted. “A Strange (But Not Black) Market.” New York Times 15 Jan. 2019: D5. Print.
4 “A Piece of the Action.” Season 2. Star Trek. NBC, 1968. Written by David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon. Television.
5 Ayala-Gerena v. Bristol Myers-Squibb Co., 95 F.3d 86, 97 n. 7 (1st Cir.). U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. 1996.
6 Battlestar Galactica. Syfy Network, 2004-2009. Created by Glen A. Larson and Ronald D. Moore. Television.
7 Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994. Print.
8 Brecht, Bertolt. Die Dreigroschenoper. Ausgewählte Werke. Vol. 1: Stücke 1. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1997. Print.
9 Burns, Matt. “FBI Seizes Deep Web Black Market Silk Road, Arrests Owner.” TechCrunch. Verizon Media, 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2019. https://techcrunch.com/2013/10/02/fbi-seize-deep-web-marketplace-silk-road-arrest-owner/.
10 Cal. Bankers Assn. v. Shultz, 416 U.S. 21, 28. U.S. Supreme Court. 1974.
11 Carswell, Sean. Occupy Pynchon: Politics after Gravity’s Rainbow. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2017. Print.
12 Carter, Angela. The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History. London: Virago, 1979. Print.
13 Clune, Michael. American Literature and the Free Market, 1945-2000. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
14 Cowart, David. “‘Down on the Barroom Floor of History’: Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge.” Postmodern Culture 4.1 (Sept. 2013): n. pag. Project MUSE. Web. 19 Nov. 2019. Doi:10.1353/pmc.2013.0060.
15 Darlington, Joseph. “Capitalist Mysticism and the Historicizing of 9/11 in Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 57.3 (2016): 242-53. Print.
16 Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 585. U.S. Supreme Court. 1946.
17 DeLillo, Don. Cosmopolis. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.
18 ---. Great Jones Street. New York: Vintage, 1973. Print.
19 ---. The Body Artist. New York: Scribner, 2001. Print.
20 ---. Underworld. New York: Scribner, 1997. Print.
21 ---. White Noise. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print.
22 Ewing, Walter A. “From Denial to Acceptance: Effectively Regulating Immigration to the United States.” Stanford Law and Policy Review 16 (2005): 445-62. Print.
23 Farrington, Brendan. “Crooks Pocket Millions from Black Market Fuel Thefts.” The Philadelphia Tribune 11 Aug. 2017: 7B. Print.
24 Fitzhugh, George. Cannibals All! Or, Slaves without Masters. Ed. C. Van Woodward. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988. Print.
25 Geddes, Dan. “Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow: The V-2 Rocket Cartel as Multinational Corporate Conspiracy.” The Satirist. TheSatirist.com, 7 Jul. 2006. Web. 18 Nov. 2019. https://www.thesatirist.com/books/GravitysRainbow.html.
26 Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. London: Paladin, 1971. Print.
27 Hardack, Richard. “‘From Whaling to Armaments to Food’: Melville’s, Pynchon’s, and Wedde’s Economies of the Pacific.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 54.2 (2013): 161-80. Print.
28 ---. “World Trade Centers and Word-Wide Webs: From Over-Soul to Underworld in Don DeLillo.” Arizona Quarterly 69.1 (2013): 151-83. Print.
29 Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.
30 ---. The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.
31 Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Preface. The House of the Seven Gables. Vol. 2. Ed. William Charvat et al. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1965. 7. Print. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
32 Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. 1955. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999. Print.
33 Hobson, Will. “Inside the Basketball Black Market.” The Washington Post 2 Oct. 2018: D1. Print.
34 Jackson, Leon. The Business of Letters: Authorial Economies in Antebellum America. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2008. Print.
35 Käkelä-Puumala, Tiina. “‘There Is Money Everywhere’: Representation, Authority, and the Money Form in Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 54.2 (2013): 147-60. Print.
36 Keefe, Patrick Radden. “Empire of Pain.” The New Yorker (30 Oct. 2017): 34-49. Print.
37 “The Kingpin Strategy.” Season 3. Narcos. Netflix, 2017. Written by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Eric Newman. Television.
38 Knight, Nadine M. “Black Markets and Black Mystics: Racial Shorthand in Battlestar Galactica.” Science Fiction Film and Television 5.1 (2012): 47-66. Print.
39 Levine, Lawrence W. The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural History. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. Print.
40 Lyons, Laura E. “‘I’d Like My Life Back’: Corporate Personhood and the BP Oil Disaster.” Biography 34.1 (2011): 96-107. Print.
41 M2 PressWIRE. “Carbon Black Market: Future Demand, Market Analysis & Outlook to 2026.” M2 PressWIRE Press Release. Digitaljournal.com, 5 Oct. 2018. Web. 22. Nov. 2019. http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/3966643.
42 Madsen, Deborah L. “The Business of Living: Gravity’s Rainbow, Evolution, and the Advancement of Capitalism.” Pynchon Notes 40-41 (1997): 144-58. Print.
43 Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. 1851. Ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1988. Print.
44 Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992. Print.
45 Norris, Frank. The Octopus: A Story of California. 1901. New York: Penguin, 1994. Print.
46 Norris, Keenan. “The Black Market: The Dark Role of Excess in the Literary Marketplace and the Genesis and Evolution of Urban Literature.” Journal of Ethnic American Literature 1 (2011): 9-30. Print.
47 Powers, Richard. Gain. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. Print.
48 ---. Operation Wandering Soul. New York: Harper Collins, 1994. Print.
49 ---. The Gold Bug Variations. New York: William Morrow, 1991. Print.
50 Pynchon, Thomas. Against the Day. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.
51 ---. Bleeding Edge. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.
52 ---. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York: Penguin, 1995. Print.
53 Rosha, Rekha. “The Madam, the Bootlegger, and the Mystic: The Black Market and the Cruelty of Fairness in The Street (1944).” Merchants, Barons, Sellers and Suits: The Changing Images of the Businessman through Literature. Ed. Christa Mahalik. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010. 294-323. Print.
54 Ross, Andrew. The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life: Nature’s Debt to Society. London: Verso, 1994. Print.
55 Rush, Norman. Subtle Bodies. New York: Knopf, 2013. Print.
56 Sanders, Scott. “Pynchon’s Paranoid History.” Twentieth Century Literature 21.2 (1975): 177-92. Print.
57 Shelley, Louise I. Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2018. Print.
58 Soja, Edward J. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. New York: Verso, 1989. Print.
59 Thomas, Samuel. Pynchon and the Political. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.
60 Weiner, Tim. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. New York: Anchor Books, 2008. Print.
61 Weintraub, Karen, and Nick Anderson. “California Businessman Sentenced to Four Months in College Admissions Bribery Scandal.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 24 Sept. 2019. Web. 18 Nov. 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/09/24/california-businessman-faces-sentencing-college-admissions-bribery-scandal/.