Thomas Pynchon's V. (1963)

V

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.

Etymologies

Beatrice

In Dante's Divine Commedia , the spirit of Beatrice (representing the wisdom of faith) conducts Dante through Paradise after Virgil has guided him through Hell and Purgatory.

bravo

a villain, desperado; esp. a hired assassin

caries

tooth decay

Cassar

Girolamo Cassar was a famous Maltese builder responsible for many of the 16th century buildings on Malta, including the auberges.

deracinated

uprooted

Fenice

La Fenice is one of the most famous opera houses in Venice. It was built in 1774 when the San Benedetto opera house burned down and the theatre company there needed a new home. Thus the new opera house was called "La Fenice" ("the Phoenix") as it rose from the ashes of the San Benedetto. It was the leading opera house in Venice. In 1836 it burned down and was rebuilt in 1837. On January 29, 1996, it again burned down. [Home Page (Italian)]

Firelily

According to Molly Hite in Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon (p.162, fn.12), one of the Third Reich's V-weapons was called "Feuerlily" (citing von Braun and Ordway's A History of Rocketry and Space Travel at page 112).

Godolphin

"Godolphin" is an old Cornish name. Godolphin is a parish in Cornwall, the most southwestern county in the United Kingdom. There was a character named "Lord of Godolphin" in J. Swift's Gulliver's Travels. There's a Godolphin Street in London.

However, HyperArts recently received an email from Ellen Godolphin Bernstein, which most likely explains the source of the name. Ellen wrote:

Tom Godolphin was my father-in-law. He was on the English faculty at Cornell when Pynchon was a student there. You can read a little about him in an essay by John McPhee called I think "A room full of Hovings." He was killed in an automobile accident in the early 1960s.

From Thomas Pynchon: The Art of Illusion:

"A final iconographic detail [...] may be intended by the author's having Victoria often attended by Hugh or Evan Godolphin. Their surname puns on the name of the aquatic mammal that attends the goddess in certain ancient representations, e.g., the Aphrodite of Cyrene." (p.19)
"Rainer Maria Rilke's poem Die Geburt des Venus concludes, after the goddess steps ashore, with the washing-up of a dead dolphin, "tod, rot, und offen." (p.138, fn.5)

Also, Hu Gadarn, the Welsh god, is mentioned often in The White Goddess, to wit:

"Hu Gadarn, 'Hu the Mighty', who has been identified with the ancient Channel Island god Hou, was the Menes, or Palamedes, of the Cymry and taught them ploughing-- 'in the region where Constantinople now stands'- music and song." (88)

"The Cymry, whom we think of as the real Welsh, and from whom the proud court-bards were recruited, were a tribal aristocracy of Brythonic origin holding down a serf-class that was a mixture of Goidels, Brythons, Bronze Age and New Stone Age peoples and Aboriginals; they had invaded Wales from the North of Englad in the fifth century A.D." (19)

"the hero who led the Cymry into Britain from Taprobane (Ceylon)" (145)

Goodfellow

From David Cowart's Thomas Pynchon: The Art of Illusion:

"according to Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English , 'goodfellow' is Covent Garden slang for 'a vigorous fornicator.' (p.68)

From The White Goddess :

"In the English countryside Mary Gipsy was soon identified with the Love-goddess known to the Saxons as 'The May Bride' [...]. She paired off with Merddin, by this time Christianized as 'Robin Hood', apparently a variant of Merddin's Saxon name, Rof Breoht Woden, 'Bright Strength of Woden,' also known euphemistically as 'Robin Good-fellow'. In French the word Robin, which is regarded as a diminutive of Robert but is probably pre-Teutonic, means a ram and also a devil. [...] The two senses of ram and devil are combined in the illustration to a pamphlet published in London in 1639: Robin Goodfellow, his mad pranks and merry gests. Robin is depicted as an ithyphallic [having an erect penis] god of the witches with young ram's horns sprouting from his forehead [...]." (p.396) [emphasis added]

From Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend:

"Robin Goodfellow In English folklore, a malicious or mischievous spirit, later identified with Puck in his role of household spirit. Shakespeare's Robin Goodfellow (Midsummer Night's Dream ii,I) is a servant of Oberon." (p.950)

integument

enveloping layer; skin

Irredentist

member of a movement in Malta which sought to break away from British rule and join Italy; also, more generally, movements which seek to break away from foreign rule and join their ethnically related unit

jongleur

a travelling medieval entertainer skilled in juggling, acrobatics, music and recitation

Count Khevenhüller-Metsch

From Slow Learner:

"Loot the Baedeker I did, all the details of a time and place I had never been to, right down to the names of the diplomatic corps. Who'd make up a name like Khevenhüller-Metsch?" (p.17)

Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-84)

German Egyptologist and the author of numerous books including Chronologie der Aegypter (which laid the foundation for a scientific treatment of early Egyptian history) and Todtenbuch (the Egyptian Book of the Dead) (1867)

Mafia

According to Molly Hite in Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon , "Mafia is a parody of Ayn Rand, whose influence was at its peak in the early sixties when V. first appeared." (p.162, fn.13)

Mantissa

Latin: "makeweight": something thrown onto a scale to bring the weight to a desired value;
Math: the decimal part of a logarithm

Mara

From The White Goddess:

"In mediaeval Irish poetry Mary was equally plainly identified with Brigit the Goddess of Poetry: for St. Brigit, the Virgin as Muse, was popularly known as 'Mary of the Gael'. [...]

"The mediaeval Brigit shared the Muse-ship with another Mary, 'Mary Gipsy' or St. Mary of Egypt, in whose honour the oath 'Marry' or 'Marry Gyp!' was sworn. This charming Virgin with the blue robe and pearl necklace was the ancient pagan Sea goddess. Marian in transparent disguise--Marian, Miriam [...] Maria or Marina. [...] She was swarthy-faced, and in a mediaeval Book of the Saints she is recorded to have worked her passage to the Holy Land, where she was to live for years as a desert anchorite, by offering herself as a prostitute to the whole crew of the only vessel sailing there; so, once in Heaven, she showed particular indulgence to carnal sins." (p.394-95) [emphasis added]

See also Birth of Venus

marches

border regions; frontiers; esp. a district originally set up to defend a boundary

Miraculous Medal

Miraculous Medal

"O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you."

The design was revealed by the Virgin Mary to St. Catherine Labouré on November 27, 1830 in the chapel of the convent of Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul on the rue de Bac, Paris. Catherine had been having visions for the seven months before and had told only her confessor M. Aladel who had the medal struck in June 1832. In 1836, a tribunal in Paris approved the medal as of supernatural origin. On one side, the medal depicts the Virgin Mary standing on a globe with her feet crushing a serpent's head. Beneath it says, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

Miraculous Medal BackOn the other side there is the letter M entwined with a bar with a cross on it. Twelve stars surround the symbols. Beneath are two hearts, one crowned with thorns, the other pierced with a sword. The medal gained in significance when Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jew, was instantly converted to Catholicism while visiting a church in Rome to arrange a funeral. He subsequently founded the Order of Our Lady of Sion to work for understanding between Jews and Catholics. [Website]

Mixolydian

In music terminology, the mixolydian mode is a major scale with a flatted, aka minor or (appropriate to "the laziest living creature in New York") "lazy" seventh degree.

mountebank

A person who sells quack medicines from a platform; a boastful unscrupulous pretender; charlatan

neurasthenic

psychosis where sexual drive is completely repressed at the expense of a large amount of mental energy, rendering one so tired that sleep is not effective.

Owlglass

From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable :

Eulenspiegel, Till. The name (owl-glass) of a 14th-century villager of Brunswick round whom gathered a large number of popular tales of mischievous pranks and often crude jests, first printed in 1515. The work was translated into many languages and rapidly achieved wide popularity. Till Eulenspiegel is the subject of the picaresque novel Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster (1867) and of a symphonic poem by Richard Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895). (p.384)

From Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend :

Hero and title of a 16th century German chapbook, a collection of satirical tales pointed at certain class distinctions of the period and region. Till Eulenspiegel, son of a peasant, was born in Brunswick somewhere around the turn of the 13th-14th century, and died at Mölln in 1350. The tales recount a long series of jests and pranks showing up the superior wit of the clever peasant (often under the guise of thick-headedness) over the typical townsman: tradesman, shopkeeper, innkeeper, even priest and lord. The jokes are scurrilous, sometimes cruel. [...] [H]e has been known to every German schoolboy since the Middle Ages as a personification of peasant wit over bourgeois dullness and smugness. (p.1114)

From The White Goddess, by Robert Graves:

"Owls are most vocal on moonlight nights in November and then remain silent until February. It is this habit, with their silent flight, the carrion-smell of their nests, their diet of mice, and the shining of their eyes in the dark, which makes owls messengers of the Death-goddess Hecate, or Athene, or Persephone: from whom, as the supreme source of prophecy, they derive their reputation for wisdom." (p.211)

According to ancient Celtic myth, when the Love-goddess Blodeuwedd (another manefestation of Venus, the Virgin, Athene, &c.) attempted unsuccessfully to have Llew Llaw Gyffes (a god sometimes associated with Apollo or a Sea-god) slain, she was turned into an owl as punishment. Graves continues:

"When Blodeuwedd has betrayed Llew, she is punished by Gwydion who transmogrifies her into an Owl. This is further patriarchal interference. She had been an Owl thousands of years before Gwydion was born--the same Owl that occurs on the coins of Athens as the symbol of Athene, the Goddess of Wisdom, the same owl that gave its name to Adam's first wife Lilith and as Annis the Blue Hag sucks the blood of children in primitive British folk-lore." (p.315)

"The Sirens ('Entanglers') were a Triad [...] living on an island in the Ionian Sea. Their wings were perhaps owl-wings, since Hesychius mentions a variety of owl called 'the Siren', and since owls, according to Homer, lived in Calypso's alder-girt isle of Ogygia along with the oracular sea-crows." (p.418)

"The poet is in love with the White Goddess, with Truth: his heart breaks with longing and love for her. She is the Flower-goddess Olwen or Blodeuwedd; but she is also Blodeuwedd the Owl, lamp-eyed, hooting dismally, with her foul nest in the hollow of a dead tree [...]" (p.448)

From Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend :

"As the bird of Athena (companion and attribute) the owl was auspicious in classical Greece; old Greek vases associated with the worship of Athena depict owls with breasts, and vulva represented by a circle. But in Rome the owl was a bird of ill-omen and its hooting presaged death.
[...]
"In European and American folklore in general, the owl is also a bird of ill-omen whose hooting is an omen of death.
[...]
"In India, owl's flesh is regarded as an aphrodisiac, but eating it will turn a man into a fool. Eating the eyeballs, however, enables one to see in the dark. In medieval magic and medicine, owl feathers laid on a person would cause him to fall into a soothing sleep. [...] The Wends say the sight of an owl would cause a woman to have an easy delivery." (p.838)

Paola

The Maltese town of Paola is located near the farthest inland point of the Grand Harbour; [MAP]

Schoenberg's quartets

Why under entropy? Arnold Schoenberg devised serialism, a new approach to organizing musical notes that doesn't rely on the diatonic scale (with its whole and half steps giving certain notes prominance over other notes and creating tonal polarization). According to strict serialism, all twelve notes of the chromatic scale are used, arranged in rows, and each note in the row must played in order. Thus, all the notes have equal weight, and by analogy serialism can be seen as entropic in that it moves from the asymmetry of tonal polarization towards symmetry and equality of notes. As Gustav Schlabone says in Gravity's Rainbow about another German who pushed the envelope, "[Beethoven] represents the German dialectic, the incorporation of more and more notes into the scale, culminating with dodecaphonic democracy, where all the notes get an equal hearing." (440) If one played all the Schoenberg quartets (as the WSC does at their party), beginning with the D major string quartet (1897) and ending with String Quartet No. 4 (1936), a progression from lower to higher entropy would be traced.

Semitic, Hamitic

Semitic: of or relating to the Semites, a group of peoples of southwestern Asia chiefly represented now by the Jews and Arabs, but in ancient times by the Babylonians, Assyrians, Aramaeans, Canaanites and Phoenicians.

Hamitic: relating to a group of chiefly northern African peoples that are mostly Muslims and mainly Caucasoid.

sinusoidal

the path, when plotted to a time base, is a sine wave (particles execute transverse vibrations of a simple harmonic type)

Slab

According to David Seed, "Pynchon probably took Slab's name from Philosophical Investigations where Wittgenstein hypothesizes a minimal language between a builder and his assistant which would consist of nouns like 'block' or 'slab'." (p.75)

Sphere

I suppose "sphere" would be the opposite of "cube" (i.e., an unhip person), placing Mr. Sphere in the realm of the very hip. Also, Alan Westrope informs me that Thelonious Monk's middle name was "Sphere" and TRP is/was a big TM fan. But why McClintic?

In his The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon David Seed writes: "Sphere is closely modelled on Ornette Coleman, not to parody him as Stanley Edgar Hyman suggests, but to develop his stature. His origin in Fort Worth, method and line-up all parallel Coleman's, as does the fact that he is playing at the V-note (modelled on the Five-Spot where Coleman began performing in 1959)." (p.81)

step function

a single real variable that remains constant within each of a series of adjacent intervals, but changes in value from one interval to the next.

Trocadero

The name, which in Spanish means "place of barter" (from trocar: "to barter"), goes back to a fortified site near Cadiz, Spain, that was the stronghold of the Constititutionalists in the revolution of 1820 and that fell to the French in 1823. During the International Exhibition of 1878 an ornate palace was built to commemorate the French victory. "Trocadero" became a popular name for public places in Europe, one being the Trocadero Palace of Varieties in London, known as "The Troc," which opened as a music hall in 1882 on the corner of Shaftsbury Avenue and Windmill Street.

unicorns and peacocks

From Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore Mythology and Legend:

In Biblical etiology the unicorn is now extinct because he was thrown out of the ark and drowned. [...] Traditionally, it can be tamed by the touch of a virgin. If the horn of a unicorn is dipped into water the water will become pure. If a dish containing poison is touched by a unicorn's horn, the poison will be disclosed. [...] Robert Graves [author of The White Goddess] reports that "the unicorn's single exalted horn represents the single exalted pole" which reaches directly up to the zenith, the hottest point attained by the sun. In Egyptian architecture it is the obelisk and expresses dominion over the four quarters of the world and the zenith.

In Greece the peacock was sacred to Hera and kept in her temple. [...] It is sacred among the Jats and Khonds of India and in the Punjab its feathers, smoked, will heal snakebite. [...] In European lore the peacock is a bad omen, though in medieval hermeneutics the peacock was the symbol of the soul.

From Le Bestiare Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie (13th century):

The unicorn has but one horn in the middle of its forehead. It is the only animal that ventures to attack the elephant; and so sharp is the nail of its foot, that with one blow it can rip the belly of that beast. Hunters can catch the unicorn only by placing a young virgin in his haunts. No sooner does he see the damsel, than he runs towards her, and lies down at her feet, and so suffers himself to be captured by the hunters. The unicorn represents Jesus Christ, who took on Him our nature in the virgin's womb, was betrayed by the Jews and delivered into the hands of Pontius Pilate. Its one horn signifies the Gospel of Truth.

From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:

The peacock's tail is an emblem of an evil eye, or an ever-vigilant traitor; hence the feathers are considered unlucky.

Venusberg

Venusberg is the Germanic name for the underground abode of Venus, the goddess of love. Venus attained great prominence in the Middle Ages as the pagan, earthly power opposed to the spiritual power of the Church.

Vheissu

From The Modern Word (an excellent website for postmodern literature):

Lesbare und lesenswerthe Bemerkungen über das Land Ukkbar in Klein-Asien

Johann Valentin Andreä Strassburg, Lazarus Zetzner, 1641. A very rare work of which only seven original copies survive, this fictional travelogue was written by J.V. Andreä, the purported author of Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreuz and "accidental" founder of the Rosicrucian movement. Author of several works involving imaginary communities and mystico-Christian utopias, including the Reipublicae Christianopolitanae Descriptio, Bemerkungen was an expansion of ideas first expressed in the Christianopolis, now projected onto an abstract philosophical country situated within the borders of present-day Iraq. While certainly of interest to Borges scholars and modern Rosicrucians, Bemerkungen is most notorious for its chapter on the ideal community of Vheissu, the major inspiration behind the infamous Zweite Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft. Better known to history as the Commune of Prague, the ZFG was an isolated group of philosophers, Rosicrucians, and Lutheran radicals who attempted to recreate the ideals of Vheissu by establishing a closed community outside Prague in 1773. Their experiment was a disaster, ending two years later in a spiral of cannibalism, violent orgies, and mass suicide. (For further details, see "Rosiges Glühen, Blutiges Kreuz," by Kristoph Gross, Der Annalen Metakarus, 1934, pp. 345-78; or "The Prague Commune and its Influence on DeSade's The 120 Days of Sodom," by Josephine Pinto, Lingua Franca, Vol 10/No. 3, April 2000, pp. 22-25.)

Read more at The Modern Word...

From Molly Hite's Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon :

"If "Vheissu" encodes anything, it is a pun--"Wie heisst du?," "What is your name?" — that parodies Stencil's preoccupation with sub rosa identities." (p.54)

"George Levine cites in addition vécu, "Sartre's term for 'lived experience,'" and Richard Leverenz's "V. is you," reinforcing the suggestion that Vheissu is as overdetermined as V." (p.161, fn.7)

Wren

In his The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon David Seed writes:

"This particular act [Mélanie l'Heuremaudit's impaling during the ballet performance] relates back to the mythic significance of Victoria Wren's name, the wren being described in The Golden Bough as 'the Lady of Heaven's hen'. Frazer notes the custom of hunting the wren which is killed and then carried aloft on the end of a pole. Pynchon conflates Frazer and Stravinsky to produce a work which travesties both and which contains neither mythic meaning, solemnity nor transcendence." (p.107)

From The Golden Bough :

"By many European peoples [...] the wren has been designated the king, the little king, the king of birds, the hedge king, and so forth, and has been reckoned amongst those birds which it is extremely unlucky to kill. [...] In Scotland the wren is called "the Lady of Heaven's hen [...]"

"the custom of annually killing the wren has prevailed widely both in this country [Ireland] and in France. In the Isle of Man down to the eighteenth century the custom was observed on Christmas Eve, or rather Christmas morning. On the twenty-fourth of December, towards evening, all the servants got a holiday; they did not go to bed all night, but rambled about till the bells rang in all the churches at midnight. When prayers were over, they went to hunt the wren, and having found one of these birds they killed it and fastened it to the top of a long pole with its wings extended. Thus they carried it in procession to every house chanting the following rhyme:

We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin,
We hunted the wren for Jack of the Can,
We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin,
We hunted the wren for every one.'

[...]
The worshipful animal is killed with special solemnity once a year; and before or immediately after death he is promenaded from door to door, that each of his worshippers may receive a portion of the divine virtues that are supposed to emanate from the dead or dying god." (pp. 621-23) [emphasis added]

From The White Goddess:

"By his successful defiance of the ecclesiastics Robin became such a popular hero that he was later regarded as the founder of the Robin Hood religion [...] 'Hood' (or Hod or Hud) meant 'log'--the log put at the back of the fire--and it was in this log, cut from the sacred oak, that Robin had once been believed to reside. Hence 'Robin Hood's steed', the wood-louse which ran out when the Yule log was burned. In the popular superstition Robin himself escaped up the chimney in the form of a Robin and, when Yule ended, went out as Belin against his rival Bran, or Saturn--who had been 'Lord of Misrule' at the Yule-tide revels. Bran hid from pursuit in the ivy-bush disguised as a Gold Crest Wren; but Robin always caught and hanged him. Hence the song:

Who'll hunt the Wren?' cries Robin the Bobbin.

Since 'Maid Marian' had been acting as Lady of Misrule in the Yule-tide revels and deserting Robin for his rival, it is easy to see how she earned a bad name for inconstancy." (p.397) [emphasis added]

Zenobia

Zenobia (3d Century AD) was queen of Palmyra, a city in central Syria. When her husband was murdered, perhaps through her own contrivance, she ruled in the name of her son. She was ambitious and expanded the territories in her domain to include East Asia Minor, Syria, Northern Mesopotamia and Egypt. However, when she dared to call her son emperor, the Romans under Aurelian attacked Palmyra and captured Zenobia as she was fleeing. She managed to save her life by blaming the war on her secretary Longinus. He was beheaded and Palmyra was destroyed. Zenobia was brought back to Rome and eventually pensioned and retired with large possessions near Tivoli. Though she was respected for her intelligence and beauty, her name has become associated with ruthless arrogance and ambition (no doubt, for daring to behave like a male of the species).

 

V
V - Thomas Pynchon