Gravity’s Rainbow, 150-200pp., Matt’s Take

Gravity's Rainbow
Gravity’s Rainbow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And with this one, we go into what is, for me, brand new territory. The Leni Pökler flashback (more on that in a bit) is about where I lost the plot (pardon the pun) and ended up putting it down and reading something else to rest my brain a bit. And by the time I picked it back up, it was better to just start again from the beginning. So, I did! Hooray!

I think for me, sometimes I have the biggest part wrapping my head around the Psi Section bits — I’m pretty much Not Into That in real life, and while I know that a) This isn’t real and b) It’s a comment on how the Nazis DID use (or, rather “use”) Psi Section-type stuff, I think there’s still a little bit in my brain that rebels on it and doesn’t quite want to process it all the way. I believe I’m getting better on that, but I still need to smack myself around a little when it comes to that, at least as it pertains to Gravity’s Rainbow.

But this first part to this section does include some really interesting bits that I like, mainly Gavin Trefoil, who is able to change his skin tone by thought — from an albino pale to a dark, African look — which was very useful in the previous bit when they were making the false German rocket-testing film with most of the White Visitation’s people going around in blackface. See, since Gavin can make himself change skin tone, he was particularly useful…. as a variable light reflector.

This same episode also has the aside/dialogue between neurons illustrating Spectro’s theory that the cerebral cortex is the membrane that goes between the inside and outside world. It’s an amusing bit of theater and metaphor that also blends into the Outside as the cortex itself can, as by the end, it’s hard to tell if it’s all happening in this imaginary play, or if it’s actually Ronald Cherrycoke and Nora Dodson-Truck as the younger and elder operatives… Pynchon is a master of seamlessly changing perspectives, and even if you’re paying very strong attention, it typically means you’ve gotta go back and re-read a page or two to make sure you’re on the right track.

Next up is the introduction of Leni Pökler and the introduction of the phrase “AN ARMY OF LOVERS CAN BE BEATEN” (yes, it’s where the band took their name). Her husband-in-name-only, Franz, hasn’t really been introduced much yet (or, at least, I don’t think he has — if you haven’t noticed, there’re a LOT of characters…), but he’s gone off to work on the V-2, while Leni is left alone and has joined the resistance, though, it seems for her it’s less about being a part of The Resistance, and more about resisting her husband; Leni seems, perhaps not the most anti-semetic person, but not exactly trustful of Jews. She’s also having an affair with Peter Sachsa, one of the Psi Section folks referred to as Carroll Eventyr’s “control”. I admit, I’m not quite sure what that means, really — I’m thinking “control” as in an experimental control, although Sachsa also does readings and psychic sittings and whatnot as well, so I’m a little hazy on this part. But anyway, though — it’s not just an affair for Leni, but also a rejection of Western Science that Franz loves/represents for Mysticism, which Sachsa loves/represents. Both men are similar and seemingly treat Leni at a distance and keep her at arm’s length, but they just are from different sides of the fence, sort of like Roger Mexico versus folks like Edwin Treacle in the immediately previous episode — except I don’t think Jessica Swanlake is particularly in the middle of such a thing — I rather gather that she’s, while marginally interested, doesn’t seem to have an opinion much either way.

To close the first book, the final two episodes are on the Christmas holiday. Pointsman gets his present, mainly sending Slothrop off to France for study and further manipulation in hopes of using him in the war effort, and, in the last episode, the Hansel and Gretel theme recurs again. This time, as a play Roger and Jessica see — though, as with Blicero, rockets aren’t far off — as a rocket lands near the theater. And, like with Blicero’s games of gender confusion, Hansel, in the production, is a tall girl in a cage, much like Katje’s occasional standing in for Gottfried, and the Witch is near the oven, waiting to be pushed in…

And then Book 2 starts, Un Perm’ au Casino Hermann Goering, or “A Furlough at the Hermann Goering Casino”, according to Wikipedia. I sure don’t know French, so I’m going to have to take their word for it, but it makes sense as a translation. Given the use of French, you can probably tell that this is going to follow Slothrop’s French Vacation, along side Teddy Bloat (from the first sections of the first book) and Tantivy Mucker-Maffick, Slothrop’s officemate who stares at the Sexual Conquest/Rocket Landing map (without realizing the second bit of that). And, as I wished for, we get an octopus update. It turns out that Grigory’s film habits have come into play — mainly, Katje appears on the beach, being attacked by him, and it’s up to Slothrop to save her with a convenient crab “found” by Bloat.

Having done his job, Grigory goes back to his cage off-shore with Dr. Porkyevitch, who fears for his future now that he’s outlived his usefulness to Pointsman… he’s a Russian exile, who isn’t sure if he’ll keep that status for long, or rather, if Pointsman will let him. But we might find out more about that later — I don’t know, if we do, I haven’t hit that part yet. But basically Slothrop’s indisposed currently, having fun with Katje, and as much as I love octopuses, they don’t exactly sell books. (Except for books about octopuses, like photo books on marine life and that sort of thing.)

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  1. Dave

    I’m really appreciating your analysis as I started the book around same time and with the same background (none).

    Very tough at times, but it has great moments.

    I’m around page 250. In a rush right now, but might offer some commentary in the future.

  2. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    I wasn’t sure anyone actually read these…8) I was thinking it might just be completely for myself, so I’m glad I’m wrong! I’m just about up to page 300, just finished Book 2, so, yes!

    I’m glad you’re liking the book, too — I really am as well. (I did the first time I tried, but it kinda melted my brain a bit.) I kinda thought about doing one of these things for Infinite Jest too, but I’m not sure. I HAVE read that one like 3 or 4 times already, though, so at least I’d be a bit more “Oh, OK, I know what is happening” rather than just us discovering it out at the same time, but still! If you haven’t read IJ yet, though — highly recommended. And it’s actually easier than Gravity’s Rainbow, even though it’s longer and has footnotes..8)

  3. Dave

    the same person who recommended gravity’s rainbow also had recommended infinite jest (which I read first).. she, on the other hand, has yet to read either..

    i really liked it, even if it is all over the place, the varying styles was amazing.. sad to lose such a great writer.

    a friend i spoke to about it this weekend said one should ease into infinite jest reading some of his short stories first.. i read a book after (consider the lobster) and would have to agree..

    hate the footnotes though.. my mind won’t let me ignore and read over them.. but when I read them it breaks the momentum of reading..

    i should get through a good chunk of GR this weekend as i’ll be on a plane for 2 6 hour flights…

    this is my first time through, I’m in the melting brain stage..

  4. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    I know what you mean; the very first time I started IJ — which was on a plane, never good for me anyway as it took me a while to be able to read on flights — I got about 20 pages in and went “what?” I ended up reading _Brief Interviews with Hideous Men_, one of the short story collections, which has my favorite piece of short fiction ever “Forever Overhead”, and it clicked, and I started IJ again, and it just went easy. Then I re-read it. Then I read something else for a couple months and re-re-read it….

    The footnotes are an acquired taste – it doesn’t help too the first few are pretty much non-necessary, like drug name expansions and whatnot – but I like ’em, and there’s some really great stuff buried in there. I also do like the way you can use them to not break up the flow of a sentence, rather than jamming in a parenthetical aside. I read an interview with him, and he mentioned that he’d been working on not using footnotes[1], but they’re _ADDICTIVE_.

    I’m doing a bit better with GR now — I think part of that is going back every week and having to think about a chunk of 50 previously-read pages at a time, so it helps keep things fresh and still in my mind. Both when I have to write ’em, and even afterwards. I guess it’s sorta like how they often say that if you write out a list or lines you need to memorize, it’s easier.

    [1] _Oblivion_, one of the other story collections, is very light on footnotes. Only a couple stories have ’em.

  5. just john

    I’ve read GR three times. I’m stuck in the middle of IJ — it’s just a chore, doing the footnotes. If you want the PERFECT footnoted novel, go for Nabokov’s _Pale_Fire_. Then go back to alt.slack and see how lame THOSE kooks are, compared with how intense they could be.

    Another novel I’m slogging through really slowly is Pynchon’s _Against_the_Day_. It seems as episodic as IJ. Good episodes, but they don’t hang together in my head. In contrast, I’m going pretty well in my re-read of John Barth’s _The_Sotweed_Factor_.

  6. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    With Infinite Jest, have you read DFW’s stuff before, or is this yer first try? For me, I basically found that once I hit about page 200, it became un-put-down-able. Have you hit “Eschaton” yet? That’s one of the centerpieces for me. And it’s roughly halfway through, so I guess it’s one of the literal centerpieces of the novel as well. Yeah.

    I really should give Nabokov another shot; I’ve only read Lolita, and had a real difficult time getting into it. I found Humbert Humbert really unlikeable (duh) in a prententious, non-compelling way. (However, y’know, wow, an unlikable dude who has the sex with 13 year olds. Whodathunk.) Like — the story was interesting, but I found H^2’s narration of it nigh insufferable. I’ve heard good things about Pale Fire though (that’s the one where the narrator is doing a book on a particular epic poem by a fictional poet, and the annotations end up revealing more about him than the poem/et, right?)…

    I need to read more Pynchon; my first was Crying Of Lot 49, which was sort of so-so; like, I liked parts, but a lot of it didn’t really hang together for me. (I heard that Pynchon doesn’t really like that one either, so….) GR is clicking MUCH more, though, and is making me a fan of his rather than an Appreciator. I’m going to have to pick up his other works… but probably not for a little while…8)

    I recently picked up a copy of John Barth’s Lost In The Funhouse, mostly because of hearing good/interesting things of him, him being a Big Name In Pomo N’ Such AND it being sort of an important piece of DFW’s “Westward The Course Of Empire Makes Its Way”, one of his early short-stories. I might end up appreciating/liking that one more (though I do like it OK) once I read that book.

  7. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    I’m only on page 400… it’s really cookin’ along… I”m thinking, since Ben kinda sold me out on having a GR post last week (heh…8), I’ll do one tonight that’s either 100-150 pages. Not QUITE sure yet on which yet. Certainly more than 50, though.

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