Fifty-Six: Believe It or Not, Pool Movies

04.29: Gravity’s Rainbow

In which we continue our discussion of Gravity’s Rainbow with a look at the final two episodes of Book Three.

Alan mentions “Esther Williams set pieces.” Here’s a pretty good example from The Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).

Bo mentions a similar scene from Mel Brooks’s History of the World, Part 1 (1981)You can find it here. Fast forward to about the four-minute mark to get the swim section of the song.

Here’s an interesting bit on Wikipedia about the ace of spades as used in WWII. And here’s a little write-up about why the ace of spades is called the death card.

Bo mentions Puzti Hanfstaengl as an unlikely origin for the name of the bar in episode 31. You can hear about him here.

6 thoughts on “Fifty-Six: Believe It or Not, Pool Movies

  1. I really think the last chapter is great and serves an essential purpose at this point in the novel.

    From a Twitter DM I wrote in the laundromat:

    It doesn’t end with Slothrop resting safely for once. That would be too much like a regular novel. We get to check in on Tchitcherine, he “decodes” (I like how you all phrased the series of revelations characters have towards the end of In The Zone) that there is a counterforce in the Zone, which is obvious foreshadowing, and getting us ready for The Counterforce. This chapter also jumps places and times a lot more than the mostly linear narrative of the Zone.

    Tchitcherine being “useful” to me means that he can be used up in service of a particular use, so it means he has to accelerate progress on his personal vendetta against Enzian before Soviet high command takes him out. I found his realization that someone (Slothrop) has been out there thwarting his plans to be a parallel to Slothrop’s own illumination in the last chapter: there are so many interesting hustles going on that one could alternately hide among them or get randomly tripped up by them.

    The Argentinians are there to reintroduce the theme of freedom/anarchy and filling a void. It’s starting to crumble and crash in around their little atavistic endeavor, but they built that city on magical thinking (take that Starship!) and seem committed to the idea that they can be one of many tiny bubbles and continue to achieve grace by being passed over for the authorities to come in and pop.

    The dogs I saw as being about religion too, and I did find the image of “eager sociologists” dead around Dog City fairly funny too. Also, “eager sociologists” reminds me of the “eager fraüleins and also seems funny. The kind human in the memory seems to me to suggest that They plant cozy memories like that (a Norman Rockwell painting) as propaganda to keep us conditioned to servitude. A reminder that this book has constant mentions of control and regimentation of human lives by bureaucracies. We are all dogs in Dog City. Even if Slothrop and Tchitcherine can see alternatives, They are still pulling the strings, and will eventually wind up all the loose ends.

    The Mossmoon/Scammony bit about homosexuality made me think about the contrasts between high/low and elect/preterite. The WWI soldiers going to die found comfort in one another nihilistically but authentically. They were able to find connection and give of themselves because they were witnessing the destruction of all forms of order around them and expected to die. But to the next, post WWI generation it became a symbol of status: to be upper crust enough to be “debauched” and hide it. It became a display of privilege from one elite to another, and another thing to be commodified. Think about execs that need to have a better car/country club/vacation than everyone else around them. This is no different- a pastime for the rich that would be shunned among the lower classes, but also a way to show off wealth through conspicuous consumption. They are still in control, Their plans are still in motion. “the tenants come and go, but the places remain…”

    This chapter is there for:
    -housekeeping, tying up threads
    -emphasizing parts of this journey that are going to become more relevant
    -pacing: it jumps around in time and perspective more, like in The Counterforce
    -giving us another creepy interlude in which Tyrone is sleeping peacefully while the gears of Their plans continue to turn. Death is impersonal, just doing business. “And the real and only fucking is done on paper…”

    I love this madcap dash across the fragmenting Zone. It’s a reminder that we’re in TP’s crazy headspace. It’s a good place to be.

  2. Is Seaman Bodine tripping during the runcible spoon fight and ensuing kerfuffle?

    “he is coming on to a proprietary mixture known as Krypton Blue, and so it is a giddy passage to the dispensary, not without moments of deep inattention”

    “‘Micrograms’, Krypton striking his head dramatically, “that’s right, micrograms, not milligrams…'”

    This is after Seaman Bodine hears about the opium marbles and is stroking his thumbs, and feels paranoid in the presence of law enforcement. He’s coming on(? – like in the 60’s with acid) to a “proprietary mixture known as the Krypton Blue” (60’s – LSD batches were named like “Monterey Purple” or “Orange Sunshine”). LSD works at the microgram scale, one of the few drugs to do so. It would also account for the wave of paranoia at seeing the police but giddiness and inattention when left free to walk. It would also partly explain the comic bookish feel to a lot of the antics (Bodine’s cornering technique? Inability to shift gears?) and his strange lucidity amidst all the drunks around him.

    Albert Hoffman took the first LSD trip in Switzerland on April 19, 1943. It could be on the black market for a properly connected person…

  3. Thanks for the thorough analysis, Brando.

    I haven’t listened to the episode in a while, but I think our confusion was more about ending on the Mossmoon scene than about the other elements (though your thoughts certainly illuminate them more brightly!), but I could be wrong. I’m planning on revisiting the book’s depictions of sexuality when we do a capstone episode on the entire book. I’m hoping we’ll get some interesting material there and can add your comments to the discussion, with your permission and how you’d like it attributed. Either way, look out for that and feel free to reach out to us with your reaction. I’d be interested to hear what you think!

    As to the LSD theory – I think you’re onto something (or maybe just on something?)! I hadn’t thought of that, but there seems to be some good textual and historical evidence for it. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hey Chris!
      Thanks for reading my poorly typed ramblings. I subject the ever patient Bo to all sorts of this via Twitter DM.

      Something that I didn’t get out but ruminated on further that day, and since posting is to point out how the ends of “Beyond the Zero” and “Un Perm’ au Casino Herman Goering” are also kinda weird endings to their books too. The last bit of BtZ leaves us with a strong image of Roger and Jessica before they jump back into the narrative. There’s also the strong allusions to witchcraft and Roger seeming to know his fate but go about doing it anyway.
      The end of “Un Perm’…” is super weird too. Pointsman and the unlikely group of PISCES staff (Roger and Jessica make their only appearance in this part at all if I recall correctly) while Pointsman has a psychiatric episode in which either his unconscious or another mind intrudes into his and tries to introduce the idea of dualism.
      In this case, I think he’s really trying to show the labrynthine nature of the postwar corporate emergent order. It foreshadows the racketen-stadt and the surreal dissolution of Slothrop’s mind. Borders don’t matter anymore, just ownership when transnational corporations rule the world.

      You all have a lovely podcast. Please take good care of my favorite book and send The Counterforce off with a bang!

      1. That’s a good point, Brando. You’re right; the final chapters of each section introduce new aspects or narrative digressions. There is a pattern to it. Good pick up!

        As always, thanks for listening and for commenting (and for your interactions with me and with the larger community on Twitter).

      2. ***Spoiler alert if you’re reading this comment and haven’t finished the book yet***

        Good point! This applies to the final sub-section of The Counterforce as well. We’re in the “present” and there’s not a single character we know (except, in a way, William Slothrop).

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