Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom

Luc Herman and Steven Weisenburger

A provocative analysis of one of the twentieth century's most radical and enduring novels

Reviews

“Herman and Weisenburger bring immense erudition to their altogether fresh study of the work they rightly characterize as a ‘towering achievement.’ ‘Gravity’s Rainbow,’ Domination, and Freedom is a terrific contribution not only to Pynchon studies but also to our understanding of the cultural matrix within which this author—still America’s most important and vital novelist—invented himself and his extraordinary fictions.”
—David Cowart, author of Thomas Pynchon and the Dark Passages of History

“Herman and Weisenburger rehistoricize and recontextualize Gravity’s Rainbow. They synthesize literary criticism, narratology, psychology, cultural history, and political analysis to produce this unprecedentedly deep and detailed understanding of the place of Pynchon’s novel in—its status and role as a document of—its time and ours. The genius of the book is that it gives us not only a vivid sense of that past but also a new and newly urgent sense of our present and possible future.”
—John M. Krafft, Miami University


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Description

When published in 1973, Gravity’s Rainbow expanded our sense of what the novel could be. Pynchon’s extensive references to modern science, history, and culture challenged any reader, while his prose bent the rules for narrative art and his satirical practices taunted U.S. obscenity and pornography statutes. His writing thus enacts freedom even as the book’s great theme is domination: humanity’s diminished “chances for freedom” in a global military-industrial system birthed and set on its feet in World War II. Its symbol: the V-2 rocket.

“Gravity’s Rainbow,” Domination, and Freedom broadly situates Pynchon’s novel in “long sixties” history, revealing a fiction deeply of and about its time. Herman and Weisenburger put the novel’s abiding questions about freedom in context with sixties struggles against war, restricted speech rights, ethno-racial oppression, environmental degradation, and subtle new means of social and psychological control. They show the text’s close indebtedness to critiques of domination by key postwar thinkers such as Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Hannah Arendt. They detail equally powerful ways that sixties countercultural practices—free-speech resistance played out in courts, campuses, city streets, and raucously satirical underground presswork—provide a clearer bearing on Pynchon’s own satirical practices and their implicit criticisms.

If the System has jacketed humanity in a total domination, may not a solitary individual still assert freedom? Or has the System captured all—even supposedly immune elites—in an irremediable dominion? Reading Pynchon’s main characters and storylines, this study realizes a darker Gravity’s Rainbow than critics have been willing to see.



Page count: 256 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9

 

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Luc Herman is a professor of English and narrative theory at the University of Antwerp. He is the coauthor of Handbook of Narrative Analysis with Bart Vervaeck and the coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon with Inger Dalsgaard and Brian McHale. Steven Weisenburger is a professor of English and the Mossiker Chair in Humanities at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon’s Novel (Georgia), Fables of Subversion: Satire and the American Novel (Georgia), and Modern Medea: A Family Story of Slavery and Child-Murder from the Old South.