Anal explosive

Thomas Pynchon
Penguin, 2000

The title for part 2, “Un perm’ au Casino Hermann Goering,” is simple yet maybe untranslatable in the same way that Manet’s Le Dejuener sur l’herbe is. And like his radical paintings, the impossibility of the content’s structure launches Slothrop’s paranoia.

A breathless sentence captures Slothrop’s rescue of Katje from an attacking octopus that behaves like a dog. He impotently beats the animal with a bottle; visual data crams the action.

She reaches out a hand, soft-knuckled child’s hand with a man’s steel id bracelet on the wrist, and clutches Slothrop’s Hawaiian shirt, begins tightening her own grip there, and who was to know that among her last things would be vulgar-faced hula girls, ukeleles, and surfriders all in comic-book colors…oh God God please, the bottle thudding again and again wetly into octopus flesh, no fucking use, the octopus gazes at Slothrop, triumphant, while he, in the presence of certain death, can’t quit staring at her hand, cloth furrowing in tangents to her terror, a shirt button straining at a single last thread — he sees the name on the bracelet, scratched silver letters each one making no sense to him before the slimy gray stranglehold that goes tightening, liquid, stronger than he and she together, framing the poor hand its cruel tetanus is separating from Earth —

“Slothrop!” Here’s Bloat ten feet away offering him a large crab.

Ten feet away? And with a large crab ready to hand?

It’s too overworked, the whole octopus production.

Slothrop realizes the White Visitation is still keeping tabs on him, and in ways I can’t keep up on are pushing him toward researching rocketry in preparation for a field mission. There is also They, an evil military industrial cabal whose power is above and beyond even the imperialist powers driving the war. Or They are just a placeholder for the unknown, maybe unknowable, or nonexistent organ holding the conspiracy together.

More hotel hijinx, Slothrop looses his uniform and identity, and so changes costume into a white zoot suit. We get a stronger clue about the link between the polymer Imipolex G, a rocket component, and Slothrop’s mysterious hardons. In the middle of an infodump based on Slothrop’s studying, a parenthetical opens up.

The target property most often seemed to be strength — first among Plasticity’s virtuous triad of Strength, Stability, and Whiteness (Kraft, Standfestigkeit, Weiße: how often these were taken for Nazi graffiti, and indeed how indistinguishable they commonly were on the rain-brightened walls, as the busses clashed gears in the next street over, and the trams creaked of metal, and the people were mostly silent in the rain, with the early evening darkened to the texture of smoke from a pipe, and the arms of young passerby not in the sleeves of their coats but inside somewhere, as if sheltering midgets, or ecstatically drifted away from the timetable into a tactile affair with linings more seductive even than the new nylon…).

Where did we end up? Who is perceiving this rainy day transit scene? Is it Jampf, the inventor, or maybe Slothrop’s imagination? This is hearsay, but those who know/knew Pynchon best say that he said he certainly wrote stretches of GR while high on heavier stuff, and that even he may not know the meaning of certain passages. If I had to guess, the places in the text where this may be the case are precisely these syntactic marathons of images and sounds. It’s a calculated decision to overwrite: it’s like a camera that can only be aimed and opened up, to exhaustively index everything in front of its aperture that the light registers. Like a black hole, the narration picks up everything in the scene, regardless of any character’s consciousness, with only ellipses to stop it. And that unmoored quality is I think what makes it feel exhausting. And most of the stuff the narrator catalogs is literally trash, like Slothrop’s desk at ACHTUNG.

It’s off to Zurich.

The War has been reconfiguring time and space into its own image. The track runs in different networks now. What appears to be destruction is really the shaping of railroad spaces to other purposes, intentions he can only, riding through it for the first time, begin to feel the leading edges of….

The indeterminate world of the book so far is precisely this sense of being on the cusp between the old and the new, with the new coming in at a stroke. Some lines from Semyavin (a rep for the forger Blodgett Waxwing, who met Slothrop in the party scene at Raoul’s and will procure Slothrop a new identity) on the same page develops one implication.

“Life was simple before the war. You wouldn’t remember. Drugs, sex, luxury items. Currency in those days was no more than a sideline, and the term ‘industrial espionage’ was unknown. But I’ve seen it change — oh, how it’s changed. The German inflation, that should’ve been my clue right there, zeros strung end to end from here to Berlin.

One word for this situation is reification. Information has been made real, into something as exchangeable as sex and drugs, and by the same token, into something opaque and divisible.

I liked this bit about cafes and exiles.

He finds that he has drifted as far as the Odeon, one of the great world cafes, whose specialty is not listed anywhere — indeed has never been pinned down. Lenin, Trotsky, James Joyce, Dr. Einstein all sat out at these tables. Whatever it was they all had in common: whatever they’d come to this vantage to score…perhaps it had to do with the people somehow, with pedestrian mortality, restless crisscrossing of needs or desperations in one fateful piece of street…dialectics, matrices, archetypes all need to connect, once in a while, back to some of that proletarian blood, to body odors and senseless screaming across a table, to cheating and last hopes, or else all is dusty Dracularity, the West’s ancient curse….

The rapid accumulation of sensuous, material detail that makes up so much of this book’s discourse may be defended in this thought, although literature is also represented in the cafe’s patrons. Literature is usually seen as the parasite taking material off of history and philosophy, but here the bustling life world itself is “proletarian blood,” (although what’s really important are the proletariat’s correct ideas!).


  1. Oh, banana!
  2. Anal explosive
  3. Pynchon is surrealist in travel
  4. I may have lost the plot

3 thoughts on “Anal explosive”

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