Footnotes from Beyond the Zero, Part I

Perhaps a sign of literary masochism, I’ve taken to reading the infamous rainbow. To be perfectly honest, I’m in way over my head. Is it too much to hope that the novel is deliberately nonsensical? That I don’t understand what is going on half the time because I’m actually not supposed to? Maybe. I don’t know, and I’m not sure I ever will. However, for whatever reason, there is one thing I’m really enjoying about the novel, and that is the footnotes, or, rather, the lack therof. Pynchon salts his prose with words, concepts, and ideas that are vague and esoteric; they require a certain amount of work in order to be understood. Though there is one resource that makes this exercise thankfully simpler, I have enjoyed going through these references and figuring them out. So, kind of as a way to keep track of what I’ve learned, I’ll be posting whatever interesting tidbits I’ve found. Heres to hoping you find this interesting…

  • Gravity’s Rainbow: No better place to start than the title. The most obvious, and therefore common, interpretation for “gravity’s rainbow” is the parabola described by the rocket’s trajectory from launch to hit, as the projectile gradually loses its battle with gravity (the point at which gravity begins to win is known as Brennschluss) and is finally pulled back to earth. There are other interpretations, including a speculation concerning a poem by Rilke and the assertion that the very structure of the plot (such as it can be referred to as a “plot”) demonstrates the same guiding principles as the arcing path of a rocket…
  • Narodniks: Coming from the Russian root narod, meaning “people”, Narodniks literally means “going to the people”. It was a movement among idealistic Russian intellectuals in the 1860s and 1870s in which they abandoned their urban life and attempted to “go to the people” in the hopes of convincing the peasantry of their moral duty to revolt. They found almost no support among the suspicious peasants, and were swiftly and brutally crushed by the Tsarist Police (known as Okhrana). Though they experienced little success, their tactics, ideas and practices influenced later revolutionary groups.
  • dacoit: “The Dacoits were Burmese guerrillas who fled to the hills and jungle after the overthrow of Burma in 1886, and waged a desultory campaign against the British for several years.” The term dacoity has come to be known more generally as robbery by soldiers or a gang.
  • Fuzzy Wuzzies: No, they aren’t bears. A derogatory term used by the British for Sudanese muslims (in reference to their hair, which was, well fuzzy). In 1884, a British force was badly defeated by a local tribe (known as “Mahdists”) which fought with spears. The British eventually proved victorious, and the Mahdists’ bravery against the British was honored in a poem by Rudyard Kipling.
  • I just like this quote: “Shit, money, and the World, the three American truths, powering the American mobility, claimed the Slothrops, clasped them for good to the country’s fate. But they did not prosper… about all they did was persist” [page 28] I like it not so much for its content, but, rather, its structure.

Well, that’s all for tonight. I hope you’ve found this interesting. I certainly have. At the rate I am going, I should finish the book sometime around Christmas! Next up is the enigmatic Dr. Lazlo Jamf and Poisson distributions, among other oddities…

2 thoughts on “Footnotes from Beyond the Zero, Part I”

  1. Dr. Lazlo Jamf is passing out fish? or are these metaphorical fish?

    my one brush with Pynchon was the ill-fated copy of The Crying of Lot 49 I was supposed to read last semester. poor thing. it’s been neglected somewhere in my house at school, probably “lost forever”.

  2. LOL. Dr. Jamf and Poisson distributions were meant to be seperate subjects, but now that I think about it, they are related, albeit, indirectly.

    The Crying of Lot 49 is supposed to be quite good, and its very, very short. I probably should have tackled that before I took on GR, which is just kicking my arse…

Comments are closed.