Gravity's Rainbow - Wikipedia

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Gravity's Rainbow is a novel by American writer Thomas Pynchon. Lengthy, complex, and featuring a large cast of characters, the narrative is set primarily in Europe at the end of World War II, and centers on the design, production and dispatch of V-2 rockets by the German military. Traversing a wide range of knowledge, Gravity's Rainbow transgresses boundaries between high and low culture, between literary propriety and profanity, and between science and speculative metaphysics.

It shared the U. Time named Gravity's Rainbow one of its "All-Time Greatest Novels", a list of the best English-language novels from to [5] and it is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest American novels ever written.

The novel's title declares its ambition and sets into resonance the oscillation between doom and freedom expressed throughout the book.

An example of the superfluity of meanings characteristic of Pynchon's work during his early years, Gravity's Rainbow refers to:. The name "Beyond the Zero" refers to lack of total extinction of a conditioned stimulus.

The events of this part occur primarily during the Christmas Advent season of from December 18— The epigraph is a quotation from a pamphlet written by the rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and first published in "Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death. The misrepresentation or reinterpretation of identity is reflected in Slothrop's journey as well as the epigraph, attributed to Merian C.

The epigraph is taken from The Wizard of Oz , spoken by Dorothy as she arrives in Oz and shows her disorientation with the new environment: " Toto , I have a feeling we're not in Kansas any more The simple epigraphical quotation, "What? Nixon , and was added after the galleys of the novel had been printed to insinuate the President's involvement in the unfolding Watergate scandal.

The opening pages of the novel follow Pirate Prentice, an employee of the Special Operations Executive , first in his dreams, and later around his house in wartime London.

Pirate's associate Teddy Bloat photographs a map depicting the sexual encounters of U. Army Lt. Each of Slothrop's sexual encounters in London appears to precede a V-2 rocket strike in the same place by several days. Employees of a fictional top secret psychological warfare agency called PISCES, headquartered at a former insane asylum known as "The White Visitation" investigate Slothrop's apparent precognition, including statistician Roger Mexico and Pavlovian behavioral psychologist Edward W.

Pointsman, among others. Slothrop's encounters and the rocket sites match the Poisson Distributions calculated by Roger Mexico, leading to reflections on topics as broad as Determinism, the reverse flow of time, and the sexuality of the rocket itself. Indeed, most of the named characters only make single appearances, serving merely to demonstrate the sheer scope of Pynchon's universe. Slothrop is also submitted to various psychological tests, many involving the drug sodium amytal.

Flashbacks reveal the story of Katje Borgesius, a Dutch double agent who infiltrated a V-2 rocket-launching battery commanded by a sadistic SS officer named Captain Blicero, who kept Katje and a young soldier named Gottfried as sex slaves. Pavlovian conditioning is a recurring topic, mostly explored through the character of Pavlovian researcher Pointsman.

One of the more bizarre Pavlovian episodes involves the conditioning of octopus Grigori to attack Katje. Early in part two, the octopus attacks Katje on the beach in France, and Slothrop is "conveniently" at hand to rescue her. In part two, "Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering ", Slothrop is sent away by his superiors in mysterious circumstances to a casino on the recently liberated French Riviera, in which almost the entirety of Part Two takes place. He is in fact being monitored by associates of Pointsman, including Katje and a linguist named Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck.

Katje and Slothrop have sex after Slothrop rescues her from the octopus. It is hinted at that Slothrop's prescience of rocket hits is due to being conditioned as an infant by the creator of Imipolex G, Laszlo Jamf. Later, the reality of this story is called into question, as is the very existence of Slothrop's original sexual exploits.

Slothrop becomes increasingly paranoid , and begins to suspect he is being monitored. In the closing of Part Two, Katje is revealed to be safe in England, enjoying a day at the beach with Roger Mexico and Jessica, as well as Pointsman, who is in charge of Slothrop's furtive supervision.

While unable to contact Slothrop or prohibited from contacting him , Katje continues to follow his actions through Pointsman. Slothrop's quest continues for some time in Part Three, "In The Zone", as he is chased by other characters. Slothrop meets members of the Schwarzkommando, a fictional cadre of African rocket technicians, descended from survivors of the Herero genocide of who were brought to Europe by German colonials.

An extensive subplot details a schism within the Schwarzkommando; one faction is bent on a program of racial suicide, while the other finds mystical, semi-religious meaning in the V-2 rocket.

Another long subplot details Tchitcherine's quest to hunt and kill his half-brother Enzian, leader of the latter group of Schwarzkommando. Slothrop is briefly involved with a young witch named Geli Tripping, who is in love with Tchitcherine. Later, Slothrop meets and has a brief sexual affair with Margherita Erdmann, a former pornographic film actress and masochist. Originally meeting her in an abandoned film studio in The Zone, he is led on by her to the Anubis , a private yacht filled with uninhibited European aristocrats.

Here, Slothrop has sex with Erdmann's young daughter Bianca, though it is unclear whether or not he has stopped his casual relationship with Margherita by this time. Margherita and Thanatz had brought their traveling sado-masochistic act to Captain Blicero's rocket battery, from which Rocket had apparently been fired in the Spring of , towards the end of the war.

Margherita spent many days in a mysterious and ambiguously described factory, where she was clothed in an outfit made from the "erotic" plastic Imipolex G. Towards the end of this section, several characters not seen since early in the novel make a return, including the book's first character, Pirate Prentice, as well as Roger Mexico.

Slothrop spends much of Part Three in various disguises, first as an English war correspondent, then as his invented alter-ego Rocketman, wearing an operatic Viking costume with the horns removed from the helmet, making it look like a rocket nose-cone.

Rocketman completes various tasks for his own and others' purposes, including retrieving a large stash of hashish from the centre of the Potsdam Conference. This continues until he leaves the region for northern Germany, continuing his quest for the , as well as answers to his past.

It becomes steadily apparent that Slothrop is connected to Laszlo Jamf through Lyle Bland, a Slothrop family friend who apparently played a role in funding Jamf's experiments on the infant Slothrop. Slothrop later returns to the Anubis to find Bianca dead, a possible trigger for his impending decline.

He continues his pilgrimage through northern Germany, at various stages donning the identities of a German actor, a Russian soldier, and mythical Pig Hero, while in search of more information on his childhood and the He is repeatedly sidetracked until his persona fragments totally in part four, despite the efforts of some to save him.

Throughout "The Counterforce", there are several brief, hallucinatory stories, of superheroes, silly Kamikaze pilots, and immortal sentient lightbulbs. These are presumed to be the product of Slothrop's finally collapsed mind. The final identification of him of any certainty is his picture on the cover of an album by obscure English band "The Fool" another allusion to Tarot, which becomes increasingly significant , where he is credited as playing the harmonica and kazoo.

At the same time, other characters' narratives begin to collapse as well, with some characters taking a bizarre trip within a shared dream and another encountering the god Pan. Much of Part Four takes place within the presumably hallucinated "Raketen-Stadt", a fascist futuristic dystopia.

Slothrop's storyline disintegrates before the novel's end, which focuses more on the , and the people associated with its construction and launch namely Blicero, Enzian, and Gottfried, amongst others. At this point, the novel also concludes many characters' stories, including those of Mexico, Pointsman, and Pirate, leaving only the As the novel closes, many topics are discussed by the various protagonists around the world, ranging from Tarot cards to Death itself.

The narrative jumps forward in time to the s, where a character named "Richard M. Zhlubb" operates a Los Angeles theater. The story of the 's launch is largely told in flashbacks by the narrator, while in the present Enzian is constructing and preparing its successor, the which isn't fired within the scope of the novel , though it is unknown who is intended to be sacrificed in this model.

In the flashbacks, the maniacal Captain Blicero prepares to assemble and fire the , and asks Gottfried to sacrifice himself inside the rocket. The text halts, in the middle of a song composed by Slothrop's ancestor, with a complete obliteration of narrative as the lands or is about to land on a cinema.

Many facts in the novel are based on technical documents relating to the V-2 rockets. Equations featured in the text are correct. References to the works of Pavlov , Ouspensky , and Jung are based on Pynchon's research. The firing command sequence in German that is recited at the end of the novel is also correct and is probably copied verbatim from the technical report produced by Operation Backfire.

The secret military organizations practicing occult warfare have an historical backdrop in the Ahnenerbe and other Nazi mysticism , whereas the Allied counterparts were limited to certain individuals such as Louis de Wohl 's work for MI5. Additionally, the novel uses many actual events and locations as backdrops to establish chronological order and setting within the complex structure of the book. Examples include the appearance of a photograph of Wernher von Braun in which his arm is in a cast.

Historical documents indicate the time and place of an accident which broke von Braun's arm, thereby providing crucial structural details around which the reader can reconstruct Slothrop's journey. Another example is the inclusion of a BBC Radio broadcast of a Benny Goodman performance, the contents of which, according to historical record, were broadcast only once during the period of the novel and by which the events immediately surrounding its mention are fixed.

Poet L. Sissman , in his Gravity's Rainbow review for The New Yorker , said of Pynchon: "He is almost a mathematician of prose, who calculates the least and the greatest stress each word and line, each pun and ambiguity, can bear, and applies his knowledge accordingly and virtually without lapses, though he takes many scary, bracing linguistic risks.

Thus his remarkably supple diction can first treat of a painful and delicate love scene and then roar, without pause, into the sounds and echoes of a drudged and drunken orgy.

The plot of the novel is complex, containing over characters and involving many different threads of narrative which intersect and weave around one another. Gravity's Rainbow also draws heavily on themes that Pynchon had probably encountered at his work as a technical writer for Boeing , where he edited a support newsletter for the Bomarc Missile Program support unit.

The Boeing archives are known to house a vast library of historical V-2 rocket documents, which were probably accessible to Pynchon. The novel is narrated by many distinct voices, a technique further developed in Pynchon's much later novel Against the Day.

The style and tone of the voices vary widely: Some narrate the plot in a highly informal tone, some are more self-referential, and some might even break the fourth wall.

Some voices narrate in drastically different formats, ranging from movie-script format to stream of consciousness prose. The narrative contains numerous descriptions of illicit sexual encounters and drug use by the main characters and supporting cast, sandwiched between dense dialogues or reveries on historic, artistic, scientific, or philosophical subjects, interspersed with whimsical nonsense-poems and allusions to obscure facets of s pop culture.

Many of the recurring themes will be familiar to experienced Pynchon readers, including the singing of silly songs, recurring appearances of kazoos, and extensive discussion of paranoia. According to Richard Locke, megalomaniac paranoia is the "operative emotion" behind the novel, [16] and an increasingly central motivator for the many main characters.

The novel becomes increasingly preoccupied with themes of Tarot, Paranoia, and Sacrifice. All three themes culminate in the novel's ending, and the epilogue of the many characters. The novel also features the character Pig Bodine , of Pynchon's novel V. Bodine would later become a recurring avatar of Pynchon's complex and interconnected fictional universe, making an appearance in nearly all of Pynchon's novels thereafter.

The novel also shares many themes with Pynchon's much later work, Against the Day , which becomes increasingly dark as the plot approaches World War I. Gravity's Rainbow takes these sentiments to their extreme in its highly pessimistic culmination of World War II. The novel is regarded by many scholars as the greatest American novel published after the end of the Second World War, [6] and is "often considered as the postmodern novel , redefining both postmodernism and the novel in general".

Though the book won the National Book Award for , [1] Pynchon chose neither to accept nor acknowledge this award. Thomas Guinzberg of the Viking Press suggested that the comedian "Professor" Irwin Corey accept the award on his behalf. Pynchon agreed, which led to one of the most unusual acceptance speeches of all time, [18] complete with a streaker crossing the stage in the middle of Corey's musings.

Gravity's Rainbow was translated into German by Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek , and some critics think that it has had a large influence on Jelinek's own writing.

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