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A Weird Death: The Schwarzkommando and the Symbolic Challenge in Gravity's Rainbow.

Pynchon Notes 2008, Spring-Fall, 54-55

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Toward the end of Gravity's Rainbow, in a passage closely related to the "scattering" or transformation of Tyrone Slothrop, we find this strange and rigorous maxim: "'the object of life is to make sure you die a weird death. To make sure that however it finds you, it will find you under very weird circumstances. To live that kind of life....'" (742). Although the maxim is obscure, it clearly conveys an antagonistic stance. Weird death is set against the notion of natural and rationalizable--that is, medically, biologically and conceptually determinable--death. A weird death, like Slothrop's, is indefinable, resisting all attempts to locate it in space (the body) or in time (the moment of death). The elliptical fragment at the end of the passage makes it clear that there is no conception of death without a certain conception of life and the conditions under which it is lived, and thus any attempt to have control over death entails having control over life. So the passage on weird death is political in its absurdity: the escape from rationalization becomes a moment of resistance, resistance not only to any univocal meaning of death but also to control over the transition from life to death. Many characters in Pynchon's fiction indeed die a weird death. Often characters who die seem to continue their existence in some liminal state between life and death, as if what has happened to them takes the form of death but does not involve actual dying--something "'"like death, only different"'" (Pynchon, VI 170). And characters who live constantly feel that they are, in a sense, already dead, that they have changed into machinic beings that only resemble humans, or that they hover like ghosts between existence and nonexistence. Lady V., Pierce Inverarity, Oedipa Maas, Tyrone Slothrop, Weed Atman, Ortho Bob Dulang, the Thanatoids, Rebekah Mason--ontologically indeterminate characters are a persistent strain in Pynchon's fiction.

A Weird Death: The Schwarzkommando and the Symbolic Challenge in Gravity's Rainbow.
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 22 March 2008
  • Publisher: Pynchon Notes
  • Print Length: 35 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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