Real Time and Narrative Time in Inherent Vice
Real Time and Narrative Time in Inherent Vice
This article is not complete. I will be adding quite a bit to it, including citations. I just wanted to get an early version up so that I would have something in place to edit. When I'm done, I will remove this note
This article contains a large number of plot spoilers. If you have not yet read Inherent Vice, please do so before reading this article.
On page 74 of Inherent Vice, Agent Borderline of the FBI tells Doc Sportello how he (wrongly) connected Doc to Glen Charlock's killing and Mickey Wolfmann's kidnapping by saying It's the chronology, really. On page 212, Bigfoot Bjornsen tells Doc (wrongly, again) that his information on dropping off Dr. Blatnoyd helps a little with the chronology. In a Thomas Pynchon novel, those are capital-C clues, and make taking a look at real time and narrative time worth a look.
In fact, the chronology is difficult to figure out. The narrative centers on the phrase Things were weird for a few days with the Dart on page 180. There is an unbroken time line from the beginning of the book to this point. There is also continuity of time from this point to the end of Inherent Vice if you're willing to accept that Pynchon has inserted a day between May 4 and May 5. The gap of a few days is what's troublesome.
The only events which allow one to assign real-time datesto the events in Inherent Vice are NBA playoff games. This may seem odd, as many events, such as the invasion of Cambodia and the killings of four students at Kent State University happen during the narrative frame of the story. The only news that seems to penetrate the Los Angeles of Inherent Vice concerns the Manson murders. Referring to Gravity's Rainbow, another article on this wiki notes that Pynchon's text enacts a type of dramatic irony whereby neither the characters nor the various narrative voices are aware of specific historical circumstances, such as the Holocaust, which are, however, very much to the forefront of the reader's understanding of this time in history. Such an approach generates dynamic tension and moments of acute self-consciousness, as both reader and author seem drawn ever deeper into the "plot", in various senses of that term. That sort of dramatic irony seems to be used quite a bit in Inherent Vice.
Inherent Vice begins on Tuesday, March 24, 1970. It's the Tuesday before Easter. The day, though not the date is noted on page 11 where This happened at the Pipeline every Tuesday. The date is not fixed until page 113, where Doc was home watching division semifinals between the 76ers and Milwaukee. Pynchon has given a clue that locates the narrative in real time: the NBA playoffs. The Eastern Division Semifinals took place on Wednesday, March 25, Friday, March 27, Monday, March 30, Wednesday, April 1 and Friday, April 3, 1970. By counting days from the start of the book, it can be determined that the current day is a Monday. Hence, this day is Monday, March 30. Again, by counting days, it can be determined that the day the Dart goes into the shop on page 180 is Sunday, April 5.
In order to assign real-world dates to the second half of Inherent Vice, one must count backwards from the last day of the narrative. On page 364 the Lakers would lose Game 7 of the finals to the Knicks. This is one of the most famous games in NBA history, and it occurred on Friday, May 8, 1970. Counting the days backwards to page 180 when Doc finally went over to pick up his ride, one can determine that this day is most likely Saturday, April 25. It's no more than one day away from that.
That means that the Dart was in the shop for 20 days, which is difficult to reconcile with events in Inherent Vice. Two events bridge this gap, and they don't help much. First, on page 179, Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd is seen going into a Bel Air Mansion presumably owned by the Golden Fang--before the gap. On page 203, after the gap, Bigfoot tells Doc that Blatnoyd was found next to a trampoline in Bel Air scarcely an hour ago. Since the Golden Fang doesn't seem like the kind of organization that would act slowly, this seems to contradict the timeline implied by the NBA playoff games. On the other hand Riggs Warbling is first seen on page 61--presumably clean-shaven. If the timeline is correct, the day is Friday, March 27. On page 250, Warbling appears again with a couple weeks' start on a beard. Again, if the timeline is correct, the date is May 1--a few weeks later. It's easy to suspect that Pynchon is having fun with anyone trying to match the narrative timeline with a real calendar.
Given the regret that Doc felt over a less-than-24-hour delay in the first and second days of the narrative, it's difficult to believe that he would drop the case for almost three weeks. Perhaps some kind of Dark Shadows-like parallel time is at work. Japonica Fenway is singing that show's theme song just before the break in the narrative. It's also possible that Pynchon, in a novel whose themes include resurrection and redemption, wanted his story to begin a few days before Easter and end a day after the feast of the Ascension. This way, the narrative would mostly take place in the time Jesus Christ spent on Earth after his resurrection. It is a time the Bible is strangely quiet about. The Book of Mormon states that Christ spent much of this time in America. Mormons are closely associated with the FBI in Inherent Vice.
Or, as another editor on this wiki has suggested, it's possible that Pynchon, contrary to reputation but like most authors, hasn't been perfectly careful about the relationship between his story's timeline and the real calendar's. For those who would like to follow the story's timeline more closely, a guide to the timeline follows.
Timeline for Inherent Vice
Inherent Vice begins on a Tuesday night. On page 11, the narrator states this happened at the Pipeline every Tuesday. Later references to NBA playoff games will confirm that the date is March 24, 1970. It's Holy Tuesday, several days before Easter.
The second day of the narrative, Wednesday, March 25, 1970, begins on page 12, when Doc finally woke up. This day is Holy Wednesday.
The third day of the narrative, Thursday, March 26, begins on page 34, when Doc is At the office next day. This day is Holy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper.
The beginning of Chapter 4 (page 50) marks the fourth day of the narrative, Friday, March 27--Good Friday. It is clearly the next day, as the narrator says, Today, after a deceptively sunny and uneventful spin. Los Angeles weather forecast for today call for clear skies. This day in the narrative ends at the end of Chapter 6 (page 87).
The fifth day of the narrative, Saturday, March 28 begins on page 89 at the start of Chapter 7: Doc called Sancho next morning. This day is Holy Saturday, the day that Jesus Christ rested in his tomb. This day ends at the bottom of page 97.
At the top of page 98, the narrator notes that Surnise was on the way, marking the start of the sixth day of the narrative. It is Sunday, March 29, 1970, Easter Sunday. This day ends at the end of Chapter 7, with Doc returning from his acid trip.
As Chapter 8 begins on page 111, there is no direct cue from the narrator that this the next day, but considering that Doc spent the last night tripping, and now Aunt Reet's office is open, it's safe to assume that this is the seventh day of the narrative, Monday, March 30. On page 113, Doc was home watching division semifinals between the 76ers and Milwaukee. Finally, Pynchon has given a clue that helps to locate the narrative in real time, and it's the NBA playoffs. The Eastern Division Semifinals took place on Wednesday, March 25, Friday, March 27, Monday, March 30, Wednesday, April 1 and Friday, April 3, 1970. That means that this day can only be Monday, March 30. In order for that to be true, the "few days" that the Dart is in the shop (p. 180) must be more like a few weeks.
Given the regret that Doc felt over a less-than-24-hour delay in the first and second days of the narrative, it's difficult to believe that he would drop the case for that long. The only logical conclusion is that the story is in some kind of Dark Shadows-like parallel time for the first half of the book.
The seventh day of the narrative, Tuesday, March 31, begins on page 117 as, Next morning, waiting for the coffee to percolate, Doc happened to glance out the window. This day ends with Doc and Penny watching Nixon's appearance at the Century Plaza Hotel at the end of Chapter 8 (page123).
The ninth day of the narrative, Wednesday, April 1--April Fools Day--picks up at the beginning of Chapter 9 with Doc headed up to Topanga that afternoon on page 124. It is significant that the visit to the Boards' zombie-infested mansion occurrs on April Fools Day. This day in the narrative continues until Doc, Denis, and Jade/Ashley escape from the zombies (page 136).
The tenth day of the narrative begins on page 137. This would be April 2, a Thursday. On page 138, Doc asks a policeman at the Parker Center did he happen to catch that game with Phoenix? Doc is probably referring to the second game of the Western Conference playoffs. The Lakers beat Phoenix 114-101 on March 29. Again, Pynchon has anchored the text in real time by referring to an NBA playoff game. This day ends with Doc and Farley examining photos of Glen Charlock's murder (page 142).
The eleventh day of the narrative begins immediately after with around lunchtime next day. It's Friday, April 3. Doc spends the day with Luz, and the narrative for this day ends as Luz leaves in the Super Sport (page 145).
April 4, the twelfth day of the narrative begins immediately on page 145 with Doc Looking forward to a peaceful day at the office." This day comes to a close with Doc getting the All-Nighter Special on page 162 at the close of Chapter 10
The thirteenth day of the narrative, April 5, a Sunday, begins at the start of Chapter 11. On page 175, there is a reference to rush hour traffic which seems odd for a Sunday. This day ends on page 180 when Japonica drops off Doc and Denis.
The next paragraph begins Things were weird for a few days with the Dart in the shop. The timeline gets broken here. From the end of the book to this point--from April 26 to May 8--the narrator has made it easy to follow the events of the book in real time. The narrator puts Doc to bed at night, gets him up in the morning, points out television shows and events. The only break is an "another day" inserted between May 4 and May 5. That makes a total of 14 days in the second half of the book.
The first half of the book, thirteen days up to the "few days" the Dart was in the shop, can also be matched with real time events. For example, Doc's parents visit during a division semifinal game between the 76ers and the Bucks. That series was played from March 25 to April 3. That would mean that the Dart was in the shop for three weeks, from April 5 to April 26. Or that some kind of Dark Shadows-like parallel time is at work.
In any case, the narrative resumes on its fourteenth day, probably morning, Saturday, April 25, 1970. See below for an explanation of "probably". Since it is no longer to count days from the beginning of the book, one must now count days backwards from the conclusion, which will take place on May 8. On page 182, Tito says, I'll buy you lunch. This is probably morning, Saturday, April 25, 1970. I say probably because it seems unlikely that Doc could have lunch with Tito, make a few phone calls, and drive to Ojai, getting there before lunchtime. The narrator has been pretty careful, though, from the end of the book to this point in noting the ends and beginnings of days.
The fifteenth day of the narrative, Sunday, April 26, begins at the start of chapter 12, on page 186. On that page, Doc is said to be reaching the Ojai turnoff just before lunchtime. This day ends on page 197, with Denis describing the break-in at his apartment.
The sixteenth day of the narrative, Monday, April 27, begins on page 197 with Doc going into his office. On page 199, while Doc is arriving at the Tweedle house, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour is playing on a television, though listings for that day do not have the show airing. On page 200, The Beverly Hillbillies rolled along toward Green Acres even though these shows are not scheduled to appear this evening. Perhaps the reference is metaphorical, as both shows are about rubes and bumpkins. This day ends on page 206 with Doc's dream of being a child.
Immediately, Doc wakes up on the seventeenth day of the narrative, Tuesday, April 28. On page 226, Doc mentions that there's the rent coming due and so forth, a reasonable prevarication on the 28th. This day ends on page 232, as Doc headed for the other (bed) and must have made it.
The narrative resumes early afternoon the next day, the eighteenth of the narrative, Wednesday, April 29. This day ends on page 246 with Doc watching Godzilligan's Island
The nineteenth day of the narrative, April 30, begins on page 246, with Henry Kissinger on the Today show. This appearance is probably fictional. Richard Nixon was to give a speech announcing the invasion of Cambodia this evening, probably keepign Kissinger too busy to appear on television. This day ends with Tito driving Doc out of Las Vegas on page 249.
May 1 is the twentieth day of the narrative. It begins with Doc and Tito continuing their drive in the first light on page 249. On page 250, Riggs Warbling has a couple weeks' start on a beard, indicating that there is, in fact, a couple of weeks between the first and second halves of the story. Warbling's beard provides one of a few bridges between the first and second halves of IV, along with Rudy Blatnoyd's last appearance and murder, and the movies Doc sees while the Dart is in the shop. This day ends at the end of chapter 14, with Doc falling asleep as they were going over the Cajon Pass.
The narrative resumes at the start of Chapter 15 Around nightfall of the twenty first day of the story, Saturday, May 2, 1970. On page 257 Doc has trouble recognizing Gordita Beach and its residents. Denis explains it as Some college break or something. As it is six days after Easter, this makes sense. Then Denis drifted off to watch Lawrence Welk. That fixes the time between 8:30 and 9:30 P.M. Tonight's show is a salute to the Kentucky Derby. On page 260, Bigfoot had been enjoying a quiet family evening...watching Lawrence Welk as well. On page 261, the narrator notes that the Saturday horror movie tonight was Val Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie. The Pasadena Star-News TV Week section shows only one horror move on television this night--The Crawling Hand. Doc falls asleep in the middle, ending this day.
The next day begins immediately on page 261, the twenty-second day of the story, Sunday, May 3. The Sunday Times shows up right on schedule. This day ends on page 274, at the end of Chapter 15.
The twenty-third day of the narrative, Monday, May 4 begins at the start of Chapter 16 on page 275. On page 280, the narrator mentions that Doc would have found his way to the TV set on some chance the playoffs, even though it was Eastern Division tonight, might still be on. The fifth game of the NBA finals was played in New York Monday, May 4, 1970. The Knicks won 107-100 over the Lakers. At eleven P.M., during the local news, Penny "snarls" at the television Give it a rest, Bugliosi. While the world of Inherent Vice is paying attention to the Manson case, it seems likely that the real world was covering today's killings of four students at Kent State University today. This day ends on page 281 with Penny crying while watching Ghidra, the Three-Headed Monster. If you have an hour and a half to kill, you can download Ghidra for free from Google Video.
The next day of the narrative, the twenty-fourth, begins immediately with the phrase The next day was as they say another day. It's another day in more than one way. Pynchon has inserted a day in between Monday, May 4, 1970 and Tuesday, May 5. This day continues until the end of chapter 17, a total of 34 pages, making it the day with the most pages in the book.
The events of this day are unusual, to say the least. Most of Doc's encounters with women on this day are strange, to say the least. Rhus Frothing screamed and picked up a galvanized trash can prepared to throw it at Doc's head (p. 282). Farther down the page, the clock up on the wall...read some hour that it could possibly not be. Doc waited for the hands to move, but they didn't. This passage suggests that the events of this day occur outside of real time.
On page 283, Doc gets the sealed file about Vincent Indelicato's killing and Adrian Prussia's strange history with the California Public Code. Doc realizes that he is being used by Bigfoot to avenge Indelicato's death. On page 285, Doc learns that Boris Spivey had been released from jail to work for Mickey Wolfmann.
On page 287, Doc notes that something was strange, not only in the afternoon hush of the building but also in Petunia's demeanor. And she's not wearing underwear. Petunia has been acting as matchmaker for two of Doc's clients, Clancy Charlock and Tariq Khalil, who are having sex on the floor of Doc's office accompanied by the music from a Bonzo Dog Band record which to his recollection Doc didn't own.
Tariq tells Doc the details of his deal with Glen Charlock. Later, a likeness of Thomas Jefferson counsels Doc on solving the case.
Still later, Doc meets with Coy Harlington. Coy explains his history with Vigilant California, and with Shasta. Finally, Doc meets with Shasta. They have sex several times as she tells Doc about life with Wolfmann, recounts her kidnapping and escape, and tells Doc about meeting Coy and her involvement in his recruitment. Inexcplicably, Doc and Shasta watch a playoff game between the Knicks and the Lakers.
In chapter 18, on page 315, it was still another classic day of California sunshine, the twenty-fifth day of the story,Tuesday, May 5. Inherent Vice is back in calendar time. This day continues until the middle of page 340.
The twenty-sixth day of the narrative, Wednesday, May 6 begins on page 340 around noon. This day ends on page 348 with Doc and Crocker Fenway setting up a meeting the next day.
The story doesn't resume until the next evening, the twenty-seventh day of the story, Thursday, May 7. May 7 is the Feast of the Ascension in 1970. Jesus Christ, having been resurrected, returns bodily to heaven on this day. This day is fixed at 40 days after Easter. This day ends at the bottom of page 353.
The twenty-eighth and final day of Inherent Vice begins on page 354 with Doc's phone ringing. This day continues for the balance of the narrative.