***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)...more***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.
Opening 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 Pynchon
K 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 BRAUN
For 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 Breakfast
With 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. 10-11
I 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.15-17
As 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.”
“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 . 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 Knowledge
Why 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.
”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***(less)
yeah, had a pretty decent review started--mostly done--halfway through the fourth (second to last) of the five books that make up this, in many ways,...moreyeah, had a pretty decent review started--mostly done--halfway through the fourth (second to last) of the five books that make up this, in many ways, almost perfect novel, but i decided, fuck it, i don't have the time or the energy for this shit. suffice it to say i would now count this among my top five or six novels, in the company of gravity's rainbow, suttree, the lime twig, the heart is a lonely hunter, &nd the bluest eye, that list being a one-author per list. so 2666 is pretty fucking great &nd recommended highly. one thing, do not bother it yer the type that has issues w/ ambiguity or needs even the slightest bit of resolution; unless, of course, you don't understand what that word means.(less)