The Zone Hereros and the Elect

For our third blog post I picked Paul Bove’s History and Fiction: The Narrative Voices of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Bove begins by addressing other critics of Gravity’s Rainbow. First, he mentions Tanner who Bove builds off of throughout the article. Tanner said, in 1982, that Gravity’s Rainbow was arguably the most important literary text since Joyce’s Ulysses which Bove thinks is true. Next Bove covers T. Coraghessan Boyle, who said that Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon was the best historical novel that he knew of and thus upped Tanner’s ante. This also placed Pynchon ahead of Melville, the author of Moby Dick. Specifically Boyle stated that Pynchon surpasses Melville and that Moby Dick has “lost its place as the preeminent American literary-history achievement.” Pynchon was considered one of the top American novelists and world writers in English from 1973 forward, and has been placed with other novels such as Dante’s Commedia, Rabelais’ five books on Gargntua and Pantgruel, Cervantes’ Don Quizate, Goethe’s Faust, Moby Dick and Ulysses. Pynchon has been kept in lofty company since then, and Bove makes note of this throughout his writing. To Bove the most important perception of both Pynchon and Gravity’s Rainbow is looking at both as historical novelist and novel respectively. To some critics, Pynchon straddles the line between fiction and history so well that people cannot be sure which is which, but Bove does not seem to agree with this. Bove deals mainly with the struggle of the Elect and the Preterite throughout his critique of Pynchon.

                To Bove the Elect throughout history have tried to remove themselves from fallen history and nature, leaving the Preterite to suffer the consequences of their actions. To Pynchon these consequences include the processes of nature such as death, disease, and natural reproduction, but also the webs of power and conflict produced by the Elect in their struggle to transcend this world. In Gravity’s Rainbow the main symbol and mechanic system through which the Elect attempt to reorganize human society is the V2 rocket. The Elect use the Rocket, and also technology, as a way to seize the powers of god for themselves. This is shown through the Rocket being able to escape Gravity and also through the Impolex-G rubber, which is similar to a synthetic flesh. Both embody the ambition of making a society saturated with technology, so that natural and historical limitations on the Elect’s power to act can be ended. The Elect think that History is linear and progressive, and additionally are willing to use power in order to assure this. Pynchon on the other hand is arguing, according to Bove, that these types of ideas further entangle society in history and push society to be more historical and harmful for the Preterite. For Pynchon the Elect’s logic is that of death, and suicide is the only way to escape this system is through suicide.

                This leads to Bove’s analysis of Gravity’s Rainbow through the Zone Hereros, which he says is Pynchon’s most intellectually and dramatically intense variation on the theme of Elect vs Preterite. The Hereros are based upon German propaganda films which featured the Germans resettling Africans into destroyed French and British empires. Pynchon uses them to develop themes of preterition, regeneration, suicide, and memory allowing readers to see history as the trope through which the redemption of earth as the Preterite’s place for self-making in time. Pynchon never directly represents the Holocaust in Gravity’s Rainbow, but extermination still dominates the novel. According to Pynchon the Rocket’s desire is the end of history, which is also the desire of Euro-American ambition. That is, to see history as calculable and amenable to the Elect’s application of power. The Elect’s desire is to transcend not just history but also nature, and thus also humanity through Their power. Most of the Preterite goes along with this desire, in the novel “worship the Rocket”, because the Elect control most of the resources in the world, including that of the State and of international corporations. Gravity’s Rainbow according to Bove challenges understanding of the American structures of power as death-dealing and death-worshipping, but also death-fearing. The question is raised, what would a society like this have as it’s ethos or ethics. The novel moves then further towards entanglement and knotting into history rather than the opposite due to the Elect trying to master death. The Hereros worship the Rocket, and want to use it to go back to a place outside of time before Europe invaded Africa. Just like the Elect, the Hereros want to experience time in a different way than the Preterite and submit to the Rocket hoping to achieve this. Two symbols in the novel, both the Rainbow of the Rocket’s flight and the ouroboros, represent the continuity of these two positions, the Elect’s and the Herero’s. Bove also emphasizes that Pynchon is deeply humanistic, and also rejects high modernism’s formal solution to the problems of time, specifically attempts at circular or closed forms of time.

I found Bove’s article really helpful in formulating and developing my own ideas on the struggle of the Preterite, and how that struggle is represented in Gravity’s Rainbow. The way through which the Zone Hereros were related via common desire with the Elect was especially interesting. To me, the engagement with the Zone Hereros seemed to be the main way in which Bove supported his argument. I agree with Bove however that Gravity’s Rainbow was Pynchon’s way of challenging the classic American structures of power. Throughout all of America’s history, there has been the idea of the “American Dream” that people can come from any background and still do well in this country and one day be among the elite of society through hard-work. However, just like this idea, throughout America’s history there have been a small group of families and now corporations that control almost all of the power and wealth in society. For Pynchon they are the Elect, and everyone else is the Preterite. Further, Bove’s idea of death being the normal ethos in a society like America seems to be the case. There are constant examples of violence and death present throughout American power structures. Gravity’s Rainbow has the power to move readers because of this challenging.

Bove wrote a very great article, and I thought that there was not much overlooked. Not only was Gravity’s Rainbow very thoroughly analyzed, but so were a number of critical articles about Gravity’s Rainbow. Further I thought that Bove’s argument was very well supported by textual evidence, and that it was exceptionally written. This critical essay has really opened up new ways of looking at the novel for me. It also addressed the dense, tangled, and encyclopedic manner in which the novel was written in which I thought was helpful for analyzing the novel. Bove’s take on the struggle of the Preterite and the Elect in Gravity’s Rainbow, through the lens of the Zone Hereos, further helped me understand Gravity’s Rainbow.

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One Response to The Zone Hereros and the Elect

  1. msk58 says:

    Great post! You summed up everything really nicely. I really enjoyed reading about the Hereros because I had a lot of trouble understanding the motives behind their mass suicide. It is really fascinating that Pynchon paralleled these two opposing forces by their relationship with the rocket. Both seek to fire the rocket, but for different intentions. I really like what you said about the “American dream” and how very few seem to actually attain this common goal. Do you think the idea of the “American dream” could be just an illusion the Elect designed as a societal norm to occupy or distract the Preterite from their actions? Perhaps while people are influenced by society to focus on this dream, they aren’t aware of the Elect’s impact on their lives. Pynchon’s novel really does make you think about whether you are actually aware of what is going on in society, or are you blinded by such delusions.

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