Pynchon & Germany – Gravity’s Rainbow #6

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The essay I mention early in the video is Steven Weisenburger’s chapter “Gravity’s Rainbow” from the Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon.

My discussion of German culture in Pynchon references and is informed by David Cowart’s Thomas Pynchon and the Dark Passages of History.

Linda Hutcheon’s ‘historiographic metafiction’ is largely discussed in her seminal text A Poetics of Postmodernism.

Michael Davitt Bell’s priceless recap of the novel’s sections:

Pynchon’s letter defending Ian McEwan:

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All of these breaks, when they are not marked by the end of one of the novel’s four parts, correspond to the last line or first line of a sub-chapter, so it shouldn’t be too hard to locate them.
The page number on which each section ends is given. The letters close to the number indicate different editions.

VN: 2013 Vintage edition with multicolor silhouettes of rockets on the cover and red spine.
This edition has the SAME page layout as the 2000 Vintage edition with all the tiny characters and items drawn on the cover over a white field.

O: 1995 Vintage edition with collage of pin-ups, rockets and explosions on the cover.
This edition has the SAME page layout as the original 1973 Viking edition of the novel.

PD: 2005 Penguin Deluxe edition, black and white cover with the silhouette of a rocket.

Thanks to Richard and Hunter for the help with the page numbers!

– September 6th: Introduction.
– September 20th: 1/8: Frontispiece to “Their footprints filled with ice, and a little later they were taken out to sea.” Page: VN 109; O 92; PD 94.
– October 4th: 2/8: From “In silence, hidden from her” to the end of part 1. Page: VN 211; O 177; PD 181.
– October 18th: 3/8: The entire part 2, Un Perm’ au Casino Herman Goering. Page: VN 331; O 278; PD 283.
– November 1st: 4/8: From the beginning of part 3 to “hovering coyly over the pit of death…” Page: VN 455; O 383; PD 389.
– November 15th: 5/8: From “A soft night” to “So somebody has to tell you.” Page: VN 561; O 472; PD 480.
– November 29th: 6/8: From “Halfway up the ladder” to the end of part 3. Page: VN 730; O 616; PD 629.
– December 13th: 7/8: From the beginning of Part 4 to “Streets.” Page: VN 821; O 692; PD 706.
– December 27th: 8/8: From “Streets” to end of the book. Page: VN 902; O 760; PD 776.

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15 Responses

  1. Krzysztof Sapała says:

    It’s a surprise to me that TP wrote letters which were published afterwards. It’s almost like revealing his face;)

    And that’s a very interesting remark about Pynchon’s writing process. Borges once said that writing is controlled dream and I’m still finding it common for many writers. They say that the writing process is something unpredictable, something that happens beyond their conscious planning. Delillo said that one of his novels started from just looking for some narrow beautiful street and the rest came while he was writing. And to me that explains why GR narration sounds so complicated and is full of different characters which is because its like stream of consciousness imaged in novel language rather than a carefully planned plot.

    ps. I liked this part because some of it happens in Poland where I live 😉

  2. John Huylu says:

    It is very spooky to hear you talk about Dr.Cowart. When I first read Gravity's Rainbow my freshman year at the U of SC your reader's guide to GR video was one of the first online resources i'd looked at to help me unpack the big novel i'd just finished. I was still interested in exploring what the book had to offer and later that year I discovered that a professor at my school, Dr. Cowart, was an expert on Pynchon. Long story short I got permission to take his grad class on Pynchon and Delillo the following Fall, the very last class he taught before he retired. There are a lot of really fantastic English profs at the U of SC but Dr.Cowart always stands out in my memory as being absolutely brilliant. He was just absurdly quick and he knew Pynchon like the back of his hand. It's really cool to see one of the folks that nurtured my interest in Pynchon in the very beginning talk about and recognize the work of the other person that taught me so much about Pynchon later on.

  3. Goon Squad Skateboarding says:

    Loving these bookchemist, I def think you should do this for more books. Catch 22 would have been a good one if you hadn’t read it so recently.

  4. Lined C says:

    Courageous, objective thoughts.

  5. Joey Scott says:

    Since this project is wrapping up soon, I wanted to ask you an overarching question about the book (maybe you've said something about this already before and I missed it). I noticed in an old video of yours you have an Italian translation of GR. Did you read it the first time in translation? If so, I'd be interested in hearing whether and to what extent you believe translation played a role in your assessment of the book then and now?

    (also, thanks for motivating me to re-read GR. I actually read it for the first time earlier this year and knew I'd have to read it again at some point to fully appreciate it. Your series has provided the perfect excuse to do so while the book is still somewhat fresh in my mind. I'm actually able to pick up the references to Byron the Bulb early the 2nd time around!)

  6. Riley Urbano says:

    i was also very interested in the other trip to the US that Gravity's Rainbow takes in pt 3, following Lyle Bland and his forays into American occultism — seemed to parallel a lot of the coroporo-mysticism surrounding the IG in the book's main narrative

  7. Lilahh Laki says:

    Hi!! I love you and you are great. I have a question; could you do a summary (to see how much is understood) on this article below and see if I can change so it would be less harder.

  8. AustinDunham95 says:

    Let's do Infinite Jest next!!

  9. kurs verzeichnis says:

    For those of you who want to get to know some of the german cultural works mentioned here, I recommend reading Rilke. He has written some great poems. Among my favourites are Archaischer Torso Apollos, Die Erblindende and Herbst.

  10. Hudson Cleveland says:

    I didn't think much about how Pynchon pillories German and American culture, but your comments did make me realize how he bridges the gap between them with commonalities.

    Both countries have a history of propagandizing the past with nostalgic and unifying imagery. Pynchon does an excellent job of showing where those propaganda efforts have similarities. I think we can see with GR's frequent use of pastiche how popular German media of the time (musicals would be one with how often people will just break into choreographed numbers, but film is the more prominent and more important one, especially as it figures into German Expressionist cinema that has a similarly dizzying effect as the novel itself does) creates a new system of what I guess you could call weaponizing entertainment. Further, Pynchon treats Germany's mythic past as one entirely in tune with that cinematic present, for instance with Blicero's Hansel and Gretel fantasy, or, later in the novel, Plechazunga and other Nordic-related stories.

    America doesn't have nearly so deep a roster of mythic roots to draw from, but we do see through Slothrop (and other modes of pastiche) how it is creating new ones that mimic in some respects the German desire for national unification. There's the parodies of the frontier West (another type of lawless Zone, really), the references to its adaptations like the Lone Ranger, comic books like Superman (toward the last few pages of the novel, we also see the futility of any such supermen, because they are meant to be the American spirit able to withstand anything, "'Too late' was never in their programming. They find instead a moment's suspending of their sanity–but then it's over with, whew, and it's back to the trail" [752, O]) or like Plasticman (surely connected in some way, if tenuously, to Imipolex-G).

    All of these tend to realize, amongst other things, a quintessentially American imperial desire (particularly over the frontier West), one which mythologizes the lone man conquering unknown (and often Indian-ridden) lands. This fantasy come WWII of course is dead (though Marvy in some ways can live it by despising Enzian, and in his hilarious chase sequence with Slothrop in the tunnels and on the plane/balloon), but perhaps it might be able to be reenacted because of the connection between German and American imperial/dominative desires.

    That's where your comment comes in. This is jumping rather ahead of the reading schedule you have going, but we do see in Blicero's speech near the end of the novel (723, O) how he says, like you did, that American soil was perhaps fresh ground where these imperial tendencies of Europe could be wiped clean. He says: "America was the edge of the World. A message for Europe, continent-sized, inescapable. Europe had found the site for its Kingdom of Death, that special Death the West had invented. […] Now we are in the last phase. American death has come to occupy Europe. It has learned empire from its old metropolis" (722, O). This of course is where William Slothrop (or, Pynchon's own ancestors) took Calvinist doctrine of elect/preterite to the untarnished earth of the New World. But, now that there's a new potential for escape into an untouched Zone (Outer Space, the Moon, etc), Pynchon's hope (like I mentioned in my comment on the GR video #4) is shrunk because those imperial/dominative tendencies that were begun with American frontiersmen and German fairy tales of control and the Oven-Deathwish now have potential to infect that New (Other) World: "Is the cycle over now, and a new one ready to begin? Will our new Edge, our new Deathkingdom, be the Moon?" (Blicero, 723).

  11. Ryan Moore says:


  12. Nick Shaffer says:

    this video was great. thank you for doing this

  13. C S says:

    I studied the building of the V2 for a paper and the Dora camp was so bad it shocked both Speer and von Braun. Speer ordered the SS to improve the conditions but had no direct authority over them, von Braun wrote in his diary that he wanted to free a physicist who was imprisoned in the camp but was unable to due to the SS's control over the V2 project by that time. Its a completely unknown and overlooked aspect to the german war machine.

  14. Adam Robinson says:

    Yeah but what about the porn section on the ship?

    I wonder if Pynchon himself was losing track of Slothrop as a character by taking his previous traits to such further extents. E.g. when in London Slothrop was a womaniser, and his only moment of sympathy was for the dying little girl who looked like Shirley Temple; 400 pages later he's ended up fucking an 11-year old girl who's probably been conditioned into being a sex captive (if not a *slave*) by her crazy mother. It's like the previous themes are converging into grotesque new extremes at this stage, as the book goes on and loses sense of its plot.

  15. this is silly says:

    Alestorm should do that. Anyone know alestorm?

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