Inherent Vice Title

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Like all Pynchon titles, it's hard to know where to start, trying to gather up all the possible meanings and resonances. But, for openers:

  • Inherent Vice - as a legal term: "A loss caused by the inherent nature of the thing insured and not the result of a casualty or external cause." 'Lectric Law Library
  • Inherent Vice - as it relates to classic Pynchon themes: compare with entropy. Everything declines. Everything falls apart. Everything goes wrong.
  • Inherent Vice - as an analogy for the Christian doctrine of Original sin, which says that everyone is born sinful [1]. Indeed this is what Doc initially believes the phrase to mean when he wonders, "Is that like original sin?" (IV 351). This theological interpretation raises the question, 'If vice is inherent, where do we locate virtue?'[2]
  • Inherent Vice - as a general term: "A defect or cause of loss arising out of the material itself, such as the acid content in paper which will eventually destroy the paper." Online Encyclopedia uk defitition
The bit about paper in the above definition is particularly apt, when we consider all the stuff in Gravity's Rainbow about Slothrop's (Pynchon's?) ancestors, paper mills, etc. 'Money, shit, and The Word' indeed.
The expression "Inherent Vice" appears in M&D, p. 272: "...the inherent Vice of Glass..."
  • There's also the connections between this book and Vineland to factor in. That earlier book's theme (or one of them) was, reductively, 'what went wrong?', i.e. how did the 'revolutions' of the Sixties fail? Was it something inherent to the spirit of those times, and/or inherent to human nature? Why is it that some people are attracted to Fascism?
A further political dimension which dovetails nicely with the 'flaws that let us fall for Fascism' question - the phrase was used by Winston Churchill: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent vice of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."
  • Winston Churchill: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent vice of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries" (source?).
  • From his New Yorker review of the novel, Louis Menand's take on Pynchon's title: "The title is a term in maritime law (a specialty of one of the minor characters)[Sauncho Smilax]. It refers to the quality of things that makes them difficult to insure: if you have eggs in your cargo, a normal policy will not cover their breaking. Getting broken is in the nature of being an egg. The novel gives the concept some low-level metaphysical play--original sin is an obvious analogy--but, apart from this and a death-and-resurrection motic involving a saxophonist in a surf-rock band, 'Inherent Vice' does not appear to be a Pynchonian palimpsest of semi-obscure allusions. (I could be missing something, of course. I could be missing everything)."
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