Google vs the Counterforce

I found this article last week and I forgot to post it, but it’s about a group of people protesting Google in February and calling themselves the Counterforce after Gravity’s Rainbow. The article doesn’t say much about Thomas Pynchon or Gravity’s Rainbow, but just the awareness of the book is cool to see. In my final essay I found myself relating Pynchon’s ideas to our reality and this is a perfect example of people doing that. 

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/10/a-screaming-comes-across-the-sky-google-vs-the-counterforce/?_php=true&_type=blogs&ref=thomaspynchon&_r=0

 

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UPMC

I found this article, and it relates to what we discussed on the last day of class.  The CEO of UPMC made almost 6 million dollars last year, and still claims it’s a ‘non-profit’ organization

 

http://makeitourupmc.org/2012/07/upmc-execs-are-pittsburgh-made-millionaires/

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essay

Just wanted to share one of the critical essays I found and am using to write my final paper. Hopefully it can help someone else out as well.

Christine Turier, “Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow,” Explicator 50, no. 4 (Summer 1992): 244-46.

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Building off Bloom in Byron the Bulb

Zeroing in on the eight-page story of Byron the Bulb in Gravity’s Rainbow, Harold Bloom’s introduction to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow: Modern Critical Interpretations renders a portrait of Pynchon’s vision of the American Sublime. Bloom begins by detailing a compiled list of his personal favorite examples of the American Sublime, including the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Charlie Parker’s “Parker’s Mood,” just to name a few. The list does not conclude with Gravity’s Rainbow as a complete text, but rather just the eight-page story of Byron the Bulb.

Before delving into a close reading of Byron the Bulb, Bloom characterizes the aesthetic of Pynchon’s vision from a broader, more general standpoint. He repeatedly refers to elements of Gnostic spirituality in Pynchon’s work, and at one point calls him a “Kabalistic writer”(3). For Bloom, Pynchon illustrates a continual longing to spiritually overcome and transcend the political confinements of one’s surroundings. Depressingly, the inescapable reach of the system in place thwarts these spiritual impulses. He is a “master of the negative sublime,” with a “Gnosis without transcendence”(1,3).

In part II of the essay, Bloom seeks to verify his assertions on Pynchon’s approach by looking specifically at Byron the Bulb, a most definitive example of the aesthetic in his opinion. Byron is an everlasting light bulb who refuses to submit to the corporate forces controlling the power grid. “Phoebus,” the international light-bulb cartel, never quite manages to extinguish the dissident bulb once and for all; although, they do succeed in rendering his revolutionary spirit ineffectual as he lay in a heap of burnt-out bulbs and busted appliances for eternity.

Concluding his essay, Bloom references Emerson’s notion that the I and the Abyss are the chief concerns of an American visionary. In the case of Byron the Bulb, Bloom surmises, “the I is an immortal but hapless light bulb and the Abyss, our Gnostic foremother and forefather, is the socket into which that poor I of a bulb is screwed…”(9). The two forces never reconcile, hence Bloom labeling the story an exemplary vision of the negative sublime.

To sum up the role of Abyss as our “Gnostic foremother and forefather,” however, seems to be too simplistic, and not particularly well supported by anything specific to the text. To me, the space of the so-called Abyss has been usurped by Big Business and transfigured to resemble an inescapable grid, of which Byron eventually ceases trying to transcend. Big Business creates a sort of heaven on earth, satirically referred to as ‘Bulb Baby Heaven,’ in which bulbs are manufactured and given low currents of voltage to ensure a premature demise. Initially, Byron attempts to rally the baby bulbs together in “Perfect Energy” and overthrow the control of Big Business. It is unclear, however, exactly what Byron envisions beyond the grid. Perhaps it’s all the bulbs united, working together at maximum efficiency in “Perfect Energy,” but it’s never realized and therefore we can never know how that configuration would appear. In the end, Byron concedes that conjecturing about transcendence beyond his immediate surroundings is a fruitless task, and maybe, in analyzing concepts of I and the Abyss in the story, it would be worthwhile to take a similar approach.

The OED defines the noun ‘abyss’ as, “A deep or seemingly bottomless chasm”(OED). The origin coming “via late Latin from Greek abussos ‘bottomless’, from a- ‘without’ + bussos ‘depth’”(OED). At the conclusion of the story, there are three separate entities which continue existing in a space one could define as a “seemingly bottomless chasm”: the Grid, which eventually becomes “wide open”; Byron’s anger and frustration, which “will grow without limit”; and the lifespan of Byron’s tungsten filament (668). In regard to Byron’s knowledge of the Grid and its mechanisms of control, we’re told, “Someday he will know everything, and still be as impotent as before”(668). Since the amount Byron can know or understand about the Grid is finite, this capacity for knowledge can’t be said to qualify as an Abyss. Furthermore, if everything can be known about the Grid by an individual consciousness, then it must be operating on some level of transparency or predictability, and therefore doesn’t resemble a “bottomless chasm” without depth. Similarly, the depth of Byron’s impotence as a result of the Grid is unchanging irrespective of his knowledge, thus making it a quantifiable entity and not an Abyss. That leaves the lifespan of Byron’s tungsten filament, and his anger and frustration. The lifespan of Byron’s physical form is indeed limitless, but we know the course of its existence will follow a linear, unchanging, and predictable path. The perception of anger and frustration perceived by Byron’s consciousness, however, we’re told, “will grow without limit”(668). The rate at which his anger and frustration will increase and expand is raised to no fixed power. Because it is forever unbound to any set of limitations within the story, I would contend that Byron’s conscious perception of anger and frustration inherits the role of Abyss.

Of course, in trying to specifically tie down the roles of I and the Abyss in the story of Byron the Bulb, one could counter my contention by claiming the I encompasses Byron’s physical form as well as his anger and frustration. It seems to me, however, that there’s a distinct disconnect between the two forces, and if indeed one were to consider them both a part of the I, it would be fractured and incomplete. For that reason, I would instead place Byron’s physical form as the I, and his anger and frustration as the Abyss. These two forces are indeed never reconciled, and in that sense, I agree with Bloom.

 

“abyss”. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 11 April 2014. <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/abyss&gt;.

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The Irony of Paranoid Fiction

At the onset of Leo Braudy’s essay entitled Providence, Paranoia, and the Novel, Braudy begins to explain the importance of providence in the pre-17th century world, and thus in pre-17th/18th century works of fiction. Providence, Braudy claims was “the all pervasive order that held the world together” (Braudy 619). In other words, the world was assembled by an order, no matter what history took place, what book was written, ultimately there was still a religion and therefore a God holding it all together and as an explanation for the succession of events in time. However, somewhere between the 17th and 18th century, providence became a less verifiable explanation for the Way Things Work. Whereas scholars, biologists, and the like had previously been able to study and appreciate science in one compartment and the existence of a God in the other, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes came to define religion as an excuse created by the state in order to justify not only its actions, but its existence. With the rise of the Gothic novel and Methodism, states Braudy, “spiritual” came to be a term that defined anything remotely emotional, or anything that wasn’t scientific. It was with this decline in the belief of a providence that the stage was set for a new paranoia that found itself manifested in the narrative. Hobbes described fiction as a way to repress the “non-sociable self” (Braudy 621). Basically, what this means is that the novel became a way for authors to escape society’s views of what was or wasn’t acceptable and express their feelings/thoughts/emotions through characters that could be separated from the authors themselves. Braudy suggests that novelists used language as a technique against determinism and the “Designer God,” finding a midpoint between “injured merit” and the outside world through the creation of a narrative. Injured merit, for the record, is mentioned in John Milton’s, Paradise Lost, a work that is routinely referenced throughout this essay, as the sense that Satan gets after he is rejected by God in favor of Christ. I believe Braudy is using the term “injured merit” to refer to the novelist’s loss of self-worthiness and sense of paranoia or isolation with/from the outside world. “The way out of this bind,” writes Braudy, is “the creation of the work itself to stand between the isolated, unappreciated self and the distant, uncaring world” (Braudy 622). Thus, the creation of a fiction novel gives an author the ability to give order to a world that no longer has meaning and therefore no longer gives the author’s life a meaning or providence to aspire to.
As Braudy begins describing the relations between the novel and society, he delves into the post-WWI west where he divides “modernist European authors” and “naturalist American authors.” Europe, a country with its own history and background, breeds modernist writers who do not attempt to include many characters in their works, instead they go beneath the discontinuities of modern life and try to find relationships that have persisted throughout time. Meanwhile, America’s lack of historical context creates naturalist writers who, by trying to encompass multitudes of characters from all professions, personalities, and walks of life, attempt to create their own history. After WWII however, America has a history, not only that but we become enveloped by it. Braudy writes that people felt swallowed by the vast amounts of knowledge and “things” that had come into the world, pushing the novelist to create new worlds with their art that could “absorb, explain, and transcendently settle accounts for his loss” (Braudy 626). Paranoia became the only way to solve what was happening in your life. This sentiment is perfectly embodied in the protagonist in Gravity’s Rainbow, Tyrone Slothrop. Slothrop is not a character that moves through life according to his own will; instead he is “merely the object of everyone’s tracings,” with the constant notion that something (perhaps someone) is always looming over his shoulder (Braudy 631). What’s more, Braudy compares Thomas Pyncheon to Nornam Mailer, making Mailer the naturalist self-exposer and Pyncheon the elusive modernist who escapes from the public eye but may speak through his works instead. Because readers are so aware of who Norman Mailer is as a person, they see him not as the creator of a time and space, but as its narrator-only a record-keeper, thus allowing his readers to find solace in the existence of a higher order while Pyncheon “will not allow his presence to solace for us the coherence of his creation.” Much like his works, which feature characters trying and failing time and time again to get to the bottom of a deeper meaning of life, readers trying to search for the man who can give reason to a complex, interwoven web of historical, fanatical, and fictionalized text will be misled, misdirected, and ultimately met with no answers. The “comfort of pattern” summarizes Braudy will ultimately allow us to absolve of our responsibilities and become pawns in history rather than playmakers, so paranoid fiction, through all its limitless channels, acts as a “revenge against society,” the novelists’ own personal way of creating an alternative reality, “engaging intelligence rather than perception” where providence fails to give meaning and when they cannot understand nor manipulate their own.
I think the claim that Braudy is making is two-fold. Firstly, that understanding paranoid fiction such as Pyncheon’s will prove as fruitless as trying to connect the strings of time to find coherence. Secondly, we should do as Bard does in the end of Paradise Lost and, at least at times, step down from a position of describing, analyzing, and portraying history as it happens to instead create personal history. If this is what Braudy is arguing then I have to agree. Instead of falling to the fate of Tyrone Slothrop, who becomes dissolved from trying too hard to step outside of himself and look forward, ahead, and at the present which may or may not involve him, it may be better to play a less observant role in time by choosing our own destinies, be it through building a family, a career, chasing a secular dream, etc. In this way we do not become the prisoners of time but instead flow with it as equals and at times manipulators. The paradox occurs when the novelist, acting as a creator of worlds writes a book in which to counter the reality that already exists, yet within this book, by giving meaning to an otherwise unexplainable existence, the author is protesting against the complexity of actual life and choosing instead to turn against it, to a midway point that he has developed.
Here is where one may challenge Braudy’s argument as was brought up in class. Braudy seems to believe that sex has no importance in society according to Gravity’s Rainbow other than as another part of the system, another unavoidable mode of destruction. However, Pynchon seems to suggest, as we talked about in class on page 737 (Penguin edition) that, “Because submission and dominance resources [the Structure] needs for its very survival. They cannot be wasted in private sex…It needs our submission so that it can remain in power” (Pynchon 737). In this assertion, Pynchon seems to suggest that finding joy in this necessary game of the machine is a way of rebelling, revenging (raging, if you will) against the machine. If this is the case then perhaps Pynchon is not trying to link sex and destruction but rather sex (real, impassioned sex among partners who are both enjoying themselves) and survival. Perhaps, Slothrop isn’t bringing about the bomb strikes through his sexual encounters, but rather just narrowly missing them. If this is the case, then just as Jessica and Roger seem to rebel against the war, thus keeping themselves alive with their acts of love, Slothrop may be surviving the bomb hits by…having sex? Just a thought.
This post has gotten pretty long but the last point Braudy seems to make is that the creation of a different history or reality is a move towards progress while delving into deeper layers of actual society leads to stagnation. Writing may be a way of transfiguring ideas in society and thus constantly recreating its boundaries while it could also act as a mode of focusing for too long and with too much effort and why we’re here and what has happened in the past. This piece is full of contradicting ideas and irony, but I feel like I’ve gotten a feel of its scope in terms of Gravity’s Rainbow, however difficult it may be to articulate in a blog post of my own.

 

Braudy , Leo . “Providence, Paranoia, and the Novel .” Johns Hopkins University Press 48.3 (1981): 619-637 . Print.

Milton, John. Paradise lost. Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 2008. Print.

Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s rainbow. New York: Viking Press, 1973. Print.

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“The Ritual of Military Memory” by Paul Fussell

In Paul Fussell’s essay “The Ritual of Military Memory” first discusses the way war is remembered by soldiers.  He says that in moments of crisis, when soldiers recognizes that every moment they are experiencing could be their last, they “assign major portent to normally trivial things”; such as 3 drops of dew on a leaf of grass or the way a road turns (21).  They remember these highly specific and seemingly insignificant moments forever, for the entirety of their lives.  Fussell accounts for this phenomena with several explanations.  Firstly, the intense fear that is felt during moments of life and death has the power to “soften the tablets of memory, so that the impressions which they bring are clearly and deeply cut, and when time cools them off the impressions are fixed … and remain with you as long as your faculties” (22).  However, Fussell does not only believe that these memories stay with individuals for life because they were carved in during moments of intense fear.  They also have the ability to affect a soldier endlessly because they have a duty to.  “Revisiting moments made vivid for these various reasons becomes a moral obligation” (22).  Fussell says that the responsibility soldiers feel towards revisiting these memories is the same responsibility civilians would feel to revisit the grave of someone they lost at a cemetery.  Visiting a cemetery does not bring back life or do anything for the person who passed, but the living continue to visit graves out of respect and obligation for the deceased.  

Fussell believes that Pynchon is able to capture the way soldiers are haunted by their memories of war in Gravity’s Rainbow.  The best example of this torment is the scene between Pudding and the Mistress of the Night.  When Pudding was a general in World War 1, the greatest battle that he was a part of was when “he conquered a bight of no man’s land some 40 yards at its deepest” and “70% of his unit” was killed in the battle (23).  The land that Pudding conquered was pointless, it had no value, and it was no man’s land and a mere 40 yards.  70% of the men in his unit died to gain the useless ground.

Pudding first saw the Mistress of the Night in battle.  To Pudding, the Mistress is battle, is the war.  By having sex with her, he is reliving the memories he has from the war.  When she dominates him during the sexual act and causes him pain, “his need for pain is gratified” (27).  The same applies to a veteran reliving the vivid scenes remembered from a battle.  The memories are painful and disgusting to them, just as Pudding’s sex with the Mistress, but they have to relive them.  They feel not only an obligation to, but also a need. This is the third explanation of Fussell for why the memories are relived- soldiers have a need to relive them.  The events that the soldiers experience in war are so horrific that they change them entirely, forever.  So much so, that when they return home, to their once familiar lives, they are no longer familiar.  The only thing that is now familiar to them is what they experienced in the war, even though it was horrific and disgusting.  Thus, the only time they can feel at home is within these tormented memories, because that is all that is familiar to the new being.  Reliving these memories, the only thing that is familiar, becomes a plagued ritual that the soldiers are haunted by.  When Pudding returns home after being with the Mistress he realizes this, that “his real home is with the Mistress of the Night” (27).  His real home is with the Mistress, with the pain and disgust, because he has experienced so much and seen so much in the battlefield. His real home is not his home.  When he eats shit, he is eating the memories, because his vivid memories of the war are of “its filth and terrible smell” (24).  Pudding dies of an E. coli infection, implying that he dies from the shit he ate, dies from the memories, dies from what he lived in the war.  When he was eating shit, “what he was “tasting” and “devouring” the whole time was his memories of the Great War” (27).  The memories, the shit, poisoned him until he eventually dies of the E. coli infection. 

It is widely known that veterans come home from war changed forever from their experiences.  Many of us have heard stories of Post Traumatic Stress and the effect it can have on people. Even though Pudding survived the war, the impact it had on him tortured him for years, and eventually killed him.  Last year, NBC aired a shocking study that 22 American veterans commit suicide each day.  Furthermore, it is estimated that this number is higher in actuality, because Texas and California, the most populated states, were not accounted for.  These facts seem to further the point that Pynchon and Fussell are making on the intensity of the memories and the intensity of the horror.  The aftermath of being a part of a war is literally deadly, on a daily basis.  This echoes the reoccurring theme of Pynchon, that the preterit, Pudding in this scenario, his fucked by the Elite, especially during war.  He survives the war and yet it still kills him, the ritual that he must continue to exercise kills him.  

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All the Pynchonian World’s a Stage

Gabriele Schwab’s article, Creative Paranoia and Frost Patterns of White Words, centrally focuses on the idea that trying to make sense of historical occurrences in a conventional and streamlined manner retrospectively leaves out something that Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow successfully accomplishes: through the use of decentralizing characters, nonlinear plotlines, lack of chronology, shifting the focus of the reader, connecting the scientific to the mythological, and his avoidance of typically segmented domains, Pynchon creates this “ecological fiction” that functions as a means of, not fully but quite successfully, alleviating the gravity of the reality of the book’s historical content.

Schwab’s focus is on how Thomas Pynchon creates this novel through the blurring of boundaries of domains (such as history, literature, pop culture, high art, technology, science, and the like) we typically view as segmented. He explains that this wouldn’t normally be outlandish for a postmodernist novel, but because the setting of the novel is so weighty (A World War II novel coming out in 1973 directly after the Cold War is sort of a hefty topic) it would appear that this was a pretty wild way of approaching the subject. That is, until one dives deeper.

The article analyzes Pynchon’s characters; by allowing mystical occurrences and sexual fantasies of all shapes and sizes to coexist within the novel with hard technological and scientific evidence, Pynchon’s characters are given the room to deny their own reality, thus making the warfare itself sort of take the backburner to the paranoia and focus of control throughout the novel that’s truly at the forefront.

Schwab also touches upon Pirate’s quote at the beginning of the novel, “It’s all theatre,” regarding his psychic dreams. He finds this to be a truly vital theme throughout Pynchon’s work, especially when approaching the minds of Pynchon’s many characters. The ones who take solace in these mythologies that Pynchon surrounds them with are truly experiencing this theatrical element of war.

As Schwab concludes, Pynchon “reveals the full obscenity of making sense of the war in a totalizing way.” This is obvious through his style of writing Gravity’s Rainbow, with its many layers and dimensions. This allows it to be “up to the reader to make sense of the novel.”

I feel that Schwab makes some highly interesting points regarding the war one should approach Gravity’s Rainbow. When I’ve attempted to discuss this book with friends who have not read it, it’s frustrating to call it a historical text. It’s also difficult to label is as encyclopedic. This label, “ecological fiction,” that Schwab’s has created does a very successful job of describing the text. I also do feel that the blurring of these boundaries between certain domains which we hold in our minds as purely separate makes a great deal of sense when approaching WHY Pynchon chooses to do what he does as an author. I’m sure that many of these critical essays on the work were focused on this, as much of our class discussion is spent trying to debunk Pynchon’s overall motives.

The idea of theatre to me that Schwab discusses has left me asking some questions though. Perhaps the idea of theatre isn’t just to be seen through the eyes of the characters. Perhaps if we look at it in this blurring of domains sort of sense that Schwab brought up in the article, we could understand this reoccurring theme of theatre that Pynchon uses as just another one of his many tools of desegmentation. Perhaps what is truly theatrical about the novel is not the way that the characters, by submerging themselves into the mystical and fantastical, truly experience this element of theatre in war, but how the readers, through their constant attempts at debunking and making sense of Gravity’s Rainbow, are all participants in the theatre that Thomas Pynchon has created.

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