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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Gravity's Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon



Gravity's Rainbow
by Thomas Pynchon


  I would argue that Gravity's Rainbow is the second best novel of the 20th century (Ulysses by James Joyce).   No author has more directly influenced by cultural development than Pynchon, from roughly college, when I read Gravity's Rainbow for the first time, to today.  The reading I did for this post was, I think, the third time I've read Gravity's Rainbow, but it was the first time I bought a "reading copy" and sat there with a pen in hand, making notes page-by-page, so that I could delve deeper into the mysteries presented.

    What I was discovered was more linkages between Pynchon's books, details of the intricacies of the plotting that had previously escaped my notice, and observations about Pynchon's influences.   Starting with the last first, I was very much struck by the similarities between large swathes of Gravity's Rainbow and the writing of William Burroughs circa Naked Lunch.   A critical character in Gravity's Rainbow is Doctor Weissman/Captain Blicero, a German army officer with a fondness for BDSM and gay sex.  The chapters involving Blicero and his proclivities seem like they were almost imported from the Burroughsian fantasies of Naked Lunch.   These heavy s&m sequences, which I basically didn't even remember reading about the first two times through, are likely the reason that Pynchon hasn't won the Nobel Prize for Literature- too dirty for the Nobel committee!

  Blicero, as it turns out, spent his formative years in the German Southwest, where he served in the aftermath of the Herrero massacre- itself a reoccurring theme in the work of Thomas Pynchon.   It is in the character of Blicero-Weissman that Pynchon really connects the idea of the exercise of power upon the body to his shaggy-dog rocket man plot.   One aspect that becomes very clear is that for Thomas Pynchon, the idea of "plot" has a double meaning- the first is the typically literary meaning, the plot of the novel.  It is the second aspect- that Gravity' Rainbow works out if you look at it in the sense of an x/y axis, where one plots points of data onto a map or graph.

   This theme is woven throughout many of the sub-plots of Gravity's Rainbow, and embodied by the closest thing this book has to a central character, Tyrone Slothrop, who has an uncanny ability to predict an imminent rocket attack via an erection.   The unraveling of this atttribute- with Slothrop seeking his own answers and a variety of world power trailing in his wake,  is the main plot point, and the easiest way to describe the plot of Gravity's Rainbow.  The title itself actually refers to the geometric space under the parabola of a rocket's trajectory, if I have that right- Gravity's Rainbow literally refers to the space one would describe under the arc of a rainbow.  Thus, geometry, and geometric space, the plotting of points on an x and y axis, and the sciences they have been inspired seem to be THE central theme of this book.

  The linkages between books are obvious, with reoccurring, tailismanic characters and shared narratives- the German extinction of the Herrero people in German Southwest Africa in the early 20th century being central to any attempt at a pan-Pynchon narrative of 20th century history.  

   I could go on.

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