Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

Max Sachsa's Bad Karma in Enzian's Bathtub: A Bus Ride through Gravity's Rainbow's Textscape

Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

Max Sachsa's Bad Karma in Enzian's Bathtub: A Bus Ride through Gravity's Rainbow's Textscape

Article excerpt

Given the narrow employment prospects in present-day German academia, one is always on the lookout for professional alternatives. During the days of our trip "Into the Zone 2000," I wondered whether bus driver could be such an alternative for me, and thus add another illustrious species to Molly Hite's cabinet of ordinary people who burn for Pynchon ("For a long time, the most ardent Pynchon fans that I knew were a weight lifter, a short-order cook, and a pizza deliveryman" [Hire ix]). In the meantime, the dyed-in-the-wool Pynchonite and the Zoneproof driver in me have made up their mind, and would like to offer you a very special kind of excursion: a ride into the textual landscape, or textscape, of Gravity's Rainbow itself. "[T]he bus is idling, waiting--passengers will now reclaim their seats" (GR 413) ... but wait!

Before we start moving, a couple of preliminary remarks on the itinerary or, for that matter, on my bus's special tachograph that will help register our way into a territory like Gravity's Rainbow's--a territory where whether its words truly represent what they stand for is more than doubtful. As Hanjo Berressem observes, "[a]lthough the landscape seems real, in the Schwarzkommando's search for the 'True Text' ... it becomes a 'Real Text'... an ambivalent, even paradoxical territory in which ... real and symbolic registers constantly oscillate" (131). What ultimately holds true, then, is not so much the realness of the text sign's referent, or signified; what holds true is rather the realness of the textual sign itself as it stakes a claim, a Zone saturated with significational flickering and semantic ambiguity.

If Hanjo was not altogether bussed when he wrote that (and I know him only as a nice and mostly sober fellow), one has to raise the question of how to map this Zone. How to chart my bus's route through Pynchon's textscape? How to map if, on the one hand, mapping implies that one "relies on traditional notions of representation as the mimetic charting of an ontologically homogeneous domain" (Liste Noya 512), but, on the other hand, there is no such ontological homogeneity in the case of the Zone? If the Zone is, quite to the contrary, a domain of mutually exclusive and incommensurate understandings that are (and keep the odd birds inhabiting it in) worlds apart from each other? "British security are about," conceives Enzian at one point,

   but that's another, encapsulated world. The British G-5 occupy
   their own space and Zone congruent but not identical to what
   these serious Schwarzkommando astride bikes unmuffled go blasting
   on through tonight.

      Separations are proceeding. Each alternative Zone speeds
   away from all the others, in fated acceleration. [...] Each bird
   has his branch now, and each one is the Zone. (GR 519)

Let me put it this way: what the tachograph in my bus has to cope with is nothing less than a mapping "of the Zone, that eminently 'unmappable' site within Pynchon's text," as Jose Liste Noya puts it (515). In short, it must "attempt to represent the unrepresentable or to 'map the unmappable'" (513)--indeed, again according to Liste Noya, a veritably fantastic undertaking: "the fantastic is the (representational) result of the encounter between representable fantasies and an unrepresentable reality" (517).

But the fantastic (a concept Liste Noya borrows from Tzvetan Todorov) will not be the only characteristic of our bus ride into the Zone. Another is its peculiar dynamics, that is, the theoretically infinite "process of incessant re-mapping that will never completely chart its referential terrain" but that "conform[s] figurally ... [to] the ontoepistemological paradox of the fantastic's 'map of the unmappable'" (520), and that echoes the familiar Derridean notion of differance as well as the Lacanian notion of glissement. Berressem identifies it as the specific "dynamics of the 'Zone'": a dynamics consisting of a "twofold movement" that "unfold[s] between a concentric movement of 'Holy-Center-Approaching' . …

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