Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 2 Episodes 7 8 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 2, Episodes 7–8 : Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Episode 7

The episode begins with some background on the plastic material Imipolex G, which was invented by Laszlo Jamf. Through Jamf, the narrator traces the interconnections of several pharmaceutical and chemical corporations.

In an imaginary sequence, Slothrop and Blodgett Waxwing, under the name "the Zoot-suit Zanies," stage a raid on Shell Mex House. (Shell Mex House was the London headquarters of the oil companies Shell-Mex and British Petroleum.) Slothrop and Waxwing are "savagely looting files, throwing Molotov cocktails" in their search for the corporate secrets about Imipolex G. They burst into the most secret "sanctum" of the building, but there they find "only a rather dull room," with "business machines ... calmly blinking, files of cards pierced frail as sugar faces."

Back in reality, at the Casino Hermann Goering, Slothrop looks at the parts list for the rocket. He notices a part number for a special part: "S-Gerät 11/00000." (Gerät is German for "thing" or "device.") The second number is perhaps "the serial number for a rocket," but he has never before seen a rocket serial number with five zeroes in a row.

Slothrop takes a walk to think things over, and on the way he glances at a newspaper listing Tantivy Mucker-Maffick among the "Fallen Officers." Tantivy's obituary is written, hypocritically, by Teddy Bloat, now a major. "They did it," Slothrop thinks; the shadowy They "took his friend out to some deathtrap." Slothrop flees, driving to Nice, France, in a stolen car. There he intends to look up the address on the card Waxwing gave him.

The address on the card is a hotel in the Rue Rossini. All night Slothrop hears voices in the hall—drunk people and "revenants" (ghosts) calling out.

The next day, on "his first day Outside," a young woman gives Slothrop his new identity: "He is now an English war correspondent named Ian Scuffling." She also gives Slothrop "the address of one of our people in Zürich" and says Waxwing wishes him luck.

A week later Slothrop arrives in Zürich. There he finds no clear nationalities or sides, "only the War, a single damaged landscape." The war has remade "time and space into its own image. The track runs in different networks now." Slothrop checks into a hotel and looks up "the local Waxwing rep," a Russian named Semyavin. To Semyavin's dismay, everybody is interested in "information" these days. "Someday it'll all be done by machine," Semyavin says of espionage. "Information machines. You are the wave of the future."

In a café, a smuggler named Mario Schweitar offers Slothrop LSD; he says he is from Sandoz, a chemical company. Slothrop declines the LSD but expresses his interest in Sandoz, Jamf, and Imipolex G. Schweitar scoffs, saying Imipolex G is useless, "the company albatross." He claims there are "vice-presidents whose only job is ... going out every Sunday to spit on old Jamf's grave." Slothrop is shocked to learn Jamf is dead.

Slothrop pawns his zoot suit so he can wear something subtler. He meets an Argentine anarchist named Franco Squalidozzi. The Argentine represents a group of anarchists who have hijacked an old German submarine. Slothrop agrees to take a message from Squalidozzi to Geneva for money.

In Geneva, Slothrop makes contact and exchanges messages for Squalidozzi, and then he heads back to Zürich. He can't find Squalidozzi. Finally a messenger arrives. Slothrop gives him a fee, using the money from Squalidozzi to pay Schweitar back for the loan advanced him in Nice. In return, the messenger hands over data about Jamf's Imipolex G.

Part 2, Episode 8

It is May 20, 1945, and it is Whitsunday, a Christian holiday more commonly called Pentecost in the United States. (Pentecost occurs on the seventh Sunday after Easter and celebrates the Holy Spirit appearing before Jesus's apostles.) Pointsman, Jessica, Mexico, Katje, and a representative of Shell Mex House are at a seaside resort in England. Pointsman knew all about Slothrop fleeing the Riviera. He approved of it in advance, as a cost-saving measure for PISCES: "Let Slothrop escape [from the Riviera] ... and then rely on Secret Service to keep him under surveillance." But now military intelligence has lost track of Slothrop.

Pointsman is upset about another blunder. He authorized two Americans to investigate the map of Slothrop's erotic encounters in London, "the erotic Poisson [distribution]." The Poisson distribution suggests the probability that a set number of events will occur in a defined interval of time or space with a constant rate and independent of the time of the last event. But they cannot verify a single one of the women: "No Jenny. No Sally W. No Cybele. No Angela."

The narration shifts focus rapidly: King Kong; Murphy's Law; the "'S-Gerät"; and the possible connections between the Schwarzkommando (the German Herero rocket troops) and "Operation Black Wing" (the British psyops [psychological operations] squadron of fake black German rocket troops).

Analysis

Slothrop's identity changes are Pynchon's experiment in what a novel's protagonist can be. Some novels explore what Ned Pointsman might call a protagonist's conditioned reflexes, the causes that led to certain psychological and emotional destinies. Although Gravity's Rainbow's plot is about Slothrop's mysterious rocket reflex (especially in Parts 1 and 2), it is also about what Mexico might call possibility. Far from demonstrating what determines a character's attributes, Pynchon explores character as an array of possibilities. But this state of shifting and dissolving identities is not without its costs, at least for Slothrop. At the end of the novel he is painfully isolated.

In Part 2, Episode 8, Pynchon briefly explores what it means when a story's villain dissolves. In a fantasy sequence, Slothrop and Blodgett Waxwing, under the name "the Zoot-suit Zanies," stage a raid on Shell Mex House, the London headquarters of the oil companies Shell-Mex and British Petroleum. They want to find corporate secrets and learn something about Imipolex G. But they find "only a rather dull room," with "business machines ... calmly blinking." ("Business machine" is a mid-20th-century term for a computer.) These are the old IBM-style business machines, with punch cards. As the black marketer Semyavin says, "Information machines. You are the wave of the future."

However, Pynchon could have planted references to any late 20th-century technology into this World War II setting. The significance of the Shell Mex fantasy is not to name-check IBM or information machines. It is significant as an exploration of what it means to fight a conspiracy. If the enemy is power distributed in complex ways all over the globe, where is the battlefield? This explains the two poles of combat in Gravity's Rainbow: clownish and ghostly. In the clownish mode are pie fights, seltzer bottle hijinks, and miniature steam-train chases. In the ghostly mode, Slothrop futilely battles a vast system, one so distributed its weak points cannot be found.

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