The London Eulogy
Eight hours ago I saw the movie ‘No Time To Die’. Too many ‘Gunpowder Solutions’ and Bad Shots. I got bored with the reloading scenes and began to count the Billionaires who do not want me to be a writer. Lucky me!
I married Thomas Pynchon’s lover of several years, Mary Ann Tharaldsen, who is in the family tree of Mary and Royal Rosamond who camped with Dashiell Hammet, Norbert Davis, and other Black Mask writers on the Channel Islands. Below is an essay that connects Pynchon with Ian Fleming and James Bond. Mary Ann and I are kin to Fleming via my cousin Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor. A essay about Pynchon and Wittgenstein – is due! That James dies in ‘No Time To Die’ and leaves behind a daughter to carry on his legacy – is similar to the plot of my Bond book ‘The Royal Janitor’ that I made public. That my sixteen year old daughter I did not know I had, shows up out of the blue to be in the rival biography of my late sister – whose death is a mystery – puts the Bond Legacy in my camp. To see and hear a eulogy for James being read from a book, that is closed and put down, is prophetic. That is my book. My look into the future! I am a Futurian! I believe Thomas is thrilled to be associated with these writers.
President: Royal Rosamond Press
Above is a photo of Austrian Philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who studied the Black Mack Writers and other authors of Detective novels. He was fascinated with Norbert Davis who was a friend of my grandparents – who have redeemed THEIR family from beyond the grave. I am the head of my family. Here is a movie about Ludwig. In this scene he is attending a movie based on detective writers like Dashiell Hammet and Erle Stanley Gardener who were friends of Royal Rosamond.
I have seen the light! I just sent this to my ex-wife, Mary Ann Tharaldsen;
“You saw greatness in me Mary Ann and so did my famous sister. Our destructive parents filled us with the most vile low-self esteem one could imagine. Not able to believe I was great, people I came in contact saw that my energy was exposed to them, and they too took from me – and Christine!”
|Manny Di Presso Character Analysis|
Manny is an acquaintance of Metzger’s who portrays Metzger on a failed TV pilot. While Metzger started out as a child actor and later became a lawyer, Di Presso started as a lawyer, briefly tried his hand at acting, and then went back to law. In fact, he is a lawyer for the mafia, and he is running from the mafioso Tony Jaguar when Oedipa, Metzger, and the Paranoids encounter him in a scuba suit in Fangoso Lagoons. He explains that he is investigating the bones at the bottom of Fangoso Lagoons’s lake for a case against Pierce Inverarity’s estate. Supposedly, when Tony Jaguar dug these bones out of the Lago di Pietà in Italy and sold them to the Beaconsfield cigarette company, Beaconsfield never paid him. A caricature of a fast-talking mob lawyer, Di Presso serves as a character foil to point out Metzger’s own moral shortcomings.
Finally, the ongoing connection to the spy in Pynchon’s texts may not be a surprise to those who have studied the introduction to Slow Learner (1985):
I had grown up reading a lot of spy fiction, novels of intrigue, notably those of John Buchan. The only book of his that anyone remembers now is The Thirty-Nine Steps, but he wrote half a dozen more just as good or better. They were all in my hometown library. So were E. Phillips Oppenheim, Helen MacInnes, Geoffrey Household, and many others as well. The net effect was eventually to build up in my uncritical brain a peculiar shadowy vision of the history preceding the two world wars. Political decision-making and official documents did not figure in this nearly as much as lurking, spying, false identities, psychological games.
In this article, I want to propose that the youthful reading of spy fiction identified in Slow Learner has interesting things to tell us, beyond the short story it refers to directly, about the maintenance and manipulation of identity. I will focus on Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) and this novel’s representation of the figure of the spy to suggest a broader purpose in its use than McHale considers in his reading of Against the Day. Negotiating ideas of subjectivity is a core concern in Pynchon’s complex seventies novel and to consider it I want to use Buchan, Oppenheim, MacInnes and Household. This focus helps us reflect on Gravity’s Rainbow’s identification of the US as a new sort of Empire, still an unusual idea when the novel was written. Amy Kaplan, the American postcolonial critic, has identified an “ongoing pattern of denial” when it comes to the cultural representation of US imperialism or reflection on cultural representation of US imperialism that continued right into the nineties. As such, beyond Pynchon’s oft-identified recognition of “the centrality of identity politics to the American experience” his postcolonialist stance, evident in his representation of colonialism, is “remarkable and memorable” for a US writer. Finally, I want to identify how these pre-Cold War British Spy narratives may help Pynchon identify strategies of escape from these new imperial mindsets.
Defining Pre-Cold War British Spy Fiction
The 2011 film version of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (a book published one year after Gravity’s Rainbow) and the resurgence of the global brand of James Bond in the early twenty first century reveal the resonance that still exists within the Cold War spy narrative. Yet what Bond or Smiley represent is not what the spy narratives Pynchon mentions in Slow Learner represent. Fleming’s character and le Carré’s character (and their filmic offshoots) are a post-British empire phenomenon: the spy novel has moved from a genre obsessed with losing the Empire to one obsessed with having lost it.
The pre-Cold War British spy novel was born at the turn of the twentieth century, at the height of the British Empire and its roots lie in the shifting alignments of class and state politics, its flowering out of war and war’s threat. It takes place in a clear and idealized social landscape threatened by the alternative landscape of the villain, leading a hero into an uncertain, intermediate space, filled with the terrors of instability. It contains a hero with the sturdiness of the Establishment, but with the resolute inventiveness of the outsider and with confidence in the fluidity of class, fighting a villain who threatens the personal, national and ideological identity of the hero. It has a narrative, in terms of form and content, that centres on a tension and paranoia reflecting the unstable situation of Empire, both nationally and internationally.
This may not sound that dissimilar from le Carré or Fleming, but the spy fictions Pynchon points to in Slow Learner are very different in outlook. They are much less hampered by the moral doubts of Cold War spy fiction (whether reflected on, as in le Carré, or ironicised, as in Fleming), so confident are they in the correctness of the spy’s actions. It is not that this pre-Cold War British spy fiction is infallible in its moral rectitude, rather, that its unselfconscious attempts to achieve this rectitude, inadvertently reveals striking contradictions about the nature of Empire. The clarity of these contradictions raises questions about Imperialism that are useful in considering Gravity’s Rainbow and the views it represents of the US after the Second World War.
British spy fiction allows us to see the continuity that Pynchon’s text draws between the subject in an imperialist world and a “superimperialist” world. The representation of the subject in British spy fiction throws up striking characterization, even if those characters are not convincing. This helps us outline how Pynchon’s writing deals with the disappearing subject, while bringing in the socio-historical question of how our political system plays an increasingly conscious part in the way we see ourselves. These spy novels throw up elements that show the direct influence of specific spy narratives on Pynchon’s work (as we have already seen with Greenmantle). However, I am more interested in how the spy narrative, focalised through the four authors that Pynchon mentions in Slow Learner, identifies elements that are important in Gravity’s Rainbow.
Under The Rose
On the edge of the Lybian desert in 1898, Porpentine the spy sits in a café. Through this protagonist, Pynchon immediately introduces two other characters: the absent Moldweorp, Porpentine’s superior; and Goodfellow, Porpentine’s partner of two and a half years, who joins him for coffee. We learn a bit of history, Porpentine’s personality, that he has played the espionage game for more than a decade, and is still actively fleeing some Opposition. Goodfellow has met an English girl he fancies, the tourist Victoria Wren, and invites Porpentine to a party at the Austrian Consulate where she will be present. At the party, among a smattering of European guests, Porpentine makes contact with an agent of the Other side, confirming his own Situation as prey. Porpentine, Goodfellow and Victoria go to the Fink restaurant, sit among more Europeans. Hugh Bongo-Shaftsbury is introduced as a rival for Victoria’s attentions and revealed as an ally of Lespius, enemy of Porpentine and Goodfellow. Porpentine has a flashback in which he recollects a violent attack by Moldweorp on a prostitute in Rome. The next day, the crew boards a train for Cairo. Bongo-Shaftsbury’s connection with Lespius and his role as a new, mechanical brand of spy are confirmed. Upon arrival in Cairo, Goodfellow and Victoria symbolically split from Porpentine, who simulates stalking Lord Cromer to find out who is really after the Consul-General. Porpentine witnesses a failed sexual encounter between Goodfellow and Victoria. He reflects that the Situation has become a Crisis. Later at the opera, where Cromer is to be assassinated, Porpentine realizes Moldweorp has turned against him. A moonlit chase ensues. Bongo-Shaftsbury, Moldweorp’s new line of spy, kills Porpentine under the Sphinx. Goodfellow, witness to this murder, lives–only to fail as a lover and in the prevention of the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand.
Pynchon on “Under the Rose”
In reference to “Under the Rose” in his Slow Learner introduction, Pynchon details three major ideas related, but not restricted, to writing. First, he deals with the notion of ignorance. [“Ignorance is not just a blank space on a person’s mental map. It has contours and coherence, and for all I know rules of operation as well”(p. 15).] Pynchon pilfered Baedeker’s guide to Egypt for material for “Under the Rose,” and in this admission addresses plagarism, the need to corroborate one’s data, and the importance about writing of what one knows while realizing what one does not know. He then notes that a “shadowy” sense of history led to the question underlying the story: “is history personal or statistical?”(p. 18). Finally, Pynchon suggests the influence of his understanding of Surrealism at the time he wrote “Under the Rose” upon the work. He criticizes his lack of management of the diverse elements combined within the frame of “Under the Rose.”
Things “under the rose,” or sub rosa, are prevalent in Pynchon. These terms are used in V., The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow. Espionage is the most obvious system of secrecy in this short story. A variety of elements or systems may be recognized as sub-versions of the rose. Victoria Wren’s sexual aura (bud or bloom?) is paralleled to the Yorkshire sunset which reminds Porpentine of Home–but it is under the Egyptian sun that the English Porpentine feels exposed to the “danger” of becoming Eastern. Her sexuality is also linked to religious love, under which Porpentine’s sense of morality tends towards a general regard for humanity as opposed to an identification with individuals. Porpentine notes that his own generation “has budded, bloomed, and, sensing some blight in the air, folded its petals up again like certain flowers at sunset”(p. 114). Pynchon uses vocabulary of location such as the “rue de Rosette,” the “Rosetta arm” of the Nile and the “Quartier Rosetti.” Spying, sexuality, issues of Imperialism and the subaltern, systems of faith and morality (in particular, related to a Christian model), time and spatial orientation are all themes which Pynchon develops in his later works. In many ways, “Under the Rose” may be read as a type of allegory in which Porpentine the protagonist tries to protect himself from decadence as he struggles to understand the system under which he is living. Characters like Goodfellow, Victoria and Palmerston, places like Shepheard’s hotel and Porpentine’s literal falls contextualize his questions of “cleanness” and “virtù.” Pynchon later deals with typically allegorical material, the cardinal virtues and the seven deadly sins, in Gravity’s Rainbow, in which a main character is named Slothrop. It is also interesting to compare “Under the Rose” to works of the late nineteenth-century Decadence movement in France, in which flowers a malaise similar to Porpentine’s realizations of ambiguities in gender roles (intuition, virility), inversions of moral norms, the subversion of biological nature (Bongo-Shaftsbury’s arm), and information gained by picking up a prescription for laudanum.
Whatever perspective is taken in reading “Under the Rose,” it is obviously a story about viewpoints. It begins with an afternoon actively progressing, is written primarily in third person but voices an “I” belonging to the main character, and ends with an evaluation of Goodfellow that could be classified as a woman’s opinion about his capacity as a lover. In Chapter 3 of V., “In which Stencil, a quick-change artist, does eight impersonations,” the material in “Under the Rose” is processed from seven human vantage points, and one inanimate view. V. also develops ideas from “Under the Rose” involving Machiavellian ideals.
Pynchon’s parallel of Porpentine to the chevalier Des Grieux from Manon Lescaut is an extended allusion used to illuminate the level of construction inherent in Porpentine’s society and espionage ring. Des Grieux pines over the lovely Manon in Prévost’s book, which has been made into an opera from which Porpentine pulls arias. This is not the first or last example of the song in Pynchon. The storyline of Manon Lescaut deals with ambiguous sexual roles, allegiance and secrecy, the subaltern (French vs American colonies), and morality and fate (Jansenism). At one point in “Under the Rose,” Porpentine is implied to be like the “Romantic, horny Des Grieux,” and so the allusion also serves as comic relief in fiction aware of its own staging.