Sunday, January 31, 2021

Cerebus #22 (1980)

Spoiler Alert: Elrod is a fictional character. No, I know that's not a spoiler! But it actually is so I apologize. You'll understand later.

There's probably some kind intelligence test (not really. But maybe there should be?) that ranks your intelligence based on which character from Cerebus you find the most funny. You're probably super duper smart if you say Oscar Wilde (or whatever his name is in this comic). After that, Lord Julius probably shows you're pretty intelligent. Maybe Cockroach is up there because people on the Internet often mistake referencing pop culture as a joke and The Roach references a whole lot of pop culture. Way down at the stupid pile on the bottom are probably the McGrew Brothers. The character I find the funniest, which probably puts me at below average intelligence, is Elrod. Obviously if you pick Jaka, you're a misogynist and if you pick Pud Withers, you're a sociopath. I know those aren't levels of intelligence but if you pick a non-funny character in a test asking to pick a funny character, there's something fucking wrong with you.

Spoiler Alert #2: Elrod dies in this issue. No, that's not the spoiler since he died at the end of the last issue (or was about to and then the next time bit said "Next month: The Death of Elrod"? It's been too long since I read Issue #21!) and if you looked at the cover, it says "The Death of, I say, the Death of Elrod." The actual spoiler is that Elrod becomes Deadalbino, a parody of Neal Adams' Deadman comic. I'm putting this spoiler here because Dave talks a little bit about it in his Swords of Cerebus essay:

Judging by Dave Sim's Deadman "to-do" list, I'm guessing he'd ask for the worst genie wishes as well.

So Dave Sim, as Deadman, would take over a woman and play with her boobies for two hours? Okay, fine. I'm taking him literally because I want to think of him as a prude even though I'm sure he's cleaning it up for this comic book he's selling to the public. Who would want to read his actual fantasies of taking over his math teacher? It would probably be disgusting based on what my fantasy would be! I'm only going on record and saying that I would fill all of my holes with penises because this is a totally imaginary situation and it could never happen. But if it could happen, and this is a huge problem for the character Deadman, it's fucking rape. Even when Boston Brand takes over somebody's body and doesn't fiddle with their private bits, it's rape. He's penetrating their psyche without consent! Not to mention how easily he could get somebody killed! What if he grabs some peanuts while inside somebody and discovers they're allergic?! And how often did he enter people and start pulling some ridiculous parkour stunt bullshit, completely endangering their lives?! He doesn't know how frail their knees might be! And I know it could only happen off-panel, but you know he did Sim's math teacher fantasy with way more than one woman! How could he not?! Dead people get horny too!

Here's what I'd do: I'd take over the math teacher and make her write on her chalkboard, "I'm a ghost that can take over your body. I just did it to write this message. Do you want to fuck?" Then she'd probably read the message and moan, "Oh baby! I am so turned on by Fickengeists! Let's do this!" And then boom! She'd be in the bathroom stall touching her boobies like crazy!

The issue begins with Elrod getting killed, becoming a ghost, and taking control of the Sopai assassin. Cerebus has been unconscous through all of this but when he wakes up, he doesn't care about how he survived. He just wants to get back to his war with Palnu that he thinks is still somehow going on even though he's no longer anywhere near the vicinity.

Cerebus doesn't understand that he's the nexus of chaos and it's everybody else who gets pulled into his messes.

I understand that part of what makes Cerebus the nexus of chaos in this comic book is that he's the protagonist. Any chaos that happens when Cerebus isn't around isn't likely to make it into the pages of the comic book, unless they somehow relate to something Cerebus is up to. Like when you get a scene of Serna having Cirin's mouth sewn shut or pages and pages and pages of Oscar Wilde dying. Sure, Cerebus is sitting right out front but he's not really doing anything. Even when he takes a break from being the protagonist, the story presented needs to happen near him. Unless it's memories of Jaka's childhood! But then that's a story being written by the Oscar who is kind of Oscar Wilde but not the one who dies in the following story. I don't think. Maybe?

I suppose if Cerebus wasn't a nexus of chaos, the story would get kind of boring. It's a good thing Dave Sim's God created a chaotic little aardvark whose adventures Dave Sim could transcribe.

Cerebus soon learns that his army was replled by Palnu's forces and slaughtered. That's when he resigns himself to be a part of Weisshaupt's weirdness.

Weisshaupt makes a bunch of plans that involve Deadalbino taking over various high profile government officials and then he names Cerebus "Secretary of the Interior," a job which with a list of responsibilities that make sense, as opposed to when he was Kitchen Staff Supervisor. Although if you look past Lord Julius's confusing way of governing, Cerebus's job really hasn't changed: he's to drink and gamble and threaten people who speak out against his boss.

Weisshaupt's plan completely falls apart because he's relying on Elrod. I suppose Cerebus could have warned him but Cerebus was already drunk with power in his new position that would give him the power to always be drunk. Deadalbino sneaks back into his own body and suddenly he's no longer Deadalbino. He's just Elrod again. Cerebus leaves Weisshaupt to be caught by the guards and he escapes for another adventure. But he'll be back to politics soon. Like in just a few more issues.

Cerebus #22 Rating: B+. Cerebus gets another taste of politics in the Weisshaupt story line, his second toe-dipping since working for Lord Julius. Most of it isn't to his liking but he's definitely attracted to the luxurious amount of free time he can drink in relative safety. He's come a long way from his barbarian roots and his belief that he needs to raise an army of other barbarians to take over some major city which would give him a luxurious amount of free time to drink in relative safety. He's still trying to learn the best way to not have to do anything but drink and gamble and not have to answer to anybody else. It's the basic foundational dream for everybody's dreams, right? Just give me free time to do what I want without anybody bothering me. So Dave Sim wrote a comic book about a person who wants to be able to do whatever they want without anybody bothering them which allowed Dave Sim to do whatever he wanted without anybody bothering him. He even learns the lesson so well that he divorces his wife, probably because she was bothering him. Then he outrages a large percentage of his female readers, probably because they were bothering him. Then he alienates a large percentage of his fan base by writing month after month of religious arguments, and not fictional religious arguments dealing with Tarim (or Terim?!) but real life theology dealing with the three big religions of the People of the Book! Because while Dave was converted by—um, I don't know—himself, Cerebus was converted by Rick. Sort of. Anyway, Dave probably alienated those readers because they were bothering him! Now he's got just the right number of people in his audience that he feels comfortable! It's not as many as when he was writing hilarious jokes like Elrod in a barrel pretending to be a mouse! But the ones that are still there are worth way more than all the ones that made him a superstar comic book artist. They were just too stupid to realize what they wanted was a comic book about the life of an aardvark that ends with him explicating The Bible, falling out of bed, and going straight to Hell with all the other sinful characters who weren't Rick.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXVIII

I don't know what meaning green and magenta have in this novel but they spring up again in this chapter. As Slothrop wanders around Raoul's party, he's enlisted for some secret service by a guy in a white zoot suit. As he follows him outside, they run into Jean-Claude Gongue, described as the "notorious white slaver of Marseilles," "busy white-slaving." Ha. Two of the girls he asks to be white slaves declare they do not, the first one saying she wants to be a green slave and the second one wanting to be magenta. A third wants to be vermilion but I don't think vermilion is important. She's just there to obfuscate the green and magenta bit!

I can't make a guess as to what it's about. I can only note every time it happens to appear. I think this is the third time? I'm sure I missed some. But eventually, in the final chapter, Pynchon gives us a section called "The Last Green and Magenta." So, I mean, it must mean something, right?!

The man in the zoot suit is Blodgett Waxwing. He's important because he's going to get Slothrop his own zoot suit and also forged papers so Slothrop can flee the Casino and head into Germany looking for signs of his connection to Jamf and the Rocket. Blodgett is doing so many deals that depend on so many people coming through that he's basically the Milo Minderbender of this book.

The story here tonight is a typical WW II romantic intrigue, just another evening at Raoul's place, involving a future opium shipment's being used by Tamara as security against a loan from Italo, who in turn owes Waxwing for a Sherman tank his friend Theophile is trying to smuggle into Palestine but must raise a few thousand pounds for purposes of bribing across the border, and so has put the tank up as collateral to borrow from Tamara, who is using part of her loan from Italo to pay him. But meantime the opium deal doesn't look like it's going to come through, because the middleman hasn't been heard from in several weeks, along with the money Tamara fronted him, which she got from Raoul de la Perlimpinpin through Waxwing, who is now being pressured by Raoul for the money because Italo, deciding the tank belongs to Tamara now, showed up last night and took it away to an Undisclosed Location as payment on his loan, thus causing Raoul to panic. Something like that.

At least I feel like if I read that a few more times, I could work out all the trails and connections and it would make sense. I've read Catch-22 multiple times over the last twenty-something years and I still don't know how Milo paid for the eggs.

The tank in the previous quote, driven by an angry Tamara, crashes the party. Tamara fires a round into the house (a dud so it only does minimal damage from blunt force) and Slothrop has to wrestle her out of the tank. Between the obvious sexual metaphor of the tank's gun slamming into the mansion and firing off a load and Slothrop wrestling the woman out of the tank, Slothrop's penis does not get erect. Pointsman will never get to add this occurrence to the data of his experiment because none of his minions were there (or sober enough) to report it. But I guess we, the readers, should probably make note of it, right? Just a second.

"Tank's massive turret with the gaping bell-end launches its payload into the cavernous rooms of Raoul's mansion. Slothrop's penis does not get hard even though that's the sexiest bit of writing I've ever read. You can tell by how sexily I have summarized it. Ooh la la, as the American soldiers will say to their wives after coming home and giving them gonorrhea." Note Copyright Grunion Guy 2021.

Waxwing lets Slothrop know, once and for all, that the incident with the octopus was staged. How he knows, he doesn't tell Slothrop. But he gives Slothrop a business card and a clue as to where to run to, as well as the zoot suit, and a keychain.

Before the end of this section, there's a bit about police, describing what we all know is true about them but what some people choose to pretend they don't see. And by pretending not to know this truth, we see a despicable truth about themselves as well. They never realize what they're exposing of their true selves when they deny to accept a reality with which they secretly agree.

The zoot suit is in a box tied with a purple ribbon. Keychain's there too. They both belonged to a kid who used to live in East Los Angeles, named Ricky Gutierrez. During the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, young Gutierrez was set upon by a carload of Anglo vigilantes from Whittier, beaten up while the L.A. police watched and called out advice, then arrested for disturbing the peace.

The Blue Lives Matter folk are delusional, racist bastards and anybody with any sense (mostly the senses that are the providence of the ears and eyes) knows it.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXVII

I write another blog (several but this is the relevant one) where I discuss each line of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day one at a time. Right now, it's fairly easy because it's just the first two chapters discussing the Chums of Chance adventure to Chicago. No sentences have been truly difficult. But as I do it, I often think about Gravity's Rainbow and how hard it would be. Here's the first sentence of this section which basically amounts to: "Hey! It's spring in late March!"

The great cusp—green equinox and turning, dreaming fishes to young ram, watersleep to firewaking, bears down on us.

If I were a bitter, cynical, bastard of a person, I'd think, "I'm trying to read a book, not analyzing Goddamned poetry!" Good thing I'm just a bitter, cynical, decent kind of person. No bastard here! Although for poetry, this is fairly easy. It's just Pynchon saying the date in four different ways: "great cusp," "green equinox," Gemini turning to Aries, and, once again but differently, Gemini (water) turning to Aries (fire) combined with winter (sleeping) turning to spring (waking). It really is poetry, like so much of this book. Which is one quarter of the reasons that make reading it so hard. The other three reasons are 1. changing perspective without notice, 2. tons of references nobody understands without research or having been there, and 3. reality often shifting, sometimes to dreams or daydreams, sometimes to "let's describe this scene as if it were a movie or comic book," or some other kind of strange hallucination. All of those things make this book difficult to read; all of those things make this book beautiful and surprising.

The second paragraph does much the same for the statement: "The war is nearing an end." It even mentions the resident of the asylum, Lloyd George, who believes he's the avatar of the war, is dying.

Life has also changed at the Casino Hermann Goering. Slothrop has learned that he isn't completely ineffective in his rebellions against the conspiracy against himself. He begins coming up with his "Proverbs for Paranoids" with the first proverb: "You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures." He learned that by forcing Dodson-Truck to confess some of what he knew, and for, well, whatever he did to have them take Katje away. That was probably mostly punishment for his work on Stephen Dodson-Truck. I mean, Pointsman also needed her back at The White Visitation to shit in Brigadier Pudding's mouth.

Slothrop has found himself increasingly in a state of reverie. That means he seems to be daydreaming a lot but another definition of reverie is "a fanciful or impractical idea or theory." In his reverie, he seems to somehow get in touch with the other side, and begins getting messages or transmissions or maybe impractical theories from the late Roland Feldspath, "long-co-opted expert on control systems, guidance equations, feedback situations for this Aeronautical Establishment and that." Roland was the spirit Carroll Eventyr was speaking with when we first meet Carroll Eventyr. At the time, Roland was speaking about his time in some kind of contact with Dominus Blicero. Roland's forte is control systems and he comments on how controls had gone topsy-turvy while "transected" with Dominus Blicero. He discusses how the wind is the major factor in the control of a rocket because, once launched, the rocketeers and rocket have lost contact. But Roland goes on:

"It's control. All these things arise from one difficulty: control. For the first time it was inside, do you see. The control is put inside. No more need to suffer passively under 'outside forces'—to veer into any wind. As if . . ."

Was Roland trying to describe the Schwarzgerat to them? That Blicero was experimenting with putting a living person in the rocket for means of control? And here I thought it was just a sex thing!

Roland describes his previous contact with Carroll as a bunch of bullshit about German economics because that's what all the ghosts are into. I think. Look, I failed statistics in college because it was too boring for the math to be that difficult. What I'm saying is that I'm also bored to tears by economics, even when it's discussed by a ghost! And I loved In Search of... so you'd think I'd be more into this. Maybe I'd have been more into it if economic models were described the way Roland describes them here, like wandering an empty city until you came to the edge and ventured into fields and then a forest where you, inevitably, can go no further, like all the mathematical theories reaching the limit of some confusing equation. And then that, somehow, brings us to the Rocket and the equations for its gravitational rainbow.

I'm sure if I were smarter, I'd understand what Roland's getting at. But I'm more on Slothrop's level of intelligence and so I react much like he does after these Roland reveries:

Afterward, Slothrop would be left not so much with any clear symbol or scheme to it as with some alkaline aftertaste of lament, an irreducible strangeness, a self-sufficiency nothing could get inside. . . .

As for Slothrop's non-daydreaming hours? He spends them learning German and learning about rockets and learning about propulsions and engineering and diagrams and ordnance. In doing so, he begins to realize how ridiculous the corporate connections are to the war effort. He tells a man named Hilary Bounce how ridiculous it is that the Germans are firing rockets out of a Shell company fuel manufacture site directly at Shell headquarters in London. Hilary, being a good corporate man, doesn't get what Slothrop is driving at. Can't this damn paranoid see that corporate profit and the business of war are two entirely different things that also just happen to rely on one another?!

Slothrop comes up with his second Proverb for Paranoids: "The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immortality of the Master." I don't know what that means, exactly. I guess it means the more powerful a corporate entity or political position, the greater the dumb subservience of the people who work under it. Like these Goddamned idiotic Trump supporters who never see the terrible bullshit he's spouting or supporting and only pretend to see some greater good or generous scheme.

It's during this time that Slothrop begins to get the scent of the Schwarzgerat. He discovers blueprints for a rocket that needs some sort of insulation made of Imipolex G. What for? Turns out it's a state secret and not easy to uncover. Nobody will help him with it. But Slothrop learns Hilary has a teletype back to Shell in his room and he devises a means to get Hilary out of the room and get himself inside to send a message asking about Imipolex G. On the night he does this, after he gets the message back (to be read later), he heads to the party he sent Hilary and one of the dancers to, followed after by some sneaky sneak. The plot thickens!

Can this plot thicken much more?! Sure it can! Five hundred pages more! And how many of those pages will I understand? Hopefully at least 450 of them!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXVI

This chapter begins with a quote from Pavlov at 83 and then a poem inspired by the quote, from Pavlov's point of view. After the first word of the poem, in brackets, we get "Pointsman never shows these excursions of his to anyone". So Pointsman writes poetry? As an excursion away from his work on stimulus and response? It seems surprising except, of all the things poems do, is not one of them to evoke a certain response? A poem is just another bell. Or explosion. And I wouldn't stop at just poems, of course. All writing is just a focused stimulus created to get a particular response from the subject.

As for the subject of Pavlov's talk and the poem, even though it's about the way an old person concentrates, I'm all too familiar with the subject. Pavlov was speaking on regular, mundane life. As one gets older, their concentration on one idea or object causes the surrounding ideas or objects to blur out and lose focus. The rest of the world disappears from their mind in the effort to concentrate on that single thing. I'm only 49 but I've just begun feeling this same thing. Not in the real world where it might be worrisome! But in video games where everything is hyper-real and made to push a player's reactions to the limit. I used to be really good at first person shooters. I could play a winning game of Halo while also fucking around with my buddies, barely needing all my concentration to beat my opponents. I launched more than a few nukes in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare back in the day. But lately when I'm playing Apex with my cousin's seventeen year old son, I just feel like a confused old man in a busy cafeteria. I'm busy trying to figure out where all the sounds are coming from or where I'm being shot from. Meanwhile, he just zips from one enemy to another, killing them all while I hope to at least get one assist out of the fracas. It didn't used to be like this! I was at my best interpreting the sounds of my enemies to line up my next shot! Now my poor onscreen avatar just looks like Vincent Vega looking around confused as Mia speaks to him over the intercom. Maybe I should hang up my controller and just read more.

There's a funding meeting going on at The White Visitation because everybody's worried that the Slothrop Experiment won't last too much longer. But Pointsman assures them the money will keep rolling in with the confidence of a man who has Brigadier General Pudding by the woman who shits in his mouth. When the meeting ends, we get a Busby Berkeley song and dance routine involving Webley Silvernail and all the black, white, and gray mice on the ward, grown to man-size. After the number, Pynchon gives us one of my favorite paragraphs in the book.

They have had their moment of freedom. Webley has only been a guest star. Now it's back to the cages and the rationalized forms of death—death in the service of the one species cursed with the knowledge that it will die. . . . "I would set you free, if I knew how. But it isn't free out here. All the animals, the plants, the minerals, even other kinds of men, are being broken and reassembled every day, to preserve an elite few, who are the loudest to theorize freedom, but the least free of all. I can't even give you hope that it will be different someday—that They'll come out, and forget death, and lose Their technology's elaborate terror, and stop using every other form of life without mercy to keep what haunts men down to a tolerable level—and be like you instead, simply here, simply alive. . . ." The guest star retires down the corridors.

Those with tender sensibilities and weak stomachs should probably stop reading this section after that beautifully melancholy and depressingly accurate moment. Because now we get to the scene where we learn how Pointsman has kept the money coming in. He's discovered, like a good Pavlovian, what stimulus Pudding needs desperately. And he's hired Katje to provide. My initial reaction after first reading this scene a few months ago was, "How come every mention of Gravity's Rainbow doesn't begin with 'There's a spectacularly graphic shit eating sex scene!'?" I suppose it's the same reason nobody begins their declaration of love for Gravity's Rainbow by saying, "The main character fucks an underage girl and pretty much falls in love with her!" Although, that's the synopsis for Lolita and people do mention it in that! I suppose somebody who hadn't heard of Lolita would be in for a huge shock if somebody just said, "It's about a teacher who goes on a grand adventure!" And I suppose mentioning either the shit eating scene or the underage girl fucking doesn't really capture the magic of Gravity's Rainbow in quite the way you'd think it would. I mean, wouldn't? Wait, what do I mean? I think I mean to say is that you should mention the loads of penis jokes before you mention the other stuff because they're more closely tied to the theme of the novel. The other stuff are just small, digressionary writing larks by Pynchon.

This scene does compare a turd to a black man's penis so that's sort of thematic with the rocket and the Schwarzkommando! Hmm, that's probably another thing that shouldn't be mentioned when trying to describe how great this book is. Because then you'd have to start backpedaling and explaining why that isn't as racist and problematic as it seems because the thought comes from a man who was already super old in 1945 and, due to his post traumatic stress disorder developed in the trenches and mustard gas of the first World War, surrounded by the stench of the mud and the decaying corpses, he has developed some kind of paradoxical phase stimulus where the smell of shit and the pain of war now make him feel sexually alive which explains why the shit reminds him that he also wants to be dominated by a large African man. Wait. Did that make it better?

You know what? It's both a gross and a terrific scene! I highly and unhighly recommend reading it! Doo do do! [That was the Reading Rainbow music tag for when a dumb kid has finished his dumb book review.]

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Player Piano: Chapter 7

Vonnegut decides to use this chapter to shit all over the American military. Now, don't start getting all red-faced and shifting uncomfortably in your seat! He doesn't shit on the soldiers themselves! A good portion of this is from the perspective of a private who, I imagine, thinks the thoughts Vonnegut probably thought quite a few times while he was serving, thoughts about the kind of venemous and disrespectful things he'd love to say directly to his commanders once he's a civilian again and they can't punish him for it.

The Shah of Bratpuhr is in the scene to, once again, point out that Americans, especially these Americans in the military, sure do act an awful lot like slaves (Takaru in his language), no matter what you call them. Halyard tries to convince him, yet again, that they aren't slaves but it only confuses the Shah.

"Niki Takaru!" he cried, exhaling a strong effluvium of Sumklish.
    "No Takaru!" said Doctor Halyard. "Sol-dee-yers."
    "No Takaru?" said the Shah in puzzlement.
    "What's he say?" said General of Armies Bromley.
    "Said they're a fine bunch of slaves," said Halyard. He turned to the Shah again and waggled his finger at the small, dark man. "No Takaru. No, no, no."
    Khashdrahr seemed baffled, too, and offered Halyard no help in clarifying the point.
    "Sim koula Takaru, akka sahn salet?" said the Shah to Khashdrahr.
    Khashdrahr shrugged and looked questioningly at Halyard. "Shah says, if these not slaves, how you get them to do what they do?"
    "Patriotism," said General of the Armies Bromly sternly. "Patriotism, damn it."
    "Love of country," said Halyard.
    Khashdrahr told the Shah, and the Shah nodded slightly, but his look of puzzlement did not disappear. "Sidi ba—" he said tentatively.
    "Eh?" said Corbett.
    "Even so—" translated Khashdrahr, and he looked as doubtful as the Shah.

What an extraordinary example of why I love Vonnegut so much. He simply and elegantly describes the truth of the situation while including the lies Americans tell themselves to obfuscate that truth. In just a few, uncomplicated lines from 1952, he exposes the virtue signaling at the heart of patriotism. The soldiers do what they're told by men they hate in a job they didn't choose (remember, the machines made it so that most people have to either be soldiers or crew for maintaining the country's infrastructure) and everybody chooses to believe it's a noble and patriotic decision. I'm certain every person on Twitter who's constantly complaining about cancel culture would fucking cancel Kurt Vonnegut in a heartbeat for being some commie socialist liberal wank just because of this short scene. In actuality, Vonnegut is a creative genius who understands fucking America.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Gravity's Rainbow: Part XXV

The next section begins sometime in Slothrop's future. Some time has passed since his conspiracy breakdown and loss of everything that kept him tethered to his former life, like his Hawaiian shirts and his gaudy ties and Tantivy Muffer-Mafick. He spends his days with Katje and studying German rocket blueprints, trying to discover his connection to the rockets and, maybe, why They are doing what They're doing to him, whatever that is.

Stephen Dodson-Truck has arrived at the Casino. When he arrives, he interrupts Slothrop on the beach reading a Plasticman comic book. He might be there to spy on him. He might just be there because his wife was sick of looking at him and wanted to fuck everybody else at The White Visitation for awhile. But anyway, he gets to have some scenes for a few pages until we can all forget about him again until the next time when we'll ask, "Wait. Who was this guy again?"

Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck is into words. He's the Susie Dent of World War II. The introduction of Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck allows Pynchon to explain part of his process and love of writing directly to the reader. Pynchon's names are wacky but they often suggest other things, like Slothrop suggests (or directly states!) "sloth" and "slob". Stephen Dodson-Truck suggests (among maybe other things) Yerkes-Dodson law. This is what the Wikipedia entry on Yerkes-Dodson law states: "The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases." I'm not sure how that fits in with Stephen Dodson-Truck's character but I'm sure it has something to do with sex and his wife, Nora Dodson-Truck. She probably needs some kind of level of super arousal after which his performance drops off which is why she needs to fuck all the other guys at The White Visitation. Pynchon explains how he makes these connections in the first conversation between Slothrop and Dodson-Truck. Slothrop begins the following conversation:

"Taking a break from that Telefunken radio control. That 'Hawaii I.' You know anything about that?"
    "Only enough to wonder where they got the name from."
    "The name?"
    "There's a poetry to it, engineer's poetry . . . it suggests Haverie—average, you know—certainly you have the two lobes, don't you, symmetrical about the rocket's intended azimuth . . . hauen, too—smashing someone with a hoe or a club . . ." off on a voyage of his own here, smiling at no one in particular, bringing in the popular wartime expression ab-hauen, quarterstaff technique, peasant humor, phallic comedy dating back to the ancient Greeks. . . . Slothrop's first impulse is to get back to what that Plas is into, but something about the man, despite obvious membership in the plot, keeps him listening . . . an innocence, maybe a try at being friendly in the only way he has available, sharing what engages and runs him, a love for the Word.

Now doesn't that sound exactly like what Pynchon's doing, engaging with us in the only way he knows how while using peasant humor and phallic comedy and names that suggest these things all wrapped up in technical jargon and rocket lore?

Later, Slothrop meets with Katje in the gambling hall as she's manning a roulette wheel. He considers what They are betting on with him and he comes to a conclusion that they're basing all of their experiments (or whatever they're doing to him, exactly) on past observations. They know something about Slothrop's past life that even he doesn't know and now they want to see how that event plays upon his present actions. He then thinks about Katje's involvement in this plot and wonders how much she knows or how they might be manipulating her as well. And then there's a moment that mirrors a bit of Against the Day which I'm reading now. I'm going to quote both passages. First, Gravity's Rainbow:

Something was done to him, and it may be that Katje knows what. Hasn't he, in her "futureless look," found some link to his own past, something that connects them closely as lovers? He sees her standing at the end of a passage in her life, without any next step to take—all her bets are in, she has only the tedium now of being knocked from one room to the next, a sequence of numbered rooms whose numbers do not matter, till inertia brings her to the last. That's all.

And now, Against the Day:

From this height it was as if the Chums, who, out on adventures past, had often witnessed the vast herds of cattle adrift in ever-changing cloudlike patterns across the Western plains, here saw that unshaped freedom being rationalized into movement only in straight lines and at right angles and a progressive reduction of choices, until the final turn through the final gate that led to the killing floor.

In postmodern writing, you encounter a lot of images and metaphors of the Labyrinth. In these two passages, you get the exact opposite. You have people (and cows! But I think the cows really represent the immigrants of Chicago here! (hell, they really just represent us all and the aging process)) whose lives, while starting out full of freedom and choices, have come to that point where the previous choices made have cut off opportunities for further choice, winnowing their lives down to a single path which they can only follow helplessly until death. The cows have been forced into this kind of life just like the people of Chicago (earlier, the city had been described as being a Cartesian grid which the right angles and straight lines of the cow's Stockyard enclosure echo); life on the plains was a kind of freedom while life in the city a trudging journey along a single corridor maze to the killing room floor. Katje has sort of arrived at the same kind of place even though she's still young. But her choices have narrowed her chances at new opportunities faster than most: Blicero's sex slave, Allied spy, obligation to Prentice for rescuing her, Pointsman's tool, and now Slothrop's keeper. Not much choice for her in most of that. Just a roulette ball skipping about from number to number on a circular path, the number where it will eventually come to rest having no real meaning to the journey.

Dammit, Pynchon, I'm trying to read as much as possible before stopping and writing and he just won't let me go! Immediately after this initial conversation, Katje spins the roulette wheel again and we get the section that might be considered the titular bit. I must say, it's all a little too much for me. I get the part about how the rocket connected Katje and Slothrop; she was at the source, it's birth, while he was at the impact, its death, and between them the total life of the rocket. But I'm not sure what makes the parabola such a special shape that informs the connection between them, "as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children. . . ." I can also, maybe, grasp how they're children of the rocket, how all of us in the modern era are children of the rocket. The rocket that taught us death was not something you can prepare for or see coming; in the modern era, there is no languishing or regrets or remorse at the end. The end just comes, without warning. We become intrinsically different creatures, new children, from that knowledge hanging over us, from the dread of death come as surprise (which was obviously a thing at all times of human existence but not on such scale and not by something man has created and harnessed of their own volition). Perhaps the parabola represents the birth canal?

I'm just speculating here! Ha ha! That's a pun on speculum!

Later, when Slothrop chooses to grow a mustache, there's a moment where Pynchon himself (or some other narrator, not just omniscient of the story and era but out of time, from the future, from 1973, at least) intrudes.

"What kind?" Katje wants to know, soon as this one is visible.
    "Bad-guy," sez Slothrop. Meaning, he explains, trimmed, narrow, and villainous.
    "No, that'll give you a negative attitude. Why not raise a good-guy mustache instead?"
    "But good guys don't have—"
    "Oh no? What about Wyatt Earp?"
    To which one might've advanced the objection that Wyatt wasn't all that good. But this is still back in the Stuart Lake era here, before the revisionists moved in, and Slothrop believes in that Wyatt, all right.

The mustache Slothrop decides to grow

If Slothrop lives in the time of Stuart Lake (the author of Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall, 1931) who depicted Earp as an unrepentant hero of the West so that everybody in that era believed him to be a perfectly fine and upstanding law man who didn't exact any kind of personal vengeance through ambushes and slayings of the Red Dandy Hanky Gang, why even bring up the revisionist take on Wyatt and how one might argue his legacy? Unless maybe that revisionism had already started by 1945 in which case the narrator is just the usual kind of omniscient and felt like cutting off any reader arguments who would sneer at Katje's naivety. Although doesn't it sound like a 60s or 70s thing, that revisionism? Maybe it was a popular idea when Pynchon was writing this and decided to throw that comment in. But that line, "this is still back in the Stuart Lake era," is the proof that it's Pynchon, or at least a modern narrator speaking, right?

My point is that it's kind of weird! But I liked it, of course! Nice moment!

Slothrop discovers that he gets erections reading technical rocket manuals and blueprints. Perhaps the manuals, taken from German sites, were used around Imipolex. Or maybe it's part of the paradoxical or ultra-paradoxical or one of those other things that happen to Pavlov's dogs after long hours of being experimented on. I really never understood that psych stuff too well. Anyway, Stephen Dodson-Truck is always there during the study hours to time how long it takes for Slothrop to get a hardon.

Slothrop concocts a plan to get Sir Stephen drunk so that Stephen might spill some beans on the conspiracy. Dodson-Truck confesses that, as he got more and more lost in his work, the less he cared about satisfying his wife's urges (Yerkes-Dodson law, right?!) and so she began sleeping with the psychics and paranormals at The White Visitation. He mentions a son, whom I think might be being used as leverage to get him to participate in the Slothrop experiment, and admits his part in the conspiracy: he's meant to observe Slothrop to make sure Slothrop studies up on the rockets. And that's all he admits to knowing.

The scene switches, as it often does without warning to London and Eventyr (less warning than usual in this one although it is somewhat tied together by the image of some large hooded figures overlooking the land, and the Casino, somehow observing from the other side which connects them to, of course, Eventyr and Peter Sascha). One of Their operatives needs Eventyr's help but not the usual help of contacting somebody on the other side through Eventyr's control, Peter. No, this time, they're just interested in Peter. They know how Peter Sascha was killed in the street by police but now they want to find out how it came to that and how Leni Pökler may have led him there.

I can't say I completely understand this part but I get bits of it. Like how Peter sees his boring, pathetic life through the revolutionary actions of Leni, how he admits Leni is right when she says she can't be a mother to Ilse because she needs to be human for Ilse and being a mother is what They want. They have her at their mercy if she's a mother. So to protect Ilse, she cannot be a mother to her; she must be a revolutionary and a fighter and maybe she loses Ilse because of that but it can't be helped.

At the moment of Peter's death in the vision (or visitation?), the scene shifts back to the Casino with a mention that Dodson-Truck has vanished by morning. "But not before telling Slothrop that his erections are of high interest to Fitzmaurice House."

Dammit! I know Fitzmaurice House was recently mentioned but I can't remember when or where. Maybe it's not important!

By the end of this section, Katje has gone. Slothrop will never know why but before she goes, she tells him some stuff that he'll need to remember later. Hopefully I'll remember it too, if it's important. Although I've already read this once and I don't know how it's important now! So I might be a lost cause.

"Oh Slothrop. No. You don't want me. What they're after may, but you don't. No more than A4 wants London. But I don't think they know . . . about other selves . . . yours or the Rocket's . . . no. No more than you do. If you can't understand it now, at least remember. That's all I can do for you."

And later:

"Maybe you'll find out. Maybe in one of their bombed-out cities, beside one of their rivers or forests, even one day in the rain, it will come to you. You'll remember the Himmler-Spielsaal, and the skirt I was wearing . . . memory will dance for you, and you can even make it my voice saying what I couldn't say then. Or now."

Is she referencing one of Slothrop's final narrative moments in the book? Doesn't he play some instrument, camping in the rain, after fleeing from everybody's perception? I'll have to keep this in mind when I finally get there! It's only about five hundred plus pages away!

By the way, the skirt she references is a rainbow-striped dirndl skirt of satin. That could be important!