by Koki Watanabe / January 2016
- Chapter 1. Cold War and Hothouse Bananas: Two Aspects of Cuban Missile Crisis in Gravity’s Rainbow
- Chapter 2. “South” as an Ideology of “Anti-North”: The Paradox of Postmodernism
- Chapter 3. Pynchon as a Betrayer of the “Real”: Rockets, Films, and the Moon in Gravity’s Rainbow
First of all, I would like to express my eternal gratitude toward Professor Takayuki Tatsumi of Keio University. Without his advice at first interview for entering his seminar, I would have never challenged this tremendous novel as the subject of my graduation thesis. In that sense, this thesis undoubtedly owed everything to him, from the begging to the end. Especially, the approach to Gravity’s Rainbow from the perspective of the relationship between the US and Latin America is just what I borrowed from him. His writings and presentations (later, I would refer to them again) are so glorious that I can’t help but imitate them (but, however awkward my approach is, I am completely responsible for it).
I am truly indebted to the members of Tatsumi seminar, and especially of Panic Americana’s editorial team. To commit myself to editing two issues of Panic Americana with them, and the moment we achieved them marked the highlights in my student life. Whenever I pick them up, see their covers, and read contents, there is always chaos on my face––creased up with delight and twisted with shame (and especially when I gaze at some particular pictures in Panic Americana Vol. 19, my countenance would be beyond description), and it is just true that they comfort and cheer me up.
Finally, I would like to thank my family from the bottom of my heart. When I was down on everything surrounding me, they encouraged me to confront difficulties, and never gave me up.
- 1937 Thomas Ruggles Pynchon born on May 8 in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York.
- 1953 Graduates from Oyster Bay High School, and studies engineering physics at Cornell University.
- 1954 Serves in the U.S. Navy for two years.
- 1957 Returns to the Department of English of Cornell University.
- 1959 Publishes “The Small Rain” in The Cornell Writer.
- 1960 Publishes “Entropy” in The Kenyon Review, working at Boeing in Seattle.
- 1963 Publishes V. and wins William Faulkner Foundation Award.
- 1966 Contributes an essay “A Journey into the Mind of Watts” to New York Times, and publishes The Crying of Lot 49. The latter wins Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award.
- 1973 Publishes Gravity’s Rainbow, and shares the 1974 National Book Award with Isaac Bashevis Singer (split award).
- 1975 Is nominated for the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, but refuses to receive it.
- 1984 Publishes Slow Learner (a collection of his early short stories), and contributes an essay “Is It O.K. to Be a Luddite?” to New York Times Book Review.
- 1990 Publishes Vineland.
- 1997 Publishes Mason & Dixon.
- 2006 Publishes Against the Day.
- 2009 Publishes Inherent Vice.
- 2013 Publishes Bleeding Edge.
Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), this wondrous and unmanageable novel written by Thomas Pynchon, is sometimes called one of the most frequently researched fictions written in the 20th century, as much as Ulysses of James Joyce or works of Franz Kafka. Since its publication, it has been already investigated by many enthusiastic critics, with special emphasis on its “postmodern” abstract themes and “encyclopedic” details, which have constituted two main poles of critical tendencies. In the former, as Brian Mchale identified Pynchon as the center of “postmodernity” and “postmodernism” (Mchale 96-97), one can extract the best constructive arguments for theoretical postmodernism, and formulate excellent philosophy for shadowy aspects of society and culture in the late 20th century, especially for the development of technology, media, capitalism and so on. In the latter, the novel’s “encyclopedic” value has attracted critics to some hair-splitting researches—Weisenburger’s Companion, for example, is a representative work which tries to untie the novel’s extremely tangled metaphors by earnestly digging objects which were almost oversupplied into the text. Basically such two types of criticisms seem to cooperatively construct a solid ground for interpretation of the novel, but sometimes there has been an argument on their stances; the former type of criticisms tends to conceal novel’s encyclopedic, ambiguous abundance as a vast collage of objects. In this respect, according to Samuel Thomas (who focuses on Pynchon’s Argentine representations) “there has been a tendency to subsume Pynchon’s Argentinisms into some broader thematic concern or theoretical stratagem” in criticisms (Thomas 57). The difference of these critical attitudes has been repeatedly argued, but according to Yoshiaki Sato, such argument itself is so “self-referential” and completely nonsense in reading Gravity’s Rainbow, this integration into “theme” itself can be contained in the ideology of the “Northern realm of Death” (Sato 99). Indeed, Pynchon encloses such criticisms in advance as the languages of “North” which he criticizes in the novel, but there is some oppositions toward them in the realm of “South.” In that sense, the novel centers around the binary oppositions between “North” and “South.”
Here, the aim of this thesis is to meditate on Pynchon’s concern with the “South”—especially Latin America.
In Chapter 1, I would try to reveal how Pynchon superimposes the Cuban Missile Crisis on the V-2 launch in WW2 Germany and depict the aspect of the incident as the resistance from Cuba toward the US, through putting special emphasis on the binary opposition between V-2 and Bananas. At the same time, I would attempt to compare Gravity’s Rainbow with his short story “Entropy” in order to consider his attitude toward politics of the American 50s-60s.
In Chapter 2, I would examine how he incorporates Latin American motifs or characters into the structures of the latter novel, and meditate on his ambivalence which seems to occur in his mind when he integrates them into more abstract themes, such as the binary oppositions between “South and North” or “We and They.”
Finally in Chapter 3, I would consider Pynchon’s tribute to an Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges and German director Fritz Lang, referring to Pynchon’s concern with the moon which is depicted as a common motif between Borges and Lang. Through the examination, I would try to conclude how Pynchon schemes to mingle his novel and Borges’ poem, V-2 and Apollo, past and future, or the fictional and the real.
Cold War and Hothouse Bananas: Two Aspects of Cuban Missile Crisis in Gravity’s Rainbow
When we read Gravity’s Rainbow written by Thomas Pynchon, the compli-cated, difficult, and enormously long novel, which is undoubtedly one of the most eminent masterpieces in 20th century American Literature, what notions would help us most effectively? To this question, the criticisms of Tony Tanner, one of the earliest critics who regarded Thomas Pynchon as a representative writer in postwar America, would bring us some useful points of view.
To begin with, I would like to introduce an important theme “entropy,” briefly referring to Tanner’s interpretations of Thomas Pynchon’s earlier works. In City of Words, published by Tanner in 1971, he devoted two chapters to Thomas Pynchon; The 6th chapter “Everything Running Down” and the 7th chapter “Caries and Cables.” In the former, Tanner explained the notion of entropy which was originally used in the second law of thermodynamics, and examine how it would be taken into literature as one of the common parlances as great pessimism for authors—“The even more widespread fear of tendency of all things towards eventual homogeneity” (City of Words 142). Showing literary history surrounding entropy, Tanner identified Thomas Pynchon as the cutting edge of such tradition:
“Faced with the evidence of an ever more rapid release of power, and the concomitant hastening of process of disintegration and accumulations of rubbish in the foreground of human activity, he [the modern American writer] may wonder what sort of conspiracy might be behind this accelerated leveling of things, what might be, in Conrad’s phrase, ‘the plot of plots.’ This, above all, is what the work of Thomas Pynchon is about.” (City of Words 152)
And in the next chapter, he read Thomas Pynchon’s works from his first short novel, just entitled “Entropy” (1960) down to the second long novel The Crying of Lot 49 (1966). In a sense, Tanner’s insistence that the entropic process of the world could be regarded as the main interest for Thomas Pynchon, and it was found commonly in his body of writings, is perfectly in point. Such situation of ‘everything running down’ and the binary oppositions between chaos and order, for example, were represented in two rooms where Callisto’s and Meatball Mul-ligan’s in “Entropy,” or such characters themselves actually exist as definite models, seen in his latter works.
In addition, Tanner showed how Pynchon depicted that in Gravity’s Rainbow in his latter criticism published in 1978, 5 years after the novel was out:
Roughly, what emerges from the book is a sense of a force . . . referred simply as “They”. . . . They seek to convert the organic world into an inert world of plastic and paper. This is a vision of entropy as an extremely powerful world-wide organization. . . . I think Pynchon is concentrating on a crucial moment when They seemed to set about imposing a new order on the world, an order apparently addicted to energy—and the whole novel is very relevant to our ecological concern at how technological man is simply using up his own planet—but an order which is ultimately addicted to Death. (italics original; “V. and V-2” 51)
In short, the answer to the question, “When we read Gravity’s Rainbow . . . ,” is that the notion of entropy would help us strongly. But, in this chapter I would try to expose that there is another line leading from “Entropy” written in 1958 (or 59) of the peak of social oppression in Cold War, to Gravity’s Rainbow in 1973 that reached the last critical moment of American counter-culture movement, by casting new light on their details rather than the abstract themes—by a precise comparison between “Entropy” and Gravity’s Rainbow, referring to Thomas Pynchon’s attitude toward the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and American imperialism toward Latin American countries.
1. Similarities between “Entropy” and Gravity’s Rainbow
The comparison between two novels can be made at least in two points: the characters and the plots. I would start to comparing them with special emphasis on their characters. In the shorter one “Entropy,” the situation was set in a downstairs and an upstairs apartment at Washington D.C, February 1957, and it consists of three main persons living there. In downstairs, Meatball Mulligun is holding a lease-breaking party which proceeds toward more chaotic state; everyone in the room got drunken with alcohol or drugs, the increase of the population in the room is unstoppable, and the soundless Jazz session is played. Upstairs, in contrast, there is Callisto’s room:
[T]his Rousseau-like fantasy, this hothouse jungle . . . it was a tiny enclave of regularity in the city’s chaos, alien to the vagaries of the weather, of national politics, of any civil disorder. (SL 83)
In the room which is a perfectly ordered and controlled space for Callisto and his girl friend Aubade, he is trying to warm a dying bird in his arms. In this point, Pynchon made a simple binary opposition between downstairs and upstairs, Meatball and Callisto. The former one, facing the disastrous mess, in which even people failed to communicate each other for the significance of language scatters, manages to deal with the situation. But for the latter, Callisto, “Through trial-and-error, he had perfected its ecological balance” at once (SL 84), entropy in the room is increasing and finally reaches the heat-death by the moment Aubade breaks the window. These contrastive men can be seen in Gravity’s Rainbow between Tyrone Slothrop and Captain Blicero (also known as Weissmann), a young G.I. working for ACHTUNG—“Allied Clearing House, Technical Units, Northern Germany” (GR 18) in England and the commander of Luftwaffe (air force of Nazi Germany)—of course, as Tanner said, the same contrast can be found in Benny Profane and Herbert Stencil of V., but especially the correspondence between Callisto and Blicero is more stimulating.
In the episode 14 of Gravity’s Rainbow, there is a situation easily comparable with that of Callisto in “Entropy.” In the episode, Pynchon depicts an odd role-play performed by three people—Blicero, his male lover Gottfried and Dutch female agent Katje Borgesius. It is based on a “Northern and ancient form” (GR 98), Hänsel und Gretel from Grimm’s fairy tales, and the house they live in, located nearby the firing site of V-2, is described as a “shelter, against what outside none of them can bear—the War, the absolute rule of chance, their own pitiable contingency here, in its midst . . .” (GR 98). Blicero, a homosexual character who plays the role of witch, wearing a grotesque costume, is seeking for a ordered and controlled space against the chaos of the War, eager to attain his destiny that is to be killed by Katje, assigned the role of Gretel, as the same to its original story. But in the middle of the episode, Katje quit the game and leaves from Blicero. His fantasy is destroyed by her “meta-solutions” (GR 104), and he has to find the next form, the story of Wilhelm Tell. In that he finds himself as a kind of archer who launches V-2 missile. Here, undoubtedly the common plot is found; as in “Entropy” Callisto’s dream of control and order is finally torn by Aubade by breaking the window of upstairs to open up to different space, and Blicero’s obsession is also shattered by Katje’s escape from the game, and he is to be exposed to the War (because she is an agent of Allies, and leaks the location of missile-site after fled from Blicero). Besides, taking into consideration the etymology of the name “Callisto,” originally derived from a Nymph’s name of Greek myth, and Blicero playing the role of witch, there another common feature is found between them as the male character represented as feminine.
2. Differences between “Entropy” and Gravity’s Rainbow: Two Aspects of Cuban Missile Crisis
I have so far shown the possibility of comparison between “Entropy” and Gravity’s Rainbow Episode 14, putting special focus on Callisto and Blicero. Despite many similarities between Callisto and Blicero, what must never be missed as the difference between them; Gravity’s Rainbow is the novel unquestionably centering V-2 missile, and Blicero is a commander who launches the V-00000 rocket, which links all episodes literally from its beginning to the last. Next, here I would examine the differences between them from their social contexts. What social context will be taken to the foreground, when Callisto, the languid intellect in the 1950s becomes the homosexual-witch-commander of launch of V-2 missile, Blicero? Especially I would reveal the relationship between Gravity’s Rainbow and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Pynchon’s attitude toward American imperialism over Latin America, behind his inter-twisted rhetoric of V-2 and Banana.
Although “Entropy” can be easily linked to a particular society, to the general atmosphere of American 50s for not only its situation, the author himself acknowledged that the sense of stagnancy in the novel was derived from the 50s—the era of Eisenhower (SL 14), the relationship between historical time and Gravity’s Rainbow is by far more complex. Roughly speaking, the whole situation of the novel is basically set in Europe, from London to the “Zone” of the Northern area in Germany, in the last period of WW2, but so many critics have indicated the strong connection between the novel and the society of American 60s. For example, Baker recognizes the shadow of Cold War and Vietnam War in the novel:
In Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon echoes an escalating countercultural critique of the Establishment’s repression at home and murderous imperialism abroad. That work reveals the pragmatist’s idealist tradition as a European “death-structure” identified with Nazi imperialism and “planned society”—a formulation that Pynchon clearly connects with America’s Cold War rhetoric and war economy in the Vietnam era. In that light, much of the narrator’s commentary on the both “the War” and the development of multinational corporations . . . assumes a significance that point what those 1960’s radicals would call, in all—encompassing denunciation of its capitalistic imperialism and its repressive domestic policies, “Amerikkka.” (Baker 324, 330)
After this quotation, Baker constructs his vision of how Pynchon kept Vietnam War in sight, here only the hypothesis about the connection between the novel and the American 60s is applied commonly to this thesis, and I would offer another aspect of American imperialism of 50s-60s in Gravity’s Rainbow—America’s overwhelmingly domination over Latin America.
In the context of the American 60s, what impression do people get from a homosexual man who plays the role of witch and finally launches missile toward “a theater” in 70’s Los Angeles, where Richard M. Zhlubb, a satirical portrait of Richard M. Nixon serves as the night-manager? In two decades after the severe anticommunism movement, which is symbolized by Senator Joseph McCarthy, the era when “. . . homophobia and anticommunism were intertwined . . . the ‘red scare’ was accompanied by far-reaching ‘lavender-scare,’ in which thousands of suspected homosexuals were investigated, interrogated, and dismissed by government officials and private employers” (Friedman 1105)? Absolutely, Pynchon intended to create him as a character who is suspected as a communist and reminds people of the hottest moment in Cold War between US and Soviet Union; the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). The connection between Blicero and the Cuban Missile Crisis is also observable in the depiction of V-2 launch site. At firing-site in Peenemünde , Germany, the narrator Greta Erdmann describes that each test-stands where Blicero had launched V-2 (V-00000) were “Islands: clotted islands in the sea.” And she narrates that there was “‘the Kingdom of Lord Blicero. A white land.’ . . . It was not Germany he moved through. It was his own space. . . . We sailed Lower Saxony, island to island. Each firing-site was another island, in a white sea” (GR 494) (Fig. 1).
|Fig. 1. Map of V-2 Test Stands at Peenemünde, Germany. (AIRRECCE. Web. 15 December 2014.)|
Certainly Pynchon superimposed the imagery of islands in Caribbean Sea on the launch site of V-2 missile in WW2, but this narration is not simple enough to quickly conclude the relationship between Blicero and Cuba. This is because Pynchon does so often impress readers the color of “white” in that scene, and in the whole novel there is a couple of binary oppositions between “White and Black” and “North and South.”
In the middle of the novel, Enzian, the leader of a tribe “Hereros” from southwestern Africa and also the ex-lover of Blicero, found the theories and structures of death in “Zone” of northern Germany, the origin of the commander and his rocket. He narrates:
North is death’s region. There may be no gods, but there is a pattern . . . . Nordhausen means dwellings in the north. The Rocket had to be produced out of a place called Nordhausen. The town adjoining was named Bleicheröde as a validation, a bit of redundancy so that the message would not be lost. . . . And Enzian’s found the name Bleicheröde close enough to “Blicker,” the nickname the early Germans gave to Death. They saw him white: bleaching and blankness. The name was latter Latinized to “Dominus Blicero.” Weissmann, enchanted, took it as his SS code name. (GR 327)
From the imagery of Blicero, the man who pursues his utopia in “Northern and ancient form” (GR 98), and whose missile is described as the symbol of Northern realm of Death, also as the ultimate fruition of his obsession for control, order and technology, probably there is some gap between Blicero and Cuba. But, this is what Pynchon aimed at. For him, the Cuban Missile Crisis was not the incident with a single aspect—the US government just adopted—that a socialized country, Cuba, contrived a rebellion against the order and peace of Western hemisphere, which US had kept since the 19th century. But he just saw another aspect there, the counter-movement of Latin America against the unreasonable domination of American Empire, the resistance from South to North. To prove this statement, I would introduce a meaningful contrast in the novel between V-2 and Bananas, the motif of Latin America.
At the climax, Blicero launched V-2 (V-00000), and it comes to “. . . just here, just at this dark and silent frame, . . . absolutely and forever without sound, reaches its last unmeasurable gap above the roof of this old theatre, the last delta-t” (GR 775). After taking short break, earnest readers will go back to the novel’s beginning, the dark “theatre after V-2’s great invisible crashing” (GR 3), and find the astonishing loop-structure of the novel. By the way, following pages after this famous gimmick, Pynchon sets a beautiful symmetry of falling V-2 missile and Bananas. In midst of the episode 1, which starts with the annihilation of V-2 crash accompanying serious images of wartime, the situation shifts to “a maisonette erected last century, not far from the Chelsea Embankment” (GR 5), and there Pynchon unfolds a comedy of Captain Geoffrey “Pirate” Prentice and his mates.
In one morning Pirate witnessed something that “has just sparked, very brightly”—V-2 missile, then he is going up to the rooftop of the maisonette. There he cultivates Bananas in the hothouse, and Pynchon offers a comical and magical correspondence between rocket missile and hothouse Bananas. In the hothouse, Bananas grow from “unbelievable black topsoil in which anything could grow” (GR 6), and gathering them, Pirate got an impression of the V-2 missile, falling toward some far place, that “God has plucked it for him, out of its airless sky, like a steel banana” (GR 8). And then, in downstairs he cooks his famous “Banana Breakfast,” its smell is described here:
Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night’s old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of Breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjuror’s secret by which—through it is not often Death is told so clearly to fuck off—the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down ten or twenty generations . . . so the same assertion-through-structure allows this war morning’s banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail. Is there any reason not to open every window, and let the kind scent blanket all Chelsea? As a spell, against falling objects . . . . (GR 10)
In the quotation, there are many implications that attract readers to speculate on themes of the novel, but the most notable one is that Pynchon depicts the soil as abundant and black, which can accept anything, and Bananas as the symbol of life by declaring “fuck off” to “Death,” and opening every window  to spread the scent “as a spell against falling object.” The symmetry between V-2 and Banana is beautiful—the former, launched in “North, the Death’s region” and falling from sky to destroy and bleach everything into “ultrawhite” (GR 774), and the latter, rising from “unbelievable black topsoil,” cooked into vigorous breakfast emitting its odor around London as a kind of talisman against V-2.
In addition to this section, in the latter episodes, Pirates and his mates including Roger Mexico organize “counterforce” which is easily associated with 60s counter-cultures, to save Slothrop, and after many troubles they come to a “City of the Future . . . the Raketen-Stadt.” Narration begins to fragment, and the situation gets nearly non-sense, Slothrop finds a refrigerator. Somehow he puts his head into that, and abruptly remembers the commercial song of Chiquita Banana:
In-the-re-frig er a-tor! O no-no-no, no-no-no! Chiquita Banana sez we shouldn’t! Somethin’ owful’ll happen! Who would do that? . . . well whoever it is that’s been wantonly disregarding United Fruit’s radio commercials has also just closed young Tyrone in that icebox . . . . (GR 691)
What does Pynchon suggest in this section? According to Weisenburger’s Companion, Chiquita Banana is,
registered trademark of Chiquita Brands Incorporated, a subsidiary of what at the time was the Unite Fruit Company, . . . [which is] IG Farben of Central America and the Caribbean basin, . . . By 1940, United Fruit handled almost 70 percent of the fruit and sugar business from the Caribbean region. . . The UFC had political influence that made it possible for it to remove and install governments almost at will. It lived by exploiting cheap labor in Cuba, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Santo Domingo, Guatemala and Mexico. (Weisenbuger 346-47)
This imperialistic structure built by United Fruits is also known as “Banana Empire” or “Banana Republic” (Wiley 30). Moreover, it must not be missed that the cause of the Cuban Missile Crisis was inevitably related to United Fruit. The influence of US government on Caribbean region was just kept through the business of United Fruits and its agent, those who get deep inside of governments of Latin American countries (Halberstam 713-16). The administration of Fulgenchio Batista of Cuba was a good example which the government was seriously subordinate to US policy.
After Fidel Castro carried out the Cuban Revolution in 1959, he tried to remove the influence of United Fruits over Cuban economy by getting near to Soviet Union, but this action decided US’ attitude toward Cuba. John F. Kennedy ordered to attack Cuba, the Invasion to Pigs Bay, but it failed and led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In conclusion, Banana is the symbol of American imperialism to Latin American countries, and Pynchon represented that—when Latin America would be surrounded by Cold War and its technology, the missile would launch toward US—by using the metaphor of banana: “if Bananas are put in refrigerator, something awful would happen.”
In fact, the Cuban Missile Crisis was solved in peace by the negotiation between Kennedy and Khrushchev, almost completely ignoring the voice of Castro, and any rocket missile hasn’t struck on the US to nowadays (except terrorism attack of 9. 11, 2001). But in a decade from the incident, Pynchon launched a missile. It falls onto the head of Richard Nixon who had been obsessed with the “North” like Blicero. In the 1960 campaign for presidential election, Kennedy attacked Nixon in a speech in Johnstown:
Mr. Nixon hasn’t mentioned Cuba very prominently in this campaign. He talks about standing firm in Berlin, standing firm in the Far East, standing up to Khrushchev, but he never mentions standing firm in Cuba. . . . (Halberstam 729)
This speculation would be also empowered by the statement which is proposed at the “Gross Suckling Conference” of the Counterforce that the rocket had to be launched toward “true North” from somewhere they don’t know—so it can be even from Cuba—as “a ghost-firing” which “has occurred, most secretly, or will occur” (GR 721). And Pynchon described another missile, Bananas, as the metaphor of another aspect of the Cuban Missile Crisis; the struggle of Latin America against the American imperialism. But Pynchon didn’t take it into Gravity’s Rainbow only positively. While he launched a meta-fictional missile toward Nixon, at the same time that there is subtle suspicion toward the myth of JFK in the novel (McCann 264), then he seems to distance himself from 60s counter-culture movement and penetrate an indecisive attitude. In a sense, Pynchon launched V-2 upon himself. I think this is the reason why he chose a theatre in Los Angeles as the ground zero—not only because there is Hollywood, of course—but also because that is near to the place Pynchon wrote Gravity’s Rainbow (this issue would be examined in following chapters).
3. Pynchon and Politics
Now, before reaching conclusion, I would slightly go back to a comparative study of Gravity’s Rainbow and “Entropy” again. In the atmosphere of the American 50s, Callisto composed the perfect harmony—“its ecological balance” within his “Rousseau-like fantasy, this hothouse jungle” and “try[ing] to confront any idea of the heat-death by seeking correspondences. . . . Any tango, but more than any perhaps than sad sick dance in Stravinsky’s L’ Histoire du Soldat” (SL 83, 84, 93). He obviously finds his paradise in the American Empire which holds Latin American environment and its culture, thus the Callisto’s room, “a tiny enclave of regularity in the city’s chaos” in the Washington D.C. in 1957, reflects an American political tradition over the Western hemisphere, observed from early the 19th century to the late 20th; the tradition of non-intervention. It was first declared by the 5th president of US, James Monroe, and developed into the rhetoric of “Containment” that the American foreign policy implemented by Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Graber 332), presidents in the time when “Entropy” was written. Pynchon keenly perceived the difference of temperature between the cold, fixed order which has been established in American Empire and the tendency of revolution, getting hotter and hotter outside of the US. Pynchon’s attitude toward American imperialism seems basically critical. However, he sometimes implies his nostalgia for the 50s politics . His ambivalence toward the age casts a long shadow on his body of writings, and when Gravity’s Rainbow is compared with “Entropy” from the perspective of American imperialism, it is possible to say that Callisto’s cosmos, the allusion of American social oppression in early Cold War era, gets scattered into two pieces—V-2 and Bananas, two aspects of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The representations of Latin America in Pynchon’s body of writings would reveal his tangled stance toward American politics.
“South” as an Ideology of “Anti-North”: the Paradox of Postmodernism
In the former chapter, I tried to reveal Pynchon’s concern with American imperialism over Latin America, through examining several binary oppositions in Gravity’s Rainbow and “Entropy,” and putting special emphasis on the relationship between the novels and American politics in the 50s-60s. Such relationship between Gravity’s Rainbow and American politics has been already researched by some critics: as McCann examines, there is an unquestionable sympathy for the New Left and strong suspicion about the New Frontier (McCann 252). But, it seems also true that Pynchon’s attitude toward the New Left, or broader counter-culture movement in the 60s, is not decisive, because his depiction of “the Counterforce” in the novel which seems to allude to the counter-culture movement is not always positive (Kihara 151). In this chapter, I would meditate on the reason why Pynchon doesn’t support the Counterforce with more positive images by investigating the author’s uses of “South” as the symbol of them, especially Latin motifs in it. In order to do this, I would offer an interpretation on images of two scientists, who are destined to be involved into the “System” and the enormous conspiracy of “Them”––a large cartel dominant over world military, chemical, and electric industries––to maintain “the War” for its vast interests, showing one of the most basic “plots” of the novel.
1. Chasing the Secret: Alternative Fates of Pointsman and Mexico
First of all, I would introduce some synoptic information. In the novel, however, there are some coherent frameworks, especially a story about Tyrone Slothrop’s secret backgrounds; he was a kind of “cyborg” (Tatsumi 42), who is conditioned to erect as soon as he perceives the scent of “Imipolex-G,” a new plastic used as insulation for a certain special V-2 missile (“V-00000”), and to reveal his secret Pynchon enters some scientist characters; a Pavlovian psychologist Edward (Ned) Pointsman, a statistician Roger Mexico, a neurologist and another Pavlovian Dr. Kevin Spectro, Dr. Porkyevitch, who is the master of an octopus creature “Grigori,” Pointsman’s friend Thomas Gwenhidwy and others. While each character plays important roles in the novel by Pynchon’s “style of connectedness” (Moore 52), here I would focus on two characters; Ned Pointsman and Roger Mexico, both of who are radically different in terms of conspiracy behind the War.
Both of them belong to “PISCES,” an organization of scientists devoted to the warfare in various approaches, housed in “White Visitation” which is a mental hospital located in a fictional town “Ick Regis” of southern coast of England. Let me order the story along time proceeding. After Dr. Laszro Jamf had conditioned infant Tyrone for Harvard University and U.S. Army in the 1920s (85), then in December 1944 (24 years after the experiment) scientists of PISCES discovered a mysterious correlation between the missile falling and Slothrop, who is attached to “ACHTUNG”: the places where Slothrop was intimate with his girl friend is regularly struck by V-2 in several days. Both of Pointsman and Mexico pursue the relationship between Slothrop and V-2, but their approaches are completely opposite and they feud with each other as “The Antimexico” (91) and “the Anti Pointsman” (56):
But in the domain of zero to one, not-somethig to something, Pointsman can only possess the zero and the one. He cannot, like Mexico, survive anyplace in between. . . . One or zero. . . . But to Mexico belongs the domain between zero and one––the middle Pointsman has excluded from the perception––the probabilities. (56)
But, whereas there is an apparently binary opposition between them, in a sense the fates which they would undergo are very similar.
Pointsman, this Pavlovian psychologist with a strong ambition to be awarded the Nobel prize is eager to reveal Slothrop’s secret which he thinks is worthy of it, contrives to involve Slothrop into his body of experiments––from a cinematographic event with conditioned octopus creature “Grigori” and Katje Borgesius down to Slothrop’s education on rocket technology (these are depicted in the second part of the novel). Pointsman once succeeded in reminding Slothrop of a part of his hidden past, but after all the plan was “sabotaged” with Slothrop’s “clever little collegiate drinking game” (224), and it seriously damaged the budget for whole activity of PISCES. By the time Pointsman got in touch with ICI, Imperial Chemical Industry in order to ask to finance them, he has gained “a great bit of Wisdom . . . knowing System better than the other chap, and how to use it” (231), gradually getting near to “They” and its conspiracy to make the warfare sustainable (in Gravity’s Rainbow “the War” doesn’t always mean WW2, or its battlefields where people are killed, but it does the whole situation in which “the elect” exploits all the other “preterite,” as Pynchon depicted in “floods on Enzian” of “an extraordinary understanding”) (529). Then, Pointsman attends one of “Their” board meetings in order to establish connection with “Them,” but the conference is attacked by Mexico who stands on the table, and urinates toward attendances there (649). While Pointsman loses all hope after the disaster of meeting, and finally disappears into the “mineral corridors” of his “labyrinth” where once he imagined Slothrop as “Minotaur” to conquer, which might lead him to the glory at Stockholm (767), Mexico joins Counterforce and then goes to “Raketen-Stadt” to rescue Slothrop for it seems “right” for him. But there is a problem frequently criticized in criticisms as a limitation of “counter” movement in postmodern age that Mexico and Counterforce only seek for another establishment for them––“We-system” against “They-system,” especially the former which Jeffery “Pirate” Prentice calls “creative paranoia” (650). Here, Russel made a lucid explanation of their deception:
The problem that the Counterforce, Pynchon, and many postmodern writers face is that of the viability of what amounts to an anarchic response to social totalization. Their alternative systems are threatened, on the one hand, by all dangers inherent in systemization––such as Enzian’s and the Counterforce’s tendency to create their own bureaucracies––or, on the other hand, by complete disintegration into mindless and destructive pleasures. The anarchy of the Counterforce is in dangers of becoming more like the System the more it focuses on its opposition to the System. (Russell 270)
After Mexico joins them, the Counterforce made a declaration that “it isn’t a resistance, it’s a war” against “Them” by singing “a counterforce travelling song” (653), and then engaged in some activities, for example, disrupting “Their” dinner by a verbal assault, shouting a lot of four letter words toward attendances. Nevertheless, as many critics have already mentioned, they seem to be too vulgar and not to be effective enough to counter “Them,” even so they are literally “Black humor against White lies” (Sato 99). After all, the Counterforce cannot change the situation controlled under the rhetoric of system and warfare, only seeking for their alternatives, and the lapse into them is typical of Mexico who declares “My mother is the war” in earlier episode at first meeting with Jessica Swanlake, his lover. From the beginning toward the end, he is inevitably obsessed with the War and Death. Only with Jessica, he can be at ease, but what links him with her is just the War––thus the end of it means a collapse with Jessica who once made him aware of the beauty of the world:
But, “Roger,“ she’d smile, “it’s spring. We’re at peace.”
No, we’re not. It’s another bit of propaganda. . . . There’s something still on, don’t call it a “war” if it makes you nervous, . . . but Their enterprise goes on. The sad fact, lacerating his heart, laying open his emptiness, is that Jessica believes Them. “The War” was the condition she needed for being with Roger. “Peace” allows her to leave him. (640)
In a sense, there is no spontaneous love between Mexico and Jessica, but their affair is controlled along the theory of cybernetics (Tatsumi 46). Probably, the greatest tragedy striking Mexico is that he can’t help but seek for another system and war, despite being aware of it.
I have so far introduced the basic plot of the story based on the binary opposition between Pointsman and Mexico, next I would try to rethink the reason why Pynchon sets a kind of barren scrambles for the hegemony between They and Counterforce (or he had to), referring to some depictions––that Pynchon inserts in order to suggest the figure of hidden victims in the context of American hegemony toward the Western hemisphere––the Latin American motifs in the novel.
2. Paradox of Postmodernism
In Gravity’s Rainbow, there are so many sets of binary oppositions: one of the most comprehensive is that between “North and South,” in which Pynchon alluded to the Cuban Missile Crisis or the counter-movements not only in the US, but also in Latin America toward US’ imperialistic politics over the countries of Latin America, especially through some intertwined depictions of V-2 missile and Bananas that I put special emphasis on in Chapter 1 of the present thesis. For this point, Pointsman, Roger Mexico and the members of the Counterforce are also subsumed in this structure, and what is interesting is that there are also some references to Latin America, not so directly but through some cultural motifs which are the most frequently mentioned feature of the “encyclopedic” novel.
In Episode 20, Pointsman shows up in the narrative, the situation set in a Christmas Eve party at the White Visitation. He feels “my heat floods now with such virility and hope” because he receives good news about his experiment in Riviera (the aforesaid event of Octopus Grigori’s attack on Katje). After he presented his “English Pavlovian jokes,” suddenly is seduced by Maudie Chilkes, led into a closet and served a kind of sexual servitude. In the depiction, Pynchon inserts a tropical imagery of Latin America into a closet of distant southern England:
[H]ere what’s this, an actual, slick and crimson, hot, squeak-stockinged slavegirl “gam” yes right among these winter-pale crinical halls, with the distant gramophone playing rumba music, basses, woodblocks, wearied blown sheets of tropic string cadences audible as everyone dances back there . . . bald Maud, this is incredible, taking the pink Pavlovian cock in as far as it will go, chin to collarbone vertical as a sword-swallower. (171)
Here we can easily find Pointsman’s blatant exoticism toward Latin America with the allusion of some sexual exploitation and conquest, especially in the images of “slavegirl” as “sword-swallower.” And Pynchon continued:
[S]miling quietly, unplugged at last, she returns the unstiffening hawk to its cold bachelor nest but kneels still a bit longer in the closet of this moment, the drafty, white-lit moment, some piece by Ernesto Lecuora, “Sidney” perhaps, now reaching them down corridors long as the sea-lanes back to . . . palm evenings of Cuba . . . but somehow they’re never to have this again, this sudden tropics in the held breath of war and English December, this moment of perfect peace . . . . (171-72)
In the following narrations, the temporality of “the moment of perfect peace” brought by this sudden affair with paradisiacal imageries of Latin America is emphasized by the predictive lines of Pointsman’s tragic fate. In addition to this section, Pynchon implies Pointsman’s exoticism toward Latin America in a song entitled “Pavlovia,” which is played with conga in the rhythm of “Beguine,” a dance form derived from Martinique in Eastern Caribbean Sea (232-33). Pynchon has frequently attempted to insert these Latin American motifs into far distant north places and it is not impossible to regard this attempt as one of his unique writing styles continued from his first novel “Entropy” down to at least Gravity’s Rainbow. But what is also important about his style is that almost all depictions in his novel can be––not should be––interpreted in some binary oppositions; thus I would introduce some corresponding depictions of Roger Mexico, “the Anti Pointsman,” and Latin American motifs.
One Sunday before Christmas Eve, when Pointsman will find his very temporary ease filled with tropical images, Mexico and his girl friend Jessica visit a church located somewhere in Kent, listening to an evening song. “Tonight’s scratch choir was all male,” and with which Pynchon mingles an irregular:
Yet there was one black face, the counter-tenor, a Jamaican corporal, taken from his warm island to this . . . . From palmy Kingston, the intricate needs of the Anglo-American Empire (1939-1945) had brought him this cold fieldmouse church, nearly in earshot of a northern sea he’d hardly glimpsed in crossing, to a compline service, a program tonight of plainsong in English, foray now and then into polyphony . . . . (131)
This Jamaican undoubtedly corresponds with Pointsman’s hallucination of “slavegirl”––both of them are represented as a kind of captives who was taken into northern realm from their original home (of course, the same allusion can be found in the “hothouse Bananas” which was taken into winter London), and Pynchon is keenly conscious of the existence of Anglo-American Empire behind the War. It follows below:
With the high voice of the black man riding above others, . . . he was bringing brown girls to sashay among these nervous Protestants, down the ancient paths the music had set . . . not to mention the Latin, the German? in an English church? These are not heresies so much as imperial outcomes, necessary as the black-man’s presence, from act of minor surrealism––which taken in its pathology, in its dreamless version of the real, the Empire commits by the thousands every day, completely unaware of what it’s doing . . . listen: this is the War’s evening song, the War’s canonical hour, and the night is real . . . . The War, the Empire, will expedite such barriers between our lives. The War needs to divide this way, and to subdivide, though its propaganda will always stress unity, alliance, pulling together. The War does not appear to want ein Volk win Fuhrer––it wants machine of many separate parts, not oneness, but a complexity . . . . (131-33)
In respect of interpretation in this section, there are two stances; on one hand, Pynchon’s meditation upon American imperialism over Latin America seems to reach both of peak and limitation. Whereas Pynchon aimed to sharply portray the victims of the logic of the Empire and the War, emphasizing its reality (132), the figure of the Jamaican singer is submerged in a universal image of war. As many critics have already mentioned, on one hand, there is an enormously self-referential aspect in the novel, which causes an unsettled confliction between the novel’s encyclopedic aspect and totalization. On the other hand, as a Japanese scholar Sato repeatedly insists in his critical works and afterword of his latest Japanese translation of Gravity’s Rainbow, the paranoiac connection between each fact and broader themes itself functions as counter statement against the Western mania for division, rather than running into totalization. In this chapter, insistently focusing on Pynchon’s uses of Latin American motifs, I would basically support the former stance. This is because the author seems to be extremely aware of exploitation which invisible in the representation of the outside of the US. Pynchon’s attitude toward this problem in the story of Argentine anarchists, another peak of his concern to Latin America.
3. Pynchon’s South: the Possibility of Representation
From midst of the 7th episode of the second part of the novel, Pynchon intermittently unfolds some stories of Argentine anarchists, who have fled from Buenos Aires seeking for a kind of utopia in the “Zone” of postwar Germany. The leader of them, Squalidozzi, narrates their aim to Slothrop at a café in Zürich:
“Yeah, but Germany––that’s the last place you want to go”
“Pero ché, no sós argentino . . . . In the days of the gauchos, my country was a blank piece of paper. The Pampas stretched as far as men could imagine, inexhaustible, fenceless. . . . But Buenos Aires sought hegemony over the province. . . . the Argentine heart, in its perversity and guilt, longs for a return to that first unscribbled serenity . . . that anarchic oneness of pampas and sky . . . .” (268)
Their longing for “the Pampas” (the great grasslands of South American Continent) and “first unscribbled serenity,” in which there is neither center nor margin, everything natural and free from division into “separate parts” (133), is partly attained in the “Zone.” As Samuel Thomas investigates in his splendid work “the Gaucho Sells Out,” Pynchon offers the precise portraits of Argentine anarchists with many historical facts about Argentine politics, but in the end of stories related with them he settles these Argentines in “the German Pampas”––the sets for a film:
The sets for movie-to-be help some. The buildings are real, not a false front insight. The boliche is stocked with real liquor, the pulperia with real food. The sheep, cattle, horses, and corrals are real. (623-24)
To remove all fences between reality and fiction, and find equality in both of them as counter attack against the conspiracy of the Empire and the War, is after all “another ideological conspiracy” (Tatsumi 2). Of course, Pynchon seems to be completely conscious of that, and thus there is the author’s ambivalence––“Pero ché, no sós argentine,” the statement which means “But fella, you ain’t Argentine” (Weisenburger 164) ironically strikes the author himself.
Finally, I would point out the relationship between these problems and the Counterforce. Some of them, Jeffery “Pirate” Prentice, Katje Borgesius, Roger Mexico are obviously related to the South, especially Latin America in some way (“Pirate” raises Caribbean Bananas against V-2 missile, the name “Borgesius” is derived from an Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges, and “Mexico” understands the actuality of the War through the voice of a Jamaican singer, and of course his name directly is related to the United Mexican States). When Pynchon gave them such elements in order to create the counter-existence against the Northern Empire and Their System behind the War, he would inevitably face the exploitation behind the representations or the imperialism of himself. While he tried to settle it by enclosing the novel in a “theatre,” still some trace of his ambivalence which casts shadow on the Counterforce, launches meta-missile onto the author himself.
Pynchon as a Betrayer of the “Real”: Rockets, Films, and the Moon in Gravity’s Rainbow
In this thesis, I have so far examined Pynchon’s concern with Latin America which he undoubtedly regards as the antithesis toward the US, and especially in the former chapter, I meditated on his ambivalence toward representing Latin America in that way. Here in this chapter, I would try to develop my argument further into a broader theme: how Pynchon created an alternative history. In order to do this, first, I would try to reexamine another motif, especially Pynchon’s concern with an Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges.
In the last paragraph of the former chapter, I briefly introduced some references to Borges in Gravity’s Rainbow. Indeed, Pynchon’s Borges mania and its reflection in his writings have already had special places for critics. For example, as Samuel Thomas insists, Gravity’s Rainbow seems to be a “reinterpretation of Borges,” not only because Pynchon eagerly reuses some remarkable motifs which Borges used in his writings, such as the mirrors, tigers and labyrinths , but also because Pynchon offers an unconventional figure of Borges as an Argentine nationalist, rather than emphasizing his abstract image as a postmodern international novelist (Thomas 71). As one of the most mysterious references to Borges in Gravity’s Rainbow, there is a fragment of poem which Pynchon introduced that “Borges is said to have dedicated” to Graciera Imago Portales, one of the Argentine anarchists in the novel; “(El laberinto de tu incertidumbre/ Me trama con la disquiet ante luna . . . )” (389). According to Weisenburger’s Companion, this poem translates “The Labyrinth of your uncertainty / Detains me with the anxious moon,” and he explains that “the quotation does not appear in the Obras poeticas (Poetical works) of Jorge Luis Borges” and probably “Pynchon has worked up a descent imitation” (Weisenburger 226). For this puzzle, Samuel Thomas introduces Borges’ two English (not Spanish) poems which seem to be sources of this imitative poem and regards it as Pynchon’s tribute to Borges, “using Borges’ native language, in the 11-syllable lines of a Spanish sonnet, to allude to the ‘lonely moon’ and ‘uncertainty’ that are evoked in English” (Thomas 72). I would never dispute his splendid examination, but, considering the reason why Pynchon mentioned Borges in such deceptive way, or what purpose he aimed at through it, there is another space to interpret: Pynchon quote Borges’ writing style itself, in which he intends to cross the border between fact and fiction.
If this imitative poem can be regarded as a homage to such Borgesian writing style, “the anxious moon” in the poem leads us toward a meditation on Pynchon’s special treatment of the moon as a symbol of his ambition to blur the lines between historical facts and fiction, and create an alternative to the American 60s.
1. Disrupting the Real: Moon as the Symbol of Pynchon’s Subversion
Roughly speaking, almost all depictions of moon in Gravity’s Rainbow are inevitably connected with Pynchon’s concern with Moon Landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. In the section of final launch of V-00000 which forms the climax of the novel, Pynchon suddenly starts to insert 1970s America in more direct way than he has adopted with many complicated allusions in earlier part of the novel. His reference to Moon Landing of Apollo 11 is obvious, for example, in the long monologue of Blicero, the commander of V-2 launch:
“And sometimes I dream of discovering the edge of the World. Finding that there is an end . . . America was the edge of the World. A message for Europe, continent-sized, inescapable. Europe had found the site for its Kingdom of Death, that special Death the West had invented. . . . Now we are in the last phase. American Death has come to occupy Europe. It has learned empire from its old metropolis. . . . Is the cycle over now, and a new one ready to begin? Will our new Edge, our new Deathkingdom, be the Moon? . . . ” (italics original; 736-37)
Here, Pynchon implies his scathing attitude toward one of the most successful moment of technology and the mind of the New Frontier behind it, not only by offering a kind of genealogy of European colonialism––from Europe down to “new edge . . . the moon” via America, but also by constructing this imagery of American colonialism with very similar rhetoric to John F. Kennedy’s address of accepting the Democratic Party nomination for the Presidency: “[W]e stand today on the edge of a New Frontier. . . . Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space . . .” (Kennedy, “Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, July 15, 1960” n.pag.).
What is more, he suggests the descent from V-2 down to Saturn V rocket, both of them are designed by Wernher Von Braun––the former as weapon, and the latter as vehicle for flying Apollo 11 to the moon.
There are 15 sub-episodes contained in the last episode of the novel, and Pynchon gave suggestive names to two of them: “Strung into the Apollonian Dream” and “Orpheus Puts Down Harp.” In the former, Gottfired (the lover of Blicero) is finally mounted in V-00000, as like astronauts in Saturn V, waiting for the moment of launch. The narrator tells him “something real is about to happen” (769) and the V-00000 flies to Orpheus Theater in Los Angeles, which is introduced in the latter episode with the night-manager of the theatre, Richard M. Zhlubb, the allusive character of Richard Nixon. Pynchon superimposes the image of Apollo on V-00000, and taking into consideration the fact that Apollo , a god of Greek myth, is a titular father of Orpheus, it is possible to assume that Pynchon suggests so intertwined, perplexing relationship between V-2 and Saturn V with imagery of “parent and child”: which rocket precedes, the weapon or the vehicle?
Of course, in history, the weapon does. But Pynchon repeatedly tries to blur the order between them by interweaving fiction with the real, or by incorporating the real into fiction. By the way, this challenge to subvert definition of the real has been mentioned as the feature of “meta-fiction” and precisely investigated in the context of postmodernism. Especially in Gravity’s Rainbow, the way how Pynchon uses “films” undoubtedly makes the novel a typical case of meta-fiction. For this point, Clerc insists: “Pynchon seeks for a double effect: the real world is the reel world, and vice versa” (Clerc 111), or Cowart explains: Pynchon offers an alternative possibility of interpreting the real by “obscuring of the distinctions between two-dimensional illusion and three-dimension reality.” For this point, these critics have repeatedly quoted some depictions of Gerhardt von Göll, the German director who assigns himself “to sow in the Zone seeds of reality” (394), and his pornographic film, Alpdrücken. Whereas this imaginary film in the novel is undoubtedly one of the most suitable sources for the argument on Pynchon’s intension to reveal that everything and everywhere is “theater,” it seems to have already been too orthodox to reexamine here, and doesn’t work to think his concern with the moon. But, what is so interesting is a strong connection among the moon, rockets and films in Gravity’s Rainbow, through his reference to another film––Die Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon) (1929), directed by Fritz Lang in Ufa, which seems to have been rather less featured than other films in criticisms. In short, I would try to meditate Pynchon’s concern to the moon, or its function in Gravity’s Rainbow: how Pynchon schemes to confuse the lines between facts and the real, through examining his reference to Lang’s Die Frau im Mond.
2. Die Frau im Mond in Gravity’s Rainbow
Roughly speaking, Die Frau im Mond is a melodrama which centers around a travel to the Moon: one day, a young entrepreneur Helius, who has an interest in space travel, knows the engagement of Friede, the woman he secretly loves, with another man, Windegger. Being in desperation, Helius determines to travel to the moon with Professor Mannfeldt, who insists the existence of air and a large vein of gold in the moon. Financed by an evil American businessman Turner, they attain to build a rocket, and then Helius, Mannfeldt, Turner, Friede and Windergger fly to the moon (and during their travel, Friede gets conscious of Helius’ love toward her. She suffers romantic triangle between them). Once getting to the far side of the moon, they find Mannfeldt’s theory true––there is enough air to breathe, and a large mine of gold. When they get ready to return to the earth after some researches, the spaceship is hijacked by Turner who plots to monopolize gold. A gunfight is caused, and ending up with some tragedies. Mannfeldt and Turner shot each other, and the spaceship gets damaged in the struggle––now, at least one person has to remain on the moon because of a shortage of the air in the spaceship. For the love of Friede, Helius decides to stay there, and after the rocket leaving from the moon, he knows that Friede, who is impressed by Helius’ devotion, also decides to remain there. The film ends with the scene of their embracement.
Aside its story, Lang’s imagination on rocket-technology certainly influenced both of two aspects of rockets as a weapon and a vehicle. For this point, Plater explains:
Although “science fiction,” it [Die Frau im Mond] captured the imagination of a generation of young engineers, including von Braun, and was instrumental in the formulation of rocket clubs––like the Society for Space Navigation––throughout Germany in the prewar years. Lang’s fanciful rocket not only looked like the A4 [the model of V-2], but in the crucial series of test firings before the V-2 became operational he first completely successful rocket had a picture of the woman on the moon painted on its side. (Plater 104)
For the similarity of design between them, please see Figures 2 and 3. In addition to this, the influence on rocket as a vehicle of space travel is obvious in some ideas which NASA has adopted toward their launch of rockets and interiors of the spacecraft. The most famous example of them is even mentioned by Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow: “The countdown as we know it, 10-9-8-u.s.w., was invented by Fritz Lang in 1929 for the Ufa film Die Frau im Mond. He put it into launch scene to heighten the suspense. ‘It is another of my damned’ touches,’ Fritz Lang said” (768).
|Fig. 2. V-2 missile launched from the test stand of Peenemünde (War History Online. Web. 5 January 2015.)|
|Fig. 3. Rocket: A Frame from Die Frau I'm Mond (Dir. Fritz Lang. Perf. Willy Fritsch and Gerda Maurus. Ufa, 1929.)|
Referring to the film in such a direct way (the title of the film appears in two more times in the novel), Pynchon interweaves its story and depictions of the moon into the novel, the episodes on the Pöklers; Franz, his wife Leni and their daughter Ilse.
Franz Pökler is a chemist who works at “rocket facility at Reinickendorf” for the Nazis (156). He is not on good terms with his wife, Leni, not only because she is a communist, but also he is “the cause-and-effect man” opposite to her. With Pynchon’s first reference to Die Frau im Mond, he depicts them as contrastive:
They saw Die Frau im Mond. Franz was amused, condescending. He picked at technical points. He knew some of the people who’d worked on the special effects. Leni saw a dream of the flight. One of many possible. Real flight and dreams of flight go together. Both are part of the same moment. Not A before B, but all together . . . . (162)
Franz, who is engaged in developing V-2 missile, is obsessed with technology and analysis, but his wife, unlike him, is soaked with utopian communism and dream of synthesis. While this gap between them can be commonly found in other couples in the novel, and subsumed into broader dichotomy between order and chaos, what Pynchon aims at, repeatedly offering such contrasts, is to show the dynamism from divided state toward unified, rather than the binary opposition itself. In that sense, Leni’s dream of identification, “Not A before B, but all together” is a self-referential statement toward one aspect of the novel. Pynchon never ignores the process from A to B, or V-2 to Apollo, and never jumps from the real to fiction, but he tries to deliberately interweave, and finally turns them over.
As Germany moves into the War, Leni and Ilse leave from Franz, and “let him fly to the dead moon” by himself (165). In a sense, the situations of Helius and Franz are contrastive. The former acquires his love, Friede, in the moon, but the latter loses his family (the alternative between them is also obvious from the fact that Franz finally secludes himself with a pig named “Frieda” in the Zone, regretting his wife and daughter). Then Franz and German rocket facilities move to northern Germany, and settle in Peenemünde, the northern edge of the country. Test stands of V-2 are built there, and one day Frantz meets his daughter (who is imprisoned in a concentration camp of Nazis Germany with her mother) again:
They took walks, he and Ilse, by the stormy shore––fed ducks, explored the pine forests. . . . The noise of Rocket ripped at them. . . .
“May I fly in it someday? I’d fit inside, wouldn’t I?”
She asked impossible questions. “Someday.” Pökler told her. “Perhaps someday to the Moon.”
“The Moon…” as if he were going to tell her a story. . . . she chose a small pretty crater in the sea of Tranquillity called Maskelyne B. They would build a house right on the rim, Mutti and she and Pökler, gold mountains out one window and the wide sea out the other. (416)
It is suggestive that Pynchon puts both of the historical fact and the reference to Die Frau im Mond together in Ilse’s dream of the moon. The place where she plans to build a house, “the sea of Tranquillity called Maskelyne B” is derived from the place where Apollo 11 landed in 1969, and “gold mountains out one window” is derived from a unique theory of Professor Mannfeldt in Die Frau im Mond. Here Pynchon mingles two Moon Landings of the past and future, or the fiction and the real with V-2 missile, and these images blur the figure of V-2 as a weapon in Franz:
[S]ometimes Ilse whispered to him bedtime stories about the moon she would live on, till he had transferred silently to a world that wasn’t this one after all: a map without any national borders, insecure and exhilarating, in which flight was as natural as breathing––I’ll fall . . . no, rising, look down, nothing to be afraid of, this time it’s good . . . yes, firmly in flight, it’s working . . . yes. . . . (417)
The fenceless imagery of the moon is the same to the utopian imagery of the Zone which Argentine anarchists dream, and rocket technology surely has a possibility to take Franz there. But, however ambiguous V-2 becomes, Pynchon insistently depicts it as a weapon and finally it falls onto the theater where we recognize as the real, instead of flying to the moon. For Pynchon, V-2 does not become Apollo, but Apollo would become V-2––and in Gravity’s Rainbow, the moon works as trigger for betraying to the real and the irreversibility of history.
In his essay, entitled “A Journey into the Mind of Watts” (1966), Pynchon depicts a part of the city of Watts he visited after the riot in 1965:
In the business part of town there is a different idea of refuge. . . . Outside, men stand around a beer cooler listening to a ball game on the radio; others lean or hunker against the sides of buildings—low, faded stucco boxes that remind you, oddly, of certain streets in Mexico. (Pynchon, “A Journey into the Mind of Watts” n.pag.)The essay itself focuses on how the town “lies impacted in the heart of this white fantasy,” and he keenly reveals “bitter reality” of Afro Americans who live there. But, at the same time, it is meaningful that he finds “certain streets in Mexico” in a part of Los Angeles, dismissed trace of Latin America in California, southwest part of the US. Did he happen to see a street where Mexican immigrants gathered? Or, is it a reflection of the fact that he lived in Mexico while he wrote his first long novel, V. ? Probably, this depiction is too subtle to investigate his intention, but a part of the answer to the question seems to come from a rather different area of researches on American Culture.
In his study on American popular music, Toshiyuki Ohwada explains how the influence from Latin American Culture is getting more attentions than ever by the increase of the population of Hispanic and Latino in the US (he introduces the result of the American census in 2009 that reveals the population of them has already exceeded that of Afro-Americans), and how it is actually found all over the so-called “Black music,” just the way Latin music itself has been often popular among the American society. As a conclusion, he points out the possibility of rewriting the history of American popular music which has been mainly studied from the perspective of the relationship between white culture and black culture (Ohwada, 244-62).
When this movement in American studies is not unrelated to the studies on American literature, Pynchon’s discovery of Mexico in the slum of Afro Americans has special importance. Not only is he undoubtedly one of the most important novelists in American postmodern literature, but also it may be possible to say that he is one of the few novelists who meditate on the relationship between north and south American continent from various perspectives of politics, economy, culture and so on, in the Cold War era, when the world was divided into west and east along their political stances.
From his first short story “Entropy,” while he has continuously referred to some motifs of Latin America (especially Argentine politics and culture), his third novel Gravity’s Rainbow seems to be filled with his deeper meditation on American imperialism, for example, over Africa, over Vietnam, over Japan, and over Latin America.
In Chapter 1, I tried to reveal how Pynchon attempted to superimpose the Cuban Missile Crisis on the V-2 launch in WW2 Germany and depict the aspect of the incident as the resistance from Cuba toward the US, through putting special emphasis on the binary opposition between V-2 and Bananas. At the same time, I compared Gravity’s Rainbow with “Entropy” in order to consider his attitude toward politics of the American 50s-60s. By the way, his concern with Cuba seems to be partly derived from his friendship with Richard Fãrina, to whom Pynchon dedicated Gravity’s Rainbow. Fãrina was born of Galician-Cuban and Irish descent, and was said to be on the best terms with Pynchon at Cornell University. He admired Ernest Hemingway and travelled Cuba during the era of its revolution in 1958. Later his experiences in collage and Cuba were weaved into his novel, Been So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, which was originally published in 1966 and Pynchon wrote an introduction for the novel in 1983:
The darkest of all, and I think the best written, is the sequence that takes place in revolutionary Cuba, in which Gnossos’s best friend is accidentally killed. Although a few pages of campus rioting come later, the true climax of the book is in Cuba. Back in his Hemingway phase, Farina must have seen that line about every true story ending in death. (“Introduction: Been So Long It Looks Like Up to Me” n.pag.)
After dropping out, Fãrina became an enormously famous folk singer in the New York folk scene as well as Bob Dylan, but suddenly was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966. There is a possibility that Pynchon knew the US’ structure of exploitation over Cuba when he recalled Fãrina and his novel.
As similar to the case of Fãrina, some letters have been already found which vouch Pynchon’s concern with Argentine. Pynchon interchanged them with Kirkpatrick Sale and his wife, Faith––the former is an independent scholar who describes himself as “Neo-Luddites,” and was a student of Cornell University. Here I would like to quote some lines from Samuel Thomas who introduced them in his research:
“Am turning into an Argentinophile, if not maniac. Never having been within a couple thousand miles of the place has still not kept me from developing a theory. . . .”
“in Latin America has got me, I think, keyed up over the idea of young countries, countries (tribes, linguistic groups, peoples, whatever) in the process of becoming; of finding out how much they might really be capable of, or at least testing the limits of possibility” (Pynchon, letter to Faith and Kirkpatrick Sale, Jun. 29, 1963; qtd. in Thomas 53, 74)
In the letter, Pynchon writes he constructs some theory from his “Argentinophile” and finds some possibilities in countries of Latin America, they are unquestionably reflected in his writings published after 1963, The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow. Thus, in Chapter 2, I tried to examine how he sets Latin American motifs or characters in the structures of the latter novel, and meditate on his ambivalence which seems to occur in his mind when he integrates them into more abstract themes, such as the binary oppositions between “South and North” or “We and They.” Finally I concluded that he enclosed even his imperialism toward Latin America in the “theater” and launched V-2 onto it. This conclusion is basis of my argument in Chapter 3, where I examined Pynchon’s tribute toward an Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges and German director Fritz Lang, considering Pynchon’s concern with the moon which is depicted as a common motif between Borges and Lang. Through references to them, Pynchon schemes to mingle his novel and Borges’ poem, V-2 and Apollo, past and future, or fiction and the real.
Pynchon’s vision that everything is unified in a dark “theater” at the beginning and the end of the novel has both positive and negative aspects, not in need of such conclusion. But, despite total darkness, we can smell the differences of each other, as Slothrop can smell V-2 out, and in the novel, there is surely spreading odor of Bananas, “as a spell against falling object.” Here, we can smell a fragile scent of hope which Pynchon flavors with Gravity’s Rainbow.
 In addition to that Pynchon saw “islands” in the depictions of firing-site, the whole image of Peenemünde was also described as “skull,” parallel to “skull islands” where King Kong was birth (Wisenburger 110).
 This action seems to be a positive reproduction of Aubade’s window breaking in “Entropy.”
 See Oedipa’s nostalgia for the 50s in the campus of UC Berkeley (Lot 49 104).
 The way how theses Borgeian motifs influenced Pynchon has been examined in some criticisms. For example, Castillo explains they correspond with modern media substi-tutes and technological marvels in Pynchon’s writings (Castillo 23).
 There is another fact which leads the readers into deeper paranoia: Abe Silverstein, the NASA manager in that time, later said, "I was naming the spacecraft [Apollo] like I'd name my baby" (Murray and Cox 43).
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