Friday, December 24, 2004


I'm on the verge of the long Franz Pokler segment, and this seems a good time to take stock of my reading of "In the Zone" so far. "In the Zone" is by far the longest of Gravity's Rainbow's four "parts" (390 pages in the Bantam edition), taking up nearly half the book. And in a way, it feels like "In the Zone" is where Gravity's Rainbow really begins; "Beyond the Zero" and "Un Perm'" both have the atmosphere of prologues. But at the same time, "In the Zone" feels disconnected from the two earlier parts. Except for Slothrop, all the major characters of the earlier parts vanish, or play only minor roles, in "In the Zone"; and Slothrop himself plays a different role, as Pynchon gradually deflates the image of Slothrop as heroic seeker of truth that "Un Perm'" had established.

In the section with Tchitcherine in Central Asia, there's another important passage for the book's worldview. It's in the words of one of the spirits Blobidjian meets on the "other side": "See: how they [molecules] are taken out from the coarse flow--shaped, cleaned, rectified, just as you once redeemed your letters from the lawless, the mortal streaming of human speech" (413-4). The key word in this passage is "mortal." Read in conjunction with the speech by Webley that I called attention to earlier (scroll down to Dec. 10), what's being implied is that any attempt to "shape," refine or analyze the "mortal streaming" of experience, whether through writing, chemistry, or technology in general, aligns one with "Death the Impersonator." In fact, the main point of the whole Central Asia sequence is to present writing itself as a tool of Death the Impersonator. With this in mind, we can now go back to a question I asked earlier when noting that Pointsman was the most psychologically complex of all the characters so far, "does having a complex character imply corruption?" and see that the answer is "yes." For to have a complex character is to analyze one's emotions, instead of just being submerged in their stream.

Of course, Pynchon himself is hardly guiltless by this standard. Gravity's Rainbow is a massive piece of writing (whose publication consumed large quantities of the paper whose manufacture will later condemn: 644); one could even think of it as a monument to writing. And while Pynchon may have attempted to cram as much experience into it as possible, this experience is "shaped" and "cleaned" through his prose as much as any synthetic molecule. In fact, Pynchon himself alludes to his own implication in what he condemns. He does so when Ombindi, the leader of the Empty Ones, is introduced, when he says "looks like Ombindi's trying to make believe the Christian sickness never touched us, when everyone knows it has infected us all, some to death." (371) And later, in "The Counterforce," a "spokesman" for the Counterforce says "I am betraying them all . . . the worst of it is that I know what your editors want, exactly what they want. I am a traitor. I carry it with me. Your virus" (862; ellipsis Pynchon's). This may tie in with my suggestion earlier that Pointsman may be a distorted self-portrait of Pynchon. Of course, admitting that one is inconsistent doesn't make the inconsistency go away.

More later.

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