Some Rainbow...

"There are books... which take rank in your life with parents and lovers
and passionate experiences, so medicinal, so stringent, so revolutionary, so authoritative."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I never thought I could feel this way about a book - so enriched, so shaken, so absolute, so ever-lasting... Like in Pirate Prentice's dream, one gets progressively knotted into: the book is my history, our history, the history of western culture and all its -isms: colonialism, imperialism, global capitalism, industrialism und so weiter; science and technology as emissaries of death, corrupting life; the patriarchal system with its lust for domination and control ultimately exposed to be dominated by hormones... I become part of the book and lose myself for a short while in a particular episode, but the next moment I am thrown back again, confused - what is going on? Who is this now? Where did this come up before? Or: This is incredible - how can he say this so well... Sometimes, the painstakenly selected words make me gasp and reflect, read again... laugh and cry...

Not much left to say about a book that says it all, with brilliance, compassion, silly humor, high seriousness, acute intelligence... No use in analyzing the book and taking it apart, like picking the petals off a flower... Of course, "flower" is a particularly poor metaphor; no sweet, innocent little flower here. Some sort of growth, sure; definitely has something organic about it; but it's more like a jungle - there's flowers in the jungle, all right, except they're hardly sweet and innocent; more likely to eat you... a-and there's all kinds of other dangerous things, twisting, twining vines that grow around you as you try to make it through, sweat dripping off your hair into your eyes, blurring your vision so you don't know if you're fighting off a fabrication of your mind or some part of an immense snake, slithering, forked tongue right there, steely eyes leering at you - and what about the bugs, little microbes, too small to see, penetrating your skin right now, infecting you with diseases you haven't even heard of... so, you better be as paranoid as you can be...

What is it about paranoia that makes it so appealing? Why is it such an almost endearing quality, a possibly rational response to the human condition, "...a Puritan reflex of seeking other orders behind the visible..." (188), so easy to slip into? "[I]t is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected, everything in the Creation..."(703). Which is a lot more comforting than "...anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything..."(434), a condition Slothrop slides into, but finds hard to bear: "Either They have put him here for a reason, or he's just here. He isn't sure that he wouldn't, actually, rather have that reason. . . ."(434) Paranoia is a rather peculiar offshoot of creativity and imagination, starting with "what if..."; you fabricate this subtle web of underlying connections that They have spun to trap you like the help-less little insect you are, and your only defense is constant vigilance, and sometimes sheer luck... At the same time, there is another web, the Web of Life, which connects us to the exquisite beauty of the creative universe as well as to its destructive power. This Web is absolute, while Their's is only relative (we hope). Ultimately, we all weave on the same tapestry, which is not to say that parts of it couldn't be dangerous traps; it all depends on your perspective... on which side of the fence you sit...

The first time I fully realized the validity of paranoia happened when I spent a few weeks in Laos, early in 1973. In Vientiane, the Laotian capital on the Mekong River, the influence of the Vietnam War was only indirect: curfew after 8pm; American GIs in the streets; regular raids of local opium-dens by American Military Police, usually settled through monetary transactions; the presence of "Air America" pilots, said to be part of the CIA who firmly controlled the heavy drug traffic in the Golden Triangle... I ran into this guy I knew from Munich; he had spent a couple of years in India, taken too much acid, and at present I would say he was quite psychotic. Then, everybody was at least a little crazy, so he didn't stick out too much. He saw secret connections everywhere; although he was clearly paranoid (in the clinical sense), I was surprised to notice that much of the stuff he talked about could actually be true. There was a popular brand of Laotian cigarettes; I don't remember the name, but it was an acronym for "smack" - slang for heroin - as my friend pointed out. It was his theory that the manufacturers suggested subliminally that smoking their cigarettes would feel as good as taking heroin, and would entice people to go for the hard drug. Maybe he even said they'd put a tiny amount of smack into the cigarettes, to get people hooked; the cigarette company of course also handled the heroin market, all controlled by the CIA (Uncut heroin could be bought at every street corner). Made total sense to me. He had more stories, all uncovering some secret plots designed to make people dependent, controllable...

So, there are two sides to a coin - the Hunter and the Prey, the Conspirators and the Victims, They and Us; except it shifts all the time... In books such as The Odyssey and The Divine Comedy, the lines were drawn quite clearly as to who was what, who was right and good and who was wrong and evil, all embedded in a divinely ordained cosmic order. Whereas our world is deeply chaotic, left to our own inspiration or madness; how else could we become free? "They" cannot be so easily identified; ultimately, "They" are not people, but inanimate systems, structures like the IG Farben: "Interessengemeinschaft, a fellowship of interests..."(164). "Their" order is dictated by control: control of people, Earth's resources, nature, the market, death... Nationstates, corporations, armies, organized religions, universities and other institutions form Their structure, Their system which is at the service of death. As Walter Rathenau, "a corporate Bismark"(165) communicates from the Other Side: "The growing, organic Kartell (is) only another illusion. A very clever robot. The more dynamic it seems to you, the more deep and dead, in reality, it grows... Death converted into more death..."(167). The War itself was a pretense, fueled by Them to boost economy and technology. "It means this War was never political at all, the politics was all theatre, all just to keep the people distracted... secretly, it was being dictated instead by the needs of technology..." (521). "...the truth is that the War is keeping things alive. Things."(645).

Where history tells us that peoples killed each other because they were enemies (to manipulate history is another of Their diversive tactics), wars are, in fact, giant conspiracies enabling the elite and elect to grab a bigger piece of pie. I knew that about the Golf War, but World War Two? When I was little, there were still bombed-out houses and ruins in the town where I grew up, tempting places for children to explore. I remember how seriously we were warned not to play with bombs, should we find one... How could people live through something as terrible as a war? Through air-raids, evacuations, bombed-out homes (I heard many stories like that), through the loss of family and loved ones? And now I ask myself what is more depressing, that people (men) fought and killed and died for political reasons, for some silly ideals they bought into, or that they were simply used to make a few rich even richer? Big difference - either way, they were being manipulated; Their strategy of choice.

"So generation after generation of men in love with pain and passivity serve out their time in the Zone, silent, redolent of faded sperm, terrified of dying, desperately addicted to the comforts others sell them, however useless, ugly or shallow, willing to have life defined for them by men whose only talent is for death."(747).

How Shattering Depressing Infuriating Maddening Crazy Sad Idiotic...

But - Who Are They? Yes, they're men - I'll come to that - and they're the elite few; they benefit and they manipulate, but as individuals they only temporarily fill in Their system, Their structure which is anonymous, inanimate, and immortal (or better: outlives individuals). In a sense, they may be their own victims: "All the animals, the plants, the minerals, even other kinds of men, are being broken and reassembled every day, to preserve an elite few, who are the loudest to theorize on freedom, but the least free of all."(230) Or, as the Springer sez: "Elite and preterite, we move through a cosmic design of darkness and light..."(495).

Science and technology, fueled by a flawed imagination, perpetrate Their system of death, as in the powerful passage about Kekulé's dream: he sees the Great Serpent biting its own tail, the Uroboros, symbol for the cyclical renewal of Nature and Life, but he uses it "to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that 'productivity' and 'earnings' keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity - most of the World, animal, vegetable and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it's only buying time... Living inside the System is like riding across the country in a bus driven by a maniac bent on suicide..."(412).

If things have changed from when these words were written, then only for the worse.

And a big part of the problem is human consciousness itself: "...[H]uman consciousness, that poor cripple, that deformed and doomed thing... We, the crippled keepers, were sent out to multiply, to have dominion. God's spoilers. Us. Counter-revolutionaries. It is our mission to promote death... nearly as strong as life, holding down the green uprising. But only nearly as strong."(720)

That this one-sided, destructive, maladapted consciousness is also typically male, seemed to be jumping from every page when I read the book for the first time. A man's sense of self seemed to be identical with his reproductive organ of which technology, the War, the Rocket are projections, or should I say extensions... About Major Marvy: "...visions go swarming, violent, less erotic than you think - more occupied with thrust, impact, penetration, and such other military values."(606) Or, as Enzian discovered after he was brought to Europe: "...that love, among these men, once past the simple feel and orgasming of it, had to do with masculine technologies, with contracts, with winning and losing." (324). One sentence sums it all up: "...but do you think we'd 've had the Rocket if someone, some specific somebody with a name and a penis hadn't wanted to chuck a ton of Amatol 300 miles...?" (521). Does this mean that all the evil of our culture and in the World was caused by a single extra chromosome, by a physiological function easily out of control? Well, although Pynchon clearly holds the patriarchal structure of our society responsible,he also,as usual, doesn't allow us to blame or judge, take sides, fall into a dualism of right/wrong, Them/Us, which only perpetuates the problem. Following him, we constantly have to shift positions, more like a dance than a standpoint, until we are so confused that we don't know any more what is outside and what is inside... "God is creator and destroyer, sun and darkness, all sets of opposites brought together, including black and white, male and female..."(100). Or the Herero mandala: "Birth, soul, fire, building. Male and female, together... Opposites together."(563).

A crossroads, a living intersection, an interface. Where magic can happen, maybe even salvation. As Kevin Spectro once asked: "When you've looked at how it really is... how can we, any of us, be separate?"(142) No more cause and effect, but context, synchronicity, relationship. This is the state of mind Slothrop finds himself in, one April afternoon - ("Isn't this an 'interface' here? A meeting surface for two worlds... sure, but which two?"668) - and he has a moving vision: "Slothrop sees a very thick rainbow here, a stout rainbow cock driven down out of pubic clouds into Earth, green wet valleyed Earth, and his chest fills and he stands crying, not a thing in his head, just feeling natural..."(626) Turns out he saw the explosion of the first nuclear bomb in Hiroshima, four months before it happened. Could Pynchon be suggesting that we have to learn how to navigate across the interface, so that we know which world we are tuned into? From a conversation between Roger Mexico and Edwin Treacle (who "attempts to light a pipeful of wretched leftovers - autumn leaves, bits of string, fag-ends" - I love these little snippets of descriptive images all throughout the book; it's like watching this huge, detailed painting with a magnifying-glass and constantly discovering more details): "The dead are as real as the living. How can you understand them without treating both sides of the wall of death with the same scientific approach?"(153)

There are little pockets of hope. They're hard to find, but they're there. Certainly not for the elite and elect, no hope for them, not as long as they identify with Their system. One has to be preterite, and one has to be On One's Own. This doesn't mean that we cannot be together, work together, even love each other, but that we have to maintain a state of open, unorganized, creative chaos. There is no more Divinely Ordained Order! As soon as we formalize, associate, organize, systemize, classify, dogmatize, structure, identify, as soon as we are part of a group, no matter how lofty its ideals, we are split off, separate. What is right and what is wrong for each individual will be known through his or her connection with the rest of creation and the Universe, without laws or dogmas. This is a possibility; there are others, of course. "Somewhere, among the wastes of the World, is the key that will bring us back, restore us to our Earth and to our Freedom."(525). I am thinking of what happened to Lyle Bland, after "Old Magic had found him": "'s hard to get over the wonder of finding that Earth is a living critter, after all these years of thinking about a big dumb rock to find a body and psyche..."(590). What can be found when the desire for control is relinquished, is what Ludwig found: "...not all lemmings go over the cliff, and not all children are preserved against snuggling into the skin of profit. To expect any more, or less, of the Zone is to disagree with the terms of the Creation"(729).

There is also unexpected help, kindness ("Yet kindness is a sturdy enough ship for these oceans, Tantivy always there blushing or smiling and Slothrop surprised at how, when it's really counted, Tantivy hasn't ever let him down."21), and arrangements: " 'It's an arrangement, Geli told Slothrop. 'It's so unorganized around here. There have to be arrangements. You'll find out.' Indeed he will - he'll find thousands of arrangements, for warmth, love, food, simple movement along roads, tracks and canals."(290). This will have to do...

And what about love? Is it possible for two people to know, appreciate, encourage, enjoy, support each other for an extended amount of time? At first glance, the relationship between Roger and Jessica seems to say No. Roger Mexico and Jessica Swanlake - their love is doomed from the beginning because they remind us of Romeo (Montague) and Juliet - Tchaikovsky, romantic composer, wrote both "Romeo and Juliet" and "Swan Lake" - so we shouldn't expect any and-they-lived-happily-ever-after story. None of that for Slothrop, either. When he is touched by Katje's pain, feels that he only knows her mask:
"-the lifeless non-face that is the only face of hers he really knows, or will ever remember.
'Hey, Katje,' 's all he sez.
'Mm.' But here's only her old residual bitterness again, and they are not, after all, to be lovers in parachutes of sunlit voile, lapsing gently, hand in hand, down to anything meadowed or calm. [What a great sentence!] Surprised?"(222)

Yeah, sure... Still, some of the moments between Roger and Jessica are so tender, so ecstatic, that I wished it would have worked out for them: "And there've been the moments, more of them lately too - times when face-to-face there has been no way to tell which of them is which."(38). "Roger's heart grows erect, and comes. That's really how it feels... it is love, it is amazing."(120/21). Or when they visit "this old fieldmouse church" before Christmas, in one of the most beautiful passages of the book (129-135). On the evening after they saw "Hansel and Gretel" Roger's "heart shakes like the boiling kettle" when he realizes how easily he could lose her - to death, to the Beaver. There's an allusion to "Romeo and Juliet": "...if it happened when they were together - in another time that might have sounded romantic, but in a culture of death, certain situations are just more hep to the jive than others"(176/77). While Kim, the fat and cross-eyed Siamese cat, freaks out his mother and laughs, while Jessica sneezes and blows her nose, Roger finds out he cannot live without her: "She is his deepest innocence... You go from dream to dream inside me... We're both someone new now, someone incredible... Don't leave me..."(177)

Is Jess simply an opportunistic little fool, rejecting Roger for security with the Beaver? Why would she want more than Roger's love? However, upon a closer look, his love appears quite selfish; he needs her, uses her to feel alive: "His life had been tied to the past... But Jessica was the breaking of the wave. Suddenly there was a beach, the unpredictable... new life."(126). His bitterness and darkness depress and frighten her, and she can't handle his self-hate. He Uses her to Escape from himself, to shut out the War, death, his job, everything he's too passive to deal with. A relationship cannot be a private, safe haven where one can be sheltered from the World's and one's own pain and problems... Roger thinks that Jessica has fallen for Their lies when she belives in Peace, that the War is over, that it's time to move on. "Her future is with the World's own"(629), whereas he knows "Their enterprise goes on"(628), he can't let go of "this strange version of the War he still carries with him."(629). What he doesn't know, at least not when Jessica leaves because of higher orders, is that he himself has been manipulated by Pointsman who feared that because of Jessica he might lose his control over Roger. It was Pointsman who arranged for Jessica to be sent to the mainland. Roger has fallen for Their lies, too. Actually, their story has a (well, almost) Happy Ending: When Roger finds out about Pointsman, he finally breaks through his passivity, his being the victim, and he Acts, literally releasing all his pent-up frustration when he pisses all over the round of serious executives. His relationship with Jessica has helped him to become a bit more free.

Geli's love for Tchitcherine is different; less complicated, less tortured,although not less intense, because it leaves him free and she manages very well without him. Her spell - "May he be blind now to all but me."(734) - is not only for her own benefit but actually saves his life. When he finally meets his half-brother Enzian whom he has meant to kill, they don't recognize each other, and the fight is prevented. "This is magic. Sure - but not necessarily fantasy."(735)

One more word about the colors. There is a Goethean streak throughout the book: colors are the interface of Light and Darkness, as Creation is the interface between Spirit and Matter; this meeting place of opposites seems deeply "knotted into" Gravity's Rainbow. I'll just quote some:
oilsmoke black and twilight brown (125)
a dazzle of violet, sorrel, saffron, emerald... (185)
sea colored the soft inside of a black olive (189)
Forget-me-nots are growing violent-blue violent-yellow... (560)
Weeds of paranoia begin to bloom, armygreen, among the garden and midday tranquilities.(569)
pinkskinned potatoes all their eyes staring in alarm 560)
fire-blue skies (589)
vomit-beige with magenta inclusions (626)
oh, colors such as lizard, evening star, pale Atlantis to name a few... (635)
old-statue green at leafy dusk (683)
coaltar-impossible orange-brown, drowned-man green (693)
Deep Cheap-Perfume Aquamarine or Creamy Chocolate FBI-Shoe Brown (696)

Rilke has the last word:

And though Earthliness forget you,
To the stilled Earth say: I flow.
To the running water speak: I am. (622)

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