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Freud

Its a bird!  Its a plane!  No wait, its freud...
 

     Thomas Pynchon, author and recluse, is somewhat of an enigmatic personality to psychoanalyze.  Despite the fact that there is almost nothing known of his life, his books, at first appearance, seem to shed little light on the man himself.  To be sure he is as multi-faceted as his text, Gravity's Rainbow, which he described as a series of transparences laid over each other.  "You know, Bruce, those high school biology texts with centerfold transparencies, first the skeleton, and then the muscles...well this is the technique I use for writing.[1]  Yet throughout this opus there are intimations of a personality as well as various phobias and desires. 

        Secondary revision plays a major role in the novel as its inaccessibility.  The sheer incomprehensibility and size of the novel makes any interpretation difficult at best.  Pynchon's recurring images of death, control, sexuality, and technology serve as a pictorial arrangement of his latent ideas.  Subsequently the obscenity of the text causes the reader to be distracted by concepts, which are not the real center of the novel.  Looking past these manifestations, we are able to see his complete personality condensed into the text.

        Pynchon seeks to portray himself as a humble recluse being dissipated throughout culture.  Thus after the protagonist's death/ascension the reader "would expect to look among the Humility, among the gray and preterit souls, to look for him adrift in the hostile light of day, the darkness of the sea..." (GR 742).  In order to keep the reader engaged throughout his egotistical romp, he utilizes the aesthetic of humor as bribery.  He seeks to be viewed as free-spirited and full of love, yet we know that "a happy person never phantasies, only an unsatisfied one" (Gay 439).  What then are his phobias and desires?

        His major wishes are for power (through control), love (through sex), information, and, ironically, death (through science).  Power represents itself as the paranoiac's ultimate control of the world around him.  "In an insane world...paranoia represents an attempt to establish sanity, to create order out of chaos.[2]  The pervasive perversity is the most ready representations of a desire for love through sex.  It is love in the face of cyclical death as seen through Pirate Prentice acknowledgement that, "if he is to keep dragging himself up the ratchet's teeth one by one he does need to pause in human touch for a bit" (GR 547).  The novel is replete with completely obscure information, which Pynchon calls, "the only real medium of exchange," (GR 258) in a world gone insane.  His final desire for death, though bizarre, is found throughout the novel.  The main character, Slothrop, is on a quest after a mythic rocket, provided with his own father figure who it turns out he made up, "to help him explain what he felt so terribly, so immediately in his genitals for those rockets each time exploding in the sky...to help him deny what he could not possibly admit: that he might be in love, in sexual love, with his, and his race's, death" (GR 738).  Here we see repression covering for a sexual attraction toward death, even genocide, through science.  It is a tie between Pynchon's desire for sex and his technological desire for information.  His love for technology (he graduated from Cornell as an engineer) is made apparent throughout the text.  Slothrop's supposed father, Jamf, talks of moving beyond the organic Carbon-Hydrogen bond and "'toward the inorganic.  Here is no frailty, no mortality--here is Strength, and the Timeless.'...as he wiped away the scrawled C--H on his chalkboard and wrote, in enormous letters, Si--N" (GR 580).  The obvious, and ingenious, pun is that as he moves "'beyond life, toward the inorganic,'" he encounters SiN.  This is the most biblical fall represented through science.  Jamf seeks to become as a god and surmount creation, through Sin, which leads inevitably to death.  Death in this case being of one sacrificial lamb inside the rocket at the books close, as well as the possible mass-death of Pynchon's time in his fear of nuclear war.  Herein lies his fear of technology.

Pynchon, who once helped design rockets for Boeing, is caught in the guilt ridden paradox of his love for science and his love of life.  Using Slothrop again as his object of transference he, "observes his coalition with hopes for success and hopes for disaster about equally high (and no, that doesn't cancel out to apathy--it makes a loud dissonance that dovetails inside you sharp as knives)" (GR 676).  This ironic dissonance carries us over to Pynchon's fears.

                His major fears are death (as discussed above), disconnect from culture, and complete sublimation.  As a recluse he naturally fears becoming completely disconnected with culture.  His protagonist therefore ends his life by dissipating throughout Europe, thus becoming connected to every individual and being remembered throughout culture.  Slothrop becomes part of culture by making his final, albeit cameo, appearance on a record album cover.  Pynchon becomes part of culture by releasing his text into the world.  Conversely, he fears sublimation.  Diversion of his sexual aims leads toward technology and eventually toward global cataclysm.  In classic Pynchonian poignant irreverence, he portrays the military brass as forsaking love.  Whereas in World War I these same officers loved each other, in a sexual way, now they love only the War.  "In this latest War, death was no enemy, but a collaborator.  Homosexuality in high places is just a carnal afterthought now, and the real and only [screw]ing is done on paper..." (GR 616).  Pynchon cannot accept this and so interweaves sexuality throughout his text, to prove and redeem his humanity.


[1] Owens, Bruce, Names Changed to Protect a Genius,  http://www.themodernword.com/pynchon/pynchon_biography.html.

[2] Slade, Joseph, Entropy and Other Calamities, Pynchon: A Collection of Critical Essays, Mendelson, Edward (ed.), Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1978.


Copyright (c) 2003 Jason Helms.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Copyright (c) 2004 Jason Helms.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "
GNU Free Documentation License".