Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Food for Thought: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

As part of our ongoing quest to create a contemporary dialogue about the literary classics, we're delighted to bring you our first installation of Food For Thought, a 'dine-by-pages post' aimed to bring your favorite books right to your table. We hope that these meals will work equally well as dinner party fodder or as a simple week-night indulgence. Enjoy!

First up is Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon pgs 9-11:

An installation of Zac Smith's spectacular Gravity's Rainbow Illustrated: One picture for Every Page.

Background: Captain Geoffory "Pirate" Prentice, a Special Operations Executive living with his messmates in a maisonette near the bohemian end of London, has just witnessed the V-2 Rocket's deadly vapor trail (or rainbow) from his roof. The sighting inspires him to go downstairs and cook up an orgiastic banana breakfast. The war is momentarily put on hold and everyone pitches in to help serve up a killer banana-feast. It's a hilarious, iconic, and extremist 'making-do' image. An excerpt is below. Tomorrow morning we'll be serving up a modified version of this breakfast of champions on Livre Life so make sure you check back!

"In the kitchen, black-market marshmallows slide languid into syrup atop Pirate's double boiler, and soon begin thickly to bubble. Coffee brews. On a wooden pub sign daringly taken, one daylight raid, by a drunken Barley Gobbitch across which still survives in intaglio the legend SNIPE AND SHAFT. Teddy Bloat is mincing bananas with a great isosceles knife, from beneath whose nervous blade Pirate with one hand shovels the blonde mash into waffle batter resilient with fresh hens' eggs, for which Osbie Feel has exchanged an equal number of golf balls, these being even rarer this winter than real eggs, other hand blending the fruit in, not over vigourously, with a wire whisk, whilst surly Osbie himself, sucking frequently at a half pint Milk bottle filled with Vat69 and water tends to the bananas in the skillet and the broiler. Near the exit to the blue patio, DeCoverley Poz and Joaquin Stick stand by a concrete scale model of the Jungfrau, which some enthusiast back during the twenties spent a painstaking year modeling and casting before finding out it was too large to get out of any door, socking the slopes of the famous mountain with red rubber hot-water bags full of ice cubes, the idea being to pulverize ithe ice for pirate's banana frappes. With their nights growths of beard, matted hair, bloodshot eyes, miasmata of foul breath, DeCoverley and Joaquin are water gods urging on a tardy glacier..

...Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night's old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjurors secret by which -though it is not often Death is told so lcearly to fuck off-the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down ten or twenty the same asserttion-through structure allows this war morning's banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail. Is ther any reason not to open every window, and let the kind scent blanket all Chelsea? As a spell, against falling objects...." p9-11

Wow The Internet is AMAZING. Check out this chart that Mattikeltanen made. Sad day. He seems to have stopped blogging soon after he made this list. Wonder if the Pynchon challenge had anything to do with his hiatus? Hmm...we're just saying.
Here are a few footnotes that we hope will inspire some scintillating Pynchon-related breakfast table convo:

1. "Pirate" Prentice is a nod to the Glibert & Sullivan musical the Pirates of Penzance. Ruth, the well-meaning but hard of hearing nursery maid, apprentices (see) the dashing Frederick to a "Pirate" as opposed to a Pilot as his father intended.  Pynchon gives Geoffory P Prentice a hero's name. And, with this book, you kind of have to take what you can get in terms of instructive narrative. We've been using GPP as a sort of moral compass in Gravity's Rainbow. (Full disclosure: still only on page 304 so we'll see where this leads.)

At any rate, Prentice's reaction to seeing the V-2/A4 rocket in the sky is not to have a serious freak out but to 'keep calm and carry on', specifically he picks bananas. 

 "Oughtn't he to be doing something...get on to the operations room at Stanmore, they must have it on the Channel radars-no: no time, really. Less than five minutes Hague to here (the time it takes to walk down to the teashop on the corner...for light from the sun to reach the planet of time at all). Run out in the street? Warn the others? 
Pick bananas. He trudges through the black compost in to the hothouse. He feels he's about to shit. Th emissle, sixty miles high, must be coming up on th epeak of its trajectory by now...beginning its"

What does this say about Pirate's character? Pynchon seems to think that heroism doesn't have a place in this instance. Sure, Pirate doesn't have enough time to alert anyone, but another author might have him try. Does this make you nervous/enervated/energized about the overall tone of the book?

2. Guido Almansi, an Oxford scholar and one of Pynchon's biggest champions, suggests that the banana breakfast is an homage to Henry Miller's fried banana breakfast in his novel Tropic of Capricorn. 

Recipes and banana breakfast pics to follow!

Also, it's important not to overlook banana=phallus. In case you had forgotten, for a second, that this book is about MEN in the ARMY. 

1 comment:

  1. this book seems impossible!! WTF? This would take years to read. orgiastic banana breakfast? v bizarre.