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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Poetry Spoken and Sung

Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time was a 1968 album of poetry spoken and sung by Joan Baez.

Artwork by Robert Peak. Design by Jules Halfant

 

TRACK LISTING

Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)
2.”I Saw the Vision of Armies” (Walt Whitman)
3.”Minister of War” (Arthur Waley)
4.”Song In the Blood” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti/Jacques Prévert)
5.”Casida of the Lament” (J.L. Gili/Federico García Lorca)
6.”Of the Dark Past” (James Joyce)
7.”London” (William Blake)
8.”In Guernica” (Norman Rosten)
9.”Who Murdered the Minutes” (Henry Treece)
10.”Oh, Little Child” (Henry Treece)
11.”No Man Is an Island” (John Donne)
12.”Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man” (James Joyce)
13.”All the Pretty Little Horses” (traditional)
14.”Childhood III” (Arthur Rimbaud/Louis Varese)
15.”The Magic Wood” (Henry Treece)
16.”Poems from the Japanese” (Kenneth Rexroth)
17.”Colours” (P. Levi, R. Milner-Gulland, Yevgeny Yevtushenko)
18.”All in green went my love riding” (E. E. Cummings)
19.”Gacela of the Dark Death” (Federico García Lorca/Stephen Spender)
20.”The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” (Wilfred Owen)
21.”Evil” (N. Cameron/Arthur Rimbaud)
22.”Epitaph for a Poet” (Countee Cullen)
23.”Mystic Numbers- 36″
24.”When The Shy Star Goes Forth In Heaven” (James Joyce)
25.”The Angel” (William Blake)
26.”Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)

 

Joan Baez‘s most unusual album, Baptism is of a piece with the “concept” albums of the late ’60s, but more ambitious than most and different from all of them. Baez by this time was immersed in various causes, concerning the Vietnam War, the human condition, and the general state of the world, and it seemed as though every note of music that she sang was treated as important — sometimes in a negative way by her opponents; additionally, popular music was changing rapidly, and even rock groups that had seldom worried in their music about too much beyond the singer’s next sexual conquest were getting serious. Baptism was Baez getting more serious than she already was, right down to the settings of her music, and redirecting her talent from folk song to art song, complete with orchestral accompaniment. Naturally, her idea of a concept album would differ from that of, say, Frank Sinatra or The Beatles. Baptism was a body of poetry selected, edited, and read and sung by Baez, and set to music by Peter Schickele (better known for his comical musical “discoveries” associated with “P.D.Q. Bach,” but also a serious musician and composer). In 1968, amid the strife spreading across the world, the album had a built-in urgency that made it work as a mixture of art and message — today, it seems like a precious and overly self-absorbed period piece.

A clip of Whitman’s poem spoken by Joan Baez can be listened on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

Kafka for Kids

Sylvia Plath believed it was never too early to dip children’s toes in the vast body of literature. But to plunge straight into Franz Kafka? Why not, which is precisely what Brooklyn-based writer and videogame designer Matthue Roth has done in My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs (public library) — a magnificent adaptation of Kafka for kids. With stunning black-and-white illustrations by London-based fine artist Rohan Daniel Eason, this gem falls — rises, rather — somewhere between Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and the Graphic Canon series.

 
 

 
 

The idea came to Roth after he accidentally started reading Kafka to his two little girls, who grew enchanted with the stories. As for the choice to adapt Kafka’s characteristically dark sensibility for children, Roth clearly subscribes to the Sendakian belief that grown-ups project their own fears onto kids, who welcome rather than dread the dark. Indeed, it’s hard not to see Sendak’s fatherly echo in Eason’s beautifully haunting black-and-white drawings.

 
 


 
 

Much likeJonathan Safran Foer used Street of Crocodiles to create his brilliant Tree of Codes literary remix and Charles Darwin’s great-granddaughter adapted the legendary naturalist’s biography into verse, Roth scoured public domain texts and various translations of Kafka to find the perfect works for his singsong transformations: the short prose poem Excursion into the Mountains, the novella The Metamorphosis, which endures as Kafka’s best-known masterpiece, and Josefine the Singer, his final story.

 
 

“I don’t know!”
I cried without being heard.

“I do not know.”

If nobody comes,
then nobody comes.

I’ve done nobody any harm.
Nobody’s done me any harm.
But nobody will help me.

A pack of nobodies
would be rather fine,
on the other hand.

I’d love to go on a trip — why not? —
with a pack of nobodies.

Into the mountains, of course.
Where else?

 
 

In a way, the book — like most of Kafka’s writing — also bears the odd mesmerism of literary history’s letters and diaries, the semi-forbidden pleasure of which swells under the awareness that their writers never meant for us to read the very words we’re reading, never sought to invite us into their private worlds. Kafka wished for his entire world to remain private — he never finished any of his novels and burned the majority of his manuscripts; the rest he left with his closest friend and literary executor, Max Brod, whom he instructed to burn the remaining diaries, sketches, manuscripts, and letters. It was out of love that Brod chose not to, possibly displeasing his friend but eternally pleasing the literary public.

 
 

 
 

Though Kafka never wrote for children (in fact, one might argue, he never wrote for anyone but himself), My First Kafka transforms his surviving work into a fine addition to other notable children’s book by famous authors of “adult” literature, including Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike.

Having Come Full Circle

1970

ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE:

“Do you have a picture of “when I’m 64”?

JOHN LENNON:

“No, no. I hope we’re a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that, looking at our scrapbook of madness

 
 

 
 

This was the first single released from Double Fantasy, and the first new recording Lennon had released since 1975. It was released as a single on 20 October 1980 in the US and four days later in the UK. Although its origins were in unfinished demo compositions like “Don’t Be Crazy” and “My Life”, it was one of the last songs to be completed in time for the Double Fantasy sessions. “We didn’t hear it until the last day of rehearsal,” producer Jack Douglas said in 2005. Lennon finished the song while on holiday in Bermuda, and recorded it at The Hit Factory in New York City just weeks later. The original title was to be “Starting Over“. “(Just Like)” was added at the last minute because a country song of the same title had recently been released by Tammy Wynette.

 
 

The album took its title from a species of freesia, seen in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens, whose name Lennon regarded as a perfect description of his marriage to Ono.

 
 

It was chosen by Lennon not because he felt it was the best track on the album, but because it was the most appropriate following his five-year absence from the recording industry. He referred to it during production as the “Elvis/Orbison” track, as he “tongue in cheek” impersonated their vocal styles; at the start of the 2010 “Stripped Down” version of the song, Lennon says “this one’s for Gene, and Eddie, and Elvis… and Buddy.” The uplifting bell at the intro of the song serves as the antidote to the morose bell sound which opens Lennon’s first solo album, Lennon seeing it as his having come full circle.

 
 

Photo credit: Kishin Shinoyama

A Crush on Lolita

Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, written in English and published in 1955 in Paris and 1958 in New York. It was later translated by its Russian-native author into Russian. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged literature professor and hebephile Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. “Lolita” is his private nickname for Dolores.

In April 1947, Nabokov wrote to Edmund Wilson: “I am writing … a short novel about a man who liked little girls—and it’s going to be called The Kingdom by the Sea….” The work expanded into Lolita during the next eight years. Nabokov used the title A Kingdom by the Sea in his 1974 pseudo-autobiographical novel Look at the Harlequins! for a Lolita-like book written by the narrator who, in addition, travels with his teenage daughter Bel from motel to motel after the death of her mother; later, his fourth wife is Bel’s look-alike and shares her birthday.

Some critics have accepted Humbert’s version of events at face value. In 1959, novelist Robertson Davies excused the narrator entirely, writing that the theme of Lolita is “not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. This is no pretty theme, but it is one with which social workers, magistrates and psychiatrists are familiar.”

The novel abounds in allusions to classical and modern literature. Virtually all of them have been noted in The Annotated Lolita edited and annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr. Many are references to Humbert’s own favourite poet, Edgar Allan Poe.

Chapter 26 of Part One contains a parody of James Joyce‘s stream of consciousness.

Humbert Humbert’s field of expertise is French literature (one of his jobs is writing a series of educational works that compare French writers to English writers), and as such there are several references to French literature, including the authors Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust, François Rabelais, Charles Baudelaire, Prosper Mérimée, Remy Belleau, Honoré de Balzac, and Pierre de Ronsard.

Vladimir Nabokov was fond of Lewis Carroll and had translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian. He even called Carroll the “first Humbert Humbert”.

Lolita contains a few brief allusions in the text to the Alice books, though overall Nabokov avoided direct allusions to Carroll. In her book, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, Joyce Milton claims that a major inspiration for the novel was Charlie Chaplin‘s relationship with his second wife, Lita Grey, whose real name was Lillita and is often misstated as Lolita. Graham Vickers in his book Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov’s Little Girl All Over Again argues that the two major real-world predecessors of Humbert are Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin. Although Appel’s comprehensive Annotated Lolita contains no references to Charlie Chaplin, others have picked up several oblique references to Chaplin’s life in Nabokov’s book. Bill Delaney notes that at the end Lolita and her husband move to the Alaskan town of Grey Star while Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, set in Alaska, was originally set to star Lita Grey. Lolita’s first sexual encounter was with a boy named Charlie Holmes, whom Humbert describes as “the silent…but indefatigable Charlie.” Chaplin had an artist paint Lita Grey in imitation of Joshua Reynolds‘s painting The Age of Innocence. When Humbert visits Lolita in a class at her school, he notes a print of the same painting in the classroom. Delaney’s article notes many other parallels as well.

In chapter 29 of Part Two, Humbert comments that Lolita looks “like Botticelli’s russet Venus—the same soft nose, the same blurred beauty”, referencing Sandro Botticelli‘s depiction of Venus in, perhaps, The Birth of Venus or Venus and Mars.

In chapter 35 of Part Two, Humbert’s “death sentence” on Quilty parodies the rhythm and use of anaphora in T. S. Eliot‘s poem Ash Wednesday.

Many other references to classical and Romantic literature abound, including references to Lord Byron‘s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and to the poetry of Laurence Sterne.

After its publication, Lolita attained a classic status, becoming one of the best-known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name Lolita has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious girl. The novel was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but failed Broadway musical.

 
 

Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1992)

 
 

Bert Stern worked as a photographer on Lolita and shot the publicity photographs of Sue Lyon.

 
 

The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993)

 
 

The plot of The Crush was based on an actual incident involving the neighbor of Shapiro.

Flapped Their Wings and Took Flight

Violet Romer in flapper dress (Circa between 1910 and 1915)

 

Lady Diana Cooper, circa 1916

 

Still from The Flapper (Alan Crosland, 1920)

 

Frances Marion, a journalist and author from San Francisco, wrote the screenplay which was responsible for bringing the term flapper, which had been a slang term for many years, into popular use in the United States

 

Portrait of Olive Thomas by Peruvian Illustrator Alberto Vargas. Thomas played a teenage schoolgirl who yearns for excitement outside of her small Florida town in The Flapper

 

Zelda Fitzgerald

 

“The Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure … she was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim and most of all to heart.”

Zelda Fitzgerald

 

Anita Loos wearing a Mainbocher suit

 

Gwili Andre by Cecil Beaton

 

Louise Brooks

 

Clara Bow

 

Norma Shearer

 

Josephine Baker

 

Alice Joyce

 


Norma Talmadge

 

Teresa de la Parra

 

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

 

Joan Crawford

 

Virginia Woolf

 

“Flapper” was a popular term, in use mainly during the Jazz Age, describing mischievous and flirtatious women. The use of the term has its origins in the 1600s. However, by 1920, the term had taken on the full meaning of the flapper generation style and attitudes and behavior which changed several deeply planted social beliefs and norms. Flappers changed women’s sexuality, fashion, and thinking. Some of them expressed their free will displaying their sex-appeal; wearing short skirts, bobbing their hair, dancing to jazz or doing the Charleston, and for not caring about what someone would think about their loose behavior. There were other types of flappers, though: the intellectual flappers who fostered fashions of that time yet were more concerned about women’s rights (Women’s Suffrage, for instance). These women created more than a “frivolution” in the Western world.

The slang word flapper, describing a young woman, is sometimes supposed to refer to a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly. However, it may derive from an earlier use in northern England to mean teenage girl, referring to one whose hair is not yet put up and whose plaited pigtail flapped on her back.

By November 1910, the word was popular enough for the author A. E. James to begin a series of stories in the London Magazine featuring the misadventures of a pretty fifteen-year-old girl and titled Her Majesty the Flapper.

The word appeared in print in the United Kingdom as early as 1903 and United States 1904, when novelist Desmond Coke used it in his college story of Oxford life, Sandford of Merton: “There’s a stunning flapper”. In 1907 English actor explained it to Americans as theatrical slang for acrobatic young female stage performers. By 1908, newspapers as serious as The Times used it, although with careful explanation: “A ‘flapper’, we may explain, is a young lady who has not yet been promoted to long frocks and the wearing of her hair ‘up'”.

Lines Carved with Passion

Mark Summers is a talented illustrator who was born in Canada. He usually draws by means of the long-established but uncommonly, scratchboard. Scratchboard or scraperboard refers to a burdensome illustrative technique using sharp knives and tools for engraving into a thin layer of white China Clay that is coated with black India ink.
 
It can also be made with several layers of multi-colored clay, so the pressure exerted on the instrument used determines the color that is revealed. Modern scratchboard originated in the 19th century in Britain and France. As printing methods developed, scratchboard became a popular medium for reproduction because it replaced wood, metal and linoleum engraving. It allowed for a fine line appearance that could be photographically reduced for reproduction without losing quality. It was most effective and expeditious for use in single-color book and newspaper printing. From the 1930s to 1950s, it was one of the preferred techniques for medical, scientific and product illustration.
 
There is just something about the balance between black and white tones and the characteristics of the scratched lines that provides well-done scratchboard drawings a exacting appeal. Mark Summers is one of the best modern practitioners of the art.
He has done illustrations for major publications like Time and The Atlantic Monthly and has received three gold medals from the Society of Illustrators and was the recipient of the Hamilton King Award in 2000 and in 2002 he was nominated to David Greenwich Workshop Award.

 
 

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