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Paradise Flubbed: Pynchon & The New World

4655 words - 19 pages

PARADISE FLUBBED: Pynchon & the New World

When, in Gravity's Rainbow, "A screaming comes across the sky," it is the sound of a V-2 rocket arcing up and over the English Channel.But the rocket's vapor trail (which Pirate Prentice sees from kneedeep in the primordial mulch of his bananararium) points further on: over the Atlantic, on toward America, the New World, Tyrone Slothrop's "yearned-for, perhaps illusory home."

The rocket's path ends a fraction of an inch above the reader's head, the rocket suspended, poised ... A tableau representing the possibile if not quite realized Apocalypse.In his first novel, V., Pynchon explored the death-worshipping mania, the will-to-the-inorganic hubris, the sheer Gotterdamerüng gaga-ness of a Dying Europe.And the final scene from Gravity's Rainbow seems to (almost) complete that arc, to represent Europe's death rattle; a last gasp (and grasp)--as if the Old World, having given birth to the New, now wished to take that Other in a last suicidal embrace.

Don't bother, says Vineland.We'll do it ourselves, eventually.Not by introducing some new evil into this New Eden, but simply by retro-fitting America with the same brutal mannerisms, the same authoritarian conceits, the same mania for Tidying Up that destroyed Europe--all of these urges which Pynchon sees as (in Fredric Jameson's terms) "necessary preconditions" for the rise to imperialist hegemony and colonialist cruelty, and the inevitable descent into fascist insanity.

The "whiteness" of decay that looms over V. is for Pynchon inextricably connected with America's Puritanical beginnings, both genealogical and esthetic.The Crying of Lot 49 ends, in fact, with what Edward Mendelson calls a "penultimate Pentecostal" moment: the book's heroine, Oedipa Maas, shut with sinister finality into an auction room where the "terrible, pale" face behind The Plot (if there is a plot) to Corrupt America may (or may not) be revealed; where, we sense, she will discover either Transcendance--and thus Justification, even Redemption--or mere paranoia.

However, Gravity's Rainbow (1973), turns away from America of the 1970's to Europe of the 1940's, as if Pynchon himself were stuck on lot 48 and hadn't yet figured out What Came Next for the New World.

Rather than rockets, Vineland opens with carrier pigeons (coming from the east, from Europe?), and blue jays (screaming, nest-stealing birds)--and messages: gone too late to be read, perhaps ever to be understood.

"Too late, too late" runs like the background hum of an amplifier throughout the opening of this novel.For instance, Desmond, the familly dog, rises later than usual to chase blue jays away from his food; and his master, Zoyd Wheeler--part-time carpenter and unreclaimed hippie--is late for his appointment with a plate glass window, through which he must jump each year to keep his government disability checks coming.Zoyd is a resident of Vineland, a refuge tucked in the northern California...

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