November 20, 2006



Oh, my turn. I'm delighted that no one cited the English candy scene from Gravity's Rainbow. And then there's the vaguely remembered but still funny taffy pull scene. The chain sex orgy on the boat, the over-the-top espionage slapstick featuring Katja and Grigori the Octopus, the oversized oneiric adenoid plaguing the dreams of Pirate Prentice - there's more funny in a page of Pynchon than a season of SNL.

I also love the increasingly silly epigraphs that accompany each part of Gravity's Rainbow. If I recall correctly, the first part quotes Werner von Braun on the possibility of eternal life ("Nature knows nothing of extinction, only transformation"). The last section, "The Counterforce," is accompanied by a quotation from Richard Nixon: What?

R. Casanova

Two highlights:
the ricocheting aerosol can in the motel toilet after Oedipa's reverse strip (in 'Lot 49);
and the long section in Gravity's Rainbow where Roger and Jessica attend a Christmas church service somewhere in Kent - one of the most moving sequences in modern literature.


I started my first trip into Gravity's Rainbow as a sophmore at UC Santa Cruz (during the time when Pynchon was supposedly living in the area) but I finished it the next year as an exchange student in Goettingen, Germany, about 100 miles from the Harz Mountains. The scene that grabbed me then was Slothrop and Leni sitting on that mountain top, casting their giant shadows on the clouds. It felt like Pynchon had knowingly wrapped me up in the narrative.


Early in Vineland, a commercial flight to Hawaii is intercepted by a UFO and boarded by its occupants. To some on board the plane, this is entirely routine. To others, it is reason to break into song, and the song is cover for an escape. I love the musical moments in Pynchon's novels, but this is probably my favorite.

Also extremely early in one of his novels, the description of banana breakfast in Gravity's Rainbow is one that sticks with me. The endless variety of the menu, and that he wrote so much about a single ingredient, remaining funny and vibrant, not boring, is astounding. He'd have won Iron Chef, Writer's Edition.

Wax Banks

'They are in love. Fuck the war.'

In my world, those seven words are what literature is for. Whenever I think about Pynchon, the ludicrous run-on sentences, the smart-alecky carnival-barker asides, the goddamn limericks, the coprophagia and calculus, it all comes back to Roger and Jessica.

Ric Marion

So many things stick, but the oddity of observation is what claws at your mind - thinking "How does he do that?"
From '49' - The house numbers were in the 70,000's - Oedipa had never seen them so large.
and of course, the radio station - KCUF - In the early '70's, that word was not spoken in polite company - if at all.


OMG ... what a plethora. Kudos to the first commenter for nailing *both* The Disgusting English Candy Drill *and* the Giant Adenoid. Both wet-your-pants hysterical. I used to force my friends to read the candy scene aloud until we were collapsing on the floor in hysterics. "Cubeb? Slothrop used to *smoke* that stuff ... like a journey to the center of a small, hostile planet ... " Unbelievably funny. And the Adenoid scene is also a pitch-perfect evocation of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds: "It's like a stupendous *nose*, sucking snot ... " before the cable breaks and the observation balloon is lost ...

In V. it would have to be that brief interlude when Profane, reading a copy of "Existentialist Sheriff" given him by Bodine on a night shift guard duty at a research lab, is confronted by SHOCK (Synthetic Human Object, Casualty Kinematics -- a crash-test dummy) and the even more ominious SHROUD (Synthetic Human, Radiation Output Determined). Pynchon uses this vignette to expose his historical method. (Paraphrasing) "In the 18th century, man was essentially considered clockwork. In the 19th, when thermodynamics was all the rage, man became a heat engine, about 30% efficient. Now, in the age of nuclear physics, man is a thing which absorbs radiation." Both deeply comic-absurd and incredibly disturbing ...

In Lot 49, there are just too many amusing moments -- the advertising exec who wants to do the Buddhist monk thing on the kitchen floor and his wife sneaks in with the efficiency expert she's cheating with: "It took you this long to consider committing suicide? You know how long it would've taken the IBM 1407? Twelve microseconds. No wonder you were replaced!" Or the SF gay bar, where Oedipa gets her "Hi, I'm ARNOLD SNARB and I'm looking for a good time!" name tag. Arnold Snarb, jesus christ :) But nothing's quite like the scene-by-scene description of The Courier's Tragedy: "Act III ended in a refreshingly simple mass stabbing."

Mason & Dixon, for me, would be all the wonderful interludes in the story between the flirtatious cousins Ethelmer, DePugh and the hauntingly-named Tenebrae -- and their oboe-playing Aunt Euphrenia. 'Thelmer's spinet rendition of "To Anacreon in Heavean" (which of course became the Star-Spangled Banner) is a delightful exegesis of both music theory and a theory of insurrection -- connecting Plato's Republic with (as DePugh cheekily suggests) "surf music" :)

In Vineland, I found the parts with Prairie and Che's crush-relationship, as well as DL Chastain's rotten home life to be a quantum leap in character development for Pynchon -- both very moving and well-drawn.

And the most moving thing in all of Pynchon's writing as far as I'm concerned remains the central novella section of GR -- the sad story of Franz and Leni Polker -- which I described in a later thread.



Don't forget the chance meeting between Tchitcherine and Enzian on the road. A-and how about the airborne pie fight, with the Americans singing dirty limericks involving rocket parts? Or the immortal phrase, "Fick nicht mit dem Racketemensch!"

Beanbag Amerika

It is definitely that scene between Tchitcherine and Enzian towards that end of Gravity's Rainbow that has most stuck with me, from all of Pynchon's books. Even now, nearly 17 years after reading it. "This is magic. Sure--but not necessarily fantasy. Certainly not the first time a man has passed his brother by, at the edge of the evening, often forever, without knowing it." On the one hand it's so terribly anti-climactic. But on the other it's such an expansively touching moment, their exchange of "broken German", "half a pack of American cigarettes and three raw potatoes." No violence. And then the sunset over the Zone.


Beanbag & palinode:

Oh absolutely. Even though that little vignette just files by (and is, purely plotwise, entirely "anticlimatic" as climaxes are understood in ordinary narratives), I think it's very close to the heart of the book. And I also think it's one of the novel's few but powerful moments of heart-rending poignancy. It also resolves one of the most important plotlines -- the blind ethnic (and projected self-) hatred that had caused Tchitcherine to nearly annihilate his African half-brother and his never-quite-explicated plans for Rocket 00001.

What makes this passage so important, I think, is a reverie, several pages before, that jump-cuts between perhaps the two most oppositional figures in the book: the adorable apprentice witch Geli Tripping and the literally monstrous Uber-sadist Captain Blicero. In one of Pynchon's patented untelegraphed transitions, the perspective shifts from Geli emptying her mind to recieve the magic she'll need for the later scene, to Blicero pouring the poisoned content of his heart out to his willing victim Gottfried. Astonishingly, the content of the reverie remains continuous. What is different are the interpretations.

The reverie is one of Pynchon's great epiphanic moments where he parts the curtains -- like the seance conjuring Walter Rathenau, Slothrop in the Mittlewerke, Polker's dream of Kekule's benzene-ring Orouboros, various Schwartzkommando episodes -- to reveal his overarching vision:

"... green spring equal nights ... canyons are opening up, at the bottom are steaming fumaroles, steaming the tropical life there like greens in a pot, rank, dope-perfume, a hood of smell ... human consciousness, that poor cripple, that deformed and doomed thing, is about to be born. This is the World just before men. Too violently pitched alive in constant flow ever to be seen by men directly. They are meant only to look at it dead, in still strata, transputrefied to oil or coal. Alive it was a threat: it was Titans. was an overpeaking of life so clangorous and mad, such a green corona about Earth's body that some spoiler *had* to be brought in before it blew the Creation apart. So we, the crippled keepers, were sent out to multiply, to have dominion. God's spoilers. Us. Counterrevolutionaries. *It is our mission to promote death*." (GR 720 Viking ed.)

And from Geli's reverie, into the nub of Blicero's:

"In Africa, Asia, Amerinda, Oceania, Europe came and established its order of Analysis and Death. What it could not use, it killed or altered. In time the death-colonies grew strong enough to break away. But the impulse to empire, the mission to propogate death, the structure of it, kept on. Now we are in the last phase. American Death has come to occupy Europe. It learned empore from its old metropolis. But now we have *only* the structure left us, none of the great rainbow plumes, no fittings of gold, no epic marches over alkali seas. The savages of other continents, corrupted but still resisting in the name of life, have gone on despite everything ... while Death and Europe are separate as ever, their love still unconsummated. Death only rules here. It has never, in love, become *one with*" ... (GR 722-23 Viking ed.)

So Geli Tripping and Captain Blicero, at opposite ends of GR's moral spectrum, each seeking transcendence, have the same key vision of humankind's dark, destructive role in an unmediated Creation.

Geli an honorary (though not explicit) member of the Counteforce, sees "defection" from the role of God's spoilers, in the name of Life, as the way out -- an existentialist resistance against implacable odds. Blicero seeks to become one with the process of systematized death in a singular act of carnal obliteration.

This five pages, for me, are the plexus of Gravity's Rainbow.



Counteforce = Counterforce


empore = empire, This = These

Arrggh = Arrggh


They're not fun, but IMO they are pivotal:

1. The master authorial ending of "V," in which TRP conjures a hole in the sea in which he sinks a ship.

2. In Gravity's Rainbow, Slothrop, after the long, difficult day, returns to his room. When Katje opens the door, he tell her that he "Had no place else to go." A-and crossing the threshold/doorway, we are told that he does so without knowing (or caring?) if it's a precipice.

Andy K

From V.:

Rachel was looking into the mirror at an angle of 45, and so had a view of the face turned toward the room and the face on the other side, reflected in the mirror; here were time and reverse time, co-existing, cancelling one another exactly out. Were there many such reference points, scattered through the world, perhaps only at nodes like this room which housed a transient population of the imperfect, the dissatisfied?

Andy K

From V.:

Rachel was looking into the mirror at an angle of 45, and so had a view of the face turned toward the room and the face on the other side, reflected in the mirror; here were time and reverse time, co-existing, cancelling one another exactly out. Were there many such reference points, scattered through the world, perhaps only at nodes like this room which housed a transient population of the imperfect, the dissatisfied?

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."