Conspiracy theories insist that we open our eyes and wise up. The fix is in, resistance is futile, and innocence is a kind of benightedness, a handicap to be overcome. Such theories claim to explain everything and may appear to explain a lot but they fall short—bitterly, uselessly—as any parent can attest, when the time comes to answer a question posed by an actual innocent. A good postmodernist, like a 9/11 truther, can afford the luxury of disdain for innocence; a parent is bound to protect it. Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge is best understood not as the account of a master of ironized paranoia coming to grips with the cultural paradigm he helped to define but as something much braver and riskier: an attempt to acknowledge, even at the risk of a melodramatic organ chord, that paradigm’s most painful limitation.
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