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Gravity's Rainbow

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Winner of the 1973 National Book Award, Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern epic, a work as exhaustively significant to the second half of the 20th century as Joyce's Ulysses was to the first. Its sprawling, encyclopedic narrative, and penetrating analysis of the impact of technology on society make it an intellectual tour de force.

776 pages, Paperback

First published February 28, 1973

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About the author

Thomas Pynchon

58 books6,016 followers
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American writer based in New York City, noted for his dense and complex works of fiction. Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon spent two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known today: V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Vineland (1990), Mason & Dixon (1997), and Against the Day (2006).

Pynchon is regarded by many readers and critics as one of the finest contemporary authors. He is a MacArthur Fellow and a recipient of the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Both his fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a vast array of subject matter, styles, and themes, including (but not limited to) the fields of history, science and mathematics. Pynchon is also known for his avoidance of personal publicity: very few photographs of him have ever been published, and rumours about his location and identity have been circulated since the 1960's.

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Profile Image for s.penkevich.
784 reviews5,391 followers
January 28, 2023
What is the real nature of control?

From the first sentence of Pynchon’s National Book Award winning novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, the Reader is transplanted into a threatening world where death strikes first, the cause second. It is a world of frightening realism and comic absurdity, all fueled through drug induced hallucinations, paranoid ramblings, and psychological investigations that is not all that unlike our own reality once you remove yourself to view it from afar as if it were some painting in a gallery. This is the Zone, and Pynchon is your field guide through the wasteland of paranoids, preterits and pornographers. The novel is stylistically staggering and so carefully researched that the line between fact and fiction blurs and is not always easy to deduce. It is carefully plotted out with extreme precision, aligning the events with actual weather detail from the days played out and in keeping with a metaphoric representation of the zodiac signs through the passing months. While this novel can be demanding, it is also extremely rewarding for those who make it through this wild rocket ride of literature.

A first time Reader should be cautioned that Part 1 of this mammoth text is exceedingly difficult. Pynchon seemingly takes great joy in pummeling the Reader with a labyrinthine structure of characters and plot lines, each accruing through dramatic left turns in the narrative. The effect is pure disorientation, obfuscation and outright frustration. It feels just like spinning plates. It is, in a sense, Pynchon’s boot camp for the real war awaiting across minefields of prose; it is where he must break you down and reconstruct you as he sees fit. While the Reader must keep their head down and gut through, soaking up as much of the swirling stories as they can, Pynchon lays out the groundwork for the larger themes to come. Many of the ideas expressed early on won’t seem particularly meaningful, but by the end of the novel the Reader will realize it was all right there in their faces from the start. As characters will come and go like ghosts, with only minimal dimension and reference to them, the Reader will begin to realize that the coming tribulations are not there for the growth of the characters, but for the Reader themselves. The Reader must come out the other side changed in order for the novel to be a success. They must let go of their notions of story and plot, for Pynchon views even the smallest plot structure as comfort, they must let go, give in, and submit to Pynchon. He demands it, and he will fire off heady diatribes against your intellect with philosophy, theology, conspiracies and actual rocket science.

The novel takes off running once the gun sounds the start of Part 2 when, dropped from foggy London town, the Reader finds themselves in the Zone. Early on is a discussion of Pointsman and Mexico, Pointsman being crafted as the ultimate embodiment of Pavlov’s cause-and-effect conditioning and Mexico being considered as ‘the Antipointsman’.
The young statistician is devoted to number and method, not table-rapping or wishful thinking. But in the domain of zero to one, not-something to something. Pointsman can only possess the zero and the one. He cannot, like Mexico, survive anyplace in between…. to Mexico belongs the domain between zero and one – the middle Pointsman has excluded from his persuasion – the probabilities.

Much of this novel deals with these two major perspectives. Pynchon often establishes structure, the Pointsman method, merely to deconstruct it and show the faults that lie within. By showing two specific points, in this instance excluding those inbetween points, Pynchon is able to demonstrate moments of symmetry, which he will then reverse. Normally a rocket would be heard before it explodes in a ball of death, but with the V2, now we have the death before sound (reversals also play a large key to the novel, from the countdown before a launch, to hypnotic imagery of English explorers sailing backwards to home).

These two specific points are also expressed as binary differences, such as black and white, life and death, good and evil, preterition and the chosen few. These binaries are clear-cut sides, direct opposites of forces in keeping with the theory of entropy which rules the novel, sides that we clamor to reach in order to have a firm ground to stand on and a cut-and-dry vision of who is friend and who is foe. But Mexico, and Pynchon, rejects these binaries. Mexico acknowledges the space between zero and one, which is a wild, lawless no-man’s land (recall the McCarthy-esk western vision of Slothrops where there is one of everything – a endlessly compounding ‘one’ that creates an asymptote never actually reaching 1) where everything and anything is possible. It is a place more dream than reality, and the hallucinogenic nature of Pynchon’s spiraling prose and plots do well to express the ambiguities inherent in such a Zone. However, the novel never fully subscribes to one theory and can be interpreted as a cautionary tale for those who wander into this territory. Plot, laws and binaries are structures that keep our minds at ease and provide comfort and safety, so when we enter into the infinite freedom of the decimal we open ourselves to forces that may scatter us, kill us, and rub us out into oblivion.

Pynchon himself will try to scatter and thwart the Reader in consequence of stepping into his Zone. He acknowledges you are in his territory, and will speak as he chooses, often with what seems an intention of belittling your own intelligence. He only occasionally makes concessions to the reader when he realizes at least a slight bridge must be made in setting a scene such as saying ‘you will want cause and effect. All right’, which, considering the rejection of such an idea in this novel, also serves to mock the reader for scrambling to grasp the reassuring ledge of the pool in the deep end he has thrown us. To swallow this novel on a first read, a reader must attack it somewhat like middle school mathematical story problems – find the important information in the bloated paragraph, divide and conquer. There is a plethora of information to choose from as he will offer a vast variety of the same symbols and metaphors (the symbolic us of the letter S, for example, shows up as the SS, the shape of the bomb factory tunnels, people spooning, the symbol for entropy, etc. There is a death/life metaphor on practically every page) Yet, Pynchon seems hell-bent on keeping you on your toes and disoriented. He will allow the Reader to slide into a groove of strong forward velocity, and then deliver a scene so grotesquely funny or vilely disgusting to shock the readers mind and scatter their thoughts and perceptions from decoding this vast network of ideas and then tries to evade us in a web of looping plots, obtuse anecdotes and countless characters (some of which come and go with hundreds of pages between mention). The maze of a plot that must be navigated is acknowledged as being similar to the course of events Slothrop encounters on the way, which he compares to the Boston public transit (MBTA):
by riding each branch the proper distance, knowing when to transfer, keeping some state of minimum grace though it might often look like he’s headed the wrong way, this network of all plots may yet carry him to freedom.

There must be a sense of trust that eventually, if you keep gutting through, there will be a conclusion to satisfy a journey of such magnitude. Honesty, this is successful and not only did I feel a massive sense of accomplishment for finishing this beast, but also felt satisfied intellectually and narrative-wise.

There is a constant paranoia overwhelming each printed word, a paranoia that the Reader must assimilate by proxy in order to fully appreciate the madness at hand. Yet paranoia itself must be a sort of comfort as well. While there is a fear of the Invisible Hand at play, pushing us through psychological nods in the right way, it is still a comfort that we are part of Their greater plan. For the preterits, this They is the only sense of God they will ever feel, as they are looked over by God himself. This whole novel is the interaction of such Preterits, from the self-proclaimed fetishists to the colony of escaped concentration camp members, and the Reader must become a member of these second sheep as they must lose their selves along with Slothrop. The Reader is dragged through the mud and muck of a smattering of various theories, and to keep their sanity, they attempt to assign meaning to these elusive threads flashing about them in order to keep going.

But perhaps this is just what Pynchon wants us to do, assigning Him the role of the They, and the Reader will begin to feel paranoid that this is all in jest, that Pynchon is simply pulling the world over their eyes and will begin to question even their own powers of deduction. We have learned that all that is comforting must be released (not yet knowing at these points in the novel that there is only a void awaiting with total freedom), and even the paranoid ponderings are only a comfort for us in Pynchon’s world.
If there is something comforting – religious, if you want, about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long. Well right now, Slothrop feels himself sliding onto the anti-paranoid part of his cycle, feels the whole city around him going back roofless, vulnerable, uncentered as he is, and only pasteboard images now of the Listening Enemy left between him and the wet sky

First, note the reversals in this, then swoon at the powerful prose in the second half. Now, assign meaning to this quote – but Slap, no! – Pynchon says there is no meaning. But then feel yourself become transparent and weightless, fading into oblivion with no reference to the world around you. This is the ultimate dilemma we are faced with in the Zone.

It is no surprise the Reader is made to feel so paranoid in a novel rife with corporate conspiracy, much of which is highly researched and forms an impressive historical fiction aspect to this novel. If those rambling through the Zone are the preterits moved by the They, than these corporations are one of the highest tangible link to the They we can see. They decide who lives and dies, who is rich and from who wealth is gatekept, what we want to consume and how we consume it (‘consumers need to feel a sense of sin’) and They exist in a realm where the War is simply a shuffling of power.
This war was never political at all, the politics was all theater, all just to keep the people distracted…secretly it was being dictated instead by the needs of technology….by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques

Throughout the course of Gravity’s Rainbow, we have endless looks into mans thirst for technology, which in itself is a thirst for death based on the nature of the technology, even when it is also a life-giving force such as is the case of Pokler who had no life until the Rocket, and how this goes beyond the War itself. Even the White Visitation simply uses the War as a reason for more funding. Mans role in technology is at the heart of every idea in this book. Entropy is a measuring stick which this novel employs (in a book that sets out to dissolve all rules, having a rule that is upheld highlights its importance), and all events and ideas serve to counterbalance each other in keeping with the conservation of energy with the preterits being the heat burned off. As a quick aside, if I may, many of these preterits, Mexico and Jessica’s romance or the concentration camp members (‘their liberation was a banishment’) for example, are directly tied to the war and become a casualty of peace – the budding romance (there are some tearjerker lines, Pynchon really shows his soft side with them) being the ‘waste heat’ in a chemical reaction. The Rockets, being the focal point of the book, are both life and death images as well as phallic metaphors while many of the literal phalluses in the book being used as metaphors for rockets. Film plays another large role, with much of the book containing constant allusion to pop culture, and Der Springer believes he can reshape reality through film.

This struggle of life and death is something that must be embraced as two parts of a whole in this novel, much like man and machine become one with Gottfried and the 00000 Rocket. Life and death are found strung together all throughout the novel, yet, as critic Harold Bloom points out in his essays on Rainbow, in Pynchon's book so focused on the idea of Death, the Reader never actually experiences or witnesses one - not one in all of the 800 pages. Many deaths are spoken of, some ambiguous like Tantivity’s, and others referred to plainly such as Pudding’s (note that ‘shit’ is spoken of as a metaphor for death, ‘shit is the presence of death’, and he is made to ingest it during – for him, not us – a sexual peak as another way life and death bind together in the novel), but the camera of the prose, if you will, always cuts right before the Reader must be an active participant in the death. Like Gottfried again, we know he dies, but because the com-link is only one way, we never can know the precise moment. Even Peter’s clubbing to the head cuts before the club can land. In this way, the novel is shown actually as a celebration of life, all the moments moving from 1:life to 0:death but never getting to the zero. We are forever in the Zone, for better or for worse. But with the final words of the novel, nay, the final two words, he pulls us from oblivion back to the whole. We escape death by existing in the moments between 1 and 0, and, ironically, in a book bent on annihilating structure and group alignment, he calls us all back into one large group: humanity.

Gravity’s Rainbow is a massive novel that takes quite a bit of decoding and deboning in order to devour. But this is precisely what Pynchon wants and requires of us. This is a book that more or less requires a second reading just to grasp all that it has to say, the first is just a test of survival. The agglomeration of ideas are too much to chew and savor on one trip, and there is so much ambiguity present that, like Joyce’s Ulysses, he intends to scholars to dissect and analyze this novel for years and years to come. In the novel, the Zone members gather to become Kabbalists of the Rocket, ‘to be scholar-magicians of the Zone, with somewhere in it a Text, to be picked to pieces, annotated, explicated, and masturbated till it’s all squeezed limp of its last drop’. This book is Pynchon’s Rocket, ‘our Torah…our darkness’, which he cast forth into the 1970’s literary scene as a harbinger of destruction to all preconceived notions of literature. Pynchon in this way is not all that unlike the Rocket launchers, hidden far away out of sight in his reclusiveness, avoiding photographic surveillance, sending his Rocket into a brave new world. We, the Readers, are Gottfried strapped inside with ‘fire beneath our feet’ as Pynchon, as Blicero, hurls us forth into the irreversible future.

Now everybody-


'Each bird has his branch now, and each one is the Zone'

roll credits

I would also HIGHLY recommend the A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel to any readers of this novel. It was a huge help, especially with the pop culture allusions. Just be wary that it does occasionally give away plot elements and devices, sometimes long before they appear in the novel, and will practically double your time reading the actual book because there is so much information.

Also, I have to thank Stephen M's wonderful group read for inspiring me to read the book, while doubling as a support group to get us all through this tome! The discussions and links there are extremely helpful and insightful.

Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to direct you to the amazing reviews of my reading buddies on this strange ride, Steve, Ian, Jenn, Mark,Shan, Sean, Paquita, and many more to come!
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,482 followers
September 6, 2021

[August 2020] Rereading this now in my Pulitzer quest. Wow, as amazingly confusing as the first time around!
This is of course the Pynchon pinnacle, the summit of his fame, the cornerstone of his work. So much so that he fell silent for about 14 years after writing it (leading me to wonder if DeLillo was spoofing him in Mao II). It is an amazing book and the first Pynchon I ever read. It is a rude introduction to his style though as it is thoroughly post-modern in narration, in the manipulation of time and reality, and the proliferation of characters. There are moments of pure genius, but also of repulsion (leading him to lose the Pulitzer the year it was published), but even those moments are perfectly in harmony with the characters they are associated with, the massive condemnation of anti-Semitism and Nazism (I have to believe that despite his silence, Pynchon has to be anti-Trump) and all forms of repression and censorship. It is the story of a journey across a no-mans land (like many of Cormac McCarthy's books) full of violence and anarchy as the war is over but boundaries and frontiers (between countries, reality, and non-reality, good and evil, acceptable and reprehensible) are blurred and the hero must make this journey with or without a conclusion. I will stick to my no spoilers policy and avoid discussing the plot, but highly recommend this masterpiece, but perhaps one should start with an "easier" Pynchon like Inherent Vice or The Crying of Lot 49 to get their feet wet first, because I would hate to see you missing out of this from feeling out of your depth if you can't find your pace in it.

The political message of the book is still relevant: war is fucking hell and the aftermath is just as bad. History as written by the winners obfuscates the suffering of the losers. And not the losers as actors on the scene of history who are typically unscrupulous leaders who in large part escape responsibility and aftereffects of the ensuing disasters, but rather the “rank and file” who are treated as no more than pawns on history’s chessboard.

Pynchon is a complex writer who pulls no punches: GR has a non-linear plot with an elliptical writing style and a myriad of complex characters, sometimes finely described in vividly lit detail like in a painting of Ingres but sometimes barely evoked out of the darkness like a self-portrait of Rembrandt. Reading GR is a voyage through chaos itself - the chaos of a destroyed Germany and the chaos of human depravity more often than not unpersuaded by a dream of redemption, a terrifying voyage into the darkest depths of the human soul.

In a nutshell, Slothrop (!), our protagonist, seems to attract falling bombs at each location where he has sex in London and goes off on a quixotian quest across Europe for the secret to his birth. Meanwhile, the war ends and Europe is in chaos. Against this background, we meet insane Germans, freaky peasants, abandoned aristocrats in seaside resorts, spies, murderers, holocaust survivors and holocaust perpetrators...it is a symphony of entropy.

It is also a book that you can re-read and discover things you may have missed the first time around - in particular the elliptical structure which explains the word "rainbow" in the title. It is grotesque and raw and superbly written. I have been told in the comments that the Companion by Weisenburger is excellent - I'll use it when I reread GR! The site Gravity's Rainbow on the Pynchon Wiki is an excellent and practical guide as well.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,400 reviews3,280 followers
August 15, 2021
Gravity's Rainbow is a rocket launched into the zenith of the literary sky…
Gravity's Rainbow is picaresque, enigmatic, obscene and labyrinthine. It is all things postmodern tumbled in the huge motley heap.
They say that amongst the more than four hundred of characters in the novel there is no protagonist. Well, there is a protagonist: it is the ominous SG-00000 rocket – an epicenter of evil, a mysterious artifact Tyrone Slothrop is looking for, but it hides from us until the end of the book.
…after a heavy rain he doesn't recall, Slothrop sees a very thick rainbow here, a stout rainbow cock driven down out of pubic clouds into Earth, green wet valleyed Earth, and his chest fills and he stands crying, not a thing in his head, just feeling natural…

In this cosmic way, the Earth gets fertilized to be pregnant with the future…
Well. What happens when paranoid meets paranoid? A crossing of solipsisms. Clearly. The two patterns create a third: a moire, a new world of flowing shadows, interferences.

History is a canvas painted by lunatics…
Profile Image for M..
57 reviews5 followers
April 3, 2010
I know history is rarely kind to harsh criticisms about super nebulous or "difficult" authors , but dig this --

This book is horrible. After reading The Crying of Lot 49, Slow Learner and now this, I'm convinced that Thomas Pynchon is a hack, and the reason we don't hear from him is because he has nothing to say and knows that if we gave him a microphone and fifteen minutes he'd be found out.

90% of the people who pick up this novel won't finish it, and 90% of those who do won't like it. But 100% of them will pretend they do because Pynchon has the rare reputation of being one of those authors you "have to read". We're all convinced Pynchon is the possessor of some private, hidden genius -- that buried somewhere between the rambling nonsensical plot and the long winded, super cerebral, jargon riddled diatribes on "the Rocket" and the sexual implications of its trajectory and its relation to the symphonic form is a message of some import.

But for all the hype, someone please point to a passage in this novel that overreaches or couldn't be approximated by the efforts of anyone else who lived a super reclusive, hermetic lifestyle, owned a library card, and was given nearly a decade (the length of time between the publication of this novel and the author's previous one), and around 900 pages to do it in.

Seriously though, don't read this book. Aside from the small flutter of accomplishment I feel at actually finishing it, I've found it to be little more than a super frustrating and ultimately hateful reading experience.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
November 14, 2012
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,176 followers
December 18, 2015

I don’t know why exactly you folks out there read, or why you feel compelled to then seek out a community in which you might share your thoughts, impressions, reactions etc. about the books you’ve read… But me myself, I read for many reasons - among them the opportunity to transcend the narrow window of my own point of view; the chance to learn by a leap, however minimally, over the subjective walls of my own stupid existence; also and especially to inhabit for a few moments the warm pulse of aesthetic bliss and recognition that waves over me whenever a certain sentence or passage hits just so…; at a basic level, to increase my appreciation and understanding of Life, and those artists and thinkers out there striving to contribute to the meaning of human experience, those attempting to bring some beauty or order into the entropic universe and make a little sense out of this mess of a reality we’re stuck in for the duration. And if they can’t find order or beauty, at least to make the muck sing out in some delightful way... There is also that moment where something unnameable (but now somehow named...) clicks into place while reading, and something akin to deja vu blooms inside - the This is the proper expression of the thing I’ve always had in mind but have never been able to express so rightly... The closest thing I get to what is typically described as a feeling of “spirituality” (I who sincerely believe I do not experience spirituality in any degree), are these moments when I come upon this expression of something intensely meaningful and resonant with me and my personal experiences outside of myself, encountering something that seems of me but not by me... these are elusive moments, rare, but when they occur I feel struck by something close to what Nabokov wrote about his experience of Love :

”When that slow-motion, silent explosion of love takes place in me, unfolding its melting fringes and overwhelming me with the sense of something much vaster, much more enduring and powerful than the accumulation of matter or energy in any imaginable cosmos, then my mind cannot but pinch itself to see if it is really awake. I have to make a rapid inventory of the universe, just as a man in a dream tries to condone the absurdity of his position by making sure he is dreaming. I have to have all space and all time participate in my emotion, in my mortal love, so that the edge of its mortality is taken off, thus helping me to fight the utter degradation, ridicule, and horror of having developed an infinity of sensation and thought within a finite existence.”

Which is why, of course, I then tend to seek out a community with which to share my emotion, my experience, to know that others too might be aware that such experiences are not only possible, but are out there for us, somewhere, waiting to be found hidden among the vast mundane plowing of life… and the comforting idea that others have generously spent many of their precious hours alive in creating works of art that contain their own such revelations, because they understand the importance of keeping this type of transmission alive through history, that this type of uncovering and finding is an essential component of being human ...

CUE SONG ~~ Take a look! It’s in a book! A reading rainbow... ~~

So, here I am, putting it out there to this broad community of Good Readers, wanting to tell you, Gravity’s Rainbow, for me, was one such experience, one such “finding”, a book I’ve been waiting for all my reading life… And with it, and my readings of Mason & Dixon and Against The Day, I am more certain of my notion that Pynchon is the peak of American postmodernism, alongside the works of William Gaddis - that these two have set the goal for what the encyclopedic novel might accomplish on this side of the Atlantic, in this American English… I consider having the opportunity to read both Gravity’s Rainbow and Gaddis’ J R in the same year a great privilege...

But Pynchon’s book itself is practically impossible to review, impossible to summarize or condense, worthless to categorize or constrain by exegesis - because of all it contains, the enormity of what it holds within its pages, the hundreds of characters and mad proliferation of ideas and allusions, all those words! hundreds of thousands of words that somehow leave so much unsaid, but unsaid in perfect ways (left to drift into audience dreams) - because it projects countless tentacles wrapping its world and reaching out into space-time, some of which return full of Story and the Known to feed the octopus body center of narrative, and some which purposefully throw Story and the Known out into the careening forces of the expanding universe, to be forever unresolved and scattered to cosmic coldness and star-distances - because of the density of the fragmentation of the world it has created, (but which is no more fragmented than any human consciousness encountering existence on any given day)...

So allow me only to give you a small cenotaph or a monument - (an obelisk?)- to the impossible review of Gravity’s Rainbow ::

Like a great movie, all of its themes are present in each scene, and yet the individual occurrences and set pieces here seem infinitely varied and inexhaustible. It is the macro-microcosm unity of the mandala. I believe, at a certain level, it contains the elemental forces of existence, the things that make Time rotate, Jackson, but that are only allowed to be seen by Pynchon writing around them... he knows that naming would fix them and so render them invisible… These are parallax visions : The explosion/implosion, the ascent/descent, of a rocket or the archangels or a human destiny, the fatal arc of gravity’s pull on an accelerating object, as if it ever had a choice of the path it would take; the dialectic, the synthesis of opposites, the white and the black, the yin the yang, and the Tarot tower with a king in mid-fall; the parabola path of ejaculate soaring from penis head to trembling body or mouth, or the journey of the whip to flesh and a memory of feeling anything as clearly as we feel pain, or the need to inflict pain; (-the cuticle of the fingernail inscribed by its own half-moon- the body has its own parabolas-); Faust retold in tar-dark comedy; Rossini’s Tancredi performed in the deepest depths of an LSD trip; an orchestral kazoo piece titled “What Is The Nature of Control?”; and the freedom of the individual within the extrinsic objective needs of the Conspiracy; the wave that dips below the zero but is not extinguished and re-emerges over London mouthing a millionhuman scream; the manymirror worlds that were born alongside ours in the forge of the Big Bang but went into dimensional retreat, that can now only be accessed by occult practices; the scuttling amid the transportation networks of the necropoli, where ghosts take luxurious elevators through their ruined places; the poles of the Earth and the Heavens aligning, right there a Brocken Spectre fingering a destroyed city’s maw; the procession of the conjured and the vanished, and the parallel worlds and possible universes we rub up against each time we peel a banana… the voices of the dead in constant song (which is the Music of the Spheres, listen for them in the silence of the Shadow of the Sun, if it ever finds you) and all the bending light sent in Morse code to us by Them from the pinpoint stars, which Those In The Know know are powerful film projectors, enumerating to us the Lies We Must Believe So That We Play Out Our Part In Their Game, and all the chemical formulations of all Their hallucinogens and all their lost dogs and all Time unfolding at once Everybody now… in an encyclopedia of human culture accommodating all things lowbrow to high- a schizophrenic Moby-Dick of the nuclear age… Our Great Paranoid Epic: Slothrop’s Progress Through The Military-Industrial Raketen-Stadt subtitled The Kenosha Kid and The Dear Ol’ Death Drive… where we find Orpheus’s lyre unstrung and discarded, but still plucked by the dry wind… or a lost harmonica found years later in the cold flow of a distant river and the bluegreen water-notes it mournfully plays, the water through the individual soundholes making of the river a sound-rainbow… the Rainbow Promise, ages old, taken back by the one who swore it… I tell ya it makes one helluva good movie! (complete with a Looney Tunes short...)

A-and of course, that “the act of sex and the act of death are one”, yes, at first this might seem simple, but it is really a complicated notion, one which might require infinite time and depths for us poor humans to come to terms with, if we ever do… but luckily film reels run in circles!

(...next up, cutting room floor tidbits from the poet laureate of the Lüneburg Heath and his critically acclaimed Sonics to Orifice... relevant previews of poems to come...)

Tree arising! O pure ascendance!
Orpheus Sings! Towering tree within the ear!
Everywhere stillness, yet in this abeyance:
seeds of change and new beginnings near...

Hail the force sublime
uniting we who live in signs.
The clock's steps only mime
the ticking of a truer time.

Devoid of actual perception,
antenna to antenna we posit,
by main force of intuition,
what emptiness transmits. . .

Do you hear the future
adrone and athrob, Sir?
Extolling its power,
comes a messenger...

Look at the machine:
how it turns and destroys.
vengefully twisting us like toys...

And though you fade from earthly sight,
declare to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water say: I am.

Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
539 reviews7,236 followers
October 17, 2014
You know that very brief moment after you wake up in the morning? That moment when you're not sleeping but you're not yet awake. You kind of know what's going but you're not fully aware. You're in conciousness limbo. When you read Gravity's Rainbow you fall into this conciousness limbo. You read the words on the page but they don't all make sense. You're confused, you don't know what's going on but... you love it. You're floating through this syntactical Pandora's Box fully unaware of your surroundings, not wanting to stop reading so you just read and read this 900-page page tome never wanting to stop. And then it ends. And you want to start again. Because you know that this is the greatest novel ever written. And you'll never read anything like it ever again.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,911 followers
February 25, 2017
I dallied with the idea of writing a very short review, saying pithy things like:

"I'm glad that's over."



OR should I go more eloquent: "I'm going to set this day as an anniversary to commemorate why I'll never read this book again."

But I think I'll just state that I think I just got post-moderned in the ass.

Or I could say some wonderful things about the novel, too, of which there are many, many wonderful things, such a great and funny commentary on WAR, Operant Conditioning, Drug Fiends, Erections, Scatophagy, Porn, Dirty Limericks, Porn, the Physics of rocketry and drug making, Porn, Orgasmo, Porn, and a great scene near the beginning that brought to mind Pink Floyd's The Wall movie with the buttcheeks over London mixed with a sampling of the BLOB and Bananas.

Do you think this was an easy book to read? You might think so with all the Porn. But no. It's a drug-trip with funny scenes that's very smart and it goes way beyond my tolerance level for being smug. Maybe all this 60's and 70's thing about making sure every penis and vagina is getting it on to shock the straights just isn't for me. I'd like a little story with my porn. Fortunately, there's a lot of story hidden right beneath the surface, here. It might be hiding right beneath all the SS or a few more Nazis or just behind that other Nazi, or is it behind this one?

Golly, it's kinda hard to find it. I know it's there. But at least there's yet another erection and girls everywhere are flocking to this inexplicable sex symbol... but wait! Yeah... I have to admit the nasal erection bit was funny as hell.


I've read better bricks. I've even had better bricks slam across my head.

Alas, this one was not a solid gold brick with a slice of lemon wrapped around it, but it *might* be just as crazy. (Thank you, Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster. I need you so bad right now.)

Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
855 reviews2,132 followers
April 11, 2017

"A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now."


In the beginning was the earth, and above the earth was the sky.

The earth consisted of land and water. The sky consisted of air, the moon, the sun and the stars in the heavens.

The land consisted of rock. Water was everywhere, but still precious.

The sky was light by day and dark by night. By day, the light came from the sun and sometimes the moon. At night, a lesser light came from the stars and the moon.

On the land, things were still, but then they began to change.

The sun made rock hot by day and the night made it cold, and the rock became stone, and the stone soon became soil.

The Creation of Life

In time, the soil and the water came together with the air and the sunlight to form life.

The life was green and did cling to the soil.

The air and the heavens were the realm of gravity.

Everything on earth was made to fall and to disperse and to dissipate as time goes by.

To rise was to challenge the laws of nature. Nothing could rise, except one thing, invisibly, vapors.

Water mixed with the heat of the sun and became a vapor, and the vapor ascended to the sky and became clouds. At night and sometimes by day, the clouds became rain, and the rain fell and spilled water onto the earth.

Some water remained on the land in rivers and streams and lakes. Other water, sliding and falling and dropping across the land, found its way to the oceans.

The Life of Fruit

In time, life conspired to defy gravity little by little.

Life combined with the soil and the water and the air and the light to make trees and shrubs (some bearing bananas or mangoes or pawpaws), and these plants reached skyward to the sun.

But these plants could not be severed from the soil, because their roots sought nourishment there. Any plant severed from the soil would fall to the earth, obedient to gravity.

In time, many plants were severed from the earth and covered by soil and water and became hard and part of the rock. Beneath the surface of the earth, dead plants formed coal, and sometimes oil and gas.

The Origin of Man

After much time, other forms of life were born, including animals that did grow heads and arms and legs and tails and eat the plants.

Some animals became humans, some male, some female, all of whom wished to walk on two legs and become higher than other animals and plants.

Men were not always bigger and stronger than other animals and so sought refuge in holes in the ground and caves.

The caves were darker than night and men grew frightened of the dark, not knowing what was out there, until they discovered fire, which they used for light and heat.

Sometimes, men used fire to warm the flesh of other beasts and they grew stronger.

Life was good, and men tended to live within and surrounded by nature as one.

Man on the Move

Men began to move across the earth in search of food and learned how to construct homes of rock and stone and bricks made of soil and water.

Their homes grew taller than trees and animals and began to defy gravity.

Then men learned how to make machines that could move across the land and water at speeds faster than men or horses could walk or run.

And they consumed coal and oil and gas, so that they were not dependent on horse power.

Man Turns the Power Switch On

Men learned how to make electricity and switches that would turn the power on and off.

Men made glass bulbs that turned darkness into light.

Men had finally become enlightened.

Men looked at the sky for beauty and meaning and portents of the future.

They wondered what lived in the heavens and whether they had been created by gods.

They made drawings and pictures of what surrounded them. One day they would make photographs and moving pictures and shiny silver discs.

Men observed what occurred in nature and, over a great duration, started to learn about cause and effect.

Man Dominates Himself

Then men created gods in their own image.

They invented religions and superstitions and sometimes it was difficult to tell them apart, men and their gods, religions and superstitions.

Men used their religions to explain what they could and couldn’t do.

Then they created churches and holy men and scriptures to dictate to them what they must and must not do, and the holy men and their gods punished them if they did not do what they must do, or did what they must not do.

Man Discovers Matters of Life and Death

Men observed decay and destruction and death around them, and wondered whether they too would die one day.

Men didn’t like this prospect and decided that they alone amongst the plants and animals had a soul and, after death, would live in eternity.

Except that, if they disobeyed the commandments of their holy men and gods and scriptures, they would be punished by eternal damnation and made to live in hell. Which was not meant to be a good thing.

Some scientists conducted experiments and tests on dogs and other animals and learned how they were governed by stimulus and response.

Men wondered whether their souls and their capacity for reason elevated them above the animals.

They did not recognise that, even with their gods, men would do evil things to each other that animals would never do.

Man Engages in Some Empire State Building

Men built their homes in cities and formed nations. They conquered other cities and nations and established empires.

They established workforces and armies.

They organised men and their possessions into rows and columns, and they made men and women wear uniforms, so that they might look and think and do alike.

They developed systems to punish those who would dissent and they used force to hold their empires together.

They looked down upon any man or woman who would not conform or wear a uniform.

Those that they did not incarcerate or hang or inject with life-sapping solutions or electricity, they cast off into the wilderness, where they would disperse or die of thirst.

We Men are Scientists

So men acquired knowledge and wisdom, and accumulated science and technology beyond the wildest dreams of their predecessors.

They converted their knowledge and wisdom into zeroes and ones, so that they might store them on silver discs.

Some men wondered whether there was more to life than zeroes and ones, and was there anything beyond zero or between zero and one, and they were scorned.

Man Defies Gravity

Slowly, man’s dreams became more ambitious.

Some men dreamed about how they might fly like a bird, and one day men learned how to make flying machines.

Men did not always live happily with other men, and they made tools and machines that would maim and kill their enemies.

Men used their aeroplanes to drop bombs on other men, and the planes and the bombs grew bigger, and the maiming and the killing grew more widespread and efficient.

At the same time, men learned how to make bigger and taller buildings that reached higher and appeared to touch the sky.

Many men lived and worked in these skyscrapers.

In Case of War

Then there were two wars between many nations of the world.

In the first war, many men died in trenches dug into the soil of their farms.

In the second war, it was not necessary to get into a trench to die. Many people died in their homes and their buildings. It was easier to kill more quickly in the cities that housed large numbers of people.

Men made new bombs that were meant to end the wars, but when they continued, men invented rockets that could maim and kill even greater numbers of people.

Some rockets made a sound that warned people that they were coming.

If you heard the sound, you might be able to escape to safety.

When they did not end the war, scientists invented more and better ways to kill more and better people. They built rockets that made no noise and could kill you before you heard them coming.

They were the perfect machinery of death, because nowhere was safe and you could not escape them.

These rockets defied both gravity and the imagination.

While nobody had been looking or thinking about it, man’s buildings and vehicles and aeroplanes and rockets and bombs had made the earth dark again.

A Voice in the Wilderness

Well, maybe not nobody. A man called Slothrop had been watching.

Every time a rocket was launched, Slothrop was blessed with a hard-on, an erection.

He would look at the rockets and he would be turned off.

At the same time, he would look at the rockets and he would be turned on.

Slothrop’s hard on was a hard one for the scientists to explain.

What the Fuck?

Somewhere in Europe, scientists were erecting buildings, platforms, rockets that could bring death to people like Slothrop.

Slothrop suspected that the best use of an erection was not to build an edifice, but to fill an orifice.

Slothrop wondered, why had men become obsessed by Death, when they should have been preoccupied with Life?

Surely, there is no life without sex, no progress without congress, no creation without procreation?

“Make love, fuck the war.”

“Fuck war, fuck each other.”

How do you convince everybody else that this is the solution?

“Fucked if I know,” sez Slothrop.

The Prophet Debunked

Slothrop is cast out of the mainstream and sets out across Europe in pursuit of love, sex, and rockets (and those who would launch any one or more of them at him).

Still, even equipped with his hard on, Slothrop prefers bananas to buildings and rockets, he is bent but never straight.

He is the ultimate non-conformist, hedonist and sybarite, who gives pleasure to himself and to many women, Katje, Margherita, Bianca, three of the foremost amongst them.

Slothrop’s skepticism and excess threaten the System, Religion and Culture. He is an anarchist Counter-Force to Binary Code, Mono-theism, Uniformity and Over-the-Counter Culture.

He is the unwitting counter-cultural Prophet who threatens the methodical, ordered and conformist backbone of Mainstream Society.

He is a spanner in the works. He is a virus that must be eliminated. Like Trotsky, he is a Prophet that must be netted.

They, the powers that be, with their uniforms and their weapons and their switches, chase Slothrop through Europe, but he remains free.


In time, people came to doubt whether Slothrop ever actually existed at all.

Some would ask, “Slothrop? What kind of name for a prophet is that?”

Still They did not stop their pursuit, even when They were certain that he must be dead. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

If you can’t see him or hear him, deprive him of oxygen. Wipe out his disciples. Stifle his message. Prevent it from reaching any children. If the medium is the message, remove his medium. That way the prophet and his prophecy will cease to exist.

Revelations? What Revelations?

Was Slothrop a fabrication? A ghost in the machine? A shadow in the light of day? A figment of someone’s imagination? A fiction? Just a character in a novel? Just a story in a holy book?

As Slothrop would say, “I’m fucked if I know.”

Outside the novel, the world continues as before, only more so. Buildings reach higher. Rockets and aeroplanes fly further. Wars drone on. Civilians die. Men line up in rows and columns and uniforms. Power perpetuates itself eternally. Evil perpetrates itself on people via people. Darkness masquerades as light.

The sky is silent. We can no longer hear the screaming. It’s all theatre, even within our homes.

Group Read

I re-read this as part of a group read started by Stephen M:


Reading Notes

I kept my reading notes in My Writings:


A Letter from Vlad the Impaler of Butterflies Dated April, 1973

Dear Tom,

Vera and I very much appreciated your gift of a signed first edition of your novel.

It actually caused a little friction in the Nabokov household.

I don't mean to be ungrateful or vulgar, but we both wished you had given us one copy each. (I guess we could purchase one, but we were too keen to read it.)

Naturally, I started it first, immediately it arrived, but quickly found I couldn't put it down.

The reason being that, every time I did, Vera picked it up and commenced reading.

Initially, our respective lepidopteran bookmarks were quite far apart, but when she passed my place, she asserted her right to be the dominant reader, and I had to wait until she had devoured the entire offering, which she did by the time of Maundy Thursday.

Fortunately, this left me Easter to finish it, so we were able to compare notes by Easter Monday, appropriately with a sense of renewed faith in literature.

I am convinced "Gravity's Rainbow" is one of the finest works of modern fiction.

It is very much an artistic and logical extension of "V.", which as you know we also enjoyed greatly.

If your first novel was a pursuit of "V", then "Gravity's Rainbow" is a pursuit of V, too.

In fact, it is a pursuit of both V1 and V2.

Vera was bold enough to suggest that V1 and V2 might connote Vlad and Vera, though we were unable to reach consensus on who might be noisy and who might be silent.

We did, however, hypothesise that Slothrop could be a reversal of Humbert.

To put it bluntly (these are Vera's words, not mine), Humbert, European in origin, fucks his way around the New World, more or less.

Slothrop, on the other hand, American to his bootstraps, fucks his way around the Old World.

I admire the way you, even more so than Slothrop, carried off Bianca.

It is some of the most delicious erotic writing I have read.

Bianca echoes Dolores nicely.

Even the sound of her name...Bi-an-ca.

The way it rolls off your tongue, it reminds me of, forgive me for citing myself, "Lo-lee-ta".

It's also close enough to the German acronym B.N.K. (which even a faint-hearted German reader or patient would appreciate stands for the "Bundesverband Niedergelassener Kardiologen", cross my heart and hope not to die).

Vera was the first to detect how you reversed the reader's response to this relationship.

Humbert knew damned well how old Lolita was. It was crucial to his enterprise.

On the other hand, Slothrop "believed" Bianca was a minor of barely 11 or 12, but when you work through the arithmetic of your puzzle, you realise that in reality (and therefore fiction) she was 16 (or was it 17?) and consequently of age.

So, what Slothrop did was legitimate, but what the reader (who was as yet unaware of this detail) did was not.

In "Lolita", I allowed readers to believe they were jurors with a legitimate interest in the proceedings, whereas in "Gravity's Rainbow" they are complicit in a crime that the protagonist did not actually commit.

The reader's voyeurism comes at a cost, at least metaphorically.

Only time will tell whether America and the world is ready to be confronted with their culpability.

Even if they are not, I hope your novel receives the acclaim it deserves.

So, well done, Tom, Richard would have been proud.

I would have been proud to call you my pupil, too (Pupil 2?), if only you had enrolled in one of my classes.

Perhaps you learned more and better from my example?

In the hope that you might continue to do so, I have asked my Publisher to send you a copy of my "Strong Opinions".

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed expressing them.

Yours, with all my admiration,


Slothropod De-Feets Cephalopod, Dutch Girl Almost Pops Her Clogs

Slothrop, octopus
And Katje Borgesius
We were meant to meet.

The Thoughts of An Erotic Clausewitz

Fuck Death, Fuck Rockets,
Says Erotic Clausewitz,
Make Love, Fuck the War.

Jim Carroll Watches the Earth Recede

How can I propel
My missile 'gainst the pull of
Wicked Gravity?

Slothrop's Dewy Glans

Slothrop's cock, un-cropped
Slots into sweet spot, then, spent,
Flops soft in wet spot.

Summit Meeting

Who knows what worldly wisdom I might find
When I discover myself at the peak,
Gravity-defiant, all nickels spent,
Trying to work out what it could have meant,
And you're already there, reposed, asleep,
Your trousers down and crimson phallus bent,
And scattered on the snow are streaks
Of your rocket-powered ejaculate
That have fallen moist, arc-like to the earth,
Still rainbow-coloured and immaculate.

So I read 200 sullen words worth
Of the dry wit and onanistic mirth
That appeal so much to the daisy chain
Of acolytes standing at your rear.
As one who's usually come before,
They call you a poet and a seer.
It's sad we only see your back side,
Though we're the ones forever left behind
By all your avant garde sorcery and
The flaccid disquisitions of your mind.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Babe You Turn Me On

Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,320 reviews2,196 followers
August 30, 2022

I've always been told that Gravity's Rainbow is one of most unfilmable books ever, but, seeing as others have somehow ended up on the big screen to my surprise, I just thought - this is before reading it mind you - that I bet it isn't as complex as people say, and could yet still end up being made.

Nope. It's completely unfilmable. I'd put my life on it. I know its been thought about in the past, but even if it did have a straightforward narrative - which it absolutely doesn't - there is just no way.

Firstly, by the end of this doorstopper of a novel, I had a pretty good idea - or at least my own interpretation of - just what the hell it all adds up to. But, I'd be lying if I said everything made sense and all the dots were joined. There came a moment where certain pieces of the multi-complex plotline started to come together, but of course, to get there, I had to get through a really tough first third or so. It was tough I can tell you, but, unlike V, it didn't infuriate the bejesus out of me, as I always had a feeling that if I stuck with it the rewards will come.

Secondly, I'd say for the writing alone, it's the best of the five Pynchon novels I've read. And whilst I did find it very funny in places - for me, Vineland is still the most fun, and the most character driven of the five - it is the darkest, most dense, most paranoid, most unsettling, most dazzling, most tragic, and most poetic. A journey into a fearful twilight zone of semi consciousness is how I'd put it. It literally felt like I was neither awake nor asleep for most of it's 900 pages. Can't think of any other book that has taken me out of my comfort space in the way this did. Some of the scenes where breathtakingly spectacular, outrageous, utterly revolting, and completely off the chart - that would be the chart of insanity - and I'm no doubt taking them to the grave. But, although I did find the whole experience great, it is problematic in terms of not being able to take everything in - I even thought about back tracking, and reading say, the last 20 to 30 pages again each time I picked it up, but in the end dismissed this idea.

For one thing, people who aren't even in the novel get more of a story than some of the actual characters that are. And that brings me on to the places. One minute we're here, then we're there, then we're .... where are we? .... er .... how on earth did we end up here? .... hang on .... wait .... where is here? .... What! .... who on earth are you? .... but we're in the Zone right? .... aren't we?
And how does an international light-bulb cartel that are having trouble in the amazon jungle trying to locate a missing light bulb from a military outpost, tie in with a polish undertaker trying to get struck by lightning in the Baltic sea? It is either very very clever or it's just plain quackers! But then again, from what I can put together, is it not both? The plot, in fact, is so clever, that I now have to label Pynchon an all out genius as well as a mad man. I bet on second reading even more of the narrative will click into place too. And that brings me to the point, like others have said, It probably needs two, maybe even three reads, to fully grasp this monumental beast. But that doesn't mean to say you can't enjoy it the first time, because I know I did.

A record breaking post-modern orgy of references, flashbacks, cultural historical facts; and fictions, scientific terminology, philosophical musings, sperm induced blather, disguises - got to love um! - ha! ha!, insulating plastic, technicians, phallic mania, African expatriates, drug dealers - Ah, so that's what Pig Bodine (V) got up to in the war, pet lemmings, heroic uprisings, daring escapes, leather clad piss and shit perversions, sado-masochistic orgasms, double triple agents, Rilke's poetry, Nazi propaganda films, rituals, schemers, espionage, narcotic fantasies, mephistophelian research, seduction - femme fatale style, pop songs, chorus girls, black market dealers, chimpanzees, streams of consciousness - brilliantly done, light bulbs - still can't quite believe that!, a fetish for death & annihilation - if one had to some up the novel in a few words then it's probably that, and one of the funniest dinner party scenes I've ever come across, amongst so much more.

Oh, and buried in there somewhere is World War II Europe, a V-2 rocket, and a guy who definitely does NOT have erectile dysfunctional issues.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,287 reviews730 followers
September 17, 2014
Gather ‘round, everyone, and hear the tale of why the reasoning (not the rejection itself, mind you) behind the rejection of this novel for the Pulitzer Prize of ’74 fucking pisses me off.

Their reason? Obscenity. I would hope that they at least wrote an essay justifying their decision that went beyond an insipid mix of morally outraged blatherings and oblique mentions of coprophilia (he ate what? Poop? Oh, we cannot stand for this we simply must not accept this and god forbid we even think for a moment on the context or, you know, try to understand).

Because right before, right before this event that in my particular edition takes up a mere two pages out of seven hundred and sixty, yes, 760, count ’em, of wonder and glory that I will expand upon later once I have clearly demonstrated the idiocy of the rejection, yes, right before the passage that describes the horrific act in all its gory detail, we have:
They have taken him so far from his simple nerves. They have stuffed paper illusions and military euphemisms between him and this truth, this rare decency, this moment at her scrupulous feet…not it’s not guilt here, not so much as amazement—that he could have listened to so many years of ministers, scientists, doctors each with his specialized lies to tell, when she was here all the time, sure in her ownership of his failing body, his true body: undisguised by uniform, uncluttered by drugs to keep from her communiqués of vertigo, nausea, and pain….Above all, pain. The clearest poetry, the endearment of greatest worth…
I have never been in a war. I do not claim to understand the agony that those who participate go through, neither the soldier nor the civilian. But this I can recognize, this horrid disconnection from reality that results from society blocking you off from the realities of life with words, words, worthless words that rise like so much smoke and fall like so much ash when you realize it is all lies and there is nothing, nothing to prepare you for the truth of life and you become exquisitely aware of what They have conditioned you to be. And the question arises of whether life in this sleazed and sycophantic lubricant is worth it, and reality dims to a faint question of hunger and thirst, and your thoughts clamor at you to the edge of the precipice and all you can think about is how a permanent vacation from all this banality of evil would be nice. Very nice indeed. And the only thing that can draw you back is some confirmation that through all the living muck you are indeed alive. What is an easier answer to that eternal question than pain? Better yet, what is a more conscientious answer than pain, willingly inflicted upon the self in a controlled and safe environment, rather than going out and inflicting oneself on others in the forms of murder, rape, and physical destruction? With that in mind, who dares claim that they, an untouched outsider, have the right to condemn such a thing?

What is even worse than this flimsy excuse is what was lost when the baby, with so much joyous potential and wondrous insight, was flung out with the merest trickle of slightly smelly bathwater, flung to die on the streets for showing itself as being human.

Do you know what was lost? Knowledge, and better yet, a love of knowledge, sheer ecstasy at the mere sight of knowledge, adoration of subjects ranging from geography to organic chemistry to folk lore of cultures other than European to religions other than European to philosophical meanderings upon death and life and lust and shit and piss and the War, the War in none of its popular culture trappings of honor and glory and instead in its vulgar horror of wasted lives and idiotic bashings and the eternal chance of being blown to smitherings no matter if you were suffering in the worst of concentration camps or if you had found some small and precious moment of laughter in these bleak and desperate times, run by Them. Always by Them. They, who know the rules and run the show and will catch you by the genitals and nail you to the rate race and leave you to run or hang, silently screaming in pleasure all the way in an invisible construct too devious for words.

Why? Because it is the very foundations of what Homo Sapien is built upon, that instinctive organism that found itself growing a shell of thought, of conscience, enough to persuade itself that it was beyond all those biological trappings, those helpless desires, those inane fears, those shameful pleasures. Because when faced with death, the natural response is life, and the natural precursor is procreation, and the natural instigator is, what? Some call it love. Others call it lust. And perhaps it would be that clean if you ignored all that social indoctrination, all those millennia of cultural bonds and civilized underpinnings, the conformation of the animal to a world of new materials, new ideas, new awareness of pain and terror in the face of an overall useless existence. If you force a creature to like something and live with it from day one, and then keep to the beat their descendants forever on, you better be ready for a blending of the biological instinct and the cultural indoctrination. You better be ready for the fetish, those inexplicable psychological bonds between a whole range of objects and ideologies, all linked up to the evolutionary instinct, the need to fuck.

And when you put these individuals, who have adapted to strictly controlled world in ways that would put Casanova to shame, into a pressure cooker of death and destruction and technology specifically calibrated to rend bodies in a grotesquely unbelievable artistry, a World War that made the previous paltry and has not yet been surpassed? Furthermore, when you get Them, who sense all of this, in addition to sensing how society readily acquiesces to stories of violent rape and yet frowns on the consensual sexual relations that happen to deviate from the norm? That calls the former an inevitability brought upon by the victims themselves, and the latter a perversion, a deviation, a thing of disgust and shame? Then, dear Reader, you have the conspiracy of the millennia, where War drives sex drives shame drives settling under the thumb of Them who caters to your secret erotic delight. Who drives the War. For what? Money, of course. Ah ha, you say, of course. That excuses everything.

Regardless, seems a bit wonky, no? Seems a bit, well, conducive to discussion of how civilization chooses to harness the biological drive, how it silently condones rape and loudly condemns the erratic spillover of voluntary intercourse, no matter how privately or safely it is conducted, no?

Finally, going back to the knowledge. Right now, the liberal arts and the hard sciences hate each other. Loathe each other entirely. I’ve been on both sides, and I’ve heard the same story riddled in pride and ignorant contempt and secret fear from both. I’ve even experienced both, back before I got a handle on things and started to understand the gorgeous beauty inherent in both, which exists in both the masterfully derived equations from which we control the heavens, to the powerfully themed piece of literature that speaks to the souls centuries after conception. And you know which book combines that all in a singular, sexy package? Do you know which book not only breaks the rules of what the general populace deems is the proper way to write a novel, but blurs and cracks and subsumes the boundaries between the knowledge deemed ‘nerdy’ and the knowledge deemed ‘useless’ and wraps them all in a glory that only wishes to expand the appreciation for worlds both mathematical and geographical, both emotional and quantifiable, where a sunset is appreciated for its blend of colors as well as the wondrous calculations of the atmosphere that generate such a sight? All the while skipping over emotional raptures and objective information, capturing the tragically beautiful persistence of the human spirit in nine pages recounting the tale of soldiers caroling one winter’s night; the horrific capabilities of the human spirit in thirty-six pages that range from the fervent desire to breach the horizons and surpass stagnant conceptions of possibility, to the helpless lust in the face of overwhelming obliteration of body and soul, finally ending with complete disconnection except for one last push, one last tiny effort of goodwill.

Simply, this is not an issue with the book, which chooses not to follow the path of literature referencing literature referencing literature ad infinitum, hardening the bubble to an insoluble force field of fear and close-minded intolerance. Which, by the way, makes it perfect for teaching, small excerpts taken out of a context that still retains enormous amounts of contextual information, spanning scopes of knowledge and lines of reasoning with simple skips of words and sentences. No, this is an issue with education itself, the handling of separate subjects in separate ways that result in the same lesson. We learn to hate learning, whether it be by the mindless cramming of scientific gobbledygook or the training to view books as a sponge to be soaked dry of every pointless and emotionally draining detail. We are taught by those who have found refuge in the ideological constraints, concentrated themselves in high enough amounts of personal pride and vicious disdain for anything that lies outsides the traditions of their specific field. We are trained to hate neutrality and loathe those who refuse to subsume their selves under a single formula, see them as traitors to the cause.

As if the human mind, ever metamorphosing in endless streams of fickle time and violent happenstance, constantly shifting in reaction to similar seething cauldrons of fate and fortune, is a block that once fitted can never go back. As if empathy is equivalent to proposal, as if understanding the viewpoints of others without being able to ignore their faults is a secret sign of defending said faults. As if any other reaction to capture bonding (born and bred and colonized and commercialized) beyond stoic subservience (be grateful you have been passed over) is not a screaming across the sky for survival, is not only heresy. It is evil.

Where is the joy? Where is that feeling of acquiring something and loving it so much that one wishes to show it to others, help them understand that this thing they may have feared has so much beauty and really is not so frightening or impossible to comprehend? Where is the recognition of that conspiracy of the ‘Other’, subconsciously mandated as a survival technique (incomprehension leads to fear leads to anger leads to prejudice leads to incomprehension) and now subconsciously harnessed by ‘Them’, a recognition that does not stop and gaze wistfully over to the Zone of action? Ignorance is bliss is the true evil of neutrality, and those loaded words are used to good measure of their full range of context.


I’m not going to lie to you. This book is hard. The only reason I got what I did out of it is due to the following personal characteristics that were acquired by pure chance:

-Love for the German Language
-Formulaic Education in Engineering (specializing in Polymers) Greatly Exceeding that of FE in English
-Penchant for Iconoclasm (sociocultural, sexual, linguistic, you name it, I will break it and make it bleed for the purpose of my own understanding and comfort)
-Reverential Devotion to Literature
-Experience (for every rule I break, I break my own brain over books like these)

That’s my side of the equation. This is how I cheat. I can’t cheat for you, but trust me, the test is worth everything.



Aubrey: I’m sorry?
Anonymous: I just finished your review of Gravity’s Rainbow, and YOU CONDONE COPROPHILIA? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Aubrey: Déjà vu.
Anonymous: What?
Aubrey: Irony.
Aubrey: Okay. You know what. Closure. I get it. Here, all nicely formatted and quotable.

“Looking back on things, it seems to me that whatever the fuck is wrong with me is in some way related to whatever the fuck is wrong with Pynchon. And if that is indeed the case, well. I can live with that.”

-Aubrey (June 16, 2013)
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews871 followers
July 6, 2012
An Approach for Simulating Text Consistent With Gravity’s Rainbow

Technical Report issued 6 July 2012 by the Simulation Lab Originating Text-based Handiwork (SLOTH)

While the exact algorithm used by Pynchon (1973) to produce Gravity’s Rainbow (henceforth GR) was never documented, we contend that the method proposed in this paper is, on average, in a repeated sampling context, observationally equivalent. As is true of any simulation, there is a deterministic component and a random component. Simulated paths will vary, but the statistical distributions from which the stochastic terms are sampled match those of GR. Our approach, as applied to text generation, is novel¹. It is, however, closely related to the methods employed by computer scientists in the so-called Markovian Mozart initiative². We begin by describing the basic structure, we then discuss our vision of the text generation process as it applies to GR, and conclude with final thoughts on how text simulation may be used going forward.

Simulation Structuring

Interest in random text generation appears to have begun with the famous, though untested, proposition that an infinite number of monkeys with infinite time at their keyboards would ultimately reproduce Shakespeare. Of course, pure randomness without some kind of structure is a highly inefficient path toward literary art. Plus, the process is just as likely to produce piggy porn as it is to emulate Pynchon (granting, for our purposes, that there is a distinction to be made).

The opposite side of the spectrum would be a well-defined set of sentences featuring blanks to fill in using a pre-chosen set of options. This was a style popularized by Mad Magazine³. Such an approach differs from ours in that their structure is more narrowly defined, allowing insufficient latitude to characterize the chaotic and disorienting nature of GR.

The input parameters to our simulation will, by default, result in 4 sections, 73 chapters, over 400 characters (mostly minor, wordplayfully named), and 776 pages, just as the original did. However, one of the advantages of a simulator is that the resulting length is configurable. We are also careful to specify stylistic breakdowns that may enter in a probabilistically identical way. The sampling ranges extend from ridiculous to sublime in one dimension and vulgar to sublime in another. By applying noise terms to the narrative, comprehension will vary throughout.

Text Generating Process

The backbone of our simulation structure is established in the initial step. We specify a superset of core influences which are drawn upon by the random text extractor in accordance with user-supplied probability weights. This superset, A, is defined by

A ⊂ (WWII Historical Almanac, V-2 Rocket Technical Manual, Pavlovian Psychology [loaded in backwards], German-English Dictionary, Freud’s Comprehensive List of Phallic Symbols, phrasebooks for various romance languages, Anthology of Daft ‘n’ Bawdy Poetry, Urban Thesaurus [1945 edition], Guidebook to Pharmacology, Introduction to Tarot Symbolism, Applications in Multivariate Calculus and Differential Equations, a short book of surprisingly tender love stories, a longer book of genuinely raunchy lust stories, and an assortment of engineering textbooks)

Text drawn probabilistically from A serves as our starting point, S1. The next step is to intersperse small elements of plot into S1 with insertion points determined by a Poisson distribution. Specify

f(k, λ) = λ^k ⋅ exp(-λ) / k!

where k is the number of insertion points for each sub-block of S1, ! denotes factorial, and λ is the mean inclusion rate (λ > 0, but not by much)

The storyline to be parsed and inserted as indicated above is presented (by us and by Pynchon) in skeletal form. The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature sums it up well⁴.

The sprawling narrative comprises numerous threads having to do either directly or tangentially with the secret development and deployment of a rocket by the Nazis near the end of World War II. Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop is an American working for Allied Intelligence in London. Agents of the Firm, a clandestine military organization, are investigating an apparent connection between Slothrop's erections and the targeting of incoming V-2 rockets. As a child, Slothrop was the subject of experiments conducted by a Harvard professor who is now a Nazi rocket scientist. Slothrop's quest for the truth behind these implications leads him on a nightmarish journey of either historic discovery or profound paranoia, depending on his own and the reader's interpretation.

As a work in the postmodernist tradition, nonlinearity must be actuated. At no point may the plot as a function of time (P[t]) be twice differentiable, and only rarely may it be first-order differentiable. Flashbacks, digressions, and various other discontinuities must be introduced as P[t] is inserted into S1. In a related way, causal orderings must be distorted for a more authentic Pynchonian narrative. Specify

Cause ⇔ Effect +/- δt

where δt = α + β⋅δJ + σ⋅δz with J being a jump parameter; δz being Gaussian (not DeLillovian) white noise; and α, β ‘n’ σ being user-defined constants.

Once the plot convolutions specified above are inserted, resulting in S2, various themes may be brought to bear. Seminal reviews by Penkevich (2012), Jenn(ifer) (2012), and Graye (2012) discuss a wide variety of these themes and should serve as the basis for the next stage of textual input. The motifs identified form a set B ⊂ (Nature of Control, Paranoia, Preterite vs. Elite, Us vs. Them, etc.). Sampling from B proceeds in the same manner described above for A, i.e., according to the probability weights defined by the user. We denote the result of this as S3.

Authorial insights into human nature are treated in a similar way. However, lists constructed using the aforementioned reviews feature insights of the reviewers themselves. This, in essence, removes layers of obfuscation so that transformations are necessary to reconstruct the more muddled original set. This is achieved by adding random perturbations and mapping the results into Hilbert space. Draws from this set of transformed and re-adumbrated insights inserted into S3 give us S4.

Stylistic modifications to S4 are important when attempting to simulate the GR experience. For one, the narration should vary depending on the POV character. Allow average words per sentence in certain randomly chosen sections to be fully three times greater than the overall average. A smaller but consistently applied transformation is to take a common four-letter word and substitute in a three-letter alternative that, for what it’s worth, is phonetically more correct. For Pynchon, this meant “says” → “sez”. The result of these modifications is denoted S5.

A GR simulation would not be complete without one further stylistic “enhancement”. Any vanilla sex scenes within S5 may be replaced with random draws from Y. Denote:

U := incidence of urolagnia
C := incidence of coprophagia
K := incidence of kinkiness of any other form

We can then specify


Finally, the result of this last modification, S₆, should be submitted to voice recognition software and compared with Pynchon’s own voice. Any wavelets that differ by more than 2 σ should then be truncated within S₆ to create S7. It is our contention that S7 will be a lexically similar rendition of the original when the default values of the parameter inputs are chosen. Alternatively, our framework also allows customization such that GR may be generated with a twist. Options along these lines are discussed in the final section below.

Prospects Going Forward

Pynchon’s well-known penchant for formulaic detail coupled with random noise makes GR a natural vehicle for demonstrating our methods. As stated above, by choosing the relevant inputs and their GR-consistent probability values, a book very much like GR may be generated. By repeating the process, multiple instances may be constructed. With sufficient computing power, these multiple instances can be fed into a genetic algorithm to determine an “optimal” GR (where optimality is defined in terms of individual tastes). For instance, by dialing down the weight assigned to silly poems in the initial stage, one could generate a new GR of even greater ponderousness and density. Similarly, length settings may be varied. A GR sampler could be generated that is only a fraction of the original length. Or for the show-off readers out there looking for even greater challenges, a simulated version that doubles the length and halves the signal-to-noise ratio could be produced.

Of course, our methodology may be applied to simulate any piece of writing⁵. Hybridization is also possible. For instance, if the inputs for David Morrell’s First Blood were combined with those for GR, setting it in Vietnam, and substituting in violence for half the sex scenes, something like Gravity’s Rambo would result. Hybrids that do not involve GR are also possible. Inputs from classic works by Margaret Mitchell and Haruki Murakami could be combined to create Gone with the Wind-up Bird Chronicles. The key to performing these simulations well is to draw on the astute observations of reviewers for synopses, insights ‘n’ context. We encourage readers to generate these important inputs to spectrally enrich and parabolically ground all further text simulation exercises.

The code used to generate simulated versions of GR is available upon request: SLOTH, Simplatz 00001, The Zone.


¹As a further demonstration of our techniques, we invoked a random pun generator in the construction of this paper.

²Their simulation involves inputting all published works of a composer such as Mozart, codifying tones, tempos, and dynamics to be used in pattern recognition software that then assigns probabilities used to generate subsequent notes. For example, if the previous measure consisted of four quarter notes with the pattern E E F G, the algorithm would scan the entire sample of the composer’s works for similar patterns as well as the notes that had followed. It may then be determined that there is a 31% probability that a quarter note G will be next, a 14% probability that it will be a quarter note E, and so on. This is then fed into the simulator to randomly determine the next note consistent with the probabilities. The newly generated note pattern would then be windowed and used in an iterative fashion to determine all subsequent notes.

³An example might be to choose words or phrases to construct a political speech: My opponent is a (Republican, Democrat, cretin) and is therefore given to (flip-flopping, demagoguery, pleasuring male goats). In contrast to him, I vow to support (education, the environment, the people, bridges to nowhere only when the quid is sufficiently pro quo).

⁴While it is only right to recognize Greg (2010) for the brevity and pith of his plot summary, it did not allow us to specify a P[t] function to highlight the nonlinearity w.r.t. time.

⁵This write-up itself was generated through simulation – a kind of meta-feature of what amounts to postmodernistic content formulation.


Graye, Ian, 2012, Goodreads Review of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Greg, 2010, Goodreads Review of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Jenn(ifer), 2012, Goodreads Review of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Morrell, David, 1972, First Blood, Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY.

Penkevich, S., 2012, Goodreads Review of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Pynchon, Thomas, 1973, Gravity’s Rainbow, Penguin Books, New York, NY.

Appendix A

Our rating of the original GR instance, as published by Pynchon, was derived by integrating across a uniformly distributed utility function, U(x,y). The limits of integration in the x dimension range from boring to funny; in the y dimension they range from obscure to profound.

∫ ∫ U(x,y) dx dy = ★★★

Appendix B

The following poem was generated using the simulation techniques described above. The primary input was a single page of a rhyming dictionary. A secondary input was utilized as well: The Low-Brow’s Guide to Self-Indulgence. It was meant to convey a reader’s reaction at the midway point of the GR endeavor.

I had hoped to attain
Or at the very least feign
A good stretch of the brain
With this GR campaign.

But it’s awfully arcane
And though I hate to complain
It's become a real strain.
I’m not sure I’ll stay sane.

Yet I cannot abstain
Despite genuine pain.


Can it be the worst bane?
A skull full of Chow mein?
Profile Image for Perry.
631 reviews503 followers
July 30, 2022
"Pillar of Priapus" Award, 1975 for
Gratuitously Vile Scenes of Highly Perverted Sex

Priapus sculpture, Boston Museum of Fine Art

Am I unenlightened to find a Nat'l Book Award winner so repulsive?

The 1973 National Book Award winner was voted to win the 1974 Pulitzer, but the committee decided it was too offensive to win the award, or something like that. Before reading this, I thought that the Pulitzer committee must have been making a statement about moral decline and "free love” or was otherwise being a collective prude.

Now, I think WTF? The story was all over the place, but mostly repugnant by any set of morals of which I know. I have never considered myself simple, prudish or on a moral high horse, but if I earn any such description in being offended by gratuitous and repeated references to brutal rape of children by multiple men simultaneously, father-daughter incest on multiple occasions over several years beginning when the girl was 11, and by something that made me actually heave, which, to make my point I must describe, but will say this as nicely as possible: an S&M sequence in which a man was tied up and the woman defecated into his mouth and made him swallow, a scene so gross even the author acknowledged that the man had to have shots for the e coli bacteria after each such occasion.

And yet, I don't think I'm simple or a prude. I've appreciated the literary quality of books revolving around statutory rape (Lolita) and sibling incest (Ada, or Ardor). I can handle a lot. But I cannot get past the abominations listed, to appreciate, enjoy or find literary redemption in this novel. This does not mean that I ignore the reality that such things occur in this evil world. What I mean is, where do we draw the line? For me, it is at acts (albeit fictional) that make me physically sick and that civilized societies of this world—who draw criminal lines all over the map on other moral wrongs—are pretty much united in condemning and outlawing with severe and stringent punitive measures, such as sex with pre-pubescent children (and visual depictions of sex with children), and sex between parents and their children.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,009 reviews4,008 followers
Shelved as 'dropped'
May 28, 2012
I tried sixty-nine pages for the purposes of the Group Read (a Group Read of Gravity’s Rainbow on Goodreads—a GR of GR on GR, or GR3) but tentatively closed the novel thenceforth. My first thought (I am an intellectual) was WTF?! This has over twenty five-star ratings on the first page?! Then I had to concede I simply don’t like Pynchon’s writing style, period. William raised this point in his review of The Tunnel—you’re helpless against an author’s crystalline prose if you simply can’t stomach his particular talent for arranging squiggles. My problem with the first sixty-nine pages? I found his style awkwardly literary, stuffed with showboating passages of verbose insulation (as though caulking the enormous fucker)—I felt the style basically worked against the efficiency of the sentences, i.e. he seems to be taking unnecessarily circuitous routes to describe whatever acronym-riddled antics were happening (as far as I could make out, sub-Catch-22 shenanigans mixed with equally dated black humour) so the reader has to unpeel each little Pychonian prawn as though inside lies some twinkling epithet of significance. Also, the point of view shifts from the ice-cold third-person narrator to the internal states of the dozen or so interchangeable characters with equally stupid names for no particular reason I could fathom for those sixty-nine pages. I was impressed by various passages but I couldn’t commit to another 834 pages . . . there simply wasn’t enough cohering for me in the style, and books that warm up around page 467 are not my bag. I tried The Crying of Lot 49 earlier this year and found the dude such a postmodern relic. I mean, Foster Wallace can do this standing on his head but also offers a devastating emotional wallop into the bargain. William H. Gass writes funnier bawdy limericks and songs too. Anyway. I’m sure he’s brilliant but I really don’t care, I have other boyfriends.
Profile Image for Edward.
417 reviews392 followers
March 31, 2017
There is no doubt that Pynchon is a brilliant writer. His ability to expound in detail on diverse and difficult topics is incredible (especially for the pre-Internet era), as is the intricacy of the plot: full of interconnecting references, allusions, metaphors on top of metaphors - Gravity’s Rainbow is truly a virtuoso performance. To read it is to be swept away on a wild ride through Pynchon’s imagination, unbridled by form or convention. The entire enterprise seems to defy the rational laws of physics – such a thing cannot maintain cohesion, and yet somehow it does, improbably, and against all expectations.


Firstly, there is the seemingly endless obsession with penises and penis-related activities. I’ve compiled for your amusement a report of the number of times certain words appear in the text (please try to suppress your natural impulse to giggle uncontrollably):

Breasts – 33
Buttocks – 23
Clit/Clitoris – 25
Cock – 81
Cunt – 26
Erect/Erection – 45
Fuck/Fucking – 108
Hardon – 28
Masturbate – 14
Penis – 40
Semen – 27
Sperm – 14
Thigh – 53
Tits – 10

The point here is not to admonish Pynchon for his use of profanity (which I don’t have a problem with), but to demonstrate just how fixated the book is on the subject. By comparison, in a novel which is ostensibly about the Second World War, the word Nazi appears only 40 times (admittedly, the word rocket does appear 404 times, though I suspect several of these may be sly references to Slothrop’s own personal "rocket"). Each of these words (and these are just the most obvious examples: not included in the analysis are the multitude of more obscure and sometimes snicker-inducing slang terms – quim, jissom - which occur with less frequency individually, but are significant in aggregate) represents yet another entire passage of text devoted to the fascinating subject of Erections: How To Spot ’Em and Where To Stick ’Em. What begins as a series of amusing and risqué little sketches becomes exceedingly tedious around the time we are informed of Slothrop’s 115th Throbbing Hardon, brought to you by the fleeting presence of yet another (probably underage) young lady, who is in possession of breasts, buttocks, thighs or other features in a combination that is no doubt exceptional and noteworthy in its own uniquely individual way. I’m no prude about these things, but enough is enough. I mean, what the hell is this book actually about, anyway?

What begins quite promisingly in the early part of the novel, has utterly degenerated by the time we are thrust into The Zone. The novel loses all grip on reality and devolves into a obsessive fever dream of sex, drugs and paranoia. What are we to make of the tortuous paranoid conspiracy theories, the weird maritime pedophiliac orgies, the fantastic intercourse of every variety from the commonplace to the impossible, the seemingly random diversions that occur without rhyme or reason? Is this really anything more than titillation and cheap thrills? These absurd antics persist through most of the novel, but Pynchon - brilliant writer that he is - can be trusted to extricate himself from this quagmire, and he does so satisfactorily if somewhat anticlimactically in the final section, but he neglects to take the reader with him, leaving them to wallow in the shelled-out muck of The Zone, confused, maybe slightly aroused, and feeling like the party has gone off somewhere without them.

I do not question Pynchon’s talent, or his courage, and I do not question the magnitude of this achievement. But despite its virtuosity, despite its verbosity, I simply don’t feel like Gravity’s Rainbow has anything meaningful to say, or at least, I don't think there is enough here to justify its reputation. Where is the substance? Where is the humanity? Yes, there are genuine moments, but these appear in stark contrast with (or are perhaps inserted to justify) the rest of the novel, which is dominated by cartoonish characters in farcical situations, lacking all but the most tenuous link to the real world. Only by analysing and drawing connections between metaphors and symbols do we locate something approaching an underlying meaning (whether or not this is what the author intended). But in each case the execution appears more impressive than the substance. Sure, the novel says some things about life, and death, and war, but it says little that is really surprising or profound, and it spends vastly more time being childish, silly, and indulgent.

I can only imagine the novel’s fresh and uninhibited style found some sort of resonance in the early 1970s zeitgeist, but I don’t perceive that freshness reading it today. For a book that is widely considered one of the greatest of the last century, I was left unimpressed. Or rather: Gravity’s Rainbow impressed me, but it failed to move me. The three stars represent an ambivalent response, not an apathetic one. Never before have I read a novel that is simultaneously and in equal magnitude a work of genius, and a piece of shit.
Profile Image for Franco  Santos.
485 reviews1,333 followers
June 23, 2021
Mis notas/guía de lectura para El arco iris de gravedad, de Thomas Pynchon

El arco iris de gravedad es de esa clase de obras que son capaces de llegar a lugares que la ficción convencional no puede ni imaginar. No esperen una relación fría, vaga y simple que solo nos exija un mínimo de concentración y una dosis mísera de participación. Con la ficción pynchoniana, se conforma una especie de reciprocidad entre el lector y el escritor que tiende a agarrarnos por la fuerza y empujarnos hacia un viaje que se puede tornar demasiado intenso. En un libro de Pynchon, no cabe la linealidad, la coherencia y la claridad: todo es un delirio, en la vastedad del tiempo y el espacio, una ascensión hacia el caos conspirativo y una colisión de alucinaciones que hace de la exégesis una meta casi inalcanzable. Para representar lo que digo me voy a colgar de un diálogo que mantienen dos personajes, los rusos Mravenko y Tchitcherine: "'¿Tienes alguna idea de lo que está pasando?'. Mravenko rio. '¿Acaso lo sabe alguien?'".

La megalomanía y la paranoia persecutoria son dos factores que rigen en toda la novela, y no solamente por la historia y sus personajes, sino también por el lector, que lucha por hallar la imagen final de un rompecabezas cuyas piezas nunca dejan de cambiar. Si algo nos ha enseñado Pynchon es que siempre es más confortante pensar que existe un plan maestro en el que nosotros interpretamos un rol esencial que pensar que somos cuerpos arrastrados por la corriente del tiempo sin un rumbo deliberado. De allí se desprende el delirio paranoico, que afecta a una gran cantidad de sus personajes, en especial a Slothrop y Enzian, quienes continuamente buscan quebrar la superficie de lo que se muestra a simple vista para dar con una verdad arduamente especulada. En esto también subyace la ineludible burla de Pynchon a la documentación histórica. Las realidades subjetivas de los protagonistas ponen de manifiesto que del caos individual surge el acontecimiento, y un acontecimiento surgido del caos nunca es fehaciente.

Otro aspecto que me gustó mucho de El arco iris de gravedad es que el autor se centra en las consecuencias que tiene la beligerancia en los inocentes. Hay una parte extraordinaria, afortunadamente extensa, en la que Pynchon nos narra la devastación de la guerra en la Navidad y su efecto en los niños. Pynchon nos ayuda a contemplar cómo la condena y la libertad se forjan en un terreno de mentiras, y que las victimas siempre terminan siendo los que jamás quisieron la guerra.

Por supuesto que también están presentes temas recurrentes en su ficción. Uno de ellos es el colonialismo (personalizado por el capitán nazi Blicero/Weissman), que en esta ocasión se concentra en la ocupación alemana en el sudeste de África y el posterior genocidio herero, algo que me pareció muy bien tratado, y que se vuelve aun más interesante cuando, poco a poco, vamos conociendo la Schwarzkommando y sus facciones. En la relación de Enzian con sus subordinados y su confrontación con los Vacíos se puede apreciar claramente la dualidad entre el Bien y el Mal, como asimismo la autodestrucción humana que impregna en su totalidad la atmósfera bélica de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Otros de los contenidos habituales del genio norteamericano (frecuentemente tratados con un humor tan bueno que es hasta posible terminar con una subluxación de costilla) son el sexo impúdicamente estrafalario (a veces excesivo, sin embargo), la manipulación de la entropía, ciencia real y contemplativa (en este caso le tocó el turno a la experimentación pavloviana), estupefacientes y sus respectivas secuelas alucinógenas, y un largo y variado etcétera. Queda en evidencia que Pynchon puede escribir sobre lo que se le dé la gana.

¿Es difícil El arco iris de gravedad? Sí, pero no ilegible como había leído en un sinnúmero de sitios. Con su inherente estilo barroco y la fragmentación narrativa, Pynchon juega con la causa y el efecto, tanto como con la fantasía y la realidad, lo que puede tornarse un poco exhaustivo para la humilde mente del lector; pero mientras exista paciencia y voluntad, llegar al final no es una tarea imposible y les aseguro que será un tour de force más que placentero. A Pynchon hay que leerlo con un cuaderno a mano, concentración y café. Mucho café.
Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
688 reviews567 followers
August 25, 2021
90th book of 2021. Artist for this review is American painter Jackson Pollock.

Talking to my German grandmother, trying to explain the plot of the novel since she asks (‘Have you got a new one?’ a common question which never gives any context but I luckily understand it means what novel I am currently reading?), and decide to go for it, to mention several things but generally omit most of the sex/penises/erections/etc.: so I say, for starters, it’s a mad book set in WW2. My granny, after all, was once a child being taken from Germany on the Kindertransport, the War making her (and her brother) an orphan. Eyes wide as I continue saying, “It’s about the V-2 rockets that are so fast that the sound of their exploding occurs after they have hit their target, so one would never hear it coming. . .” She shakes her head, sez: “Jolly nuisance. . .” Living with dementia and schizophrenia, conversations are limited to several stock answers; jolly nuisance is reserved for the worst of things, the realisation of mortality, the pain in her legs that persists and makes them shake, anything on the BBC News that startles her, and now, V-2 rockets. But I press on, cautious of her wide eyes, almost, fear?, at the mention of the rockets, and say, “There are hundreds of characters and one of the main ones (main ones?) is a character called Slothrop!” That makes her laugh. For all her paranoia, she laughs a lot (brightly coloured flowers: funny; birds tweeting loudly: funny; cars honking their horns: funny; anyone else laughing near her: funny: infectious).

“One: Number 31”—1950

Gravity’s Rainbow is a novel I started half-heartedly about a year ago, read some 100 pages and found other things more interesting. Once, talking to Dr Swan (codename), at university, about The Crying of Lot 49, we discovered shared opinions about Pynchon (though admittedly mine was rather minimal on knowledge): Pynchon, whether he is a genius or not, I suppose he could be, writes novels that are so scattered, so ridiculous, so wild, that any emotional investment is impossible and therefore Swan could never will himself to care. He is on the wrong side of postmodernism for me [Swan said], apart from the writers he adored like Vonnegut. True to this day, I didn’t care about a single character in the novel. Not always a bad thing. And here? Not entirely a bad thing. Famous for having over 400 characters, it’s quite clear that Gravity’s Rainbow isn’t trying to make us fall in love with characters and have a joyous/easy read. I once read someone describe the novel as an exploded bomb reconstructed as a novel. Apt. On closing the final page last night well past midnight I had the usual moment of keeping my hand on the book and allowing the scenes that remained in my head to float about, visit me. It was quite the storm, a storm of erections, boners, penetration, sperm, rockets, toilets, paedophilia, incest(?), literal shit-eating. . . sadly the most disturbing elements of the novel did remain in my head: Zwolfkinder, the infrequent descriptions of sex with children, the sex throughout which prevails as utterly revolting and bizarre. It does often beg the all important question. Why?

(Funnily enough I used this Pollock painting in my Infinite Jest review. Funnily enough the two novels are very similar.)

The last days of WW2, the V-2 rocket, the overarching paranoia, these things hurtle the novel on. At times it rarely feels like it’s about anything. Scenes barrage the reader, characters swim in and out of the narrative with almost no introduction, no “character”. The last 100 pages or so feel completely abstract, Pynchon almost does away with the main characters and we are, instead, attacked with more crazy scenes, strange characters. Byron the Bulb, a sentient lightbulb, is one such character in the novel. This we accept as much as we accept that Slothrop’s (laughter) erections have anything to do with the V-2 rocket, and that where he sleeps with women will become a missile-strike site several days later. It may be connected, it may not be.

(When I post this review They will undoubtedly read it. They will wonder why I didn’t like the novel more, perhaps They will confirm the fact that I am not intelligent enough to appreciate the novel’s complexity. The problem with the Internet is whatever I do They know, They see. The worst part is you can never prove that They are reading everything (essentially your mind, your thoughts), but you know. They probably know that you know and yet that doesn’t stop Them; that makes it more fun for Them. It is far more fun for Them that you know, that you are conscious of it, that you know every time you think, They think. No, every time you think, They hear. They have their ear against the wall of your mind and They hear every whisper from the other side. They hear.)

“The Deep”—1953

Pynchon’s writing is sometimes brilliant, so brilliant that I like to imagine it is a product of his time studying under Nabokov at Cornell university. (I read once that Nabokov was asked about T. Pynchon and he admitted he didn’t recall such a boy in his class, but, but, Vera did. All she could recollect was that his work (Mrs Nabokov helped Nabokov mark papers, apparently) was a strange mix of typewritten and handwritten, breaking suddenly from being typed into his strange handwriting and then starting again being typed—incidentally, a little scattered and disjointed, like his later works?) If we compare these two lines which appear in the very same paragraph we can see Pynchon’s oscillating tone, line-by-line most of the time: ‘The flower is shaped like the cunt of a young girl.’ Yup. And yet, several lines below this horrible line: ‘A late butterfly pale as an eyelid winks aimlessly out over the stalks of new hay.’ Remarkably different. Most pressingly, the novel is supposed to be funny. People do find it funny. Other than mildly amusing scenes, I didn’t find the novel funny at all. In fact, in the whole novel the only bit I would say, “That’s funny”, is this, which I underlined and wrote in the margin “Heh”,
Ever since reading about Benjamin Franklin in an American propaganda leaflet, kite, thunder and key, the undertaker has been obsessed with this business of getting hit in the head by a lightning bolt. All over Europe, it came to him one night in a flash (though not the kind he wanted), at this very moment, are hundreds, who knows maybe thousands, of people walking around, who have been struck by lightning and survived. What stories they could tell!

You see, I already need to read it again. The novel spins with speed, unravelling. I found myself returning to some of the things I underlined in the first 100 pages of the novel, when the prose was a little less abstract, and finding gems that later echo deeper, ‘“It’s eminently fair,” Roger now cynical, looking very young, she thinks. “Everyone’s equal. Same chance of getting hit. Equal in the eyes of the rocket.”’ Or, probably still one of my favourite bits in the entire tome:
Imagine a missile one hears approaching only after it explodes. The reversal! A piece of time neatly snipped out... a few feet of film run backwards... the blast of the rocket, fallen faster than sound—then growing out of it the roar of its own fall, catching up to what's already death and burning... a ghost in the sky...

So anyway it’s really about the 00000, but that’s for you to find out. A William S. Burroughs Shotgun Art of a novel. No no, a Jackson Pollock of a novel. ‘An exploded bomb reconstructed as a novel,’ credited to no one, some Pynchon-character(less) character somewhere. The 00000. All the erections and sex between the pages, all the characters breaking into song, the chilling lines of prose where Pynchon stops messing and starts—what?—writing? A big old mess that will for some reason stay with you. Unlike anything else. Not always a good thing but sometimes. Mr Pynchon, I don’t know. Mr Pynchon, if you say so.
Profile Image for Jenn(ifer).
159 reviews934 followers
June 15, 2012

First off, a song: this was supposedly influenced by Gravity's Raibow. HA!

This one's for you Slothrop & Bodine (I had no idea that there actually were zoot suit riots! Everything I've learned, I've learned from reading books. Crappy public school education...)

Where to begin?!

Regarding the creation of this novel, it has been said, “ Pynchon sequestered himself in a room, writing the novel out by hand, filling sheet after sheet of graph paper with the precise script of an Engineer. Perched atop this stack of papers was his small offering to the Muse, a totem of invocative magic: a rocket formed from "a pencil type eraser (the kind from which you peel off the corkscrew wrapper) with a needle in its nose, and a re-formed paper clip serving as a launching pad." The working title of his draft was Mindless Pleasures…”

Mindless Pleasures.
Well, that suits, doesn’t it? Despite the varied themes and fragmented plot lines, it all comes down to one thing: Slothrop’s magical penis. This man is so blessed that he is able to make women orgasm upon entry! Natürlich! Now that’s something. Who needs porn when you have Pynchon? However…

There comes a time when the ability to sincerely shock your reader reaches a threshold, after that, nothing you write will cause me to so much as raise an eyebrow. This point came for me about half-way through the novel (maybe a little further) with the whole incest bit. Pynchon threw in just about every taboo subject there is, and maybe even made up a few new ones. After awhile, it wasn’t so shocking or interesting anymore, it just became vulgar. Oh, Slothrop screwed another farm animal? Yawn… Okay, so I don’t think he actually screwed any farm animals, but he did just about everything else. Or did he? Hmmm… I think he must have a very vivid imagination. I mean, the guy is pretty tubby, and he’s traveling around Western Europe in pig suits and zoot suits and Rocketman suits. Where I come from, the ladies aren’t dying to drop trou for a guy like that. Yet women seem to be flocking to our friend Slothrop. But who am I to judge, there was a war going on! Oh yeah, there’s a war going on…

When sir Slothrop isn’t getting laid, some interesting ideas are presented. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the lascivious prose, but when you allow yourself to ignore all of that, what you are left with is brilliant BRILLIANT writing. Pynchon tackles the Big Issues without blinking an eye: the preterite vs. the elect, metaphysics, death,War; don’t forget about the war.

This was far and away THE FUNNIEST book I’ve ever read. I mean, come on, pie fights in hot air balloons, nasal erections, silly songs, a trained octopus, Byron the Bulb(?)... and hundreds of kazoos!

Pynchon likes to keep you on your toes. There’s no such thing as “casually reading” this book. You have to pay attention, otherwise you’ll end up in another country with a whole new cast of characters in another time period and have NO IDEA how you ended up there (he uses analepses early and often). Characters may change names without notice(as with von Goll/der Springer and Weissman/Capt. Blicero).

I will not make claims that this is a perfect novel. There were times when I felt like Pynchon was beating me over the head with a hammer, times when the vulgarity was too much to take, the slapstick humor way too over the top. But those moments paled in comparison to the joy I felt reading this novel.

But don’t take my word for it: the proof of the Pudding is in the eating. Uh, or something *wink.*

(I’m going to go now and drop some acid and read this thing again.)

Casting for the part of Slothrop:




Or finally:


**A note to those who wish to read this book: it should come with a warning label DO NOT READ WHILE EATING. Poor Major Marvy, I'm lookin' at you.
Profile Image for Conrad.
200 reviews294 followers
August 10, 2007
This might be my favorite novel. I read it over the course of around three months, on my fourth attempt, when I was living in Tallinn, Estonia. Something about residence in a very small European country heightens one's sense of the absurd. I would bring it to lunch at the bars where I dined and start crying into my club sandwich when the book was sad and laughing into my kebabs when it was funny (which is nearly always) and there are a lot of bartenders who probably thought I was crazy.

The first rule of Gravity's Rainbow is you do not talk about Gravity's Rainbow. Just read it and don't worry about all the things you don't get. You could spend the rest of your life in graduate school of various sorts and not be as smart as Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, so don't sweat it.

There are swaths of this book that I definitely don't get. Pointsman, the psychologist? Didn't get it. Tchitcherine? Didn't get him, as a character, didn't understand why he did what he did, almost ever. But hidden inside all the dross is literature of unparalleled terror and beauty: the chapter in the very middle of the book about Pokler and his daughter, which left me literally bawling in public, the only time I can think of I've ever done that. Oddly, the description of U-boat latrines. The dejected Slothrop wandering Germany in a pig suit. Pirate Prentice's romance. The overgrown adenoid that invades London. The dogs grown intelligent. The sad allusions to Webern's death. The notorious scat sequence that people get all worked up over. The Proverbs for Paranoids interspersed throughout ("You will not touch the Master, but you may tickle his creatures..."). Blicero's carnival of torture, better than anything Gonzalez could devise, and more honest, too.

Gravity's Rainbow is a quick guide to all the ways you could have lived your life but did not; all the injustices you have not had to face; all the ridiculous theories of the afterlife you can't bear to accept. It teaches you how to read itself. It's been copied relentlessly, by Trainspotting and Kurt Cobain and reading it means there's a certain voice that will inhabit your brain forever. It's like going on Samhain vacation from reality with nothing but a crate of bananas and a load of S&M. Caveat emptor.
Profile Image for Lisa.
974 reviews3,328 followers
May 11, 2017
I am considering giving myself five stars for finishing it. It has taken me forever, and I dropped it for other, less infuriating books over and over again. At some point, when I was over 500 pages into the story (if you can call it a story), I decided that I had to finish it, simply to have it off my to-read-shelf. I have struggled with books before: Ulysses is not easy, neither is Marcel Proust or Dante's Commedia. But this was different. I could not find enough valuable stuff in it to justify 900 pages of disruptive actions. I didn't mind the criticized sexual aspects of the plot so much (at least you understood what was happening then!), but I really missed any kind of ever so thin thread to follow to an ever so open conclusion. 300 pages of raging chaos at the end of World War Two would have been enough to start that da... rocket in the end! Gravity is working hard on that brick of a book.
Profile Image for Infinite Jen.
82 reviews241 followers
March 26, 2023
From the vault of James O. Incandenza.

Plangent Cries of Unemployed Tragedian and the Autoerotic Asphyxiation of Necky Undulates. Year of the Dunning-Kreugar Personal Test Kit. Rotoscoped hands superimposed on complex interpretive sulcus skating on alternating images of wartime London & Germany, subliminally laced with third image which reads; Are you in the Zone? w/ narration by Machine Learning Reconstructed Mitch Hedberg; 35mm; interminably looping; ultraviolet w/ 4D pornographical substrate embedded with oscillophotography of lower dimensional genitalia; silent w/narration. Limited release contingent upon eating six peach seeds and surviving under intense supervision; By Distributed Idea Suppression Complex Ltd.

“Pynchon’s (Steve Buscemi) drug addled demiurge coalesces in deep grooves of cerebral tissue as disembodied phalanges. Text appears; ‘Insurgency of Fingers’. Animatronic, phallo-centric, bratwurst susurrus in background like meaty palm fronds. Digits worm through the seat of consciousness like an enormous wad of chewing gum birthing maggots. Kneading gobs thought-matter into various shapes of zoological interest. Pointsman, (Mike Tyson) at the sound of a bell, allows a pigeon to take flight from his gnarled hands. Picks up unidentified substance (actual hog brains) and carefully sculpts a giraffe of slimy sulcus (actual hog brains) and gangling ganglia (actual hog brains) from undifferentiated lump of actual hog brains. Narrator (Machine Learning Reconstructed Mitch Hedberg) nonchalantly expresses the following, with trademark idiosyncrasies of cadence and timing:

“Symbolizing the need to rise above the low hanging fruits of naked entertainment to reach, with glistening purple tongue, irregularly shaped vessels with vibrant skins stretched to bursting by non-Euclidean carbohydrates. Sweet flesh slowly accrued around a central irritant, like a pearl, a cloud, or peach stone. The story’s juicy chromosomal tartness, through digressive selection, codified in codons. Sequences of salivary delights now perfected in the pulpy exoskeleton worn by its true Art, its homunculus, an Enchiridion of Erections, an Obelisk of Obscenity, a Paean of Peckers.

Cut to papier-mâché heart, resting atop a podium of gilded pubic hair, rhythmically piping Nitrous oxide onto the set through bong aorta.

—First level of magnification reveals the macro-pulp of excised text from Gravity’s Rainbow, consisting of approximately twenty seven pages of worty-dirds, chewed up by Slothrop (Garry Busey) with granola bars and toilet paper and spat into the waiting palms of Lyle Bland of Boston (Anthony Hopkins) reinforced with textiles, and bound by adhesives of black tar heroin, and spider silk. Ventricles evince shredded bits of memetic carriers: tits, clits, fuck, fucking, masturbate, buttocks, breasts, sperm, erect erections, cock, cunt, thigh, semen, and so on.

—Second level of magnification reveals network of plant fibers forming mosaic of Mitch Hedberg (Johnny Depp) channeling narrator (Machine Learning Reconstructed Mitch Hedberg) and his dulcet tones being carried aloft by continued bratwurst susurrus, in a violent physical analog: fighting the abstract force of manufactured jingoism with a rattan bo-staff (Emaciated Hulk Hogan) alongside stalwart ally; horror-movie devilfish name of Grigori (tentacles, starting from the top and proceeding clockwise: Shia LeBeouf, Keanu Reeves, a kneeling Dolph Lundgren, the ghost of Richard Pryor (Dave Chappell), Chow Yun-Fat, Jean Reno, and Captain Blicero disguised as Mads Mikkelsen (Mads Mikkelsen).

—Third level of magnification reveals images of charred cities sashaying through the hot refracted air of recently bombed environs with the serpentine manner of mirages. Pustules of molten skin belch their distended contents into stygian updrafts. Onomatopoeias of laughter dangle from wires and invite the viewers contemplation.

“Are you the giraffe or the Hyperboloid Honeydew? It is a matter of great symbolic (and scatalogical) interest that the consumer’s role in this symbiotic relationship is to find the sugars so irresistible that they can’t help but carry the seeds, to later defecate the beginnings of new growth. And you will choke on corrugated pit and want to violently wretch. But it will take exactly six of them to kill you.”

—Fourth level of magnification reveals Katje Borgesius having escaped the thrall of the evil Blicero, and exfiltrated to Goodreads to provide this review, against the almost uniform, but thankfully irregularity studded, cosmic microwave background radiation. She begins before she ends:

Have you ever, while colloquially (and irrevocably) ‘blown in the creek’ by fermented fruit sequestered in a prison toilet for an undisclosed amount of time, tried to erase your lexical framework and think thoughts without utilizing the conceptual prosthetics of language? I can personally assure you that penitentiary hooch is not sufficient, comrade. Try DMZ. Or, better yet, do not forsake the precious gift of abstraction. Instead, saturate your synapses with images of rockets and Uncle Reamus, juxtaposed with such brilliance that you’ll find yourself fully erect while wheezing. I’m not trying to be cocky here. Just pulsating the facts. You may shafta flog yourself until you’re satisfied you’ve shot it. Keep at it, you don’t have to be a Blue-Veined Aristocrat to understand it. It’s normal to feel like you’re not getting it, and you’ll peer at the remaining pages and think; “Boy, I’ve got a schlong way to go.” Is it a HARD book? Skin-flutely! It’s a bit of a Belly-Ruffian. But, as numerous people shaft said, the first Womb Broom is the most difficult. This one is massively front loaded. Thrust me. Don’t spindle too much time agonizing over the length, or how much is really penetrating. Try to prick up this book glans expectations and just enjoy the Membrum Virile. The spasms of psychological insight which can be teased out. The messy explosions of knowledge which can be cleaned from every page. If I ham-bone what I ham-bone now, I’d give myself this Clam Hammer as swell, again and again and again. But don’t chafe yourself, get on top of it and take control. No more autopilot. There are many resources you can use as lubricant. You may have to look up some German. Don’t approach it like The Bone Ranger. Get into it! Don’t just lay there all passive! Connect with others who have bred it. This is a unique piece of Jurassic Pork. It vacillates rapidly between passages that are easy to swallow and ones that rebuff your comprehension like scrambled images of cream filled doughnuts, but if you stay focused, eventually the disparate pieces will resolve into a Bull Dog Eating Mayonaise, and that, my friend, makes all the difference. Cum back to it. It’s worth it. Take ‘ol One Eye to the Optometrist. No matter how much you’ve gotta pound the punnani pavement to get there. Avoid, at all costs, crashing the custard truck prematurely. Let him get some stankie on the hang down. If he gets rowdy you might have to test the suspension right then and there. Open the gates of Mordor on the myopic bastard, and if he takes that as a sign to go knuckle deep in tuna town, smack the salmon, and tell him: “I’m not here to stir up skirt yogurt! It’s time to Smash Pissers and burp the worm in the mole hole!” That’ll get him fired up for some Chesterfield Rugby, by God. He’ll be doing squat thrusts in the cucumber patch.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews2,962 followers
March 7, 2016
Thomas Pynchon is like someone who talks to himself far too much and always in blustering major chords. As such he is rather exhausting. On the other hand about half of what he says is enthralling so at the end of the day he is worth the effort. There are dozens of radiant and exhilarating vignettes in Gravity’s Rainbow. I’ve just done the English sweets scene which was splendid though there’s the obligatory slipshod lack of editing: “his tongue a hopeless holocaust” – is that “hopeless” funny or just absurd? I think maybe it’s his vision which is his problem. For starters this, like the other book of his I’ve read, is rife with paranoia. There’s always this omnipresent ominous THEY out there – and as a result we have the feeling we’re being sold the bargain bin dualities of a Jehovah’s Witness. I think another problem is, he sets out by asking us to believe that this might be one of the greatest books ever written – which it patently isn’t. Once though one has recycled these misgivings there’s masses of excitement to be derived from his writing. He’s wonderfully like a motorist who takes no notice of the roads – and what fun it is to see him ploughing in reverse gear, with the windows rolled down, through people’s Sunday afternoon flower arrangements.
102 reviews279 followers
August 3, 2009
I think reading and reviewing this book requires taking on some extra baggage because it...well, I don't actually need to explain why or else Gravity’s Rainbow wouldn't have this baggage in the first place. It's Gravity's Rainbow, and that makes me feel like I need to read it, preferably without thinking too much about why exactly I feel this way. But at the same time I feel like I should avoid it so I don't look like a damn hairdo, which I'm told is British slang for someone who “tries too hard” (to look cool, hip, intellectual, etc). Anyway, I decided that the draws of the former outweighed the risks of the latter, and I read it. But first I had to be mentally prepared. Because unless you possess a level of genius utterly alien to me, approaching this book requires that you take a moment to assess your reading goals. Specifically, you need to ask yourself some fundamental questions about the ways in which you are capable of deriving pleasure. The whole idea of a pleasurable reading experience is so subjectively malleable as to be rendered almost meaningless. For some, pleasurable means sticking to a plot structure, character ensemble, and prose style that's well within one's own capabilities, while also being offered thrills that lie on a primarily primitive and visceral level. For some it means making your brain sweat, drawing a little blood, grasping outside of your intellectual reach, and building up some serious (but less overt) tension to provide for powerful releases and enduring satisfactions. And for most of us, it usually means doing a little (or a lot) of both, occasionally in the same novel, depending on x number of mitigating factors in our non-reading lives. Sometimes we want to push ourselves and sometimes we just want to casually, facilely enjoy ourselves.

At the moment, I'm at a place in my reading life where it seems like the more I give in blood, tears, and neuronal overheating, the more pleasure I'm capable of deriving from literature (assuming all this work is actually worth it on the other end). Now I know a passing personal fad when I see one, and even if certain not-too-far-off responsibilities weren't looming, I don't think I could find the energy, desire, time, heart, balls, chutzpah, whatever to continue tackling books like this for any extended period of time. So I'm trying to harness the obsession that's currently ruling my free time and put that cruel Blicero-esque master to work.

So anyway, despite the baggage, I went into reading this with pretty realistic and tempered expectations. I recently read Pynchon’s startlingly mediocre early short stories and was also beginning to question my initial infatuation with The Crying of Lot 49. In truth, I was hoping I wouldn't love it too much or hate it (I more or less succeeded here). Reasons: I didn’t like the idea of being a full-on contrarian with claims of overwrought suckiness (while making sure to prove in my review that this opinion wasn't due to blatant comprehension inabilities), but I also couldn't make this a gushing splooge-fest for reasons nicely summed up by Goodreads Jessica: "Guys who are really into GR are like those overly-earnest guys who're way too into Tom Waits. It's this weird, jealous, intense kind of passion that can seem pretty incongruous with its object, and can make you (or me, anyway) not want to participate in this creepy cultishness." Now, simply admitting that I was concerned about all of this is likely betraying a repulsive and frightening narcissism that this website seems intent on drawing out. Yes, Goodreads is messing with me…and reading a long book about paranoia sure doesn’t help.

Another general issue Gravity’s Rainbow has me mulling over is: how legitimate is it to construct a book that includes hundreds of allusions the vast majority of well-read, well-educated people will be unable to grasp without a serious study of the text and outside sources? To be honest, I'm not really sure where that line is, if there even is one, or if (assuming it's there) Pynchon crossed it. Thankfully, grasping all (or even most) of the allusions doesn't appear to be necessary to enjoy the hell out of the book and have a good idea of what's transpiring. And for this reason, I'm leaning toward a belief that Pynchon did not cross the line (if it exists). For what's better than a book you can enjoy the first time through and perhaps even more (or better yet, for new and different reasons) on subsequent reads?

Initially, the difficulty of reading Gravity’s Rainbow centers on the disorienting nature of character and plot introductions, as Pynchon places you into scenes and conversations with no instructions or compass. After the first section, this disorientation (almost certainly intentional) starts to melt away, but I can imagine that most aborted reading attempts justifiably occur long before the 200 page mark. More than with any other book I've read, this one appears to have been designed for rereading. I know authors and critics throw this concept around quite a bit, with many people claiming, like Nabokov, that reading only begins with rereading. Ah, to have the luxury. But in this case, I think it's true. If I were to go back to the beginning armed with a solid grasp of the convoluted characters and plot, I'd think I'd be able to piece together aspects to which I was nakedly subjected the first time around.

Pynchon's ability to create an evocative setting with an infectious mood is pretty amazing. The decimated 1945 London he cooks up is mesmerizing and provides the perfect backdrop for Roger and Jessica’s passionate, doomed love affair. He flawlessly balances feelings of reality and bizarreness here and there’s also this great just-at-the-edges-of-my-mind-but-out-of-reach-familiarity thing going on. Kind of like when you get nostalgia for something you've never experienced (but have studied or heard about or whatever). These were the things that kept me plowing through the early stages of the book. Well, in addition to all of the references (6!) to my favorite actor, Cary Grant, who’s even impeccably impersonated by Slothrop via Pynchon’s perfectly placed commas.

The first section is both the easiest and hardest to navigate. Pynchon seems intent on having the readers experience the dislocation of the characters, many of whom don’t really understand the whats or whys of the situations in which they find themselves. At the beginning of a book, I expect to be a little lost when dealing with the many character introductions, new setting, etc., so this is easier to take. Later on, when we move away from major characters for the umpteenth time to meet someone new and tangentially-related, this can be a little more taxing. I’m used to having information in a novel presented in certain ways, even in the most unconventional books I’ve read, but Pynchon seems hell-bent on blazing his own narrative path. One early 20-page stretch delivered the wildest emotional rollercoaster ride I’ve ever experienced in fiction: first I was thoroughly disturbed by the S&M re-telling of Hansel and Gretel, then moved by the lushness and sorrow of the dodo slaughtering, and finally laughing hysterically (on the T, embarrassing) during the “Disgusting English Candy Drill”, in which Slothrop is subjected to various horrible British ‘candies’ by a little old lady. Seriously, the dodo-bird scene is one of the greatest pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered and it also sets up one of GR’s major themes: the Elect vs. the Preterite, a concept which surfaces throughout the book to signify the powerful vs. the powerless; those ‘passed over’ vs. those killed in war; the Man vs. the Counterforce; et al. Strangely, I am unsure whether this book itself is Elect or Preterite—was Modern Library right to exclude it from top 100 books of 20th century? Or is the quote from The New Republic on the back cover correct? The most profound and accomplished American novel since the end of World War II. This question of what is lasting and remembered literature, hinted at with subtle brilliance in 2666, is something I find fascinating.

One practice that sets Pynchon apart from other writers is his incorporation of metaphors from nearly every branch of science—often very difficult ones (referring here to metaphors and branches of science). Since he doesn’t do much in the way of explaining, this can be a significant source of frustration. But it allows us science geeks to finally justify the hours spent studying organic chemistry. Actually, justify is much too strong a word. But I really enjoyed seeing Tchitcherine’s penchant for attracting counterrevolutionaries described in terms of molecular bonding capability, or seeing Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle used to describe the relationship between analgesia and addiction. Only from Thomas Ruggles Pynchon. I was also delighted, to my surprise, by much of the postmodern winking—from the few but potent direct addresses to “you” (the reader), to a discussion of difficult avant-gardism vs. pleasing simplicity that, although couched in a musical argument, was undoubtedly a direct commentary on the merits of Gravity’s Rainbow. Pynchon also can’t help himself from summarizing and distilling GR within other stories, such as that of Byron the immortal light bulb (whose experiences mirror Slothrop’s) and the plot to a drug-induced film entitled “Doper’s Greed”. There are probably many more commentaries on the book that I have either missed or forgotten—another rereading bonus, I’d bet. Perhaps most effectively, Pynchon plays around with the concepts of Pavlovian stimuli, and he relishes eliciting responses (especially sexual arousal) that will inevitably be accompanied by ethical unease, disgust, or shame. This writer-to-reader flirtation with the “ultraparadoxical phase”, wherein positive stimuli become inhibitory and vice versa, is one of the most brilliant aspects of the book.

Before tackling GR, one of my main concerns about Pynchon was what I perceived to be a lack of personal human insights to balance all the other stuff—philosophical and scientific allusions, gorgeous prose, compelling metaphysics…basically everything else I need or want in a book. Gravity’s Rainbow does deliver some of this, most prominently with the Pökler storyline, but these truly human and revealing moments are rather few and far between. For me, this is where the one star deduction comes in. Telling us many times that Slothrop was sad to lose Tantivy or Katje isn’t the same thing as making us feel it. Isn’t that writing 101? I have no doubt that Pynchon can (and occasionally does) aim for character insight and evocation, but for whatever reason he frequently chooses not to. Our loss. Still, I’ve developed a bit of a Pynchon addiction and it's weird because the buzz isn't that great, but I compulsively take another hit anyway. Actually, let me rephrase that—the buzz is occasionally fantastic but usually short-lived, and frequently the let down/hangover is rather rough and nauseating. But outside of my favorite Modernists, I've never read anyone who can zing me quite the way he does on occasion.

While technically the ending presents us with the ultimate climax, the last bit of the book felt appropriately anti-climactic. In the final 100 pages or so, Slothrop starts to disappear (literally?) and the “plot” sort of peters out after reaching a high point of coherence and intrigue part way through the 3rd section, which also contains some of the craziest shit I’ve ever read. Indeed, Gravity’s Rainbow makes Infinite Jest and 2666, to compare it to other postmodern monsters on which it had no small amount of influence, look conventional by comparison. How can we be expected to piece it all together? One of the least sympathetic characters in the book, Pointsman, is obsessed with Pavlovian cause-and-effect and therefore is searching for something that the more likeable stand-in Roger Mexico rejects in his analysis of events that he determines to be pattern-less and Poisson-distributed. Extrapolating from this, is Pynchon suggesting that we shouldn’t try to make too much sense out of this entropic book, which may simply be filled with random happenings rather than any connected or logical series of events? Or is that just a red herring, a false trail to divert us from some greater meaning?
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,741 followers
November 23, 2020
What just happened to me . . .

I feel like reviewing this could be dangerous. There are many who have strong feelings about this book. Also, as my status updates for this were hitting Twitter, I was getting several likes from random Pynchon fans, so I feel like this could be under more of a microscope than usual.

So . . . here is how I am going to do this review. The first paragraph will be my experience with the book and my star review. This is strictly my experience and does not reflect on how I feel others should feel about this book. If it triggers anyone, that is not my intention . . . but nothing surprises me anymore. After that I will have just a few bullet point observations that are not necessarily pros or cons, but just things that went through my mind while reading.

Here goes!

Overall . . . I am giving this book 3 stars. At times I felt like I was at 1 star and ready to give up. At other times I was at 5 stars and what I was reading was creative genius. So, it only seems fair to average things out around 3. It was not an easy book to read, follow, or stay interested in. I often found my mind wandering and had to go back several times to recap. But, when a section stuck with me, it really stuck with me and, overall, it is a book I will not forget.

Now . . . random Gravity’s Rainbow thoughts . . .

- If David Foster Wallace was not partially inspired by this book to write Infinite Jest, I would be very surprised. There is such a similar feel between the two.
- Throughout the book I also kept thinking this felt at times like Catch-22 (released 12 years before this book), so I feel like Pynchon must have had some inspiration from that classic.
- I heard that this book won the Pulitzer, but they retracted the award because of the extreme nature of the content. After reading the book, I am not saying it is right that they did it, but I can say that I am not surprised.
- If you are sensitive or easily offended (and blush easily), this may not be the book for you. It has been a long time since I have been this shocked about things that were put down on the page. Also, proceed with caution when reading my next bullet point.
- If there was a book about The History of the Penis, it would refer to penises less than this book does. To be blunt, I think penises (and ejaculation) came up so much in this book as a symbolism of rockets, their trajectory, and the force of a launch.
- This is a book I feel you might need online resources to help you get through/understand it. It has so much bizarre stream of conscious imagery and so many outlandish plot points that a little extra help won’t hurt.

I am going to stop there for now, but this book was so long and led to so many thoughts while I was on my journey that I may come back later to add additional bullet points as I think of/remember them.

Do I recommend this book? Did you like Catch-22 and Infinite Jest? Do you like very epic, very bizarre stories that will likely make your head hurt but also might blow your mind? Are you trying to complete a list of recommended books? Then yes! But otherwise . . . no or proceed with extreme caution.
Profile Image for Mona.
468 reviews281 followers
May 1, 2020
Review of Gravity's Rainbow

Brilliant, Frustrating, Falls Short of Greatness, and not for the Faint of Heart

Really Frustrated Man Screaming and Pulling his Hair

I don't usually use images in my reviews. But this review screamed for one.

Several caveats for anyone attempting to read this.

1. You most likely won't get through it on your first attempt. I didn't.

2. Reading this is a project! The book is nearly 800 pages, and pretty convoluted. It's like reading Joyce's "Ulysses" (although I think "Ulysses" is the better book). You need to allocate more time and attention than you'll need for the average book. I found the combination of audiobook and Kindle book useful. For a book like "Gravity's Rainbow", the audio helped me get through it, but it wasn't sufficient. I frequently followed along in the Kindle version.

You'll also need some reference material. I used the Gravity's Rainbow Wiki...not the Wikipedia one, but this site, which has info on all things Thomas Pynchon: http://gravitys-rainbow.pynchonwiki.c...
This wasn't particularly satisfactory as a resource, but it was better than nothing. There are some books available, such as Steven Weisenburger's "A Gravity's Rainbow Companion", but my library didn't have this, so I settled for the Wiki.

The Wiki had some information, but it was extremely difficult to navigate, and lots of references were missing. For example, towards the end of the book, there was a guy named Zhlubb. I know enough Yiddish to know this is an unattractive, boorish, or dumb person, but the Wiki didn't even mention it.

Worse, you have to dig to find anything. The page-by-page reference guide left a lot of stuff out.

There was a page of German translations, but more than half the German words used weren't there, and I had to search for them.

3. You most likely won't understand a lot of the obscure references, even if you research them while you read. If you research every single word you don't know, you'll never finish the book.

There are multiple references to European and American history and popular culture. There's lots of information about various mystical traditions.

Also there are words in multiple languages---German, Herero (an African language), French, Spanish, and Russian, among others.

Pynchon also loves neologisms. Obviously, you won't find these made up words in any reference material. That throws even more confusion into the mix.

So don't get too bogged down in knowing everything. Just concentrate on getting through the book.

4. This may be the kind of book, that like "Ulysses", needs multiple readings. (However, unlike with "Ulysses", I may not have the patience or the desire to read it again).

5. This book is definitely NOT for the faint hearted or easily offended. It's filled with cheerfully obscene language (and lots of it), violence (although not nearly as much as other books), ethnic jokes, scatalogical jokes, petty criminals and generally amoral characters, drinking, drugging---including smoking marijuana, taking amphetamines and psychomimetics (LSD didn't exist yet), shooting heroine and snorting and shooting cocaine. (I did wonder how much of the endless drug taking was historically accurate or if Pynchon was imposing the 60s drug culture on a World War II background. Maybe it doesn't matter, since this is basically Pynchon's hallucinatory fantasy set in a World War II and postwar background. But--the book does seem to be historically accurate in other respects, so maybe the drug scene is too.).

There is also grossness of every kind (example: in one very funny dinner scene, some characters are making up disgusting alliterative food names such as "Vomit Vichyssoise". The scene is quite humorous if you take it in the right spirit, although a lot of it's admittedly the kind of stuff children would laugh at, so it's both irritating and comical.).

Plus there is loads and loads of exuberant sex. Many of the characters are totally amoral and will do it with (just about anything) that moves. There are graphic descriptions of just about any kind of sex imaginable: anal, oral, heterosexual, homosexual, transvestite, sadomasochism, necrophilia, sex with young people, sex with old people, etc. There is also lots of pedophilia (and sex with children). That seems to be Pynchon's particular favorite. It's not surprising that Nabokov was Pynchon's writing teacher in college. And Pynchon has few filters, so he writes whatever comes into his mind without inhibition. No wonder he avoids public appearances. Can you imagine him being interviewed on CNN?

In one humorous scene (I think Pynchon makes fun of himself a lot), Slothrop, the main character, feels lust towards a pig. Fortunately, bestiality seems to be the only place where Pynchon draws the line. Slothrop does NOT have sex with the pig.

6. This is not easy reading by a long shot. The already confusing plot with multiple characters and historical/literary references is made even more confusing by the fact that in many cases one or more characters may or may not be the same person. Example: we find out that Blicero is the same as Weissmann, but are Ilse and Bianca (two little girls) the same person? Is Katje also Margherita? Famous film director Gustav von Goll adopts the alias Der Springer when he becomes a big time postwar black marketer. In many cases, as in the world of a psychotic, it's unclear whether two characters are actually different people or aspects of the same person.

One website describes Pynchon as "bat shit insane". I think that's entirely possible. It's also possible that he was "under the influence" of some intoxicant the entire time he was writing this.

So---you may very well ask---why did I even bother to read this book and even give it four stars?

I read the book because I read The Crying of Lot 49 many years ago and became a Pynchon fan of sorts.

In fact, I would recommend that you read a shorter Pynchon book, like "The Crying of Lot 49" first before tackling "Gravity's Rainbow", to see if you can even stand reading Pynchon. His hallucinatory writing style is not everyone's cup of tea, to put it mildly.


Ok. Now, I'll attempt to give you a "summary", which is laughably impossible for a work as meandering and cryptic as this.

The book is largely (on a surface level) about World War II German rockets: their design and creation, the rocket launches, etc. I think the title is meant to describe a rocket (although that's one of many things in the book that isn't entirely clear). Pynchon calls the rocket the "World's Biggest Phallus" or something along those lines. That type of humorous sexual symbolism is very Pynchonesque. Pynchon is also quite a geek. There are lots of very technical discussions of rocket engineering and other scientific topics. I admit that even though I'm a geek myself I didn't always completely understand the technical stuff. Of course, Pynchon's tendency towards make believe (even in technical matters), makes it even more confusing. I have found, though, that most of his scientific and technical discussions are based in fact. It's just that he inserts a made up term here and there just to have some fun.

Most of the action of the novel takes place in Europe, although there are glimpses of Africa and America as well.

The novel begins in London towards the end of World War II (1944 I think).

We are introduced to several minor characters in the beginning---"Pirate" Prentice, Osbie Feel, and Teddy Bloat (don't you love the names?) They might all live in the same house (this, like much else in this novel, is unclear). Prentice is famous for cooking with bananas, which he grows in a hothouse on his roof. All of these guys are shadowy characters, whose roles in the war are unclear. (I've read some speculation that Osbie Feel might be Pynchon himself, but I wonder if Slothrop--see below--might be Pynchon).

Our "hero" (well, not really a hero at all but the main character) is Tyrone Slothrop, an American soldier from Massachusetts stationed in London. Slothrop is a real head case. This is understandable, since, apparently a shadowy "They" (the government? academia?) have been doing clandestine psychological and psychosexual experiments on him since he was a baby. Also, his father was always trying to kill him, and his mother was an alcoholic. We see him working in an office with his British buddy Tantivy, making maps of locations the German bombs are hitting. Apparently these locations coincide with the residences of the many London girls Slothrop's slept with. He's quite the ladies' man and apparently, too, the "kiss of death" (although he's not aware that he is). It seems that a German rocket lands wherever he's had sex (and in Slothrop's case, that's a lot of places).

Anyway, Slothrop ends up in the "White Visitation", a former mental hospital that's been converted to a facility for wartime psychological research. There is a so-called "PSI Unit" there that includes a bunch of people with unusual talents, like clairvoyants, psychometrists, mediums, etc. There are also some more traditional scientists, including Pavlovian Dr. Pointsman, who does experiments on dogs and other animals (including an Octopus named Grigoriy) and Roger Mexico, a young statistician, who's mapping the frequency of the German bombings based on statistical distributions.

Mexico has a love affair with Jessica Swanlake, who's in some arm of the British military (ATS?) even though she's already affianced to another man, Jeremy "The Beaver". He sees Jessica fixing her bicycle on the roadside and offers her a ride (which is how they meet cute).

Anyway, at the "White Visitation" the sinister staff are doing more experiments on Slothrop. Notably, they are administering truth serum and interviewing him on subjects like racial tension in the U.S.

BTW, Pynchon uses the color white a lot throughout the book to symbolize death (as it does in many cultures). He uses the color black (paradoxically) in the same way. Black leader Enzian is considering suicide.

Slothrop, as a result of his "contributions" at the White Visitation is allowed to go on leave (in Southern France I think). He meets Dutch blonde bombshell Katje at a casino there. Katje has escaped from the evil sadomasochistic German Blicero who is in charge of a German rocket installation in Holland. Blicero turns out to be--or may be--Major Weissmann, whose commentaries and notebooks figure importantly in the book. (Pynchon loves puzzles, and stories within stories within stories). Blicero casts Katje and Gottfried (they look alike) as Hansel and Gretel in his bizarre sexual fantasies which they act out. Katje is, again, one of those people with a shadowy past and present. Is she a spy? A double agent?

Slothrop has an affair with Katje (he has an affair with nearly every attractive female he meets, actually). One day, his room is robbed and everything (his clothes and papers) are gone.

He escapes and somehow gets new clothes and fake papers. He then goes AWOL. Since he's effectively lost his American identity, he can never return home.

The rest of the book follows Slothrop as he drifts aimlessly through "The Zone" (which is what post-War Europe is called). Like everyone else, he is forced to survive on petty crime.

There are endless characters and subplots, some more important than others.

One subplot involves Slothrop's meeting with Geli Tripping (great name again!) a pretty young witch who is in love with Russian officer Tchitcherine. Slothrop sleeps with Geli, of course. She then sets out to search for her missing lover Tchitcherine.

Another subplot introduces us to Leni who is unhappily married to Franz Pokler, a German rocket engineer. She finally leaves him, with their child, Ilse. Both Leni and Ilse apparently end up in the camps, as Leni is a communist (and may be part Jewish? unclear).

In still another subplot, Slothrop, dressed in a Rocketman costume, is kidnapped by Argentinians (aided by Tchitcherine) while he is delivering a huge shipment of hashish. The kidnappers stick him in a stolen German U-Boat. Here he meets Margherita Erdmann (Greta) with whom he has an ardent affair. Greta likes to be whipped. She is looking for her lost daughter, Bianca. Both Slothrop and Margherita end up on the Anubis (a ship named for the Egyptian god of the dead). There are orgies on board the Anubis. Margherita's husband is also on board the Anubis.

Still another secondary character is Thanatz, obviously named after Thanatos, the Greek god of the dead.

A different subplot involves the African Herero tribe and their leader Enzian. A group of them are living in Germany as the Schwartzcommando, a group of black Africans fighting for the Nazis.

Another minor subplot introduces Takeshi and Ichizo, two manic Japanese kamikaze pilots.

In one of many "stories within the story" we hear the tale of an immortal light bulb---yes, a light bulb!!--named Byron. (Is this a humorous reference to the British romantic poet?)

Slothrop eventually ends up back in Berlin. Berlin (and all of post-war Europe) has become a stewpot of decadence. People live in the streets and inhabit burn out buildings and abandoned houses. Prostitution, drugging of all types, all forms of sexual decadence, and petty crime (drug dealing, black marketeering, etc.) have become the norm. This is not surprising, as it's now the only way to survive. His friends there are the very aged (but spry) dope dealer Saure and lovelies Trudi and Magda. He also briefly lives with Margherita.

There are numerous other subplots and endless characters. As I said, in many cases two or more characters may be the same person and it's often difficult to tell.

It's like living inside a schizophrenic's nightmares. It also sometimes felt like this novel was written in a psychotic's secret inner language that the reader couldn't possibly understand.

But--it's kind of fun to read.

Large sections of the novel are just hilarious.

There's a scene where Slothrop drops a mouth harp down a toilet (in Boston or New York) and dives in to retrieve it. It's described in nightmarish detail and hilarious magic realism.

The book is filled with endless songs and poems (some hidden, some not), many quite humorous.


"My Doper's Cadenza" sung by Bodine, an American service man.

There's an abundance of funny scenes (although much of the humor is gallows humor, toilet humor, or sexual humor).

Example: Elderly Berliner Saure wants to know why Americans say "Ass backwards", when, he points out, asses are always backwards. Shouldn't they be saying "ass forwards"?

Another example: Dr. Pointsman (then Roger's boss) is trying to capture a stray dog for his experiments. Roger and Pointsman are at a bombed-out house in or around London. Pointsman gets his foot stuck in a porcelain toilet bowl, and cannot extricate himself. He is forced to limp around with the toilet bowl clamped to his foot while the dog escapes.

In another weirdly funny scene, a giant adenoid digests a London neighborhood.

Just about everyone loses their loved ones, either because love falls apart or so many people die in the war and its aftermath.

In fact, the precariousness of their existence probably accounts for a lot of the decadent behavior. These are people living with the possibility of death all the time. No wonder they drink, drug, and sex themselves into oblivion.

The main subject of the novel actually seems to be death in its many varieties and the destructiveness of war. To Pynchon, I think, even sex and excrement are metaphors for death.

Pynchon's political insight is almost prescient. He maintains (possibly correctly) that there really were no "sides" in World War II, but that there was actually collaboration between the so-called "enemies". The real Fascist rulers are corporations and greed, which know no boundaries. We can easily see that multi-national corporations run the world today. So it seems, Pynchon called that one correctly.

Also, Pynchon's Allies are committing atrocities nearly as bad as those done by the Germans. Many of the experiments done at The White Visitation are pretty awful.

In Pynchon's postwar world, no one seems to have much allegiance to their country or to the Axis or Allies anymore anyway. People colloborate across boundaries for profit and survival.

Also, the fighting has supposedly ended in the postwar "Zone". But we find out that's not true.

I didn't give this 5 stars, because I think it falls short of being a great book.

Ulysses was also faulted for "obscenity" although by comparison to Pynchon, Joyce seems like Mother Theresa. Joyce also loved to use obscure literary and historical references. He also loved popular culture.

But there the similarity ends.

"Ulysses" is a much greater book than "Gravity's Rainbow" because Leopold Bloom, Molly, and Stephen Dedalus somehow resonate with us. They are "everyman" and "everywoman" (although they are, of course, very specific characters). The point is, we connect with them as humans. Bloom is a kind and lonely man. I also thought "Ulysses" was a far more coherent book than "Gravity's Rainbow". "Gravity's Rainbow" is a bit of a shaggy dog story, although the ending does (sort of) wrap things up--if not nicely, at least in a way that kind of makes sense.

In "Gravity's Rainbow" there is much less of that feeling of identifying with the characters. We do feel for Slothrop and even like him. He's probably the closest thing to an "everyman" character in the book. Like many others, he is a product of his times. His mind has been warped by all the psycho-experiments done on him (often without his knowledge or consent). But, the amorality, crime, decadence, insanity, and the hallucinatory quality of the entire novel somehow keep us from admiring or identifying with most of the main characters. Blicero is clearly evil. Dr. Pointsman is also villainous. Most of the others are unreliable and untrustworthy. Only Enzian, the black Herero leader, comes across as a decent human being. The others would all "sell their grandmothers up the river for a dime".

Still, "Gravity's Rainbow" is a cautionary tale about the violence of war and its aftermath. Death is its main subject, as I already mentioned. Pynchon seems uncertain of the possibility of life after death, although he does seem to lean towards it. Seances contact the deceased. Even statistician Roger Mexico starts to admit that the PSI researchers may be on to something. So it seems that Pynchon is rejecting the purely logical and materialistic approach to this question.

George Guidall does a brilliant reading of "Gravity's Rainbow". I haven't always liked his audio work in the past, but he does an amazing rendition of this very difficult reading material. He's great at singing the many Pynchonesque tunes, too.
Profile Image for Lisa.
95 reviews157 followers
November 16, 2018
A few weeks ago, a guy at work asked me to look up the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and what I read scared the shit out of me. There's a chapter in my neighbourhood. But how much can you really know about a hermetic order? This guy is constantly name-dropping places I've just been, and circling around my life in a way that is altogether uncanny. I've overheard him say that I work for the FBI. Who's paranoid now? Who's watching who? I've caught myself listening to him across crowded rooms.

This afternoon, he casually mentioned (three times) that he was headed to the library. Well, shit. That was my plan too. Did he know? I can't let him control my life, can I? But when I saw him stalk through the entrance, fists clenched as ever, I fled between the stacks. Good work, agent. Don't mess up.


There, in the last pages of Gravity's Rainbow, the Order of the Golden Dawn surfaces. I paled. You can run but you cannot hide.

(What if he finds this review?)

I think Pynchon is starting to get to me.
Profile Image for Christopher.
265 reviews87 followers
November 16, 2018
Disclaimer 1) I am skeptical of disclaimers because I am a painfully aware of self-as-persona, authorial presence.
Disclaimer 2) I willingly admit that I have no idea what the hell I just read.
Disclaimer 3) I did not read this with a companion text, [if that's totally prerequisite for enjoyment then, really?] though I did find myself occasionally using the Pynchon Wiki, and googTranslate.
Disclaimer 4) This was my first read and a re-read has already been scheduled. Will probably Vineland and loop back before Mason & Dixon. Truth be told, I'm itching to get to Against the Day, but smart people have reminded me not to wish away time.

<<'We have to talk in some kind of code, naturally,' continues the Manager. 'We always have. But none of the codes is that hard to break. Opponents have accused us, for just that reason, of contempt for the people. But really we do it all in the spirit of fair play. We're not monsters. We know we have to give them some chance. We can't take hope away from them, can we?'>> (756)

So, my thing is that this feels Modernist because he's doing some things with form that fly in the face of conventional, well, reading. You understand each word, but often by the end of the sentence you have no idea what you just read. Or you read clear, lucid prose which progresses across originary syntax in such a way that you're doubting your previous dubeity of grasp. You're reading a book that "takes place" in and around WWII, but has little to do with the actual war. You're reading about the machinations of nation-states as organizational blueprints for power cabals, as necessary for civil society over against distributions entropic [wave-function-perceived-as-arbitrary-therefore-meaningless].

<<'I wonder if you people aren't a bit too--well, strong, on the virtues of analysis. I mean, once you've taken it all apart, fine, I'll be the first to applaud your industry. But other than a lot of bits and pieces lying about, what have you said?'>> (88)

So there's the obvious objections: a) what the nuts? b) he's totally screwing with me? c) even working hard, this is inscrutable? d) I heard this was a Paul Bryant one-star?

Well, we can level those at most modern, post-modern and whatever-the-hell-we're-in-now, art. But it is neither productive nor interesting since R. Mutt. There's no way out of the argumentative loop because the opponents function with different aesthetic first premises. And within some people, the battle will be one of a Divided-Self, the anti-paranoid [he hu sez he like it und he get it] and the paranoid [he who, married to reason, thinks that he's being intellectually cockholded {sic}]. That being said, this book is not for everybody.

"If there is something comforting--religious, if you want--about paranoia, there is also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long...Either They have put him here for a reason, or he's just here." (434)

So here's my attempt to articulate the one thing that I either came away with, or fabricated as a natural coping mechanism as against my own inadequacy as an understander:

Using the conventional notion of paranoid, the reader thinks "I should be getting something from this, but I'm not getting what I think I should be, so I bet this is just one long pisstake on all those egg-head intellectuals: you put any piece of shit out there and they will not only swallow, they will savor it [here's lookin' atchu Pudding]." But Pynchon shows us that paranoia actually requires a network that's REALLY THERE, either physically or psychosomatically. Either you merely think They are out to get you, or They actually are out to get you. Both prongs of the disjunction elicit the same response, vis Pascal's wager, so there is no positive distinction to be made. The reader's disconnection notice, insofar as it engenders Pynchonian anti-paranoia, is turning the sock inside out: the very charge of illogicality requires a logical framework. Both a self-deconstruction and a self-destruction, both aware of themselves as such.

"What appears to be destruction is really the shaping of railroad spaces to other purposes, intentions he can only, riding through it for the first time, begin to feel the leading edges of..." (257)

So where does this leave us? Strap on rocket 00000. Don't worry if Tyrone Slothrop is meant to be an anagram for Thomas Pynchon [not by a back-of-the-envelope calculation {B-but what if it is a partial, or suggestive of a partial, anagram?}] or that every-man-is-a-lazy [slothful=slothropian?!?] Fool. Just stop that [and I'll stop worrying about the faulty parallelism in the previous sentence]. Sit back in your brand new Imipolex robe and enjoy the ride. Leave the thinking for the 00001 and all subsequent rocket rides.
Profile Image for Arthur Graham.
Author 70 books646 followers
July 4, 2015

1 star for readers who require things like "plot" and "accessibility" in their books — silly readers!

2 stars for readers who just don't "get it".

3 stars for readers who probably also don't get it, but would rather not infuriate 1-star and 5-star readers by rating too low or too high.

4 stars for readers who value writing over narrative, plus more erections (both literal and figurative) than you can shake a stick at.

5 stars for TRUE masochists and/or readers who may just wish to appear hipper/smarter than they actually are.

I get all the criticisms this book receives, I really do, but I'm glad that it was written and I'm glad I got the chance to read it (thanks, Jenn). If writing is the ultimate act of self-pleasure, then this one certainly qualifies as masturbatory, but that's not necessarily such a bad thing and it's not as if I'd have room to talk anyway.

Still, if you gave me a box of pens and a box of tissues, and then locked me in a room with nothing else but skin mags and blank notebooks, I’d be lying if I told you that I’d run out of pens before tissues! The nice thing about writing is that you actually get to share it with other people when you’re done, which usually doesn’t go over so well with spent bodily fluids, but ideally you don’t want readers walking away from your book with the sneaking suspicion that they've just spent untold hours of their lives watching you masturbate.

Which I'm not sayin' Pynchon does; I'm just sayin'.
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