Raine Koskimaa: Reading Victory Garden 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - References

Intertextual Fields of Reference

I will next turn to intertextual references and allusions in Victory Garden, which back up the different interpretational frames described above. 

1. Borges' "Garden of Forking paths" and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"

There is the direct citation from "Garden" (see above), and a scene from a seminar where Miles MacArthur discusses the story with his (actually, Boris') students. While the students do not find much of interest in Borges' story - ("I think Borges was an intellectual masturbator" as one of the students comments), MacArthur gives a positive interpretation of the story anyway:


"No, wait," Macarthur maintained, "you're not getting it. We're talking about possibilities and alternatives. Try for a minute to see beyond necessity, beyond determinism. Who says there's only one way? Who says it only happens once? If we use our imaginations we can learn to see the world differently, and with that vision we can create systems that aren't constrained to singularity. Multiple values, multiple horizons. That's what the shift to virtuality is all about - to create new worlds that make room for difference. Why, someday we might even be able to bend time itself..." 

This is also connected to virtual realities by a student:

With Mirrors 

"The trouble is," Jude Busch noted, "what that story has to say about time is really a lot of horseshit. Time is a garden of possibilities, some kind of cosmic combinatorial, a universal lottery." She reached over and poked Victor in the ribs. "I can see how that connects to VR, even if some of us are too slow." 

"Time becomes the matrix of all simulations," Amanda put in, her prodigiousness showing. 

This is an exceptionally explicit case of metafictionality, where the text itself discusses and proposes the way in which itself should or could be interpreted. But there is another dimension to the relation: Victory Garden as a rewriting or appropriation of "Garden of Forking paths". 

Quite apparently, there is a correspondence in names, other than the title alone. Boris Urquhart is usually referred to as just U. which is read like the name of Yu (Tsun), and there is an agent Madden in both texts. Yu has to kill his friend Albert to indicate to the Germans which French city will be the target of an attack - Moulthrop has interpreted this by saying how Yu has to reduce the person Albert to mere sign in order to fulfill his task (Moulthrop 1991, 119-124). When Urquhart arrives at the Observatory, he tells he has to kill Tate - to reduce the multiplicity of virtual realities? There is a war in the background in both stories and from that analogue we may infer that also in Urquhart's case it is the war that is the motivating force for everything. 

Here comes to play another hypotext by Borges, namely "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". The lexia "Story of My Life" refers to the story:

Borges referred to a place called Uqbar, supposedly "a region of Iraq or Asia Minor" which was in fact unreal. Uqbar is brought to you by the people who invented Tlön, a conspiracy to replace the bad old world with a novus ordo saeculorum. There's a lot of that going around. 

Urquhart uses the role name "Uqbari the Prophet" - Uqbari, that is, a citizen of Uqbar. Thus, Urquhart is part of the "novus ordo saeculorum", The New World Order, which, not coincidentally at all, is located in the region of Iraq. More "realistic" intepretation might be that Urquhart is an Islamist activist, but more convincingly, part of some even bigger plan of New World Order. Or still, Uqbar is figment of the Tlön people; that is, Urquhart lives in a fictional world of Virtual Reality simulation. Choose your own favourite conspiracy. 

2. William Burrough's cut up technique

There is one sequence in Victory Garden which works as a digitalized version of Burrough's cut up technique. All the titles of the lexias in this sequence are just a few letters long fragments, and the contents of the lexias are (at least seemingly) random bits and pieces from previous lexias:


A large man wearing a bowling shirt and headphones was stretched out on a truly ugly Italian couch. His sleeping cap was wired for EEG. It was at this point that something entirely plausible happened.

Let me explain.

Miles wasn't sure he wanted to know what the suit looked like once it got wet. 

the 38th Vice President of the United States, Spiro T. "My Kind of Guy" Agnew big schnozz beady eyes and all

"Live and in person, the fascist pig god himself." 

A little paranoia never hurt anyone, Tate insinuates, nor for that matter a whole lot.

ESCAPE VELOCITY, the P.A. announces. The audience stands to applaud. 

What was it, too much Liquid Sunshine back in the sixties? 

From "Escape velocity" to "applaud" the two sentences are from the lexia "Miles & Miles" (1); "A little paranoia" sentence from a lexia titled "A Little Paranoia"; "the 38th vice president" from the lexia "Wallshot" etc. This sequence could be interpreted as a lesson in cut up, and a key to understand the hypertext structure as a device with which the reader may "cut up" their own narratives. 

And one should not overlook the mention of Liquid Sunshine in a passage which is formally linked to Burroughs - add to the list of paranoia and conspiracy also the drug induced hallucinations. 

3. Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow

Stuart Moulthrop is introduced in the leaflet attached to Victory Garden, as: "In 1975 he read Gravity's Rainbow and became an English major". Even without this knowledge of Moulthrop's enthusiasm about Gravity's Rainbow (1973), it must be one of the primary hypotexts for any attentive reader. There are no explicit references - curiously enough - to Pynchon's magnum opus, but more indirect allusions all the more. There are certain scenes which resemble situations in Gravity's Rainbow: Emily's waiting in the shelter while planes are screaming outside parallels with Gravity's Rainbow's opening (and closing) scene where people are sitting in a theater hearing the screaming outside - possibly a V2 which would blow the whole place to pieces, just like Emily's shelter may be the target of an Iraqi Scud missile. But mainly the similarities are in the huge web of entangled plots and subplots. In a recent essay about misreading and "interstitial fiction" Moulthrop has quoted the following paragraph from Gravity's Rainbow:

"This is some kind of plot, right? Slothrop sucking saliva from velvet pile.

"Everything is some kind of a plot, man," Bodine laughing. 

"And yes but, the arrows are pointing all different ways," Solange illustrating with a dance of hands, red-pointed fingervectors.

Which is Slothrop's first news, out loud, that the Zone can sustain many other plots besides those polarized upon himself… that these are the els and busses of an enormous transit system here in the Raketenstadt, more tangled even than Boston's - and that by riding each branch the proper distance, knowing when to transfer, keeping some state of minimum grace though it might often look like he's headed the wrong way, this network of all plots may yet carry him to freedom. (603)  

This could as well be a description of Victory Garden - and after this we can offer one more interpretation for the map; it could be a transportation track plan with stops (as entrance points to the different plots). In Gravity's Rainbow the German V2 missiles are in a central role (the title suggesting the parabel path of a ballistic missile; and one of the characters is able to predict the missile attacks - he is so conditioned that he gets a hard on always a few minutes before the attack…) and while in Victory Garden there is just the Saudi Arabia scene which is directly dealing with missile attacks, there is one interesting by-way: in Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint the protagonist is kept in a virtual reality in order to provide him with safe surroundings; but all the while he is partaking in TV quiz program in which he actually calculates the targets of extraterrestrial missile attacks! It may be a bit far-fetched, but tempting anyway, to assume Urquhart's work, whatever its apparent form, is actually doing some kind of military calculations (there is even the strong science fictional element in the Observatory scene hinting that there may be something happening in the astronomical scale while everybody's attention is on the Gulf War). 

Also, the simulation-application of Master Johndan's "Shadow Economy" is just the type of "second order plot" (about second order plots, see Lyotard (1991, 27) any Pynchon reader would immediately find familiar.  

One of the most important narrative techniques in Gravity's Rainbow is the way how Pynchon veils the changes in narrative levels - the narration may shift from representing the textual actual world ("fictional reality") to representing some textual alternative world (like, a person's dream, or as often in Gravity's Rainbow's case, hallucinations) without giving any clear marks of this change (a thorough analysis of this device in Gravity's Rainbow is in McHale [1992, 61-114]). Very much the same thing is happening in Victory Garden - at least if we choose to interpret it in the dream-as-hypertext, or, virtual reality simulation framework - telling which scenes belong to the textual actual world, which to textual alternative worlds is totally impossible. 

Competing Interpretations - Loose Ends

As is clear by now, I hope, there are several possible interpretations for Victory Garden. All these competing interpretations share the common property of being very flexible, and also strongly indeterminate - despite that they still can not in any way explain each and every aspect of the large web of Victory Garden. There are always some loose ends, which will not have a "natural" place in one or another composition of the larger picture. 

Interpreting Victory Garden means mainly to try and give it a structure - to try to describe how the mechanism works. In other words, trying to explain the poetics of Victory Garden. It refers towards even larger and more complex works, in regard to which there is no sense anymore to talk about individual story lines or scenes at all - all that may be reachable is some kind of understanding of the metastructures which govern the whole and set limits to possible actualisations.

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(1) "Miles & Miles" is a good example of Moulthrop's way to use linguistic puns (in very much the same way as Michael Joyce); "Miles & Miles" is a dream sequence in which a character is running through a stadium which is full of Miles Macarthur replicas - " you must be passing forty or fifty Miles a minute".