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Reviewed by:
Kathryn Hume. Pynchon's Mythography: An Approach to "Gravity's Rainbow."Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987. 288 pp. $19.95.
Thomas Moore. The Style of Connectedness: "Gravity's Rainbow" and Thomas Pynchon. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1987. 312 pp. $30.00.

Gravity's Rainbow, celebrated for parabolas, may become notorious for the inflationary spirals of scholarship it engenders. These two volumes are the twenty-first and twenty-second on Pynchon or his masterpiece, a work that attracts critics of many persuasions. Superficially read, Gravity's Rainbow seems composed by a demented deconstructionist; the narrative itself quite literally dissolves, along with its protagonist, about three-quarters of the way through. Postmodernist critics, accustomed to teasing from texts evidence that symbols are self-referential, find their prejudices confirmed in the characters' endless sorting of messages. Scholarship in a sense drives the narrative; reading Gravity's Rainbow is like skiing down a slope of information, with an avalanche of data cresting just behind. In the real world, so much information, partly because it is so commercialized, obscures the outlines of our culture and our place in it. In his text, Pynchon impugns Western civilization's obsession with markets, its compulsion for altering nature, its desire to construe history as inevitable, and traces these drives to a fear of the sacred, to a Weberian rationalization of institutions, and to a need for order so strong that it infects the psyche. These messages lie on the surface, however, not buried beneath it. According to Hume and Moore, layered in the encyclopedic allusions and historical references are symmetries of intellectual, emotional, and moral power. In what might be called a preterite conspiracy against established postmodern criticism, both insist that the instability of Gravity's Rainbow does not prevent its being logically deciphered.

Although Hume does not link myth to information theory, the most important of Pynchon's borrowings from science, she observes that the redundancies of myth serve as antichance devices, a means of stabilizing messages and structures. Even so, Pynchon uses the sense of static, sacred time enshrined in myth to undercut linear Western notions of human history as a "natural and inevitable instead of accidental and specific" progression. Hume confronts two problematic aspects of Gravity's Rainbow: Pynchon's straightforward evocation of the gods and ghosts of the Other Side, and his use of Slothrop as an embodiment of preterite moral sensibilities. After a census of the novel's spiritual Yoknapatawpha, Hume sidesteps the question of Pynchon's actual belief in life after death; the dwarves and angels simply add human dimension to an empirically unknowable reality by suggesting illuminations that systems of social and political control foreclose. Her excellent discussion of Orphic allusions establishes that Slothrop is a spokesman for Pynchon, but her attempts to explore Faustian elements falter. She does not deal adequately with the Faustian figure of Weissmann (who decks himself with the trappings of myth) nor pursue fully the associations between Slothrop and Faust that she details. Pynchon draws on Goethe's version of Faust, which enshrines the urges to know and to rationalize that are the real engines of the V-2 rocket. The contract between Faust and Mephistopheles is superfluous; if Faust ever stops striving, according to the romantic ethos, he is dammed. Happiness is irrelevant; rocks are happy because they do not strive, like Slothrop in his "Rolling Stone" phase. For Pynchon, romanticism is bankrupt because its myths bolster corporate control: we think that commerce and contracts bind [End Page 665] us, when in fact our preterition has been internalized. The contract that may involve Slothrop is similarly redundant, but on it Pynchon bases his indictment of Protestant capitalism. Because mythological criticism can be as reductionist as it is seductive, Hume does not join the mythological patterns she uncovers to the novel's Weberian framework. She makes a good case for her method but might push it harder. After all, given the novel's technological labyrinths and literal rocket flights, given the narrator's obsession with sons and fathers, given the structure's dependence on myth, it is important to explain why Pynchon ignores the story of Daedalus in favor of...


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