God’s spoilers (Gravity’s Rainbow)

What you felt stirring across the land… it was the equinox… green spring equal nights… canyons are opening up, at the bottoms are steaming fumaroles, steaming the tropical life there like greens in a pot, rank, dope-perfume, a hood of smell… human consciousness, that poor cripple, that deformed and doomed thing, is about to be born. This is the World just before men. Too violently pitched alive in constant flow ever to be seen by men directly. They are meant only to look at it dead, in still strata, transputrefied to oil or coal. Alive, it was a threat: it was Titans, was an overpeaking of life so clangorous and mad, such a green corona about Earth’s body that some spoiler had to be brought in before it blew the Creation apart. So we, the crippled keepers, were sent out to multiply, to have dominion. God’s spoilers. Us. Counterrevolutionaries. It is our mission to promote death. The way we kill, the way we die, being unique among the Creatures. It was something we had to work on, historically and personally. To build from scratch up to its present status as reaction, nearly as strong as life, holding down the green uprising. But only nearly as strong.

Only nearly, because of the defection rate. A few keep going over to the Titans every day, in their striving subcreation (how can flesh tumble and flow so, and never be any less beautiful?), into the rests of the folksong Death (empty stone rooms), out, and through, and down under the net, down down to the uprising.

In harsh-edged echo, Titans stir far below. They are all the presences we are not supposed to be seeing—wind gods, hilltop gods, sunset gods—that we train ourselves away from to keep from looking further even though enough of us do, leave Their electric voices behind in the twilight at the edge of the town and move into the constantly parted cloak of our nightwalk till

Suddenly, Pan—leaping—its face too beautiful to bear, beautiful Serpent, its coils in rainbow lashings in the sky—into the sure bones of fright—

Don’t walk home at night through the empty country. Don’t go into the forest when the light is too low, even too late. Don’t go into the forest when the light is too low, even too late in the afternoon—it will get you. Don’t sit by the tree like this, with your cheek against the bark.

From Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, pages 720-21.

Critical Mass (Gravity’s Rainbow)

“I think that there is a terrible possibility now, in the World. We may not brush it away, we must look at it. It is possible that They will not die. That it is now within the state of Their art to go on forever—though we, of course, will keep dying as we always have. Death has been the source of Their power. It was easy enough for us to see that. If we are here once, only once, then clearly we are here to take what we can while we may. If They have taken much more, and taken not only from Earth but also from us—well, why begrudge Them, when they’re just as doomed to die as we are? All in the same boat, all under the same shadow… yes… yes. But is that really true? Or is it the best, and the most carefully propagated, of all Their lies, known and unknown?

“We have to carry on under the possibility that we die only because They want us to: because They need our terror for Their survival. We are their harvests… .

“It must change radically the nature of our faith. To ask that we keep faith in Their mortality, faith that They also cry, and have fear, and feel pain, faith They are only pretending Death is Their servant—faith in Death as the master of us all—is to ask for an order of courage that I know is beyond my own humanity, though I cannot speak for others… . But rather than make that leap of faith, perhaps we will choose instead to turn, to fight: to demand, from those for whom we die, our own immortality. They may not be dying in bed any more, but maybe They can still die from violence. If not, at least we can learn to withhold from Them our fear of Death. For every kind of vampire, there is a kind of cross. And at least the physical things They have taken, from”“Earth and from us, can be dismantled, demolished—returned to where it all came from.

“To believe that each of Them will personally die is also to believe that Their system will die—that some chance of renewal, some dialectic, is still operating in History. To affirm Their mortality is to affirm Return. I have been pointing out certain obstacles in the way of affirming Return…”

From pages 539-40 of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow.

The sermon is from a Jesuit, one Father Rapier, and takes place in one of GR’s stranger episodes (which is really saying something, that adjective there). Before the sermon—a “Critical Mass,” our narrator takes unusual pains to make sure that we get it, that we understand that the Jesuit is here to preach “against return. Here to say that critical mass cannot be ignored. Once the technical means of control have reached a certain size, a certain degree of being connected one to another, the chances for freedom are over for good.”

Compare the Jesuit’s notation of “once, only once” to the passage on pages 412-13 on Kekulé, the snake that eats its own tale: “…a quote from Rilke: ‘Once, only once…’ One of Their favorite slogans. No return, no salvation, no Cycle—”. The sermon also echoes the They/We riff on page 521.

The Mother Conspiracy (Gravity’s Rainbow)

Otto is earnestly explaining his views on the Mother Conspiracy. It’s not often a sympathetic girl will listen. The Mothers get together once a year, in secret, at these giant conventions, and exchange information. Recipes, games, key phrases to use on their children. “What did yours use to say when she wanted to make you feel guilty?”

“‘I’ve worked my fingers to the bone!’” sez the girl.

“Right! And she used to cook those horrible casseroles, w-with the potatoes, and onions—”

“And ham! Little pieces of ham—”

“You see, you see? That can’t be accidental! They have a contest, for Mother of the Year, breast-feeding, diaper-changing, they time them, casserole competitions, ja—then, toward the end, they actually begin to use the children. The State Prosecutor comes out on stage. ‘In a moment, Albrecht, we are going to bring your mother on. Here is a Luger, fully loaded. The State will guarantee you absolute immunity from prosecution. Do whatever you wish to do—anything at all. Good luck, my boy.’ The pistols are loaded with blanks, natürlich, but the unfortunate child does not know this. Only the mothers who get shot at qualify for the finals.

Here they bring in psychiatrists, and judges sit with stopwatches to see how quickly the children will crack. ‘Now then, Olga, wasn’t it nice of Mutti to break up your affair with that long-haired poet?’ ‘We understand your mother and you are, ah, quite close, Hermann. Remember the time she caught you masturbating into her glove? Eh?’ Hospital attendants stand by to drag the children off, drooling, screaming, having clonic convulsions. Finally there is only one Mother left on stage. They put the traditional flowered hat on her head, and hand her the orb and scepter, which in this case are a gilded pot roast and a whip, and the orchestra plays Tristan und Isolde.

From Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow.

Watch a film about Thomas Pynchon, A Journey into the Mind of P

This 2002 documentary by Donatello Dubini and Fosco Dubini is kind of a mess, but it’s a fun mess. Interviews with old friends, like Jules Siegel, superfans and webdudes, and critics (George Plimpton shows up a few times), are interspliced with a lot of stock footage. The Residents’ fantastic pop appropriations from The Third Reich Rock n’ Roll help to stitch the movie together. The film occasionally indulges in a kind of obvious paranoid rambling, and the last section, detailing an attempt to photograph Thomas Pynchon (you remember that silly CNN report?) is not nearly as interesting as  Allen Rush or other Pynchonians riff. Sort of a for completists only deal.

What the hell is Pynchon in Public Day?

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Pynchon in Public Day is tomorrow, May 8th–that’s Pynchon’s birthday if you’re keeping score. (He’ll be 78 tomorrow. Last year I put together links for his auspicious 77th birthday).

For the past couple of years, I’ve seen the phrase Pynchon in Public pop up in my Twitter timeline, often as a hashtag. I had a (willfully) vague idea about what Pynchon in Public was all about–like, reading Pynchon publicly, posting the W.A.S.T.E. horn in public places, leaving books about. Making the secret sign. Etc.

But so and anyway: I’ve been reading or re-reading Pynchon more or less non-stop for the past two years, after diving for reasons I can’t recall into Against the Day, following that up with Mason & Dixon, and then going through The Crying of Lot 49 and Inherent Vice again. (In the deepest and most sincere spirit of my Pynchon-reading-experience, I abandoned Bleeding Edge twice during this time). I’m rereading Gravity’s Rainbow now after just having finished it (after years of false starts). Reading it again is like reading it for the first time, and as I progress (and sometimes retreat) through the Zone, I experience a sympathetic fragmentation, a scattering, a sense that the novel is consuming me. Another way of saying this is that Gravity’s Rainbow is a scary book, and all of Pynchon is scary in the sense that it’s all just one big book. It kinda sorta worms its way into the ear of one’s consciousness, wriggles (Ruggles?) behind the old brainpan, performs a paranoid song and dance routine. Other fun and games too.

Wait, what? Continue reading “What the hell is Pynchon in Public Day?”

The politics was all theatre, all just to keep the people distracted (Gravity’s Rainbow)

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 technology… by 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…

Yes but Technology only responds (how often this argument has been iterated, dogged and humorless as a Gaussian reduction, among the younger Schwarzkommando especially), “All very well to talk about having a monster by the tail, but do you think we’d’ve had the Rocket if someone, some specific somebody with a name and a penis hadn’t wanted to chuck a ton of Amatol 300 miles and blow up a block full of civilians? Go ahead, capitalize the T on technology, deify it if it’ll make you feel less responsible—but it puts you in with the neutered, brother, in with the eunuchs keeping the harem of our stolen Earth for the numb and joyless hardons of human sultans, human elite with no right at all to be where they are—”

We have to look for power sources here, and distribution networks we were never taught, routes of power our teachers never imagined, or were encouraged to avoid… we have to find meters whose scales are unknown in the world, draw our own schematics, getting feedback, making connections, reducing the error, trying to learn the real function… zeroing in on what incalculable plot? Up here, on the surface, coaltars, hydrogenation, synthesis were always phony, dummy functions to hide the real, the planetary mission yes perhaps centuries in the unrolling… this ruinous plant, waiting for its Kabbalists and new alchemists to discover the Key, teach the mysteries to others…

From page 521 of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow

The Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth (Gravity’s Rainbow)

Kekulé dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, the dreaming Serpent which surrounds the World. But the meanness, the cynicism with which this dream is to be used. The Serpent that announces, “The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning,” is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that “productivity” and “earnings” keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity—most of the World, animal, vegetable and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it’s only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to begin with, of no value to anyone or anything but the System, which sooner or later must crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life. Living inside the System is like riding across the country in a bus driven by a maniac bent on suicide… though he’s amiable enough, keeps cracking jokes back through the loudspeaker, “Good morning folks, this is Heidelberg here we’re coming into now, you know the old refrain, ‘I lost my heart in Heidelberg,’ well I have a friend who lost both his ears here! Don’t get me wrong, it’s really a nice town, the people are warm and wonderful—when they’re not dueling. Seriously though, they treat you just fine, they don’t just give you the key to the city, they give you the bung-starter!” u.s.w. On you roll, across a countryside whose light is forever changing—castles, heaps of rock, moons of different shapes and colors come and go. There are stops at odd hours of the mornings, for reasons that are not announced: you get out to stretch in lime-lit courtyards where the old men sit around the table under enormous eucalyptus trees you can smell in the night, shuffling the ancient decks oily and worn, throwing down swords and cups and trumps major in the tremor of light while behind them the bus is idling, waiting—passengers will now reclaim their seats and much as you’d like to stay, right here, learn the game, find your old age around this quiet table, it’s no use: he is waiting beside the door of the bus in his pressed uniform, Lord of the Night he is checking your tickets, your ID and travel papers, and it’s the wands of enterprise that dominate tonight… as he nods you by, you catch a glimpse of his face, his insane, committed eyes, and you remember then, for a terrible few heartbeats, that of course it will end for you all in blood, in shock, without dignity—but there is meanwhile this trip to be on… over your own seat, where there ought to be an advertising plaque, is instead a quote from Rilke: “Once, only once…” One of Their favorite slogans. No return, no salvation, no Cycle—that’s not what They, nor Their brilliant employee Kekulé, have taken the Serpent to mean. No: what the Serpent means is—how’s this—that the six carbon atoms of benzene are in fact curled around into a closed ring, just like that snake with its tail in its mouth, GET IT?

From pages 412-13 of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow.