quarta-feira, 18 de janeiro de 2012
The Physics of Heaven: History, Science, and Technology in Gravity's Rainbow by Joseph W. Slade
In 1912, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to his patroness, Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis, at whose estate, Duino, he was writing the Elegies, about El Greco's "Ascension":
a great angel thrusts himself diagonally into the picture, two angels simply stretch upwards, and out of this superabundance of movement arises the sheer upward flight-it cannot help itself. This is the physics of heaven.(1)
In Gravity's Rainbow, the rocket--the Angel, the star-cannot help itself either, and its inevitability represents the charisma of technology. Pynchon's insistence on very limited domains of human freedom would appear to undermine fatalistic visions of technology as deterministic, but for the purposes of his novel at least he would seem to agree with Andrew Hacker's observation that "the movements of technology are not matters of social policy or human choice." (2) Technology is itself a historical force, almost a Zeitgeist, viewed somewhat nostalgically in Gravity's Rainbow at a period in time when it lost forever whatever innocence it possessed. By the novel's end, the Rocket's charisma has been "routinized":
But the Rocket has to be many things, it must answer to a number of different shapes in the dreams of those who touch it—in combat, in tunnel, on paper-it must survive heresies . . . and heretics there will be: Gnostics who have been taken in a rush of wind and fire to chambers of the Rocket-throne
... Kabbalists who study the Rocket as Torah ... Manicheans who see two Rockets, good and evil, who speak together in the sacred idiolalia of the Primal Twins (some say their names are Enzian and Blicero) of a good Rocket to take us to the stars, an evil Rocket for the World's suicide, the two perpetually in struggle (727).
The immanence of "technologigue" "something that had its own vitality" (401), manifests itself in accord with Pynchon's view of history as an unfolding of continuity and connection rather than as a train of cause and effect. At the séance in Berlin, the ghost of Walter Rathenau, in addition to speaking of the composting of carbon-beds in layers to form the earth, denigrates cause and effect as "secular history" which "is a diversionary tactic" (167), a kind of history that is "at best a conspiracy, not always among gentlemen, to defraud" (164).
"They" would have humans believe in control and in death, in determinism. This "rational structure" is the source of "Their" power, and "They" seem to have achieved a "collaboration . . . between . . . matter and spirit"; they seem to know something "that the powerless do not" (165).
Those few characters who escape tragedy in the novel do so because they manage to escape from historical determinism. One is Tchitcherine, the Russian, a Red Army officer who nevertheless "has a way of getting together with undesirables, sub rosa enemies of order, counterrevolutionary odds and ends of humanity" as if he were a "giant supermolecule with so many open bonds available at any given time" (346). While in exile in the vast Central Asian plains, he learns of the Russian extermination of various ethnic nationalities, a barbarism Pynchon equates with the Calvinist annihilation of Indians in America and, more humorously, with the wiping out of the Dodo Bird in seventeenth-century Mauritius by Franz Van der Groov, Katje Boigesius's ancestor.
The crazy Puritan killed the flightless, stupid birds because he believed they did not fit in God's scheme of things; the Russians killed Kirghiz (and others) because the communists believed they retarded the inevitability of historical development, and in that sense the Russians are Calvinists also, trying to impose order on the windswept void of Asia.
Since Tchitcherine is Enzian's half-brother, he fears that his connection with the blacks, a people who have not been assimilated into the communist scheme, will cause him to be "passed over" by history. He comes close to revelation when he sees the Kirghiz Light (presumably some phenomenon like the Aurora Borealis), but he is destined to remain always out on the "edge" of things, which is ultimately his salvation. If history be a fabric, Tchitcherine is one of the frayed threads at the margin, and thus he eventually escapes control. So long as he accepts official dialectical materialism he is not free, because "They" can require him to die for the cause, as Wimpe, the German drug salesman who latches onto one of Tchitcherine's open bonds, tells him:
"Religion was always about death. It was used not as an opiate so much as a technique-it got people to die for one particular set of beliefs about death .... But ever since it became impossible to die for death, we have had a secular version-yours. Die to help History grow to its predestined shape. Die knowing your act will bring a good end a bit closer" (701).
Having been a communist, Tchitcherine will be "haunted" by the fear that he is wrong, that the Marxist "theory of history," which he conceives in terms of classical physics rather than in the usual Hegelian jargon, will get him in the end. Wimpe's drug Oneirine (a creation of Jamf) enables him to perceive paranoically that things are relativistically connected instead of being causally linked, and that it is in "Their" interest to have him believe in the dialectic. Not until Geli Tripping saves him from his doubts will he forget his hatred of Enzian and achieve his freedom.
One other major character in Gravity's Rainbow survives the turmoil relatively unscathed. Opposed to Dr. Pointsman, the be-haviorist and determinist who asserts the hegemony of cause and effect, is Roger Mexico, the statistician for The White Visitation and later a member of The Counterforce. Mexico is an "Anti-Pointsman" (55) who rejects Calvinism. When someone suggests that death by rocket is punishment for sins, Mexico responds, "it's the damned Calvinist insanity again. Why must they always put it in terms of exchange?" (57). For the statistician-democrat, everyone is "equal in the eyes of the rocket" (57). Someday, according to Mexico, scientists may "have the courage to junk cause-and-effect entirely, and strike off at some other angle" (89), an idea which horrifies Pointsman. With men like Mexico advocating randomness, Pointsman fears, "What if Mexico's whole generation have turned out like this? Will Postwar be nothing but 'events,' newly created one moment to the next? No links? Is it the end of history?" (56).
Mexico is free by virtue of his ability to perceive continuity in spite of randomness. He occupies the same ground Oedipa Maas achieved: "the domain between zero and one-the middle Points man has excluded from his persuasion--the probabilities" (55). Mexico predicts rocket strikes in London during the war by plugging figures into a Poisson distribution equation, which is based purely on probabilities.
He is the twentieth-century scientist aware of indeterminacy and therefore aware of the possibilities of freedom. Mexico can be excited by a beautiful Christmas night scene in a Kentish church, a rare night of possibility which seems to "banish the Adversary, destroy the boundaries between our lands, our bodies, our stories, all false, about who we are..." (135). So expansive a sense of brotherhood does not hamper his relationship with Jessica Swanlake; with her he forms "a joint creature unaware of itself (38), their bodies "a long skin interface" (121). Like many other characters he is subject to paranoia, but Mexico's is creative, allowing him to understand how things are related and to perceive the areas of freedom between the grids of control. Almost alone in "a culture of death" (176), Mexico holds to life, while Pointsman at the end is left only with his fruitless faith in cause and effect.
Once again Pynchon is using the change wrought in physics by the twentieth century to sharpen the oppositions within his thematic framework. In particular these involve relativity in field physics and quantum theory in micro-physics; together they have altered the scientist's view of reality. Less and less the scientist speaks of cause and effect and more and more, like Roger Mexico, of probabilities and of statistical or mathematical descriptions of connections between things as they move relative to one another in a space-time continuum. Concepts of determinism have been eroded by principles of indeterminacy.
In Gravity's Rainbow, "Their" authority stems from classical physics, which does rest on cause and effect relationships between forces and objects; the twentieth century physics that has given birth to the technology embodied in the Rocket threatens to undermine "Their" tyranny because it introduces concepts of indeterminacy and reinforces the potential for free will.
Thus "They" must try to co-opt the newer physics for their own purposes, and in doing so "They" benefit from our confusion. For example, from time to time the narrator mentions the Aether which James Clerk Maxwell (who else?) thought flowed past the earth to provide the medium in which light waves travelled.
In order to prevent this discussion from becoming too recondite, we will simply say that the theory of the Aether--variously called Luminiferous or Soniferous, depending on whether one is dealing with light or sound waves--did not account for, among other things, the effects of gravity, a factor which is germane to Pynchon's title.
Modern science says that there is no Aether, only Void, and "They" may say it too. The problem is that like Tchitcherine we do not know for sure, claims the narrator, and besides, it would be nice if there were a medium:
What if there is no Vacuum? Or if there is--what if They're using it on you? What if They find it convenient to preach an island of life surrounded by a void? Not just the Earth in space, but your own individual life in time? What if it's in Their interest to have you believing that? (697).
Our "own individual lives" are surrounded by time, and that fact makes control easier by "Them," because it reduces the possibilities of our perceiving our essential oneness with others. Pynchon multiplies metaphors from field and micro-physics. Characters move in "quantum jumps" (564), each section of the Zone "speeds away from all the others, in fated acceleration, red-shifting, fleeing the Center" (519), refugees are "particle and wave" (398).
All of these metaphors and a good many more concern motion in time, and the third of those just listed is particularly relevant, since it refers to the major paradox of modern micro-physics: under certain conditions light manifests itself as if it were composed of particles and under others as if it were a wave. In Gravity's Rainbow Pynchon envisions human lives and human history as wavelengths, a continuous flow that we sometimes perceive as particles because we are bound by time. Waves are not objects but forms, patterns that move, and their motion is measured in wavelength and frequency-functions of time.
The idea permits Pynchon considerable latitude and much humor. One episode presents an American army private named Eddie Pensiero, a near-catatonic drug addict; he is the Company barber. As he cuts hair, while Slothrop plays his harmonica nearby, the narrator remarks:
Hair is yet another kind of modulated frequency. Assume a state of grace in which all hairs were once distributed perfectly even, a time of innocence when they fell perfectly straight, all over the colonel's head Passing through it tonight, restructuring it, Eddie Pensiero is an agent of History (643).
Wavelengths can be cut when they are separated into discrete parts, and that is "Their" secret. Long before Slothrop disappears, when he first feels the onset of paranoia, he has the sensation that "Their odds were never probabilities, but frequencies already observed" (208).
Tyrone Slothrop is the principaL victim of a faulty perception of time. After "They" co-opted the Rocket, Slothrop's "time" had passed, or at least that is what the apologists for the failed Counterforce claim as part of his legend:
There is also the story about Tyrone Slothrop, who was sent into the Zone to be present at his own assembly--perhaps, heavily paranoid voices have whispered, his time's assembly He is toeing broken down instead and scattered (738).
When Slothrop begins to disintegrate, he can communicate only on low frequencies, and he is said to lose "temporal bandwidth":
"Temporal bandwidth" is the width of your present, your now. It is the familiar " Δt" considered as a dependent variable. The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are. It may get to where you're having trouble remembering what you were doing five minutes ago, or even--as Slothrop now--what you're doing here... (509).
The Δt or delta t, a change in time, becomes very familiar in Gravity's Rainbow and is the key to explanations of human isolation. In The Crying of Lot 49, the DT's of the alcoholic sailor furnish Pynchon with a pun on calculus signs (dt) for those "vistas of time and space" the sailor's mind has hurtled through. In Gravity's Rainbow distance and time are functions of motion also, and the calculus is that of the Rocket's parabola. Scarcely a section of the novel lacks a parabola, which, like the flight of Rilke's Angel, represents the transcendence of human limitations and contradictions; it is an "inspiration and a rebuke," a synthesis of opposites, a trajectory that is a true dialectic. If one bisects a parabola, each half is a mirror image of the other. Moreover, in a sense the novel takes the form of a rocket's flight as it arcs free of the earth, ascends, then, its motion "betrayed" to gravity, plunges back toward the planet that gave it rise. The flight can be mathematically computed by using the double integral, a calculating concept on which Pynchon rests the foundation of the book's structure.
Rather morbidly the narrator equates the double integral sign (∯) with the Nazi SS emblem; with "the shape of lovers curled asleep" (302); with the old Norse "rune that stands for the yew tree, or Death" (302); and with the shape of the tunnels underneath the earth at the Mittelwerke where the V-2's were constructed.
More to the point, the double integral is a method by which the rocket's parabola can be divided into time-frames, and without trying to discuss the mathematics, we can present the technique visually in the following figure:
Here the parabola is sliced up by integrals extending vertically
from a base line stretched between the rocket's point of firing and
its point of impact. Those lines are artificial and arbitrary. Along the parabola itself an infinite number of lines can be drawn, and each two of them--as double integrals-bound a moment in time, relative of course to distance. As the rocket moves along its path, and as it passes these artificial divisions, it has passed through a change in time--designated as Δt.
Theoretically, precisely because the number of divisions can be extended infinitely, the rocket can be said to be poised in the sky ("the Perfect Rocket is still up there, still descending" ), approaching final zero in an asymptotic (approaching but not reaching infinity) curve, like Zeno's famous arrow. So long as it hangs there, the missile is a threat of man's destruction and a reminder of his achievement.
opens with a rocket in flight over London and ends with a missile
so poised at "the last delta-t" above the Orpheus movie theater in
The beauty of the concept is that from it Pynchon can draw analogies of enormous variety and fertility. The most obvious is with motion picture film, in which "time frames" sprocket through a projector and flash on a screen--as in the theater at the novel's end. Moreover, the parabola is a wave; it is also a "life," Katje tells Slothrop. And just as humans divide up a parabola into fragments for convenience and precision in measurement, so they divide up their lives into artificial frames to comprehend them. In each case they sacrifice the whole for its parts, but the continuity remains, whether they see it or not. When Gravity's Rainbow appeared, many readers noticed the "framed" sequences in the book, an effect heightened by sprocket-shaped designs separating them in the original edition.
(4) Film has one great quality as far as Pynchon is concerned here: scenes are obviously contingent but not necessarily linked by cause and effect. Each scene is thus a moment in time, an artificial measurement in a space-time continuum. "Do you find it a little schizoid," asks one rocket technician of another, "breaking a flight profile up into segments of responsibility?" (453)
Of the half-dozen related stories in this film-novel, Franz Poek-ler's most aptly illustrates the interlocking relationship of rocket mathematics, cinema techniques, and human lives, and for that reason is central to the construction of Gravity's Rainbow. To make the relationship clear, the narrator recounts early experiments in rocket research during which airplanes dropped models of the missile from 20,000 feet:
The fall was photographed by Askania cinetheodolite rigs on the ground. In the daily rushes you would watch the frames at around 3000 feet, where the model broke through the speed of sound. There has been this strange conection between the German mind and the rapid flashing of successive stills to counterfeit movement, for at least two centuries--since Leibniz, in the process of inventing calculus, used the same approach to break up the trajectories of cannonballs through the air. And now Pökler was about to be given proof that these techniques had been extended past images on film, to human lives (407).
Pökler, a former chemist, is one of several scientists in the novel to shift into another field of research. Through the offices of his old classmate Mondaugen, Pökler in the thirties joins an amateur league of Berlin rocket enthusiasts interested in space exploration. For Pökler and his colleagues, the rocket is a paradigm of man's most noble ambition, as Franz tells his wife Leni: "We'll all use someday, to leave the earth, to transcend.;".. Borders won't mean anything. We'll have all outer space . . ." (400). Aware of the rocket's potential for quite another purpose, the Wehrmacht drafts the technicians for weapons development. Even so, for a while Pökler can persuade himself that he is engaged in pure science, especially since at first the military-agency funds projects extravagantly and permits him to work unfettered. Pökler feels that he has entered "a monastic order" of democratic scientists among whom no Weberian rationalization has as yet taken place: "it was a corporate intelligence at work, specialization hardly mattered, class lines even less" (402).
Many of Pökler's fellow scientists are mystics. One draws parallels between rocketry and Zen archery. Mondaugen borrows metaphors from Stefan George and Hermann Hesse; he visualizes the rocket as a resolution of paired opposites: male and female, life and death, creation and destruction. It is an outgrowth of Mondaugen's "electro-mysticism":
Think of the ego, the self that suffers a personal history bound to time, as the grid. The deeper and true Self is the flow between cathode and plate. The constant, pure flow. Signals--sense-data, feelings, memories relocating are put onto the grid, and modulate the flaw. We live lives that are waveforms constantly changing with time, now positive, now negative. Only at moments of great serenity is it possible to find the pure, the informationless state of signal zero (404).
Pökler responds skeptically: "In the name of the cathode, the anode, and the holy grid?"
Mondaugen's theory of paired opposites allows him to justify Hitler as a necessary evil. By contrast, Leni Pökler opposes the Nazis on similar Manichean grounds. Unfortunately for their compatibility, Leni is a communist, while Franz is a "good" but apolitical German of the type who did not oppose the Nazis until it was too late. Because the street demonstrations usually degenerate into brawls between screaming agitators and club-wielding police, Pökler can not understand Leni's participation in these pre-war Berlin encounters. She tries to tell him how the fear evaporates as the mob approaches the moment of annihilation, frozen in time by its very immanence, like a rocket itself:
She even tried, from that little calculus she'd picked up, to explain it to Franz as Δt approaching zero, eternally approaching, the slices of time growing thinner and thinner, a succession of rooms each with walls more silver, transparent, as the pure light of the zero comes nearer... (159).
Pökler, "the cause-and-effect man," does not comprehend; the Δt for him is an artificial function, not real. But Leni is searching for truth, for a way to link everything together, which is why she has recourse to mysticism, to belief in other worlds and other patterns of energies. When Franz tells her that no changes in other systems can effect changes in hers, she says:"... not cause. It all goes along together. Parallel, not series.
Metaphor. Signs and symptoms. Mapping onto different coordinate systems, I don't know..." (159). If Pökler does not share the obvious death-wishes of his wife and friend, neither does he see what they do: that cause and effect do not always apply to the real world. For a scientist, he is surprisingly unacquainted with the theory of relativity that his wife apprehends intuitively. She can visualize the world as a space-time continuum in which things can be described only by means of their relationship to one another.
Franz is a pedestrian with a pedestrian mind on the street Leni visualizes as alive. He deals only with the graph of the intersections, and for all his talk of transcendence, contents himself with clinging to "the network of grooves between the paving stones" of the street where Leni marches:
Pökler knew where to find safety among the .. . abscissas and ordinates of graphs: finding the points he needed not by running the curve itself, not up on high stone and vulnerability, but instead tracing patiently the xs and ys,... moving always by safe right angles along the faint lines... (399).
His rationality limits Pökler. He can not conceive the designs of the Nazis, which are also mystical, which blend love and death, which have little to do with cause and effect; he says nothing, does not protest, and his tragedy is that of his countrymen: had they not chosen silence, "back when there was time, they all might have saved themselves" (409). Essentially passive, even masochistic, especially in his attachment to his wife, he yet believes in Destiny, as Leni knows:
she knows about the German male at puberty. On their backs, in the meadows and mountains, watching the sky, masturbating, yearning. Destiny waits, a darkness latent in the texture of the summer wind. Destiny will betray you, crush your ideals, deliver you into the same detestable Bürgerlichkeit as your father ... and without a whimper you will serve out your time, fly from pain to duty, from joy to work, from commitment to neutrality (162).
Franz's destiny is the Rocket, for "it was impossible not to think of the Rocket without thinking of Schicksal [fate]" (416).
Before he goes in 1937 to Peememünde, where he and his colleagues will be "invading Gravity itself," Franz will lose Leni to her lover Peter Sachsa, the medium who calls up the spirit of Walter Rathenau. Sachsa will eventually be killed by a policeman in a street riot. This circumstance allows the narrator to draw parallels between Sachsa and Leni and Nora Dodson-Truck, the medium of The White Visitation, a near-goddess whose symbol is the triskelion
and who will speak in the voice of Gravity itself. Leni is arrested by the Nazis and with her Ilse, her daughter by Franz.
Use had been conceived on the night Pökler saw Alpdrücken ("Nightmare"), a film by Gerhardt von Göll, in which the voluptuous Margherita Erdmann is gang-raped. So erotic was that sequence that the rape became real, and Erdmann was impregnated; the child was Bianca. In a more symbolic sense, the German males who see the film are so aroused that they "father" the children conceived after seeing the film on Margherita, since she is the stimulus to their desire when they have intercourse with their wives, and all the children so conceived are the "same" child. Pökler is one of those aroused--and there is an implied connection between Margherita's black garter belt (all she wears in the film) and the parabola of the V-2. Ilse is thus a "movie child" from her beginning.
By the time the war starts and Pökler realizes that his talents have been suborned by the sinister forces whose existence he has refused to admit, Blicero, the chief of his rocket research unit, has a hold over Franz. Blicero arranges to have Ilse brought from her concentration camp to spend two weeks with her father each year; in return Pökler must work on the rocket. He will finally install the Imipolex G shroud in Rocket 00000 for Blicero. Pökler has convinced himself that daughter and wife are being "re-educated"; he does not know what goes on in the camps, and like many other Germans, has not tried to find out. The first year Ilse delights Pökler by prattling of rocket trips to the moon, his own dream, which reinforces his vision of "a map without any national borders, insecure and exhilarating, in which flight was as natural as breathing" (410).
On her second visit, Pökler is permitted to take Ilse to Zwölfkinder, a sort of German Disneyland, a place "made for innocence in a corporate State" (419).
Here, and again here, in the years to follow, he begins to doubt that the girl "They" call Ilse is really his daughter. Since he sees her only once a year, she may be a different child each time; "even in peacetime, with unlimited resources, he couldn't have proven her identity, not beyond the knife-edge of zero-tolerance his precision eye needed" (421). Unable to rescue her or to escape "Their" control, Pökler does what he can; he accepts the girl, whether his daughter or not: "it was the real moment of conception, in which, years too late, he became her father" (421).
It is too late. By the third year Pökler has been transferred to Nordhausen, where he works in the Mittelwerke tunnels on V-2 assembly. Nearby is the Dora concentration camp, which Pökler chooses to ignore. Ironically, Ilse and her mother are kept there. Leni will survive the war and become the prostitute Solange, one
"among the accidents of this drifting Humility, never quite to be extinguished, a few small chances for- mercy.. ." (610). Use's fate we never learn. Pokler's cause and effect mind, even after he recognizes Blicero's game, will not permit him to seize the ironic pattern or recognize the "signs and symptoms" of control. His Teutonic rationality erects barriers between his knowledge and his understanding, or, as the narrator puts it: "Weissmann's cruelty was no less resourceful than Pökler's own engineering skill, the gift of Daedalus that allowed him to put as much labyrinth as required between himself and the inconveniences of caring" (428). Pökler connects circumstances only after Blicero puts him at a rocket's impact point to observe the missile's re-entry. Franz sits square in the "Ellipse of Uncertainty," a safe place only because the V-2 virtually never hits its target predictably. One must trust in probabilities, and eventually Pökler can--too late, although his love redeems his tragedy to an extent:
The only continuity has been her name, and Zwöllfkinder, and Pokler's love--love something like the persistence of vision, for They have used it to create for him the moving image of a daughter, flashing him only these summertime frames of her, leaving it to him to build the illusion of a single child...(422).
Pokler's story points up several important aspects of Gravity's Rainbow. The first has to do with the continuity of the novel itself, and the way Pynchon preserves it. About five-sixths of the way through, after Tyrone Slothrop has begun to fragment, and after the atomic bomb has been dropped on Japan, the Slothrop plot-line becomes tenuous, and the focus of the narrator's vision must expand to cover the larger theater of the war, including the Pacific as well as Europe. As a result, the final hundred pages are difficult, for they contain time-frames--sometimes specifically referred to as movies-of wide diversity, interspersed with the tag ends of other subplots (Enzian, Tchitcherine, etc.), to keep the "film" going. Most of them surrealistic, these frames include scenes from Slothrop's childhood in Mingeborough, one of which presumably mutated into the short story "The Secret Integration." One frame links Tyrone to John F. Kennedy; another reviews Oedipal conflicts and hints at Slothrop's charismatic function when he searches for "The Radiant Hour" hidden by his parents; a third and fourth, "Shit 'N' Shinola" and "An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet," seem designed to reinforce the reader's conditioning with reminders of the American association of blackness with death, excrement, and sexual perversion. Among the scenes presented in slapstick fashion are a couple of film-clips of a zany pair of Kamikaze pilots, probably to attribute to the Japanese a love of death similar to the Germans'. Such frames shore up themes attenuated by the novel's length, and one of the last, "Back in der Platz," mentions Gerhardt von Göllfs "tasteless" film, "New Dope," in which film-images run backwards so that reality is reversed.
Although Pökler's confusion is the most obvious, other characters in Gravity's Rainbow perceive reality as frames of film, an illusion, the narrator frequently reminds us, that is common to humans. On the last page, in the final apocalyptic frame, he maintains that we have all been sitting in a theater, watching the screen, and something has just happened to the movie: "The screen is a dim page spread before us, white and silent. The film has broken, or a projector bulb has burned out. It was difficult even for us, old fans who've always been at the movies (haven't we?) to tell which before the darkness swept in" (760).
Because we are limited creatures, bound by time, our lives artificially framed by double integrals as we arc between birth and death, we only believe that we see existence as continuity when what we usually see are the frames, the temporal flickers on the screen. Our limitations are the source of "Their" control, so that we "are trapped inside Their frame ... ass hanging out all over Their Moviola viewer, waiting for Their editorial blade" (694).
The illusion is understandable, for if lives are wavelengths, themselves over and over again rapidly, and if each of us observes them from the fixed points of his perception, past which the waves oscillate, then the frames seem to encompass all that is real. Since cause and effect have been discredited, we must settle for regularity of sequence as evidence of continuity. Our "mania for subdividing" (448), for slicing up "the Creation finer and finer, analyzing, setting namer more hopelessly apart from named" (391) is responsible. In the language of The Crying of Lot 49, we have disinherited ourselves from the fullness which should be ours by our fetish for analysis; we split reality into mathematics, molecules, and words, endlessly to recombine and eventually to misunderstand them. During his exile Tchitcherine is assigned to a political task force with the job of imposing a New Turkic Alphabet on the Kirghiz of Central Asia, but battles break out between the Arabists and Cyrillicists as they dispute vowels and consonants. Words and letters, says the narrator, are molecules which "can be modulated, broken, recoupled, redefined, co-polymerized one to the other in worldwide chains" (355); they are as ambivalent as chemical compounds, depending on how they are used. On the one hand, words illuminate and liberate; on the other, they obscure and restrict. So long as we continue to rationalize, to specialize, and to subdivide, we will find it difficult to see continuity.
Humans can hardly do otherwise , of course, and the compulsion to analyze and divide contributes to the human tragic condition. The more we learn, the more we invent, the narrower the focus of the reels of our consciousness. At one point, Tyrone Slothrop protests Gerhardt von Goll's cavalier behavior by observing that they aren't in the movies, to which the director-entrepreneur replies:
"Not yet. Maybe not quite yet. You'd better enjoy it while you can. Someday, when the film is fast enough, the equipment pocket-size and burdenless and selling at people's prices, the lights and booms no longer necessary, then ...then... "(527).
Irreversibly developing technology will continue to alter our ways of perceiving.
For all of Pynchon's talk of edges and interfaces, the world he predicates is seamless and holistic. It is the four-dimensional world of Albert Einstein, in which the configurations of matter cause the space-time continuum to curve back upon itself. In a sequence concerning the Rocket-City, Pynchon even invokes the elevator in the immeasurably high building that serves Einstein as metaphor in the formulation of the General Theory of Relativity, which deals with accelerated systems and revises Newton's notions of gravitation. Gravity itself is one of Pynchon's principal metaphors in Gravity's Rainbow, as the title indicates. The medium Nora Dod-son-Truck eventually claims that her identity is the Force of Gravity and associates it with historical process, the layering of matter and time:
I am Gravity, I am That against which the Rocket must struggle, to which the prehistoric wastes submit and are transmuted to the very substance of History..." (639).
Perhaps more importantly, Pynchon's is also the universe of Alfred North Whitehead, who asserts in Process and Reality that everything in the world is related to everything else-to the extent that even inanimate things are "aware" of other things. From Whitehead Pynchon also borrows a metaphor: "sentient" rocks. Frau Gnahb, a salty, maniacal Tugboat Annie-type whose ship carries Slothrop and von Göll north to Peenemünde, possesses a unique ability, her son Otto tells Tyrone: "She knows by instinct-exactly how to insult anybody. Doesn't matter, animal, vegetable-I even saw her insult a rock once" (496). Gravity's Rainbow concludes with an affirmation of a "Soul in every stone ..." (760). Being "sentient," rocks perceive reality much as humans do, as film frames, but in slowed time. When Squalidozzi and his Argentine U-boat cohorts begin filming Martin Fierro under the direction of von Göll, one of the crew, Felipe, worships a rock:
But Felipe's rock embodies also an intellectual system, for he believes (as do M. F. Beal and others) in a form of mineral consciousness not too much different from that of plants and animals, except for the time scale. Rock's time scale is a lot more stretched out. "We're talking frames per century," Felipe like everybody else here lately has been using a bit of movie language, "per millennium!" Colossal. But Felipe has come to see, as those who are not Sentient Rocksters seldom do, that history as it's been laid on the world is only a fraction, an outward-and-visible fraction (612).5
Lyle Bland, the front man for I. G. Farben in America, who oversaw Jamf's experiment on the infant Tyrone, after a life of service to the Firm at last discovers that "Earth is a living critter, after all these years of thinking about a big dumb rock" (590). Bland becomes a mystic, "to find that Gravity, taken so for granted, is really something eerie, Messianic, extrasensory in Earth's mindbody . . . having hugged to its holy center the wastes of dead species, gathered, packed, transmuted, realigned, and rewoven molecules . . ." (590).
Gravity has two aspects. First, it is the force which bonds the earth itself, compacting the wastes of life into the organic rings which living things use again in ceaseless cycle. Second, it is, as Einstein expressed it in the Principle of Equivalence of Gravitation and Inertia, one of the properties of the space-time continuum, a way of describing the geometry of the universe.
Put simply, gravitation is a form of inertia.
When the Rocket rises, it is predestined to fall, since its own inertia will betray its flight; its death is but the end-product of its birth, and its life is but a continuum in space-time. In their cyclically, the perfect Rocket and its parabola symbolize the cyclicality of existence as Pynchon sees it. If the Rocket represents human aspirations and Limitations, it also represents the continuum which is the fabric of the world itself.
That this fabric is all of a piece Pynchon announces in numerous ways, and characters are given an awareness bordering on the mystical. Like Whitehead, these characters reject dualisms like cause and effect, substance and quality, life and matter, thing and environment, mind and body. Such dualities, according to Whitehead, are only abstractions, the result of science's "bifurcating" the universe. Roger Mexico is one of those characters, of course; his understanding makes possible his love for Jessica Swanlake. Of all those who achieve understanding, Mexico is the most important, because while dualism encourages confusion on many levels, its worst effect is to separate humans from each other. Thomas Gwendhidwy, whose sympathetic nature is emphasized by the bugs--"agents of unification" (173) burrowing through interfaces-that eat his lunch, tries to tell Dr. Pointsman that men, though flung outward in diaspora, are joined by common humanity: "What if we're all Jews, you see? All scattered like seeds? Still flying outward from the primal fist so long ago?" (170).
Another of Pointsman's associates, Kevin Spectro, asks the Pavlovian, "When you've looked at how it really is,... how can we, any of us, be separate?" (142). That perception notwithstanding, humans are separate, only rarely capable of love and a sense of community, not so very different from the isolates in the Inamorati Anonymous of The Crying of Lot 49. The narrator of Gravity's Rainbow explains this human condition in terms of his favorite metaphor on the occasion of Katje's meeting with Enzian: the worst of it is that "we will never know each other. . . . We're strangers at the films, condemned to separate roles, aisles, exits, homecomings" (663). The isolation is enough to make the narrator deplore the Vacuum which cuts us off from one another and wish for an Aether to "bring us back a continuity, show us a kinder universe, more easygoing..." (726).
Mexico can accept Whitehead's injunction to embrace a cold and analytical science and in so doing warm it with humanism, but most characters in Gravity's Rainbow lack his courage and comprehension and can not manage the kind of love he offers Jessica. Prisoners of a decadent romantic sensibility which postulates rigid parameters for the self, emphasizes distinctions between "Outside and Inside" the consciousness (141), and at the same time exalts the state of being "helplessly in a condition of love" (97), they tear and scratch at the self-erected barriers between themselves—which is not to say that those interfaces are any the less impervious for being artificial, since they are built from materials wrested from the chaos around them for the purpose of establishing identity. If "film and calculus" are "both pornographies of flight" (567) where the Rocket is concerned, many of Pynchon's characters employ methods more traditionally pornographic in an attempt to love, to achieve continuity, to break through selves in bizarre or even distasteful sexual relationships.
The most repulsive scenes in the book depict the coprophilic acts of Brigadier Pudding, who plays Severin to Katje Borgesius's Venus in Furs6 in penance for having sacrificed seventy per cent of the soldiers under his command in the Battle of Ypres in World War I. In this relationship Katje is the sadist; previously she has been a masochist in a reversed relationship with Blicero, who observes that
Her masochism... is reassurance for her. That she can still be hurt, that she is human and can cry at pain. Because, often, she will forget…So, she needs the whip. She raises her ass not in surrender, but in despair But of true submission, of letting go the self and passing into the All, there is nothing, not with Katje. She is not the victim I would have chosen to end this with. Perhaps, before the end, there will be another. Perhaps I dream… I am not here, am I, to devote myself to her fantasies! (662).
Because Katje can not shed herself, she will live in pl.ace of the victim Blicero does find, Gottfried-, who surrenders totally. Gottfried and Blicero achieve the love-death Pynchon identified in V. as the Tristan and Isolde theme of our culture. Paradoxically, Katje's inability to pass into the All, even to the extent of dying in love, will condemn her to isolation and separateness. Pain establishes the authenticity of her self; pain and her fantasies are all that she has. For some, like Margherita Erdmamn, these things are sufficient. She fantasizes continuously, wild sexual images from the films in which once she starred, all of them of a sado-masochistic nature. Margherita needs pain to live and induces even the mild Slothrop to beat her.
But she also needs to inflict pain, to establish her dominance over others. The impulses tug in opposite directions; one points toward the pain she must have to validate her own identity, her separateness, the other toward annihilation. With few exceptions, the sado-masochistic relationships are homosexual, reminiscent of the narcissism Pynchon attributed to V. When Blicero tortures Gottfried, he also destroys himself in mirror-im-age. When Margherita torments (-and perhaps kills) Bianca, her film-child, who is (because of the circumstances of her birth) almost a literal image, she moves that much closer to death herself.
The desire for annihilation is a desire for freedom.
Sexual perversions are a reaction against the belief that life is determined, beyond human control; implicit in such acts is a recognition of the limitations of the romantic self in society. To participate in perverse sexual behavior is to join others in a mutual complicity in transgression in order to liberate one's self—if only by obliterating it. By fitting one's self into stereotyped roles of master and slave, of victimizer and victim, characters like Margherita and her husband Thanatz achieve the anonymity of those types; their simultaneous ability masochistically to accept pain or to inflict it sadistically attests to their
interchangeability with one another. For this reason, as we have noted before, it is pointless to accuse Pynchon of not investing his characters with personality; most of them continually attempt to cast off their selves and rid themselves of the burden of their personalities. In trying to transcend the limitations of the self, they become abstractions.7
Paradox governs the behavior of such characters. They debase themselves in order to exalt themselves; they aim for extinction and fulfillment. For Thanatz, the trick is to affirm sado-masochism, to explore its potential for joy. Thanatz is the Zone's chief proponent of "Sado-anarchism." According to him, humans learn submission from their mothers, and as a result also acquire the lust for dominance, which is but the other side of the coin. Incidentally, in Gravity's Rainbow mothers are "Their" agents, part of the "Mother Conspiracy" (505), a cabal which encourages guilt in human offspring. Without the guilt, Thanatz decides, sado-masochism is a viable approach to life. Thanatz tells Ludwig the lemming-chaser that "a little S and M never hurt anybody," and besides, it is a way of understanding "Their" control; his bizarre theory of sexual politics one-ups Lenin:
"But why are we taught to feel reflexive shame whenever the subject comes up? Why will the Structure allow every other kind of sexual behavior but that one? Because submission and dominance are resources it needs for its very survival. They cannot be wasted in private sex. In any kind of sex. It needs our submission so that it may remain in power. It needs our lusts after dominance so that it can co-opt us into its own power game. There is no joy in it, only power. I tell you, if S and M could be established universally, at the family level, the State would wither away" (737).
Mad as the idea appears, Thanatz has something. Sado-masochism can make inroads against control, because it establishes a community of pain and allows participants to share fantasies. No longer "strangers at the films," they are part of the film--the same film, the same fantasies: sado-masochists stand midway between the behaviorist Dr. Pointsman, who can see only the "outside" of the human consciousness, and the mystic Mondaugen, who sees opposites as necessary to one another; theirs is a philosophical approach to life which makes use of: the most powerful force within humans-their sexuality, which is to say their affinity for one another. Or, to couch their vision in other terms, their total servitude and total dominance are religious acts, sacred rites; each perversion is a test of faith. Moreover, sado-masochism permits them to inhabit an erotic universe of understandable proportions: a total, connected world.
Pirate Prentice, for example, can get "inside the fantasies of others: being able, actually, to take over the burden of managing them" (12), a talent which at first The Firm exploits, but which eventually makes it possible for him to join The Counter-force. In a surrealistic sequence Prentice and Katje exchange fantasies until they blur into a common, anonymous, bisexual lust aimed at sexual congress with every human in the world. Theirs is a dream of Whiteheadian-scaled sex:
All these [fantasies] and many more pass for our young couple here, enough to make them understand that horny Anonymous's intentions are nothing less than a megalomaniac master plan of sexual love with every individual one of the People in the World--and that when every one, somewhat miraculously, is accounted for at last, that will be a rough definition of "loving the People" (547).
In short, the sado-masochist, like -the paranoid, seeks coherence, continuity, and community.
Given a world in which cause and effect may not consistently operate, in which randomness and surprise-expressed throughout the novel as Gödel's Theorem and Murphy's Law--are inherent, is there a philosophical justification for believing that humans are "all one"? How are they connected? It is one thing to retreat into mysticism, as some of the characters do, and quite another to explore continuity and congruence in rational terms. Fortunately, balancing what might otherwise become a mushy sort of mysticism in Gravity's Rainbow is a novel theory of psychology, although one must pay close attention to Pynchon's seemingly casual references to it.
Human fantasies-even mindless pleasures—are composed of common elements: archetypes. Archetypes recur over and over again for everybody, and the narrator worries about the coincidences which on the one hand attest to a common consciousness among humans and on the other seem too pat to be trusted. He speculates:
It was nice of Jung to give us the idea of an ancestral pool in which everybody shares the same dream material. But how is it we are each visited as individuals, each by exactly and only what he needs? Doesn't that imply a switching path of some kind? a bureaucracy? (410).
To the paranoid, there is always that possibility, but the answer to the question is--not necessarily. Other things, like narcotics, can encourage the appearance of archetypes. For example, Oneirine, in addition to its property of "time-modulation" (389), which slows the flickering frames of consciousness to an apprehensible speed, also produces "mantic archetypes" (702); the hallucinations that derive from the drug may thus be accurate visions of reality. Narcotics were invented to relieve suffering, Wimpe the drug salesman explains to Tchitcherine, and the idea has been "to find something that can kill pain without causing addiction." The problem is that chemical drugs grip humans in much the same way that sadomasochistic urges do, and the dilemma may be explained by another analogy also. According to Wimpe:
"Results have not been encouraging There is nearly complete parallelism between analgesia and addiction. The more pain it takes away, the more we desire it. It appears we can't have one= property without the other, any more than a particle physicist can specify position without suffering an uncertainty as to the particle's velocity" (348).
Once again Pynchon returns to the central paradox of modern micro-physics. When a physicist knows the velocity of an electron, he cannot know its location or position; when he knows the electron's position, he cannot know its velocity, because the electron seems to be both particle and wave. The phenomenon has been explained by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in the Principle of Complementarity, which holds that both aspects are accurate. Heisenberg has put the Principle in language that Pynchon can appreciate:
The concept of complementarity is meant to describe a situation in which we can look at one and the same event through two different frames of reference. These two frames mutually excluide each other, but they also complement each other, and only the juxtaposition of these contradictory frames provides an exhaustive view of the appearance of the phenomena.8
The psychologist Carl Jung and the physicist Wolfgang Pauli some years ago attempted to formulate a corresponding theory to explain the recurrence of phenomena like archetypes in the human consciousness. That is, how can so general a symbol become so particular an event for the individual, the problem which disturbs the narrator of Gravity's Rainbow. To their theory Jung and Pauli gave the name "Synchronicity." In his application of micro-physics to psychology Jung defined synchronicity as "the simultaneous occurrence of two meaningfully but mot causally related events" and also as "a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same or similar meaning... equal in rank to causality as a principle of explanation."9
As Arthur Koestler points out, Jung leaned heavily on another theorist, the biologist Paul Kammerrer, who explained coincidence and recurrence by an acausal principle he called seriality which tended toward unity. Koestler discusses Kammerer's "seriality" in terms particularly germane to Gravity's Rainbow:
In some respects it is comparable to universal gravity--which, to the physicist, is also still a mystery, but unlike gravity which acts on all mass indiscriminately, this force acts selectively on form and function to bring similar configurations together in space and time; it correlates by affinity… Kammerer was particularly interested in temporal Series of recurrent events; these he regarded as cyclic processes which propagate themselves like waves along the time-axis of the time-space continuum. But we are aware only of the crests of the waves, which appear to us as isolated coincidences, while the troughs remain unnoticed. 10
The language and the conceptions are those of Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow, and they help to explain how he could have originally titled his work Mindless Pleasures, for the fantasies--and the consciousnesses-of humans are linked by a process similar to gravity itself. That linkage is our legacy, just as the wastes of life compacted by gravity are our heritage as well. The ideas of Kammerer and Jung help to explain Tyrone Slothrop's peculiar gift too; Jung's synchronicity specifically allows for precognition.11
Slothrop of course does not have the resources of his creator. His alternatives are a world of chance or a world of paranoia. Unlike his hero, the comic book character Plasticman, who can flow and slip through the grids of forces that Slothrop can hardly perceive, Tyrone is lost, an Orpheus similar to Rilke's in the twenty-sixth Sonnet, who must
Cry chance. Into interstices
of this world-space, (into which the unbroken
bird-cry passes, as people do into dreams--)
they drive their wedges, wedges of shrieking.11
Slothrop has not even the consolation of knowing that his dreams-and his cries-are shared by others.
Paranoia, the belief that all things are connected, is "a Puritan reflex" (188), the successor to Weberian rationalization in our century.13 It is the perception of "Kute Korrespondences" (590), like those which structure Gravity's Rainbow, synchronous events acausally connected. It is a design which defends us against chaos.
Call it by whatever name, without: that perception we have no existence; we dissolve, like Slothrop. That, finally, is what Pretention means: to be powerless, to have no coherent scheme by which to appraise the universe. Better to be paranoids than what Weber called "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart."14 And if in our paranoia we fear control, suspect that our lives are determined, our fears and suspicions are also the source of our freedom. Besides, as Murphy's Law reminds us, there is always surprise. To recognize the possibilities of control is to open the way to escape, particularly since those who would control are hampered by their faith in cause and effect and cannot accept surprise.
If "They" would destroy and dehumanize others with the Rocket, we must remember that those others created it for the same reason that they love. For those others, the disinherited, it is the Angel of the Morning, the Wishing-Star. It is difficult to overstate the ambivalence of technology as Pynchon assesses it in Gravity's Rainbow: it represents the worst and the best in man, his limitations and his potential for perfection, entropy and entelechy. Pynchon is cautious. While he specifically attacks thinkers like B. F. Skinner who advocate using technology to control humans, at the other extreme he gets in some licks against optimistic technologists like Teilhard de Chardin (539). Where de Chardin would say, "Everything that rises must converge,"15 Pynchon would say not so- -or not yet. We still belong to Earth, and to her Gravity.
1 Rainer Maria Rilke to Marie von Thurn und Taxis, 12 September 1912, The Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke and Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis, trans. Nora Wydenbruck (London: Hogarth Press, 1958), p. 77. The reader will remember the important role of the Thurn und Taxis family in The Crying of Lot 49.
2 Andrew Hacker, 77i* End of the American Era (New York: Atheneum, 1973), p. 57.
3 It is possible that Pynchon is playing here with the five-dimensional universe of three spatial and two temporal dimensions postulated by the physicist Adrian Dobbs.
4 They are omitted in the Bantam paperback edition, and seem to have been merely an inspiration of the book's first editor.
5 M. F. Beal is a California writer and teacher at whose home Pynchon discussed the material in this passage. She is married to David Shetzline, who is also mentioned in Gravity's Rainbow. The two met Pynchon originally through Richard Farifla. W. T. Lhamon to the author, 27 November 1973.
6 The allusion of course is to Leopold Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs.
7 For a more detailed consideration of Pynchon's approach to characterization, see Joseph W. Slade, "Escaping Rationalization: Options for the Self in Gravity's Rainbow," Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, 18 (April 1977), 27-38
8 Werner Heisenberg, quoted in Arthur Koestler, The Roots of Coincidence (New York: Vintage, 1973), pp. 54-55. This book, on which I have relied extensively, is of great help in understanding Pynchon.
9 Carl Jung, quoted by Koestler, pp. 94-95.
10 Koestler, pp. 86-87.
11 Kocstler, p. 95. See also M. L von Franz, "Science and the Unconscious," Man and His Symbols, ed. Carl G. Jung et al. (New York: Dell, 1968), pp. 377-387; and C. G. Jung, "On Synchronicity," Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, ed. Joseph Campbell (New York: Pantheon, 1957), pp. 201-211.
12 Rainier Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, trans. M. D. Herter Norton (New York: Norton, 1942), p. 121.
13 See Hendrick Hertzberg and David C. K. McClelland, "Paranoia," Harper's, 248 (June 1974), 52.
14 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribmer's, 1958), p. 182.
15 Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man (London: Fontana Books, 1964), p. 137.
Joseph W. Slade. Thomas Pynchon. Peter Lang, New York, 1990. p.193-220.