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Gravity's Rainbow

by Thomas Pynchon

Some people argue that "Gravity's Rainbow" is the most important literary work of the 20th century. It is a dense postmodern epic set in Europe during World War II and focusing on the phallic war technology of the V2 missile and the apocalyptic implications of cybernetics, institutionalized militarism, and the enforced decadence emanating from Nazi Germany.

When the book first appeared, a colleague of mine called it "another shaggy apocalypse story," because it is not so much a speculation about the end of the world as we know it as an exposure of 20th century thanatropic illusion. You could also paraphrase the cliche "fiercely imagined" to call this work "fiercely hallucinated"; rumor has it that Pynchon relied on psychedelic enhancement for the surreal quality of certain scenes (e.g. protagonist Tyrone Slothrop flushed down a toilet in a Harlem jazz club). Whatever the case, this novel is a rich literary vein that academic pedants will mine for decades to come. But, don't let the trivialists put you off: "Gravity's Rainbow" is extraordinary in its richness and its ability to sustain an 887-page read (if you get past the banana breakfast, you'll tumble through the rest of the book).

(J. Lebkowsky)


Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon
1973, Viking Press

Here is the TEXT POPUP for Gravity's Rainbow:

Strangely, these are not the symmetries we were programmed to expect, not the fins, the streamlined corners, pylons, or simple solid geometries of the official vision at all -- THAT'S for the ribbon clerks back on the Tour, in the numbered Stollen. No, this Rocket-City, so whitely lit against the calm dimness of space, is set up deliberately To Avoid Symmetry, Allow Complexity, Introduce Terror (from the Preamble to the Articles of Immachination) -- but tourists have to connect the look of it back to things they remember from their times and planet -- back to the wine bottle smashed in the basin, the bristlecone pines outracing Death for millennia, concrete roads abandoned years ago, hairdos of the late 1930s, indole molecules, especially "polymerized" indoles, as in Imipolex G --

"Results have not been encouraging. We seem up against a dilemma built into Nature, much like the Heisenberg situation. There is nearly complete parallelism between analgesia and addiction. The
more pain it takes away, the more we desire it. It appears we can't have one property without the other, any more than a particle physicist can specify position without suffering an uncertainty as to the particle's velocity -- "

"I could have told you that. But why -- "

"WHY. My dear captain. WHY?"

Later in Berlin, down in the cellar among fever-dreams with shit leaking out of him at gallons per hour, too weak to aim more than token kicks at the rats running by with eyes fixed earnestly noplace, trying to make believe they don't have a newer and dearer status among the Berliners, at minimum points on his mental health chart, when the sun is gone so totally it might as well be for good, Slothrop's dumb idling heart sez: The Scwarzgerat is no Grail, Ace, and that's not what the G in Imipolex G stand for. And you are no
knightly hero.

It means this War was never political at all, the politics was all
theatre, all just to keep the people distracted...secretly, it was being dictated instead by the needs of a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the
energy-burst of war, crying, "Money be damned, the very life of [insert name of Nation] is at stake, but meaning, most likely, dawn is nearly here, I need my night's blood, my funding, funding, ahh more, more.... The real crises were crises of allocation and priority, not among firms -- it was only staged to look that way -- but among the different Technologies, Plastics, Electronics, Aircraft, and their needs which are understood only by the ruling elite...

Already she's beginning to think of their time as a chain of
explosions, craziness ganged to the rhythms of the War. Now he
wants to go to rescue Slothrop, another rocket-creature, a vampire whose sex life actually FED on the terror of that Rocket Blitz -- ugh, creepy, creepy.

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