Selections From My Mental Commentary Upon Reading Gravity's Rainbow
Difficult my ass, I know who Werner Van Braun is.......... What a fantastic name...Selections From My Mental Commentary Upon Reading Gravity's Rainbow
Difficult 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....more
In honor of Michelle Bachman accidentally comparing herself to John Wayne Gacy I thought I'd post a quick review. I read this last January and since tIn honor of Michelle Bachman accidentally comparing herself to John Wayne Gacy I thought I'd post a quick review. I read this last January and since then I can't count how many times I've seen the news or heard snippets of conversation and thought to myself, "Jesus Christ, this reminds me of the Perlstein book." The 1964 election seems somewhat non-consequential in retrospect. History buffs might be able to think of the Daisy ad and Goldwater's "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice... moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue " line at the GOP convention. But in the end, Johnson crushed Goldwater. Johnson won over 61% of the vote, the highest since 1820 and one that has yet to be matched.
However, Perlstein persuasively makes the case that the '64 election meant a lot more than voting results would suggest. 1964 is arguably the birth of the modern GOP. This election is where the Southern and Western conservatives finally were able to choose a candidate of their own as opposed to one imposed on them by Northeastern businessmen. This is where the GOP transitioned from the Eisenhower/Taft/Dewey Era to something resembling the modern party. For the first time since Reconstruction the Republican party won the Cotton Belt. This election set pieces in moving that would dominate the party for the next generation. As well as featuring the political resurrection of Richard M. Nixon the election of '64 witnessed the emergence of Ronald Reagan as a national figure on the right.
The election is intriguing for more reasons than as an augur of the future. Barry Goldwater was a new kind of candidate. He was not the establishment's man. Indeed, the Republican establishment desperately sought a possible anti-Goldwater. What enable Goldwater to prevail* was a strong, structured, and well-funded organization. This backing extended beyond traditional power brokers into something akin to grass root support. At the heart of this grass root support was the John Birch Society. This is were similarities with contemporary events really jumps out at you. If you're not familiar with the Birchers, they were a group of rabid anti-Communists who were convinced that the mainstream media and establishment were card carrying Pinkos. They weren't satisfied calling Kennedy, Marshall, and Truman commies, they were convinced Eisenhower was red. Perlstein's writing on the Birchers is perhaps the most entertaining and insightful writing in this book.
*In addition to other potential candidate's hesitation to run and Nelson Rockefeller's public divorce.
Before the Storm is a well titled book. In more ways than one, 1964 is a transition point in American history. The major mid-century cultural and historical trajectories all had some sort of turning point in '64. The year witnessed the passage of the CIvil Rights Act, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and much more. Perlstein is a talented historian, and he is just as natural describing political gamesmanship as he is describing the cultural impact of Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.
Perlstein subtitles this book "this unmaking of the American Consensus." Of course partisanship has been a part of the American political tradition since before there was a United States. But the storm that, according to Perlstein, was on the horizon after November 1964 was a growing sense that the other half of the political spectrum were out to destroy everything that was truly remarkable about America. The other side became transformed from an adversary to an enemy.**
** This trend wasn't unprecedented, just that the last time it was so prevalent we ended up in a civil war.
Nixonland, Perlstein's most recent book, is another fantastic book. In it, Perlstein gives an account of the cultural wars of the latter half of the sixties and early seventies, and makes the argument that much of the acrimony surrounding these battles was the personal creation of Richard M. Nixon. Perlstein argues, and presents a convincing case, that we are still living in Richard Nixon's America. However, I think Before the Storm might be the more relevant work. Nixonland explains the past fifty years, but through some twist of history, Before the Storm seems to often explain the present.