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Too Much Fun

Part 2 of Gravity’s Rainbow opens at a seaside casino around Christmas and ends at a seaside amusement park on Whitsunday, which to the Americans among us is Pentecost, or the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ’s disciples a few weeks after Easter. Both holidays would seem to be holidays of great joy, as casinos and amusement parks would seem to be places of great fun, but of course we know that Slothrop has rather a hard time at the casino, and the closing scene of part 2 just oozes the despair of a forced, joyless professional retreat.

This makes me think back to our second week’s reading and my thoughts on temptation. The fun-seekers in part 2 call to mind for me the abandoned children in the Hansel and Gretel tale who happen upon a delightful house of candy only to find it a gateway to suffering.

As we come to the end of part 2, we discover that Pointsman is hallucinating and that his hallucinations are telling him to find a way to get rid of Jessica Swanlake so that he can keep Roger Mexico’s talents on hand for his nefarious research. His impulse, in other words, is to use people as a means toward his own Faustian ends (he’s previously demonstrated a lack of concern for Slothrop’s well-being).

I had made a few very brief notes on all of this when I encountered on the pynchon-l discussion list a link to a video in which artist and writer (and apparent Pynchon friend) Jules Siegel says that Pynchon had been somehow party to the government’s experimentation with LSD on the baby boomers and that Gravity’s Rainbow is something of a confession. I suppose the pieces are there: unconscionable experimentation on people in states of altered consciousness, a mad scientist who sees people as essentially disposable, a growing entanglement between the military and industry, and of course in part 2 the explicit introduction of LSD and some vague ties between its production and the coal-tar-based substance “indole” used to make LSD (see Weisenburger on coal-tar, indole, IG Farben, and Imipolex G).

The short segment of an interview with Siegel embedded below strikes me as being the stuff of the tinfoil hat crowd, but that’s not exactly out of place within the context of Gravity’s Rainbow.

  1. March 20, 2012 at 3:08 am

    I’m hell-bent on getting last week’s and this week’s reading done by tomorrow so I can post, but let me just say:

    This book is making me feel as though it’s time to fashion my own tinfoil hat. And soon.

    I’m going to look for guilt projection in Pointsman. I don’t see it yet. So far he’s a writer’s dream: “make someone as shitty as you can think of. Then make him a little shittier, but in a funny way.”

  2. March 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Do we know the extent of Pointsman’s “Faustian ends” (great description, by the way)? It has to be more than just getting to the bottom of Slothrop’s sexual association with the rockets, right? ‘Cause the end of this week’s reading paints him as a man who is rapidly losing his mind and who is assuming an amount of power to parallel Hitler:

    “The solitude of a Führer: he feels himself growing strong in the rays of this dark companion to his public star now on the rise … but he doesn’t want to share it, no not just yet …” [Weisenburg mentions that this episode mimics the Pentecost, and that Pointsman is a kind of disciple to the “hero” Slothrop–this passage would back that up, if Slothrop is the aforementioned “dark companion…”]

    I guess my question is this: Is Pointsman’s insanity manifesting itself in DELUSIONS of power, or is he actually capable of having a disastrous effect on more people than just poor Slothrop? I assumed the former until Katje thinks, at the very end of Part 2, “Not even in the leather and pain of gemütlich Captain Blicero’s world has she felt as terrified as now [watching Pointsman go crazy in front of her eyes].” Even if he is “supposed to have absolute control over [her],” she doesn’t seem easily flustered, much less by someone as pathetic as Pointsman.

    • March 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      To me it’s not so much about whether or not he actually has power as about how his unfettered quest for knowledge at all costs amounts to his downfall in terms of what kind of human being he is.

      I think Slothrop is one pretty extreme means to a greater end, and I think Pointsman’s use of him is important because it shows what happens when those who have some power over others begin to see the others as objects rather than as people, which of course has the holocaust written all over it. Perhaps Katje, who has similarly been used essentially as an object/puppet, recognizes something in Pointsman that is particularly horrific to her because of her experience with Blicero. She at least was complicit in her degradation, whereas Slothrop is basically powerless.

      • March 20, 2012 at 3:30 pm

        Very good point! I felt pretty good about understanding all that I was reading this week, at least until the whole “the Schwarzkommando is real” thing…

      • March 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm

        I think that there is a conscious effort to parallel Ahab and, by extension, Shakespeare, in Pointsman. One scene that strikes me as such is the last part of section 17. There, when Pointsman learns of Spectro’s death, he goes in to a long soliloquy over lost love and community and his movement toward unrelentless scientific reductionism. He ends with rationalizing that Slothrop was essentially a murderer, though not in a legal sense and uses his last sentimental connection to Spectro to justify his actions which will likely destroy Slothrop.

        In his words, “If only in fairness… in fairness [thinking about Spectro’s idea of the connection between internal and external]… Pointsman ought to be be seeking the answer at the interface… oughtn’t he… on the cortex of Lieutenant Slothrop. The man will sufferr– perhaps, in some clinical way, be destroyed.– but how many others tonight are suffering in his name?” (Viking 144/22-26)

        Pointsman has gone from a human, social connection, his friendship with Spectro, to clinical detachment. An by the end of this section he has, without any real evidence, come to view Slothrop as guilty. “Whatever we may find, there can be no doubt that he is, physiologically, hsitorically, a monster. We must never lose control.”

        And so he feeds his own monomania. And, later, doubt is placed on the connection between Slothrop’s conquests and the bombs (Part 2, section 8 where the detectives act a bit too much like Thomson and Thomson from Tintin), but by then Pointsman’s monomania is set.

      • March 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm

        It hadn’t occurred to me that Pynchon might be taking a page from Ahab here, but now that you say it, it surely seems to fit.

  3. March 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    It just occurred to me that Katje’s “fear” could not be real so much as imagined by Pointsman…

  4. March 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    MKULTRA was the name of the program where the CIA experimented on hapless civilians with LSD. You will need more than a tin foil hat. Especially when the drones start showing up.

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