Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow

Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow

Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow

Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow


One of the major American novels of this century, Gravity's Rainbow represents Pynchon's poetics of paranoia in its fulfillment. It is a work of astonishing scope, plunging from hilarity to horror, from scatology to eschatology as it catalogs the detritus of an age of technology with an encyclopedist's zeal. For Pynchon's supple prose displays an extraordinary power of description matched by a mythopoetic imagination of the first order. His is a world of corporations and cartels, of vast and baleful conspiracy. Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop, schlemiel descendant from a Puritan heretic, escapes the System only at the cost of dissolution.

In this volume, such eminent critics as Richard Poirier, Paul Fussell, and Tony Tanner explore the complexities of Gravity's Rainbow - its genre, uses of language, and thematic designs, as well as its relation to history, modern culture, and the literary canon.

Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow is one of over 100 volumes in the "Modern Critical Interpretations" series, edited and introduced by Harold Bloom and published by Chelsea House. Taken together, these volumes represent a comprehensive collection of the best current criticism of the most widely read poems, novels, stories, and dramas of the Western World.


We all carry about with us our personal catalog of the experiences that matter most —our own versions of what they used to call the Sublime. So far as aesthetic experience in twentieth-century America is concerned, I myself have a short list for the American Sublime: the war that concludes the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup; Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying; Wallace Stevens’s “The Auroras of Autumn”; nearly all of Hart Crane; Charlie Parker playing “Parker’s Mood” and “I Remember You”; Bud Powell performing “Un Poco Loco”; Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts; and most recently, the story of Byron the light bulb in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

I am not suggesting that there is not much more of the Sublime in Gravity’s Rainbow than the not quite eight pages that make up the story of Byron the Bulb. Pynchon is the greatest master of the negative Sublime at least since Faulkner and West, and if nothing besides Byron the Bulb in Gravity’s Rainbow seems to me quite as perfect as all of The Crying of Lot 49, that may be because no one could hope to write the first authentic post-Holocaust novel and achieve a total vision without fearful cost. Yet the story of Byron the Bulb, for me, touches one of the limits of art, and I want to read it very closely here, so as to suggest what is most vital and least problematic about Pynchon’s achievement as a writer, indeed as the crucial American writer of prose fiction at the present time. We are now, in my judgment, in the Age of John Ashbery and of Thomas Pynchon, which is not to suggest any inadequacy in such marvelous works as James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover or Philip Roth’s Zuckerman Bound but only to indicate one critic’s conviction as to what now constitutes the Spirit of the Age.

For Pynchon, ours is the age of plastics and paranoia, dominated by the System. No one is going to dispute such a conviction; reading the New York Times first thing every morning is sufficient to convince one that not even Pynchon’s imagination can match journalistic irreality. What is more startling about . . .

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