There is little in popular culture that attracts me. I do not know if it has to do with middle age or with growing spiritual awareness. I avoid it and mainstream media, because they upset my peace of mind, which I value highly.
I don’t watch television. Truthfully, I should say I watch it very rarely. I used to be allergic to it. I couldn’t sit still in front of the machine. Videos online used to have the same effect. They made me squirm uncontrollably. That changed. I can physically sit in front of the TV now and watch, but I honestly hate most of what I see. It’s garbage. Recently, I watched the short series Vicious starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi on PBS. I enjoyed that. It was well done. I have not seen anything else in many years, and in my opinion, I’m fine. I haven’t missed a thing.
I can’t read pop fiction. I like reading, and I spend a lot of time doing it. I read books that interest me. I recently finished Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon for the umpteenth time in the last thirty years. Seriously, I have read it too many times to count. It’s good. I recommend it. Right now, I’m reading two books about reaching the spirit world through ritual body postures. The books are fascinating. One is Ecstatic Body Postures by Belinda Gore, and the other is Where the Spirits Ride the Wind by Dr. Felicitas Goodman. I also read a lot about theatre, acting, and directing for the stage. I read good books. Please, don’t get me started on James Patterson.
I don’t watch the news from mainstream media. Yes, I am very much an American, but I get most of my news from BBC and The Guardian. I like the new news website Vox very much.
I never have the radio on in my car. I can’t tell you anything about pop music. I have wide-ranging tastes in music, but they tend toward lyrical and classical. I recently started listening to the British singer Sam Smith. He’s very good.
I like the artist Andy Warhol’s quote very much:
Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign again the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.
I love art, and I’ve seen some signs that were truly high art. There was one for a liquor store on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, Texas, that was spectacular. It was like a space ship landed on the corner with lights blinking and exploding all over the place. It was gorgeous. Yes, I like the pop art of Andy Warhol. I’m contradictory. Forgive me.
I love America, too. It’s messy. Sometimes there are ugly bits that force their way into view, but on the whole, America is all right. I’m an optimist. Forgive me.
I’m thinking about me today. As I mentioned in the previous post, I have read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon over the last thirty years or so too many times to count. Last night as I lay in bed drifting into sleep, I began to question why.
The book has been a companion to me. It’s been with me everywhere. I’ve read it in bed, in easy chairs, in trains and planes, and on the beach. It’s frustrated me and comforted me. It has assailed me with riddles, and it has spoken clear words of encouragement.
I’m rereading it now, and its message seems so distinctly simple.
Yes, there is a lot we don’t control about our world. Yes, there are powerful forces who exert control over vast amounts of energy, and They are not friendly. However, those elites do not hold quite as much control as They imagine. They are not omniscient.
Resistance is real, and it works. We can play the part of double agents, living in Their systems and simultaneously sabotaging them.
Connection is key. The elite divide us. We must come together. We can touch each other, and They can’t stop us. Through small acts, we can thwart Them, and we win when we do.
Their systems – the rocket – crave sacrifice. They destroy. But even that technology of death connects. The launcher and the dying are one in the flight of the rocket.
What can we preterite do in the face of such radical destruction? Look to our hero Slothrop. We can narrow our Delta-t band. Live as much now, leaving the past and the future to Them. Live! It’s the thing that scares Them most.
* * *
Why do I read Gravity’s Rainbow?
My relationship with the book is about my relationship with myself. I can see myself maturing as I have read it over and over. I discovered me in its pages.
I have read passages that utterly confused me. They were times I did not know my own way through the world. I have read dream sequences with tangled words, and I have felt peace. These were times I was grateful for the turmoil around me. I saw the path through the rubble of my life.
I have no illusions before me as I read it now. I am one with myself, and the pages dissolve as I turn them. The words register and leave their impressions, and I smile.
The book is complex, but so is the world They have made for us to pick our ways through. We must each bring our dead as we join the resistance, and we must touch each other. We must bare our skin and open to our lashes we lay on ourselves. We must own our selves. We must touch.
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon is my vade mecum, a guidebook carried constantly.
I read it first while still an undergraduate in the early 80s. We’d read Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 in a class, and I liked it. I decided to read what was purported to be his best work, which had won the National Book Award, and I was not disappointed. I remember standing in my English professor’s little office, and she asked me what made me think I could possibly tackle such a book.
“Arrogance?” I quipped.
She guffawed and slapped her desk.
Gravity’s Rainbow is a puzzle to many readers. It confounded me for a very long time. I think the best way to describe it is entwined.
The book opens in a dream of a labyrinthine knotting of passageways and trails that lead steadily into a deeper place, a level further below, revealing still new permutations of existence than were readily available at first glance. People trudge through the space neither succumbing nor escaping. They simply move.
A master storyteller like Pynchon knows the opening must reveal the whole in some way. This opening language weaves in and out of various levels of understanding of the dream, and we’re alerted to the notion we will journey through a maze that will lead us deeper into the story, the characters, the themes, the words, and even ourselves as readers.
I don’t think there’s anything extra in this book. I have read it so many times I’ve lost count. That’s honest. I’m rereading it again, and it’s very clear this time through. I’ve had questions about the book for many years, decades. I am getting answers this time.
Yes, the language is convoluted at times. It’s serpentine, and it’s done for a reason. I think the times when the words double back on themselves and lead the reader to the place where he questions what he’s just read and where he is in the text are to push him out of his easy chair and into a new way of knowing, a new way of questioning how a book and a reader are supposed to relate to each other.
The scientist is observer and observed. The rocket is one with launcher and victim. Separation is a myth invented by our minds to control our environments. The reader is whole in the act of reading, and the book is not an object but a function in the equation. Connection is key. Singularity as opposed to duality seeps through the language. We are all whole in our beings as we move through our days. Verbs are vital.
“A screaming comes across the sky” is the opening sentence. There are only six words, and two of them function like verbs. They act on the reader. They move. “Screaming” conjures a host of terrors, nightmares, banshees. “Comes” sits there simple enough. Surely. It’s a small word. Or does it act in another way here? Where does it put us, the readers? Aren’t we left underneath the noise listening to it peak and recede, leaving us shaking in our boots and thankful for escape? We’re sorry enough for the poor sods under the rocket when it stopped screaming and left only dust and rubble, but really, better him than me, eh?
Our hero, Tyrone Slothrop, educates us as he hops across Europe. He’s an American lost and helpless amongst these tired Europeans. He grows in his knowledge of the trappings of his own life and its tie to the rocket, and he is transformed into the Rocketman when he is liberated from the ties binding him to his Earthly existence. He transcends.
I am enjoying this read through the book immensely. The words shine on the pages or the screen, as it is. Yes, I like my e-reader very much. I carry a library in my palm. The world’s books await. It’s a gift, and I like it.
I had so many questions when I read it the first few times. There was so much that eluded me, and now I see it was my own life I was questioning as a young man. I’m not young any more. I’m middle aged. Like Slothrop, I’ve evolved. I don’t fight the words. They lie there. I take them in. They work their wonders in my mind calling up all sorts of ideas and pictures and feelings and memories. Together, we make a story.
The night’s sounds trilling through my window while I read are just as much a part of the event as the book and I are. It’s all there, and nothing gets left out.
“Soup” should be a verb.
Gravity’s Rainbow soups its way into my being, and together we grow.
Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles
Homer, The Iliad
My lungs become bellows, and I release words. I regret nothing said. I was in a safe place and with people who like me. My thoughts are my own. I am a kind, generous, understanding man.
What you heard was honest. I can’t control how you interpret what you decide you heard.
I don’t even care.
Anger has a place, and I felt it. I used it. I am done with it now.
I forgive me.
“You?” Not my problem.
Bleeding Edge will be available in just two days, and I can’t wait. It’s Thomas Pynchon’s newest book, and the reviews promise more of what I love about his work: conspiracies, paranoia, funny names, and a critical eye on modernism. The setting is New York City in 2001. Pynchon writes about history and how events shape people. His plots always threaten to drown the characters in impossibly complex underworlds. His books stop me and force me to think about my little place in the world.
I read his most famous work, Gravity’s Rainbow, when I was a university student, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. That was back in the early 80s before the Internet. It was back before personal computers and the World Wide Web were ubiquitous. Books were made of paper.
I spent last evening delving into the dark underbelly of Amazon’s Kindle books downloading all the free ones I could find. I got some great stuff. I found well over a hundred, which are now stored safely on my computer and even more loosely in The Cloud.
I have not downloaded any of Pynchon’s books onto my Kindle. Bleeding Edge will be the first.
Back when I read all books on paper, I kept a little one of quotes I found particularly poignant. I have wide ranging entries from many different sources. Gravity’s Rainbow moved me to include a few as well.
Yet the continuity, flesh to kindred metals, home to hedgeless sea, has persisted. It is not death that separates the incarnations, but paper: paper specialties, paper routines.
These sentences come early in the book before the conspiracies are too thick. The idea that there is a connection between the animate and inanimate is praised. Human bureaucracy and man made definitions push things apart.
Pynchon values love and all its entanglements. Roger Mexico writes movingly about Jessica:
You go from dream to dream inside me. You have passage to my last shabby corner, and there, among the debris, you’ve found life. I’m no longer sure which of all the words, images, dreams or ghosts are “yours” and which are “mine.” It’s past sorting out. We’re both being someone new now, someone incredible….
Here is not only love but touching the deepest core. Here is where real human interaction shows us importance.
And then there are the missiles. Roger and Jessica shelter in each other’s arms while bombs fall on London. On the other side of the war, Franz Pokler works designing them to go aloft. He experiences the change in the environment where the scientists labor.
No one was specializing yet. That came later, when the bureaus and paranoias moved in, and the organization charts became plan-views of prison cells.
The team succumbed to the bureaus. Men define and separate instead of build up and celebrate.
Is redemption possible in the post-modern world? Is there no more connection? Will even the rainbow surrender?
…plastic saxophone reed sounds of unnatural timbre, shampoo bottle ego-image, Cracker Jack prize one-shot amusement, home appliance casing fairing for winds of cognition, baby bottles tranquilization, meat packages disguise of slaughter, dry-cleaning bags infant strangulation, garden hoses feeding endlessly the desert…
In the end, Tyrone Slothrop, the Rocketman, fades somewhere we seemingly cannot follow, and we wonder. We hope. We pray:
But an Aether sea to bear us world-to-world might bring us back a continuity, show us a kinder universe, more easy-going….
Should we look to the heavenly spheres that assuaged us before Copernicus obliterated them? Where do we fit into Galileo’s assertion “It moves”? Are humans evolution’s pinnacle or just a chance occurrence? Is continuity after Hiroshima and Nagasaki merely a dream? Can we love any more?
I hope Bleeding Edge enlightens some of the dark corners of our questions.
“Every book is a children’s book, if the kid can read!”
When most I wink then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected,
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou whose shadow shadows doth make bright
How would thy shadow’s form, form happy show,
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would (I say) mine eyes be blessed made,
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade,
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
Shakespeare’s sonnet 43 instructs us to see best with eyes closed and to ignore the objects of the mundane day, for it is in sleep’s dreams that light shines, eyeing love.
Shadows brighten at the passing of sightless eyes.
The poet breaks the fourth wall. and he questions the wide world to instruct on how to see by day what lies heaviest on sleeping lids.
While others spend their days as others might, the man waits for night’s bright dreams to see his beloved.
I’m the proud father of two teenage girls. Part of the pride lies in their love of reading and especially their love of reading books with strong female characters. In an effort to encourage their learning about women’s issues, I’m asking for ideas of what books they should read. I’m hoping to find books about women’s lives and about the feminist movement. Your suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Please, leave a comment.
Artemis Dreamt is probably where I’ll start. It’s hard to resist since I read the early manuscript. The book has a troubled girl who journeys and discovers abandonment. New novelist Crystal Beran wrote an excellent YA book.
A good friend found this list on Bitch Media for me in answer to my search. I showed it to a librarian friend, and she said while it’s a good one, she cautioned that some of the titles might be too young for my daughters who are fifteen and seventeen. The Sweet In-Between from the list looks quite intriguing, though.
My librarian friend recommended this Norton Anthology, but I wonder if it might be too daunting for a first introduction to the genre. She also suggested The Essential Feminist Reader, which I’m more inclined to offer my daughters.
I relish searching for books, and I love to give gifts. Here, I get to satisfy two desires at once. My other penchant is for real classics, so I want to have them delve immediately into Sappho. I have to be careful to consider their wants, too.
I had the great fortune to live abroad for quite a number of years as a young adult. I called Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, England, and France home at one time or another. Reading travel writing is one of my favorites, and I get the most pleasure from what experienced writers have to say about their jaunts. I like both fiction and nonfiction when it comes to stories about life overseas.
Graham Greene wrote often about the many different places he visited. He is well known for The Quiet American, and I have a couple of favorite quotes from the book.
[Americans] were so charming, and I wanted to send them home too. (Part 3, ch. 2, 2)
Americans abroad need protection. We’re too cute for our own good.
“Perhaps you ought to have been a priest.” [Thomas]
“I didn’t read the right authors for that — in those days.” [Vigot] (Part 3, ch. 1, 1)
Reading plays an important formative role for all of us, and perhaps it’s a bit different for those who ruminate over words. I was marked and changed by Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The words, characters, and ideas of the book invaded my head at a young age. My university English professor, who guided me through Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, asked me why I’d thought I could read such a tome. My quick, youthful and honest reply was “Arrogance.”
Mark Twain traveled, and of course, he wrote.
The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak, now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother. I shall always delight to meet an ass after my own heart when I shall have finished my travels. Innocents Abroad, vol. 1, ch. 23
Of course, I am a consummate ass and a proud one, too. There’s such a wide world to see, and in the twenty-first century, it takes very little to become a consummate ass. Join us.