“You set out to the left. (Usually in these dreams of home you prefer landscape to the right– broad night-lawns, towered over by ancient walnut trees, a hill, a wooden fence, hollowoeyed horses in afield, a cemetery… You yask, in these dreams, is often to cross– under the trees, through the shadows– before something happens….You may feel yourself being slowed, coming enexorably to a halt: not the keen terror of falling, only an interdiction from which there is no appeal…and as the landscape begins to dim out…you know…that…) But this evening, this six o’ clock of the round light, you have set out leftward istead. With you is a girl…You catch another glimpse of the round light, following its downward slant, a brief blink on and off…Because of the light’s behavior, something is going to happen, and you can only wait. ‘This is the most sinister time of the evening.’ But there’s a better word than ‘sinister.’ You search for it. It is someone’s name. It waits behind the twilight, the clarity, the white flowers. There comes a light tapping at the door.”
In this passage, on page 137 of my edition of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, the narrator describes a dream (possibly Pointsman’s based on the Pavlovian references i.e. “paradoxical phase,” “Time/Stimulus/Secretion,” etc.) with the subject being “you.” In this dream, “you” follow a round white light out across the street of your childhood home.
Pynchon tells the reader that the first direction taken is to the left. In Weisenburger’s companion to Gravity’s Rainbow, he points out that the left; according to author C.G. Jung is the direction taken towards the unconscious, whereas the right would lead to consciousness and connections to the outside world. To elaborate on this point, Jung’s book, Mandala Symbolism makes a good starting point. The object of study in Jung’s book is the mandala, which he gives several different descriptions of based on different systems of belief. Generally, the mandala is a circle used to identify an “inner order” that allows its creator to study his unconscious and get to the root of his inner self. In Tibetan Buddhism the mandala is a ritual instrument used to assist with meditation, concentration, and introversion. In alchemy, the mandala is a synthesis of the 4 elements, which are continually straying apart. The center of the mandala is the self, and to arrive at the center is to truly “become what one is.” In Psychology of the Unconscious by C.J. Jung, Jung writes that introversion (turning to the left, into the unconscious) is a “means of detaching oneself from reality through the complex” (Jung 201). From this interpretation, it can be assumed that the dreamer is moving away from himself, away from the direction he usually takes (the right, towards correctness) following the “downward slant” into his unconscious as a way to escape reality and focus solely on his own inner psyche. One very instrumental part of Pynchon’s writing is the idea of constantly moving or striving towards a center point and of finally reaching a place where one can discover his true meaning in life.
In “Holy Centre Approaching” in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon by Molly Hite, she gives three possible reasons as to why the true center is never revealed in Pynchon’s works. The first is that Pynchon’s novels do contain a center insight but in order to understand what that insight is, you have to decode Pynchon’s extremely complicated and maze-like writings. The second is that there is no central insight because the truth would be too awful to realize. The third approach is that his novels don’t reveal the true center because it is not known or able to be translated into a language that readers can comprehend. Regardless, Pynchon’s characters are constantly moving towards a “holy centre”, or a “zero” point, that is never reached, and in this passage, the dreamer (you) moves towards the left, away from consciousness and towards that round bright light (presumably, the meaning of life, definition of self, etc.) only to find that something “sinister” is lurking in the distance that you can only wait and search for but do not find.
This leads to the final part of your dream. “Sinister,” which actually comes from the word “left” in Latin refers to the impression that something evil is about to happen. Pynchon writes, “Because of the light’s behavior, something is going to happen, and you can only wait.” Again, we see that Pynchon describes something very close to happening, but never actually realized before a tapping on the door awakes you. This name that you search for is behind the clarity and white flowers, which, it is meaningful to note, stand for innocence and purity.
In sum, this passage, deeply influenced by studies of unconsciousness and symbolism describes a person leaving his connections to reality and choosing instead to go left into his unconscious mind, following the round bright light of realization to find his true center, but never actually coming to this point. This point, which can be described as the “holy centre,” the “zero point,” or the name that isn’t quite sinister but is something that lurks behind images of innocence, purity, and clarity is what many characters throughout the novel and indeed the novel itself are constantly striving towards, whether it be through religion, science, or sex, but never attaining.
Hite , Molly . The Journal of narrative technique. Ypsilanti: Eastern Michigan University Press., 1998. Print.
Jung, C. G., and Beatrice M. Hinkle. Psychology of the unconscious: a study of the transformations and symbolisms of the libido : a contribution to the history of the evolution of thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991. Print.
Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s rainbow. New York: Viking Press, 1973. Print.