The Ups and Downs of Slothrop’s Erections

“But if it’s in the air, right here, right now, then the rockets follow from it 100% of the time. No exceptions. When we find it, we’ll have shown again the stone determinacy of everything, of every soul. There will be precious little room for any hope at all. You can see how important a discovery like that would be”(Gravity’s Rainbow, p. 88)

Here, the “it” referenced in the first sentence of the passage is the unknown stimulus to Slothrop’s erections, which, according to statistical analysis of the charts, seem to correspond with the dropping of V-2 bombs.  When compared with Roger Mexico’s plotting of rocket strikes, Teddy Bloat’s map of Slothrop’s sexual exploits fits precisely the same Poisson distribution. By analyzing the correlation between these two sets of data, the men hope to find a means of predicting the sites where explosions will occur, so those locales can be avoided altogether.

Instead of seeking information about the V-2 bombs through some wartime intelligence on the Germans, these men seek to find answers hidden internally, somewhere latent in the psyche of one of their fellow countrymen. They seem to find the dropping of V-2 to be inevitable and unchanging, an unalterable force that, at best, can be avoided. There is no examination of the German psyche in their attempt to forecast the explosions, only an internal psychological investigation of one of their own, Slothrop. They, in turn, try to connect their internal analysis with the external force acting upon them, V-2 bombs. This attempt to reconcile two opposing forces in a binary relationship is a reoccurring theme to this point in the novel. Not only is this particular instance demonstrating a binary between internal and external, it is also depicting the opposition of stimulus and response. Slothrop’s sexual exploits are the designated stimulus, and the V-2 explosions, which happen approximately 4½   days later in corresponding areas, are the response. If they can reconcile the binary opposition of stimulus and response, internal and external, then they’ll “have shown again the stone determinacy of everything, of every soul”(88). Here, “everything” is representative of the external, whereas “every soul” is indicative of the internal. To unlock an absolute correspondence between stimulus and response would signify a “stone determinacy” in all things, internal and external, creating an unvarying relationship between forces no longer in opposition. Pynchon reinforces this concept of binary opposition in juxtaposing the word “air” with “stone.”

Though pinpointing a direct correlation between Slothrop’s sexual exploits and the V-2 explosions would seem to be their ultimate goal, the “stone determinacy” that would result from such a finding is not seen as a positive prospect: “There will be precious little room for any hope at all”(88). This pessimistic speculation indicates that the situation would be even less hopeful if they were find a concrete link between stimulus and response. Outwardly, one would assume that being able to avoid each and every explosion without having to worry would be an altogether hopeful premise; however, the lack of variation that such a premise would entail is evidently a despairing concept to them. Seemingly then, the variation and opposition inherent in the unresolved binary relationships brings them some sort of hope. One would think it pointless then to seek out reconciliation, but perhaps it is the act of searching that brings them more hope than a solidified answer would.

By neglecting to tie Slothrop’s sexual psyche with the psychology of the Germans themselves, focusing rather on the locale of the V-2 bombs, the men pit themselves against an omnipotent, God-like force. The V-2 bombings are completely out of their control, its threat is universal, and its plan is beyond comprehension.  To seek understanding, the men look inwardly to find answers in the psyche of one of their countrymen. At the same time, however, they are afraid of what they might find, and the prospect of finding a definitive correlation between one of their own and the ways of the V-2 bombs is not entirely hopeful. It is as if they would rather remain subservient to the forces of the bombs. They would rather remain separate and in opposition to the omnipotent forces acting upon them with all-knowingness. For, if they were to resolve the opposition, they would be subject to a “stone determinacy.” If they were to focus on the Germans themselves, however, putting a face and a psyche to their opposition, they would be probably be less worried about the correlation between Slothrop’s sexual exploits and the locales of the V-2 bombings. Were they to find a direct parallel between Slothrop’s psyche and that of the Germans, they probably would not consider it a less hopeful “stone determinacy.”  Nevertheless, their opposition is faceless and ever-present, and, to some degree, the men are co-dependent on the force.

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2 Responses to The Ups and Downs of Slothrop’s Erections

  1. Steph Roman says:

    Well, you’ve done a pretty good job of thoroughly analyzing this passage, but I’m going to try and unpack some of your denser language.

    Primarily we’re looking at the binary relationships of internal/ external and stimulus/ response. I think what you’re saying is that there isn’t much meaning in these relationships. Yes, Slothrop’s stimulus (internal) leads to the V-2 rocket dropping somewhere as a response (external). Even with the Poisson distribution, Roger Mexico and Pointsman will never be able to definitively say Slothrop has foresight or anything like that. But doubtless, they have to TRY to find these answers. If they don’t, then what good are they?

    But perhaps there is more danger in knowing, which is what you seem to be saying. That would fall into the cliche of “dangerous knowledge,” but honestly, I don’t believe there’s a correct answer, and as much as I’d love to know for sure that Slothrop’s psychosexual powers can predict bombs dropping, I don’t think we can ever be certain. And I have faith Pynchon will never tell us.

    As I keep rereading some of your post, I’m not sure I’m even getting it right. Feel free to discuss.

    • dab148 says:

      Hey there Steph,
      Thanks for responding to my post. I think you’re probably right that we won’t get too many definitive answers on the charts matching up. Given the crazy circumstances in the book, I guess I shouldn’t say whether or not they should look for answers in the charts. I just chose to write on this passage because I thought it was interesting that the Germans are so absent, yet the threat of a bombing is ever-present. Looking for answers in the patterns of Slothrop’s sex life just seems to me to speak to their own paranoia and desperation. I also found it interesting how they’re torn about finding a definitive answer at all: “When we find it, we’ll have shown again the stone determinacy of everything, of every soul. There will be precious little room for any hope at all.” Just the fact that they’re hesitant at all about finding the answer makes me think that the act of looking is more of a coping mechanism than a viable solution. If surviving the bombings is there only aim, and finding an answer means surviving the bombings, then why would surviving leave “little room for any hope at all”? And, how much room for hope would there be if they didn’t find the answer? These questions left me with the impression that they’re studying a superficial correlation as a means of distracting themselves from the already hopeless situation.
      All speculation on my part, but thanks again for responding.
      Best,
      David

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