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Mindful pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon

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Little, Brown and Company Boston


edited by

George Levine and David Leverenz





IIIi6 Acknnwlcdgmmt~ u( prrminion to ~~nt ~opyrightcd nliucrial appear un ~~ .". 1

Lihrar)' of Congl'CSS Cat21nginll in Publicariun I)ata

"iain cntry undcr ritle: '\iindful pleasures.

Bibliultraph)': p. •. Pynchon. Thon15ls-Criticism and intcrprct:ationAddresses. CS5a)'S. lectures. I. Lc\·inc. George Lc\\·is. II. Lc\'creoz. Da\·id. PSJ5M.Y5SZ72 81l'S'" 76-21279

ISBN O-J 16-512 J0-9 ISBN 0-)16-522JI-7 pbk.



by L;ttJ~, Brovm


in CtrlUltU Com".", (C"""") L;",it~d


To Anne Rutledge, to Marge, and to ... perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue



Introduction : Mindful Pleasures


Section I: Pynchon in General


The Importance of Thomas Pynchon by Richard Poirier Pre-Apocalyptic Atavism: Thomas Pynchon's Early Fiction by Catharine R. Stimpson Caries and Cabals by Tony Tanner Pentecost, Promiscuity, and Pynchon's V.: From the Scaffold to the Impulsive by W. T. Lhamon, Jr. Maxwell's Demon, Entropy, Information: The Crying of Lot 49 by Anne Mangel Pynchon's Poetry by William Vesterman






Risking the Moment: Anarchy and POBbility in Pynchon's Fiction by George Levine Section

n: GrI7Vi,,'s RainbO'lD

Pynchon's Paranoid History by Scott Sanders Gravity's Encyclopedia by Edward Mendelson BriinnhiJdc and the Chemists: Women in Grl7Vity's RJzinbO'UJ by Marjorie Kaufman On Trying to Read Grwity's R4inbO'W by David Leverenz


137 139


197 129

Appendix: The Quest for PynchoD by Mathew Winston


Bibliography compiled by Bruce Herzberg


Notes on Conttibntors


Acknowledgments The aUlhurs .Ire grateful [0 thc fullowing puhlishers, inst ilut ions, 3fld indi\'iduals for pcrnlissinn tu (lU()tc from pn:"iously cupyrightcd matcrials: Tr;Qtldrltr~y,

fur ".\1nxwell's I>elnun, Entropy, Infurmntiun: -rhe Crying of Lut 49" by ..\nne ~lnngcl. frum the ,rintl'r I()71 issue (~u. 2()). Cupyright © 1971 hv. ~()rth\\cstern L1ni"crsit\'. Press. Ill1rpcr & Row Puhlishers, Inc., nnd Juna. h"l1 C&'pe Ltd .. fur "CUril'S nnll Cnhl1ls" frnnl Ci~y ,~r \-\·'U,."1 Ity "runy Tunncr. Copyright © IIJi I hy Tuny Tl1nnl'r.

'rht Essex Instit ute, Sulc,", .\,lnssuL·husetts. fur excerpts frum the Pynchun-II"",t horne ,,.orrespon,lcncc as puhli!\hed in the f.'sSt.l' !llIlill/lt J-/i,florital CuJ/tcl;(J1U, 100. Cupyright © I'}('.J by the Essc~ Institute. ~tllthc\\'

\Vinstnn. fur his essay "'rhe Quest ftJr 1975 by . ~'I"thc\\' \Vin'ilnn .

P~'nch()n. to

Richard Puirier, for hi~ CSf'''Y uThe I mpuruncc ut' Copyright © IC}75 hy Richard Puirier. W. 1-, Lhanlon.

Cupyright ©



Jr .. ',ar his CSS;lY "Penlccnsl,

V: Frum the Scuffnld


the Impulsive."

Pr()n'i~cuily, and Pynchon\ Copyright ® I(J7~ by \,\'. T.

Lhaamon. \\/illiam Vestcrman, fur his essny "Pynchun\ PII~try'" Copyright © Icn ~ by \\'illiJlnl VesrcrmlHl. Scutt Sanders, for his essay i>ynchun \ l>aran()i~1 History." CClpyright (g 1975 by Scutt Sanders. W.•-1. Freemon and Conlpnny. fur the dingrnnl un pnge HC) frulll""'ax\\,cll's Demon" hy \\'" Ehrenberg puhlished in Sdctlt~fic A mt rkll II , ~n,·emhcr. 1967. Cupyright © 1967 hy Scicnritic ;\nlt:rican, Inc. All righh resen'l"1. II

Ponions of this huuk uriginally :appeared in the nlagnljnt: TWfnlittIJ Crl1II1,)' Literat urr.

MinJful Pleasures ·l1sllI,s on Thomas Pynchon

Introduaion: Mindful Pleasures

The essays collected here comradict each otber so often that they seem to be in rather than about Thomas Pynchon's novels. In the current explosive Inultiplication of Pynchon studies - a sure entropic consequence of his already disordered achievementsthese go only a little way toward producing a settled reading. And personally, "'e prefer the present nloment of uneasiness, uncenainty, and noise in the reading of his fictions to what must follow: "a routinization of charisma," as Gra'Vity's Raillbow quotes Max W cber, a consolidation, a consenslls, a canonization that will, against his will, put Pynchon among Them, powerlessly elected out of the preterite he at lcast half loves and among \vhom he \vants to remain. The very idea of a collection of essays about Pynchon violates the terms on which he presents himself to us. V. mocks the synthetic minds that insist on making shapes out of the meaningless variety and colorfulness of experience, ",hat the original title of G,a'lJity's Rainbow called "Mindless Pleasures." A critic of Pynchon needs to consider \vhether he isn't Ned Pointsman to Pynchon's Roger Mexico, \\,hcrher he is not mistaking the occurrence of "caries" for "cabals," and thus wasting yet more of the vital energies that might keep us from being turned into mere objects. Pynchon wants no part of the critic's enterprise. One of


the conditions of his staying with his present publishers, we have learned, is that they not publish books about his work. So as editors of this volume. we knO\V there's not much we can do to please him. Wherever you are, Thomas Pynchon, we apologize. But whether he likes it or not, there is no escaping his achievement. and there is no point in pretending to ignore it. The act of writing itself makes Pynchon a public figure. And the better he writes, the more intense will be the pressure to co-opt him and to desuoy the conditions that make the \vriting possible. Even as he drops his false clues and plays with his astonishing knowledge of \\rhat appears to be everything, he invites, just as he defensively rejects, the sons of studies undcnaken here. As Richard Poirier suggests in his essay \vritten for this volume, one has to kno\v an awful lot to learn what it is that Pynchon feelsnot only about Zap comics and horror movies, but about physics, mathematics. Puritan theology, and a library of literature that he uses or parodies or both. The essays here by Ed\\fard Mendelson, AMC Mangel. and Scott Sanders explore aspects of that knowledge. though they use it in \\rays that tend to contradict each other. So. finally. Pynchon must understand - we're inclined to think that it's an important part of what the books are up to that his readers have to be put through all the potentially dessicating critical games in order to experience how inadequate are our present ways of knowing. From the very beginning of Pynchon's public career, critics have found it difficult to resist his work. and the history of his reputation anlong the critics may suggest the sense in Pynchon's refusal to pay attention. The seductiveness of the praise and the hostility of the CritiCisnl might have worked equally \vell to compromise the special integrity of his talent. At the start, the praise was most dangerous. Indeed~ with the exception of The Crying of Lot 49, almost every one of his works came in for immediate critical awards. His shon story "Entropy" was selected for inclusion in The Best Ammcm Short Stories: 1961. "Under the Rose," a story reworked as Chapter 3 of Y., was an O. Henry prize story for IC)61. And then, when Y. appeared, even Nerws[4]

lvlindful Pleas-lires

'Week felt the need to "hail" it. "This splendid first novel," the review \vent, "'is simply a picture of life." And yet Pynchon's success story disguises two important elements in the progress of his reputation. First, the N ews'Week sort of popularity . though likely to be ternpting to any first novelist, was spurious, as the quotation fronl the review suggests. Second, the succcss and special nature of Pvnchon's art has ahvavs evoked from a significant minority (spe~king usually for thc· right-ofcenter of American literary culture) considerable hostility. Pynchon has often been dismissed as merely clever, or as sophomorically obscene, mechanically cold, incapable of creating real characters. One distinguishcd acadcl11ic once asked an editor of this volunlc ho\\' he could take seriously so academic a novelist as Pynchon. Happily, there is Iittlc evidence that Pynchon has listened much to \vhat his critics advised. He continues, perhaps uniquely, to give his critics nothing to \\'ritc about hut his fiction. And \vhen V. appeared there \vas almost a quality of desperation in reviews that seemed to scranlblc for inforlnation about him, or at least for traditions in \\'hich to place him. By and large, reviews of I'. mixed enthusiasm and deference with puzzlenlcnr and uneasiness. Of course, thcre ",·as the CO"I1me1Jtary revic\\' by Irving Feldman, who S3'V the \vhole novcl as silly collegiate showing off in a tradition of hcatnikisnl that Conmlel1tary never liked and will, apparently, never forgive. Yet serious critics did sec that Pynchon \vas a writer likely to Jllatrer. Stanley Edgar Hyman, in n New Leader revic\v, felt obliged to nlake the inevitable conlparison with Catch-22, and to put Pynchon in the tradition of black humor. As had Richard Poirier in The New York Review of Books, Hyman detected a direct influence of Nathanael West and Djuna Barnes. But, as Hyman says, Pynchon's imagination is wilder than that of any of these other writers, and pushes him to a wider and richer vision. Poirier's review, seen in the light of his more elaborate and then increasingly laudatory ones of the later novels, seems very cautious. But the caution is mixed with a certainty that ",ich V. Pynchon "earns the right to be called one of the best (novelists]



we have now." The reservations have to do with Pynchon's mixture of modes (a mixture that has in fact grown more daring since Y.), \vith the ,\\'ay Pynchon's brilliant and sardonic comic treatment of characters seems at odds with the seriousness with which he apparendy wants us to take them. In panicular, Poirier objects to the "sloganeering9" as he calls it, of McClintic Sphere in his now famous line. "Keep cool. but care." For a first novel, Y. attracted a surprising number of very impressive or ver}- \\rell kno\\'n critics: aside from Poirier and Hyman, there were, for example, George Plimpton, Ihab Hassan, and Christopher Ricks. Plimpton, in The New York Times Book Review, called Pynchon "a young writer of staggering promise.n Ricks wrote as though in the presence of a great talent, but cautiously attributed his difficulties \\'ith the novel to a language barrier. Still, Ricks admitted, Pvnchon "kno\vs an enormous lot. n • Hassan's review ,,'as - characteristically for V. - disappointingly conservative and balanced. The book is "too mannered and . . . too dull," the comedy too gory, but, Has.4ian added, Pynchon's kno\\rledge of the "panicular nihilism that ravages our time is compelling." Surprisingly, one of the most intelligendy sympathetic reviews appeared in The New Yorker. There, Whimey Balliett noted the obvious comparison \vith the beats, but argued that Pynchon·s novel was superior to their work because it was free of sentimcnt2lity and self-pity. Disoriented by the comedy, Balliett saw the major difficulty of V. to be that it is a "comic novel \vhose author doesn't take it seriously enough." When The Cryi"g of Lot 49 appeared three years later, V. had not yet died as any promising first novel might have been expected to do. But there is a curious dearth of serious reviews of the second novel despite, or perhaps because of, its compactness, coherence, and ostensible simplicity. (As Roben Sklar says in his excellent 1-J7)

During her quest. Oedipa discovers the Tristcro. An underground nlail delivery systcnl, it works in opposition to "Icgitilnatc" authority. So doing, it includes both crirninal and revolutionary; extrelnc right and extreme left; Mafia enforcer and saint. As she deciphers codes about the Tristero, she becolncs increasingly celibate in body and isolated in spirit, but she also releases a suppressed capacity for nlaternal tenderness. Psychological 11lotherhood marks her moral growth. I n a scene that resenlbles a slum Pieta, she cradles a dirty old sailor suffering fronl DTs. as if he were "her own child" (Lot 49" I '1. 7/93 ). She may beconle a supernatural mother as well. As revelations buffet her, she wonders if she can hold to a central truth. In a grim metaphor" Pynchon asks if we are not all like Prince Myshkin; if we are not epileptics in the confrontation \vith spectra beyond the kno\vn sun. Oedipa meditates: I am Illeant to renlcmber. Each clue that conlCS is supposed to have ir.t; own clarity, ir.c; fine chances for pcmlancnce. Bu.t thcn she wondered if the gCllllike uclues" were only S0l11C kind of conlpensation. To make up for her having lost the direct, cpileptic Word, the cry that might abolish the night. (Lot 49, I J 8/ 87)

The capitalization of "Word" is vital: it is a



gWstically and conceptually, of the Greek "logos:' an animating and renewing principle of reason in the cosmos. Oedipa thinks of it once again. After calling upon Go~ during the dark night of her soul, she remembers drifters she had listened to, Americans speaking their language carefuU)', scholarly, as if they were in exile from somewhere else in\'isible yet congruent with the cheered land she lived in.... And the voices before and after the dead man's that had phoned at random during the darkest. slowest hours, searching ceaseless 2I1lOng the dial's tal million possibilities (or that magical Other \\·ho ,,'ould 1'e\'f!2l herself out of the roar of re12ys, monotone liunies of insult. filth. fantasy. love whose brute repetition must someday call into being the nigger for the unnamable let, the recognition, the \"!'ord. (Lot 49, rSoll)S-I}6)

The T ristero may be carrying not simply letters. i.e., written communications, but Lc~ pieces of the Word. Pyochon may be going on to give "the \Vord n special meaning. Some theoreticians of Logos - the Stoi~ the Jewish philosopher Philo, the early' Christian apologist Justin ~fartyr - thought of the divine principle as germinating, semi~ the "sperm4tikos logos:' Justin writes of "the seed of r~son ... impl:tnted in every nce of man:' He mentions the "spennatic word:'l. The Tristero may be delivering it. Pynchon. exploiting the puns natural language is heir to, literalizing a sexual meaphor, may \\PJlI1t us to think of mail as male. U so, as Oedipa succumbs to the languid. sinister attraction of the Tristero, she represents the female body being pierced and receiving some sacred seed. Towards the end of her quest: wo~

she dresmed of disembodied voices from whose malignance there' was no appeal, the soft dusk of mirrors out of "itich something was about to walk. and empty rooms that waited for her. \.OW' gynecologist has no test for what she was pregnant with. (Lot 49. J 7S/ I J I)

The toothaches JOt

One of the novel's ambiguities is whether she is carrying the child of life or of death. The former will add to and renew .this world. The meritorious chance of our redemption l1l2y prevail. Bearing it will give Oedipa a salutary public significance. The


numbers 49, apparently arbirrary, l1l2y prove symbolic: 4 the nUlnbcr of spring. 9 of lunar ,\risdom. If she is hearing the child of death. it \vill either add to her isolation or generate disease. Her pregnancy. as it \\Tere. \\ill either be meaningless or of morbid public significance. The odds are on this possibility. If Oedipus must marry his olother and father his 0\\'0 siblings, parentlcss Oedipa must leave her husband 2Jld mother sterility. Oedipa never reaches the Pacific. Only one character does: Randolph Driblctte. the director of a Jacobean tragedy. He dro\vns himself. The closest she comes to the symbol of female feniliry is to stand near the shore on old railroad rrac~ tics. and cinderbed. She simplifies her choices to one: does the Tristero cxic;t or not? Making sense of her clues. has she discovered or manufactured a reality? If Oedipa has invented the Trisrero. then Pynchon's early fenlinine metaphor for i~ 3 malign and piriless stripper. is another image for her hidden self. She commits herself to the Tristero and goes to the auction at \\"hich some possihly relevant information about it \\'ill be sold. The atmosphere is grim. The room is locked; the men inside ha\'C "pale. cruel faces", the auctioneer is like a "puppet-master:' a priest of "some remote culture," a "descending angeL" The rurrative abandons the questor in the Chapel Perilous. In V .• Benny Profane experiences the loss of vit2J myth. The affinnarion of such absence is one of the longest cries in t\ventiethcentury literature. Sitting in Little Italy in Nc\\" York, amidtt the garish shoddiness of 3 Catholic saint's day celebration. he tries to tell a girl about his job. He told her about the alligators; ..\ngel, who Iud a fcnilc imagination too, added dct2il. color. Together on the stOOp ther hammered together a myth. Because it \\~asn 't born frorn fear of thwlder, dreams, astonishnlcnr at ho,,· the crops kept dying =after harvest and conling up again C\'CI)' spring. or :In}·thing else \ycry permanent. on1r a trrnporary interest. a spur.of -the-moment tullle5CenCe it was a mvth rickety and tnnsic:nt as the bandstands and ~he sausage-pc;ppcr of ~,t ulbemr Street. ( V., '-11/1: R)

If the early Pynchon ,verc to offer a vital myth. it \\'ould have to be flexible enough to verify urban life; radical enough to [4fl

Ciltharine R. StirnpS01J

regenerate the decaying \vorld; tough enough to withstand the testing acids of irony', burlesque, and parody. It would also respect nature. Spring, taking on the role of Paracletc; \vould descend with tongue of flame. Ordinary women would be fertile. Goddesses \vould protect the natural bounty of the \vomb. Like the moon, ,vomen ,,'ould have a dark side that would haunt the imagination of men and remind them of their fragile mortality. However, the early fiction dramatizes the mortifying betrayal of such roles, \\'hich some ,,~omen will and others resist.

Notes I.


3. 4.


For funher comment see Annette Kolodny and Daniel James PeteR. "Pynchon's Tb~ Crying of Lot 49: The Novel IS Subvenive Experience," Modn-n Fiction Studies. 19, 1 (Spring 1973). 7cr87. I will be using both editions of The Cry;"g of Lot 49 (New York: Bantam Books, 1«)67, first published by Lippincott in 1C)66). Page numbers of specific citations will ~ given parenthetically in my text as Lippincott! Bantam. The description of the three-stage process is adapted from Raymond AI. ()lderman, Bcytnld tb~ W4lSt~ Lmd: The Alnnictm NtWel in tbe Ninetecrl-Sixties (Ne~· Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971, third printing 1(7). p. I J). Thomas Pynchon. "Entropy." Knlyon Revi~, 21. 1 (Spring IC)60), l81. Page numbers of funher citation.'i will he given parenthetically in n1)' text. TI10mas p)pnchon, V. (New York: Bantam Books, 1lllpositc {61/

Tony Ttmner

image of the various areas of human consciousness. The street is the zone of the \\raking. planning consciousness \vhich. unable to endure the meaninglessness of the absolute present, projects plans into the furore or finds plans in the past. The hothouse is the realnl of melJlory where the nlind is sealed up in the secretions of its reveries over the past. The sC\ver or under-the-street (also compared to under the sea) is that area of dream. the unconscious, perhaps the ancestral memory, in \vhich one may find a temporary peace or oblivion, and into \vhich the artist must descend, but \"here fantasy can run so rampant that you may start seeing rats as saints and lovers if you remain dO\\ll there too long. Indeed all three areas suggest the human compulsion or need to construct fantasies, as though each level of consciousness ,vas another forl11 of drcalning. The Inodes of Inotion "'hich prevail in the street are yo-yoing (in the present) and tourism (in the past). The historical epi-

sodes arc fuJI of referenc~ to people living in a "Baedeker world." Tourists arc "the Street's o,,'n." ... \Vhen Stencil (supcrtourist) and Profane (super yo-yo) converge on Malta \vithout quite understanding their motives for doing so, \ve read: "Malta alone drc\\' theln. :1 clenched fist around a yo-yo string:' The illusory purposiveness of Stencil's travels. and the manifest purposeless-

ness of Profanc·s meanderings, both serve to illuminate the condition of movement bereft of all significance except the elemental one of postponing inanimateness. Both modes of motion. in fact, accelerate entropy. just as they both serve to bring Stencil and Bennv . Profane to the rock of Malta . As \vell as writing about a quester and a drifter. Prnchon ,vrites about aU kinds of spies and agents. Their epistenlo)ogical stance -looking for possible clues to possible plots - is only a projection of that of the novelist himself. Perhaps. indeed, they create the patterns of hostility they set out to trace; perhaps, too, does the novelist. Stencil's ingenious linked detections spread back in rime and acro~ space. Is this creative vision \\,hich sees a truth beneath the drifting contingencies of life; or is it a paranoid fantasy, an obsession akin to an oblivion? If the latter~ then is Benny Profane's uncoordinated empiricism of the eye, which [6~J

Caries and Cabals

looks out and sees no plots and learns nothing, true vision? We can hardly expect to adjudicate finally bet\vecn thenl .... The various agents and plotters in the historical episodes \vlille planning their o\\'n cabals are al\\Tays worried that thev may " . in fact be taking part in a larger cabal of which they have no knowledge. Stencil ah"ays finds some fonn of \t. connected \vith some kind of conspiracy, if not a plotter then the cause of plots. \Vhatever V. I1light he, Stencil affirnls "that his quarry fitted in \"ith The Big One, the century's 111aster cabal." Stencil's father had found that if people cannot find S0l11C sort of explanation for "this abstract entity l"hc Situation" (V., 1 HIace. In a letter to Carlo Linati, 11 September 1910. This is a good occasion to dispose of a bit of misinformation that seems to be growing popular: the square ICframes" that separate the chapters of Grm.';ty's Ra;lIbO'W are the work of the publisher's production depamncnt, and were 7/0t suggested by Prnchon hinlself. Pynchon's 11crcro vocabulary - including its precise distinctions of size, ~()urce, and freshness of different varieties of excrenlent (315)derives entircl)' from the preface and text of F. W. Kolbe's An English-H c.7tro Dictio'Ilary (Capctown, I H8 3). But Dr. Jamf hopes cven to reorganize the nlolecules of living 111atter, in order to achieve greater control over them. 1-lc proposcs to substitute chemical bonds built on the sei'liUrc of electrons for the existing bonds built on the sharing of electrons. and to replace Analogues for voluntAry relations with analogues of power relations. Cf. D'y essay uThe Sacred, the Profane, and Tbt Cryi11K of l~o' 49:' in Individual atld C01lnllllnity: Variat;o1lS 011 a ThC111e ;11 A,l1er;can Ficti01l, edited by Kenncth H. iJAldwin and David K. Kirhy (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975), pp. Ilb-ll1. Enzian'~ Succcs.~i()n by Christian, who preserve5 the ~acrcc.l utterances of his I>rcdcccs.~()r, is an exalnple of charisn.atic ~ucccs.~i()n (515. 11K719). Weber's thcoretical account of charisma rnay be found in the translation of thc first pan of his Wirtscbaft ulld Gcscllscbaft, publisheli AS Tb~ 'rl)l!ory of Social and Econo111;c Orgalli'Z41tioll (New Ynrk. 1941), pp. lS8-J()z. In reference to rhe Counterforce, this rnight be the occasion to nute thAt the presence in the book of extraordinary events is usually Ilrcceded (perhaps triggered) by a mistaken verbal or "textual" reference. ()sbie Feel makes a fihn of faked Schwarzkununando befnre we encounter the real ones. Tchircherinc wrongly ~upposes therc is a

"counter(orcc in the Zone" - he lUIS been "lisled by rhe accidents 10.

around SlothroJl- before there actually is a Cnunterfurce. The nlanifcstation of a Si1'''Ztlstnln1leTlba'llg in Gravity's Rainbow i5 the city. There could easil)' be a long essay on the subject, but I will restrict thi:i note to sa few observations. Cities in the book range frum Ant City underfoot (399) and the conurbations of Siothroll's body ("His fingers are cities. his biceps is a provincc" - 310) through the historical London and Berlin, to the cities of intcntion consrructed hy Olen and wonlcn uut of their own nlotivc:s. As the bonk proceeds fronl london and Berlin into the disorder of the Zunc, cities whose nanlCS are on Dlaps increasingly become supplantcd by such inlagined cities as the mandala-shaped Raketen-Stadt that accomnlodatcs the vectors of intention focuscd on the V -1; Rilke's Leidstadt; the City Dact)'lic "where evcry soul is known, and there is no place to hidc" (S66); the Hexes-Stadt (an especially clear eX31npie of bureaucratizariun - 71ft); and the Happyville of ignorant complacence. (For Pointsman the Nobel Pri7.e is imaged only through its metonymic city. Stockholm.) Unlike the cities of history, Pynchon's cities of intention vary in form

Ed'UHlrd Mendelson



according to the perception and motives of those who participate in them. In a notoriously obscure chapter, when some of the cbancrers escape the They-Systems of oppression to fumble to,vards the· good through a We-S),steDl, a Counterforce. they find themselves in a "disquieting structUre . . . a place of many levels. and new wiIlp that generate like living tissue" (S 37). Pirate Prentice and Kar;e Borpsius, who enter this structUre (,,"hich is reminiscent of comic-book cities elscwhere in the book), find they have not. after all, been able to escape from "U systelns, as Siothrop has done: to act in the world, for any motive. requires a SYMon of meaning in which to act. The system into \\,hich they escape is not only built upon the structure of their previous actions. "'hose consequences cannot be undODCt but also differs according to their perceptions of their own motives. Prentice, alwa}'s an organization man, and Katie. who revolts out of despair over the deaths she causecL see the world of their meeting in entirely different tcnns, neither of which is fully "correct": "What did it look like our there, Katie? (Prentice asks.] I saw an organized convention. Someone else saw it IS • guden. • • ." But he knows ,,·hat she'll say. IIThere \vas nothina out there. It was a barren place. • ••" (S47) Anlong these. the Hobbesian law finn of Salitieri. Poore, Nub, De Brutus, and Shon is iusdy celebrated. Bur has anyone norcd the even more elabonte nlO.ncnf of Fnncophilia in Bloody Chiclirz's "For De Mille. young fur-henchmen can't be rowing" (SS9)? Pynchon's historic.1 expertise docs not protect him from other veafal erron. Grwit,'1 RJrmbov: makes quite a fcw misakes in German. mostly through the use of copulam'c rather than excretory expletives. And there is a curious "mistake" in the plot of TIH Cr1h1g of Ltn 49 (pointed out to me by Eliot KlWtJer): in c,apter J, Oedipa parka her car in San Francisco's Nonh Beach, then spends the nilhe wanderiq through the Bay Area on foot and by bus. ending up the nat monUn,

at her hotel in Berkeley; after

shon sleep she "checked out of the hotel and dro\'c down the peninsula." How did her car set from San Francisco to Berkeley? AJiquJmdo dormhlll Py"cb01l. 13. It is nOhble that the empty bureaucracies in Gravity's lWttbotw _ di~d towards the acquisition of money (and even the Counterforce has become. maner of intcrat to Tb~ WIJIl Str." 1tnn'tMl). In contrast, Weber nota, "Pure charisma is specifically fORip to economic I

considerations." ... The whole istue of kabbala in Grlftlity', lUinbow is, for the momea; best banished to a foomo~ (One critic has already misread the bOok as a kabbalistic document.) The subjra does. however, deserve ballnced study: the planetoid KalSpie}. for enmp~ source of pinball. (s84', takes its name from an An:hon in prebbbalisdc Jewish ~. Pynchon is imqinatively correct in aaipins to the exiled Herero a modem fonn of C;05iuOIogical spec:ulation that can neither be c1isproved nor confirmed by the internal test of consistency and logic or the exrernal rest of adequacy to experience. Kabbalistic specolaOODt with which the diaspon compensated for exile. leads in Grwhy.'t


GrilU;ty's Encyclopedia RJlinbo'W not to any version of the truth, but to private visions of inadequate segments of the truth, and, ultimately, to self-destruction. Enzian's opposition to the Empty Ones' program for tribal suicide is doomed, for all his anticipations of an exfoliating rocket-kabbala, by his own comminnent, not to a sacred center bur to the death-machinery of the V -1 rocket.


Brunnhtlde and the Chemists: Women in Gravity's Rainbow Marjorie Kaufman

In exalted apocalypse, 'With holy promises of ritllal renewal, Wagner brings on die Gotterdanunerung and returns, at last, der Ring des Nibelungen to the Rhinelnaidens.l In Gravity's Rainbow, we witness a post-Wagnerian holocaust of love and dcath. For Thomas Pynchon, our twilight and the twilight of the gods begins when the nineteenth-cenrury Gennan chemist, Kekule von Stradonitz, interprets his dream of the ancient hernlctic synlbol of unity and renewal- the Serpent with its tail in its mouth, surrounding the world - to be a vision of the model of the benzene ring, which mQkes it possible to pervert natural elements into the man-made molecular suuctures of plastics and rocketry. To Pynchon, the first perpetrators of the perversion, and the augurs of the curse we put on when we grasp the ring of such knowledge and such power, were the officers of General von Troth~ in Deutsch-Stidwestnfrika, when, in 1904, they conducted the first programmatic genocidal drive of this century against the pantheistic Hottentots and Hereros. As Captain Weissmann, one of the characters who links V. to Gravity's Rainbow, records the experience, it was a subtle replacement of the old human emotions -love, hate - by a kind of a-feeling he calls "operational sympathy." From that "de-viral" tum (the rejection of chaotic passions for "functional agreementU with orderly means), comes [1971

Marjorie K.uf7lum

the consequent shift in manners and morals from "random" and "picaresque acts to "a logic . . . that substituted capability for character, deliberate scheme for political epiphany," and a bleak, wind-driven sterile shore for the greening landscape that once dignified human suffering and enabled our ancient Dance of Death. 2 No"., in the last years of the Second World War, the Curse of the Ring begins to fulfill its promise: the dead heroes and the gods again sit fonnall y and dispassionately watching, as the flames of the funeral pyre reach the ne\v Valhalla - alr~dy in \Vaguer, a rainbow bridge spreads to their feet as a causeway. This time, however, there is no redemption, because no love, and the Wagnerian ecstasy and full orchestra are not ours; the death of this world is played on hannowa or kazoo or sung to a U

simple tune. But whether heard as "just a song at twilight" or the cry of an ex-V alkyri~ its meaning is the same: it's all over with the end of either song. In the terrible "namen of love we have all made the new death. not the grisly but grand old pte to the eternally returning ("love's old sweet song"), but to the perpetuity of the links of bioundegradable plastiCSt spreading their deathlessness to the antechambers of the Throne Room. The gods \vho stole the Ring made from the old Rhine ucasure knew the price of the cosmic power it gave them - the foreswearing forever of love. Only those innocent ttilling Rhinemaidens could have thought the price too great to tempt them or us. 10 a world where the gods have become an anonymous "They" - not • Pantheon but a System, a Corporatio~ an Establishment, a multinational cartel~ a Masonry that has connections beyond the grave - and where the pretty swimmers themselves have turned into a beer promotion. annually elected to their tid~ the price has 10D, since been paid. AlENE MENE 1UEL on the walls of the old Weimar RepUblic has already announced "AN ARMY OF LOVERS CAN BE BEATEN." From the traffic Bowing over the Santa Monica Freew.y to the screen of the Orpheus Theatre, gone suddenly blank, under a sky the color of ta1fy pulled only once or twice, the brown fog of Eliot's Waste Land is a rosy glow. In very truth, we "bad not thought death had undone so many" or so much. To inquire of the ·maker of such a fiction (and I have bar-dy [IgI)

Briinnbilde and the Che111ists

suggested its dimensions) if he perceives the role of \vomen as richly and as dreadfully, as comically and as tenderly, with as equal a share of hate and fear and pity as he vie\vs the role of men is the question I have been asked to explore in this paper. With no puns on Forsterts distinctions intended, arc the female characters of Gravity's Rainbow as "round" as the male? Or are they assigned only the male-oriented stereotypical role: La Belle Dame Sans Merci and, for that matter, the flipped coin of that powerfully destructive, Inonstrous beauty, the equally stereotypical role perceived by the raised consciousness of NOW, the p3~ive, even willingly enslaved object of nlale sexual gratification? Does Thomas Pynchon, given the epic leisure of over seven hundred and fifty pages, a view of space that makes use of 3 larger tele-

scope than any yet designed and the minute prying5 of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, nnd a vic\v of time that forbids nlention of the first V-2 rocket falling over London at "6:43:16 British Double Summer TiI11C" without taking into account thc knowledge that the final cuuntdown began somewhere in the 1610S, in the single-steepled \vhitc churches of New England and their doctrine of the Elect - given such leisure, such space, such time, does he also givc a fair shake to his \VOnlCn characters, to the female sex? An immediate answer has seemed obvious to me, and consistent, for Pynchon's three novels: yes, of course, he docs. A full and considered response, however, has proved more labyrinthine than I was wise enough to suspect, though fundamentally unchanged, it can at least serve the purpose of running us deep into the ways and whys of Gravity's Rai1Ibo'W, to its center, as cold as the last circle of Dante's Hell or of Wernher von Braun's outcr space with its certifiably sterile moon. Seven women occupy enough room in the novel, and in London, the Riviera, and the "demilitarized" Zone, to be considered major characters, even if their roles arc not equally significant. In order of appearance, they are Jessica Swanlake, Katie Borgesius, Leni Pokier and her daughter lise, Geli Tripping, Greta ("Margherita") F.rdmann and her daughter Bianca. With all these women, young and old, except Jessica and lise Pokier, the [1991

novel's hero (to use the language of the old dispensation) has more or less intense encounters. Because it is a "given" of GrIl'Vity's &inbO'W that if you are a woman in its world, to meet American Anny Intelligence Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop is joyously to bed down \vith ~ these encounters include a variety of. again more or less, bizarre sexual couplings. Other women recur frequently enough to get full names but are of less central or lasting concern: the English \vome~ Nora Dodson-Truck and Scorpia Mossmoon, the Polish Stefania Procaio\\'ska . and the l\rgcntinian Graciela Imago Portales. Of these Siotl1rop actually meetS only 5tefania - and. if I'm not mistake~ she is \I'irtually the only attractive woman he docs meet, under even remotely favorable circumstances. with whom no physical

intercourse occurs. In addition, literally dozens of other \\~omen cross these pages, some to linger for a paragraph or two - some even to stay on and play a not insignificant role in a single episode - then to disappear utterly or return a hundred pages or so later. perhaps just to walk across a sentence. The)" arc usually given first names or titles. and. along with their even more numerous and anonymous sisters. seem to gather into three not-very-tight categories: the young. prctty. nubile, \vell-intentioned; the generally older, generally aristocratic, rather thoroughly decadent; and Mothers.

Also. lots of children, many of whom arc little girls. And a goodly cre\v of females who are not even technically human: two relatively imponant anima1s. Urs~ a lemming, and Frieda, a pig, a bit pan for a Siamese cat who is also a Mother ("Sooty"), an "older" melanocyte; nvo light bulbs - Brenda. who keeps conventional hours, and 8catriz, an immonal; Miss Enola Gay, the plane that carried the Hiroshima bomb, and the A-Bomb itself; "Lady London," the War, this Earth. and the Rocket, though the Rocket is probably androgynous, if that is the word for a phallic object equipped with clitoris and womb. Despitc the fact that probably the entire range of human (and inhuman) sexual behavior as noted by Kra1ft-Ebing or invented by the Marquis de Sadc also occurs in the nove~ the final effect of such variety is to reduce the importance of physical gender and


BriJnnhilde and the Cbe1nirts

intensify that of sexual energy. I think Pynchon intends this effect. Funher, once we examine the functions of the major WOlnen in the novel, we often see female-ness balanced by a parallel masculine figure or act; GrQ'lJity's Rainbow is an extraordinary web of links among characters and actions, doubles, roleplaying and role-reversing. Images of coordinating systems, parallel ideas, cross it at every point and at every level of thenle and plot. When one recalls that it is by analogy - "the six carbon atoms of benzene are in fact curled around into a closed ring, just like that make 'LL'itb its tail in its 1nouth, GET IT?"S - that Kekulc forged the Ring, the central and pervasive significance of the figure to the novel is evident. Whatever the doublings. the linles, the parallels, however, there are the "girls, girls, girls, girls, girls" of GrQVity'lo Rai11borw and primarily of Slothrop's. "I know there is wilde love and joy enough in the world," preached Thonlas !-Iooker, "a... there are wilde ThYlne, and other hcrbc:s; but we would have garden love, and garden joy, of Gods owne planting." .'Iow Slothrop's garden grows. TCClllS with virgin 's-bowcr, with fnrget-111e-nots, with rue - and all over the place, purple and yellow as hickeys, a prevalence of love-inidlenc.~s. (11)

Tyrone's London nlap, recording in varicolored stars the sites of his affairs, starts one of the nlajor threads of the novel, for with frightening consistency, though never known to Siothrop, the stars precede by a day or two (ncar the cnd of his London stay, only hy minutes) the bomb sites of the silent death of the V -2 rocket, the pair nlaking perfectly matched Poisson Distributions. How Slothrop k1lo'Ws becomes one of the preoccupying questions of the madly assorted group of psycho-, astro- and natural scientists, working out of PISCES (Psychological I ntelligence Schemes for Expediting Surrender) and their research facility, "The White Visitation." Yet long after Siothrop has left London and his map for the Riviera, after the bombs have stopped and he is deep within the Zone, the "girls" are there. "Tits tn' ass," mutter the girls, Htits 'n t ass. That's all we are around here." [301J

Marjorie IVIuf71l1m nAb, shaddap," snarls G. M. B. Haftung. which is his usual way of de2ling ,\-ith the help. (S07)

This little chorus line, their chant anachronistically echoing a Lenny Bruce "bit," has just been ordered to lead an attack on the Russian soldiers occupying the firing site, at Peenemiinde, of the Super-Rocket 00000, by providing "diversionary tactics." They wiU do their jobs and pass on. like their sisters. equally anonymous, conventionally pretty and, despite the momentary protest of that chorus, congenial. Nurses, stenographers, shoppers, prOStitutes - on streets, in fiel~ in offices, in dreams or out, in 1930 or 1945 - at office parties or in subways or on little old-world vilJage squares, they are mostly there to fill a scene or two, their bottonlS ine'''itably pinched, their breasts squeezed. Tlu:se young \vomen (onn the largest group of supernumeruies in Gra'llity's IUinbO'W; of that cast of thousands, they seem to clmttr particularly at momenlS of change: recovery, location. season. When the eanh's axis tips into the spring of 1945, they are a simple link in the allusory chain that records the full complexity of the season's coming: The grear cusp - green equinox and turning, dreaming fishes to )'oung ram, watersleep to firewakins, bears down on us. Across the \V~'tem Fron~ up in the Harz in BleicherOde. \Vcmher ,·on Braun prepares to celebrate his 3)rd birthday. Anillery thunden through the afternoon. Russian tanb raise dust phantoms far away over the Gennan leas. The stor1cs are home, and the fust violets have appeared. At "The White Visitatio~" days along the chalk piece of seacoast now are fine and clear. The office girls are bundlinl into fewer S\veaters. and breastS peaking through into visibility qain. March has come in like a lamb. Lloyd George is dying. (23 M 37)


The increase of the girls' mammalian visibility is as natural and as inevitable as zodiacal tum and migratory flight. a part of what joyous life there is left among the equally manifest harbingers of death. When one or two of these extras arc momentarily fitted out with a name of her o~ she usually has more (not, OfCOur5e, other) to do "around here" than proffer "Zitcb and Asch." Amon,


Bn"innhilde II1ld the Cbe111ists

the girls whose liberated awareness the phrase suggests, \ve know only "Hilda." But to know her is also to watch ·her help Tyrone make "Phoney Phirebolnbs" and listen synlpathetically to Silent Otto Gnahb's "views of The Mother Conspiracy." Of the three girls from Cesar Fleb6tomo's chorus line at the Casino Hermann Goering on the Riviera, who go on the octopus-rescue picnic, Ghislaine, "tiny and slender, pin-up girl legs, long hair brushed behind her ears falling all the way down her back, shifts [of course J her round bottom in the sand" (J 88); but she also risks giving Siothrop his first external confirmation that "They" are "conniving." And her act is large enough to earn her disappearance on the same night as Tantivy's, Slothrop's only friend who also dared offer hinl a hand later that evening. There really are dozens of such hit players - Trudi and Magda, who help convert '''yrone into Raketernensch "'ith odds and ends of stolen Wagnerian costunlCS; the anonynlous daughter of an old Wobbly printer, herself adept at setting type, \\,ho takes Siothrop, no\\' becotnc a "trudging pig in motley"t to her bed, and gives him fond and safety for the night. And Frieda. a veritable pig, "very fat and pink," who "grunts and snliles anliably, bUnking long eyelashes" (573), as she leads our hero to \vater and eggs and the information Franz Pokier. the plastics expert, has for him about the 11lysterious Imipolex-G. These "pretty young things," in shon, nurture life, offer a moment of wartnth, light, sa fety, truth. wherever we find them. Preterites, given hottom hilling on the program, they offer \vhat they can and \vhat they have, passing Slothrop along fro III hand to bed humbly, generously" hilariously, into that final Humility which Enzian, the Hcrero-Nguaroreruc. knows he is to be denied and envies deeply. As reward, they are spared Pynchon's satire and given his gaiety and tenderness and conlpassion. I t is l1ot, I think, a male chauvinist pig who leaves the "docile girl" at the gate, kno\ving someone else will show up for the Schweinheld next year. Nor an author filled \vith the shoulder-padding of American machismo who draws back to view Frieda and Tyrone nestled down together for the night, alnidsr pines covered with tinfoil to "fox the German radars," and finds them "asleep under

Marjorie KIlUfmm

the decorated treCSy the pig a wandering eastern magus, Siothrop in his costume a gaudy present waiting for morning and a child to claim him" (575). Yet the "girls" have no representative among the major female characters of the novel They really do serve as "moments"the little life-flow that Slothrop first understands them to be. Numerous as they are, they can unite in no lasting resistance to the breeding death. Their breasts warm hands in cold doorways; and the light they throw against the raging dark has energy no stronger than an "English firefly," Siothrop's metaphor for their peaceful postcoital cigarettes. Though least of all expendabl~ they are expended. Darlene, the most fully viewed of the London girls, scrounges the markets after work to find limes for her old landlady's scurvy; but when a postWar search is made for the girls behind Slothrop's stars, only the old landlady is found. The Rocket does parallel the path of Siothrop's pleasing penis, and the London girls, far more vulnerable than Milton's Eve, "ingorg'd l happily] \\'ithout restraint I And knew not eating death." Geli Tripping, the delightful novice witch whom Slothrop meets in the Zone, is a unique species of the genus. She, and her chocolate-har-eating Owl, Wemher, provide diverting links between \videly separated characters in nonhern Europe; she gives Siothrop shelter and sex and boots he badly needs; she gaily dances with him on the Brocken and sends him off in a balloon when his life is threatened. But Siothrop's fatal magi~ unlike its effect on the London girls, is powerless in the aura of Geli's own. Though she likes him and treats him kindly~ she is not really interested in charming Siothrop. Her po\\'er is reserved for Tchitcherine, a Russian Secret Intelligence officer \\,ho is searching for his half-brother Enzian, wit~ as Geli explains to Slothrop, an "old-time, pure, personal bate" ( 331 ). On T chitcherine, her "Attila," the little witch spreads the full enchannnent of her love. As he confronts his own unreality, his long delusion of useful service to the Pany - as he re2lizes his Preterition, in shortGtili casts her spell over his isolation and pain; bewitched, he fails to recognize Enzian when they meet at last, and so takes bread and cigarettes from his brother instead of his life. Geli Tripping's [2°41

Briin."bilde and the Cbe7l1;sts

nurture is clearly special and specialized; open to every natural and supernatural force of the universe, loving, "World-choosing," her magic is some antique survival, conle undiluted from the fruitful past. On the prism of creative force, between the burning green of Geli's prilnal magic and the Aickering Aanles of the London girls, is Jessica S\\lanlnke - on the one hand, just another "yuling rosy girl in the uniform of an A TS private" (30); on the othcr, a power strong enough to waken the dead. Jessica, unlike Geli who is far out of this world, is in it and of it. I-Ier nlagic, hunlan and full of life, is as tamed as the English countryside from which she draws her strength; her mcnlories of the prewar past arc full of the sights and snlclls of innocent, peaceful, d0l11cStic con-

cretions: "Ganlcs. pinafores. girl friends. a black alley kitten with white little feet, holidays all the faillily by the sea, brine, frying fish, donkey rides, peach taffeta. a boy named Rohin ... " ( 59). When shc drcanlS of a futurc with httr lover, Roger Mcxico, it is no Tripping dreanl of a carefree Ilomadic idyll through heath and Pan-filled grove, hut rather a "flash of several children, a garden, a windc)\v, voices MU'In111Y, what'j' ... cuculnbcrs and brown onions on a chopping hoard, wild carrot blossoms sprinkling with brilliant yellow a reach of deep, very green hl\Vn and I Roger's J voice - " (59). The brightly colored perceptions, the happiness, the health of body and mind she brings her love are vital, but they are rooted in an assulnption of residential safety, Islunael's "attainahle felicity" - "the wife, the hearth, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country." It is, therefore and ironically. only during the visible extremis of uprooting war that Jessica's wild life-breeding passion can be fully released. At its apex of freedom, she rides, topless, barebreasted, to Roger's delighted chagrin, down a uunkroad to London - such a vision of the goddess Freia, of Youth and Beauty. stripped of her mufti and returned to rejuvenate the eanh, that even the ubiquitous midgets of Gravity'S Rai11bow, who sporadically appear to parody its scenes of pain and joy, the Niebelungen of this world, stare and drool from their passing lorry. At such moments, Jessica is "as good as gold." Forced by [20J1

M';orie K.ufmmJ

the \var from the upper middle-class comforts and habits -that once secured her from the world, Jessica nevertheless retains the specificities of that life; her imaginatio~ fed by its accoutrements, paradoxically, enables her own magic; she makes secure nooks in disaster areas and perceives the dismanded lives that echo from

death-abandoned things. Standing amidst the rubble of a recent explosion. in ltsome woman's long-gathered nest, taken back to separate straws, flung again to this wind and this darkness," Jessica sees, "twined" around a ub~ bedpost," "someone's brassiere, a white, prewar confection of lace and satin. simply left tangled•••. For an instant, in a vertigo she can't control, all the pity laid up in her heart fties to it, as it would to a small animal suanded and forgotten. (. . .] She knows she must not cry [... ] But the poor lost flimsy thing . . . waiting in the night ond rain f()r irs owner, for its room to reassemble round it . . •It (43). And, not surprisingly then. among aU those in the novel who know of Roger's grids and equations, of Siothrop's clustered stars, it is Jessica who first asks about the human beings their abstractions successfully neutralize.

rI] n


the house the lovers have made a home] at the edp of the stay-away town, Jessica, snuglin8. afloat. just before sleep was to take them, whispered, "Roser • . . what about the 8irIs?" That was aU she said. But it brOUlht Roger wide awake. And

bone-rired IS he was. he lay swing for anomer hour, wcmderbll

about the girls. (87)

Although one can already read in their divergent responses to the implicit answer - Jeaialt snuggling; Roger, wide-awakellld staring - the inevitable end of their aBair when the war is officially over, the essential question is not new to J~ only newly directed. In the most undramatic, most ordinary domestic terms, at such moments, Jessica wants OUT. And her fatal alternative to Roger, Jeremy ("Beaver't~. offers the stiff-upper_. lip safety, the undisturbing protective affection, of an EngJiih officer who does his duty~ never questions, is the EstablisluDeDtt. is "death-by-government." "He is," thinks the Jessica-ealiveaecl Roger, "every aaertioD the fucking War has ever made - _ we are meant for work and [. . .1 for austerity: and these $ban [zoI]

Briinnhilde and tbe Cbemists

take pnorlty over love, dreams, the spirit, the senses and the other second-class trivia that are found among the idle and mindless hours of the day ..." (177). But for Jessie, when rocket falls wake her from the \varmth of her post-orgasm sleep \vith Roger, when her dream of "herself in a chair, old-fashioned bonneted, looking \vest over the deck of Earth, inferno red at its edges, and further in the brown and gold clouds," suddenly shifts to "night: The empty rocking chair lit staring chalk blue by - is it the moon or some other light from the sky?" (123), \vhen she feels that flood of pity at the sight of the forever breastlcss brathen she cries: "I've lost my nlind. I ought to be cuddling soJlleplace with Beaver this very minute, watching him light up his Pipe. and

here instead I'm with this gillie or something, this statistician, what arc )-"OU anYW3)' - ..


"Cuddling?" Roger has a tendency to screaJll. "Cllddlil1g?" (43)

For the duration. Jessica has, in fact, lost her Inind; against the deadly undertow of fear and habit, she swims, wildly and wittily strong in the enchanting passion of human love and the joyful, death-defying gifts its magic allo\vs her to bestow on Roger. Their brief last-\vinter-of-thc-war affair has a La\vrentian ideality: "Together they are a long skin interface, l\ flowing sweat, close as muscles and bones cnn press, hardly n word beyond her name, or his" (121) - "a joint creature una\\'are of itself. . . . In a life [Roger] has cursed, again and again, for its need to believe in so much that was trans-observable, here is the first, the very first real magic; data he can't argue away" (38). As Roger makes "his act of faith" in the terrible Christmas of '45 - "We're both someone new now, someone incredible"Pynchon bitterly puts children "in the street," chanting, "Hark, the herald angels sing: / Mrs. Simpson's pinched our King ..." (177). For the hope in the heraldic message of a real-life abdication of power and security for love is a deception" Roger and Jessica are not royally free. Jessica's magic is encumbered, and the Roger she has loved and warmed into life has a heritage she is. not equipped to fight. Without Jessica, Roger wanders among [ 207}

Marjorie Km'f11lim

his equations with no myths to sustain him, no illusion of cause and effect, no temptation to belief in natural force - just a terrible lonely case "between zero and one" with a numbed acceptance and aesthetic awe of the statistical probabilities he

charts. He'd seen himself a point on a moving wavefront, propagating through sterile history - a known past, a pro;ectable future. But Jessica was the breaking of the wave. Suddenly there was a beach, the unpredictable . . . new life. [ . . .J [H]e wanted to believe it too, believe that no matter how bad the time, nothing was fixed. c\·erything could be changed and she could always deny the dark sea at his back, love it away. (116)

r. . .]

Yet as Roger tells Jessica repeatedly, "My mother is the war"; and from that lady he carries, no matter how innocently, the genes of death. She has already, Pynchon adds, "leached at all the sof~ the vulnerable inclusions of hope and praise scattered [ ... ) through Roger's mineral, grave-marker self, washed it all moaning away on her gray tide" (39). And, ironically, it is just that Mother's son that renders jessica's magic impotent. Away from him, Jessica finds he depresses and even frightens her. Why? On top of him in the wild nights riding [ ••.] mere's only room for Roger, Rogn, ob lotJe to the end of breath. But out of bed, walking, talking, his bitterness. his darkness, run deeper than the War. the winter, he hates England so, hates "the System," [ ... ] stays inside his paper cynic's cave hating himself • • . and does she 'Wtlnt to bring him out, really? Isn't it safer with Jeremy? She tries not to allow this question in too often. but it's there. (116)

So "from forth the fatal loins" of War and the Establishment, these "star-cross'd lovers take their life I . . . [and] the fearful passage of their death-marked love." But unlike the poisons of Romeo and Juliet, those of Roger and Jessica are not self-administered but taken at their mothers' breasts, and their passing promises no civil peace - although they too sense their own helplessness and the inevitable tragedy of the conclusion. Jessica, at the night window of the house in the stay-away zone, stands "filling [zolJ

BrU7znhiide and the Cbe1nists

with a need to cry because she can see so plainly her limits, knows she can never protect him as much as she must - from what may come out of the sky" (58). And Roger? Although he "is learning to recognize the times \vhen nothing really holds her but his skinny, lo-pushup arms," yet "the coincidence of maps, girls, and rocketfalls has entered him silently, silent as ice, and Quisling molecules have shifted in latticelike ways to freeze him" ( 17 6 ). Jes..~ie, tearing the masks off the x's and y's of Roger's equations and exposing the people the little letters hid, has taught him to love and pity and care; and through his caring, she has freed him to join the Anti-System, "The Counterforcc," even if she must remain behind \vith "Them." She has created a Roger who has not only dared to laugh and love but to weep and rage as well. If, then, she Seel11S to the "gentle skimmer" of Gravity'S Rainbow still a little conventional bitch, having her kicks and running out when the cards arc down, I suspect it's becausc her course, as we see it in the novel, is from a fragilely held life to death, a less attractive change than Roger's partial thawing. After her transfer to Cuxhaven in the official peace, Jessica's "hair ris 1 much shorter, rshe's) wearing a darker mouth of a different outline, harder lipstick n (7 0S ), and engaged tn Jerelny. But at the lovers' last mecting, while Roger and the boys of "The Counterforce" turn the Kruppfcst banquet into alliterative verbal nausea, Roger's old poison still works. Cynically he thinks "They" will use even the rebellion : "We help to legitimize Them" ( 7 I 3). Thus, as he first realizes he must seriously decide whether to live on as Their "pet" freak" or make his own death, and Jessica leaves, "weeping on the arm of Jeremy her gentleman," Pynchon asks: Doe.c; Roger have a second of pain right here? Yes. Sure. You would too. You might even question [he worth of your cause. (7 16)

The question and answer are terrible and terrifying, \vorse than Romeo's "lightening before death." As Jessica literally jumps into Roger's world as a bomb explodes at their first accidental meering, so she has been allowed to bring him into life only so he can [.1091

su1fer dying. Like the wall-slogan of the Weimar Republic, the action suggests that it is not, in this world, better to have loved and lost, but deadly to have loved at all. And the war~ triumphantly, is Roger's mother still. With just enough exception to prove the .rule, the war in fact is a fairly representative Pynchon mother. Until the "accident" of Jessica~ she had drained Roger of hope and the joy of hope fulfilled -left him not heardtS, but with sa heart paralyzed, numb. uncommitted - given him, as he himself realizes, Cia somber youth squarely founded on Death" (126),' and bequeathed him its component conviction that everything is predictable, unchangeable. The Mothers of Gravity's lWnbO'W, then, are a perversion of the "girls." Their wombs nowish life, but their c:hi1-

dren once hom take from their breasts not only physical strength but a taste for dea~ an aptitude for dying. The little set piece of Otto Gnahb's version of the Mother Conspiracy is. comic microcosm of maternal action in the novel: "The Mothen pt together once a year. in secret, at these giant conventions," Otto explains to HjJd~ "and exchange information." Recipes. games. ke)· phrases to use on their children. "Whit did yours use to say when she wanted to make you feel guilty?" .. 'I've worked my fingers to the bone!' t'sez the girL "Right! You see, you see? That CIm" be accidenmlf They


have sa contest. for Mother of the Year, breast-feeding, diaper-

changing, the)" rim6 thenlt casserole competitions, ;1- thell. toward the end. they actually besin to use the chUb.". The State Prosecutor comes out on stqe. 'In a momen~ Albrech" we are going to brin, your mother on. Here is a Lupr,fWly loaded. The State will guarantee you absolute immunity frcH.D. prosecution. Do whatever you wish to do - anrdUnl ',It :iIJ. Good luck, my boy.' [ ••• ] Only the mothers who set shot .• qualify for the finals. Here they bring in psychiatrists. and ·ju"aes sit with .op-warches to see how quickly the children will ~ 'Now then, Olp. wasn't it 1Iiee of Mum to break up , . affair with that long-haired poet?' 'We understand your moth. and you are, ~ quite close.. Hermann. Remember the .time she caught you ",uturb";"g;"'o bn glow? Eh?' Hospital.trend_ stand by to drag the children off, drooling, screaminr,ha. clonic cODvulsions. FioaDy there is ooly one Mother left .. stage. They put the tnditional lowered bat on her bead. aRd (ZIO)

BrU1Jllhilde tmd the Chentists

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." (5°5)

Here, at Mother's knee, the children learn that love means pain and shame, guilt and despair. The mothers are destroyers; they belong to "Them." Otto's own mother, Frau Gnahb, \\'ith all the vigor of Marie Dressler's "Tugboat Annie," runs a pirate barge for the black marketeers of the Zone, hell-bent at every turn of the sea passage through which she ferries, "bellowing" as she goes "a blood thirsty SEA CHANTY": I'm the Pirate Queen of the Baltic Run, and nobody fucks with nle - And those who've tried are bones and skulls, and lie beneath the SCSl. And the little fish like nlesscngers swint in and out their eyes, Singing, "Fuck ye not with Gory Gnahb and her desperate enterprise!" (497-49H)

Fair warning. To wither further the old life-giving adagc, it is, then, not only better not to have loved, but, best of all, not evcn to have been born. And Pynchon's concern with origins, with discovering where we first took the terrible tum into the nonhulllan twentieth century, lends him to worry not only about the effects of such mothers on the child but how Mothers canle to be converted from the loving "girls." I f one can look upon V. in relation to Gravity's RJtinbo'W as one views Joyce's Portrait in relation to Ulysses, as my colleague Richard Johnson suggests we do, we can discover passages in V. that explicate what Gravity's Rainbow directly renders. As Vo's Maltese-born Fausto Maijstral, in his "Confessions," tries to chart the past's relation to the postwar present, the course we have taken froln "the quick to the inanimate," he at first closely echoes Yeats: Does any mother anticipate the furore; acknowledge when the time comes that a son is now a man and must leave her to make whatever peace he can alone on a ueacherous earth. No, it's the same l\1altese tinlelessness. They don't fecI the fingers of years jittering ag~ fallibility, blindness into face, heart and eyes. A son is a son, fixed always in the red and \vrinkled image as they first see it. (V., 311/300)

Marjorie Kaufnlll7J

So, p)7fichon's mothers panicipate in those Yeatsian "Presences" - "self-born mockers of man's enterprise" - because they too reject change. But change, the possibility of altering an apparently preset course, is vital to Pynchon's view (hardly unique) of what makes life, living. Maijstral notes that he has been "learning life's single lesson: rhat there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane" (V., 320-31 r1300). It is just that terrifying unpredictability of accident and its power in the act of creatio~ that inscrutable life-giving force, operating on no rule of cause and effect or any other rational principle, that drives mothe~ as the Pynchon of V. sees it, into secret alliance, ironically serving the Establishment of unrejuvenating death. "Mothers arc closer than anyone to accident:' Mai;stral continues. They are pain full)· conscious of the fertilized egg, as Mary kne,,' the moment of conception. But the zygote has no soul. Is matter. ( ... ] Their babies alwa)~ seem to come by happenstance, a random conjunction of events. Mothers clo.~ ranks, and perpetrate a fictional m)·stery about motherhood. It's only a way of compensating (or an inability to live with the truth. Truth being that the)' do not undemand what i~ going on inside them; thlt it is a nlechanical and alien growth \\'hich at some point acquires a soul. The)' arc ~d. Or: the same forces which dictate the bonlb'5 trajectory. the deaths of ~ the wind and the waterspout have focussed some,,·here inside the pelvic frontiers without their consent~ to generate one more mighty accident. It (rightens them to delltb. It would frighten anyone. (V., 311-)11/ )0 I, italics mine)

I've quoted all this from Y., not only because it demonstrates an amazing prescience of the action and imagery of Gra'Uity's RIIinbo'tL" but because I think it makes explicit what the later novel may at first conceal: the vampire mothers are not Philip Wylie'S simplistic "Moms" nor formed from Fiedler's vie\v of the tradition of death in the American novel. They are, instead, as much the uagically disfigured catastrophes of events gone out of human control as any other set of characters in Orll'Uity's Rainbow. Although it is stanling, it is not then surprising to see the


Briillllhilde a1ld tbe Chel11ists

mothers linked, as early as V., to the "bomb's trajectory," nor to find that the Rocket itself is an equally helpless nlother, carrying its Sch\\Tarzgcrat as the womb its fetus. Neither is it surprising to find the mothers, again explicitly in V., dramatically in Gra'l.,tity's Rainbow, soldered to the sterile perversions of decadence. Decadence, decadence. \Vhat is it? Only a clear movclnent toward death or, preferably, non-hunlanity. As Fausto ... like his] island, becalllc Inore inanianate, I: he] moved closer [0 the time when like an)' dead leaf or fragnlcnt of mctal [he'd] be finally subject [0 the laws of physics.... Is it only because Malta is a nlatriarchal island that Fausto felt so strongly that connection bct\vecn mother-rule and decadence? (V. t 311 / JOI )


Thus for the child to love the Mother "They" made, it must love death-in-life and must hate or fear the fragile self that would oppose her. To love Mother is to love tyranny and oppression and \vish to emulate its po\ver, or to love the submission and humiliation the oppressor demands. In sumlnnry, then, a girl, to endure the terrifying knowledge that her sexual joy is used by inlpersonal forces to convert her, will-she won't-she, into an incubator of life, has conspired to conceal her helplessness, her Jack of control over the most intimate processes of her being, by creating the stultifying myths of Motherhood. And so that her children will succeed, she has taught them "cunning," as Mai;stral puts it, and with it, betrayal, lying, and the concomitant reactions of shame and guilt, as a "way of life" that has become (at least by the end of the First World War in Western society) a way of joyless sterility or recurrent, fecund death. Hence Greta/Margherita Erdmann, the Queen-Mother of the "dccky-danceu in Gravity's Rainbow, doing her act in prewar German movies, with a touring company to entertain the troops at concentration camps, at the launching site of the Rocket, and finally aboard the good ship Anubis. But despite the allusive echoing of her names, she is merely the porno-films' black-and-white type of Willing Victim of Man's Sexual R"lge, "less," says Pynchon, "than the images of herself that survive in an indeterminate [ 21


Marjorie lUufrmm

number of release prints [. . .] about the Zone, and even across the sea" (364). She is all that is left; in this world, of Wotan's Erda; and her daughter ( no Valkyrie) is fittingly conceived amidst a mass orgy of bit players, "the jackal men," whose celluloid-induced sexual drives. at the end of Greta's most notorious Inovie, Alpdriicken, run beyond the limits of the scenario but not beyond the camera's continuously recording film. Only Bianca, the sexually precocious and adept prenubile child of that cinematic copulation, is allowed to get off the wheel (reel?) of recycling replication, "Their" deadly parody of the continuin, fecundity of life. "We can get away," Bianca urges Siothrop, after their peculiarly satisfying intercourse - in Pynchon '5 imagery t a foretaste of the womb-filled Rocket's rise into the Void - "I know how to hide. I can hide you too" (470). But when his eyes fail her, as they have failed the pleading eyes of Berkshire girls in roadside diners glimpsed from Greyhound bus windows long ago. fail because it is less painful to suppress his uEurydice-obsession. this bringing back out of' (472), than to respond, Bianca recognizes (her alternative escape) the certain horror ahead: "In her ruined towers now the bells gong back and forth in the wind. (. • .] sails on the sea too small and distant to matter ••• water too steel and cold . . ." (471).' When we and Slothrop see her apia. she hangs from a pipe, as fittingly entombed as she was born, :jn the bowels of the Anubis, the white, jackal-headed yacht that, with its cargo of Centnl European aristocratic Nazi decadeDtS, plows the fogged sea passages of the North, running the interface between light and dark. living and dead - old Anubis, usher in Limbo, judger and embalmer of the dead. Whether Bianca hangs there as the resigned victim of· :her mother's sexual jealousy or as yet another sacrifice of Greta~B mad demands in her role IS "Shekhinah, queen, daughter. bride, and mother of God" (478) or, simply, as her own final solUtion hardly matters. She bas in any case tom through the iron pre, has made her own death run. That PynchOD finds S1othrop as implicated as Greta ia .~~ dandy clear. Slotbrop is DOt only an Orpheus who didn't efta try, he is also - to Greta IIIUl her child - a Taonhiuserfor w1lqQl ( 21


BrUllnhilde and tbe Che11zists

the Pope's staff never flowers (364, 470), ,vho never frees himself from the Venusberg of this novel, but wanders near its perimeters, the Lunesberg Heath, where the only underground orgies are rocket-assemblies. In fact, Greta and Slothrop have much in common: they have each known the ultilnate sexual ecstasy of "Their" world, the nlagnetic enlbrace of its Sllperplastic. And although Greta once incestuously mistakes him for one of her murdered children, rising from the mud of Bad Karma, she knows he carries the identity card of Max Schlepzig, her leading nlan in Alpdrocken, the Grand Inquisitor, the first rapist at the disassembling that created Bianca. "Of all her putative fathers," intones Pynchon, "Bianca is closest I ••• J closest td you I •.• 1 you [... 1 you, alone I. ••• :1. She favors you, most of all." And ,vith the reiterations of the pronoun, Pynchon expands it~ referent outward, not only to Siothrop, but to the reader, also. uy nu 'II never get to see her. So sOlncbody has to tell you" (47%)' So, not just Slothrop, then, or Greta, but all of us have joined in the corporate act of the murder of exploitable innocence. Yet the pointing finger of those lines, despite the bitter paradox implied, counts Greta, too, anu)ng the innocents - "No Dietrich [ ••• J not destroyer of men but doll" (393-394)' Greta, the most fallen, the least hunlan of Pynchon's 111others,R is, after all, "l"heir" creation, "Their" tool. If Slothrop is \veakcned and used here by the debilitBting morality of his Puritanic judgments ("sure I know them I... J probably some hook'er" - 472), Greta is vulnerable because "she always enjoyed it too l11uch, chained up in those torture rooms" (461). Though both characters sense the horror of their destructive acts, neither really understands enough to reverse or restrain his nloves. Slothrop, the less plasticized, is visited by flashes of yearning and, near the end of rhe novel, is granted one wish-fulfillment dream of Bianca, "smiling," and himself, riding the wheel of the old self-rei uvenating life-cycle, in a closed system where trees gro\v and birds sing (60. and Samucl Eliot ,\·Iorison includes a chapter on \\,'iIJianl in the TC,·ised edition of his B"ilders of th~ Bay Colony (Boston: Houghton ~·Iifltin, 196.. ,. The lJim'y of lVilliJ111 PY1lcbo1l of Salnll has been edited br Fitch Ed,vard Oli\'cr (Boston: Ri\·crsidc, IRc)o). In a commentiU}' in Watc~'s Ge'71~alogical Gleanings, p. 867, T. R. P),nchon notes that from the seventeenth-c~nrury John Prnchon "ue descended all who bear the name in America:' 1\1axwdl had published man)" inlpomnt scicntific papers before IR70, but did not h)"pothcsizc the soning demon until 187" in hi__ Theory of Heat~ sec: w. Ehrenberg, u~'taxwell's Demon," Scimti!ic A 1I1erica." , : 17 (Nu\'clnbcr .967), 10)-110, :and Anne ;\1angel. ",\Iaxwell's Dcmon. EnrrOp)f, Infomt2tinn: l"bt Crying of Lot 49," TriQlmrttrly, 10 (Winter 1971), 1C)4-1oR, reprinted in this volume. T. R. Pynchon·s revised edition of l·he Chmrical Forces, entitled Introduction to Cbt1l1ical PlJysics (1873). continued to ignore A,laxwell. Frank D. .\1cConnell, UThonla5 Pynchon," Contmlporary Novelists, edt Jalne~ \'inson (New York: St. ~Ianin's. 1971). p. IOJ4. Lewis Nichol~, Hln and Out of Rooks." NtW York T;'lIes Book Re'View, 18 April 196), p. R. Alfred Apl>cI, Jr., "An Interview with Vlildimir Sabokov," lViscoIIsin Studits in C07l"..,lIporary Li'"ilttlre. R (Spring 1(67), '39. 1 was directed to ""rhe ~1onterey Fair" b)' Joseph \V. Slade, Tb0111as Pyncb011 (Ncw York: Warner, 1974>. p. 14" Farina's composition is mentioned in thc essa)' on Prnchon in Conte11lpor,"..Y Alltbors. 19-10 (1Q6R), JSJ. Nichols, p. 8. 'V. T. Lhanlon. "The ~'I~t Irresponsible Bastard," Tb~ N~ Republic, 168 (14 April 197 J), :7· I have made several minor emendations in the anicle. y



4. S,


,. 8. 9. 10.

I I•

u. 13.

Bibliography Bruce Herzberg

The following bibliography is intended only as a supplement to the exhaustive one by Joseph Weixlmann (in Critique, 14 [197 1 ], 34-43)' It does not pretend to exhaustiveness but to serve, rather, as a useful guide: for readers interested in finding out yet more about Prnchon. In panicular t we have not attempted to list all the reviews of Gravity's Ra;nbO'W, as W cixlmann tried to list all those of the earlier novels. Those we list srrike us as being of some lasting ilnportance as cririCis"l of Pynchon.

Works by Thomas Pynchon SHORT FICrtoN

"Mortality and Mercy in Vienna." Epoch 9 (Spring 1959): 195113·

"Low-Lands." New World Writing 16 (1960): 85-108. "Entropy." Kenyon Re'View 11 (1960): 177-191. "Under the Rose." Noble Savage 3 (1(}61): 113-151. "The Secret Integration." Saturday Evening Post 137 (December 19, 1964): 3~37, 39,4 1 -44,46-49,5 1.

"The \Vorld (This One), The Flesh (Mrs. Oedipa Maas), and The Testanlent of Pierce Inverarity." Esquire 64 (December (965): 170- 1 73, 296, 198-3°3·

"The Shrink Flips." Cavalier


(March (966): 31-33,88--