Saturday, March 7, 2015

Revolutionary Suicide, Freeways, Kabbalah, Countdowns


I've finished the 40-hour audiobook of Gravity's Rainbow. I had reviewed the book a few years back, when at last I figured I was patient enough for Thomas Pynchon's epic. Actually, while I liked Against the Day's anarchic apocalypsoes far more, I do admire the sometimes overlooked beauty in his prose, amid the coprophilia, antic songs, banana obsessions, bewildering hijinks, and pain. His books put off the uninitiated, as they had me for decades. I'd read Crying of Lot 49 in grad school and Vineland during that same time voluntarily, but that was it. But I kept getting asked if I had read it, so after V. and AtD, Inherent Vice if logically before Bleeding Edge (still in the works), I figured I had to tackle GR as a purported postmodern masterpiece. The PynchonWiki is invaluable. Even if it never responded to my repeated queries as how to become a contributing member. I suspect a gag is afoot.

What stands out on hearing it again is not the Nazi resistance narrated by a young woman, which had moved me the first time. I missed that. Either the fault of the accidental replaying of two hours when I pressed my phone back button by accident on the Audible app, or the noise, for I heard this as background for about two months of my commute, and sometimes I failed to make out narration or hang on every word. I liked George Guidall's wry, demotic, American drawl, educated yet homespun, a fitting match for Pynchon's blend of astonishing erudition (see that wiki) and down-home satire.

I thought about the novel, while recently reviewing Joanna Freed's monograph on Pynchon and the American Counterculture. So, I use this cover of a relevant book she mentions about "revolutionary suicide" by one who advocated it, to dire results. Freed compares this to the Black Panthers' fate.

The last section, as I drove to work down the Long Beach Freeway, made me wonder. "The Horse" opened as I left the house and ranged from a Germanic totemic sacrifice evoked poetically, to a take on the backward countdown of the rocket coming from a Fritz Lang 1929 film, to the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life tied into the ten worlds emanating from the initial pulse of light, to L.A. freeways (were its basic grids already in place by the end of WWII? I doubt it, but Pynchon never seems to err). The one I was on was not mentioned, but the coincidence was notable. The novel does take on so much, all the same. The freeways carry garbage trucks, and these are filled with the fragments of light from the God-explosion, or is it implosion, another connection that outside Pynchon sounds odd.

I leave you with a few passages that leapt out, as the novel reached at last its final pages, recited.

“Young Tchitcherine was the one who brought up political narcotics. Opiates of the people.

Wimpe smiled back. An old, old smile to chill even the living fire in Earth’s core. "Marxist dialectics? That’s not an opiate, eh?"

"It’s the antidote."

"No." It can go either way. The dope salesman may know everything that’s ever going to happen to Tchitcherine, and decide it’s no use—or, out of the moment’s velleity, lay it right out for the young fool.

"The basic problem," he proposes, "has always been getting other people to die for you. What’s worth enough for a man to give up his life? That’s where religion had the edge, for centuries. Religion was always about death. It was used not as an opiate so much as a technique—it got people to die for one particular set of beliefs about death. Perverse, natürlich, but who are you to judge? It was a good pitch while it worked. But ever since it became impossible to die for death, we have had a secular version—yours. Die to help History grow to its predestined shape. Die knowing your act will bring will bring a good end a bit closer. Revolutionary suicide, fine. But look: if History’s changes are inevitable, why not not die? Vaslav? If it’s going to happen anyway, what does it matter?"

"But you haven’t ever had the choice to make, have you."

"If I ever did, you can be sure—"

"You don’t know. Not till you’re there, Wimpe. You can’t say."

"That doesn’t sound very dialectical."

"I don’t know what it is."

"Then, right up to the point of decision," Wimpe curious but careful, "a man could still be perfectly pure . . ."

"He could be anything. I don’t care. But he’s only real at the points of decision. The time between doesn’t matter."

"Real to a Marxist."

"No. Real to himself."

Wimpe looks doubtful.

"I've been there. You haven't.”

I've been reading Ignazio Silone, the anti-fascist novelist between the wars (and during WWII), and contemplating his socialist-Stalinist-Communist-socialist to eventually a democratic socialist free agent. I reckon how I keep seeing, as I study Irish republicanism for so long and witness ideological and again religious fanaticism, and I teach veterans from our recent wars, proof of what we die for. 

We are told we must gear up and fund another endless war on terror, a war that we can never win.
“What more do they want? She asks this seriously, as if there's a real conversion factor between information and lives. Well, strange to say, there is. Written down in the Manual, on file at the War Department. Don't forget the real business of the War is buying and selling. The murdering and violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals. The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as a spectacle, as a diversion from the real movements of the War. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught History as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death's a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try 'n' grab a piece of that Pie while they're still here to gobble it up. The true war is a celebration of markets."

It's part of the plan. My students who fight tell me that between them and us, it's only the military who keep us safe from terrorism, and if not for those armed, we'd be at the mercy of the mean.
 “Kekulé dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, the dreaming Serpent which surrounds the World. But the meanness, the cynicism with which this dream is to be used. The Serpent that announces, "The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning," is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that "productivity" and "earnings" keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity—most of the World, animal, vegetable, and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it's only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to begin with, of no value to anyone or anything but the System, which must sooner or later crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life. Living inside the System is like riding across the country in a bus driven by a maniac bent on suicide . . . though he's amiable enough, keeps cracking jokes back through the loudspeaker . . .”
This book rewards. My first time through, I don't think my review linked above cited any of these....
“It's been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home -- only the millions of last moments . . . nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”
Finally, as I think Joe Biden of all nitwits cited, or a better educated aide handed him the soundbite: 
“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.” He knows.

No comments: