Friday, January 07, 2005


I'm currently in the middle of the Anubis section. This is a problematic section, and I haven't yet got my thoughts on it together, so I'll take this opportunity to tie up a couple of loose ends.

In two earlier posts (Dec. 10 and 24) I referred casually to "Death the impersonator," a key concept in Gravity's Rainbow, without saying what it was, and it occurred to me I should remedy this lapse. The term comes from Walter Rathenau's seance (pp. 194-95 of the Bantam edition), where he uses it to refer to the creation and proliferation of structures that are dead but mimic life: "The persistence, then, of structures favoring death. Death converted into more death. Perfecting its reign, just as the buried coal grows denser, and overlaid with more strata--epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city. This is the sign of Death the impersonator." (195) Among these structures are states, cities, cartels, and synthetic molecules: this last is why Pynchon uses organic chemistry to stand for science and technology in general.

One aspect of Gravity's Rainbow that had confused me in previous readings I think I now have straight. I had assumed that since Pynchon was anti-science and anti-technology, he therefore looked positively upon the mysticism and spiritualism in the book. But in fact, these are also bad in Pynchon's scheme. The "other side" works to advance Death the impersonator, and mysticism is shown as a means by which Mondaugen and Fahringer rationalize their participation in the Rocket (469ff, 529-30). From this perspective, Leni's espousal of mysticism is a further reason not to see her simply as one of the "good guys."


A couple days ago, I rented the Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence DVD and watched it. As I predicted, the film's impact is greatly diminished on the small screen. As partial compensation, you get a commentary track by director Mamoru Oshii and Toshihiko Nishikubo, the animation director (which was the main reason I rented the DVD, having seen the film itself twice already). This commentary track is a conversation between the two (in Japanese with English subtitles), in which they re-view the film with a critical eye, focusing primarily on details of animation. They don't just preen themselves, as on some commentary tracks (e.g. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?--at least the portion of that track I listened to). Nor do they talk down to their listeners; indeed, they seem unconscious of their listeners. If you're interested at all in animation per se, either cel or CGI, you'll definitely want to listen to this. On the other hand, if you're looking for some explication of the movie's themes, you won't find that on the commentary track at all. There are a few cryptic hints in the making-of featurette and the Japanese trailer (assuming the latter was written by Oshii).

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