Extracts from Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow"

     About the paranoia often noted under the drug, there is nothing remarkable. Like other sorts of paranoia, it is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected...
Paranoia might just be the locus of Thomas Pynchon's aesthetic philosophy in Gravity's Rainbow: the cascades of run-on sentences and the apparent compulsion to uncover the details that expose the vaguely ominous interrelatedness of everything. The other day I wrote about Charlie Parker's guest appearance in the novel, but I didn't try to make sense of why Pynchon would have thought to include such a detail. There might be a logistical reason—it gives Pynchon a clever way to temporally and historically situate that particular episode—but maybe Pynchon is also suggesting some sort of hidden connection: the "what is it a fucking machine or something man he must be out of his mind 32rd notes demisemiquavers" that Bird and the beboppers are playing and the prelude to Slothrop's frenetic, bullet-riddled years in WWII.

There are many moments like this in the novel, where an omniscient narrator goes beyond the conventional range of his or her all-seeing eye and really flexes those narrative muscles to traverse time and space like it's nothing. The effect is vertigo-inducing and at times makes for tough-to-follow reading, but it makes the fictional universe infinitely more expansive than in most novels. It makes the story even surreal—more than real—since nobody would ever be able to draw the connections that exist in the book on their own without telepathic or psychic powers. 

One particular paragraph comes to mind when talking about the hyper-omniscience of Pynchon's narrator: a passage about the playing of a pinball machine, which stretches across three pages. It might just be the most epic and dramatic depiction of a pinball game, ever:
The second ball isn’t even out of the chute before Bland gets another TILT, again without having applied any English. Third ball gets stuck somehow against a solenoid and (helphelp, it’s hollering, wounded high little voice, oh I’m being electrocuted…)
Who knew pinball could have such pathos?
The solenoids are coiled metal wire that are hidden behind the playing board and powered up to enable plungers and other playfield gadgets to work. Pynchon doesn't have to make the solenoids speak yet he does, seemingly just because he can.
dingdingding, gongs and racing numbers up on the board, 400,000, 675,000 bong a million! greatest Folies-Bergères score in history and climbing, the poor spherical soul against the solenoid trashing, clonic, horrible (yes they’re sentient all right, beings from the planetoid Katspiel, of veryvery elliptical orbit—which is to say it passed by Earth only once, a long time ago, nearly back at the grainy crepuscular Edge, and nobody knows where Katspiel is now or when, or if, it’ll be back.
And another, this time much longer, parenthetical explanation for the solenoid's behavior: its cosmic origins. Suddenly we've gone from the pinball playfield to outer space!
It’s that familiar division between return and one-shot visitation. If Katspiel had enough energy to leave the sun’s field forever, then it has left these kind round beings in eternal exile, with no chance of ever being gathered back home, doomed to masquerade as ball bearings, as steelies in a thousand marble games—to know the great thumbs of Keokuk and Puyallup, Oyster Bay, Inglewood—Danny D’Allesandro and Elmer Ferguson, Peewee Brennan and Flash Womack…where are they now? where do you think? they all got drafted, some are dead on Iwo, some gangrenous in the snow in the forest of Arden, and their thumbs, first rifle inspection in Basic, GI’d, driven deep back into childhood as little finger sweat-cams off M-1 operating handle, thumb pushing down follower still deep in breech, bolt sshhOCK! whacks thumb oh shit yes it hurts and good-by to another unbeatable and legendary thumb, gone for good back to the summer dust, bags of chuckling glass, bigfooted basset hounds, smell of steel playground slides heating in the sun),
And from the tragic drama of the solenoids, who may never return home, we see the fate of the "great thumbs," the great pinbal players, who've all suffered various fates (dead, gangrenous, or otherwise). It's as if the omniscient narrator is just playing thought association.
well here come these cancan girls now, Folies-Bergères maenads, moving in for the kill, big lipstick smiles around blazing choppers, some Offenbach gallop come jigging in now out of the loudspeakers that are implicit in this machine’s design, long gartered legs kicking out over the agony of this sad spherical permanent AWOL, all his companions in the chute vibrating their concern and love, feeling his pain but helpless, inert without the spring, the hustler’s hand, the drunk’s masculinity problems, the vacuum hours of a gray cap and an empty lunchbox,
The barrage of images is very much from the age of television—just too much sensory input to take in, all those mechanical cancan girls, and the music "jiggling" out of loudspeakers. And the layers and overtones, hints and gestures towards entire lives attached to these games are here ("the hustler's hand, the drunk's masculinity problems, the vacuum hours of a gray cap and an empty lunchbox" — brief lists that Pynchon uses to evoke an entire lonely existence that you might never have expected to have found thinking about pinball games, but that he feels you should be aware of.).
needing these to run their own patterns down the towering coils, the deep holes with their promises of rest that only kick you wobbling out again, always at the mercy of gravity, finding now and then the infinitesimally shallow grooves of other runs, great runs
And what of these great runs? Of course, Pynchon has to tell you about it.
(twelve heroic minutes in Virginia Beach, Fourth of July, 1927, a drunken sailor whose ship went down at Leyte Gulf…flipped up off the board, your first three-dimensional trip is always your best, when you came down again it wasn’t the same, and every time you’d pass anywhere near the micro-dimple you made when you feel, you’d get a rush…
It's telling that you learn nothing of this particular player except that he was "drunken" and his ship went down somewhere. It's all about the pinball now, his origin story, and you get a sense of how those who play pinball, who've faded into sadder, less-than-fulfilling lives ("the vacuum hours") are somehow just like what they're playing, the pinballs that have already had their best moments and are just being played until the game ends. 
sobered, a few, having looked into the heart of the solenoid, seen the magnetic serpent and energy in its nakedness, long enough to be changed, to bring back from the writhing lines of force down in that pit an intimacy with power, with glazed badlands of soul, that set them apart forever—check out the portrait of Michael Faraday in the Tate Gallery in London, Tantivy Mucker-Maffick did once, to fill up a womanless and dreary afternoon, and wondered then how eyes of men could grow so lambent, sinister, so educated among the halls of dread and the invisible…)
And now back to continue what came before this parenthetical aside, talking about the playing of this pinball with thoughts on great runs:
but now the voices of the murder-witness coquettes grow shrill, with more of a blade’s edge, the music changes key, pitching higher and higher, the ruffled buttocks bumping backward more violently, the skirts flipping redder and deeper each time, covering more of the field, eddying to blood, to furnace finale, and how’s the Katspiel Kid gonna get out of this one? 
And that's just one paragraph.

* * * * *

Elsewhere, Pynchon just writes some beautiful prose. It seems like Pynchon can write in just about any tone or style convincingly, from the most technical to the satirically foppish to the prophetic. He does here what I think is a good impression of Thomas Mann (think Buddenbrooks), but it comes off as sincere, too:
She has talked to psychiatrists, she knows about the German male at puberty. On their backs in the meadows and mountains, watching the sky, masturbating, yearning. Destiny awaits, a darkness latent in the texture of the summer wind. Destiny will betray you, crush your ideals, deliver you into the same detestable Bürgerlichkeit as our father, sucking at his pipe on Sunday strolls after church past the row houses by the river—dress you in the gray uniform of another family man, and without a whimper you will serve out your time, fly from pain to duty, from joy to work, from commitment to neutrality. Destiny does all this to you. 
Elsewhere, there are moments where you know you're just being messed with. Try to make sense of the following—I dare you—and maybe even draw a visual representation, if it helps (I didn't even bother): 
The story here tonight is a typical WW II romantic intrigue, just another evening at Raoul’s place, involving a future opium shipment being used by Tamara as security against a loan from Italo, who in turn owes Waxwing for a Sherman tank his friend Theophile is trying to smuggle into Palestine but must raise a few thousand pounds for purposes of bribing across the border, and so has put the tank up as collateral to borrow from Tamara, who is using part of her loan from Italo to pay him. But meantime the opium deal doesn’t look like it’s going to come through, because the middleman has been heard from in several weeks, along with the money Tamara fronted him, which she got from Raoul de la Perlimpinpin through Waxwing, who is now being pressured by Raoul for the money because Italo, deciding the tank belongs to Tamara now, showed up last night and took it away to an Undisclosed Location as payment on his loan, thus causing Raoul to panic. Something like that. 
And yet, it's purposeful convolution: confusingness not just for the sake of being confusing or to show off how Pynchon can effortlessly toss off these fictional scenarios, or "Something like that" but to underscore the complexity of his universe and of war and the dramas of war. Basically, it's so complex it's just stupid.

One last thing: check out how Pynchon describes things. Just his descriptive writing. One passage reminds me of a moment in high school, reading Dickens's Great Expectations in 9th grade and checking out the first passage describing Miss Havisham's decrepit abode. We read the passage in class, which didn't engender much of a response from students, and my teacher (a great teacher!), somewhat exasperated at the American high school-level apathy to literature, pointed out: "Come on people! Dickens didn't just say, 'The house got bad.'" He didn't—he made sure the reader understood just what it felt like to see this symbol of decay and rot, or, actually, this living example of true decay. Pynchon writes:
They are approaching now a lengthy brick improvisation, a Victorian paraphrase of what once, long ago, resulted in Gothic cathedrals—
"...lengthy brick improvisation, a Victorian paraphrase." Damn. 
but which, in its own time, arose not from any need to climb through the fashioning of suitable confusions toward any apical God, but more in a derangement of aim, a doubt as to the God’s actual locus (or, in some, as to its very existence), out of a cruel network of sensuous moments that could not be transcended and so bent the intentions of the builders not on any zenith, but back to fright, to simple escape,
A godless world, a desire to run away from the "industrial smoke" of Industrial Revolution London, what William Blake called "these dark Satanic Mills," which Wagner also noted on a visit to London in 1877: "the oppressive feeling of steam and fog."
in whatever direction, from what the industrial smoke, street excrement, windowless warrens, shrugging leather forests of drive belts, flowing and patient shadow states of the rats and flies, were saying about the chances for mercy that year. The grimed brick sprawl is known as the Hospital of St. Veronica of the True Image for Colonic and Respiratory Disease, and one of its residents is a Dr. Kevin Spectro, neurologist and casual Pavlovian. 
There is plenty, probably infinitely more to write about, but those are just a few thoughts about this landmark novel. If you have some time, maybe pick it up and try it—you might find that you're a postmodernist and didn't even know it.