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.

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