V. and the Goddess
She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)
Bonnie Lenore Surfus
- Our poetic "destiny" was replaced by the discovery of an aristocracy deeper and older. We were builders.
- — Fausto Majistral
If we accept Fausto's confessions as truthful, then we confirm the epistemological uncertainty of historical narratives, as we cannot deny the subjective nature of autobiography. Pynchon employs Fausto's confessions to create a context from within which readers might examine the enigmatic V. Pynchon situates the "truth" within the confessions, which represent an allegedly reliable historical narrative. But it is not the truth of V. that we learn from Fausto. Pynchon's situates the confessions within his fiction, thus illuminating the nature of history-building, and in this reveals Her-story, the story of V. and the plot to deny Her historical reality.
Fausto Majistral's understanding of his "destiny" may well help to corroborate the work of contemporary scholars who contend that some "builders" have operated with a great deal of disrespect. Attempting to answer difficult global questions concerning human nature, a number of contemporary historians, archaeologists, and scholars from many disciplines, pool their efforts, hoping to get behind the subversive plot to suppress information concerning early civilizations that worshipped female deities. Unlike the teaching of many of our oldest legends, myths, and historical lessons, contemporary scholars are excited about
- a veritable archaeological revolution . . . [that] reveal[s] a long period of peace and prosperity when our social, technological, and cultural evolution moved upward: many thousand of years when all the basic technologies on which civilization is built were developed in societies that were not male dominant, violent, and hierarchic. 
Evidence of the extent of the "old teaching" is seen in the classroom. Indeed, many a young student is found defending skepticism about feminist ideology by opening an essay with some statement like "Since the beginning of time, man has dominated woman . . . ." While the instructor once struggled to explain how very illogical this statement was, today's instructors have some valid scholarship to support this claim of logical fallacy. For contemporary records of history are changing. Riane Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade, Merlin Stone's When God Was a Woman , Marija Gimbutas' The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe  and Peg Streep's largely pictorial Sanctuaries of the Goddess all attempt to set the record straight in terms of early civilization. Based largely upon long-suppressed archaeological information, these writers are concerned about revealing the notion that it has not, in fact, been since "the beginning of time" that male dominance has been commonplace among "civilized" cultures. Eisler suggests that there was once what she calls a "partnership model" of civilization, a model that eventually gave way to a "dominator model." This theory, which she refers to as the "Cultural Transformation Theory," is gaining support widely . Eisler explains that
- Cultural Transformation Theory . . . proposes that the original direction in the mainstream of our cultural evolution was toward partnership but that, following a period of chaos and almost total cultural disruption, there occurred a fundamental shift. The greater availability of data on Western societies (due to the ethnocentric focus of Western social science) makes it possible to document this shift in more detail through the analysis of Western cultural evolution.  Her work is not isolated, however, focusing only upon Western culture. She notes that this shift in cultural orientation "is roughly paralleled in other parts of the world." 
Eisler, through her knowledge of contemporary work on how systems evolve and change (or chaos theory) is able to suggest that the shift occurred in a relatively small window of time; small fluctuations in an earlier cultural condition have had large effects, influencing a later configuration of the system. She suggests that some of the pre-transformation characteristics of the agrarian societies of the Neolithic encouraged "the basis for the development of civilization dating over thousands of years in to our own time" . She notes that "almost universally, those places where the first great breakthroughs in material and social technology were made had one feature in common: the worship of the Goddess" . Eisler says that we might believe this thesis because of the archaeological evidence that supports it: "finds of female figurines and other archeological records attesting to a gynocentric (or Goddess-based) religion in Neolithic times are so numerous that just cataloging them would fill several volumes" . Other evidence, such as changes in the ways in which archaeological investigation proceeds, also support these claims of the early predominance of the Goddess and her subsequent demise. The very knowledge of these cultures was, she suggests, somehow threatening. Eisler says that germinal archaeological and anthropological evidence may have been squelched because
- this new knowledge about the original direction of our cultural evolution casts such a different light on our past and our potential future that it is so difficult for us to deal with. And because it represents such a threat to the prevailing system, there are massive efforts to suppress it. 
Scholars are aware of Pynchon's knowledge of the work of Robert Graves, particularly his book The White Goddess. In her book, Thomas Pynchon, Professor Judith Chambers notes Pynchon's indebtedness to Graves, notably in his central concerns: gynocentric cultures and their repression, and the Goddess, with her fate at the hands of a patriarchal culture devoted to destruction, a destruction ironically "built" upon the manipulation of language (interesting that later this surfaces in Vineland, Sasha noticing that "heartfelt language gets pounded flat") . Chambers elaborates on Graves' contribution to Pynchon, underscoring this linguistic element of change:
- Pynchon uses Graves's concept of the White Goddess her ancient matriarchal culture and its "poetic faculty" to symbolize the paradoxical, indeterminate nature of truth and the humanity that attends it, both of which have been lost to logic, absolutes, and dreams of control. 
And while Chambers asserts that "the loss of the poetic faculty concerns far more than language," they (the "far more", presumably reality, and language) are intricately bound, one hardly more real than the other in Pynchon's (or rather, Fausto's) economy. One cannot "build" without proper materials: a stone, a page...
The ancient "builders", aware of the materials available, were mythmakers. Chambers, Graves, and others look to the worship of Apollo as symbolic of cultural transformation . Riane Eisler is among these others. She notes the Greek Oresteia as "one of our most famous and frequently performed Greek dramas" and goes on to problematize why this is so  . Relevant to the claims of both Chambers and, earlier, Graves, she notes the trial of Orestes (for the murder of his mother), where "the god Apollo explains that children are not related to their mothers," proposing that "the mother is no parent of that which is called her child." Upon this decree, Athene springs, full-grown, from the head of her father (who is, of course, Zeus). Orestes is thereupon divorced from his crime the murder of his mother. 
Eisler questions the motivation that encourages such a break between mother and child; or rather, she questions Aeschylus for developing the entire trilogy around such a theme. Finally, she wonders about a culture that finds such a drama appropriate for all to see, "all the people of Athens, including even women and slaves" and why it is shown "on many important ceremonial occasions" (Eisler 79). She notes that the traditional scholarly explanation favors an intention that was to "explain the origins of the Greek Areopagus, or court of homicide." But, she says,
- as the British sociologist Joan Rockwell points out, such an interpretation is nonsensical. It does not even touch upon the central question of why this case, claimed to be the very first ever tried by a Greek court of homicide, is the killing of a mother by her own son. Nor does it address the central question of how, in what is supposedly a "moral lesson" in support of state-administered justice, a son could be acquitted for the premeditated, cold-blooded revenge murder of his mother and then on the patently preposterous ground that he was not related to her. 
Eisler traces the trilogy in detail. In short: the first play, Agamemnon, features queen Clytemnestra murdering her husband to avenge the death of her daughter, Iphigenia, who was sent to marry Achilles, but was actually more of a talisman, a sacrifice to provide fair winds for the fleet. In the second, The Libation-bearers, Orestes murders his mother, Clytemnestra, thereby avenging the murder/death of his father. In the third, the Eumenides, the trial of Orestes takes place at the temple of Apollo at Delphi. The goddess Athene presides over the jury of select Athenians, who are ultimately divided. Athene decides Orestes is to be acquitted "on the grounds that he has not shed kindred blood" (Eisler 79-80). This is notable as a cultural shift from matrilinear to patrilinear norms. For in Agamemnon Clytemnestra, as matriarch, is just in punishing the crime. In the Libation-bearers, the shift is obvious, mother-murder the central theme (paving the way for the new male order). And finally, in the Eumenides, Eisler notes that "with Athene, as both the direct descendant of the Goddess and the patron deity of the city of Athens, declaring for male supremacy, the shift to male dominance must be accepted by every Athenian" . Furthermore, as Rockwell suggests, the work is "a masterful bit of cultural diplomacy; it is very important in an institutional shift that a leading figure of the defeated party is seen to accept the new power" . And so, we come to V.
Perhaps something of the association (with Graves, with knowledge of the "shift") informs V. Perhaps this contributes to the compelling nature of Pynchon's work altogether. The very loud "hint" of conspiracy that colors the accusations of contemporary revisionist practices is most likely what compels us, as readers, to study, as well as to read Pynchon. V. does seem associated with this phenomena, and although perhaps an elevated form, it does ring of conspiracy theory, that which makes the likes of Clancy and Grisham so popular. But the conspiracy Pynchon reveals is far more comprehensive than those explored by the grocery story novelists. And Pynchon is rarely formulaic, such as are many of our popular authors. And the conspiracy he reveals, while fictional, is historically based. Far more than a contemporary iteration of the Oresteia, V. is a story of creation. It is a story of both "The Birth of Venus" and the birth of God, a male God. Thomas Pynchon seems to utilize findings and claims of contemporary archaeologists, anthropologists and historians as evidence of the conspiracy that is revealed (cleverly and even covertly?) in his novel V. In his use of the letter V. (with the notable period) as a symbol of this long lost woman, and in his use of male narrators throughout, we can see how contemporary theories on Goddess-worshipping societies may inform Pynchon's work.
In terms of the symbol "V", we can turn, like Eisler, Streep, and others to University of California archaeologist Marija Gimbutas and the chronicles of her field work, that which became the basis for much contemporary theories on early civilizations that worshipped female deities. Gimbutas, whose field work and subsequent study "catalogs and analyzes hundreds of archaeological finds" introduces a "recognition of the collective identity and achievement of the different cultural groups in Neolithic-Chalcolithic southeastern Europe" in her "ground-breaking" work The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe . Gimbutas says that early Goddess-worshipping societies utilized the symbol "V" quite frequently, both in its rudimentary script and as a symbolic decoration for the many female figurines they crafted. Gimbutas suggests that "the V . . . is one of the most frequently encountered marks on figurines and other cult objects" . Eisler says that Gimbutas "hypothesizes that V glyphs may have been a way of representing the Goddess in her epiphany of the bird, and that objects so marked were originally dedicated to her cult" . Furthermore, Gimbutas observes that "when later signs are inscribed in rows, . . . the repetitive clusters of V's . . . may have represented vows, prayers, or assignments of gifts to the Goddess" .
The cultural work of Eisler, Gimbutas, and others seeks to challenge traditional notions of history and early civilizations. They seem to believe that there may be some hope for future civilizations, if they can only convince readers of the possibility of harmony between the genders and the need to reconceptualize notions of dominance and submission. Pynchon, on the other hand, seems impressed by history in terms of a more fatalistic vision of power. For Pynchon, who demonstrates awareness of earlier, more life-affirming societal structures, "It is too late" (Pynchon; Gravity's Rainbow, p. 3). Examining what contemporary scholars are revealing, alongside the "facts" contained in historical record, Pynchon's V. is a novel that seems invested with awareness of the great plot of male historians and archaeologists, the plot to destroy the Goddess in all of her manifestations. This becomes the plot to destroy V.
While Stencil engages in a life-long search for V., hoping to uncover something of his past, something of his heritage, something good, we read of the perpetual destruction of Her. Unaware that this is happening, readers can write of the horrific degradation of women in the novel as a sign of the times, putting it all down to general sexist behavior nothing new, very modern, etc. But like Stencil, it passes the reader by, so accustomed are we to this treatment of women in our culture. We too hope to find, along with Stencil, the answer to his mystery. And we come to the "confessions" (signifying answers) of Fausto Majistral.
The anxious reader approaches Fausto's confessions anticipating revelation; we will discover the mystery of V., who she is, what she is, where she came from, what happened to her, etc. But when the confessions are read, the reader leaves with only a vague impression of truth, as if the chronicle has left something out, something necessary, some vital knowledge that will validate the document as truthful, and verify that we, both the reader and Stencil, understand. Suspicion lingers. Stencil "would have liked to go on believing that the death and V. had been separate for his father," that Sidney Stencil had in no way participated in the death, and that V. was somehow a different story altogether, one far less ambiguously told it is a vague and overtly subjective chronicle (Pynchon; V., p. 345). Something of the power of V. cuts through this male narrative, and Stencil remains curiously unsatisfied, wondering if possibly doubting that "his coincidence" had happened, effectively signifying the end of his search (Pynchon; V., p. 345).
What Stencil encounters is not the end of his search. This kind of narrative telling would play into the hands of history, into Fausto's plans, confirming his document as one that honestly puts forth the procession of events, events with a strange religiosity about them, a certain prayerful remembrance of the horrific facts that contributed to the destruction of a mysterious, now past-tense "evil" (which erects a new God, able, as he is, to erase evil with the stroke of a pen). The dismemberment of the Bad Priest, a seemingly inevitable violence carried out by the compelling instincts of children who supposedly know right from wrong, allegedly represents a moment in time when Fausto recognizes his own indifference to suffering. For the sake of the document, Fausto wonders "why did he not stop the children: or lift the beam?" (Pynchon; V., p. 345). Yet ultimately, by his own hand, we read the document to suggest that his wrongdoing is pardonable, nay, that it is not even wrong. This "historical" narrative "fact" raises many questions, and leads to the same kind of Formally Undecidable Propositions that encouraged Godel's 1931 papers suggesting the perpetual indeterminacy of rigid systems (Hayles 33). It sets up the same kind of paradox Hayden White argues when he suggests "that the conviction that one can make sense of history stands on the same level of epistemic plausibility as the conviction that it makes no sense whatsoever" (White in Holton 324). Additionally, it points to what Robert Holton sees as one of Pynchon's main concerns: "his radical questioning of power, politics, historical events, and [the] philosophy of history" (Holton 324). Fausto's hasty self-forgiveness also recalls the trial of Orestes and the unforgivable pardon, contributing to the expression of Pynchon's concern for the subjective nature of historical tracts. For if the Bad Priest is, as Chambers suggests, and I believe, a manifestation of V., then Her "children" murder her and Fausto is an accomplice in his unwillingness to intercede (and/or in his compulsion to fabricate the "story"). Yet whereas Orestes is absolved by the goddess Athene, here Fausto absolves himself. As in the Eumenides, notions of male supremacy are inscribed by those who intend to rule men themselves; be they human or ethereal, they are male in their manifestation. Fausto knows they are human. He says that: first, he had "no further need of God," and second, that he had found himself "guilty of murder: a sin of omission if you will." Fausto III "will answer to no tribunal but God. And God at this moment is far away" (Pynchon; V., p. 345). In fact, God is his creation, just as are his "confessions." He "pardons" himself. And so his "guilty" verdict is not only veiled, but also meaningless.
The God that Fausto has "no further need of" is the same God he finds himself in service to. Fausto is part of "an aristocracy" of "builders", builders of history. In writing his confessions, he helps to erect notions of a God in-the-making, a God constructed through historical record, a male God erected by men.
In the beginning of the confessions, we read of Fausto's belief concerning the nature of history. He explains that "the facts are history, and only men have histories" (Pynchon; V. p. 305). He writes in a room, described in intricate detail. Why? Because the room is historically relevant. Why? Because Fausto is defined relative to the room. He is "an occupant of the room" (Pynchon; V. 305). This place in time and space represents the birth of God. Affecting the tone of a priest recalling the sermon on the mount, Fausto suggests that the room,
- as the physical being-there of a bed or horizontal plane determines what we call love; as a high place must exist before God's word can come to a flock and any sort of religion begin; so must there be a room, sealed against the present, before we can make any attempt to deal with the past. (Pynchon; V., p. 305)
The room becomes the place at which Fausto's "truth" is established. The writing of the confessions represents the death of the earth Goddess V., and the birth of the male sky God. This God is of the sky and therefore "far away", unlike the very near presence of the earth Goddess V. worshipped in Malta, a place to which everything seems to turn; a place where the dismemberment of the Bad Priest is irrelevant; a place where that one, single iteration of the existence of V. is just a moment and an event in time that cannot dilute the strength of Her eternal presence. Fausto's God is a construction, written into existence by men who can no longer bear their own understanding of the power of V. The vitality of life, exemplified in the female deity, is "destroyed" by that which cannot produce anything animated. Male discovery is limited to the production of the inanimate, either in the form of a tangible product like a painting, all the way to the extremity of death producing a corpse by the will of his own hand. Both are inanimate. Profane in the fifties, Botticelli in the Fifteenth century, and all the Schoenmaker's throughout time: all work to transform V. into something he can control, giving him the power of creation, that which was once Her exclusive domain. Fausto's confessions can then be read as a true confession an admission of knowledge concerning this male jealousy and its manifestations. But this confession is veiled by the linguistic, explained in terms of the religion of an allegedly omnipotent male God.
Because only a linguistic construction, this God is a male-generated fiction, as close to something animated as he can come. And in the creation of this fiction, he must destroy the life force generated by V.; today, yesterday, tomorrow . . . he must k ill. He must colonize and convert. He must preach to all the nations of the power of his God. He must displace the life force with his own destructive fictional God. And so the confessions must be "sincere", powerful, resembling a heartfelt admission of wrongdoing. It is the rhetoric of organized religion. It runs throughout the confessions. Its truth runs throughout time. But through history it is validated, justified as a Christian imperative empire in the name of God the colonization of Africa, which is really the truth of Vheissu recognition of the truth about male "discovery", that it can only end in death. And thus the eternal pursuit of V. And the eternal hatred toward Her, especially toward her powers of animation.
Fausto II expresses a strange pride in the work of "building." He writes, "for no apparent reason," of both the union with Malta and with his male sky gods. This is the shift Eisler and others note. This is the work of transformation, from worship of the Goddess and life-generating symbols, to praise for the male sky gods that encourage and endorse male power and supremacy. Fausto II suggests that "History's serpent is one; what matter where on her body we lie," implying that the narrative chronology of history is uniformly accepted, and so to intervene and create a new version can be accomplished anywhere, anytime. The double meaning of "lie" here validates this notion, "lie" suggesting either the falsity of the narrative, or the act of laying upon raping and exploiting in the name of male dominance, an idea that finds expression throughout the novel (Pynchon; V., p. 310). Interestingly, along with the bird Goddess, symbolized by the V sign noted by Gimbutas, representations of the snake Goddess are prominent among the figurines found throughout central Europe, adding significance to the word "lie" in this context. To lay upon (or about) "history's serpent" is representative of the linguistic nature of the cultural transformation noted by Eisler, Stone, Gimbutas, Graves, and others. And Fausto's confessions are rich with these lies, manipulations of history and myth that ultimately favor male hegemony. Here, a recounting of ritual and habit conjoin with suggestions of a new God or gods to be praised:
- ... in feast and combat and mourning we are Malta, one, pure and a motley of races at once; no time has passed since we lived in caves, grappled with fish at the reedy shore, buried our dead with a song, with red-ochre and pulled up our dolmens, temples and menhirs and standing stones to the glory of some indeterminate god or gods, rose toward the light of andante of singing, lived our lives through circling centuries of rape, looting, invasion, still one; one in the dark ravines, one in this God-favoured plot of sweet Mediterranean earth, one in whatever temple or sewer or catacomb's darkness is ours, by fate or historical writhings or still by the will of God. (Pynchon; V., pp. 310-11)
- chevrons . . , lozenges, . . . triangles, . . . zigzags, multiple arcs, and cupmarks; all are interpreted as signs of the Goddess .
The menhirs, "from the Welsh maen for "stone" and hir for "long", are everywhere in Malta, and they also "dot the British Isles" .
Based upon her studies of Gimbutas and others, Peg Streep suggests that these great stones are symbolic of permanence that, early in human history, came to stand for the eternal and the divine. Its massiveness could protect the dead and stand as a bulwark against transience;
- [their] seeming imperviousness to the elements made . . . [them] . . . symbol(s) of the imperishable. 
Streep adds that an offspring of the earth, of the Goddess' body, stone took on some of her supernatural aspects, magical and mysterious. Long after the ancient rites had been forgotten, the power of the stones remained intact in folklore and legend; as recently as the early years of this century, Briton couples hoping to conceive went to the menhirs for aid. 
As with the red-ochre, Fausto transforms the stones, from sacred signs of the Goddess into symbols that link humankind with a notion of submission to a male god or gods, those that are mentioned throughout the confessions. These bold strokes are, in their transitional nature, nearly unseen. Vaguely resembling the old order, they usher in the new. The latter Fausto comments of Fausto II that
Fausto II was a young man in retreat. It's seen not only in his fascination for the conceptual even in the midst of the ongoing, vast but somehow boring destruction of an island; but also in his relationship with your mother. (Pynchon; V., p. 311)
Interesting that Fausto II's "retreat" coincided with the "destruction of an island" AND "his relationship with your mother." The island is, of course, Malta, and the destruction takes place in the shift from Goddess worship and life-affirming ritual to "rape, looting, [and] invasion" (Pynchon; V., p. 311). It is the same shift being pursued by contemporary scholars who are working to uncover the notion that male-dominated fields of history and archaeology have distorted the facts in order to suggest and maintain the cultural belief in and acceptance of male-dominance. It is the truth of Vheissu, the plan to steal Botticelli's Venus indeed, the dream of making love to Her. It is the exploitation of the land and the manipulation of a people. It is replacing the human with the robotic. It is making history a lie. It is the destruction of all that is life-affirming and honest. It is the destruction of V., earth Goddess, used and exploited by men who utilize her very power to persuade a people to worship the more aggressive, violent, frightening, male sky God. It began long ago. Its chronicle is only recently being revealed.
Stencil searches. And what he finds is that all searches eventually lead to Malta, to V., to knowledge of the cover-up. Based upon his search, we get our "Stencilized" rendition of history, a story veiled in mystery, yet threatening to reveal something of the truth; a story narrated not in a chronological, orderly fashion, (including a description of the site of the narrator) but one that jumps from one century to the next with little concern for the reader's sense of perception. The style mirrors the arrow of time that neither points clearly in one direction or another. It mirrors the concept of space, infinite yet bound by the imposition of our ability to erect boundaries. It mirrors "reality" in these respects, but most decidedly in it's pronounced rejection of formality. Stencil's narration is haphazard, the syntax unsure. Until the Epilogue. Finally, in the Epilogue, we read a prose "Stencilized" in a new way, a prose that seems informed by some epiphany that we have missed. Stencil has see n where the story ends. V . . . period. And whether or not Stencil expresses awareness of the end of an era, the discovery of a fossil, the introduction to a legend (ala Dracula and his Renfield/Victoria and Godolphin), or the overwhelming acknowledgement of the indestructibility of any "V" in any "period," he must, almost by definition as part of the "aristocracy of builders," create a prose rendition of this saga in the only way he knows in a "Stencilized" version very similar to historical narrative. In this manner he cannot, even with a great desire to break tradition, but cast it as anything other than an observation, a historical sidebar that readers can only come to, in this case, as one approaches "a novel." It is a fiction despite his enlightenment just as the history that attends his revelation. With this grim fact, perhaps suspiciously even, he leaves the reader with a hint of ambiguity. Fleeing Malta, he offers no direct rationale for his sense of horror. In this, Stencil exits the text without proclamation, leaving the reader to create anything remotely definitive in terms of meaning as the most he can possibly do.
- Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1988., p. xvi
- Stone, Merlin. When God Was A Woman. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1976
- Gimbutas, Marija. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe
- Eisler, Op.Cit, p. xvii
- Ibid., p. xvii
- Ibid., p. xvii
- Ibid., p. 9
- Ibid., p. 9
- Ibid., p. 9
- Ibid., p. 76
- Chambers, Judith. Thomas Pynchon. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992, p. 81
- Chambers, Op.Cit., p. 46
- Chambers, Op.Cit., p. 46
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 79
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 78
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 79
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 80
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 80
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 12
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 72
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 72
- Eisler, Op.Cit., pp. 72-73
- Eisler, Op.Cit., p. 80
- Streep, Peg. Sanctuaries of the Goddess. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1994, p. 124
- Ibid, pp. 109-110
- Ibid, pp. 106
- Ibid, pp. 105
- Ibid, pp. 105