Here is the apartment my ex lived in with Thomas Pynchon. It has “ECLIPSE” written all over it!
Don’t you think he is keen on the Buck Hangars and this Nazi talk? Mary Ann Tharaldsen was Christine Rosamond’s sister-in-law. She got Tom a job at Boeing. I bet your Bob Buck makes Pynchon – even more paranoiac! There’s “DOOMSDAY” written all over Bob.
“Engineering physics, the hardest program at Cornell, was meant to supply Cold War America with its elites—the best and the brightest, junior league. One professor called its students “intellectual supermen”; Pynchon’s old friend David Shetzline remembers them as “the slide-rule boys.” But after less than two years in the major, Pynchon left Cornell in order to enlist in another Cold War operation, the Navy. He once wrote that calculus was “the only class I ever failed,” but he’s always used self-deprecation to deflect inquiries, and professors remembered universally good grades. Tharaldsen says she saw Pynchon’s IQ score, somewhere in the 190s. So why would he leave? He wrote much later about feeling in college “a sense of that other world humming out there”—a sense that would surely nag him from one city to another for the rest of his life. He was also in thrall to Thomas Wolfe and Lord Byron. Most likely he wanted to follow their examples, to experience adventure at ground level and not from the command centers.
What finally smoked him out was Richard Fariña’s wedding to Mimi Baez, sister of the famous folk singer. In August, Pynchon took a bus up the California coast to serve as his friend’s best man. Remembering the visit soon after, Fariña portrayed Pynchon with his head buried in Scientific American before eventually “coming to life with the tacos.” Pynchon later wrote to Mimi that Fariña teased him about his “anti-photograph Thing … what’s the matter, you afraid people are going to stick pins; pour aqua regia? So how could I tell him yeah, yeah right, you got it.”
After Fariña’s wedding, Pynchon went up to Berkeley, where he met up with Tharaldsen and Seidler. For years, Pynchon trackers have wondered about Tharaldsen, listed as married to Pynchon in a 1966–67 alumni directory. The real story is not of a secret marriage but a distressing divorce—hers from Seidler. Pynchon and Tharaldsen quickly fell in love, and when Pynchon went back to Mexico City shortly after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Tharaldsen soon followed.
In Mexico, Tharaldsen says, Pynchon wrote all night, slept all day, and kept mostly to himself. When he didn’t write, he read—mainly Latin American writers like Jorge Luis Borges, a big influence on his second novel, The Crying of Lot 49. (He also translated Julio Cortázar’s short story “Axolotl.”) His odd writing habits persisted throughout his life; later, when he was in the throes of a chapter, he’d live off junk food (and sometimes pot). He’d cover the windows with black sheets, never answer the door, and avoid anything that smelled of obligation. He often worked on multiple books at once—three or four in the mid-sixties—and a friend remembers him bringing up the subject of 1997’s Mason & Dixon in 1970.
Tharaldsen grew bored of the routine. Soon they moved to Houston, then to Manhattan Beach. Tharaldsen, a painter, did a portrait of Pynchon with a pig on his shoulder, referencing a pig figurine he’d always carry in his pocket, talking to it on the street or at the movies. (He still identified closely with the animals, collecting swine paraphernalia and even signing a note to friends with a drawing of a pig.) Once Tharaldsen painted a man with massive teeth devouring a burger, which she titled Bottomless, Unfillable Nothingness. Pynchon thought it was him, and hated it. Tharaldsen insists it wasn’t, but their friend Mary Beal isn’t so sure. “I know she regarded him as devouring people. I think in the sense that he—well, I shouldn’t say this, because all writers do it. Writers use people.”
Tharaldsen hated L.A., and decided to go back to school in Berkeley. “I thought they were unserious sort of beach people—lazy bums! But Tom didn’t care because he was inside all day and writing all night.” At the moment, eager to break with his publisher, Lippincott (and rejoin Cork Smith, since departed to Viking), he saw Lot 49 as a quickie “potboiler” meant to break his option with the house—forcing them to either reject it, liberating him, or pay him $10,000. They paid him, defying his own low opinion of it. In his introduction to Slow Learner, a later collection of his early stories, he’d write that with Lot 49, “I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I’d learned up till then.” Now it’s required reading in college courses, a gateway drug to the serious stuff. Which, of course, was his next book: Gravity’s Rainbow.
I have not read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravities Rainbow. I tried, and put it down, along with ‘V’. My former wife, Mary Ann Tharaldsen, lived with Thomas in Mexico for three years, and was his lover. They met at Cornell. Mary Ann showed me the words Thomas wrote her inside her copy of V. There might be some jealousy here, but, I don’t get it, why his books got all this/that attention, and why some say it is one of the greatest American novels ever written.
I’m sorry – and I have just read the treatment by Wikipedia. However, I am intrigued with it’s connection to Rena and her husband, Sir Ian Easton, who got his compatriots at British Aeorspace to put up money to put the ‘White Crusader’ in a cup race. Rena and Ian are Pynchonish. This literary theme I have woven around them takes on a life of its own.
Pynchon takes us back to 1945 a period where Ian Easton excelled as a pilot and hero. This is Ian’s era. He marries a young woman who is not even of my era. Rena is what comes after the Hippie-Peace era – that Thomas appears not to have been a part of. Pynchon seems to have created his own fictional peer group, slipped in a generation – that did not exist – but for the woman I married around the same time Ian and Rena got married, 1979. Mary Ann is ten years my senior. Like Pynchon, Rena dropped out of sight – and is ungrouped – till now!
Putting Rena and Thomas together, reading a book, or, taking a road-reading trip, is no a fantastic stretch of the imagination. Did Thomas employ Mary Ann as a character in his books? Yes.
Again we have a classic study of Life imitating art in a weird way, because Thomas may have been keenly aware of this theory, and creates a Life and Art World where he is the only living thing left standing. Rena and Thomas may have painted themselves into a corner. This may be applicable to my former wife, who is reclusive, now. Are these people just hanging around waiting to be plucked and thrown into the workings of a novelist – who gets the last word?
I have looked at the idea that Ian Easton is the real James Bond, and thus he wanted the most beautiful woman by his side. Rena is – Bondish!
To read this entry about British Aerospace is the read what Pynchon mimicked, even channeled in some manner. Rena must have been surrounded by military eggheads who fought a cold war in her home – around the clock! Dinner at the Eastons must have been like dining in a war room. Rena must have been very impressed as she stood guard as a life-size statue – against the flowery wallpaper.
One can conclude that Easton’s and Pynchon’s world came crashing down on 911 when a rag-tag group of radicals hi-jacked jets and dove them in the trade towers.
“Back to the drawing board, boys!”
What goes up – must come down!
“Part 4: The Counterforce” is made up of 12 episodes. The plot of this part begins shortly after August 6, 1945 and covers the period up to September 14 of that same year; the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, with extended analepsis to Easter/April Fool’s weekend of 1945 and culminating in a prolepsis to 1970.
British Aerospace plc (BAe) was a British aircraft, munitions and defence-systems manufacturer. Its head office was in the Warwick House in the Farnborough Aerospace Centre in Farnborough, Hampshire. In 1999 it purchased Marconi Electronic Systems, the defence electronics and naval shipbuilding subsidiary of the General Electric Company plc, to form BAE Systems.
BAeSEMA, Siemens Plessey and GEC-Marconi formed UKAMS Ltd in 1994 as part of the Principal Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS) consortium. UKAMS would become a wholly owned subsidiary of BAe Dynamics in 1998. In 1995 Saab Military Aircraft and BAe signed an agreement for the joint development and marketing of the export version of the JAS 39 Gripen. In 1996 BAe and Matra Defense agreed to merge their missile businesses into a joint venture called Matra BAe Dynamics. In 1997 BAe joined the Lockheed Martin X-35 Joint Strike Fighter team. The company acquired the UK operations of Siemens Plessey Systems (SPS) in 1998 from Siemens AG. DASA purchased SPS’ German assets.
TIME named the novel one of its “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels”, a list of the best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005 and it is considered by some critics to be one of the greatest American novels ever written.
Additionally, the novel uses many actual events and locations as backdrops to establish chronological order and setting within the complex structure of the book. Examples include the appearance of a photograph of Wernher Von Braun in which his arm is in a cast. Historical documents indicate the time and place of an accident which broke Von Braun’s arm, thereby providing crucial structural details around which the reader can reconstruct Slothrop’s journey.
Gravity’s Rainbow is a 1973 novel by American writer Thomas Pynchon.
A lengthy, complex novel featuring a large cast of characters, the narrative is set primarily in Europe at the end of World War II and centers on the design, production and dispatch of V-2 rockets by the German military, and, in particular, the quest undertaken by several characters to uncover the secret of a mysterious device named the “Schwarzgerät” (“black device”) that is to be installed in a rocket with the serial number “00000”.
Traversing an immense range of knowledge, the novel transgresses boundaries between high and low culture, between literary propriety and profanity, and between science and speculative metaphysics.
The novel shared the 1974 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction with A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Although selected by the Pulitzer Prize jury on fiction for the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a single passage involving coprophilia offended the other members of the Pulitzer board, who rejected the selection. No Pulitzer Prize was awarded for fiction that year. The novel was nominated for the 1973 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
TIME named the novel one of its “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels”, a list of the best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005 and it is considered by some critics to be one of the greatest American novels ever written.
[…] a million bureaucrats are diligently plotting death and some of them even know it […]
The Title[edit source]
The novel’s title declares its ambition and sets into resonance the oscillation between doom and freedom expressed throughout the book. An example of the superfluity of meanings characteristic of Pynchon’s work during his early years, “Gravity’s Rainbow” refers to:
the parabolic trajectory of a V-2 rocket: the “rainbow-shaped” path created by the missile as it moves under the influence of gravity, subsequent to the engine’s deactivation;
the arc of the plot. Critics such as Weisenburger have found this trajectory to be cyclical or circular, like the true shape of a rainbow. This follows in the literary tradition of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man.
The light-bending property of gravity, an experimental observation confirming the general theory of relativity, in the context of the bending of light that produces rainbow effects.
The statistical pattern of impacts from rocket-bombs, invoked frequently in the novel by reference to the Poisson distribution.
The introduction of randomness into the science of physics through the development of quantum mechanics, breaking the assumption of a deterministic universe.
The animating effect of mortality on the human imagination.
Gravity’s Rainbow is composed of four parts.
Part 1: Beyond the Zero[edit source]
The name “Beyond the Zero” refers to lack of total extinction of a conditioned stimulus; that is, as seen in Part One, Laszlo Jamf decreases to zero the stimulus he conditioned on Tyrone Slothrop as an infant, but “there can still be a silent extinction beyond the zero,” and so launches the pursuit of a psychic state even less conditioned than a mind wiped of influence. It refers also to the zero of a function describing the trajectory of a rocket, suggesting a continuation of that trajectory beyond the point of impact and destruction. The events of this part occur primarily during the Christmas Advent season of 1944 from December 18–26. The epigraph is a quotation from a pamphlet written by Wernher von Braun and first published in 1962: “Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death.” 
Easton joined the Royal Navy in 1931 and qualified as a pilot at the start of World War II in which he saw active service on aircraft carriers. On 4 January 1941, flying a Fairey Fulmar of 803 Squadron from HMS Formidable during a raid on Dakar he force landed, with his aircrewman Naval Airman James Burkey and was taken prisoner and held by the Vichy French at a camp near Timbuktu until released in November 1942. He was appointed Assistant Director of the Tactical and Weapons Policy Division at the Admiralty in 1960 and was seconded to the Royal Australian Navy as Captain of HMAS Watson in 1962. He went on to be Naval Assistant to the Naval Member of the Templer Committee on Rationalisation of Air Power in 1965, Director of Naval Tactical and Weapons Policy Division at the Admiralty in 1966 and Captain of the aircraft carrier HMS Triumph in 1968. After that he was made Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy) in 1969, Flag Officer for the Admiralty Interview Board in 1971 and Head of British Defence Staff and Senior Defence Attaché in Washington D. C. in 1973. He last posting was as Commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies in 1976: he commissioned armourial bearings for the College which were which were presented during a visit by the Queen in November 1977. He retired in 1978.
Part 2: Un Perm’ au Casino Hermann Goering[edit source]
“Part 2: Un Perm’ au Casino Hermann Goering” (French for “A Furlough at the Hermann Göring Casino”) contains 8 episodes. The events of this section span the five months from Christmas 1944 through to Whitsunday the following year; May 20, 1945. The epigraph is attributed to Merian C. Cooper, speaking to Fay Wray prior to her starring role in King Kong, as recounted by Wray in the September 21, 1969 issue of the New York Times: “You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.”
Part 3: In the Zone[edit source]
“Part 3: In the Zone” comprises 32 episodes. The action of Part 3 is set during the summer of 1945 with analepses (literary flashbacks) to the time period of Part 2 with most events taking place between May 18 and August 6; the day of the first atomic bomb attack and also the Feast of the Transfiguration. The epigraph is taken from The Wizard of Oz, spoken by Dorothy as she arrives in Oz and shows her disorientation with the new environment: “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more…”
Part 4: The Counterforce[edit source]
“Part 4: The Counterforce” is made up of 12 episodes. The plot of this part begins shortly after August 6, 1945 and covers the period up to September 14 of that same year; the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, with extended analepsis to Easter/April Fool’s weekend of 1945 and culminating in a prolepsis to 1970. The simple epigraphical quotation, “What?” is attributed to Richard M. Nixon, and was added after the galleys of the novel had been printed to insinuate the President’s involvement in the unfolding Watergate scandal. The original quotation for this section (as seen in the advance reading copies of the book) was an excerpt from the lyrics to the Joni Mitchell song “Cactus Tree,” so the change in quote jumped a large cultural divide.
Plot summary[edit source]
A rocket based on the V-2 design being fired
The opening pages of the novel follow Pirate Prentice, first in his dreams, and later around his house in wartime London. Pirate then goes to work at ACHTUNG, a top-secret military branch, with Roger Mexico and Pointsman, who both worked there at the time. It is here the reader is introduced to the possibly promiscuous US Army lieutenant named Tyrone Slothrop (at certain points in the book, Pynchon leads the reader to doubt the very existence of the women Slothrop claims to sleep with), whose erratic story becomes the main plot throughout most of the novel. In “Beyond The Zero”, some of the other characters and organizations in the book note that each of Slothrop’s sexual encounters in London precedes a V-2 rocket hit in the same place by several days. Both Slothrop’s encounters and the rocket sites match the Poisson Distributions calculated by Roger Mexico, leading into reflections on topics as broad as Determinism, the reverse flow of time, and the sexuality of the rocket itself. Slothrop meets a woman named Katje, and they fall in love, maintaining a relationship until Slothrop’s sudden removal to Germany in part three. Many characters not significant until later are introduced in “Beyond the Zero”, including Franz and Leni Pökler, Roger Mexico and Jessica, and Thomas Gwenhidwy, some of whom don’t appear until the closing pages of the novel. Many characters are introduced into the plot and then don’t appear again at all. Indeed, most of the four hundred named characters only make singular appearances, serving merely to demonstrate the sheer scope of Pynchon’s universe. Slothrop is also submitted to various psychological tests, many involving the drug Sodium Amytal. Pavlovian conditioning is a recurring topic, mostly explored through the character of Pavlovian researcher Pointsman. One of the more bizarre Pavlovian episodes involves the conditioning of octopus Grigori to respond to the girl Katje. Early in part two, the octopus attacks Katje on the beach, and Slothrop is “conveniently” at hand to rescue her. Their romance begins here, extending into Part Three and the events that follow.
In part two, “Un Perm’ au Casino Hermann Goering”, Slothrop is studied covertly and sent away by superiors in mysterious circumstances to the Hermann Göring casino in recently liberated France, in which almost the entirety of Part Two takes place. There he learns of a rocket, with the irregular serial number 00000 (Slothrop comments that the numbering system doesn’t allow for four zeroes in one serial, let alone five), and a component called the S-Gerät (short for Schwarzgerät, which translates to black device) which is made out of the hitherto unknown plastic Imipolex G. Several companions suddenly disappear or re-appear after extended amounts of time, including the two guards watching Slothrop and Katje. It is hinted at that Slothrop’s prescience of rocket hits is due to being conditioned as an infant by the creator of Imipolex G, Laszlo Jamf. Later, the reality of this story is called into question in a similar fashion as the existence of Slothrop’s original sexual exploits were. After getting this information, Slothrop escapes from the casino into the coalescing post-war wasteland of Europe, “The Zone”, searching for the 00000 and S-Gerät. In the closing of Part Two, Katje is revealed to be safe in England, enjoying a day at the beach with Roger Mexico and Jessica, as well as Pointsman, who is in charge of Slothrop’s furtive supervision. While unable to contact Slothrop (or prohibited from contacting him), Katje continues to follow his actions through Pointsman.
Slothrop’s quest continues for some time “In The Zone” as he is chased by other characters. Many of these characters are referred to as “shadows,” and are only partially glimpsed by the protagonist. Much of the plot takes place on “The Anubis”, a ferry on which many different characters travel at various times. Slothrop meets and has an extended relationship with Margherita Erdman, a pornographic film actress and masochist. Originally meeting her in an abandoned studio in The Zone, it is she who leads him on to the Anubis. Here, Slothrop later also has extended encounters with her twelve-year-old daughter Bianca, though it is unclear whether or not he has stopped his casual relationship with Margherita by this time. Margherita is later shown to know a great deal more about the 00000, S-Gerät, and Imipolex G than she lets on, even having spent many days in a mysterious and ambiguously described factory and being clothed in an outfit made from the “erotic” plastic. Towards the end of this section, several characters not seen since early in the novel make a return, including Pirate Prentice, in his first appearance since the novel’s very start, as well as Roger Mexico. “In The Zone” also contains the longest episode of the book, a lengthy tale of Franz Pökler, a rocket engineer unwittingly set to assist on the S-Gerät’s production. The story details Pökler’s annual meetings with his daughter Ilse, and his growing paranoia that Ilse is really a series of impostors sent each year to mollify him. Through this story, we find out sparse details about the S-Gerät, including that it has an approximate weight of forty-five kilograms. The story ultimately reveals that the 00000 was fired in the spring of 1945, close to the end of the war. Slothrop spends much of the time as his invented alter-ego Rocketman, wearing an operatic Viking costume with the horns removed from the helmet, making it look like a rocket nose-cone. Rocketman completes various tasks for his own and others’ purposes, including retrieving a large stash of hashish from the centre of the Potsdam Conference. This continues until he leaves the region for northern Germany, continuing his quest for the 00000, as well as answers to his past. It becomes steadily apparent that Slothrop is somehow connected to Dr. Laszlo Jamf, and a series of experiments performed on him as a child.
Slothrop later returns to the Anubis to find Bianca dead, a possible trigger for his impending decline. He continues his pilgrimage through northern Germany, at various stages donning the identities of a Russian colonel and mythical Pig Hero in turn, in search of more information on his childhood and the 00000. Unfortunately, he is repeatedly sidetracked until his persona fragments totally in part four, despite the efforts of some to save him. Throughout “The Counterforce”, there are several brief, hallucinatory stories, of superheroes, silly Kamikaze pilots, and immortal sentient lightbulbs. These are presumed to be the product of Slothrop’s finally collapsed mind. The final identification of him of any certainty is his picture on the cover of an album by obscure English band “The Fool” (another allusion to Tarot, which becomes increasingly significant), where he is credited as playing the Harmonica and Kazoo. At the same time, other characters’ narratives begin to collapse as well, with some characters taking a bizarre trip through Hell, and others flying into nothingness on Zeppelins. A variety of interpretations of this fact exist, including theories that all of the involved characters have a shared consciousness, or even that the other characters are part of Slothrop’s mind, and thus disintegrate along with it. Slothrop’s narrative ends a surprisingly long time before the novel’s end, which focuses more on the 00000, and the people associated with its construction and launch (namely Blicero, Enzian, and Gottfried, amongst others). At this point, the novel also concludes many characters’ stories, including those of Mexico, Pointsman, and Pirate, leaving only the 00000.
As the novel closes, many topics are discussed by the various protagonists around the world, ranging from Tarot cards to Death itself. Towards the end of “The Counterforce”, it transpires that the S-Gerät is actually a capsule crafted by Blicero to contain a human. The story of the 00000’s launch is largely told in flashbacks by the narrator, while in the present Enzian is constructing and preparing its successor, the 00001 (which isn’t fired within the scope of the novel), though it is unknown who is intended to be sacrificed in this model. In the flashbacks, the maniacal Captain Blicero prepares to assemble and fire the 00000, and asks Gottfried to sacrifice himself inside the rocket. He launches the rocket in a pseudo sexual act of sacrifice with his bound adolescent sex slave Gottfried captive within its S-Gerät. At the end of a final episode, told partially in second person, the rocket descends upon Britain. The text halts, in the middle of a song composed by Slothrop’s ancestor, with a complete obliteration of narrative as the 00000 lands (or is about to land) on a cinema. Thus the novel opens and closes in wartime Britain, and opens and closes with the landing of a V-2 rocket.
This image of Wernher von Braun is referred to in the narrative, giving a quite exact timeframe for some events in the book.
Many facts in the novel are based on technical documents relating to the V-2 rockets. Equations featured in the text are correct. References to the works of Pavlov, Ouspensky, and Jung are based on Pynchon’s research. The firing command sequence in German that is recited at the end of the novel is also correct and is probably copied verbatim from the technical report produced by Operation Backfire.
In reality, a V-2 rocket hit the Rex Cinema in Antwerp, where some 1200 people were watching the movie The Plainsman, on December 16, 1944, killing 567 people, the most killed by a single rocket during the entire war.
The secret military organizations practicing occult warfare have an historical backdrop in the Ahnenerbe and other Nazi mysticism, whereas the allied counterparts were limited to certain individuals such as Louis de Wohls work for MI5.
Additionally, the novel uses many actual events and locations as backdrops to establish chronological order and setting within the complex structure of the book. Examples include the appearance of a photograph of Wernher Von Braun in which his arm is in a cast. Historical documents indicate the time and place of an accident which broke Von Braun’s arm, thereby providing crucial structural details around which the reader can reconstruct Slothrop’s journey. Another example is the inclusion of a BBC Radio broadcast of a Benny Goodman performance, the contents of which, according to historical record, were broadcast only once during the period of the novel and by which the events immediately surrounding its mention are fixed. Further historical events, such as Allied bombing raids on Peenemünde and the city of Nordhausen (close to the V-2 producing concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora) also appear in the novel and help to establish the relation of the work’s events to each other.