Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Gravity’s Rainbow is a 1973 novel by American writer Thomas Pynchon. The plot  is complex, containing over 400 characters and involving many different threads of narrative which intersect and weave around one another. The recurring themes throughout the plot are the V-2 rocket, interplay between free will and Calvinistic predestination, breaking the cycle of nature, behavioral psychology, sexuality, paranoia and conspiracy theories such as the Phoebus cartel and the Illuminati.

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 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.

Pynchon has brilliantly combined German political and cultural history with the mechanisms of paranoia to create an exceedingly complex work of art. The most important cultural figure in Gravity’s Rainbow is not Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Richard Wagner, however, but Rainer Maria Rilke, Captain Blicero’s favorite poet. In a way, the book could be read as a serio-comic variation on Rilke’s Duino Elegies and their German Romantic echoes in Nazi culture. The “Elegies” begin with a cry: “Who, if I screamed, would hear me among the angelic orders? And even if one of them suddenly pressed me against his heart, I would fade in the strength of his stronger existence. For Beauty is nothing but the beginning of Terror that we’re still just able to bear, and why we adore it is because it serenely disdains to destroy us.”

These lines are hideously amplified in the first words of Pynchon’s novel: “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.” This sound is the scream of a V-2 rocket hitting London in 1944; it is also the screams of its victims and of those who have launched it. It is a scream of sado-masochistic orgasm, a coming together in death, and this too is an echo and development of the exalted and deathly imagery of Rilke’s poem.

Pynchon’s novel is strung between these first lines of the Duino Elegies and the last: “And we, who have always thought of happiness as climbing or ascending would feel the emotion that almost startles when a happy thing falls.” In Rilke, the “happy thing” is a sign of rebirth amidst the dead calm of winter: a “catkin” hanging from an empty hazel tree or the “rain that falls on the dark earth in early spring.” In Gravity’s Rainbow the “happy thing” that falls is a rocket like the one Blicero has launched toward London in the first pages of the book or the one also launched by Blicero that falls on the reader in the last words of the last page.

The arc of a rocket’s flight is Gravity’s Rainbow–a symbol not of God’s covenant with Noah that He will never again destroy all living things, nor of the inner instinctual wellsprings of life that will rise above the dark satanic mills in D.H. Lawrence‘s novel The Rainbow. Gravity’s Rainbow is a symbol of death: Pynchon’s characters “move forever under [the rocket]. . .as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children.”

 

Little Girl in the Big Ten, twentieth episode of The Simpsons‘ season 13 (May 12, 2002)

Lisa: You’re reading Gravity’s Rainbow?

Brownie: Re-reading it.

 

My Mother the Carjacker, second episode of The Simpson’s season 15 (November 9, 2003)

Mona Simpson read Homer Gravity’s Rainbow as a good night story. After Homer started to sleep Mona said “Thomas Pynchon you are a tough read”, before she also started to sleep

 

Gravity’s Rainbow is a song by the British band Klaxons, from the album Myths of the Near Future (2007). Pat Benatar also released an album called Gravity’s Rainbow after reading Thomas Pynchon’s novel

 

The novel inspired the 1984 song Gravity’s Angel by Laurie Anderson. In her 2004 autobiographical performance The End of the Moon, Anderson said she once contacted Pynchon asking permission to adapt Gravity’s Rainbow as an opera. Pynchon replied that he would allow her to do so only if the opera was written for a single instrument: the banjo. Anderson said she took that as a polite “no.”

 

New York artist Zak Smith created a series of 760 drawings entitled, “One Picture for Every Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow” (also known by the title Pictures of What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow)

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The Son of Man in Popular Culture

The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973) movie poster

 
 

René Magritte‘s The Son of Man appears in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film The Holy Mountain, on a wall in the house of Jupiter. The film was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein of ABKCO Music and Records, after Jodorowsky scored an underground phenomenon with El Topo (The Mole) and the acclaim of both John Lennon and George Harrison (Lennon and Yoko Ono put up production money).

 
 

Robin Williams in Toys (Barry Levinson, 1992).

The set design, costumes, and promotional poster reflect the painting’s style.

 
 

A parody of the painting, with Bart behind the floating apple, can be seen briefly at the start of The Simpsons episode No. 86  Treehouse of Horror IV (1993)

 
 

The painting appears briefly on the video for Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s song Scream , on the “Gallery” section:

 
 

Still from Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s Scream music video (Mark Romanek, 1995)

 
 

The Thomas Crown Affair (John McTiernan, 1999)

 
 

The Son of Man appears several times in the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair, especially in the final robbery scenes when men wearing bowler hats and trench coats carry briefcases throughout the museum to cover Crown’s movements and confuse the security team.

 
 

Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006)

 
 

This is not an Apple, illustration by John Cox, 2007

 
 

In the film Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (Zach Helm, 2007), the painting is seen hanging on the wall half finished; at the end of the film Mr Magorium is seen to be painting the rest of it.

 
 

This painting also shows up at the end of the film Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2008). British prisoner Charlie Bronson takes a hostage and turns him into this particular portrait

 
 

 In the movie 500 Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009), the bowler hat and green apple can be seen in Summer’s apartment

 
 

The cover of the book Rubies in the Orchard: How to Uncover the Hidden Gems in Your Business (2009) has a version of the painting, with a pomegranate

 
 

In Jimmy Liao’s illustrated book Starry Starry Night (2011), the protagonist girl, with the painting illustrated behind her, imitates the painting to express her protest against her parents’ long term fighting.

 
 

In Gary Braunbeck’s novel Keepers (2005), the antagonist figures (the “Keepers” of the title) resemble the nattily-dressed, bowler-hatted figures of Magritte’s painting. Also, in the opening scene of the book, the reference is directly made and explained to this resemblance because of an apple-scented car air freshener printed with the image of the painting hanging in the protagonist’s car.

In Lev Grossman’s 2009 novel The Magicians the antagonist is a man wearing a suit, with his face obscured by a leafed branch suspended in midair.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Stills from Lisa the Skeptic (Directed by Neil Affleck and written by David X. Cohen)

 
 

Lisa the Skeptic is the eighth episode of The Simpsons‘ ninth season, first aired on November 23, 1997. On an archaeological dig with her class, Lisa discovers a skeleton that resembles an angel. All of the townspeople believe that the skeleton actually came from an angel, but skeptical Lisa attempts to persuade them that there must be a rational scientific explanation. The episode’s writer, David X. Cohen, developed the idea after visiting the American Museum of Natural History, and decided to loosely parallel themes from the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, which dealt with issues of separation of church and state and the debate between creationism and evolution. The episode received generally positive reviews.

It has been discussed in the context of virtual reality, ontology, existentialism, and skepticism; it has also been used in Christian religious education classes to initiate discussion about angels, skepticism, science, and faith.

 
 

Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes (A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings), is a short story by author Gabriel García Márquez written in 1955. It was inspired by a young boy named Armand Tait and his life as a farmer.

 
 

A group of The Simpsons enthusiasts at Calvin College have also analyzed the religious and philosophical aspects of the episode, including the issue of faith versus science. The episode has been compared with Gabriel García Márquez’s short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings and utilized as a teaching tool in a Saugerties, New York grade school class. In an exam on the subject, students were asked to use details from both  A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings and Lisa the Skeptic, in order to analyze the quotation “Appearances can be deceiving”.

The World Below the Brine

Lisa Simpson reading excerpts from Whitman’s poem to entertain Bluella.The Simpsons, season 25, episode 19, titled The Squirt and The Whale
 
 
 

The world below the brine,
Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick
tangle openings, and pink turf,
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the
play of light through the water,
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, gluten, grass, rushes,
and the aliment of the swimmers,
Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling
close to the bottom,
The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting
with his flukes,
The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy
sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,
Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths,
breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do,
The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed
by beings like us who walk this sphere,
The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.

Walt Whitman

Sylvia Plath’s Influence on Popular Culture

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath on The Gilmore Girls, Season 1, Episode 12, Double Date

 
 

Stills and dialogue from Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)

 
 

Sylvia is a 2003 British biographical drama film directed by Christine Jeffs and starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, and Michael Gambon. It tells the true story of the romance between prominent poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. The film begins with their meeting at Cambridge in 1956 and ends with Sylvia Plath’s suicide in 1963.

 
 

Told through the character of Esther Greenwood, Plath’s semi-autobiographical heroine of The Bell Jar, this play is a revealing and absurd interpretation of the legendary poet’s life in the moments before her death.

 
 

The Simpsons, season 20, episode 11  titled How The Test Won

 
 

 
 

“…I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer
I spat out Plath and Pinter
I am all the things that you regret
A truth that washes that learnt how to spell…”

Manic Street Preachers

Faster

(Ninth track from their 1994 studio album, The Holy Bible)

 
 

Manic Street Preachers’ song The Girl Who Wanted To Be God it’s another reference to Sylvia Plath. It’s actually a reference to a line she wrote about herself – “I think I would like to call myself “the girl who wanted to be God.”  It was included in their 1996 studio album, Everything Must Go. The working title of this album was Sounds in the Grass, named after a series of paintings by Jackson Pollock.

 
 

Dance in the Dark, the song by American recording artist Lady Gaga, from her third EP The Fame Monster, refers to famous people who met with a tragic end of their lives, including Plath.

 
 

Gold (2001), second studio album by Ryan Adams. The ninth song from this studio album was titled after her

After Manet’s Masterpiece

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, with Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, 1865-1866

 
 

Manet’s painting inspired Picasso to a cycle of 27 paintings, 140 drawings, 3 linogravures and cardboard marquettes for sculpture carried out between 1949 and 1962

 
 

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Picnic on the Grass), a 1959 film directed by Jean Renoir

 
 

Jim Lee’s version for Cosmopolitan, June 1974

 
 

Déjeuner sur l’herbe, a photograph by Jonathan Charles, 1974

 
 

Title, and features similar front cover art, of British bigband the New Jazz Orchestra on Verve Records,1969

 
 

See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy! (1981) is the second studio album by pop rock group Bow Wow Wow. The album was the first release by the group to chart, at #192 on the Billboard 200. Posing nude is lead singer Annabella Lwin, who was fifteen at the time of the album’s release. The Andy Earl cover caused outrage that led to an investigation by Scotland Yard, instigated by Lwin’s mother and never appeared on UK and US releases.

 
 

Still from The Simpsons

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 1999 ad campaign photographed by Mario Sorrenti

 
 

Untitled (after Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe), Julie Rrap, 2002

 
 

Star Wars Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, after Manet, by Philip Bond, 2009

 
 

Babar the Elephant after Manet, possibly by the fictional character’s author, Jean de Brunnhoff

 
 

Graphic art by Stano Masar

 
 

Les Trois Femmes Noires, Mickalene Thomas, 2010

 
 

Secret Garden II: Versailles. Dior Fall-Winter 2013 ad campaign by Inez Van Lamsweerde y Vinoodh Matadin

Come Together

The Beatles crossing Abbey Road from another angle

 
 

Fragment of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover. Although Let it Be was released afterwards, Abbey Road was actually the last album recorded by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

 
 

abbeyroad_mix1

The Fab Four taking a break. The album opener Come Together was a Lennon contribution. The chorus was inspired by a song Lennon originally wrote for Timothy Leary’s campaign for governor of California titled Let’s Get It Together.

 
 

English tailor Tommy Nutter designed the suits worn by John, Ringo and Paul.

 
 

In one of the firsts outtakes they were walking in the opposite side of the street

 
 

That August 8th 1969 only six shots were taken for the cover of the album

 
 

The front cover design, a photograph of the group traversing a zebra crossing, was based on sketched ideas by McCartney and taken outside EMI Studios on Abbey Road. At around 11:30 that morning, photographer Iain Macmillan was given only ten minutes to take the photo whilst he stood on a step-ladder and a policeman held up the traffic

 
 

McMillan revisited the scene for the front cover of Paul is Live (1993)

 
 

(1988)

 
 

Still from Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)

 
 

Drawing by Al Hirshfeld

 
 

The Simpsons

 
 

Antwerp Six. From left: Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Marina Yee, Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck y Dirk Bikkembergs.

 
 

Halston with his collaborators. New York, August 22, 1968. From left: Halston,Frances Stein, Joel Schumacher and Joanne Creveling. Photo: Sal Traina.

 
 

Still from Imagine Dragons’ On Top of the World music video (Matt Eastin and Corey Fox, 2013).