Is Orin Paranoid Enough?
Spoiler line: p. 575
It seems clear evidence of a kind of benign fate or world-spirit that this incredible specimen had appeared… unbidden, unStrategized — come up to him and started a lush foreign-accented conversation and revealed professionally lovely hands as she rooted in her tripolymer bag to ask him to autograph for her toddler-age son a Cardinal-souvenir football she had right there (!) in her bag… as if the universe were reaching out a hand to pluck him from the rim of the abyss of despair.
What to make of Orin and his “putatively Swiss” hand model? Obviously there’s some type of potentially sinister joke being played on O. here, and Wallace is letting the reader in on it. When I read this section, I thought back to p. 545 and the description of Lenz’ technique for gaining the trust of dogs using meatloaf, how “the dog at issue… becomes totally uncynical and friendly.” “Uncynical” is also an apt description of Orin’s response to his new Subject. Which judging how things turn out for Lenz’s dogs, doesn’t bode too well for Orin.
Orin’s failure to see anything fishy in the sudden appearance a Subject who has checkmarks in all the right demographic boxes puts him at the opposite end of the paranoia spectrum from, say, Pemulis, who as we know has all sorts of baroque safety mechanisms in place to throw off any authorities who may be after him. Orin, in the words of Pemulis’ Paranoid King, is not “paranoid enough.”
When it comes to the use of paranoia in literature, Thomas Pynchon pretty much owns the patent. In his 1990 RCF review of Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Wallace wrote that Pynchon, “who has done in literature for paranoia what Sacher-Masoch did for whips, argues in his Gravity’s Rainbow for why the paranoid delusion of complete & malevolent connection, whacko & unpleasant though it be, is preferable at least to its opposite–the conviction that nothing is connected to anything else & that nothing has anything intrinsically to do with you.” Orin seems to be operating under the latter assumption — that there is no intrinsic purpose, malevolent or otherwise, behind the appearance of the “Swiss” model right at his moment of need. This subject simply “appeared,” “unbidden, unStrategized.” Whereas Wallace is using textual clues (“right there (!)” “toddler-age son,” the “legless and pathologically shy punting-groupies” who reappear as soon as Steeply leaves the scene) to make it pretty obvious that the world Orin’s in right now is a Pynchonian one in which, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Orin sees the dots but fails to draw any connections between them. Wallace calls this state of mind “Pynchonian contraparanoia,” and goes on to note that this is essentially the metaphysical state that Wittgenstein’s Tractatus describes. So Orin’s basically applying a contra-Pynchonian worldview to a decidedly Pynchonian world. Sounds like a recipe for trouble.