Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Six Pithy to Semi-Pithy Observations about Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow"

1. It has to have started as a joke about a novel so complex it turns into rocket science.  Actual rocket science. 

2. True, it's a Bakhtinian orgy of a thousand discourses, many of them remarkably specialized.  But it's narrated in just two main voices, really: the grandiose, self-mythologizing one that gives us the famous opening line, "A screaming comes across the sky," and the deliberately facile (o-or glib!) one that relays about a million Roadrunner & Coyote-type scenes and gives us the famous line, "fickt nicht mit dem raketemensch!"  After a few hundred pages they're both pretty hard to take—the second especially, as it gets to sounding a little too much like this guy:

3. It's like a brilliant, ambitious, thoroughly researched novel about the last days of World War II dropped acid.  Really a whole lot of acid.

4. World War II is to Pynchon what the JFK assassination is to Don DeLillo in Libra: postmodernity's founding moment, o-or the moment at which the modern world's complexity outstrips the human mind's capacity to conceptualize, theorize, narratize, chart, map, or otherwise grasp it (behold GR's several hundred characters and dozens of fragmented, often only semi-followable plot lines, some of them of ambiguous ontological status). This post isn't about Libra, so I won't quote DeLillo.  But here's Pynchon on the War:
The War, the Empire, will expedite . . . barriers between our lives.  The War needs to divide this way, and to subdivide, though its propaganda will always stress unity, alliance, pulling together.  The War does not appear to want a folk-consciousness, not even of the sort the Germans have engineered, ein Volk ein Führer—it wants a machine of many separate parts, not oneness, but a complexity . . . .  Yet who can presume to say what the War wants, so vast and aloof is it.
And here's another interesting passage, courtesy of Pynchon's character Roger Mexico:
"There's a feeling about that cause-and-effect may have been taken as far as it will go.  That for science to carry on at all, it must look for a less narrow, a less . . . sterile set of assumptions.  The next great breakthrough may come when we have the courage to junk cause-and-effect entirely, and strike off at some other angle."
5.  It's thrilling, sure, watching a planet-sized brain go balls-out, shaking off all the shackles, giving itself license to say or depict absolutely anything that occurs to it, propriety and concern for the reader be damned (and no novel was ever more toweringly indifferent to its audience).  But it gradually becomes clear this avalanche of language (to steal a phrase a buddy uses to describe Moby Dick) is concerned mainly (if we can even use words like "concerned" and "mainly" here) with denouncing a nebulous, death-obsessed, hyper-bureaucratized "Them" bent on dragging the modern world, via such insane enterprises as World War II, into its grave.  And you have to wonder, once you've had a massive commitment to this novel repaid with one mind-blasting scene of ultraviolent brutality after another (there's stuff in this book Bret Easton Ellis wouldn't touch with a twenty-foot pole), whether GR is really so much an indictment of Them as their unwitting agent.

6. I am a Pynchon fan, believe it or not: The Crying of Lot 49 has to be one of my five all-time favorite novels.  If you're looking to get into Pynchon, start with that way more controlled, way more  human book.  It's a maximalist novella.

Now that's funny.