Brolin Xavier

Some disjointed thoughts on reading and rereading Gravity’s Rainbow

…and his chest fills and he stands crying, not a thing in his head, just feeling natural….

I remember listening to a podcast hosted by Emma Winston and Darius Kazemi where, Darius, in talking about his first and second and third or whatever rereading of Gravity’s Rainbow, says something to the effect of “why the hell would I read other books when I can just reread Gravity’s Rainbow?”. I felt something like that very early this year, where I was staring at my ever-growing list of to-be-read books and thought, well, it’s the 50th anniversary, I have to reread it. The thing is it’s not my favorite book by a mile. It’s not even my favorite Pynchon (Mason & Dixon on both counts). I bought it in a South Philly bookstore about a decade ago and I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages for about 8 years. And one day I did get through, and I read it over a few weeks, and ever since, much like the dumb internet thing about the Roman Empire, I am always, always, thinking about this book. It’s as close to an obsession as I’ve ever had, and honestly I’ll go to my grave thinking about this book.

Because thinking about this book means thinking about the following, among many other things:

Rockets. The Rocket. Nazis. Nazi rat lines. WASPs. Corporate cartels. Bananas. Pedophilia in elite circles. BDSM. Double integrals. Colonialism. Genocide. Suicide. Pigs, the loveliness of. America. Europe. Pavlovian conditioning. Probability distribution functions. Drugs. Paranoia, Paranoia, Paranoia.

Reading this book is often like a trippy movie or mini-series, with constant flashbacks and flash-forwards, sometimes a flashback within a flashback within a seance, a random guy you see for ten pages and then not again for another 300. A hot air balloon pie-throwing fight situated not too far away from a father being visited by a possible doppelganger of his daughter who might be in a Nazi concentration camp. An immortal bulb that makes it through decades and lives, past the Phoebus Cartel and planned obsolescence, to finally be screwed into a kazoo that someone’s using as a pipe for marijuana. The villain who disappears, only to turn up (outside the book), in our own history, in all the high places — “look high, not low”. Think Werner Von Braun. That the powerful survive and thrive when they shouldn’t. The main character who becomes an urban legend, evading pursuit across a destroyed, anarchic post-war Germany (the Zone) until one day, clear-headed and clear-eyed, he just…scatters out into the world. The first time I read this book, this last part really bothered me. What the hell, he just goes? That’s it? But even though I’ve only read it twice now, I’m at peace with this. In fact I think it’s beautiful, maybe we should all just be scattered instead of meeting a definite end — that’s where the quote at the top comes from. I guess all of that was a spoiler, oh well.

Anyway I find it cumbersome and unnecessary to over-intellectualize Pynchon when thinking or writing about him because a) everyone in the world has already done so and I don’t need to add to the corpus (not that I have anything particularly noteworthy to add) and b) as a reader, I don’t think you need to approach his work academically: I think he writes for just regular people who are open to kooky and sometimes uncomfortable things. Reading Pynchon, and reading this book in particular, is a little bit like being let into a weird conspiracy forum. You’ll pick it up as you go along, you do a bit of people watching, sometimes you hit something truly profound, but you also have a lot of “damn, that’s crazy man” reactions. Yes, he’s absolutely a genius. No question about it. But he’s having fun, and you can too. Even when he’s being earnest, and deadly serious. Or annoying.

Because yes it’s an annoying book. This is not a kind novel; it’s not especially kind to the reader by any means, and it’s definitely not kind to its characters. Especially not women and children. The excesses of the novel and the excesses of the suffering within it start wearing on you. Which yes, it’s exposing the world we live in for all its ugliness. Reading it now, where the rotten heart of our world is on full display just a few clicks or button-taps away…I don’t know. Considering what we know about Jeffrey Epstein and his “associates”, how deep and high up his ties went, after Pinochet’s pals in Colonia Dignidad and what happened to Allende (the year this book came out, by the way), after some very recent events and associated death and destruction I won’t dwell on, this book stops being exposition to the cruelties of the world as Pynchon perceived it fifty years ago, and more reminder of all the myriad ways the world is even more messed up than even his twisted mind could come up with.

All of this to say, if you’re still reading this, you should read Gravity’s Rainbow. Not for the clout or to feel smart, because you will feel extremely stupid reading it. You’ll probably stop and wonder how any one person could write anything like this, or even begin to conceptualize something like it. You’ll hate it, and you’ll hate me for telling you to read this obscene, turgid, unreadable book (not my words— Pulitzer Prize board’s words), but if you stick with it, it’ll stick with you. And it won’t let you go. And when it’s filled you up to the point that you’re wondering what to do with yourself after you finish this book and realized you used 131 of those little post-it flags (I counted), and you need someone, anyone to talk to, let me know.

#books #literature #pynchon #reading