No Way Jose — Alan Macdonald


Riff on the end/beginning of Gravity’s Rainbow

Well: “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before [—]”

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So. Okay. So I finished Gravity’s Rainbow on Friday night, and reread the opening section (and more than the opening section) on Saturday morning, resisting a compulsion to immediately return to the beginning.

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So: Okay: Right?

The ending of Gravity’s Rainbow cycles back to the beginning (like Finnegans Wake): Blicero’s rocket, screaming across the sky—yes? no?—to invade the dreams (?) of psychic Pirate Prentice? The book: a loop, a Möbius strip, a film, its reels discombobulated, jostled, scattered

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“…it’s all theatre,” we learn on the book’s first page (page 3); the book ends in a theater—the Orpheus Theater!—where maybe scattered Slothrop is the leading man, scattered, we find ourselves in him, parts of him—where the audience demands, on the book’s last page: “Start-the-show!”

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“You’re putting response before stimulus,” Spectro shakes his head at Pointsman, early in “Beyond the Zero,” the first section of Gravity’s Rainbow—does this describe the beginning/end of the novel? (“It has happened before”).

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Or, a bit earlier even, at the seance, (page 32), Gloaming describes one kind of plot: “…we should get something like a straight line” — but then gives us another kind of plot — “…however we’ve data that suggest the curves for certain —conditions, well they’re actually quite different—schizophrenics for example tend to run a bit flatter in the upper part then progressively steeper—a sort of bow shape … classical paranoiac—” Is this the shape of Gravity’s Rainbow?

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—but right this moment it’s that final dash that intrigues me—this in a novel full of dashes, this in a novel that name-checks Emily Dickinson, Eternal Empress of Dashes—the fragmented conclusion is full of dashes, lines obliterated by more perfect, straight lines, simultaneously connecting and disconnecting—like the novel’s final line:

“Now everybody—“

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The Blessed Guillaume de Toulouse Tormented by Demons — Ambroise Frédeau


Lydia Davis on Thomas Pynchon

A rather appealing specimen of early Pynchon is the last story in his collection Slow Learner. The story, “The Secret Integration”—first published in the Saturday Evening Post more than forty years ago (three years after V. appeared)—involves a gang of young practical jokers and a rich childhood setting of an old town with a new development, a sprawling estate with a derelict mansion, and a downtown, complete with seedy hotel. In one deftly described scene, the boys coast on their bikes down a long hill in the early evening toward the hotel, “leaving behind two pages of arithmetic homework and a chapter of science” and, on the TV, “a lousy movie, some romantic comedy.” Because all the televisions in town receive only one channel, the boys, as they fly by, are able to follow the movie’s progress from house to house, through doors and windows “still open for the dark’s first coolness.”

In his introduction to Slow Learner, Pynchon, who somewhat preempts our reactions to the story, remarks that he likes it more than he dislikes it. In fact it is so likable that one envies the boys their comfortable society and the fields, streams, and town of their games. Their collaboration and apportioning of assignments is charming (to develop an arsenal for sabotaging the railroad; to enlist malcontent first-graders to destroy the boys’ latrine; to infiltrate PTA meetings); the elaborateness of their schemes, and the number that succeed, is impressive; and the animation of the central character, Grover the boy genius—with his enormous vocabulary, fund of information, and flights of hilarity—is particularly savory. The pranks the boys plan are potentially devastating to the community, yet, as Pynchon says in a lovely bit of writing, the boys would never actually take “any clear or irreversible step,” because “everybody on the school board, and the railroad, and the PTA and paper mill had to be somebody’s mother or father, whether really or as a member of a category; and there was a point at which the reflex to their covering warmth, protection, effectiveness against bad dreams, bruised heads and simple loneliness took over and made worthwhile anger with them impossible.”

There is a lyrical humanity in this story, an almost unapologetic gentleness, inviting and inclusive, that contrasts with the weightier, complex pessimism and bravura of Pynchon’s later works, in which perhaps it is more difficult for the characters to go home and be comforted at the end of the day.

From the Summer 2005 issue of Bookforum.

Raymond Williams’s Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review (Book acquired, 4.03.2015)


Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review collects Raymond Williams’s interviews with the New Left Review. It’s new from Verso. Their blurb:

Raymond Williams made a central contribution to the intellectual culture of the Left in the English-speaking world. He was also one of the key figures in the foundation of cultural studies in Britain, which turned critical skills honed on textual analysis to the examination of structures and forms of resistance apparent in everyday life. Politics and Letters is a volume of interviews with Williams, conducted by New Left Review, designed to bring into clear focus the major theoretical and political issues posed by his work. Introduced by writer Geoff Dyer, Politics and Letters ranges across Williams’s biographical development, the evolution of his cultural theory and literary criticism, his work on dramatic forms and his fiction, and an exploration of British and international politics.

Under the Arbor — Serafino Macchiati


Mandrake parable (Gravity’s Rainbow)

The sand-colored churchtops rear up on Slothrop’s horizons, apses out to four sides like rocket fins guiding the streamlined spires… chiseled in the sandstone he finds waiting the mark of consecration, a cross in a circle. At last, lying one afternoon spread-eagled at his ease in the sun, at the edge of one of the ancient Plague towns he becomes a cross himself, a crossroads, a living intersection where the judges have come to set up a gibbet for a common criminal who is to be hanged at noon. Black hounds and fanged little hunters slick as weasels, dogs whose breeds have been lost for 700 years, chase a female in heat as the spectators gather, it’s the fourth hanging this spring and not much spectacle here except that this one, dreaming at the last instant of who can say what lifted smock, what fat-haunched gnädige Frau Death may have come sashaying in as, gets an erection, a tremendous darkpurple swelling, and just as his neck breaks, he actually comes in his ragged loin-wrapping creamy as the skin of a saint under the purple cloak of Lent, and one drop of sperm succeeds in rolling dripping hair to hair down the dead leg, all the way down, off the edge of the crusted bare foot, drips to earth at the exact center of the crossroad where, in the workings of the night, it changes into a mandrake root. Next Friday, at dawn, the Magician, his own moving Heiligenschein rippling infrared to ultraviolet in spectral rings around his shadow over the dewy grass, comes with his dog, a coal-black dog who hasn’t been fed for a few days. The Magician digs carefully all around the precious root till it’s held only by the finest root-hairs—ties it to the tail of his black dog, stops his own ears with wax then comes out with a piece of bread to lure the unfed dog rrrowf! dog lunges for bread, root is torn up and lets loose its piercing and fatal scream. The dog drops dead before he’s halfway to breakfast, his holy-light freezes and fades in the million dewdrops. Magician takes the root tenderly home, dresses it in a little white outfit and leaves money with it overnight: in the morning the cash has multiplied tenfold. A delegate from the Committee on Idiopathic Archetypes comes to visit. “Inflation?” the Magician tries to cover up with some flowing hand-moves.” ‘Capital?” “Never heard of that.” “No, no,” replies the visitor, “not at the moment. We’re trying to think ahead. We’d like very much to hear about the basic structure of this. How bad was the scream, for instance?” “Had m’ears plugged up, couldn’t hear it.” The delegate flashes a fraternal business smile. “Can’t say as I blame you… .”

From Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow.