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THE CINEMATIC IMAGINATION IN THOMAS PYNCHON'S GRAVITY'S RAINBOW by Antonio Marquez* y r ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW THE CINEMATIC IMAGINATION IN THOMAS PYNCHON'S GRAVITY'S RAINBOW by Antonio Marquez* You will see that this clicking contraption with the revolving handle will make a revolution in our life—in the life of writers. It is a direct attack on the methods of literary art. We shall have to adapt ourselves to the shadow screen and to the cold machine. A new form of writing will be necessary. I have thought of that and I can feel what is coming...Listen—it may turn out to be a powerful thing! Leo Tolstoy It is indisputable that cinema has become a powerful cultural force. Restricting the discourse to the literary arts, cinema and film techniques have influenced the development of modern literature and revolutionized the writer's craft. One critic succinctly puts it: The history of the novel after 1922—the year Ulysses appeared—is to a large extent that ofthe development of a cinematic imagination in novelists and their frequently ambivalent attempt to come to grips with the "liveliest art" of the twentieth century.1 Thomas Pynchon is an exemplary case of the contemporary writer's attempt to "come to grips with the liveliest art." Gravity's Rainbow's expansive use of cinematic motifs attests to Pynchon's fecund cinematic imagination. The novel is strewn with bits of movie newsreels and cartoons, scenes from movie musicals of the 30's and 40's, flashes of memorable faces amd images—Dumbo, Cary Grant, BeIa Lugosi, Bette Davis, Frankenstein, Bugs Bunny, Wizard of Oz, King Kong, etc.—and a gaggle of songs, jokes, dialogue from countless movies. Much of the humor in the novel is derived from the wacky pastiche of familiar films, and one can understand Gravity's Rainbow's enthusiastic acceptance among film-freaks (and film critics like Richard Schickel). At its worst, Pynchon's appropriation of movie cliches is silly and capricious. His insouciant cinematic 1. Edward Murray, The Cinematic Imagination: Writers and the Motion Pictures (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.. 1972), p. 4. •ANTONIO MARQUEZ is a member of the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. 188VOL. 33, NO. 4 (Fall 197») Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow similes and metaphors—e.g. a woman who "looks a bit like Rita Hayworth," another woman with "eyes black and soft as those of Carmen Miranda," a character who winks "like a blond crewcut Groucho Marx"—become tiresome. There is little invention here. This manner only serves to confirm that Pynchon is a child of his times; his mind and novelistic imagination are saturated with cinematic images. However, in its best moments Pynchon's cinematic imagination is complex and compelling. Cinema is equated with or placed among the other cultural and scientifictechnological forces that have shaped modern consciousness. Suzanne Langer in Philosophy in a New Key observed that new ways of conceptualization root in men's minds without their awareness or understanding. Immersed in the ideas and inventions of the times, men unconsciously accept and adapt to the elements that constitute the present culture. Pynchon's treatment of cinema is an interesting correlative to Langer's point. A forceful argument is advanced that cinematic images have achieved archetypal dimensions and nourished profound fantasies, fears, and aspirations. In tapping the psychological and cultural influences of cinema, Pynchon adroitly uses, for example, German expressionistic films of the 20's to foreshadow the aberration that would seize Germany and nourish Nazism; and re-works the psychological undercurrents of King Kong to underscore sociopolitical themes, to dramatize Western colonialism and explore the neuroses of racism. In refurbishing the cinematic images that have become deeply ingrained in our consciousness, Pynchon presents cinema as a force that has assumed the age-old functions of folklore and mythology, a cultural phenomenon that is an integral part of twentiethcentury thought and life. An additional complexity arises when Pynchon incorporates cinema into the scientific-technological construct in his novel. We can recall that James Joyce, a seminal influence on the modernism that Pynchon inherits, perceived "that cinema is both a...