Friday, November 26, 2004


From Nazi Defendants Venting by William Grimes, New York Times, 26 November 2004, review of The Nuremberg Interviews: An American Psychiatrist's Conversations With the Defendants and Witnesses:
In 1946, Leon Goldensohn, an Army psychiatrist, was handed the assignment of a lifetime. Six weeks into the Nuremberg trials, he was put in charge of the 21 imprisoned defendants, responsible for assessing their mental health and determining, in the words of a colleague, "what made those Nazis tick." ....The evasive verbal maneuvers of Oswald Pohl, in particular, roused his blood. Pohl, who ran the concentration camp system, struggled mightily to explain that one could administer a system without actually being responsible for what occurred in it. "About the murder of the five million Jews, I had nothing whatever to do with it," he said. " The fact that I was in charge of all the concentration camps in Germany from 1942 until the end is beside the point."

"Blicero had grown on, into another animal . . . a werewolf . . . but with no humanity left in its eyes: that had faded out, day after day, and been replaced by gray furrows, red veins in patterns that weren't human." [Gravity's Rainbow, 486]

Monday, November 22, 2004

the ultimate rocket builder

Wernher von Braun with John Glenn, left (credit: NASA)

As part of the 35th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, NASA reprinted a small book titled Apollo: A Retrospective. It is a collection of documents relating to discussions and decisions made before and during the Apollo program, and serves as a reference to those who want more information about the thought processes of decision makers that led up to that day in July 1969. One document in particular, Wernher von Braun’s concluding remarks from an all-day meeting on June 7th, 1962, sheds light on an early, critical decision in the Apollo program: which method should America use to land humans on the Moon? The author captured the document in electronic format (the book version is typewritten with sections underlined by hand, and an Internet search did not reveal a copy on the Web. If there is one, don’t tell me), and it can be found here.

Imagine the scene: A smoke-filled room at Marshall Space Flight Center, with representatives of every specialty at Marshall present. Dr. Joseph Shea, the Deputy Director (Systems) of the Office of Manned Space Flight, has been hearing presentations for the last six hours. The American effort to reach the Moon has been scattered, with various centers pushing their own method of accomplishing President Kennedy’s goal, and the diffuse effort is hampering real progress towards that goal. Throughout the day, executives from Marshall present their ideas as to why Earth Orbit Rendezvous is the way to go to the Moon, despite a rising tide of opinion throughout NASA that there may be better, faster ways.

Wernher von Braun was a rocket builder. In many ways, he was the ultimate rocket builder.

Then, the time comes for Dr. von Braun to speak. Wernher von Braun, the German ex-patriot who ran the Nazi ballistic missile effort starting at 25 years of age. The man who, while always dreaming of building rockets and spacecraft for journeys to the Moon, put those dreams on hold while at the same time allowing them to come true as he worked to build the first large rocket, knowing that it would be used to rain terror on the people of London. After World War 2, seeing that exploration was not yet a priority, he stayed with military programs for the United States, building missiles to carry nuclear warheads for the next envisioned war in Europe. Once the US consolidated its peacetime space efforts under one agency, his goal came closer to reality.

Wernher von Braun was a rocket builder. In many ways, he was the ultimate rocket builder. When asked his opinion of how America should tackle the goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, his plans involved building many rockets to assemble a craft in Earth orbit (a plan known as Earth Orbit Rendezvous, EOR) or to build a massive rocket and blast directly to the surface of the moon (Direct Ascent). it all: Decision point by Tom Hill, The Space Review

...But no mention in that glorifying account (nor in the 1962 meeting, pynchonoid bets) of von Braun's knowledge that slave labor - individual people who suffered and died - built the V2:
Pokler helped with his own blindness. He knew about Nordhausen, and the Dora camp: he could see--the starved bodies, the eyes of the foreign prisoners being marched to work at four in the morning in the freezing cold and darkness, the shuffling thousands in their striped uniforms. [Gravity's Rainbow, p. 428]

Sunday, November 21, 2004

flushing out Slothrop

While still under the influence of sodium amytal at PISCES, Slothrop imagines himself slithering down a toilet at the Roseland Ballroom in order to escape Malcolm X and a “dark gang of awful Negroes”[2] who are attempting to sodomize him.  However, while he avoids anal penetration at the hands of Malcolm X and his cohorts, Slothrop’s trip down the pipes forces him to face the byproducts of anal expulsion that fill the sewage lines.  Slothrop thus deflects the site of danger from his own “virgin asshole”[3] to the filth produced by the assholes of others—including his Harvard acquaintances and his African-American pursuers.  The racial images that pervade his dream indicate that Slothrop associates the proliferation of shit with the encroachment of social spaces he hopes to maintain as distinct.  However, the more Slothrop endeavors to avoid his drug-induced phantasms, the more he finds himself engulfed in excremental space.  He immerses himself in the realm of filth, and must contend with “toilet paper in his hair and a fuzzy thick dingleberry lodged up inside his right nostril.”[4]  His plunge generates both fears and desires:  the prospect of homosexual activity with the “awful Negroes” repulses and entices him, as we learn when the narrator muses that Slothrop’s vision in the sewage pipes may have arisen out of a latent wish “to be sodomized, unimaginably, by a gigantic black ape.”[5]  Furthermore, Pynchon portrays the blackness, disorder, and vulnerability that Slothrop discovers in the toilet as a potential site of refuge from the even more threatening triad of “Strength, Stability, and Whiteness”[6] that stands for the rocket cartel and its seemingly ubiquitous cohorts, who have initiated Slothrop’s psychological evaluation.  Shit opens a space of narrative chaos in GR that both overwhelms and beckons to Slothrop,[7]  who initially battles the excrementally-infused Other of his vision, and later locates in the chaotic world of blackness tentative possibilities for hope. it all: Scatology and the Postmodern Subject: Tyrone Slothrop's Excremental Encounters in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. (Thanks to Dave Monroe for posting the link to PYNCHON-L.)