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Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's Rainbow (original 1973; edition 2000)

by Thomas Pynchon

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7,19070495 (4.13)1 / 331
Title:Gravity's Rainbow
Authors:Thomas Pynchon
Info:Penguin Books (2000), Edition: Later Printing, Paperback, 784 pages
Collections:Currently reading

Work details

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)

  1. 80
    Ulysses by James Joyce (Jen7r)
  2. 50
    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (AndySandwich)
    AndySandwich: Books that cause neuroses.
  3. 42
    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (AndySandwich)
    AndySandwich: Gravity's Rainbow = paranoia House of Leaves = claustrophobia
  4. 10
    The Atrocity Exhibition by J. G. Ballard (StevenTX)
  5. 00
    Crash Gordon and the Mysteries of Kingsburg by Derek Swannson (jasbro)
  6. 00
    Ratner's Star by Don DeLillo (rickyrickyricky)
    rickyrickyricky: Like Pynchon? Like DeLillo? Here we gots DeLillo's enthusiastic and goofy response to his own, favorable experience with Pynchon's most famous monsterwork. Wit, mathematical math and DeLillo dialogue.
  7. 34
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville (ateolf)

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I have three copies of this book, all read at various times of my life with notes in the margins. I studied Pynchon extensively in college, a fact which always amazes me when I look at my reading habits now. Still, it's a significant read in my development, and sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I'd continued down the po-mo road in my graduate studies. I still love flipping through the copies I have and seeing how my thoughts about the book changed over time. I should do it again. ( )
  Crowinator | Sep 23, 2013 |
A great deal of the book I absolutely hated; post-modernism just ain't for me. But I would be a lousy literary snob without reading the damn thing. ( )
1 vote bontley | Aug 24, 2013 |
A friend once reviewed a book merely by asserting how long it had been around, as if this were an automatic testament to its worth. I had to remind them that Mein Kampf was quickly approaching a centennial, and still remains a worthless read (excepting for historians. It is also a great book to throw at the Hitler-exonerating fools who deny the holocaust).
As our society progresses, the collective culture is becoming increasingly saturated with works. This saturation causes communities to spring up around certain values and tastes, often at the ignorance of other equally worthy works.
If we want to argue for the existence of a cannon of excellence in any of the arts, we must consume these works with a critical eye, and not just assume their excellence on the basis of the fact that they have been handed down to us. We must ask how relevant they are to us, and we must ask whether it will be worth the time of the coming generations.
Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow is a much loved book by many people, but to a certain extent it suffers from he flaw of being automatically entered into the cannon without paying its right dues. Many people who sings its praise on the college campuses have never actually read it, but merely name-drop it to look and feel more intelligent. This is an absolute shame, for the book is rather wonderful. The humor in it is absolutely wonderful (I suspect Woody Allen pilfered one of his more famous jokes from this work). Though it is not the same funny of, say Terry Pratchett, I did have to put the book down a few times to work the chuckles out of my system (An example that will not ruin to much of the story: A certain character has the gift of Papyromancy - the ability to read someone's future from the way the roll joints). Vividly detailed to an incredible degree, the work I think can be thought of as a painting painted with a single haired brush. The dedication it must have taken to write this is absolutely incredible.
But let us as well be very wary of that last point; it is something of the books fault as much as it is a virtue. A painting crafted with a single haired brush would not tax the viewer in any way; they could marvel at it and the artist's dedication without any kind of burden. That is not the case with Gravity's Rainbow: the reader must follow the writer, stroke by stroke, from beginning to end. And this, in such a difficult work, is incredibly demanding of the reader. And while some people argue that it is a good litmus test for education or taste, I find that at the end of the day all such a journey proves is tenacity in the reader (I've met many people, with whom I am at odds on the way and the purpose of their reading, and they have read this book, cover to cover). And I do not feel that is something that should be rewarded.
Despite the book's many merits, I do not feel that it is Pynchon's best. Of the one's I have read so far, V and Vineland hold that honor. This is not to say this book is worthless; it is still an excellent work. The biggest flaw with this work is that it has over-stuffed itself, to point of being somewhat immobile. It is why so many people ultimately put this book down. V, on the other hand (a book that resembles the book in terms of density) while still being as richly detailed as Gravity's Rainbow, has not pushed it, and still has a lightness to it that eases the reader.
Now, onto the coming generations I would want to give the cannon of Pynchon's work, as I have felt that of everything I have so far read all of it is worth while. But had I to chose just one, I would easily pick V. It is just as challenging, as well demands much of the reader, but does a better job of incentivizing them to continue, without playing to the game of having to be one of those works a person finish only for the hipster-ish reason of 'few others have.' ( )
  M.Campanella | Jul 28, 2013 |
This was a 5 book. ( )
  drewsof | Jul 9, 2013 |
Gather ‘round, everyone, and hear the tale of why the reasoning (not the rejection itself, mind you) behind the rejection of this novel for the Pulitzer Prize of ’74 fucking pisses me off.

Their reason? Obscenity. I would hope that they at least wrote an essay justifying their decision that went beyond an insipid mix of morally outraged blatherings and oblique mentions of coprophilia (he ate what? Poop? Oh, we cannot stand for this we simply must not accept this and god forbid we even think for a moment on the context or, you know, try to understand).

Because right before, right before this event that in my particular edition takes up a mere two pages out of seven hundred and sixty, yes, 760, count ’em, of wonder and glory that I will expand upon later once I have clearly demonstrated the idiocy of the rejection, yes, right before the passage that describes the horrific act in all its gory detail, we have:They have taken him so far from his simple nerves. They have stuffed paper illusions and military euphemisms between him and this truth, this rare decency, this moment at her scrupulous feet…not it’s not guilt here, not so much as amazement—that he could have listened to so many years of ministers, scientists, doctors each with his specialized lies to tell, when she was here all the time, sure in her ownership of his failing body, his true body: undisguised by uniform, uncluttered by drugs to keep from her communiqués of vertigo, nausea, and pain….Above all, pain. The clearest poetry, the endearment of greatest worth…I have never been in a war. I do not claim to understand the agony that those who participate go through, neither the soldier nor the civilian. But this I can recognize, this horrid disconnection from reality that results from society blocking you off from the realities of life with words, words, worthless words that rise like so much smoke and fall like so much ash when you realize it is all lies and there is nothing, nothing to prepare you for the truth of life and you become exquisitely aware of what They have conditioned you to be. And the question arises of whether life in this sleazed and sycophantic lubricant is worth it, and reality dims to a faint question of hunger and thirst, and your thoughts clamor at you to the edge of the precipice and all you can think about is how a permanent vacation from all this banality of evil would be nice. Very nice indeed. And the only thing that can draw you back is some confirmation that through all the living muck you are indeed alive. What is an easier answer to that eternal question than pain? Better yet, what is a more conscientious answer than pain, willingly inflicted upon the self in a controlled and safe environment, rather than going out and inflicting oneself on others in the forms of murder, rape, and physical destruction? With that in mind, who dares claim that they, an untouched outsider, have the right to condemn such a thing?

What is even worse than this flimsy excuse is what was lost when the baby, with so much joyous potential and wondrous insight, was flung out with the merest trickle of slightly smelly bathwater, flung to die on the streets for showing itself as being human.

Do you know what was lost? Knowledge, and better yet, a love of knowledge, sheer ecstasy at the mere sight of knowledge, adoration of subjects ranging from geography to organic chemistry to folk lore of cultures other than European to religions other than European to philosophical meanderings upon death and life and lust and shit and piss and the War, the War in none of its popular culture trappings of honor and glory and instead in its vulgar horror of wasted lives and idiotic bashings and the eternal chance of being blown to smitherings no matter if you were suffering in the worst of concentration camps or if you had found some small and precious moment of laughter in these bleak and desperate times, run by Them. Always by Them. They, who know the rules and run the show and will catch you by the genitals and nail you to the rate race and leave you to run or hang, silently screaming in pleasure all the way in an invisible construct too devious for words.

Why? Because it is the very foundations of what Homo Sapien is built upon, that instinctive organism that found itself growing a shell of thought, of conscience, enough to persuade itself that it was beyond all those biological trappings, those helpless desires, those inane fears, those shameful pleasures. Because when faced with death, the natural response is life, and the natural precursor is procreation, and the natural instigator is, what? Some call it love. Others call it lust. And perhaps it would be that clean if you ignored all that social indoctrination, all those millennia of cultural bonds and civilized underpinnings, the conformation of the animal to a world of new materials, new ideas, new awareness of pain and terror in the face of an overall useless existence. If you force a creature to like something and live with it from day one, and then keep to the beat their descendants forever on, you better be ready for a blending of the biological instinct and the cultural indoctrination. You better be ready for the fetish, those inexplicable psychological bonds between a whole range of objects and ideologies, all linked up to the evolutionary instinct, the need to fuck.

And when you put these individuals, who have adapted to strictly controlled world in ways that would put Casanova to shame, into a pressure cooker of death and destruction and technology specifically calibrated to rend bodies in a grotesquely unbelievable artistry, a World War that made the previous paltry and has not yet been surpassed? Furthermore, when you get Them, who sense all of this, in addition to sensing how society readily acquiesces to stories of violent rape and yet frowns on the consensual sexual relations that happen to deviate from the norm? That calls the former an inevitability brought upon by the victims themselves, and the latter a perversion, a deviation, a thing of disgust and shame? Then, dear Reader, you have the conspiracy of the millennia, where War drives sex drives shame drives settling under the thumb of Them who caters to your secret erotic delight. Who drives the War. For what? Money, of course. Ah ha, you say, of course. That excuses everything.

Regardless, seems a bit wonky, no? Seems a bit, well, conducive to discussion of how civilization chooses to harness the biological drive, how it silently condones rape and loudly condones the erratic spillover of voluntary intercourse, no matter how privately or safely it is conducted, no?

Finally, going back to the knowledge. Right now, the liberal arts and the hard sciences hate each other. Loathe each other entirely. I’ve been on both sides, and I’ve heard the same story riddled in pride and ignorant contempt and secret fear from both. I’ve even experienced both, back before I got a handle on things and started to understand the gorgeous beauty inherent in both, which exists in both the masterfully derived equations from which we control the heavens, to the powerfully theme piece of literature that speaks to the souls centuries after conception. And you know which book combines that all in a singular, sexy package? Do you know which book not only breaks the rules of what the general populace deems is the proper way to write a novel, but blurs and cracks and subsumes the boundaries between the knowledge deemed ‘nerdy’ and the knowledge deemed ‘useless’ and wraps them all in a glory that only wishes to expand the appreciation for worlds both mathematical and geographical, both emotional and quantifiable, where a sunset is appreciated for its blend of colors as well as the wondrous calculations of the atmosphere that generate such a sight? All the while skipping over emotional raptures and objective information, capturing the tragically beautiful persistence of the human spirit in nine pages recounting the tale of soldiers caroling one winter’s night; the horrific capabilities of the human spirit in thirty-six pages that range from the fervent desire to breach the horizons and surpass stagnant conceptions of possibility, to the helpless lust in the face of overwhelming obliteration of body and soul, finally ending with complete disconnection except for one last push, one last tiny effort of goodwill.

Simply, this is not an issue with the book, which chooses not to follow the path of literature referencing literature referencing literature ad infinitum, hardening the bubble to an insoluble force field of fear and close-minded intolerance. Which, by the way, makes it perfect for teaching, small excerpts taken out of a context that still retains enormous amounts of contextual information, spanning scopes of knowledge and lines of reasoning with simple skips of words and sentences. No, this is an issue with education itself, the handling of separate subjects in separate ways that result in the same lesson. We learn to hate learning, whether it be by the mindless cramming of scientific gobbledygook or the training to view books as a sponge to be soaked dry of every pointless and emotionally draining detail. We are taught by those who have found refuge in the ideological constraints, concentrated themselves in high enough amounts of personal pride and vicious disdain for anything that lies outsides the traditions of their specific field. We are trained to hate neutrality and loathe those who refuse to subsume their selves under a single formula, see them as traitors to the cause.

As if the human mind, ever metamorphosing in endless streams of fickle time and violent happenstance, constantly shifting in reaction to similar seething cauldrons of fate and fortune, is a block that once fitted can never go back. As if empathy is equivalent to proposal, as if understanding the viewpoints of others without being able to ignore their faults is a secret sign of defending said faults. As if any other reaction to capture bonding (born and bred and colonized and commercialized) beyond stoic subservience (be grateful you have been passed over) is not a screaming across the sky for survival, is not only heresy. It is evil.

Where is the joy? Where is that feeling of acquiring something and loving it so much that one wishes to show it to others, help them understand that this thing they may have feared has so much beauty and really is not so frightening or impossible to comprehend? Where is the recognition of that conspiracy of the ‘Other’, subconsciously mandated as a survival technique (incomprehension leads to fear leads to anger leads to prejudice leads to incomprehension) and now subconsciously harnessed by ‘Them’, a recognition that does not stop and gaze wistfully over to the Zone of action? Ignorance is bliss is the true evil of neutrality, and those loaded words are used to good measure of their full range of context.


I’m not going to lie to you. This book is hard. The only reason I got what I did out of it is due to the following personal characteristics that were acquired by pure chance:

-Love for the German Language
-Formulaic Education in Engineering (specializing in Polymers) Greatly Exceeding that of FE in English
-Penchant for Iconoclasm (sociocultural, sexual, linguistic, you name it, I will break it and make it bleed for the purpose of my own understanding and comfort)
-Reverential Devotion to Literature
-Experience (for every rule I break, I break my own brain over books like these)

That’s my side of the equation. This is how I cheat. I can’t cheat for you, but trust me, the test is worth everything.



Aubrey: I’m sorry?
Anonymous: I just finished your review of Gravity’s Rainbow, and YOU CONDONE COPROPHILIA? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Aubrey: Déjà vu.
Anonymous: What?
Aubrey: Irony.
Aubrey: Okay. You know what. Closure. I get it. Here, all nicely formatted and quotable.

“Looking back on things, it seems to me that whatever the fuck is wrong with me is in some way related to whatever the fuck is wrong with Pynchon. And if that is indeed the case, well. I can live with that.”

-Aubrey (June 16, 2013)
( )
5 vote Korrick | Jun 17, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
Those who have read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow know that those 700+ pages add up to more than just a novel; it’s an experience. The hundreds of characters are difficult to follow, the plot is nonsensical, sex is graphically depicted, drugs are smoked out of a kazoo and a poor light bulb goes through many humiliating experiences. But the brilliance of Gravity’s Rainbow is not in spite of its oddness but because of it.
Like one of his main characters, Pynchon in this book seems almost to be "in love, in sexual love, with his own death." His imagination--for all its glorious power and intelligence--is as limited in its way as Céline's or Jonathan Swift's. His novel is in this sense a work of paranoid genius, a magnificent necropolis that will take its place amidst the grand detritus of our culture. Its teetering structure is greater by far than the many surrounding literary shacks and hovels. But we must look to other writers for food and warmth.

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas Pynchonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bergsma, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Britto, Paulo HenriquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doury, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fučík, ZdeněkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gryzunovoĭ, AnastasiiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jelinek, ElfriedeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koshikawa, YoshiakiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, FrankCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Natale, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nemt︠s︡ova, MaksimaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nilsson, Hans-JacobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ondráčková, HanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pigrau i Rodríguez, AntoniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piltz, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sudół, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zabel, IgorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"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." - Wernher von Braun (Beyond the Zero)
"You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood." - Merian C. Cooper to Fay Wray (Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering)
"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas any more...." - Dorothy, arriving in Oz (In the Zone)
"What?" - Richard M. Nixon (The Counterforce)
For Richard Farina
First words
A screaming comes across the sky.
This classic hustle is still famous, even today, for the cold purity of its execution: bring opium from India, introduce it into China - howdy Fong, this here's opium, opium, this is Fong - ah, so, me eatee! - no-ho-ho, Fong, you smokee, [smokee], see? pretty soon Fong's coming back for more and more, so you create an inelastic demand for the shit, get China to make it illegal, then sucker China into a couple-three disastrous wars over the right of your merchants to sell opium, which by now you are describing as sacred. You win, China loses. Fantastic.

A former self is a fool, an insufferable ass, but he's still human, you'd no more turn him out than you'd turn out any other kind of cripple, would you?
They'll always tell you fathers are 'taken,' but fathers only leave - that's what it really is. The fathers are all covering for each other, that's all.
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answer.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143039946, Paperback)

Tyrone Slothrop, a GI in London in 1944, has a big problem. Whenever he gets an erection, a Blitz bomb hits. Slothrop gets excited, and then (as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his sinister, insinuatingly sibilant opening sentence), "a screaming comes across the sky," heralding an angel of death, a V-2 rocket. The novel's title, Gravity's Rainbow, refers to the rocket's vapor arc, a cruel dark parody of what God sent Noah to symbolize his promise never to destroy humanity again. History has been a big trick: the plan is to switch from floods to obliterating fire from the sky.

Slothrop's father was an unwitting part of the cosmic doublecross. To provide for the boy's future Harvard education, he took cash from the mad German scientist Laszlo Jamf, who performed Pavlovian experiments on the infant Tyrone. Laszlo invented Imipolex G, a new plastic useful in rocket insulation, and conditioned Tyrone's privates to respond to its presence. Now the grown-up Tyrone helplessly senses the Imipolex G in incoming V-2s, and his military superiors are investigating him. Soon he is on the run from legions of bizarre enemies through the phantasmagoric horrors of Germany.

That's just the Imipolex G tip of the shrieking vehicle that is Pynchon's book. It's pretty much impossible to follow a standard plot; one must have faith that each manic episode is connected with the great plot to blow up the world with the ultimate rocket. There is not one story, but a proliferation of characters (Pirate Prentice, Teddy Bloat, Tantivy Mucker-Maffick, Saure Bummer, and more) and events that tantalize the reader with suggestions of vast patterns only just past our comprehension. You will enjoy Pynchon's cartoon inferno far more if you consult Steven Weisenburger's brief companion to the novel, which sorts out Pynchon's blizzard of references to science, history, high culture, and the lowest of jokes. Rest easy: there really is a simple reason why Kekulé von Stradonitz's dream about a serpent biting its tail (which solved the structure of the benzene molecule) belongs in the same novel as the comic-book-hero Plastic Man.

Pynchon doesn't want you to rest easy with solved mysteries, though. Gravity's Rainbow uses beautiful prose to induce an altered state of consciousness, a buzz. It's a trip, and it will last. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:19 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Winner of the 1973 National Book Award, Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern epic, a work as exhaustively significant to the second half of the twentieth century as Joyce's Ulysses was to the first. Its sprawling, encyclopedic narrative and penetrating analysis of the impact of technology on society make it an intellectual tour de force.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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