The essay I chose to read was Chris Coughran’s criticism of Gravity’s Rainbow, titled “Green Scripts In Gravity’s Rainbow: Pynchon, Pastoral Ideology and the Performance of Ecological Self.” This turned out to be a very complex and difficult essay about the novel, and one that was interesting as well. He came up with a few really good points about the novel, and a few good arguments as well.
The essay starts out by explaining that Richard Poirier published a book, titled “The Performing Self, ”two years prior to Pynchon publishing Gravity’s Rainbow, that made a claim that “America is now and history.” Coughran explains that this novel claims that the world is the way it is today, because of what happened in the past, and what we as a people have inherited from past generations, such as beliefs and traditions. He says that Gravity’s Rainbow supports this claim (Coughran 265).
The first really critical argument he brings up in regard to Gravity’s Rainbow is that of Pynchon being aware of his own cultural inheritances. He quotes an article by David Lowenthal “we cannot free ourselves all at once from the ideas of our ancestors, whose concepts of nature were- like our own- circumscribed by the horizons of their imaginations.” (Lowenthal 40). (Coughran 266).
An instance that Coughran brought up in reference to pastoral literary modes was that of “nature’s notion.” In Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon writes, “meanest sharp sliver of truth” buried beneath “so much replication, so much waste” (Pynchon 590)(Coughran 270).
On the topic of Pynchon’s cultural inheritances, I do agree with Coughran. He goes on to explain in this essay that you cannot free yourself of the belief of those who came before you all at once, and it will take time to be able to form your own beliefs essentially (Coughran 266). I think many of the thoughts that people have are “socially inherent” in that you kind of tend to take on the beliefs of your parents when you are young, then form more of your own opinions as you grow. At times throughout Gravity’s Rainbow, it is believed that some of Pynchon’s personal opinions are portrayed throughout this novel. As we discussed in last Tuesday, one could argue (not conclude) that not only is Pynchon sexist, but also racist. Many instances in the book refer to masculinity as dominant, and to me that suggest that he slightly looks down upon women.
“But with a Jewess…Their animal darkness… sweating hindquarters, pushing aggressively toward her face” (Pynchon 155). To me, this part about referring to a Jewess as having “animal darkness” came off as racist.
I thought Coughran could have gone more in depth with examples from the novel on this particular subject. There were a great number of sections I found that could’ve come off as other cultural inheritances that he did not really get into.
In regards to the pastoral literary modes in this novel, I thought it was a really interesting thing for Coughran to point out, and I agree with the connection. Pastoral is defined as: of or relating to the spiritual care or guidance of people who are members of a religious group. Another definition however is: of or relating to the countryside or to the lives of people who live in the country. I noticed a few instances of pastoral literary modes in my reading to this point of Gravity’s Rainbow. One example, as pointed out by Coughran, is when Slothrop sees “a very thick rainbow […] a stout rainbow cock driven out of the pubic clouds into the earth, green wet valleyed earth, and his chest fills and he stands crying, not a thing in his head, just feeling natural” (Pynchon 626). He explains that this is pastoral, because it can often refer to when a character is at a crossroads of choice, and you are then permitted to have a revelation (Coughran 271). I thought this was a very interesting way to look at this scene, and I completely agree with Coughran in this idea. If you think of pastoral in a religious sense, one could argue that at this point, Slothrop is being permitted to revelation, and being exposed to maybe a greater being than himself. This could also be an example of “nature’s notion,” as Coughran referred to earlier in the essay.
This essay was slightly hard to follow, mostly because he references novels and essays that I have never read, so it made it slightly harder to make connections to his essay and Gravity’s Rainbow. At one point, he made references to novels such as “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” and “The Catcher in the Rye,” and I just think I would’ve understood these references better having actually read these novels. Overall though, I thought it was a really well done critical essay in response to Gravity’s Rainbow. It helped me to get a better understanding of what Pynchon was trying to do with particular passages as well.
Coughran, Chris, “Green Scripts in Gravity’s Rainbow: Pynchon, Pastoral Ideology and the Performance of Ecological Self,” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 16.2 (Spring 2009): 265-279.
Lowenthal, David. “Is This Wilderness ‘Paradise Enow’? Images of Nature in America.” Columbia University Forum Spring (1964): 34-40.
Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York: Penguin, 1973.