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[insert “Angel” song title here]

I didn’t really feel like this was a WTF question, so I wanted to raise a discussion about this, without providing much in the way of analysis.

In this week’s reading there’s a twice mentioned and once explicated sequence in which Basher St. Blaise and his wingman see an Angel.  Basher doesn’t ever say anything about it, but Cherrycoke learns details by examining artifacts that were on basher’s person at the time.

I’m not going to focus on the Cherrycoke part (which is cool in and of itself) but on the Angel part.  There are several other mentions of the word Angel in this week’s reading alone.  They cover a wide range of ideas as well, and I’m curious if there is any connection, implied or direct between what Basher saw and any of the other uses of the word angel.

Here’s Basher’s scene (a big block quote for context):

Basher St. Blaise’s angel, miles beyond designating, rising over
Lübeck that Palm Sunday with the poison-green domes underneath its feet, an obsessive crossflow of red tiles rushing up and down a thousand peaked roofs as the bombers banked and dived, the Baltic already lost in a pall of incendiary smoke behind, here was the Angel: ice crystals swept hissing away from the back edges of wings perilously deep, opening as they were moved into new white
abyss. . . . For half a minute radio silence broke apart. The traffic being:

St. Blaise: Freakshow Two, did you see that, over.

Wingman: This is Freakshow Two—affirmative.

St. Blaise: Good.

No one else on the mission seemed to’ve had radio communication. After the raid, St. Blaise checked over the equipment of those who got back to base and found nothing wrong: all the crystals on frequency, the power supplies rippleless as could be expected—but others remembered how, for the few
moments the visitation lasted, even static vanished from the earphones. Some may have heard a high singing, like wind among masts, shrouds, bedspring or dish antennas of winter fleets down in the dockyards . . . but only Basher and his wingman saw it, droning across in front of the fiery leagues of face, the eyes, which went towering for miles, shifting to follow their flight, the irises red as embers fairing through yellow to white, as they jettisoned all their bombs in no particular pattern, the fussy Norden device, sweat drops in the air all around its rolling eyepiece, bewildered at their unannounced need to climb, to give up a strike at earth for a strike at heaven… (151).

So the key here is that St. Blaise saw an angel.  Here are the other instances of the word Angel (just in this week’s reading).  Most of them come before the above quote and I can’t help but wonder if they are meant to make us question what Basher saw.

The first comes with Osbie Feel and his mushroom (and while I don’t make any connection on this one, it is interesting that he chose this particular species, which is really called Destroying Angel):

Now and then the geometry of her restlessness brings her to glance in a doorway at his boyish fussing with the Amanita muscaria (for it is this peculiar relative of the poisonous Destroying Angel that claims Osbie’s attention, or what passes with him for attention) (93).

The second, and more prominent one is with Pirate and Katje.  It would be crazy of Basher was talking about a windmill instead of a real Angel, but again, it’s an interesting name choice (and also makes me think of Don Quixote):

an enormous sky all sea-clouds in full march, all and plum, behind her, detects danger in her loneliness, realizes he’s never heard her name, not till the meeting by the windmill known as ‘The Angel'” (106).

The third is about starlings (I think).  It starts bout birds, at any rate.  And I couldn’t help wondering if there is meant to be some kind of connection between the birds and what Basher saw.  But this novel is so much about the “Psi” that perhaps these birds are a red herring to the skeptical.

the more distant shapes among the threads or sheets of smoke now perfect ash ruins of themselves, nearer windows, struck a moment by the sun, not reflecting at all but containing the same destroying light, this intense fading in which there is no promise of return, light that rusts the government cars at the curbsides, varnishes the last faces hurrying past the shops in the cold as if a vast siren had finally sounded, light that makes chilled untraveled canals of many streets, and that fills with the starlings of London, converging by millions to hazy stone pedestals, to emptying squares and a great collective sleep. They flow in rings, concentric rings on the radar screens. The operators call them ‘angels” (112).

The fourth also references birds, but then it switches to a more Spiritual sense of angels:

Up across the downs, past the spotlights where the migrant birds in autumn choked the beams night after night, fatally held till they dropped exhausted out of the sky, a shower of dead birds, the compline worshipers sit in the un-heated church, shivering, voiceless as the choir asks: where are the joys? Where else but there where the Angels sing new songs and the bells ring out in the court of the King.(134)

The fifth references bombs, but I think is about much more than that:

Lower in the sky the flying bombs are out too, roaring like the Adversary, seeking whom they may devour. It’s a long walk home tonight.  Listen to this mock-angel singing, let your communion be at least in listening, even if they are not spokesmen for your exact hopes, your exact, darkest terror, listen (135).

And the sixth and final is from Pointsman’s point of view about Slothrop

But now with Slothrop in it—sudden angel, thermodynamic surprise, whatever he is … will it change now? (143).

So there you have it seven different uses of the word angel, creating several different possibilities of what Basher saw.  Or, perhaps Basher’s vision just adds to the whole picture of a book about death, ghosts, angels and the afterlife.

  1. March 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    If I recall correctly, there’s another, similar, angel/something sighting later in the book. It’s interesting that you note the association of angels with Slothrop and with birds. I’ve got a little post that’ll land tomorrow in which I noted lots of associations of Slothrop with birds.

    I’ve also noticed in recent reading (I’ve read through week four so far, and I don’t remember exactly where I spotted these) mentions of the word “revenant,” which seems at least topical.

  2. DCN
    March 6, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I love this post. It reminds me of another portion I just read, but now it has slipped my mind which one. Dang. I’ll figure it out. I love how you’ve set this out as possible explanations of the Angel over Lubeck, but that the explanations come before the sighting…

    There is a searchable Gravity’s Rainbow on one of the Pynchon sites, so you can check all of the instances of “angel.”

    One point: In the Bible, angels are fierce, frightening creatures.

    • March 7, 2012 at 12:45 am

      Thanks you! And thanks for the searchable suggestion! I have been using Google Books which is a bit hit or miss.

      If I’ve learned anything from Pynchon thus far, it is that linearity is a fools game!

      Good to know about the Biblical Angels. I wonder how they became so touchy feelie.

      • DCN
        March 7, 2012 at 9:37 am

        Oh, I think the searchable GR on the Pynchon site is powered by Google Books, so it is probably the same thing.

        Since I let you down on that, here is another angel: When Mexico is first explaining the statistical distribution of the bombs, it is referred to as an angel-eye view and I believe that Jessica asks why he only figures this out for the angels and why can’t he do something for them down here.

  3. DCN
    March 7, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    So, if I read it right, the Angel sighting occurs during the bombing of Lubeck which leads to the Nazi’s developing the V rockets.

    So we’ve received our information on the rockets in reverse order: First the evacuation after a blast, then a rocket in the air, then the reason for the rocket’s creation.

    • March 7, 2012 at 10:25 pm

      Which parallels the V-2’s explode first and hear it later.

  1. March 12, 2012 at 9:58 am

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