Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some of the People, Places and Things I'd Never Heard About Before Reading Gravity's Rainbow

The V-1. The V-2. The A-4. Kyrgyzstan. How the Soviet Union gave alphabets and written vernaculars to its previously illiterate nationalities. Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz. The benzine ring. IG Farben. The fact that Shell Oil maintained companies of great strategic importance for both sides in both Allied and Axis territory all throughout WWII. The Poisson distribution. Entropy. Plasticman. The Zoot Suit Riots. The genocide of the Herero. Margaret Dumont. The Spartakists. The cities of Nördlingen and Peenemünde. All of these were new to me when I came across a copy of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow in a used-book store in 1974 or '75, when I was 13 or 14 years old. German rockets fired on London? Shell seeming to have no qualms about profiting from the war efforts of both sides during WWII? Math and chemistry which were actually interesting?

I checked all of these things and found that they were in fact nonfictional. So you can see, perhaps, that my world was broadened a little.

And then there was the matter of prose style, unfettered by considerations of "high" or "low," setting a good example for me before I'd had the chance to take seriously those who might tell me a piece of writing had to be one or the other. Thanx Tom.

And an inkling of the multiplicity of the world's culture was given to me, before some single ideology had had a chance to plant itself deep into me, with proto-Beatnik hipsters, upper-middle-class British, somewhat lower middle-class British and overachieving working class, tossed together by the War and all quite uncomfortable with each other, zoot suiters, Soviet functionaries, Kyrgyz tribespeople, German Communists resisting the Nazis, rich decadent sexual perverts (It's okay, that's how they would've described themselves), gauchos, pre-Bop jazzmen, grim American Calvinists, cynical American Calvinist businessmen, Chinese opium addicts, witches, dopers, Swedenborgian mystics, Navy lifers and others and many characters who were several of the above at once all in the mix.

You can tell I like the book a lot, right? But any praise is insufficient. Read it.

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