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WTF for Gravity’s Rainbow, Week 2

We had two WTFs this week. Read and take a crack at them in the comments if you have any ideas or suggestions.

From Carol:

Are there underlying themes or histories, other than technical texts, that would be helpful in making sense of this? Herero language, European colonialism, the entire war in Britain…it all seems so vast and yet so specific.  And I am saying this as a Joycean.  Somehow I thought that this novel’s being set 40 years later than Ulysses would make the context easier.  Not in the least, even with the companion text.  And I am finding it difficult to just enjoy the ride for the beauty of it.  But stay I will, if only to read again to see what hindsight might bring to the table!  Any thoughts most appreciated!

And from edmondcb:

So at the end of 1.17, Pointsman recalls that Slothrop had been with Darlene, and later a rocket struck only a few blocks away (striking St. Veronica’s hospital). I had assumed that the rockets struck the EXACT location of Slothrop’s sexual encounters, but I tracked back through the book and couldn’t decipher if this was true or if they simply struck in close proximity. Helping justify the latter is the fact that Slothrop has been to Darlene/Ms. Quoad’s before, even tracked her on his map (p. 19), and that exact location was clearly not destroyed. So my assumption was probably just off, though it seems weird that exactitude is such a prominent measure in this book, as with the fact that Slothrop and Mexico’s maps have stickers on the exact same squares, etc.

To muddy the waters even more, the EXACT location the rocket struck is the ward that Slothrop was recently in, being given drugs that caused him to think of shit and history, not of sex. And as far as I know, there was no “hardon” to speak of, which we have been lead to believe would bring a rocket to that exact location.

Am I reading too much into this, or is this supposed to be a shift in the paradigm? I mean, Slothrop did get booted to France…

  1. March 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    To Carol: Being pretty well overwhelmed myself with all the information Pynchon dumps on us, I’m not really sure what to recommend in the way of further reading. There’s so much to choose from that I guess you’d do best to choose what’s most interesting to you and work from there. This to me is part of what makes the book so hard in a way very different from the way in which Ulysses is difficult. In Joyce’s book, it’s helpful to know about the local world Bloom is inhabiting, but you can mostly get by without a whole lot of tangential, broader cultural/scientific/historic knowledge. In GR, you just feel like you’re missing so much by knowing so little. Oh, I don’t know anything about the dye industry, so I’m screwed!

    I think I’d start by looking through the bibliography of Weisenburger’s companion. It lists dozens (maybe hundreds) of sources, ranging from things like Pavlov’s work to the newspapers of the day, and maybe you’ll find one there that piques your interest and leads you on a fun, informative goose chase.

    • March 11, 2012 at 1:27 am

      Carol, I’m hanging on by fingertips noting how the novel travels along two themes I’ve noticed throbbing intensely through each section: 1) the humanity/inhumanity of wartime living and 2) how seemingly insignificant moments in a character’s past forms an increasingly important part of who they are during crises.

      I’m avoiding the companion texts (though I couldn’t have made it through Ulysses without one) because I just don’t have the time. And I’m allowing myself a first-time reader’s luxury/copout of not trying to understand. Frightfully, that guarantees me a second read. With a companion text. In another 40 years or so.

  2. March 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    edmondcb: Yours is a very good question and one that’ll become more interesting as we head into weeks three and four.

    At some point fairly early in the book, I believe we learn that the timing of the bombs isn’t precise, that they sometimes fall more quickly after a Slothropian rendezvous than other times. Given that imprecision, I’d be willing enough to grant that bombs fall near, rather than directly on, the sites of his liaisons. The map is a Poisson distribution over a grid of London, after all, and I’m not sure how granular the grid is. In any case, I believe he meets Darlene just after leaving the abreaction ward that houses Spectro. If her apartment’s right around the corner (I don’t remember whether we’re given specifics) and we’re ok with a little imprecision, then I don’t think there’s a problem here.

    All that said, stay tuned. 🙂

    • March 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      Trawling through the text for other references, I found this in 1.13:

      It’s the map that spooks them all, the map Slothrop’s been keeping on his girls. The stars fall in a Poisson distribution, just like the rocket strikes on Roger Mexico’s map of the Robot Blitz.

      But, well, it’s a bit more than the distribution. The two patterns also happen to be identical. They match up square for square. The slides that Teddy Bloat’s been taking of Slothrop’s map have been projected onto Roger’s, and the two images, girl-stars and rocket-strike circles, demonstrated to coincide.

      This does make it sound rather as if the strikes were exactly on the spots of the liaisons, but then, there’s also got to be some imprecision in how the spots are marked. If the bomb strikes are geographically precise, it’s not a given that Slothrop pasted his stars up with quite the same eye for detail. So I think I’m still ok allowing some wiggle room.

  3. March 9, 2012 at 1:43 am

    The grid is a quarter square kilometer each, roughly 500 yards squared (Viking p 55 ll 1-7). As for the coincidence, it is my opinion that it is one more instance of projection that continually informs many of the characters. I was trying to find the place, but I seem to remember that the maps (Slothrop’s and the strike) matched, but there never was an assertion that they followed immediately or not. The only close match we know of is that with Darlene. Remember that Psi section looks at Roger as if he were a prophet because the rockets are landing in a Poisson distribution. But that is exactly what the Poisson equations would produce and he could not predict were any give rocket would land only show the pattern of the aggregate.

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