“Recognizing Reality, Realizing Responsibility” by Craig Hansen Werner is a critical essay on Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. I think the essay works to answer the question, how do I approach reading Gravity’s Rainbow? The last sentence on the first page best captures Werner’s answer to this question, “Pynchon forces the resolution of modes off the page and into our lives, where it belongs. If we let him.” (85) Werner is pointing out the reader’s role throughout his essay in arguing that Pynchon’s text is so dense and complex that it compels the readers to reach out beyond Gravity’s Rainbow and consider more than just themselves. Because of the complexity of the text, the readers are forced to move towards a community in order to make sense of the text. Pynchon challenges solipsism, the view that the self is all that exists, because his modes frustrate isolated reading.
Werner creates an image that Pynchon illustrates such an intricate community in his novel in order to relate to the reader’s reality of their world. Werner closes his essay with a quote from Pynchon “…join in here with your brothers and sisters, let each other know you’re alive and sincere, try to break through the silences, try to reach through and connect.” (96) Werner believes Pynchon uses plot and characters as tools for the readers to relate to solipsism in real life. One example of this is Werner’s analysis of Slothrop. Slothrop’s paranoia is a reason for his solipsism and his efforts to escape his paranoia make him an anti-paranoid, which Werner defines as the idea that nothing is connected to anything. According to Werner, Slothrop’s effort to break away from his solipsism fails and his experiences in the end are not resolved. Slothrop’s unresolved life is an example of a reality in the novel that we are meant to take into our own lives. I cannot agree or disagree with Werner’s view on Slothrop’s resolution because I have not yet reached that point in the text, it will be interesting to see how things unfold.
It seems obvious that the world Pynchon creates in Gravity’s Rainbow is packed with many references, strange narratives, and influences from other writers, so why is Werner pointing out these aspects? When reading a text, I often find myself wondering why I am reading the work or what I am meant to take away from the work. I think Werner writes his critical essay in effort to assure readers that Gravity’s Rainbow is a rewarding text when it is read the right way. To readers that do not need to be convinced of the benefit of the complexities in this novel, this essay may not be of much use. I do not think Werner presents any new or particularly impressive ideas in his essay, but he does open up some reasons for the overwhelmingly complex narrative. I agree that Pynchon’s structure says something about reality, the absurd amount of characters and information thrown at the readers relates to our real life. Everyday we learn facts and meet people we need to sift through by significance or connections to other aspects of our life, and Pynchon’s narrative mirrors that thought process.
Distinguishing between reality and illusion in this novel is a skill I struggle with in Gravity’s Rainbow. Think back to our in-class discussion of Polker and the “amazing incest” he imagines with his daughter. We tried to talk through some reasons behind Pynchon’s hazy division between reality and illusion, which is a question we could not definitively answer. Maybe Werner is suggesting this distinction is not what is significant about the text. Instead of recognizing the reality in the world Pynchon has created, we are meant to use the text to add to our connections and understanding of our very own real life reality.
Werner, Craig Hansen, “Recognizing Reality, Realizing Responsibility” (1982), in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow: Modern Critical Interpretations, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986), 85-96.