Gravity’s Rainbow

ISBN: 0143039946
ISBN 13: 9780143039945
By: Thomas Pynchon

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About this book

Winner of the 1974 National Book Award“A screaming comes across the sky. . .” A few months after the Germans’ secret V-2 rocket bombs begin falling on London, British Intelligence discovers that a map of the city pinpointing the sexual conquests of one Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop, U.S. Army, corresponds identically to a map showing the V-2 impact sites. The implications of this discovery will launch Slothrop on an amazing journey across war-torn Europe, fleeing an international cabal of military-industrial superpowers, in search of the mysterious Rocket 00000, through a wildly comic extravaganza that has been hailed in The New Republic as “the most profound and accomplished American novel since the end of World War II.”

Reader's Thoughts

David Lentz

One has to admire the magnificent blend of erudition and ambition, which produced this masterwork. I have no idea why 400 characters were necessary to tell this enigmatic tale -- publishers, a scorecard, upon reprint, would help even diligent readers keep track. One suspects that passages of drafts were composed by a not altogether sober mind, although the edited drafts show discipline. However, there are places where all semblance of taste is altogether forsaken, not sure why, unless the forces of anti-gravity were simply just too overpowering. We live under a death sentence, true enough, as we all know -- the silent rocket may strike us randomly at any time. Randomly, that is, unless you're Tyrone Slothrup. With his track record it should have been harder for him to get a date. Didn't find many, or even any, lady characters who weren't predictably drawn as simple objects of desire. I think Pynchon aspired to be an American James Joyce in this novel. The writing is brilliant in many passages but Mason & Dixon transported where this novel did not, nor did V. Saul Bellow's audience once was estimated to be in the range of 20,000. Pynchon's audience is narrower -- truth be told, I fear, the audience which really understood this work is 0001. At this point Pynchon seemed to write for himself whatever he damn well pleased. Perhaps, he has earned this distinction by virtue of the merits of his extraordinary work. Perhaps, he wants to lift us beyond the realm of gravity to a higher place. But the reality of the situation is that this epic literary work is burdened by the artifice so eager to transcend the gravity to which it is so tragically bound.

Matthew

When I was at the Mets game last week, the crowd started doing the wave during the seventh inning, and everyone watched anxiously as it went from one end of Shea Stadium to the other and then cheered when it finally got to the end. This went on for most of the inning, growing in strength and crowd enthusiasm. Finally, the guy in front of me stood up and pointed at the field and shouted, "Oh my God! In the midst of our wave, there's a game being played!" That's kind of what I thought about Gravity's Rainbow. Somewhere in the midst of all this noise and digression and (let's be honest) showing off, there's a story, which can actually be hysterical and frightening. Like The Crying of Lot 49, the only other Pynchon I've read (so far), Gravity's Rainbow reads like a paranoid, schizophrenic, Terry-Gilliam-esque slapstick nightmare. Unlike Lot 49, though, the prose here lacks any semblance of control, which is not necessarily a bad thing, except for the times when it feels like a bad Faulkner rip-off. In the midst of innumerable side stories about immortal light bulbs and toilet diving, to name just a couple, Tyrone Slothrop is stumbling his way through The Zone (Europe after World War II), searching for information about a mysterious rocket and wondering why every time he gets an (ahem) erection, death and destruction follow. I know that a book like this needs to be read and then re-read (and then re-read and then re-read). Like Ulysses, I imagine I'll pick up on connections I didn't see this on the next time around, I'll remember more of the hundreds of characters, I'll appreciate better the mixture of "high art" and pornography; I get it. But I can't help but think that like Slothrop or Blicero or the myriad characters aboard the Anubis, Pynchon was also getting off on all the chaos, working himself into a frenzy, and more than once, overdoing it, making a mess all over the page.

Aloysius

As I was finishing Gravity's Rainbow (took me 2 months), I started kicking around an question that hadn't necessarily occured to me when I started: Am I really intended to understand everything that's going on in this book? And if approached with the answer of "no," Gravity's Rainbow is an enjoyable experience. I started off slowly in the attempt to take in every word and comprehend everything that was going on, but as I read an reread, I realized that some of this stuff was either above my head or completely incomprehensible without a study guide or a graduate course and I should simply try to extract from the experience what I could rather than try to understand it in its entirety. Unlike other high-brow writers such as Joyce or Nabokov, Pynchon uses a low-brow, toilet humor that lends him an immediacy and accessibility not found in Ulysses or Lolita/Ada (okay, it's arguable, but when Nabokov and Joyce make jokes...um, face it people, they're not really that funny) and the periods of lucidity and of tangible plot within Pynchon's work are intriguing. He writes with a genuine love of language and can weave a spell-binding web with poetic, descriptive lines that draws a reader in, although at times, the text is incredibly difficult (sometimes painful) to wade through. In particular, I found the story of Pokler (one of hundreds of characters) caught my attention, for the questions it raised. Although it may only occupy 30 pages of the book, I felt an emotional attachment to this German scientist that I wasn't able to form with any of the others in the book. Basically, Pokler is an important figure in the development of the V2 rocket for the Germans, but he's not necessarily the most willing or happy of workers. His wife and daughter are in a concentration camp somewhere and his superiors hold this against him like a carrot at the end of a stick. Each year for a few days, his daughter is sent to visit him, and then taken away unexpected without the benefit of a goodbye. Of course, each year, he's not certain as to whether it is the same girl or even his daughter at all, but he pretends that she is simply because he needs that connection to survive, to keep himself sane. The story is an unsettling examination of familial relationships and the idea of identity, and its worth reading the book if only for this small section. Of course, the rest of the novel had its moments, but none so poignant for me as that of Pokler's work on the rocket and his relationship with his daughter. There are times when a reader has to wade through examinations of corporate conspiracy ("They" being a main, unidentified force throughout) and descriptions of the science behind rocket feul, and at these times Gravity's Rainbow is completely overwhelming. But then again, perhaps Pynchon's point is to make you feel as lost in the novel as people do in modern life. Certain things don't make much sense; but hey, when you look out at the complexities of the world, is the society we live in any different?

Ian Paganus

Prologue"A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now."GenesisIn the beginning was the earth, and above the earth was the sky. The earth consisted of land and water. The sky consisted of air, the moon, the sun and the stars in the heavens.The land consisted of rock. Water was everywhere, but still precious.The sky was light by day and dark by night. By day, the light came from the sun and sometimes the moon. At night, a lesser light came from the stars and the moon.On the land, things were still, but then they began to change. The sun made rock hot by day and the night made it cold, and the rock became stone, and the stone soon became soil.The Creation of LifeIn time, the soil and the water came together with the air and the sunlight to form life.The life was green and did cling to the soil.The air and the heavens were the realm of gravity.Everything on earth was made to fall and to disperse and to dissipate as time goes by. To rise was to challenge the laws of nature. Nothing could rise, except one thing, invisibly, vapors.Water mixed with the heat of the sun and became a vapor, and the vapor ascended to the sky and became clouds. At night and sometimes by day, the clouds became rain, and the rain fell and spilled water onto the earth.Some water remained on the land in rivers and streams and lakes. Other water, sliding and falling and dropping across the land, found its way to the oceans.The Life of FruitIn time, life conspired to defy gravity little by little.Life combined with the soil and the water and the air and the light to make trees and shrubs (some bearing bananas or mangoes or pawpaws), and these plants reached skyward to the sun.But these plants could not be severed from the soil, because their roots sought nourishment there. Any plant severed from the soil would fall to the earth, obedient to gravity.In time, many plants were severed from the earth and covered by soil and water and became hard and part of the rock. Beneath the surface of the earth, dead plants formed coal, and sometimes oil and gas.The Origin of ManAfter much time, other forms of life were born, including animals that did grow heads and arms and legs and tails and eat the plants.Some animals became humans, some male, some female, all of whom wished to walk on two legs and become higher than other animals and plants.Men were not always bigger and stronger than other animals and so sought refuge in holes in the ground and caves.The caves were darker than night and men grew frightened of the dark, not knowing what was out there, until they discovered fire, which they used for light and heat.Sometimes, men used fire to warm the flesh of other beasts and they grew stronger.Life was good, and men tended to live within and surrounded by nature as one.Man on the MoveMen began to move across the earth in search of food and learned how to construct homes of rock and stone and bricks made of soil and water.Their homes grew taller than trees and animals and began to defy gravity.Then men learned how to make machines that could move across the land and water at speeds faster than men or horses could walk or run.And they consumed coal and oil and gas, so that they were not dependent on horse power.Man Turns the Power Switch OnMen learned how to make electricity and switches that would turn the power on and off.Men made glass bulbs that turned darkness into light.Men had finally become enlightened.Men looked at the sky for beauty and meaning and portents of the future. They wondered what lived in the heavens and whether they had been created by gods.They made drawings and pictures of what surrounded them. One day they would make photographs and moving pictures and shiny silver discs.Men observed what occurred in nature and, over a great duration, started to learn about cause and effect.Man Dominates HimselfThen men created gods in their own image. They invented religions and superstitions and sometimes it was difficult to tell them apart, men and their gods, religions and superstitions.Men used their religions to explain what they could and couldn’t do.Then they created churches and holy men and scriptures to dictate to them what they must and must not do, and the holy men and their gods punished them if they did not do what they must do, or did what they must not do. Man Discovers Matters of Life and DeathMen observed decay and destruction and death around them, and wondered whether they too would die one day.Men didn’t like this prospect and decided that they alone amongst the plants and animals had a soul and, after death, would live in eternity.Except that, if they disobeyed the commandments of their holy men and gods and scriptures, they would be punished by eternal damnation and made to live in hell. Which was not meant to be a good thing.Some scientists conducted experiments and tests on dogs and other animals and learned how they were governed by stimulus and response.Men wondered whether their souls and their capacity for reason elevated them above the animals.They did not recognise that, even with their gods, men would do evil things to each other that animals would never do.Man Engages in Some Empire State BuildingMen built their homes in cities and formed nations. They conquered other cities and nations and established empires.They established workforces and armies.They organised men and their possessions into rows and columns, and they made men and women wear uniforms, so that they might look and think and do alike.They developed systems to punish those who would dissent and they used force to hold their empires together.They looked down upon any man or woman who would not conform or wear a uniform.Those that they did not incarcerate or hang or inject with life-sapping solutions or electricity, they cast off into the wilderness, where they would disperse or die of thirst.We Men are ScientistsSo men acquired knowledge and wisdom, and accumulated science and technology beyond the wildest dreams of their predecessors.They converted their knowledge and wisdom into zeroes and ones, so that they might store them on silver discs.Some men wondered whether there was more to life than zeroes and ones, and was there anything beyond zero or between zero and one, and they were scorned.Man Defies GravitySlowly, man’s dreams became more ambitious.Some men dreamed about how they might fly like a bird, and one day men learned how to make flying machines.Men did not always live happily with other men, and they made tools and machines that would maim and kill their enemies.Men used their aeroplanes to drop bombs on other men, and the planes and the bombs grew bigger, and the maiming and the killing grew more widespread and efficient.At the same time, men learned how to make bigger and taller buildings that reached higher and appeared to touch the sky.Many men lived and worked in these skyscrapers.In Case of WarThen there were two wars between many nations of the world.In the first war, many men died in trenches dug into the soil of their farms.In the second war, it was not necessary to get into a trench to die. Many people died in their homes and their buildings. It was easier to kill more quickly in the cities that housed large numbers of people.Men made new bombs that were meant to end the wars, but when they continued, men invented rockets that could maim and kill even greater numbers of people.Some rockets made a sound that warned people that they were coming.If you heard the sound, you might be able to escape to safety.When they did not end the war, scientists invented more and better ways to kill more and better people. They built rockets that made no noise and could kill you before you heard them coming.They were the perfect machinery of death, because nowhere was safe and you could not escape them. These rockets defied both gravity and the imagination.While nobody had been looking or thinking about it, man’s buildings and vehicles and aeroplanes and rockets and bombs had made the earth dark again.A Voice in the WildernessWell, maybe not nobody. A man called Slothrop had been watching.Every time a rocket was launched, Slothrop was blessed with a hard-on, an erection.He would look at the rockets and he would be turned off.At the same time, he would look at the rockets and he would be turned on.Slothrop’s hard on was a hard one for the scientists to explain.What the Fuck?Somewhere in Europe, scientists were erecting buildings, platforms, rockets that could bring death to people like Slothrop.Slothrop suspected that the best use of an erection was not to build an edifice, but to fill an orifice.Slothrop wondered, why had men become obsessed by Death, when they should have been preoccupied with Life?Surely, there is no life without sex, no progress without congress, no creation without procreation?“Make love, fuck the war.”“Fuck war, fuck each other.”How do you convince everybody else that this is the solution?“Fucked if I know,” sez Slothrop.The Prophet DebunkedSlothrop is cast out of the mainstream and sets out across Europe in pursuit of love, sex, and rockets (and those who would launch any one or more of them at him).Still, even equipped with his hard on, Slothrop prefers bananas to buildings and rockets, he is bent but never straight.He is the ultimate non-conformist, hedonist and sybarite, who gives pleasure to himself and to many women, Katje, Margherita, Bianca, three of the foremost amongst them.Slothrop’s skepticism and excess threaten the System, Religion and Culture. He is an anarchist Counter-Force to Binary Code, Mono-theism, Uniformity and Over-the-Counter Culture. He is the unwitting counter-cultural Prophet who threatens the methodical, ordered and conformist backbone of Mainstream Society. He is a spanner in the works. He is a virus that must be eliminated. Like Trotsky, he is a Prophet that must be netted.They, the powers that be, with their uniforms and their weapons and their switches, chase Slothrop through Europe, but he remains free.MisanslothropyIn time, people came to doubt whether Slothrop ever actually existed at all.Some would ask, “Slothrop? What kind of name for a prophet is that?”Still They did not stop their pursuit, even when They were certain that he must be dead. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.If you can’t see him or hear him, deprive him of oxygen. Wipe out his disciples. Stifle his message. Prevent it from reaching any children. If the medium is the message, remove his medium. That way the prophet and his prophecy will cease to exist. Revelations? What Revelations?Was Slothrop a fabrication? A ghost in the machine? A shadow in the light of day? A figment of someone’s imagination? A fiction? Just a character in a novel? Just a story in a holy book?As Slothrop would say, “I’m fucked if I know.”Outside the novel, the world continues as before, only more so. Buildings reach higher. Rockets and aeroplanes fly further. Wars drone on. Civilians die. Men line up in rows and columns and uniforms. Power perpetuates itself eternally. Evil perpetrates itself on people via people. Darkness masquerades as light. The sky is silent. We can no longer hear the screaming. It’s all theatre, even within our homes.Group ReadI re-read this as part of a group read started by Stephen M:http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/6...Reading NotesI kept my reading notes in My Writings:http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3...A Letter from Vlad the Impaler of Butterflies Dated April, 1973Dear Tom,Vera and I very much appreciated your gift of a signed first edition of your novel.It actually caused a little friction in the Nabokov household.I don't mean to be ungrateful or vulgar, but we both wished you had given us one copy each. (I guess we could purchase one, but we were too keen to read it.)Naturally, I started it first, immediately it arrived, but quickly found I couldn't put it down.The reason being that, every time I did, Vera picked it up and commenced reading. Initially, our respective lepidopteran bookmarks were quite far apart, but when she passed my place, she asserted her right to be the dominant reader, and I had to wait until she had devoured the entire offering, which she did by the time of Maundy Thursday.Fortunately, this left me Easter to finish it, so we were able to compare notes by Easter Monday, appropriately with a sense of renewed faith in literature.I am convinced "Gravity's Rainbow" is one of the finest works of modern fiction.It is very much an artistic and logical extension of "V.", which as you know we also enjoyed greatly.If your first novel was a pursuit of "V", then "Gravity's Rainbow" is a pursuit of V, too.In fact, it is a pursuit of both V1 and V2.Vera was bold enough to suggest that V1 and V2 might connote Vlad and Vera, though we were unable to reach consensus on who might be noisy and who might be silent. We did, however, hypothesise that Slothrop could be a reversal of Humbert.To put it bluntly (these are Vera's words, not mine), Humbert, European in origin, fucks his way around the New World, more or less.Slothrop, on the other hand, American to his bootstraps, fucks his way around the Old World.I admire the way you, even more so than Slothrop, carried off Bianca. It is some of the most delicious erotic writing I have read.Bianca echoes Dolores nicely. Even the sound of her name...Bi-an-ca. The way it rolls off your tongue, it reminds me of, forgive me for citing myself, "Lo-lee-ta".It's also close enough to the German acronym B.N.K. (which even a faint-hearted German reader or patient would appreciate stands for the "Bundesverband Niedergelassener Kardiologen", cross my heart and hope not to die).Vera was the first to detect how you reversed the reader's response to this relationship.Humbert knew damned well how old Lolita was. It was crucial to his enterprise.On the other hand, Slothrop "believed" Bianca was a minor of barely 11 or 12, but when you work through the arithmetic of your puzzle, you realise that in reality (and therefore fiction) she was 16 (or was it 17?) and consequently of age.So, what Slothrop did was legitimate, but what the reader (who was as yet unaware of this detail) did was not.In "Lolita", I allowed readers to believe they were jurors with a legitimate interest in the proceedings, whereas in "Gravity's Rainbow" they are complicit in a crime that the protagonist did not actually commit.The reader's voyeurism comes at a cost, at least metaphorically.Only time will tell whether America and the world is ready to be confronted with their culpability.Even if they are not, I hope your novel receives the acclaim it deserves.So, well done, Tom, Richard would have been proud.I would have been proud to call you my pupil, too (Pupil 2?), if only you had enrolled in one of my classes.Perhaps you learned more and better from my example?In the hope that you might continue to do so, I have asked my Publisher to send you a copy of my "Strong Opinions".I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed expressing them.Yours, with all my admiration, V.Slothropod De-Feets Cephalopod, Dutch Girl Almost Pops Her ClogsSlothrop, octopusAnd Katje BorgesiusWe were meant to meet.The Thoughts of An Erotic ClausewitzFuck Death, Fuck Rockets,Says Erotic Clausewitz,Make Love, Fuck the War.Jim Carroll Watches the Earth RecedeHow can I propelMy missile 'gainst the pull ofWicked Gravity?Slothrop's Dewy GlansSlothrop's cock, un-croppedSlots into sweet spot, then, spent,Flops soft in wet spot.Summit MeetingWho knows what worldly wisdom I might findWhen I discover myself at the peak, Gravity-defiant, all nickels spent,Trying to work out what it could have meant,And you're already there, reposed, asleep,Your trousers down and crimson phallus bent,And scattered on the snow are streaksOf your rocket-powered ejaculateThat have fallen moist, arc-like to the earth,Still rainbow-coloured and immaculate.So I read 200 sullen words worthOf the dry wit and onanistic mirthThat appeal so much to the daisy chainOf acolytes standing at your rear.As one who's usually come before,They call you a poet and a seer.It's sad we only see your back side,Though we're the ones forever left behindBy all your avant garde sorcery andThe flaccid disquisitions of your mind.Soundtrack:Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Babe You Turn Me Onhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=153eVr...

Danica

i will put the review i wrote of this after reading it, that has been lying unused in my journal since then, in here, when i'm not supposed to be working out. and here it is!!!!! i just got back from running, ha ha... perfect... this is dated summer 2004:"As a reborn lover of books, there has been an ongoing rediscovery of "literature" and it's implications in my life recently. A precocious student early-on, I was hungry for knowledge and read everything I could get my hands on. I have read the high-school caonon of novels and stories--sought out Fitzgerald at Kafka at the age of 12 and wowed English teachers with my deconstructions of the Bronte's and Joyce. However, although subculture was present in other aspects of my life-most notably music-for some reason I found it difficult find the intersection where the past met the future of writing. Enter Infinite Jest. I began noticing it, massive and orange, on the shelves of friends who I looked up to most. Upon research, I discovered D.F. Wallace to be the reigning "kid genius" of popular fiction and also that none of my acquaintances had finished the book. So, I decided to finish it. It was a dizzying novel-spectacular in its breadth-highly entertaining at times and sometimes just as intensely boring. But I got through it. And I was hungry for more. A co-worker of mine told me if I wanted another big, challenging book, I should read Gravity's Rainbow. I was somewhat familiar with Pynchon at this point because of The Crying of Lot 49, Vineland, and some short stories. I understood him to be a man who enjoyed confusing readers who might not be engaged enough. He enjoyed complex plots and mystifying explanations. He enjoyed the underworld and silliness. He created the unending probability of the certain impossible actually happening and absurdly named characters who actually expected it. In The Crying of Lot 49 as well as, say, Infinite Jest, I had encountered in various passages a cockiness I was wary of. It consisted of a self-awareness with a kinship to the purposeful zaniness of things but left something lacking. I was struck by this decorative zaniness because it bore not real significance on the plot or inherent mood of the story. So far, none of Pynchon's nonsense songs had worked their magic on me. In David Foster Wallace, I forgave it by the end of the book because all of the pieces ended up fitting together, and anyone who even slightly enjoys post-modernism likes to be fucked with. That's what entertainment is all about. Still, a few months later, I wonder how much of Infinite Jest I have forgotten and whether it really matters. Do I really need to know about the extensive catalogue of tattoos of the halfway-house inmates?For the first time, with Gravity's Rainbow, I was thoroughly delighted by these little games. More importantly, I feel that they served as a foundation for the gorgeously dark, terrifying, and whimsical world that Pynchon's characters inhabit. The book revolves around the misadventures of Tyrone Slothrop, a United States soldier in England at the end of WWII. Inexplicably, and presumably because of a connection between his amorous conquests and the pattern of bombs falling on London, he is kidnapped and his identity is erased. He spends the remainder of the novel trying to solve the mystery of the rocket that he is connected to and searching for his freedom. He encounters spies, merchants, warriors, and magicians as he wanders the wastes of post-war Europe through the spring of 1945. This book, to me, was all about identity. Slothrop's identity is stolen and becomes a commodity and a legend. He is inextricably connected to the tests that programmed him to interact in the way that he does with the opposite sex and, therefore, the war. The book, though whimsical, is a tragedy. Slothrop disappears in the end-unable to assert himself over the machine that has made him who he is. Of course this is a novel only-a fake conspiracy theory for the enjoyment of the authro and readers. But to me it rang true because I often question how big of a role the individual does have in society, war-torn or not. It is easy to feel a certain joyful emptiness when I am surrounded by strangers on a subway train hurling through the dark. There is another less joyful loss of identity I feel upon financial problems, or dealing with red tape of any kind for that matter. This is more of a feeling of dread of the future being nothing but owing something to someone else, of being a number, of not having a voice or face because I am less powerful than most people. I would like to hope that power is something that doesn't overlook the intelligent or self-motivated, and that each person has the right to self-determination. Slothrop, though, didn't. Or rather, his rights changed so much that the only option for him to remain in control of himself was to disappear completely. Is a man really a man without an audience? Once he falls off the face of the earth, goes into the wild, does nothing of "importance", does he exist or is he just another animal? This is assuming that man and animal are separate to begin with, an assumption I choose to make. Men left on desert islands have told their stories, but what if Robinson Crusoe hadn't refound civilization?It is a simple thing to think about. Really, the story of Slothrop is the story of anyone. We humans tend to bumble through our lives, sometimes blandly and innocently unaware that anything is wrong, other times struggling to piece things together. However, I feel that this book affected me so much because the lush cacophany that Pynchon surrounds Slothrop with is none of the tried-on wackiness of other post-modern fiction but rather a symbolic representation of the world as it is. I do not expect to be fighting Pavlovian octopi or sneaking around parties disguised as a pig any time in the near future, but the fact that Slothrop did shows that each human is up against the same odds. In one way this tale is all about the excesses and frivolities of a world where people have enough money or corruption to manipulate the lives of other mortals. In another sense it is about the indiviual as the person inside the body: the unexplained journey and then the disappearance at the end. For the purposes of the story slothrop may have died when he vanished, but it doesn't really matter. In giving up navigation of the powers that be, we will also die. The story will end. It may seem natural, but it is really a choice to fight, to disguise oneself, to not stop. Pynchon succeeded in telling the story of the individual without sacrificing the absurdity that marks the vagueness of what being a human actually is. Fitzgerald may have told me, when I was 12, that we don't get what we want (and I believed for a long time after that, that tragedy was the most I could hope for in my own narrative... at least it would be interesting). I had been trying to suppress any goofiness for so long and had been looking for the remote picturesquenss of melancholy in such a way that, when I encountered the wildness of Gravity's Rainbow, I rejoiced. I saw that in art and life the unexplainable, the low, the poor and destitute and directionless,the empty ones with looming dark futures are most likely to win, or stay on the map at least, if they succumb to the amazing and question-filled moments, as Slothrop would, to a party of strangers where someone might have the answer.

s.penkevich

‘What is the real nature of control?’ From the first sentence of Pynchon’s National Book Award winning novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, the Reader is transplanted into a threatening world where death strikes first, the cause second. It is a world of frightening realism and comic absurdity, all fueled through drug induced hallucinations, paranoid ramblings, and psychological investigations that is not all that unlike our own reality once you remove yourself to view it from afar as if it were some painting in a gallery. This is the Zone, and Pynchon is your field guide through the wasteland of paranoids, preterits and pornographers. The novel is stylistically staggering and so carefully researched that the line between fact and fiction blurs and is not always easy to deduce. It is carefully plotted out with extreme precision, aligning the events with actual weather detail from the days played out and in keeping with a metaphoric representation of the zodiac signs through the passing months. While this novel can be demanding, it is also extremely rewarding for those who make it through this wild rocket ride of literature. A first time Reader should be cautioned that Part 1 of this mammoth text is exceedingly difficult. Pynchon seemingly takes great joy in pummeling the Reader with a labyrinthine structure of characters and plot lines, each accruing through dramatic left turns in the narrative. The effect is pure disorientation, obfuscation and outright frustration. It feels just like spinning plates. It is, in a sense, Pynchon’s boot camp for the real war awaiting across minefields of prose; it is where he must break you down and reconstruct you as he sees fit. While the Reader must keep their head down and gut through, soaking up as much of the swirling stories as they can, Pynchon lays out the groundwork for the larger themes to come. Many of the ideas expressed early on won’t seem particularly meaningful, but by the end of the novel the Reader will realize it was all right there in their faces from the start. As characters will come and go like ghosts, with only minimal dimension and reference to them, the Reader will begin to realize that the coming tribulations are not there for the growth of the characters, but for the Reader themselves. The Reader must come out the other side changed in order for the novel to be a success. They must let go of their notions of story and plot, for Pynchon views even the smallest plot structure as comfort, they must let go, give in, and submit to Pynchon. He demands it, and he will fire off heady diatribes against your intellect with philosophy, theology, conspiracies and actual rocket science. The novel takes off running once the gun sounds the start of Part 2 when, dropped from foggy London town, the Reader finds themselves in the Zone. Early on is a discussion of Pointsman and Mexico, Pointsman being crafted as the ultimate embodiment of Pavlov’s cause-and-effect conditioning and Mexico being considered as ‘the Antipointsman’.’The young statistician is devoted to number and method, not table-rapping or wishful thinking. But in the domain of zero to one, not-something to something. Pointsman can only possess the zero and the one. He cannot, like Mexico, survive anyplace in between…. to Mexico belongs the domain between zero and one – the middle Pointsman has excluded from his persuasion – the probabilities.’Much of this novel deals with these two major perspectives. Pynchon often establishes structure, the Pointsman method, merely to deconstruct it and show the faults that lie within. By showing two specific points, in this instance excluding those inbetween points, Pynchon is able to demonstrate moments of symmetry, which he will then reverse. Normally a rocket would be heard before it explodes in a ball of death, but with the V2, now we have the death before sound (reversals also play a large key to the novel, from the countdown before a launch, to hypnotic imagery of English explorers sailing backwards to home). These two specific points are also expressed as binary differences, such as black and white, life and death, good and evil, preterition and the chosen few. These binaries are clear-cut sides, direct opposites of forces in keeping with the theory of entropy which rules the novel, sides that we clamor to reach in order to have a firm ground to stand on and a cut-and-dry vision of who is friend and who is foe. But Mexico, and Pynchon, rejects these binaries. Mexico acknowledges the space between zero and one, which is a wild, lawless no-man’s land (recall the McCarthy-esk western vision of Slothrops where there is one of everything – a endlessly compounding ‘one’ that creates an asymptote never actually reaching 1) where everything and anything is possible. It is a place more dream than reality, and the hallucinogenic nature of Pynchon’s spiraling prose and plots do well to express the ambiguities inherent in such a Zone. However, the novel never fully subscribes to one theory and can be interpreted as a cautionary tale for those who wander into this territory. Plot, laws and binaries are structures that keep our minds at ease and provide comfort and safety, so when we enter into the infinite freedom of the decimal we open ourselves to forces that may scatter us, kill us, and rub us out into oblivion. Pynchon himself will try to scatter and thwart the Reader in consequence of stepping into his Zone. He acknowledges you are in his territory, and will speak as he chooses, often with what seems an intention of belittling your own intelligence. He only occasionally makes concessions to the reader when he realizes at least a slight bridge must be made in setting a scene such as saying ‘you will want cause and effect. All right’, which, considering the rejection of such an idea in this novel, serves to mock the reader for scrambling to grasp the reassuring ledge of the pool in this deep end he has thrown us. To swallow this novel on a first read, a reader must attack it somewhat like middle school mathematical story problems – find the important information in the bloated paragraph, divide and conquer. There is a plethora of information to choose from as he will offer a vast variety of the same symbols and metaphors (the S, for example, shows up as the SS, the shape of the bomb factory tunnels, people spooning, the symbol for entropy, etc. There is a death/life metaphor on practically every page) Yet, Pynchon seems hell-bent on keeping you on your toes and disoriented. He will allow the Reader to slide into a groove of strong forward velocity, and then deliver a scene so grotesquely funny or vilely disgusting to shock the readers mind and scatter their thoughts and perceptions from decoding this vast network of ideas and then tries to evade us in a web of looping plots, obtuse anecdotes and countless characters (some of which come and go with hundreds of pages between mention). The maze of a plot that must be navigated is acknowledged as being similar to the course of events Slothrop encounters on the way, which he compares to the MBTA: ‘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.’ There must be a sense of trust that eventually, if you keep gutting through, there will be a conclusion to satisfy a journey of such magnitude. There is a constant paranoia overwhelming each printed word, a paranoia that the Reader must assimilate by proxy in order to fully appreciate the madness at hand. Yet paranoia itself must be a sort of comfort as well. While there is a fear of the Invisible Hand at play, pushing us through psychological nods in the right way, it is still a comfort that we are part of Their greater plan. For the preterits, this They is the only sense of God they will ever feel, as they are looked over by God himself. This whole novel is the interaction of such Preterits, from the fetishists to the colony of escaped concentration camp members, and the Reader must become a member of these second sheep as they must lose their selves along with Slothrop. The Reader is dragged through the mud and muck of a smattering of various theories, and to keep their sanity, they attempt to assign meaning to these elusive threads flashing about them in order to keep going. But perhaps this is just what Pynchon wants us to do, assigning Him the role of the They, and the Reader will begin to feel paranoid that this is all in jest, that Pynchon is simply pulling the world over their eyes and will begin to question even their own powers of deduction. We have learned that all that is comforting must be released (not yet knowing at these points in the novel that there is only a void awaiting with total freedom), and even the paranoid ponderings are only a comfort for us in Pynchon’s world. If there is something comforting – religious, if you want, about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long. Well right now, Slothrop feels himself sliding onto the anti-paranoid part of his cycle, feels the whole city around him going back roofless, vulnerable, uncentered as he is, and only pasteboard images now of the Listening Enemy left between him and the wet sky’ First, note the reversals in this, then swoon at the powerful prose in the second half. Now, assign meaning to this quote – but Slap, no! – Pynchon says there is no meaning. But then feel yourself become transparent and weightless, fading into oblivion with no reference to the world around you. This is the ultimate dilemma we are faced with in the Zone. It is no surprise the Reader is made to feel so paranoid in a novel rife with corporate conspiracy, much of which is highly researched and forms an impressive historical fiction aspect to this novel. If those rambling through the Zone are the preterits moved by the They, than these corporations are one of the highest tangible link to They we can see. They decide who lives and dies, who is rich and who is denied wealth, what we want to consume and how (‘consumers need to feel a sense of sin’) and exist in a realm where the War is simply a shuffling of power. ‘This war was never political at all, the politics was all theater, all just to keep the people distracted…secretly it was being dictated instead by the needs of technology….by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques’. Throughout the course of Gravity’s Rainbow, we have endless looks into mans thirst for technology, which in itself is a thirst for death based on the nature of the technology, even when it is also a life-giving force such as is the case of Pokler who had no life until the Rocket, and how this goes beyond the War itself. Even the White Visitation simply uses the War as a reason for more funding. Mans role in technology is at the heart of every idea in this book. Entropy is a measuring stick which this novel employs (in a book that sets out to dissolve all rules, having a rule that is upheld highlights its importance), and all events and ideas serve to counterbalance each other in keeping with the conservation of energy with the preterits being the heat burned off. As a quick aside, if I may, many of these preterits, Mexico and Jessica’s romance or the concentration camp members (‘their liberation was a banishment’) for example, are directly tied to the war and a become casualty of peace – the budding romance (there are some tearjerker lines, Pynchon really shows his soft side with them) being the ‘waste heat’ in a chemical reaction. They Rockets, being the focal point of the book, are both life and death images as well as phallic metaphors while many of the phalluses are rocket metaphors. Film plays another large role, with much of the book containing constant allusion to pop culture similar to a Quentin Tarantino film, and Der Springer believes he can reshape reality through film. This struggle of life and death is something that must be embraced as two parts of a whole in this novel, much like man and machine become one with Gottfried and the 00000 Rocket. Life and death are found strung together all throughout the novel, yet, as critic Harold Bloom points out in his essays on Rainbow, in Pynchon's book so focused on the idea of Death, the Reader never actually experiences or witnesses one - not one in all of the 800 pages. Many deaths are spoken of, some ambiguous like Tantivity’s, and others referred to plainly such as Pudding’s (note that ‘shit’ is spoken of as a metaphor for death, ‘shit is the presence of death’, and he is made to ingest it during – for him, not us – a sexual peak as another way life and death bind together in the novel), but the camera of the prose, if you will, always cuts right before the Reader must be an active participant in the death. Like Gottfried again, we know he dies, but because the com-link is only one way, we never can know the precise moment. Even Peter’s clubbing to the head cuts before the club can land. In this way, the novel is shown actually as a celebration of life, all the moments moving from 1:life to 0:death but never getting to the zero. We are forever in the Zone, for better or for worse. But with the final words of the novel, nay, the final two words, he pulls us from oblivion back to the whole. We escape death by existing in the moments between 1 and 0, and, ironically, in a book bent on annihilating structure and group alignment, he calls us all back into one large group: humanity.Gravity’s Rainbow is a massive novel that takes quite a bit of decoding and deboning in order to devour. But this is precisely what Pynchon wants and requires of us. This is a book that more or less requires a second reading just to grasp all that it has to say, the first is just a test of survival. The agglomeration of ideas are too much to chew and savor on one trip, and there is so much ambiguity present that, like Joyce’s Ulysses, he intends to scholars to dissect and analyze this novel for years and years to come. In the novel, the Zone members gather to become Kabbalists of the Rocket, ‘to be scholar-magicians of the Zone, with somewhere in it a Text, to be picked to pieces, annotated, explicated, and masturbated till it’s all squeezed limp of its last drop’. This book is Pynchon’s Rocket, ‘our Torah…our darkness’, which he cast forth into the 1970’s literary scene as a harbinger of destruction to all preconceived notions of literature. Pynchon in this way is not all that unlike the Rocket launchers, hidden far away out of sight in his reclusiveness, avoiding photographic surveillance, sending his Rocket into a brave new world. We, the Readers, are Gottfried strapped inside with ‘fire beneath our feet’ as Pynchon, as Blicero, hurls us forth into the irreversible future.Now everybody-00001/00001'Each bird has his branch now, and each one is the Zone' roll creditsI would also HIGHLY recommend the A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel to any readers of this novel. It was a huge help, especially with the pop culture allusions. Just be wary that it does occasionally give away plot elements and devices, sometimes long before they appear in the novel, and will practically double your time reading the actual book because there is so much information.Also, I have to thank Stephen M's wonderful group read for inspiring me to read the book, while doubling as a support group to get us all through this tome! The discussions and links there are extremely helpful and insightful.Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to direct you to the amazing reviews of my reading buddies on this strange ride, Steve, Ian, Jenn, Mark,Shan, Sean, Paquita, and many more to come!

j. ergo

***THIS IS SO A WORK IN PROGRESS: ENJOY/GIGGLE/HUFF IF YOU MUST******THE WHOLE REVIEW IS ONLY AVAILABLE UNDER MY WRITINGS BECAUSE (SEE DIRECTLY BELOW)***ALSO, THIS IS WHAT THE KIDS CALL TLTR (I think), WHICH MEANS IT'S REALLY, REALLY LONG******AND . . . IT PROBABLY HAS SPOILERS, BUT I CAN NO LONGER SEE STRAIGHT SO YER JUST GONNA HAVE TO TAKE YER CHANCES******. . . OR NOT*** Tom Don’t think too hard, Eddie, you might sprain something. Dane You are so goddamn smart. ‘Cept you ain’t. I get you, smart guy. I know what you are. Straight as a corkscrew. Mr. Inside-Outsky, like some goddamn Bolshevik, picking up his orders from Yegg central. You think you’re so goddamn smart. You join up Johnny Caspar. You bump Bernie Bernbaum. Up is down. Black is white. Well, I think you’re half-smart. I think you were straight with your frail. I think you were queer with Johnny Casper. And I think you would sooner join a Ladies’ League than gun a guy down.-Miller’s CrossingOpening a review with a quote seems kind of pretentious to me. But I'm feeling a bit pretentious now that I've finally finished Thomas Pynchon's 1973 pièce de résistance, Gravity's Rainbow. And when I say that, I am indeed calling myself out for enjoying feeling pretty smart right about now, undeserved though it may be. It's just a book after all; or to paraphrase an old movie, q. Can an ape read Nietsche? a. Yes, you idiot. He just can't understand it. But I think I did more than read Gravity's Rainbow. I understood it... well, parts of it for sure. The quote above comes from, on any given day, my favorite film. Miller’s Crossing is period gangster film set in a small, unnamed Midwestern city during the prohibition era. The story and tone of the film borrows heavily, in some cases straight steals, from the books The Glass Key and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. What does it have to do with Gravity’s Rainbow? Very little, I suppose. But often, while reading the book, that very scene kept popping into my head. I believe now that it stemmed from discovering that every time I thought I had Pynchon, or the story, or even some miniscule point pegged, he would come out of nowhere with something that would crush my theory. Often he would turn it on its head, inside out, or upside down. For the sake of protecting anyone else’s experience with the book, I’ve decided to forego providing any examples of this as it was probably the most consistently entertaining part of reading it.To clarify, because the above could be interpreted as making light of the book instead of myself, let me say that Gravity's Rainbow is easily the most profound and captivating novel I have ever read. It is also arguably the most enjoyable one as well. Were I to possess any of the intelligence I attribute myself for just finishing it, I wouldn't be spinning my wheels here attempting to describe how it made me feel that way. This review began as a response to a thread of a friend's below, and I've decided to leave it to develop ramshackle and unbound as it began. If yer reading this at all, you've already decided one way or the other whether you might be interested in reading Gravity’s Rainbow. Because of that, I'm going to mostly throw in a few scattered thoughts around passages I found particularly pleasing, ones that might help someone make the decision to make that plunge. I've left out some of the most powerful ones I came across because the subject matter is, well... just in the remote possible chance someone might be eating and reading this at the same time, proper etiquette dictates that I do. Pynchon himself has no qualms about depicting exactly what I'm not talking about in the last sixty pp. A marked as to-read: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas PynchonK wrote: "Good luck!! I've tried twice and can't do it. I'll try again when I have more time / less immediate responsibilities."A wrote: "Uh-oh. That makes the baby Jesus cry."Pay no mind to the naysayers. I started GR about 7 years ago for the first time and made it just shy of the 200 pp. mark before real life, in general, and my second year of fatherhood, specifically, intervened. When I tried to pick it up a month later, all was lost. I knew within 10 pp. I would have to start over, and I just didn't have the wherewithal at the time. A few years later I started fresh and made it past the 250 pp. mark before some more serious matters put a sudden halt to that. But, in addition to knowing it was pointless taking up where I left off, I learned a new lesson. I realized I hadn't really understood a thing the first time I started it. Rereading the exact same 200 pp. was akin to discovering that I'd tried to read it in Mandarin the first time. Now skip ahead, just short of a year. I happened to have a copy of The Crying of Lot 49 on a long flight. I’d read and enjoyed it in high school, but really didn't get it because I wasn't smart enough yet. Four hours later I finished it and began to really settle into Pynchon's groove. For some reason, when I got home I decided to read V. instead of giving GR another go. Though it is a challenging and long work, I devoured it in an extremely satisfactory manner in a matter of weeks. A few months later, about six months ago, I once again started GR from the beginning; and though I've taken, at times, up to a week off and finished six or seven other books in the same time period, today I finished part three leaving myself just over 100 pp. to go. I think it is the most rewarding novel I've ever read (big words for somebody who hasn’t finished reading it yet), and I've read a few. Of the modern/post-modern juggernauts I haven’t read, the few most likely I’d mention in its class are Moby Dick, Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, A Man Without Qualities, The Recognitions, JR, Dhalgren, Terra Nostra, The Public Burning, and maybe Infinite Jest; all of which I plan to read before I die. But I kind of have a feeling I’m already reading the one that will always speak to me the most.More on that later. Gravity’s Rainbow begins in early December of the year 1944. It is divided into four parts. Pt. 1 is entitled Beyond the Zero, and its epigraph reads:"Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death."-WERNHER VON BRAUNFor those reading who know nothing about Wernher von Braun, he was one of the single most amazing human beings in the written history of our civilization. Also, he was a Nazi and a punk jack ass. But I digress…. As if his real life wasn't interesting enough (much, much more of that below, but it wouldn’t be any fun to give it all away now), not only does he loom large over the whole of GR, he is well-known to be, with a little Sidney Gottlieb (goat farmer/mad scientist for the CIA, responsible for the lovely MK-Ultra project and, by proxy, the explosion of psychedelic use in the ‘60s) thrown in, the basis for Peter Sellers, Terry Southern, and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, one of my absolute favorite films of all-time.Pirate Prentice’s Banana BreakfastWith a clattering of chairs, upended shell cases, benches, and ottomans, Pirate’s mob gather at the shores of the great refectory table, a southern island well across a tropic or two from chill Corydon Throsp’s mediaeval fantasies, crowded now over the swirling dark grain of its walnut uplands with banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas mold in the shape of a British lion rampant, blended with eggs into batter for French toast, squeezed out a pastry nozzle across the quivering creamy reaches of a banana blancmange to spell out the words C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre (attributed to a French observer during the Charge of the Light Brigade) which Pirate has appropriated as his motto . . . tall cruets of pale banana syrup to pour oozing over banana waffles, a giant glazed crock where diced bananas have been fermenting since the summer with wild honey and muscat raisins, up out of which, this winter morning, one now dips foam mugsfull of banana mead . . . banana croissants and banana kreplach and banana oatmeal and banana jam and banana bread, and bananas flamed in ancient brandy Pirate brought back last year from a cellar in the Pyreneed also containing a clandestine radio transmitter . . .Beyond the Zero, E. 2, pp. 10-11I wrote: "what of the Giant Adenoid? This my second attempt. As for understanding everything for me, it's harder explaining what I understand if that makes any sense."Yes… what of the giant Adenoid?The first few times nothing clicked. The fantasies were O.K. but belonged to nobody important. But the Firm is patient, committed to the Long Run as They are. At last, one proper Sherlock Holmes London evening,, the unmistakable smell of gas came to Pirate from a dark street lamp, and out of the fog ahead materialized a giant, organlike form. Carefully, black-shod step by step, Pirate approached the thing. It began to slid forward to meet him, over the cobblestones slow as a snail, leaving behind some slime brightness of steet-wake that could not have been from fog. In the space between them was a crossover point, which Pirate, being a bit faster, reached first. He reeled back, in horror, back past the point—but such recognitions are not reversible. It was a giant Adenoid. At least as big as St. Paul’s, and growing hour by hour. London, perhaps all England, was in mortal peril.We know from the paragraph that follows that the “lymphatic monster had once blocked the distinguished pharynx if Lord Blatherard Osmo.” Reading on, we are treated to a grotesque Busby Berkeley musical number replete with chorus line of “quite nubile young women naughtily attired in Busbies and jackboots.” The Adenoid proceeds to wreak the type of havoc all over the city that only a giant Adenoid can. I think the purpose of the tale is to establish, by showing us his first true experience, Pirate Prentice’s role as “fantasist-surrogate,” or what is now actually referred to as an oneironaut. An oneironaut is one who can travel consciously through someone’s dreams; their own or another person’s.Every day, for 2 ½ years, Pirate went out to visit the St. James Adenoid. It nearly drove him crazy. Though he was able to develop a pidgin by which he and the Adenoid could communicate, unfortunately he wasn’t nasally equipped to make the sounds too well, and it got to be an awful chore. As the two of them snuffled back and forth, alienists in black seven-button suits, admirers of Dr. Freud the Adenoid clearly had no use for, stood on stepladders up against its loathsome grayish flank shoveling the new wonderdrug cocaine—bringing hods full of the white substance, in relays, up the ladders to smear on the throbbing gland-creature, and into the germ toxins bubbling nastily inside its crypts, with no visible effects at all (though who knos how that Adenoid felt, eh?).But Lord Blatherad Osmo was able at last to devote all of his time to Novi Pazar. Early in 1939, he was discovered mysteriously suffocated in a bathtub full of tapioca pudding, at the home of a Certain Viscountess. Some have seen in this the hand of the Firm. Months passed, World War II started, years passed, nothing was heard from Novi Pazar. Pirate Prentice had saved Europe from the Balkan Armageddon the old men dreamed of, giddy in their beds with its grandeur—though not from World War II, of course. But by then, the Firm was allowing Pirate only tiny homeopathic doses of peace, just enough to keep his defenses up, but not enough for it to poison him.Beyond the Zero, E. 2, pp.15-17As for the significance of the Adenoid itself, Steven Weisenburger hazards a couple of guesses in his book, A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion:“The fantastic creature disappears from GR after this analeptic appearance, but a thinly disguised Richard M. Nixon, as ‘adenoidal’ theater manager Richard M. Zhlubb, will reappear in the final proleptic moments of the narrative.”and“Since medical references to “adenoids” nearly always use the plural, Pynchon probably refers here to Charlie Chaplin’s role as the Jewish barber and then dictator of Tomania, ‘Adenoid Hynkel,’ a thinly veiled Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator [1940]. Indeed the film’s closing speech, in which Chaplin drops the Hitler-mask appeals directly to the viewers, rather deftly capsulizes GR’s themes.”This is hardly an obscure tangent when viewed in a vacuum, given the subject matter and Chaplin’s status as an iconoclast, but GR is as close to a literary antithesis of a vacuum I’ve ever come across and occurrences of this sort abound page after page. Personally, I can see a similarity between chapter four of V., appropriately entitled In which Esther gets a nose job, in which Pynchon devotes an entire chapter to the first person narration of the unlucky recipient of an un-anaesthetized back alley rhinoplasty. Though I am still uncertain as to its pertinence to the story, the chills I’m experiencing as I write this remind me how little I cared when I read it.But Beyond the Zero isn’t all jollities and shenanigans. It ends on an ominous note at a séance attended by, among others, the Generaldirektor Smaragd of IG Farben.TP Drops Some KnowledgeWhy do they want Rathenau tonight? What did Caesar really whisper to his protégé as he fell? Et tu, Brute, the official lie, is about what you’d expect to get from them—it says exactly nothing. The moment of assassination is the moment when power and the ignorance of power come together, with Death as validator. When one speaks to the other then it is not to pass the time of day with et-tu-Brutes. What passes is a truth so terrible that history—at best a conspiracy, not always among gentlemen, to defraud—will never admit it. The truth will be repressed or in ages of particular elegance be disguised as something else. What will Rathenau, past the moment, years into a new otherside existence, have to say about the old dispensation? Probably nothing as incredible as what he might have said just as the shock flashed in his mortal nerves, as the Angel swooped in…But they will see. Rathenau—according to the histories—was prophet and architect of the cartelized state. From what began as a tiny bureau at the War Office in Berlin, he had coordinated Germany’s supplies, quotas and prices, cutting across and demolishing the barriers of secrecy and property that separated firm from firm—a corporate Bismarck, before whose power no account book was too privileged, no agreement too clandestine. His father Emil Rathenau had founded AEG, the German General Electric Company, but Walter was more than another industrial heir—he was a philosopher with a vision of the postwar State. He saw the war in progress as a world revolution, out of which would rise neither Red communism nor an unhindered Right, but a rational structure in which business would be the true, the rightful authority—a structure based, not surprisingly, on the one he’d engineered in Germany for fighting the World War.and”Consider coal and steel. There is a place where they meet. The interface between coal and steel is coal-tar. Imagine coal, down in the earth, dead black, no light, the very substance of death. Death ancient, prehistoric, species we will never see again. Growing older, blacker, deeper, in layers of perpetual night. Above ground, the steel rolls out fiery, bright. But to make steel, the coal tars, darker and heavier, must be taken from the original coal. Earth’s excrement, purged out for the ennoblement of shining steel. Passed over.“We thought of this as an industrial process. It was more. We passed over the coal-tars. A thousand different molecules waited in the preterite dung. This is the sign of revealing. Of unfolding. This is one meaning of mauve, the first new color on Earth, leaping to Earth’s light from its grave miles and aeons below. There is the other meaning… the succession… I can’t see that far yet….“But this is all the impersonation of life. The real movement is not from death to any rebirth. It is from death to death-transfigured. The best you can do is polymerize a few dead molecules. But polymerizing is not resurrection. I mean your IG, Generaldirektor.”“Our IG, I should have thought,” replies Smaragd with more than the usual ice and stiffness.Beyond the Zero, E. 19, pp. 167-169***THIS REVIEW IS A WHOLE LOT LONGER, SO I WILL DO WHAT I CAN TO FIT IT ELSEWHERE***

A.J. Howard

Selections From My Mental Commentary Upon Reading Gravity's RainbowDifficult my ass, I know who Werner Van Braun is.......... What a fantastic name........ Errrrr...............Maybe I need to reed that again......... Third time's a charm!.......... Shit........... Okay, who/what/when/where/why/how the fuck is going on?............... Okay, I think I get what's going on here........... Never mind.............. This whole thing is absolute rubbish............... Did Dane Cook's boner write that paragraph?................. That was awesome, I have no fucking clue what Pynchon's talking about, but he baffles me in a really elegant way....................... Alright, this is out of Dane Cooke's league, I think Lou Reed's boner wrote that section.................. Obama should appoint Pynchon the "naming things and people czar"............... This whole thing is absolutely fucking awesome................. I never want to read this part ever again............. I'm going to have to immediately reread this part........... That's not even supposed to mean anything............ Finished, onto Section 2!................ u.s.w.Over the past few years, I've tackled several supposedly difficult novels with relative ease. As soon as I encountered the Erededy waits for pot section, I devoured Infinite Jest like a bored housewife reading Sweedish torture porn. Blood Meridian may have been a struggle to get through, but only because McCarthy's prose is so dense with a kind of a savage beauty that I was fatigued after reading three pages. War and Peace didn't justify it's difficulty to me at all, unless you measure difficulty by page length. I don't want to come off as narcissistic about my cognition, but if you think I'm guilty, I would understand you. (Get it?)And then I encountered Gravity's Rainbow* There are some websites out there who belittle the difficulty of this book. They do this to speaking directly to first time readers. I guess that's admirable, I can certainly understand the proclivity to hype up and push something you love, but it's also inaccurate. For a GR virgin, a good portion of the novel is destined to be simply befuddling. I mean, for fucks sake, a major portion of the book is about rocket science. GR is a perfect storm of difficulty: Pynchon doesn't help his reader out with the plot; the narrative weaves between time, place, central character, and/or voice with little or no warning; Pynchon throws out a plethora of references to science, history, pop culture, scatological jokes, Norse mythology, etc that you would need several PHDs in a multitude of different areas of concentration to fully grasp; the prose, while often heartbreaking or hilarious or mind-blowing is not exactly accessible and often frustrating.Out of any other novel I've read, GR most demands a second read. I actually bought the companion book, but I found that it was not particularly helpful. It provided minutia when I would have been fine if they had just explained what it meant relating to what was happening with the narrative and it neglected some things I had question about. Also, it made for an extremely clunky and disjointed reading experience. Eventually, I found a website that had quick summaries for each episode with particular emphasis on callbacks to previous events. I read these after the corresponding episode and found it to be of great use. But I tossed the Instapaper link, so good luck with Google.My final rating reflects a compromise of some sort. A couple hundred pages into the book I wasn't enjoying myself. The only thing that kept me from quitting was the hours put in and the understanding that if I didn't finish it then, I probably would never come back to it. I soon started getting in the flow of things, and started seeing what all the fuss is about. That's the thing about Pynchon. You'll read one section and think that people sanctify this book as a form of intellectual swagger. And then the next section will completely connect with you and leave you thinking that this is the best book of the 20th century. I certainly noticed that my reaction to the reading experience was subject to my mental state. That's true of all books, but with GR it's almost like before you start reading you should do transcendental meditation, or go to a yoga class, or snort several lines of cocaine to truly prepare yourself. You have to surrender yourself over to the text, or you're going to realize that you've been reading for the past thirty minutes and you have not understood a single thing.The four star rating is far from conclusive. Even during the last 100 pages I wavered somewhere between 3 and 5 stars. The goodreads star system completely fails the first encounter with Gravity's Rainbow. I give it a @.^ out of 10.0. Maybe a Ω-. I just know I'm really glad it's finally out of my to read soon pile. Now the problem is I kinda can't wait to read it again.* I bought GR years ago, and had picked it up a few times since then only to shelve it. Over the past couple years, since I've started reading serious fiction again, I've had GR on my 'to read soon pile,' and I've had a few false starts, only to put the book aside after a dozen pages with a resolution to read when I had spare time.

Manny

ITS ABOUT A SECRET ROCKET PROJECT IN WW II BUT I THINK SOME OF IT IS A DREAM BECAUSE IT DOESNT MAKE SENSE. THE AUTHOR IS VERY CLEVER.

Mike

When I was getting a PhD in English, I refused to read Pynchon because I thought the last thing the world needed was another book by a modernist author who trying to be more difficult than Joyce.Then I picked up Vineland out of a bargain bin, and realized it was probably the funniest thing I had ever read. I followed it with Gravity's Rainbow, which is even funnier. Pynchon is an incredible comic writer. In grad school, lots of people were scared of Gravity's Rainbow because of all the physics. There's no need; there's not that much physics. What helps, though, is an encyclopedic knowledge of World War II. This is really historical fiction, written through a very warped lens. I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of World War II, and for months after reading the book, I'd run across odd bits of history that featured prominently: the V2 rockets were, in fact, built using a slave force of Herero tribesmen from South-West Africa (now Namibia). Like any paranoid fantasy, Gravity's Rainbow is built around concrete facts. But the paranoid fantasy is on a grander scale than anything I've read: there are circles within circles of control and manipulation, extending all the way from London to Heaven (or Hell; how would you know the difference?). It's a reinterpretation of World War II through the prism of Vietnam; and in 2009, as we start to unwind the militaristic fictions of the past eight years, that reinterpretation is as appropriate as it was in the 70s. But that's too heavy and serious for one of the 20th century's greatest comic novels. How can you dislike a book where the rockets are all phallic symbols, and you know that because the author tells you they are?

F.R.

I was looking forward to this book but as I turned the final page, despite the many things I’d liked about it, I was somewhat disappointed.First off the good: this is a hugely ambitious and in parts wildly entertaining march across war-torn and post-war Europe. Truly there is a great deal of joy to be had in watching Pynchon’s imagination unfold. It’s brilliantly written (some of the passages are like prose poetry) and frequently laugh-out loud funny. The characters are memorable and alive, the set pieces expertly handled and there are many images throughout which are large and thought provoking and will stay with me for a long time. What’s more, it comes close to creating a new and seemingly impossible form – the novel which is also a musical. Throughout there are lyrics and rhymes punctuating the action (indeed, often commentating on it) and the whole book has the loose feel of free-form jazz.There’s a lot to admire about ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’.However, because the focus changes between different characters and different locations (and sometimes different realities), it’s sometimes hard for the reader to keep up. The narrative’s constant digressions can be wonderfully entertaining, but they can also be fruitless and frustrating. I often felt that Pynchon was just heading off in a particular direction on a mere whim, and – as I’m sure I’ve stated before – the whimsical is not a quality I particularly like in a novel. Even though it is often entertaining and very funny, the reader sometimes has to tread through treacle to get to those moments. It’s frequently worthwhile when he or she arrives, but the trip can be quite plodding. As such this is a book I’m torn over. It entertained me a lot but at other points was a bloody chore (and ever since I stopped being a student, I don’t like feeling that I’m being forced to read something). If you have patience and like the comedy of the absurd, then I would definitely recommend it. If you’ve started it, then I would certainly say that it’s worthwhile persevering with. But this is fiction which requires a great deal of effort, and I can’t guarantee that all that effort will be fully rewarded.

Conrad

This might be my favorite novel. I read it over the course of around three months, on my fourth attempt, when I was living in Tallinn, Estonia. Something about residence in a very small European country heightens one's sense of the absurd. I would bring it to lunch at the bars where I dined and start crying into my club sandwich when the book was sad and laughing into my kebabs when it was funny (which is nearly always) and there are a lot of bartenders who probably thought I was crazy.The first rule of Gravity's Rainbow is you do not talk about Gravity's Rainbow. Just read it and don't worry about all the things you don't get. You could spend the rest of your life in graduate school of various sorts and not be as smart as Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, so don't sweat it.There are swaths of this book that I definitely don't get. Pointsman, the psychologist? Didn't get it. Tchitcherine? Didn't get him, as a character, didn't understand why he did what he did, almost ever. But hidden inside all the dross is literature of unparalleled terror and beauty: the chapter in the very middle of the book about Pokler and his daughter, which left me literally bawling in public, the only time I can think of I've ever done that. Oddly, the description of U-boat latrines. The dejected Slothrop wandering Germany in a pig suit. Pirate Prentice's romance. The overgrown adenoid that invades London. The dogs grown intelligent. The sad allusions to Webern's death. The notorious scat sequence that people get all worked up over. The Proverbs for Paranoids interspersed throughout ("You will not touch the Master, but you may tickle his creatures..."). Blicero's carnival of torture, better than anything Gonzalez could devise, and more honest, too.Gravity's Rainbow is a quick guide to all the ways you could have lived your life but did not; all the injustices you have not had to face; all the ridiculous theories of the afterlife you can't bear to accept. It teaches you how to read itself. It's been copied relentlessly, by Trainspotting and Kurt Cobain and reading it means there's a certain voice that will inhabit your brain forever. It's like going on Samhain vacation from reality with nothing but a crate of bananas and a load of S&M. Caveat emptor.

Chance Maree

Years ago, the retina of my left eye detached and I underwent major surgery. Since then, the annual eye exam has brought a certain amount of anxiety, and yes, paranoia over every flash and floater. A week ago, the eye doctor identified a hole in the macular of my left eye. If a V-2 nano-rocket hit the the retina, it might look like this macular hole: The macular hole has an interesting effect on my vision: Fortunately, my right eye is dominant so I can read well enough, for now. The surgery is scheduled in a couple weeks. It is an out-patient procedure under a local anesthesia, but recovery requires I spend 2 weeks with my face kept parallel to the ground. The reason I'm bringing all this up is to to garner sympathy explain how I 'saw' Gravity's Rainbow and why I've given it only one-star and deter a skewering by Pynchon lovers who wouldn't kick a girl while she'd down—would they?Some scenes were all too clear: S&M acts including consumption of shit and urine, the sad plight of an adolescent sex slave (enjoyed by Slothrop, a major protagonist), bad 'poetry', bizarre appearances of what could be described as slapstick or burlesque acts out of nowhere, etc. However, amidst all the drugs, sex and despair were concise and interesting nuggets of wisdom, such as:If there is something comforting—religious, if you want—about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long. Paranoia is perhaps the major theme. No doubt, Pynchon is brilliant, and some passages were inspirational, but I felt I had to sift through lots of...sand. At times, my comprehension of an idea felt as exciting as panning for gold—if one tiny morsel sparkled, I was thrilled. Despite the difficulty reading Gravity's Rainbow, I continued to the end in hope of pumping up my linguistic muscles and cleansing my linguistic palate. I understand that patterns in what we read or write prime us to repeat those patterns automatically in our own writing. Psycholinguists refer to this influence as structural priming or syntactic persistence. Priming occurs at the subconscious level. It is very powerful, and for that reason, I will not finish novels that strike me as poorly written. But writing isn’t just about forming varied and understandable sentences. It is about creating syntactic delights that thrill the reader, most of whom find pleasure in encountering language that departs from what they are primed to expect. I admire writers who find new ways to employ language. I did not enjoy Gravity's Rainbow; it deviated so much from my own priming that I often found it incomprehensible. Although I used a reader's companion guide, many of the references were unrecognizable as vocabulary--just not on my personal map. Reading GR was as frustrating as trying to read with my bad eye, through which straight lines are wavy and letters in the middle of my vision collapse into a blurry gray hole.

Edward Kelly

Gravity's Rainbow is first and foremost funny. I cannot imagine speaking about any of Pynchon's fiction and not laughing. Somehow he is always talked about in such a serious tone. If you are not laughing at the bawdy humor, the slapstick, and the corny...If you are not laughing giddily at the way the stories connect inside the novel as well as to the historical context outside the novel...If you do not like send ups...If you cringe at gallows humor and sexual perversity...If your mind doesn't crave the complexity of an encyclopedic novel...If absurdity does not bring you closer to a primordial truth that incites laughter at man's history... Yes there is a plot. You may not find it but it is there. I would not read this book if you are struggling mightily with it. Do not believe people who say how hard, difficult, and painful it was, that they really didn't get most of it but "it was worth it". There are a ton of references and the book is more fun if you actually are able to tie in a bunch of the metaphors, references, historical contexts and character appearences and disapperences. I cannot imagine the point of reading the book if you couldn't, what a bore it must be. I think it is insulting that so many people believe that it is taboo to even talk about the book as a story,-a wildl, f-ing funny story at that. Yes some of us read Pynchon for enjoyment, not because it makes us stronger or better or fuller. (Pudding anyone?) I read Pynchon for the plot. I remember the small passages on pg.29 that are tied back in on pg500 without having to consult a third text. I delight in the connections and how often they break open the plot or a bigger meaning. I certainly miss some but I get a ton.(Can you plot out GR according to the Londen Times in 1944-45 and the Christian Advent season? Yes. But do you have to know this to figure out what Pynchon is up to? No.I wouldn't even bother, it will not get you closer to understanding. He sprinkles the novel with references that can bring you there if you are capable.) If I didn't I would give this book away. Pynchon pretty much debunks the Super Pynchon Theory in the introduction to Slow Learner. He talks about people's perception of him as being a brilliant mind who knows a ton about the subjects he riffs on. He admits that his knowledge of entropy(a major metaphorical theme for him)amounts to a typical dictionary definition entry.( not ot say that he is not extrordinarily well-read but don't be surprised if he doesn't know that much about Middle Dutch poetry but instead knows it in a more referential manner just as you do) Of course, his brilliance is his ability to take an idea and run it through his own mind, to say something about man, history and the nature of maening. And this is the kind of reader he is after. If when you read passages you find that his reference has sent you off thinking on your own and you realize you keep reading the same paragraph over and over transfixed by its briliance while each time it sparks a new tangent of thought until finally you wake up and feel that you have just flown around the globe...If you read GR and feel that you need to talk about Pynchon in a half-apologetic, fully-reverential tone instead of laughing at the Hansel and Gretel in the oven of an SS officer then you really did not get it and should try again with a a little more levity. Perhaps you can borrow Gottfried's wedding dress to wear while you read it.If you read GR and feel that it was devoid of a plot and was not chock full of brilliant observation on the plight of man/history, our encounters with meaning and many other metaphysical questions then the overall complexity of the structure went over your head and you should not try again.If you read it and hated the pace and style of the prose then well, you are probably right.

Leo Robertson

(Not a lot of this review is about the content of GR, because who am I to even say what that is?)Okay, this book is bloody brilliant.I didn't think so at first, having not understood a lot of it through not paying attention and zoning out because there's a new story happening almost every paragraph if not sentence. Checking the wikipedia summary to try and keep up made me pretty sure I wasn't reading the same book (They're in a casino? He slept with who? She died?)And, like all human beings (if they're stare-in-the-mirror honest with themselves), I get really really annoyed when someone else exists or has existed who is phenomenally cleverer than I am: won't have it. So, at first these things convinced me that I didn't like it. Authors like Thomas Pynchon, William Faulkner,James Joyce, most recently and amazingly Elfriede Jelinek (and a whole host of others that I haven't read yet) would laugh with contempt at my pathetic and cliched need as a reader to understand everything that I read, and despite how much respect and appreciation I have for these authors and their books it remains a jarring and unsettling experience for a plot to pass over your head BUT I have not yet got into the idea of re-reading, which this and certain other books demand.You know what? Sometimes David Lynch films are geniunely pretty good, sometimes you want to listen to Animal Collective, sometimes it is fun to find and support a local book shop, what with all the crap hipsters say, they are statistically bound to get it right a handful of times as per the above examples. It's difficult through all the recommendation static to find the thing that really is worth trying out.That said, please don't judge me when I say that I have a copy of this book by my bed, and like to open it at a random page and have a read, and in these small chosen digestions I find it so much more fun, enjoyable, interesting, insightful, bizarre, funny, downright impossible, and it makes me want to find the time to read it all over again.It feels like something that is really, really important to do as someone who appreciates "Good Reads". If you, reading this review, are someone who perchance is someone who likes these "Good Reads", I would have to recommend you this book.**Original post-wtf review**Confusing brilliant blah blah... (felt out of most of the jokes, undoubtedly dragged- minus 1 star)If I have anything new to say about this book, it's that there's been a totally missed opportunity.The cover needs to be a 40s pin-up girl on a rocket with a B-movie subtitle eg. "Gravity's Rainbow, or Pynchon's Pavlovian F**k-Rocket!"So obvious!Please address this, people responsible for such decisions.

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