Tuesday, September 24, 2002

He links John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X at one point in Gravity’s Rainbow, “Eventually Jack and Malcolm both got murdered” (688). In another section of Rainbow he creates for us a realm of assassins, a resort, a resting place where they can reduce the terrible stress they live with daily. The characters in this place treat each other kindly, participating in exercises to rid themselves of the guilt, the shame, the self-loathing, the sense of personal responsibility that comes with their professional calling. To sugarcoat the brutality Pynchon uses humor. The resort of assassins is actually a quite funny scene, filled with applications to everyday bureaucratic life, the observations of a Thurberesque voyager in Dante’s Inferno. Pynchon writes:

“The worst part’s the shame,” Sir Stephen tells him. “Getting through that. Then your next step–well, I talk like an old hand, but that’s really only as far as I’ve come, up through the shame. At the moment I’m involved with the ‘Nature of Freedom’ drill you know, wondering if any action of mine is truly my own, or if I always do only what They want me to do [. . . ]’ (541)
“Have I been assigned here?”
“Yes. Are you beginning to see why?”
“‘I’m afraid I am.’ With everything else, these are, after all, people who kill each other […] ‘then I defected for nothing, didn’t I? I mean, if I haven’t really defected at all . . .’ (542)
“[…] No one has ever left the Firm alive, no one in history–and no one ever will.”
“Think of it as a handicap, Prentice, like any other, like missing a limb or having malaria . . . one can still live . . . one learns to get round it, it becomes part of the day– […]
“You don’t, you really don’t trust me?”
“Of course not […] Would you–really–trust any of us?” (543)

Under the black humor, under the parody of manners, Pynchon is evoking a genuine dread that there have been times in history, and the present seems to be one, when cadres of coordinated assassins act in the everyday scheme of things.

...from a must-read article on Pynchon, Pynchon’s Inferno, by Charles Hollander.