Pynchon, Carlin, and Snapshots: Gravity’s Rainbow, Chapter One

You know, it occurs to me that my problem with Gravity’s Rainbow is simple: the Sledgehammer Effect. I get it: Penises, Missiles, War. I got the joke on page two. By the time we get to the bananas–I’m over it.

See, George Carlin said it well (and considerably more concisely) here. Watch the whole thing or, pick up with 3:30 and following–“Bigger Dick Foreign Policy”:

Yep, war and sex. How intimately linked.

And, I hope, a fitting tribute to Carlin, who died yesterday in Los Angeles. Thanks for the laughs, man. You will be missed.

And, back to Pynchon and sex Gravity’s Rainbow, which might be described best as Dexter’s Lab cum Beavis and Butthead (many thanks to G. for pointing out the Dexter bit). One can almost hear Beavis laughing: “Heh, heh…he said hardon…” An extended joke by 13-year-old males, perhaps? Like the sex scene in Return to Horror High: welding sparks, sex, welding sparks, sex, welding sparks, sex–only Return is somehow more subtle than Pynchon.

I suppose that my focus on the sexual metaphors throughout Gravity’s Rainbow says more about me than about the novel, though, so I’ll allow myself a few digressions from the point as I did manage to finish Chapter One, and I did manage to notice other ideas, themes, and images. Really, I did.

Nearly all of them were wrapped up in sexual activity, but that’s another day.

First, I’m resisting the urge to Google Pavlov, about whom I know little, because the “ultraparadoxical” theory of neurosis was intriguing. Now, it was conceptually appealing: neuroses are borne of a “a confusion of ideas of the opposite” (90). Once trapped in a habit (?) of looking for stimulus in the place where it is specifically absent, we find ourselves (thank you, Kingston) unable to tell our stories, which is one of the hallmarks of insanity. That and, as the adage goes, doing the same thing and expecting a different result. So, knowing nothing more of Pavlov than what Pynchon gives me in the novel, I’m reticent to go any further here. I’ll hit the library and then return to this point. What caught my attention, even in my ignorance of all non-dog Pavlov things, was that “ultraparadox”–both in the prefix and in the way Pynchon discusses it, reminds me of Burgess’ “ultraviolence.” In fact, as I read page 90, it dawned on me that this novel reminds me of Burgess’ novel (1962) and Kubrick’s film (1971) A Clockwork Orange in several ways, particularly the behavioral conditioning, of course, but I wonder how intentional that was. Research point #2: Gravity’s Rainbow with annotations.

So, two (other) things stood out to me: cartography (related to my geography bend in Blood Meridian, I think) and photography.

The cartography is absolutely everywhere– Slothrop’s map & the V2 bombings. I’m particularly intrigued by the mapping of Africa (as ever–as my Brit lit classes are well aware) in the novel. I’ll have to see where this goes.

The photography (and film) language recalls both Benjamin and DeLillo for me. Here’s what Pynchon has to say: “No one listened to those early conversations–not even an idle snapshot survives (92).” This remark (while watching Pointsman and Mexico fade into the winter) recalls DeLillo’s “Most Photographed Barn in the World” in White Noise. The barn has no significance beyond the exhibition (oh, thank you Benjamin) value created by its status as “most photographed.” We want to be spectators; we want to have been there, then. We want evidence (a photo, often) to show that we were there. Proof, rather like the pins on Slothrop’s map. So, Pynchon allows us to watch the fade out, but denies our position as spectator because no photo exists-not even a photo–to preserve the moment.

That the narrative immediately fades into film intrigues me. Katje is being filmed and the narration provides a number of insights from the camera’s POV, such as “The camera records no change in her face, but why does she stand now so immobile at the door” (93)? The juxtaposition of the images (camera images purport to share a truth, after all) challenges the truth of the image–her expression doesn’t change–we can see that–but her body language suggests something off camera that has caught her attention enough to stop her movement.

This section was particularly curious–a pornographic, modernized Hansel & Gretel, all of which reads as if we are seeing through a camera, allowing us to experience the unseen “cameraman’s pleasure” (96), if only through the particulars of what he chooses to focus on. And that focus is decidedly pornographic, here in particular, in so far as the bodies are rent apart–Gottfried as “docile spine” and “upended asshole” (94). I hope that the repositioning of the Grimm tale (and of 19th century German history, I think) is a breadcrumb trail Pynchon will follow in the novel. The particulars of the pornographic vision and of the remarks regarding injury on pg. 88 recall J.G. Ballard rather strongly. I could follow these lines of flight if Pynchon will allow it.

We’ll see.

Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Proof has an interesting spin on the significance of capturing and owning an image, for anyone interested. Or, if you’d like to see a really young Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe. Always a good thing.

Works Cited

Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York: Penguin, 1973.

One response to “Pynchon, Carlin, and Snapshots: Gravity’s Rainbow, Chapter One

  1. karen-the-great

    So then there’s the stuff about bananas.

    That aside… is telekinesis sexy? Granted, TP calls Pirate’s power? ability? skillz? the ability to enter others’ fantasies. Interesting word choice, there: fantasies. (actually, I’ll have to look up the exact phraseology, since “entering” fantasies is quite different from “seeing” or “feeling,” or, importantly, “ordering” or “directing.” I’ll get back to you.

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