Monday, December 13, 2004


Below are various observations on "Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering," which I finished a couple weeks ago.

It's only in this part of the book that Slothrop emerges as the protagonist, as opposed to just one of a number of major characters. And when the focus is on Slothrop in "Un Perm'," as it is most of the time, everything else is in the background; the everything-in-the foreground technique Pynchon used in "Beyond the Zero," which I talked about here (scroll down to Nov. 4), is only used in "Perm" when Slothrop is absent.

Just as "Beyond the Zero" was grounded in material reality (discussed here, under Oct. 26), the conspiratorial flights in "Perm" are built on a detailed foundation of economic and political reality. The brief appearance of the Argentinian anarchist Squalidozzi, for instance, becomes a pretext for Pynchon to dilate on Argentinian politics and society (pp. 305-7, Bantam edition).

In line with my earlier thoughts about Pointsman being the most psychologically developed character in the book (the post in the first reference above), we have the poem Pointsman wrote (263-4), which I'd forgotten about. As far as I can remember, Pointsman is the only character who we see doing anything like this: the songs the characters sing are all "already there" in the world of the book, if I'm not mistaken. And it's a poem written from the point of view of a historical figure -- again, a parallel with Pynchon himself. What is Pynchon doing with Pointsman? Is being psychologically complex an indicator of corruption?

The complicated and virtually impossible to follow intrigue surrounding the tank described on p. 287 are an anticipatory parody of the conspiracies Pynchon will soon be describing.

I once said that Gravity's Rainbow could be said to have a musical structure, with motifs that keep reappearing. One of these motifs is midgets. They show up a couple of times in "Beyond the Zero," and they're mentioned in "Un Perm'" on pp. 291 and 301 here. But why midgets?

This quote, from Slothrop's point of view when he is on the run, seems very timely today given the nature of our occupation of Iraq: "American voices, country voices, high-pitched and without mercy.... For possibly the first time he is hearing America as it must sound to a non-American. Later he will recall that what surprised him most was the fanaticism, the reliance not just on flat force but on the rightness of what they planned to do" (298; emphasis Pynchon's)

I know I said I wasn't going to quote passages just to say "this is great," but here's one I can't resist: "[railroad] marshaling-yards whose rails run like layers of an onion cut end to end" (299). Not flashy, but startlingly apt.

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