Monday, September 21, 2009

Gravity's Rainbow Read-Along: Week 1 (p 1-70)

How did everybody do? Please post your status updates--successes or failures!--things you thought were interesting, hopes for the future, thoughts about bananas? Please! Let the comments flow like banana syrup!

I'm plowing through, yes I am, but I gotta admit there were times I wanted to gouge out my eyes Oedipus-style.

28 comments:

John said...

These first 70 pages were surprisingly easy to follow! I just posted some thoughts on the section in general, and one sentence that I thought illuminated what was going on (for me, at least) over on my blog: http://short-list.blogspot.com

If you don't feel like heading over there, the sentence that really stuck out to me was Pointsman's concern that "Postwar" will be nothing but events, with cause and effect destroyed. I thought this was a comment on the structure of the novel as a whole (for example, we don't know the reason for Slothrop's "Trainspotting" hallucination until the next section, when it's (kind of) explained.

The next section is much, much more difficult. And more disgusting than Slothrop climbing through the toilet, in its own way. Also, does anyone know who the Kenosha Kid is? Apparently Orson Welles was born there, but I'm not sure of the significance.

6p00e54eef9f088834 said...

Ditto on the "Kenosha Kid." Although I googled around and it seems that no one knows what/who it is.

Word choices like "dream drooling" and "among these yellow chandeliers; this tropical twilight" have kept me reading so far. But I'm not committed yet.

Sandra Gail Lambert said...

Oops, my name in the previous comment was mangled in a way worthy of Slothop's codes. Let's try again. Anyway, this is Sandra Lambert

moonrat said...

John--if the first 70 p were "easy to follow" I wonder if I'm going to survive this!!

Anyway my opinion on the Kenosha Kid was that it (and all the text around it over those 2-3 pages) was an exercise in word-warping and name assignment. You know how all those phrases kind of escalate by moving punctuation around? Just... to maybe show that an enemy/nemesis might be no more than a means of psyching yourself out that you built out of your own warping of events/statements/whatever.

I mean, that's what I'd thought. Eep.

Kate said...

Seriously, the whole time I was reading my fingers were twitching for a blue pencil. Of course I'm wondering why I just don't get it when this is obviously an Important Book. I'm trying to think of it as one of those I-Spy kid's books: there is a clear overall structure, it's just made up of a gazillion more details than the usual book.

Unfortunately, I am an OCD details-oriented person by profession. Skimming is nigh impossible for me.

So yeah, bogged down.

moonrat said...

Kate--I'm exactly the way you describe yourself.

One of the benefits of that type of reading is that never does a new word go by--I underline it and look it up and thereby learn things. But somehow with this book understanding all the words in a sentence does not amount to having any idea what's going on.

John said...

Maybe "easy to follow" was the wrong phrase. Maybe it's more like there was more of a structure than what I've read so far of the next section. We get Roger Mexico and Pointsman and Pirate all doing things, not just lost inside their own heads (or others' heads) the whole time. I've started to realize that the long digressions are part of the structure..we're not going to get an "a, then b, then c," but we will get "a, then r, then l, and finally back to b, although it won't be the b you were hoping for."

Kate said...

That's a good tip. Right now I forget that I didn't know a word (or several) by the time I get to the end of a paragraph. Or course, that is probably because twenty minutes have elapsed...

Lydia Sharp said...

Some quick comments/observations/musings:

1) I never knew there were so many different ways to prepare meals consisting solely of bananas.

2) Pynchon has a penchant for marathon sentences, lists of random objects, and the ellipsis.

3) Guiness book of records worthy: a 41-word hyphenated phrase on page 34 (in my copy). Gold star!

4) Some of the descriptive wording is brilliant. Made my jaw drop, heart stop, gasp in awe type thing.

5) The story (once you find it among the words) is actually quite compelling.

I agree some parts are a bit of a struggle to get through, but overall, I'm glad I'm reading it.

moonrat said...

John--well put! I think you must be right about that. I didn't pin it for episodic until the Roger/Jessica/dog piece, and then began to wish I'd been reading without searching for an overall plot from the beginning.

BTW--anyone think "Roger and Jessica" inspired Roger Rabbit? Or is that too ridiculous? It's just that once one finds Trainspotting in the text, one starts looking for other connections...

Lydia Sharp said...

In response to Kate, I've penciled through this one, too. Lots of circled words that I had to look up (I think my favorite was phantasmagoria), and lots of remarks in the margins (one of them was "WTF just happened? That was awesome!")

Kate said...

Lydia wrote, "The story (once you find it among the words) is actually quite compelling."

This sums it up well.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Living vicariously through your tortured ramblings on reading this one.

Imogen said...

Gravity's rainbow and The Wheel of Time all at once? Forgive me, but are you a masochist?...

Cat said...

I kind of agree with John about "surprisingly easy to follow," in that I thought it was going to be much, much worse. I mean, some of it's a slog - the hallucination passage, etc. - and I feel like I don't have a great grasp of how much time is passing between scenes - how much time does everyone thinks passes in the first 70 pages? - but so far I've been at least able to figure out who is in each scene, sort of what they're up to, and what the connections between them may be.

I was a little worried that it would be more Finnigan's Wake-esque than it is, is what I'm trying to say.

Totally agree with Sandra on the yellow chandeliers/tropical twilight line as standing out for me, but the prose has been quite beautiful thus far, which has helped bring me through the confusing sections.

Question: maybe I'm just being thick, but what's the connection between the first page-and-a-half (the evacuation-by-train scene) and the next morning when we find ourselves with Prentice? Is that him inhabiting someone's fantasy?

moonrat said...

Imogen--heh. No comment. But I found they actually make a very nice complement.

In that I'm not allowed to read further in WoT until I've finished my alotment of GravRain.

Lydia Sharp said...

Cat,

I'm having the same issues you are regarding passage of time. I have no clue through most of it. But it's not distracting enough to cause frustration. Yet.

ratty,

Way to promote self-inflicted torture. I'll be sure to forward you the bill from my therapist.

The Rejectionist said...

Y'all know about this book, right?

Kat said...

I kind of fell off the map for a week (had a stoner's cold- all I wanted to do was eat, sleep, and watch tv), so I thought I was behind and now yay! Find out I'm not.

I had trouble at first because my brain wanted the text to be cohesive. Once I let go, and read it as stream-of-consciousness, I enjoyed it for the most part. I might be too dense, however, to pick apart the text too much.

Bruce Pollock said...

Just wanted you to know, in solidarity with you all, I've recently picked up Vineland. Now I'm 200 pages into it and finding it remarkably of a piece with Inherent Vice.

Natasha Solomons said...

Oh God. I've been bad. The London meeting is not till Sunday so Gravrain sits on my desk under a congealing cup of coffee. Unread.

I'll start tonight in bed.

SomedayAuthor said...

I think I'm a bit behind and agree that 'easy to read' is not the description I would choose.

I am drifting back and forth a bit between moments where I unearth the story where it is buried under mounds of well-crafted language and moments where I am utterly confused at what is going on.

I also have the same question about how the first couple of pages connect to the rest of the story. Do we just not know yet or did I miss it?

Other than that, I can't say I'm NOT enjoying it, exactly. Here's to catching up by next week's check-in!

Zena and Joshua said...

I'd say to the chronologically-challenged: don't worry about it so much, the action seems to happen in roughly chronological order.

I'm using Fowler's 'A reader's guide to GR' as my guidebook, and it's been essential. I read the 'Guide' entry on a particular chapter, and then read the chapter, and it helps me keep my bearings in spite of GR's topsy-turviness.

What I find unnerving about GR is that, at times, the narrative is completely rational: they're making banana breakfast, Bloat is spying on Slothrop's office, Spectro is pushing an octopus on Pointsman, Pointsman and Mexico are chasing a dog. But then, at other times, the narrative is hallucinatory, even metaphorical, a fantasia -- like the trip down the loo or (forgive me, can't remember if this was in the first 70 pages or not) Katje and Blicero and Hansel and Gretel and the Oven.

I think, too, that part of the point is to let yourself go to the insanity and paranoia of the novel, and that this effect mirrors some of the overarching themes of the novel, that in the modern world we're always giving ourselves over, almost in spite of ourselves, to something unexplainable and pitch black, something that has an ill intent towards us...

jb said...

With regards to the temporal confusion, I think this line, from Episode 1:4, sums it up: "A lot of stuff prior to 1941 is getting blurry now."

moonrat said...

Thanks, all, for your ongoing comments.

I've found that a lot of things I let pass me by--which I noticed but didn't register--came back to me when someone else mentioned them; the group format here, then, is especially helpful. It basically unearthed what I'd read but not fully computed.

I hope we can keep chatting week after week!

Jane Steen said...

I'm enjoying Gravity's Rainbow. It's certainly got some memorable writing: "Death has come in the pantry door: stands watching them, iron and patient, with a look that says try to tickle me" is my favorite so far.

I see a consistent theme of a world gone mad from too much death. The V2 rocket, which makes an appearance in the novel's first line, is a constant motif of totally random death of which several of the characters seem to be trying to make sense. Yes, there are a ton of characters, but they all link up through these themes, at least I think so.

I agree with Moonrat about the Kenosha Kid - I think it's wordplay as the drugs get a hold of Slothrop.

All the comments on Twitter are really keeping me interested!

Megan said...

I am already behind! This can't be a good sign! I'd reached page 40 by Monday night, but will try this weekend to make sure I'm on schedule. I find it interesting, though slightly (slightly?) scattered and hard to follow. I can't say I quite have a grasp of what it's about other than confusion in wartime. That being said, I enjoy anything that seems absurd and unrealistic, so I'm definitely intrigued to keep going. It feels like a dream which is one of my favorite things to feel when reading or watching something.

Linda said...

I'm half-way through the first 70 pages and I feel like I'm floating down a stream of beautiful words. The prose lulls and mesmerizes, makes me feel drugged. Not a bad thing ;^)

I am not reading any synopses or wikiblurbs or anything, just taking the book 'virginal'.

Very male and direct story. So far, so good. Back later when I finish the first allottment... Peace, Linda