Thursday, November 04, 2004


A few notes on my reading since last time (I'm now a few pages into "Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering"):

The portrayal of Pointsman is surprisingly empathetic for one of the bad guys. In fact, so far he's the most psychologically rounded character. What we've seen of other characters' psychologies has been basically determined by their function in the book, and in Pynchon's schema. But there's no functional reason for us to know Pointsman's psychology in such depth, at least none apparent so far: no reason, for instance, for us to be told in detail what Pointsman was dreaming when the news of Spectro's death arrived. I can't help wondering if Pynchon is here portraying his own "dark side," especially with the depiction of Pointsman's Nobel Prize ambitions (though, of course, this is a completely ungrounded speculation).

Talking about Pointsman's dream brings to mind a peculiar aspect of Pynchon's technique. Most novels, whether written from a first-person, third-person, or omnipotent perspective, have a "foreground" and a "background," so to speak: events, characters and settings in the foreground are described in detail, while those in the background are merely sketched roughly. But this doesn't appear to be true of Gravity's Rainbow. The dreams and fantasies of minor characters are described with as much specificity and detail as are the doings of the protagonists. It's as if Pynchon is trying to abolish the distinction between important and unimportant details--or elite and preterite details, to use his own terminology--and get everything in.

In the flahshback to Weimar Berlin, Leni Pokler (there should be an umlaut over the "o") refers in her thoughts to a Jewish woman's "Judenschnautze" [sic]. "Schnautze," whith that spelling, is not in the German-English dictionaries I looked at, but "Schnauze" means muzzle or snout; and the passage in which this term occurs describes this woman in animalistic terms. Of course I am not accusing Pynchon of anti-Semitism: it is clearly Leni, not Pynchon, who thinks in this way. But all the same, this is a passage that has always disturbed me, since according to the book's schema Leni should be a sympathetic character: she's left-wing, hangs out with spiritualists and believes in synchronicity, whereas her husband Franz will work for the Nazis, is an engineer and believes in cause-and-effect. However, rereading that whole Weimar section, I now find myself more sympathetic to Franz than to Leni, who comes off as censorious and ungenerous.

Whether this was Pynchon's intention or not, I don't know. But now that I come to think of it, nowhere in the book as far as I can recall does Pynchon display any affinity for socialism or communism; politically, he comes across as an anarchist if anything. In any case, now that I can feel myself free to dislike Leni, the "Judenschnautze" line doesn't bother me so much. (On the other hand, this makes Pynchon's treatment of women look worse.) I'm still a bit uneasy, however, about the role of Jews, or rather their non-role, in the book in general; but this is something I'll get to later.

(Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that Pynchon has to pass a litmus test of "inclusivity" of women and Jews in order to be considered great. I'm just describing my reactions. On the other hand, I think our evaluation of his treatment of women and Jews has to affect our judgment of the book as a whole; but again, this is something I'll discuss later, if at all.)

The final section of "Beyond the Zero" was a bit of an anticlimax. I'm not a huge fan of Pynchon's songs in general, and the pantomime song doesn't make much sense, either in itself or as something that an actress would sing to comfort an audience of frightened children. Besides, when I read it now I can't help thinking of the parody of this scene in My Little Blue Dress by Bruno Maddox. (I don't remember if I've blogged about this book or not; if not, I should.) And the Roger-Jessica scene which ends the section doesn't work for me, for the same reasons that the earlier ones didn't.

The mention of "Qlippoth" in this section (205, Bantam edition) reminds me, though: those of you who think Grant Morrison is way cool owe it to yourselves to read Gravity's Rainbow. This is where Morrison got it from, either directly or indirectly (and my money would be on the former). And come to think of it, isn't Danny the Street a direct descendant of Byron the Bulb?

This isn't all I have to say about "Beyond the Zero," but I think I'll stop here and post what I've written so far.

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