Swarthmore / English 52B

Gravity's Rainbow / Reading Notes 1-2 [for first 2 weeks]

To supplement Weisenburger, Helpful on-line resources for GR include:
  • Tim Ware and Hyperart's Concordance for GR (alphabetical; annotates most names and references and cites page #s on which they occur. Select the letter you want from the "Alpha Index" near the top of the page; this will take you to all the entries under that letter.
  • A Companion's Companion: Illustrated Additions and Corrections to Weisenburger's Companion to Gravity's Rainbow

A good collection of book essays on GR, on General Reserve in McCabe Library:

Bloom, Harold, ed. Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow: Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea, 1986. Especially recommended essays:

  • two general overviews: the essays by Poirier and Tanner
  • an essay on the meanings of the "preterit": Louis Mackey
  • an essay on GR's "Leviathanism": Edward Mendelson on "Gravity's Encyclopedia"
  • Harold Bloom, "Introduction" [on Byron the Bulb episode in Part Four]

Note: page numbers below, when indicated, are to the most recent Penguin edition of GR ordered for our class. Use the Weisenburger book to find out which ‘section’ or chapter is which (I also recommend pencilling in the section numbers yourself in your own edition; it’ll really help). The Weisenburger book's notes are keyed to the old edition of GR, but in most cases the page #s are off by only a little. Available in Bookstore and also General Reserve McCabe.

For Oct. 3: read GR Part One (pp. 3-180, 21 episodes)

Intro. lecture on sections 1-2 [rocket-death vs. Pirate’s improvised banana breakfasts and Slothrop’s sexual escapades]; Pynchon's theories of history; some meanings of the 'preterit' in Pynchon; GR as Menippean satire; and other topics

Central topics for acclimating ourselves after Melville to Pynchon’s world of “post-A4 humanity” (308):

  • comparing Ishmael and Slothrop;
  • Ahab and Ned Pointsman and the entire White Visitation enterprise (among many other monomaniacs and their organizations to which we’ll be introduced in a bit)

Slothrop sections in Part One for special emphasis:
3 his notorious map
4 introducing S’s family history
10 a ‘truth serum’ hallucination: journey down a toilet
15 introducing wine jellies

Pointsman sections for special emphasis:
7 Ahab’s ivory leg/quest as farce: Pavlovian Pointsman and the toilet bowl
8 Pointsman’s world-view
9 see esp. pp. 56-57: contrast Pointsman’s determinism with Roger Mexico’s emphasis on statistical probabilities
12 on the “White Visitation” and behavior psychology’s psychosis
13 more on the White Visitation
20 Christmas eve at the White Visitation

Other important topics in Part One, keyed to section #:

  • Roger Mexico and Jessica Swanlake: sections 5, 9, and especially 16: love as redemption?
  • colonial organization and violence in the past (with Southwest Africa and islands in the South Pacific as paradigms) and the rise of contemporary multinational corporations: 14, 18, 19
  • eros & thanatos: Pokler’s theory of the German quest for transcendence and purity as a (white?) death-wish: ch 19, esp. 156-

Oct. 10: read GR Part Two all (8 sections)
AND GR Part Three, sections 1-10 (pp. 285-403)

Part Two:
Slothrop sections for special emphasis in Part Two:
1-3 beware of octopi while relaxing on the beach
5 on the Rocket, Shell oil, and introductory proverbs for paranoids
7 on fascism and the chemistry of Impolix G plastic: strength, stability, whiteness

Pointsman sections for special emphasis in Part Two:
4 on behaviorist labs and dominatrixes. The Pulitzer Prize committee was uneasy with the toilet section (I.10) but shocked, really shocked, at this episode (for those who admitted they read this far).
8 Pointsman’s crisis, King Kong’s revenge, and Godel’s theory (or is it Murphy’s law?)

Part Three, 1-10:
Slothrop sections for special emphasis in III.1-10:
1 revelations about S’s past and Prof. Jamf’s role in the plot; Holocaust allusions
2 in the underground maze of the rocket assembly plant: a slapstick chase scene
6-7 some adventures with S. as Rocketman
10 ‘singularities’ in math = points where the rate of change approaches infinity; “Do all these points imply ... an annihilation?” (403)

sections for special emphasis in III.1-10 focusing on the A-4 Rocket:
2 see above
3 on the Schwartzkommando, black German rocket troops

other important topics for III.1-10:
sections 5, 9: Tchitcherine, the Kirghiz Light, and Russian colonialism vs. Kirghiz resistance and “alternate histories” (341); T. casts a net for Slothrop