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  • Tarot and Gravity's Rainbow
  • Campbell Tatham (bio)

"The remainder of the message," Weissman continued, "now reads: DIEWELTISTALLESWASDERFALLIST."

—Thomas Pynchon, V.

Enter Tyrone Slothrop. He is pondering his ancestors' long and exploitive relationship with trees: "Slothrop's family actually made its money killing trees, amputating them from their roots, chopping them up, grinding them to pulp, bleaching that to paper and getting paid for this with more paper" (Gravity's Rainbow 553). "That's insane," he realizes—yet we immediately understand his complicity, and our own (for they are also our ancestors). We all exist, in a sense, precisely through the medium of paper; shit, money, and the word meet at a paper interface: con/texts. Though the enemy is always at some point within us, still we must be prepared to deal with the ancestors who continue outside and around us. Slothrop becomes increasingly aware of the apparent enormity of the forces aligned against him, as against so many forms of "individual life," and voices the frustration frequently felt in the early 70s (as well as today): "I can't do anything about those people, they're all out of my reach. What can I do?" (553). A nearby pine answers simply and sharply: "Next time you come across a logging operation out there, find one of their tractors that isn't being guarded, and take its oil filter with you. That's what you can do" (553).

In Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon explores a variety of responses to the realization that there are "powers" out there that are actively hostile to individually creative growth. Familiar enough is the recommendation of the trees: do whatever you can to subvert the workings of those powers. Then perhaps consider hooking into already existing subversive groups, "developing," as Pirate Prentice explains, "at least as thorough a We-system as a They-system" (638). But the fundamental problem with the so-called Counterforce that Prentice recommends is that it grants a compelling reality-status to the very description it opposes: so long as They are given the authority to decide what counts as any system, They will be able to control and eventually assimilate the would-be rebel. The dialectic of force and counterforce must ultimately strengthen the oppressive grid; it is the grid itself that must be transfigured. Reflecting back on his own activities with the Yippies, Jerry Rubin laments the ease with which he had been turned into little more than what Pynchon calls Their "doomed pet freaks" (713):

In the movement of the sixties we were guilty of many of the things we were fighting against in America. We were male chauvinists, we competed, we were entranced by the mystique of violence, we glorified youth, we lost touch with our bodies, we oversimplified [End Page 581] reality, we became images to each other while playing the theater of protest. We OD'd on our own energy. . . . We needed to stop—and look. It is vital for us to go inward and see how similar we are to the society and the parents against whom we are protesting. Changes cannot be made on the political level alone, or the society we are changing will be repeated. We must examine our own process.


If, as Pynchon suggests, "the Man has a branch office in each of our brains" (712), then we must assume that His meddling is an integral part of even our conception of "the Problem." It will take more than the antics of a Counterforce to displace Him; we must withdraw the energy that feeds His power. If we are willing to explore other branches of consciousness and if we no longer view the World through the windows of His interior office, then His control over us will perhaps atrophy for want of attention, as He goes bankrupt for lack of business.

Byron the Bulb realizes that, although it is certainly important to recognize and denounce "the vile nature of Phoebus" and to work toward "solidarity against the cartel," still it is most essential to reject the "one identity" They offer and to explore actively "other frequencies, above and below the visible band" (653). To gain access to...


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pp. 581-590
Launched on MUSE
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