Reading Gravity's Rainbow in the flooded zone
I would like to push back a bit on a couple of instances because defending and appreciating Gravity's Rainbow is one of my missions on Earth.
First, I would say that to be human is not necessarily something you do or are, but something that is instantiated in between the dichotomies we may use to understand the world better. Everything is connected, everything is random, and we belong as humans at the interstices of those two poles that are never truly separated but still pull to each other constantly to never get far apart. Novels from before seldom got that except through sheer force of linguistic suggestion, which is as powerful as ever but in Pynchon is confined to the encyclopedic tendencies that throw you around to make you understand: you are not ever in firm ground, you are at the canyons, ever changing and every canyon is connected and every canyon is random.
Second, it is indeed more uncomfortable to read it now than fifty years ago; in the 70s we could not fully appreciate how these things are just expressly true, that we will never figure out the firm ground, and our paranoia can either be set aside for us to pretend everything is fine or just engorge without end, we as its reliant feeders. As hyperdemocracy takes over slowly but surely and shit is flooded all over, Gravity's Rainbow ceases to be amusing at parts, to become "merely" prescient. In a sense, it is good that you are not buying it: you still have something to actually strive for and you can ignore paranoid thoughts. Unless you do not hear the rocket coming.
You did love it, you sly dog, unwittingly referencing the Zone as you did!
Reading your first few paragraphs, I thought, "I wonder what he thinks about Catch-22." It's funny you answered it, and I think you did an expert job of correlating and contrasting the two novels.
I loved both novels. You also seem to be correct in your analysis of Gravity's Rainbow, it's just that I liked it. Growing up, I only heard of WWII referenced in the most glowing of terms, as if it's constituent parts were infallible and immune to the problems of every war that came afterward. Heller certainly dispelled that notion, and Pynchon showed that his schizo-paranoiac world wasn't unique to the post-cultural revolution era.
It's been a few years since I've read Gravity's Rainbow, but the aspects of the novel I enjoyed the most were the, loosely connected though they have been, vignettes of different characters. The whole octopus bit elicited a laugh or two. But, I also appreciated some of the themes he established. Granted some passages were slogs, but how he characterized the human penchant and fetish of death I thought was particularly poignant.
But the paranoia that both novels share is that of the enemy's gunfire. As you stated, the mood of the entire Pynchon novel is colored by the unknown rocket that looms above and strikes with no warning - save for an erection? And how Heller's Yossarian made the general, the personal. "They're trying to kill me, they're shooting at me!" I'm paraphrasing but you get the point. Both works are steeped in the sort of erraticism that presents itself when you realize that death lurks behind every corner - and the lust that accompanies it.
Thanks for the article! Cheers.