Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

Gravity's Rainbow

Don't miss this amazing video about Gravity's Rainbow winning the National Book Award, including a recording of Professor Irwin Corey's hilarious acceptance speech.

Read Professor Irwin Corey's acceptance speech for Pynchon's 1974 National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow.

Also, have a look at Douglas Kløvedal Lannark's exhaustive documenting of "love" in Gravity's Rainbow.

Deaths in Gravity's Rainbow

The following thread occurred in the Pynchon List in March 1995

From: Alec W McHoul

So here's a nice puzzle for Pynchon sleuths: who dies in GR, to be sure?

From: "James W. Horton" (jwhorton@bosshog.arts.uwo.ca)

How for sure is for sure? We are told Brigadier Pudding dies of an e coli infection, but from the "other side" arranges some sort of message in the flames of the fireplace during Mexico's and Bodine's infamous alliterative dinner menu. So I would say the Brigadier is dead, even if not nonexistent. I believe we are also told Gwenhidwy and Spectro die, but I don't think there is ever any complete proof, no body. Come to think of it, I can't think of any conclusive "bodily" proof of anyone's death in this novel. This is very strange. Maybe Pynchon was intending to write numerous spinoffs and sequels and just couldn't let any of the characters go--sort of like what happened in the comicbook world with multiple universes and multiple batmans and supermen, etc.

Perhaps volume two, SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW could begin with Tyrone waking up in his bed in Kansas and finding Nalline, Broderick, Hogan and his old pal Tantivy beside him (in the form of a fox terrier?) and crying "It was all a dream! Or maybe just too much of that darned sodium pentothal!"

Everyone would be smiling and it would turn out that he hadn't been sold for medical experiments after all. But what would you do for the next eight hundred pages or so? Imagine. Then volume three would tell us that it was actually volume two that was the dream, and after a while things would get so complicated that Pynchon would sell the rights to DC (of comicbook fame) and have them blow up enough of it with antimatter or something so he could start over fresh. Is THAT what the V-2 is doing hanging over us with Gottfried inside it at the end of GR?

But if the Brigadier is definitely dead (despite hovering around somewhere) what about Lyle Bland and his levitation into the next dimension?

From: Tim Ware (timware@crl.com)

Let's see:

Brigadier Pudding (p. 533 - Viking) Dr. Kevin Spectro (p. 138-39) Lyle Bland (p. 591) Peter Sachsa (p. 152; 220)

JWH raises a very good point, as one could easily ask "name one thing that happens FOR SURE in GR." Such a "binary" question seems rather out of place here. It's all a dream. . .all a movie (a-and a progressive knotting into to boot!).

I created my list of "deaths" within that fog of ambiguity. We are informed that Pudding, Spectro, Bland and Sachsa die or are killed, so I guess it boils down to whom you believe. I don't recall any mention of Gwenhidwy buying the farm, though.

From: eric anderson (o9997154@mail.wsu.edu)

Bianca dies.

From: Tim Ware

I know what you mean about Bianca. I left her out because there seemed to be a bit too much ambiguity to make the call. I took "for sure" to mean that the "narrator" tells us someone's dead. Slothrop, stressed out, paranoid, bumping around in the dark, "thinks" he sees Bianca hanging there out of the corner of his eye. Later (p. 576) he remembers her "dead flesh," but this is never verified by the narrator.

From: "ERIC CASSIDY" (PYRBE@snow.csv.warwick.ac.uk)

Yes, Bianca dies, but what about Gottfried? After all, we are told "that the two children, Gottfried and Bianca, are the same...." (672). Perhaps we should read this as abstraction into the Freudian death drive/oedipal complex, but it seems to be an interesting if ambiguous link....

Relegating GR to a dream state perhaps risks making everything metaphor, a relativistic illusion that defies conventional literary criticism (or realist lit crit) and its attempts for philosophically empirical meaning, yet it also reifies the role of molecular synthesis in the novel, what Deleuze would call desiring-production, and how certain productive processes construct the worlds within which we live....

A related side note: since the nether world does play a significant role in GR it would be interesting to compare and contrast the role of the occult or voodoo in both GR and, to latch on to recent discussions on the Pynchon-list, Gibson's version of cyberpunk. Far from being mere metaphor, the occult appears to play a significant role in the Pynchon's "technologique," and outside the setting of Nazism, it seems to be a main player in both Pynchon's and Gibson's schizotechnics....

From: LARSSON@VAX1.Mankato.MSUS.EDU (Don Larsson)

Who dies? Depends on whether you're talking about before the "plot" begins or after it "ends". As Jan points out, the whole notion of "death" is problematic since some characters are already dead and don't know it and some are dead but still around in one form or another. Notice, though, that the possessors of The Book are being picked off one by one, which makes Pointsman nervous, that Bianca may(or may not) be dead, that Blicero may (or may not) be dead--and so may (or may not) Gottfried, for starters.

But there's always that one lemming to hope for. Has anyone ever really looked at Pynchon's use of the biblical (OT) theme of the Saving Remnant?

From: andrew@cee.hw.ac.uk (Andrew Dinn)

James W. Horton writes:

> Come to think of it, I might be wrong about Gwenhidwy. It's Spectro,
> isn't it, who is in the lab when a V-2 hits. I had been thinking of him
> and the Welshman dying the same way, but now I can't really remember what
> is the last we hear of the latter.

I think one could be suspicious of death reports for any of the fictional characters, especially given their possible presence over there. The Times notice for Tantivy is a typically unconvincing example.

Which leaves only the `real' (heh heh) people, Dr Thiel who dies in the 1943 Allies raid and maybe FDR, who gets a mention whilst still living but whose death is also remarked on no?

Alec McHoul originally wanted to know who were the large number of people who died. Well, there is no mention of them by name but doesn't TRP refer to the inhabitants of Hiroshima greeting another pleasant day just before the bomb is about to drop? If that isn't enough to justify `large' then I'll throw in King Kong who after appearing large as life taking a shit turns out to be the lifeless, burned out hulk of the Reichstag. Oh, and there's always those dead loaves of bread on the streets of Berlin.

From: stephanides adam l (astephan@uxa.cso.uiuc.edu)

I had assumed Gottfried died when the 00000 was fired. And nobody has yet mentioned Blobadjian. He dies--at any rate, he "crosses over."

From: Alec W Mchoul (mchoul@csuvax1.murdoch.edu.au)

I figure Tim Ware is right about Bianca. There doesn't seem to be anything definite on her dying. In Writing Pynchon, David Wills and I use this question (is she/isn't she) as a way of highlighting the overall undecidability of GR. The crucial sentence is:

...Slothrop will think he sees her, think he has found Bianca again ... he will see her lose her footing on the slimy deck ... he will lunge after her without thinking much, slip himself as she vanishes under the chalky lifelines and gone. (491)

Apart from the weird tense and the fact that this is marked as something Slothrop only "thinks", there's another obvious ambiguity. That is you can read the final bit of syntax as "slip himself ... under the chalky lifelines" or else as "she vanishes under the chalky lifelines."

The full discussion is on p31 of WP.

From: Tim Ware

Blobadjian does indeed die, on page 355 (Viking). This IS related to us by "narrator" and is fairly unambiguous (as GR goes).

That's five deaths-by-narrator by my count:

Pudding; Spectro; Bland; Sachsa; Blobadjian - yeah?

From: John.Hamill@vuw.ac.nz

If we're going for a body count... we mustn't forget the bodies that Pokler finds at Dora. The anonymous female body he gives his wedding ring to is of course *just* alive, the ring being a contribution to the long ride home...but wasn't there a few *other* corpses lying around?

Whether any of these die "in" the novel is an interesting question... not in the sense of an Elizabethan play's death-throe-speech anyway.

On a more flippant note... my vote is that Slothrop at the end has reached what lawyers who want to flip the switch in intensive care call a "persistent vegetative state."

From: Tim Ware

"persistent vegetative state" is a medical term, not a legal term. It describes hunks of formerly sentient flesh.

From: John.Hamill@vuw.ac.nz

Tim, of course, is right in kindly pointing out that the 'persistent vegetative state' is strictly speaking a medical term. Not that, however, this medical term has no functional relation for legal discourse...

Persisting with the thought, in relation to Slothrop, the treatment of the body as a "vegetable" seems to me to be an interesting example of another kind of transformation which blurs the relation between "life" and "death" as a hoary old binary opposition. (In this case the "control" is "outside", which is the basis of the distinction between pavlovian behaviourism and "ouspenskian rubbish"). Of the many ways of reading Slothrop's final condition, this "diagnosis" foregrounds the extent to which we are implicated in reading the body and the extent to which the body no longer speaks for itself. This may be one way of the avoiding the mad but groovy mystic cosmology of swastika's, crossroads, rocket targets. war zones, and Quixote windmills. The arbitrary imposition of a methodology, (somewhat like that notorious golden mean and the orgasmic GR) foregrounds the extent to which the reader is given control. In this instance, the persistent vegetable, becomes a metaphor which enables murder, if we consider murder to be a point of closure, but then I suppose we are not, like the counterforce, interested in "Slothrop qua Slothrop".

From: andrew@cee.hw.ac.uk (Andrew Dinn)

John Hamill writes:

> "Persisting with the thought, in relation to Slothrop, the treatment
> of the body as a "vegetable" seems to me to be an interesting
> example of another kind of transformation which blurs the relation
> between "life" and "death" as a hoary old binary opposition."

And Don Larson replies:

> Don't forget that mandrakes scream when plucked from the ground, and
> the earth itself is a living critter. Tends to blur our comfortable
> distinctions, doesn't it?

Yeah, vegetable life forms are still far too complex. That last infinitesimal delta-t only shrinks to zero when there is "a face on every mountainside / and a soul in every stone"

From: "Ian P. Currie" (IANC@ac.dal.ca)

I don't know if anyone's mentioned this death, or near-death, but there's the colonel (I don't think we get his name) who Eddie Pensiero is on the verge of killing with a pair of scissors at the end of the Byron the Bulb story...

From: JOEYDEVIVRE@delphi.com

Getting down to very bit characters here, but how about Reg Le Froyd, the White Visitation inmate who "steps back into the void" (p. 73)?

Also lots of dead dodoes, & Rosa Luxemburg of course.

From: Poet of the Raritan (bard@eden.rutgers.edu) (Jason)

Just to add to the body count, here's some minutia...

"They drank till they died, hundreds of souls. Enzian's mother was among them. [...] Sixty percent of the Herero people had been exterminated." (321)

At Peenemunde, a bunch of people died. "bodies still being dug from the wreckage [...] Most of the casualties had been among "foreign workers," a euphemism for civilian prisoners brought form countries under German occupation. [...] "Dr. Thiel is Dead." (423)

These are both instances where the narrator seems pretty reliable.

From: LARSSON@vax1.mankato.msus.edu

Andrew Dinn writes:

>"Which leaves only the `real' (heh heh) people, Dr Thiel who dies in
>the 1943 Allies raid and maybe FDR, who gets a mention whilst still
>living but whose death is also remarked on no?"

A-and it also anticipates the deaths of JFK and Malcolm X!

From: "Aaron Yeater" (AYEATER@ksgrsch.harvard.edu)

hi. i've been listening for a while, but this is my first contribution, if you can call it such...

i've been rereading vineland, and noticing the status of death therein. some characters are 'unkillable,' like Vond, the Roadrunner, eluding death confidently. others, from Takeshi on down, are in various 'stages' of death, the Thanatoids being "like death, only different." No one is really dead-no one ever dies (like tv, kinda?) perhaps what TRP presents is the end of death, the breakdown of the 1 and 0 into something more complicated--transformation. but into what? is it salvation, immortality, the ultimate promise of the conspiracy? or dissolution, entropy? thus in GR people don't die, they disappear, cross over, form and reform, and if transformation does not take place (as von Braun tells us in the epigraph it always will) then there is dissolution, hopelessness, chaos. and the pynchonian dilemma remains: will you be 'part of the system', choosing to sacrifice your will and individuality to the 'grand design' for salvation of your soul? or will you fight cooptation by the conspiracy and in stead simply fall apart, dissolve, collapse, be crushed by pessimism?

anyway, my $.02. if inappropriate, i apologize in advance.

From: LARSSON@vax1.mankato.msus.edu

Regarding Aaron Yeater's post:

Welcome! And very appropriate comments indeed.

All this can be traced back to Eliot and "death's other kingdom" and through TS (Not Tyrone) to Dante, where people can be in Hell while their bodies are still "alive". Roger and Pig's escape from the Dinner suggests that there are alternatives, ways to slip out between the bars, places that must exist between the one and zero, but you have to look hard to find them and act quick to get to them.

From: SAMoulthrop@ubmail.ubalt.edu (Stuart Moulthrop)

This who-dies-in-GR string is *just* what I need this Tuesday morning (sound track being that song by the Pogues). Especially all this about vegetative states. My mood exactly.

Anyway, my personal addition to the list: "the long-time schiz, you know, who believes that he _is_ World War II" (Viking 131), one of the shadow inmates of The White Visitation. "His days are numbered. He's to die on V-E Day. If he's not in fact the War then he's its child-surrogate, living high for a certain term but come the ceremonial day, look out. The true king dies only a mock-death. Remember. Any number of young men may be selected to die in his place while the real king, foxy old bastard, goes on."

A-and anyway, yesindeedyfoax, that terminal dash could spell you-know-what for you-know-who (you). So what's the point? In GR, we're all dead in the long run (at least in one construction of the final character...)

From: PNOTESBD@cnsvax.uwec.edu (Bernard Duyfhuizen)

Andrew Dinn is right, there are plenty of hints about the "real" deaths of WWII--one can easily imagine Pokler's visit to Dora to be an occasion when he is brought face to face with the death produced by the war. But except for the few cases given in the last few posts on this subject, hardly any of the fictional characters die, and certainly none of the most significant (with Pudding it was inevitable; and Peter Sachsa has to die to play his role in the later seances).

As for Bianca, anyone whose interested might want to download my article on Bianca from the fourth issue of *Postmodern Culture*. If I remember the codes, the article is filed under DUYFHU-1 and DUYFHU-2.

From: LARSSON@vax1.mankato.msus.edu
Subject: Victory through Vegetables John Hamill writes:

> "Persisting with the thought, in relation to Slothrop, the treatment of the body
> as a "vegetable" seems to me to be an interesting example of another kind of
> transformation which blurs the relation between "life" and "death" as a hoary old
> binary opposition."

Don't forget that mandrakes scream when plucked from the ground, and the earth itself is a living critter. Tends to blur our comfortable distinctions, doesn't it?

From: Tim Ware

Responding to Aaron's post, I think von Braun's epigraph supports the contention that GR DOES allow death, but also "the continuity of our spiritual existence after death."

I do agree that the way death is portrayed is, however, in a non-binary fashion; one isn't simply either dead or alive, but dead, alive or in the next world.

 

Gravity's Rainbow
Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon