Gravity's Rainbow | Critical Essay by Lance Olsen

This literature criticism consists of approximately 17 pages of analysis & critique of Gravity's Rainbow.
This section contains 5,073 words
(approx. 17 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Lance Olsen

Critical Essay by Lance Olsen

SOURCE: "Deconstructing the Enemy of Color: The Fantastic in Gravity's Rainbow," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring, 1986, pp. 74-86.

In the following essay, Olsen examines elements of postmodern fantasy in Gravity's Rainbow.

      Oh, THE WORLD OVER THERE, it's
      So hard explain!
      Just-like, a dream's got, lost in yer brain!
 
      —Thomas Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow)

I.

Gravity's Rainbow—what one reviewer frustrated by its length, structure, and seeming lack of control tagged "a magnificent necropolis that will take its place amidst the grand detritus of our culture"—was probably the most unread best seller in America during 1973, and perhaps ever. It teetered at the bottom of the New York Times Book Review list for two weeks late in April and another two early in May before it toppled off altogether to make way for the likes of Susann's Once is Not Enough, Forsyth's The Odessa File and, of course, Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the last of which was soaring toward its sixtieth week as Pynchon's text tumbled. When later that year a team of distinguished judges met for the fifty-eighth annual Pulitzer Prize decision and recommended it, the journalists on the advisory board overturned their verdict because for them it was "unreadable," "turgid," "over-written," and "obscene." Nonetheless, almost immediately critics like Richard Poirier and Edward Mendelson placed it in the company of other encyclopedic works such as Dante's Divine Comedy, Rabelais' books of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Goethe's Faust, Melville's Moby-Dick, and Joyce's Ulysses. And since then Gravity's Rainbow has generated a critical industry of its own, an academic cult, and more exegetic "apoplexy than any novel since Ulysses," as one reader has commented, examined as it has been in a host of essays and dissertations, and no fewer than fifteen books, for its handling of history, war, mythology, literary echoes, cinematic qualities and influences, pop culture, religion, philosophy, psychology, politics, sex, death, music, feminism, engineering, ballistics, mysticism, Menippean satire, science fiction, the quest, parody, the lyrical impulse, irony, allegory, gothicism, comedy, and on and on and on.

But with the exception of Rosemary Jackson's brief mention of Gravity's Rainbow, insufficient attention has been given to Pynchon's third novel as a work of fantasy, a mode of discourse that has engaged the imagination since Gilgamesh, and a mode that has become a particularly prevalent trait of what has come to be known as postmodernism. One finds the fantastic impulse employed by contemporary writers as diverse as Borges, Beckett, Fuentes, Garcia Márquez, Barthelme, Irving, Kundera, O'Brien, Vonnegut, Heller, and Calvino. And there is little wonder for its omnipresence. Since postmodernism arose in response to a universe it saw under both physical and metaphysical erasure, and hence since it tries to face a situation it believes fantastic, there is little surprise that the mode of discourse chosen as a vehicle for the postmodern consciousness is the fantastic. In this essay I should like to devote my attention to the relationship of this mode of discourse to Gravity's Rainbow—first by delineating a working definition of the term; second by exploring what the idea of the fantastic yields concerning character, time, space, and language in Pynchon's "magnificent necropolis"; and third by examining reader-response to Pynchon's use of those constructs, and the cultural suppositions behind them.

Ii.

In the preface to Slow Learner (1984), his one and only literary-autobiographical essay, Pynchon with characteristic irony and ambiguity both talks disparagingly of fantasy literature and admits to being profoundly influenced by it. Early in the piece he equates "seriousness" in fiction with "an attitude toward death"; the one goes hand in hand with the other. He continues: "I suspect one of the reasons that fantasy and science fiction appeal so much to younger readers is that, when space and time have been altered to allow characters to travel easily anywhere through the continuum and thus escape physical dangers and timepiece inevitabilities, mortality is so seldom an issue." So the fantastic is for the younger, less sophisticated reader because it allows for an escape from the concerns of mortality. In other words, it is "escapist." But toward the end of his essay, Pynchon recounts taking a course in modern art while at Cornell. There he first encountered Surrealism, one of the major fantasy movements in the twentieth century. The Surrealists, he writes, "really caught my attention." What fascinated him was "the simple idea that one could combine inside the same frame, elements not normally found together to produce illogical and startling effects." The fantastic, then, contains an element of disruption (in space or time, for instance) which results in unreason and surprise.

Tzvetan Todorov, in his cornerstone study of the fantastic in literature, carries this idea further. Fantasy, he argues, "lasts only as long as a certain hesitation" in the text and the reader between the uncanny (where "the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described"—the land, in other words, of mimetic discourse) and the marvelous (where "new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena"—the land of gothic fiction, fairy tales, surrealist fiction, et cetera). Inexplicably, though, Todorov maintains that fantasy finds its purest form in the nineteenth century; and often he slips into the ethnocentric position of believing that terms like "laws of reality" and "laws of nature" are stable and sure. This is where Rosemary Jackson comes in. She takes Todorov's primary ideas and reshapes them, moving them from a quasi-epistemological to a narrative concern and defining fantasy as a mode of discourse that exists on a continuum between two other modes: at one end the marvelous and at the other the mimetic. Fantasy, she argues, can and has existed in all cultures at all times, but becomes particularly widespread in a culture experiencing excessive unease (as with the flourishing of gothic fiction at the turn of the eighteenth century, or the dominance of fantasy in our own culture since, roughly, the second world war).

The fantastic, then, plays one universe of discourse off another thereby creating a dialectic that refuses synthesis; the result is textual instability. As Caillois points out, "the fantastic is always a break in the acknowledged order, an irruption of the inadmissible within the changeless everyday legality." One may think of fantasy as a mode of narrative "illegality" whose intent is to dislocate and remain hostile to anything static. As a result, it rejects any definitive version of "truth" or "reality." Its mission is to disrupt cultural unities of character, time, space, and even language; to reveal that which must be concealed in order that one's internal and external experience may be comfortably known. Jackson suggests that "fantastic literature points to … the basis upon which cultural order rests, for it opens up, for a brief moment, on to disorder, on to illegality, on to that which lies outside the law, that which is outside the dominant value systems. The fantastic traces the unsaid and unseen in the culture."

In this way fantasy becomes the literary equivalent of deconstructionism, since both the narrative and criticophilosophical modes are designed to surprise, to question, to put into doubt, to create anxiety, to make active, to make uncomfortable, to rebel, to subvert, to render ambiguous, to make discontinuous. They may be seen, as Jacques Derrida intimates, either as "sad, negative …, guilty" modes or as "the joyous affirmation of the freeplay … without truth, without origin." Both interrogate all we take for granted about language and experience, giving these no more than a shifting and provisional status. Within themselves they hold a radical skepticism that believes only in the impossibility of total intelligibility, the endless displacement of "meaning," the blocking of conceptual closure, the bottomless relativity of "significance"—all of which also may serve as a description of Pynchon's universe in Gravity's (a word associated with the static weight of the mimetic) Rainbow (a word signaling the weightless iridescence of the marvelous); a universe primarily of disorder, heat-death, white noise, communication collapse and existential blur, to which I should now like to turn my attention.

Iii.

The notion of character gives rise to larger questions about identity, wholeness of personality, three-dimensionality, stability of the self over time, what it means to be human. And, to begin with a commonplace, Pynchon's third novel is crammed with a cast of somewhere between three and four hundred (which roughly averages one new face every two pages), making it virtually impossible to pluck out a protagonist and—given how little the reader sees of each character—making it even more difficult to say anything serious and helpful about any of the characters' psychological makeup. As one early reviewer pointed out about Gravity's Rainbow: "Pynchon doesn't create characters so much as mechanical men to whom a manic comic impulse or a vague free floating anguish can attach itself" (see [Richard] Locke's review). They are, as so many critics have pointed out, cartoon characters—and in this context one should keep in mind Pynchon's pronouncement in Slow Learner's preface: "May the Road Runner cartoons never vanish from the video waves, is my attitude"—with outlandish names that refuse to be taken as earnestly as one might someone named Dorthea Brooke, Marlow, Daniel Martin: Teddy Bloat, Corydon Throsp, DcCoverly Pox, Lord Batherard Osmo, Oliver Mucker-Maffick, Blodgett Wax-wing, and so forth. What Pynchon has done in his international novel is to generate a geographical breadth of character by employing Americans, Britishers, Dutchmen, Germans, Japanese, Africans, Argentines, and on and on, without generating emotional depth.

In fact a register of the characterlessness of the text appears in several characters' breaking up, losing a discrete wholeness of personality. Tyrone Slothrop, as much a protagonist as Gravity's Rainbow can conceive of, by the end fractures into a number of identities. "Some believe that fragments of Slothrop have grown into consistent personae of their own," the reader finds. "If so, there's no telling which of the Zone's present-day population are offshoots of his original scattering." In a way Dr. Lazlo Jamf, the man who conditioned Slothrop when the chubby American was a baby, is everyone, or so the reader gathers from Slothrop's recurrent dream in which he "had found a very old dictionary of technical German. It fell open to a certain page prickling with black-face type. Reading down the page, he would come to JAMF. The definition would read: I. He work begging It no." A more minor example shows up in Gavin Trefoil, one of the "new varieties of freak" that have been turning up at "The White Visitation," the one-time madhouse become Pavlovian lab. Trefoil suffers from what Rollo Groast wants to name autochromatism; "he can change his color from most ghastly albino up through a smooth spectrum to very deep, purplish, black." He has metamorphosed into a human (?) chameleon.

The text thereby comes to interrogate what Robbe-Grillet has referred to as "the old myths of 'depth.'" In For a New Novel he continues: "The creators of characters, in the traditional sense, no longer manage to offer us anything more than puppets in which they themselves have ceased to believe. The novel of characters belongs entirely to the past, it describes a period: that which marked the apogee of the individual." In Pynchon's fantastic high-tech nuclear world what was called the individual has—like Slothrop, Jamf, and Trefoil, among others—scattered and vanished. Significantly, behaviorism and not Freudianism surfaces as the dominant psychological mode in the text. A mode of surfaces comes to replace a mode of depths. While for a time along with Oberst Enzian, commander of the Schwarz-kommando, Slothrop may hope against hope that "somewhere … is the key that will bring us back, restore us to our Earth and to our freedom," the fact remains that by the time he enters the Zone he believes he is the essence of Conditioned Man, programmed and monitored since infancy, the exquisite Skinnerian Black Box. This is Lazlo Jamf's universe, Edward Pointsman's universe, the universe of faultless behavioral determinism.

In addition to disintegrating what Robbe-Grillet calls the Balzacian mode of character, Pynchon's fantastic text disrupts the mimetic belief in the stability of time and space. By doing so, it raises questions about chronology, logic, reason, order, and constancy. Often it has been pointed out that Gravity's Rainbow has affinities with the Nordic and the Russian sagas with their huge casts and multiple plotlines, but if this is so it is also so that in Pynchon's text the saga is told from the point of view of Faulkner's Benjy Compson. The text disjoints and conflates past, present, and future as well as here and there. Although the major action takes place between September 8 and November 30, 1944 (during the V-2 bombardment of London), and April or just before May 8, 1945 (either Eliot's cruelest month or just before V-E day, during the firing of the 00000 and 00001), in England and Germany, abrupt dislocations in time and space throw us back to biblical events, the middle ages, the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the 1920's and 1930's, and ahead to Jack Kennedy's and Malcom X's assassinations, mentions of Nixon, and even apparently to the beginning of World War III as the rocket screams down on the thereafter in Los Angeles, as well as across to New England, Southwest Africa, Argentina, the Russian Steppes, France, Switzerland, and Holland. Moreover, any attempt to reconstruct a clear and unambiguous chronology and series of settings may in the end clarify the text, but its result would be the manufacturing of a text that Pynchon did not write. To add to the confusion, what in traditional mimetic discourse should take a relatively long time (the conclusion of World War II, for instance) is passed over so quickly many readers miss it, and what "normally" should warrant a relatively brief mention (the extermination, for example, of the dodo birds by one of Katje's ancestors) lingers for pages. Consequently, as many have indicated, the reader senses that he is viewing some sort of crazy documentary on the second world war and its aftermath, but that the reels have gotten mixed up. And so have the projectors, apparently, since time in the text can even run backwards: "agents run around with guns which are like vacuum cleaners operating in the direction of life—pull the trigger and bullets are sucked back out of the recently dead into the barrel, and the Great Irreversible is actually reversed."

These disruptions of mimetic discourse's space-time conventions do not only exist at the stratum of plot; they manifest themselves in the very way the language is constructed. Notice, for instance, the way the text opens:

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it's all theatre, There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him life girders old as an iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it's night. He's afraid of the way the glass will fall—soon—it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.

Just as the collapse of the "crystal palace"—the nineteenth-century monument to reason, optimism, progress, stability—of iron and glass is imminent, so too is the collapse of nineteenth-century "realistic" narrative. Without having some knowledge of at least the next few pages of the text, the reader cannot interpret the situation that confronts him on the first page. The reader comes upon something, but what that something is is impossible to say. The text opens with the present tense, one still slightly unsettling to a reader comfortable in the Balzacian mode of discourse; at the same time it withholds key orienting words, refuses to interpret fully the data in presents: "A screaming comes across the sky" (a human screaming? something else? where are we?). Next it withholds specific time references: "It" (again, what?) "has happened before but there is nothing to compare it to now" (how long before? when is now? where is the traditional hint of time-locus?). In the next few sentences the text provides just enough information to perplex. Why, for instance, is it too late? What kind of evacuation, and why the capital letter? How is an evacuation "all theatre"? What kind of cars have no light in them? Who is the "him" in the seventh line? The reader hears all the words of anxiety—too late, no lights, total blackout, and so on—and he realizes that either none of its is real, or all of it is reminiscent of something in some horror film, or both. The reader becomes a witness to actions he cannot understand, and an accomplice to them since he must to some degree originate his own version of them, hence entering into participation with the text. Over the course of the next few pages he slowly comes to realize the action involves a train during a bombardment, perhaps in London. Not until two full pages after the text has commenced does Pirate Prentice, the British commando who plays a very small role in the novel, sit up in bed and look around him, thinking "How awful. How bloody awful," and the reader can piece together enough to surmise he has probably been in Prentice's (?) dream.

Whether that dream beginning the text ever ends is another question. One way to read Gravity's Rainbow is to see it as either Prentice's or—more likely—a paranoid narrator's unending nightmare, drugged hallucination, autistic fantasy, or protracted hypnogogic state—that semi-conscious state of drowsiness and reverie one experiences just as one is falling into dreams, the state where one drifts away from an awareness of external reality and the body and in which the closed eye sees a continuous procession of vivid and constantly changing forms. Whatever the case, the text certainly concludes with another altered state as the A4 rocket 00000 fired by Weissman/Blicero, the German lieutenant, from the Luneburg Heath in the last days of the war merges with the A4 rocket 00001 carrying Enzian. Perhaps, then, the whole text is the story of one rocket shrieking down on an LA movie theater and what one imagination contemplates between the perception of it and its reaching the last delta-t just above the roof.

Following this line of reasoning, everything in the text occurs at roughly the same time. All the past, present, and future is contained in a brief narrative now. This notion would jibe with Kurt Mondaugen's, the radio electronics specialist's, Law of Temporal Bandwidth he propounds in his Peenemünde office. According to him, one's personal density is proportional to one's Temporal Bandwidth which is "the width of your present, your now…. The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are." Slothrop, Mondaugen argues, is an extreme case of someone who has an infinitesimally thin Bandwidth since he cannot remember what he did even five minutes ago, and has no idea what he will do the next second; in fact, by the end it is so thin his personality dissipates completely. If one looks around, one finds that just about everyone in the novel has a thin (though not as thin as Slothrop's) Bandwidth. Only the narrator in his paranoid schizophrenia seems to have enough density to live in a wide Bandwidth. For him, the past, present, and future all happen now. They are almost interchangeable. Consequently, the idea of Newtonian time, where there exists a clear demarcation between one moment and the next, becomes meaningless. Instead, the text abandons the Newtonian belief in cause-and-effect and drifts into a world of statistical probability that de-emphasizes temporal sequence. "The blurring of causal relationships and the flux produced by rapid shifts in setting and unforeseen turns of events in Pynchon's fiction," John Stark notes in his study of the writer, "indicate that theory of time developed here is [an] ongoing one rather than the traditional theory that postulates a series of frozen moments that can be distinctly separated and remembered." Again to quote Robbe-Grillet, whose discussions of narrative often seem like descriptions of Pynchon's project: "Time seems to be cut off from its temporality…. Here space destroys time, and time sabotages space. Description makes no headway, contradicts itself, turns in circles." In the fantastic mode of discourse, time ceases to be linear and space ceases to be discrete. The universe tends toward indeterminacy like the infinitely extended library in Borges' fiction—and Pynchon makes multiple mention of him in his novel.

As I intimated in my reading of the opening pages of Pynchon's text, inherent instability displays itself even in the way the language functions. While earlier twentieth-century writers like Proust, Stevens, and Mann possessed an almost religious faith in the power of words to encompass and order reality, Pynchon rebels against the constraint of symmetry and harmony by trying to subvert "the insanely, endlessly diddling play of a chemist whose molecules are words," to overthrow the mystical power that accomplishes no more than "setting namer more hopelessly apart from named." For him language becomes a meaningless and joyous affirmative freeplay in a world without truth. As opposed to the uniform language employed by texts like Clarissa, Pride and Prejudice, Portrait of a Lady, or The Sun Also Rises—texts that fashion through their uniformity of language a uniform view of reality while insuring the reader that no adjustment to style and viewpoint will be demanded in the course of reading—Gravity's Rainbow employs a mixed language that revels in variety and potentiality. Such a language is an ideal vehicle, as Leonard Lutwack notes in his discussion of the novel form, "for the writer who is motivated by the spirit of irony and parody and who finds it impossible to remain committed to a single vision of reality." Further, he argues, the mixed style "has the effect of making the reader pass through a succession of contradictory and ambiguous attitudes; it offers no sure stylistic norm by which the reader may orient himself permanently to the fiction and to the point of view of the author." Thus, the use of mixed language refuses narrative closure.

Another way to discuss the disruptive capabilities of the language in Pynchon's text is to borrow Stephen Ullmann's concept of the lexical field, which he defines as "a closely organized sector of vocabulary, whose elements fit together and delimit each other like pieces of a mosaic. In each field some sphere of experience is analyzed, divided up and classified in a unique way." Pynchon continually frustrates reader-expectation by jamming one lexical field against another. He suspends traditional laws of lexical and tonal consistency and the verbal anarchy triggers the downfall of the narrator's attempt at self-confident syntax (hence, perhaps, his frequent breathless stutter). While such linguistic ruptures occur often at the level of page-long passages such as the narrator's long discussion of polymers (the lexical field of the chemist) or the derivation of a phrase like "Shit 'n' Shinola" (the lexical field of the etymologist), they also occur at the level of paragraph, and even sentence:

Most people's lives have ups and downs that are relatively gradual, a sinuous curve with first derivatives at every point. They're the ones who never get struck by lightening. No real idea of cataclysm at all. But the ones who do get hit experience a singular point, a discontinuity in the curve of life—do you know what the time rate of change is at a cusp? Infinity, that's what! A- and right across the point, it's minus infinity! How's that for a sudden change, eh? Infinite miles per hour changing to the same speed in reverse, all in a gnat's ass or red cunt hair of the t across the point. That's getting hit by lightening, folks.

Within these nine sentences play the lexical fields of the mathematician ("sinuous curve," "first derivatives"), physicist ("t across the point"), pop philosopher ("Most people's lives have ups and downs that are relatively gradual"), wit ("They're the ones who never get struck by lightening. No real idea of cataclysm at all."), breezy American ("Infinity, that's what!"), perhaps even pervert ("in a gnat's ass or red cunt hair"), and the colloquial speaker ("That's getting hit by lightening, folks."). The outcome is the linguistic equivalent of the pratfall, language slipping on a wordy banana peel and stumbling over its own feet. The value of one language register—and, finally language itself—is questioned by the existence of a multitude of others.

Such prose, reminiscent of chameleonic Gavin Trefoil, manifests as well an extremely high information density resulting from a chaotic epic cataloging of a grotesquely decedent universe. It is, as Jackson points out, a prose that "gathers together a massive amount of Cultural material as if it were so much waste matter, the waste of 'culture,' culture as waste, or garbage or excrement, on the page." It is manufactured by an unreliable narrator of indeterminate gender in an indeterminate place and time in, at very best, an indeterminate, mental state—less a narrator, actually, than a Beckettian Unnamable, a protean field of consciousness that can metamorphose into separate personae and—like the pod people in Don Siegel's 1956 version of Jack Finney's Invasion of the Body-Snatchers—incorporate their thought and language patterns. His (?) existential problem appears to be that in a universe of statistical probability rather than cause-and-effect he seems to know absolutely everything and everyone except what will happen in the next sentence. His is a consciousness that indicates radical alienation from Cartesian reason, and hence from society and history as others share it; a drive toward disruptions in human systems; an extreme dislocation from nature and deity; a subversion of the belief in form, balance, and order; a disintegration of public discourse and the production of an autodestructive mode of noncommunication.

Iv.

No wonder, then, that those journalists on the fifty-eighth annual Pulitzer Prize committee found Pynchon's third novel "over-written," "turgid," and "unreadable" (their "obscene" raises somewhat different questions concerning fantasy's ability and tendency to treat the underside of a culture). Gravity's Rainbow generates uncertainty and instability on both narrative and epistemological strata, casting the reader either in the role of "seeker" or "sought." The text force him to become either its We (the victim manipulated by the narrative equivalent of the Firm; an actor in a movie where the pages of the script have been shuffled like a deck of playing cards) or its They (the omnipresent "Pernicious Pop"; the unknowable manipulator who demands control over a text). Or perhaps, even more disconcerting, by some paranoid magic he must become both We and They at the same moment in this book of "nonanswers" ([David] Leverenz in Mindful Pleasures), this "metaphysical opposite of God's grace" ([Richard] Siegel), where he finds that those "like Slothrop, with the greatest interest in discovering the truth, were thrown back on dreams, psychic flashes, omens, cryptographies, drug-epistemologies, all dancing on a ground of terror, contradiction, absurdity." Enzian and the reader discover that:

We have to look for power sources here, and distribution networks we were never taught, routes of power our teachers never imagined, or were encouraged to avoid … we have to find meters whose scales are unknown to the world, draw our schematics, getting feedback, making connections, reducing the error, trying to learn the real function … zeroing in on what incalculable plot?

In other words, both Enzian and the reader realize that the fantastic text and universe require creative cooperation while at the same time interrogating all Enzian's and the reader's primary assumptions about the text and the universe. The reading process—both of the book and the universe—becomes one, then, of "decoding the Text, thus coding, recoding, redecoding the holy Text," but in the back of the Reader's mind always hovers the question: "If it is in working order, what is it meant to do?" Like the V-2 that both screams at the heart of the text and encloses it, the text offers itself to the Reader as "both organizer and destroyer." If he chooses to enter the text, the Reader must become the ultimate protagonist—and prevaricator—in a book that seeks to undermine the modernist paradigm of narrative and epistemological constructions; at one and the same time, he must live in a state of paranoia, where everything is connected, and what Pynchon calls anti-paranoia, "where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long."

Gravity's Rainbow, then, does not only question what it is to structure a traditional story, as in the section recounting Prentice's nightmare (?) of the giant adenoid attack or the passage about the woman who drowns and—like the text itself—teams with life and potential; it also questions what it is to structure a traditional culture, our Western culture gone consumer-oriented corporate American ("dawn is nearly here, I need my night's blood, my funding, funding, ahh more, more …") a culture based—like the language of the text itself—on an excess of matter and signs, destructive ambition, power struggles. By presenting their opposites (Pudding and the Domina Nocturna sequence), it examines what it is to structure a conventional grid of aesthetic and moral tastes. In this way, it lends itself as a subtle offer to transgress, to cross over into that which the dominant culture has silenced. A register of this is Pig Bodine's and Roger Mexico's verbal disruption of officialdom at the dinner party; through a careful escalation of deliberate misreadings of the menu, they move from "surprise roast" to "snot soup," "pus pudding," "menstrual marmalade" and "discharge dumplings." Theirs is the impulse of fantasy and deconstructionism—a bizarre freeplay among texts, a delight in possibility, a joyous affirmation of kinesis, an invitation to narrative and cultural illegality, a thrust outside dogma and law, an interrogation of ethnocentric constructs such as "reality," "reason," "order," "identity," "decorum," "truth," and "meaning," an overwhelming sense of frustration before a culture that jams desire. Gravity's Rainbow, then, may be read as a deconstructive fantasy that battles the prevalence of whiteness within itself—that omnipresent colorlessness associated with the behavioristic investigations at The White Visitation, that "dead" blankness, that "enemy of color," the image of closed systems, stasis, certainty—while delighting in the possibility of the rainbow, multiplicity, uncertainty, mindless pleasures, the metaphysical equivalent of the Zone, where "all fences are down, one road as good as another … without elect, without preterite, without even nationality to fuck it up."

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