Sunday, July 7, 2019

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story

She's got everything she needs, she's an artist, she don't look back.
- She Belongs To Me

Where have you been, my blue-eyed son
and where have you been, my darling young one? 
- A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

I've spent considerable time reading reviews and news items on the new Martin Scorsese/Bob Dylan Netflix film based on Dylan's 1975 Rolling Thunder tour of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and up into Canada, and have found that most of the journalists and bloggers don't know what to make of it; it fails to fit into their preconceived categories, their tunnel realities, of what they think it should be.  It appears they can't handle or process the cleverly seamless blend of fiction injected into and interwoven with a historical document.  One publication went so far as to call it an anti-documentary.  I disagree, it doesn't seem against documentaries because it blends fact and artifice.  As Dylan scholar Thomas Palaima put it: "Truth to Dylan, to people who really understand, is not factual information, which quickly evaporates. Truth is something that's essential to the human experience."

I consider this story a postmodern film, a work of art intended to provoke thought and emotion like any great art.  It has many of the qualities attributed to postmodern literature including multiple perspectives  and levels of meaning.  The fictional characters create credible additional perspectives giving truthful insights into different facets of this tour despite not being literally factual.  The money man/tour promoter shares his perspective, the seventeen-year-old fan who joins the tour helping with the costumes, the Rolling Stone reporter doing his job and dealing with his corporate editor, the prisoner and subject of a song protesting injustice, the limo driver, a politician,various fans etc., all reflect different angles of this business we call show.  Some of these characters came from a writer's pen, others known to be historically accurate, and you can't tell the difference between the two unless told.  The fictional and factual characters mingle, blend and interweave their stories between each other.

Multiple levels: This film seems almost as much about the United States of America as it does Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder tour.  It begins on Bicentennial Day, July 4, 1976, with footage that has absolutely nothing to do with the tour, which finished over 6 months before, except that they both celebrate America.  In a film that boasts an extremely rich and varied expression of music — not only the concert footage — the rehearsals, impromptu sing-alongs, jams at parties etc., etc, — the first music we hear is The Stars and Stripes Forever from a marching band. The first singing fragment, almost a throw-away, comes from "Uncle Sam" singing a quirky version of The Star Spangled Banner, "dedicated to the future of the Republic, God bless America."  Cut to a solo Dylan singing  Mr. Tambourine Man in concert, then to a Fourth of July parade, marching majorettes displaying a huge Revolutionary era U.S. flag as Dylan sings the line: "Though I know the evening's empire has returned into sand," given a new interpretation especially when considering current events. 

That's followed by an audio, then visual crossfade to Richard Nixon orating a Bicentennial speech, pointing out America's importance in the world, while also implicitly endorsing immigration.  It's hard not to compare his righteous rhetoric, Nixon of all people! with the farce currently going down in Washington, D.C. This marks the first temporal anomaly in the film, another postmodern trait. Nixon resigned in the summer of 1974, a year and a half before the Bicentennial, yet the way this is edited makes you think he's giving the speech, as President, in 1976. "We act not just for ourselves but for all mankind."

This misdirection should come as no surprise.  The film begins with old footage of a stage illusionist making a woman disappear then bringing her back.  It seems part of the film's mission to ontologically shake-up assumptions about exactly what is going on.  Editing and using sound and visuals in this way to create new contexts and factual illusions reminds me strongly of Orson Welle's F is for Fake "documentary" that looked at art forgery through using the techniques of film forgery. Robert Anton Wilson wrote an excellent account of the sleight-of-hand in that film that could give some insight into how Scorsese constructed this Bob Dylan story

Like other postmodern historical documents, the Rolling Thunder story appears as much a comment on the current state of affairs as it does the period it covers.  This seems an incredibly beautiful, hopeful and elegant protest against the current presidential administration; a pièce de résistance.  The President of the United States becomes a subtextual theme without ever mentioning the current pretender.  We are told that Stefan van Dorp, the original film maker of the tour, made a film called The American Presidents, by shooting Madame Tussaud's wax effigies of Presidents; we get creepy footage of the wax presidential figures to accompany the story  Much is made, documented with old recordings, about Dylan's influence on Jimmy Carter.  We see Carter giving a speech where he says, "in Bob Dylan's words, America is busy being born, not busy dying," in what appears a direct rebuke to the current political climate.  At one concert someone yells out: "Bob Dylan for President." Dylan responds, "President of what?"

Paradox appears part and parcel of a postmodern piece and we encounter a great deal here.  On the question of wearing masks onstage, Dylan opines that there should have been more masks in the production because wearing a mask lets you tell the truth.  He's not wearing any visible mask when he says this, is he telling the truth?  More sage advice from Mr. Tambourine Man comes early in the film when he says Life isn't about finding yourself or finding anything, it's about creating yourself."  Near the end, in response to Hurricane Carter always asking what he's searching for, Dylan tells him he's "searching for the Holy Grail, like Sir Galahad."

I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met one woman whose body was burning 
I met a young girl she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man wounded in hatred.
- A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall


After a long segment showing how close President Jimmy Carter is to Bob —he calls up Dylan to get his buddy into a show (another time anomaly)— it cuts to Dylan asking from the stage, "If anyone knows someone with political pull to get this man out of jail."  You have the paradoxical irony of Dylan saying there's absolutely nothing left of the Rolling Thunder Revue,"it's ashes!" in a film that uses a large stock of recorded remnants and personal reminiscences of the tour to create a brilliant political and artistic statement.  The film's promoters bill it as "alchemic," and I fervently agree.  A careful blending of substances to encourage the transformational process.  Thank the Gods of Music and Magic that it didn't literally become ashes.

Confronting paradoxes forces the viewer to think in different ways as opposed to passively accepting everything on a superficial level.  It challenges and provokes interested participants to dig deeper.   Paradox helps to wake up out of conditioned, associative thinking; it forms the basis of a Zen koan. The digging deeper of a working mystic has a musical expression in the song Dark As A Dungeon played at most Rolling Thunder performances. 

Postmodern works demand that the audience engage actively to co-create the experience.  Jaques Levy: "I get asked so many times what is the significance of the 5th day of May (first line of Isis)? I say, make up your own significance." "It's a swirling circus of provocations that illuminates and obfuscates like a Dylan song." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone magazine.

Another level this film operates on is that of the Bardo and Magick. The very first image shows a sailing schooner in New York Harbor to symbolically indicate embarking upon a voyage;  every scene presenting a different chamber along the way.  Scorsese cuts in a recurring image of Dylan in otherwordly, diffuse sunlight leading a single file of people up a hill while blowing on a bugle; the Hierophant, pied piper, or psychopomp leading the way.  Violinist Scarlet Rivera has a small picture of the Grateful Dead violinist from the cover of the album Blues for Allah taped on her violin. "This is my friend, he keeps me company.  He's playing the dance beyond his limits ... something that most people would say is impossible, but artists like to challenge the impossible."


Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, the tour's poet laureate and resident Holyman, visit Jack Kerouac's grave. "He wrote a lot about being dead," Ginsberg on Kerouac, then they read a poem about Life and Death from Kerouac's Mexico City Blues.  Early in the film Patti Smith delivers a passionate, surrealistic poem touching upon esoteric themes vis-a-vis Dylan's work and their relationship:  "I move in another dimension, I move in another dimension ..."

Playwright Sam Shephard served as the tour's screenwriter.  Dylan:  "Sam, how did you write all those plays? He said, 'man, it's like I commune with the dead.'
Yeah, you'd have to to write plays like that.  So I asked him if he would write the screenplay to the film van Dorp was making." (i.e. this film)

Was that the thunder that I heard?
My head is vibrating I feel a sharp pain
Come sit by me, don't say word
Can it be that I am slain?
                                           - Romance in Durango

When he died I was hoping that it wasn't contagious
But I made up my mind that I had to get on.
                                                                              - Isis

* * * * * * 

Like at least three great masterpieces of postmodern literature, Finnegans Wake, Gravity's Rainbow, and Nabokov's Pale Fire, The Rolling Thunder Revue symbolically references the archetypal Fall from Grace almost immediately in its narrative.  The first scene pans up to show one of the World Trade Center towers from ground level almost right below it, where it would collapse a little more than 35 years later after getting attacked by terrorists.  "Saigon had fallen, people had seemed to have lost their sense of conviction for ... for just about anything." A contemporary Bob Dylan's first interview words about three minutes in.  All of these great works of art have some kind of thread that goes through a labyrinthian journey toward a path of Redemption.  A way out of the pit or prison.  "Maintain the thread of consciousness," the Tibetan Lamas instruct the voyaging souls on their trips through the Underworld.

This symbolism speaks on a macrocosmic scale: the fall of America and hope for recovery on a socio/political level; the fall from Paradise and return to the Garden on a spiritual level. We recognize and apply the Hermetic formula: As above, so below.  On a microcosmic scale, the fall from Grace and hope for Redemption plays out in a song that expressed a prime mission of Dylan's at the time — Hurricane,  a song about freeing the boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter who got framed and unjustly imprisoned for murder.  The fall:

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out, "My God, they've killed them all

The hope for redemption:

Now all the criminals in their coats and ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a 10 foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell.

That's the story of the Hurricane
But it won't be over until they clear his name
And give him back the time he's done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a-been
The champion of the world.

                                                         - Hurricane, words by Jacques Levy

This dynamic gets foreshadowed in the title, Rolling Thunder.  At least three different explanations are given in the film concerning the significance of this name and how it came to represent the tour.

I heard the sound of thunder, it roared out a warning
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
                                                                            - A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

We see a segment in the film narrated by Chief Rolling Thunder talking about the injustices done to the American indigenous people: "the worst of all ... they took our way of life."  Dylan says the tour was named after him though former Rolling Stone journalist Ratso Sloman testifies that Dylan chose the name after hearing rolling thunder while ruminating on what to call the tour.  Sloman also points out that Rolling Thunder was the U.S. Army's mission name for the bombing operation of Cambodia, the planes took off from Guam — coincidentally, the name of Dylan's backing band for this tour.

Dylan admits to reading James Joyce.  For the significance I bring to this party, I wish to connect Rolling Thunder with the thunderwords from Finnegans Wake:

"There are ten thunders in the Wake. Each is a cryptogram or codified explanation of the thundering and reverberating consequences of the major technological changes in all human history. When a tribal man hears thunder, he says, 'What did he say that time?', as automatically as we say 'Gesundheit.'" -- Marshall McLuhan

A great John Carpenter film from the mid '80s, Big Trouble in Little China uses the imagery of thunder to roar out warnings.  It's used throughout with great effect - one of the evil sorcerer's sidekicks, known as the Storms, is named Thunder, the other two being Lightening and Rain.  The last lines of the film sum up this imagery:

You just listen to the ole pork chop express here now and take his advice on a dark and stormy night when the lightning is crashing and the thunder is rolling and the rain coming down in sheets as thick as lead.  Just remember what old Jack Burton does when the earth quakes and the poison arrows fall from the sky and the pillars of Heaven shake, yeah Jack Burton just looks at the big ole storm square in the eye and says, "give me your best shot, I can take it." 

Trump America seem one such storm.  The Rolling Thunder Revue appears crucially relevant to the current political and social situation in America and the World. It portrays a history pointing at the present story.  It presents a problem and offers a solution.

* * * * * * 

One scene in particular expresses authentic magical realism: the intro to I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine plays under Richard Nixon's resignation speech, the verse starts immediately after Nixon resigns — making a very powerful wish and intention.  Though only a fragment of the song is used, the expertly editing film sequence presents a montage of President-in-crisis footage; the music fading in and out strikes a resonant gravity's rainbow effect, tragedy juxtaposed against the direction of redemption, the problem thrown in your face against the occult background of a solution.  Listen to the whole song or even just read the lyrics to amp up the effect. If you've ever read William Burroughs on using sound and image to magically project a different reality, a line of flight, then you may appreciate the magical expertise Scorsese puts into play.

Pay attention and follow the sequence of scenes as if they comprise a series communicating a coherent sense of something; a path toward transcending current conditions.  Joni Mitchell teaches her newly recorded song Coyote to Roger McGuinn, Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot in Lightfoot's Toronto apartment: " ...  a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway ..." cut to the band bus driving between two thick lines of snow on a frozen Canadian highway; an impromptu sing-a-long of Love Potion Number 9 by The Searchers breaks out - extremely profound if you listen to the lyrics.  Much earlier in the drama, Patti Smith gives a poetic, impressionistic account of the Great Work to an attentive and receptive Bob Dylan, clearly enraptured in this intimate scene.  More confirmation that this film rightfully gets billed as Alchemic.

After much prompting by Hurricane Carter, Dylan states directly that he's searching for the Holy Grail.  For those who know this subject and Dylan's work, this sounds blatantly obvious, a monumental understatement, yet it's nice to hear him say it.  This search becomes clear listening to his songs repeatedly, but also gets artistically underscored and illustrated by Sharon Stone's part in the film, particularly in the story of the song he says he wrote for her.  Scarlet Rivera gives other examples that reinforce the point.  The Grail comprises the central feature in the Tarot card The Chariot, beautifully illustrated in the Thoth deck.  In a series of short YouTube interviews with Scarlet Rivera by Prism Archive in 2017, in the 4th one, Scarlet talks about how protective Dylan acted toward her and how it seemed like he deliberately lifted her up.  It's worth seeing for an excellent example of the Chariot archetype put into action.

Diving deep, we find a short subtextual thread addressing the Timothy Leary issue.  Leary had a complicated, adversarial attitude toward Dylan in the 70's.  Jesse Walker writes of how Leary directed "pages of bile" against Bob in William F. Buckley's National Review (reprinted in Neuropolitics) going so far as to blame him for Squeaky Fromme's assassination attempt against President Gerald Ford.  That assassination attempt and a close-up of Fromme are in The Rolling Thunder Revue:  A Bob Dylan Story. Leary also made Dylan the protagonist of his book, What Does WoMan Want? and later publicly apologized for his harsh comments.

In one of the more artistic narratives, film maker Stefan van Dorp talks about how important L.S.D. became to him.  We then see an artistic rendition of a profile that looks like Leary at the time.  I thought of him immediately.  Then we get a montage of how psychedelics influenced van Dorp's work beginning with a video of Venus by Shocking Blue.  I consider it a great pop song, but it has nothing to do with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue.  This whole segment seems non sequitur, like taking an unexpected turn in the bardo, until you realize that it provides a context for Bob to dish on his feelings toward Leary.  Not that everything Dylan says about van Dorp necessarily applies to Leary, the viewer gets to exercise their discernment about that.  The van Dorp character shouldn't been seen as only representing Leary, just that it overlaps.  The lyrics for Venus do conceptually resonate with Dylan's search.


Scorsese closes the film with Knockin' On Heavens Door concert footage.  This became the penultimate song in their concerts.  Dylan often improvised with the opening verse:

Mama wash the blood from my face
I can't see through it anymore
I need someone to talk to and a new hiding place
Feel like I'm knockin' on Heaven's door

I suspect McGuinn wrote the second verse, because it's new, not in the original, and he always sings it:

Mama I can hear that thunder roll
Echoing down from God's distant shore
I can hear him calling out for my Soul
I feel I'm knockin' on Heaven's door.

The intensity of the invocation upon the two singers at this point has to be seen to be believed. Where the third verse would go, Scorsese cuts to Allan Ginsberg offering a final prayer that sounds like his version of 'Do what thou wilt' — very inspiring.


Monday, July 1, 2019

Gravity's Rainbow, Timothy Leary and the Occult Part 5

In our last episode, we examined the linguistic coding in the name of GR's primary protagonist, Tyrone Slothrop.  We found two anagrams by arranging his name appearing to go in opposite directions. 1) Sloth Entropy - sounds like something with much gravity. 2. Try One Porthol(e)s - that signals hope, like a rainbow.  We called Sloth Entropy, the signifier and Try One Porthol(e)s the signified.   This arises from invoking Deleuze to analyze these two anagrams as two simultaneous series related to one another.  According to Gilles, and demonstrated by Pynchon, the signifying has an excess of sense, in the case of Sloth Entropy, the extra letter o that doesn't belong in the anagram while the signified has a lack of sense - the missing letter e in Try One Porthols.  Deleuze says that the excess always refers to its own lack.

The signifier series has an extremely mobile empty place - the extra o, in this case; the signified series has an occupant without a place, always displaced - the missing e.  Last time I suggested looking at Chapter 57 in The Book of Lies for an insight into PLACE.  Since then, I came across this passage appearing to reinforce the suggestion:

"But oh, Egg the flying Rocket hatched from, navel of the 50-meter radio sky, all proper ghosts of place—forgive him his numbness, his glozing neutrality. Forgive the fist that doesn't tighten in his chest, the heart that can't stiffen in any greeting. . . . Forgive him as you forgave Tchitcherine at the Kirghiz Light. . . . . Better days are coming."  - GR, p. 518

The rainbow anagram derives from rearranging the letters of Tyrone to get "try one," while Slothrop gives us "porthols."  We can come up with another anagram arranging Tyrone Slothrop using the letters of both names interchangeably.  Try One Porthols can shift the e to become Try On Portholes.  This still sounds pretty abstract unless we consider Crowley's ON formula.  Earlier I gave my intuitive feeling that Pynchon knows this formula; either that, or the formula came through him despite not having conscious awareness of it.

They stood on the roof of one of the assembly buildings, the Oie across the water six miles away clearly visible, which meant a change in the weather tomorrow.  Steel was being hammered somewhere out in the sunlight, hammered in cadences, purified as the song of some bird.  Blue Peenemünde shivered around them in all directions, a dream of concrete and steel masses reflecting the noon heat.  The air rippled like camouflage.  Behind it something else seemed to carry on in secret.  GR p. 415

On seeing the light jangling this way, you begin to wait for something terrible — not exactly an air raid but something close to that.  You look quickly over at a clock.  It's six on the dot, hands perfectly straight up and down, and you understand that six is the hour of the appearance of the light.  GR p. 139

I came across other examples more convincing, but didn't note them.  The first example has an obvious, alchemical subtext.  The "Oie" refers to a rocket launching site;  it clearly fits in with this linguistic drama.

Looking at ON with basic Tarot attributions

O = The Devil
N= Death

Crowley extends this formula by adding the letter X to get NOX.  He presents this formula for the first time in The Book of Lies, Chapter 1, The Sabbath of the Goat.  The Goat = Capricorn = The Devil.  The Sabbath of the Goat = Death.  In the Commentary he writes: N is the Tarot symbol, Death; and the X or Cross is the sign of the Phallus.  For a fuller commentary on Nox, see Liber VII, Chapter 1.  Recall the symbolic resonance of the Rocket with the Arrow of aspiration:

37.  I shoot up vertically like an arrow, and become that Above.
38. But it is death, and the flame of the pyre
39. Ascend in the flame of the pyre, O my soul! Thy God is like the cold emptiness of the utmost heaven, into which thou radiatest thy little light.
40. When Thou shall know me, O empty God, my flame shall utterly expire in Thy great N.O.X. 
...
44. I have thrown a million flowers from the Basket of the Beyond at Thy feet, I have anointed Thee and Thy Staff with oil and blood and kisses.
45. I have kindled Thy marble into life — ay! into death.
46. I have been smitten by the reek of Thy mouth, that drinketh never wine but life.
47. How the dew of the Universe whitens the lips!
48. Ah! trickling flow of the stars of the mother Supernal, begone!
49. I Am She that should come, the Virgin of all men.
...
54. Now!
           It is done! Death.
55. I cried aloud the word — and it was a mighty spell to bind the Invisible, an enchantment to unbind the bound, to unbind the bound.
- Liber VII, Chapter 1

Netzach, the seventh sephira on the Tree of Life, corresponds with emotions. Thus, Liber VII dramatizes a passionate, poetic, and emotional exposition of theurgic Magick.  As we read it, Gravity's Rainbow aligns closely with this passage - the first two verses could describe what happens to Gottfried at the end of the book; the last verse above, 55, describes a function of the book as a whole.



After a slight detour through the Night of Pan (NOX) we return to our endlessly fascinating cryptogram.  Deleuze would call Tyrone Slothrop a "paradoxical entity," as other GR commentators probably have.  This entity has two series represented by the anagrams, Sloth Entropy with an excess O = the signifying series; The signified series =  Try One Porthols and Try On Portholes.  Speaking of this paradoxical entity (Tyrone Slothrop), Deleuze writes:

"It is a two sided entity, equally present in the signifying and the signified series.  It is the mirror. Thus, it is at once word and thing, name and object, sense and denotatum, expression and designation, etc. It guarantees, therefore, the convergence of the two series which it traverses, but precisely on the condition that it makes them endlessly diverge.  It has the property of always being displaced in relation to itself. - Logic of Sense, p. 40

Paradoxical indeed, and a fitting characterization of Slothrop.  Deleuze uses a literary example: In Finnegans Wake, once again a letter causes an entire world of series to communicate in a chaos-cosmos.  In Tyrone Slothrop's world of series, Sloth Entropy = chaos; Try On Portholes = cosmos.  They co-exist in the paradoxical entity, in an ever shifting chiaroscuro blend both converging and endlessly diverging; Joyce's chaosmos.

I depart from this topic with one last observation, the subject far from fully exhausted.

O(70) + N(50) = 120 = the Mystic Number of the path of Heh, the English letter E.  Pynchon creates a linguistic demonstration of a magick operation.  Applying the formula of ON in Slothrop's rainbow anagram shifts the letter e to now correctly spelling Portholes, aka wormholes.  He shows this magick operation accessing the quantum world where different kinds of change can occur outside the determinations or Laws of Newtonian physics.  Crowley devotes significant portions of The Book of Lies and The Book of Wisdom and Folly (Liber Aleph) to showing how to apply ON.  Grady McMurtry and Jerry Cornelius continued the effort  to explicate and understand it further.

The title of Pynchon's book just prior to GR, The Crying of Lot 49, resonates with this discussion.  See Chapter 49 in The Book of Lies.

* * * * * * 

The characteristics and measurement of Time changes drastically in the worlds of Relativistic and Quantum physics.  Pynchon plays around with time anomalies in several of his novels including GR—more common ground with Timothy Leary.  In his biography of the good Doctor, Robert Greenfield revealed Leary's fascination with time and his observation of time dilation effects in some of his consciousness research.  Greenfield points out that Leary ended his autobiography, Flashbacks, with the phrase, "it's about time."

Gravity's Rainbow occurs in at least two orders of time, depending on how you interpret it.  The events of the novel could occur in a linear sequence taking place from December 1944 until September 1945, approximately 9 months, the gestation period for a human baby.  They could also have all taken place on a single night as events described in a movie.

Related to the ON formula, the last section of the book takes place in a movie theater:

"The rhythmic clapping resonates inside these walls, which are hard and glossy as coal: Come-on! Start-the-show! Come-on! Start-the-show! The screen is a dim page spread before us, white and silent. The film has broken, or a projector bulb has burned out.  It was difficult even for us, old fans, who've always been at the movies (haven't we?) to tell which before the darkness swept in."
- GR, p.775

Herein lies the temporal ambiguity; have we, the readers, been at the movies the whole time watching the narrative unfold on the screen in the 2 - 3 hours it takes to look at a film?  Quite possibly, the book ends after the projector stops; or have we been following our heroes and anti-heroes in linear, sequential, planetary time?

"And in the darkening expanse of screen something has kept on, a film we have not learned to see . . . it is now the close-up of a face, a face we all know—"
- GR p. 775

Recall that 2001: A Space Odyssey ends with a close-up of a baby's face appearing inside a cosmic Egg over the music of Richard Strauss's Thus Sprach Zarathustra, and that Gravity's Rainbow takes place over a period of approximately nine months.  2001: A Space Odyssey gets an explicit shout-out in Vineland.

Star-child from 2001: A Space Odyssey

The symbol Δt - delta t,  recurs throughout Gravity's Rainbow and Pynchon gives it some unique interpretations.  The t stands for time.  The Pynchon Wiki gives the definition: "An increment of time represented spacially, as on a graph."  Weisenburger says: "In calculus, Δt represents the time interval separating instantaneous values in the range of a function." (GRC, p. 109). Deleuze uses Δt as a measurement unit for the minimal amount of time necessary for a change to produce difference.

Pynchon applies Δt  to consciousness, talking about Δt  reaching zero as you penetrate the moment becoming fully present in the here and now:

"She even tried, from what little calculus she'd picked up, to explain it to Franz as Δt  approaching zero, eternally approaching, the slices of time growing thinner and thinner, a succession of rooms each with walls more silver, transparent, as the pure light of the zero comes nearer ..." - GR, p.161

This also sounds very much like death; a succession of rooms conveys a classic bardo description, the rooms usually called chambers in bardo terminology.  Pynchon more explicitly connects Δt  with death in the penultimate paragraph of the book as he writes of the rocket descending and about to hit the movie theater:

"And it is just here in this dark and silent frame, that the pointed tip of the Rocket, falling nearly a mile per second, absolutely and forever without sound, reaches its last unmeasurable gap above the roof of this old theatre, the last delta-t."  - GR, p. 775

A materialistic explanation of the bardo experience following physical death holds that it occurs as the unraveling of consciousness in the last few moments before brain death.  These moments get perceived in a vastly dilated sense of time, time slowed down so that lifetimes come and go in a few seconds of ordinary time, the last delta-t.  The film Jacob's Ladder gives a good portrayal of this though it runs a bit on the gritty, horror-show side of things, not for the faint of heart.  The traditional length of time for the voyager in the bardo = 49 days.  Applied to the materialist model, this means that 49 days, each day a different room or chamber, goes by in the few seconds or minutes before brain death.  Many examples of alternate rates of time exist in folklore, mythology, philosophy and personal accounts by intrepid explorers.  See, for instance, Robert Anton Wilson's voyage into fairyland in Cosmic Trigger I.  Time dilation gained some legitimacy when Einstein put it in his theory of Relativity.

Pynchon slips in the idea of a "new kind of time" using the example of jazz music; creative music often makes its own kind of time:

"... off the jukebox a quick twinkle in the bleat of a trombone, a reed section, planting swing notes precisely into the groove between silent midpoint and next beat, jumping it pah (hm) pah (hm) pah so exactly in the groove that you knew it was ahead but felt it was behind, both of you at both ends of the counter, could feel it, feel your age delivered into a new kind of time that may have allowed you to miss the rest, the graceless expectations of old men who watched, in bifocal and mucus indifference, watched you lindy-hop into the pit by millions, as many millions as necessary ... "
- GR, p. 479

This passage connects the stopping of time with the acceleration of consciousness using the metaphor of the double integral, the symbol that appears like two elongated Ss discussed in Part 2:

"... But in the dynamic space of the living rocket, the double integral has a different meaning.  To integrate here is to operate on a rate of change so that time falls away: change is stilled ... "Meters per second" will integrate to "meters."  The moving vehicle is frozen, in space, to become architecture, and timeless.  It was never launched.  It will never fall." - GR, p. 305

The final passage in Gravity's Rainbow is a hymn by Slothrop's ancestor, William Slothrop (with the obvious anagram, Will I am) that begins by alluding to a much bigger sense of time than the ordinary:

There is a Hand to turn the time,
Though thy glass today be run, ...
Till the light that hath brought the Towers low
Find the last poor Pret'rite one . . .
Till the Riders sleep by ev'ry road,
All through our crippl'd Zone,
With a face on ev'ry mountainside,
And a Soul in ev'ry stone. . . . 

Now everybody—
- GR, p. 776

Qabalistically, the Hand in the first line refers to the letter Yod, "the foundation of all the other letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are merely combinations of it in various ways.
    The letter Yod is the first letter of the name Tetragrammaton, and this symbolizes the Father, who is Wisdom; he is the highest form of Mercury, and the Logos, the Creator of all worlds."
 - Crowley, Book of Thoth, p. 88

Other attributions of Yod include: the Intelligence of Will; Heru-pa-kraat, the silent aspect of the twin god Horus; Isis (as Virgin); Virgo; and the Hermit from the Tarot.  In The Song Remains the Same, when Jimmy Page climbs the mountain in his fantasy sequence, he encounters the Hermit who gives the vision of an accelerated passage of time.  Page and Led Zeppelin get at least a couple of shout outs in GR and Vineland.  The mystical number of Yod = 210, also the number of NOX.

Note that the last fine lines in the closing song each contain a word with an apostrophe substituting for a missing letter e.  The same word "ev'ry" occurs in 3 of those lines.  This will reward qabalistic analysis.

To be continued ...




Saturday, June 22, 2019

Gravity's Rainbow, Gilles Deleuze and the Occult Part 4

Interviewer: "Can you tell us briefly how you broke out of prison?"

Timothy Leary: "I'd like to say telepathy, teleportation, magick — that was part of it."

- YouTube Folsom Prison interview

A SCREAMING COMES ACROSS THE SKY. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.  - Gravity's Rainbow, p. 3

These are the first two lines as they appear in the text with the first sentence all in caps.  One critic called it one of the most famous first lines ever.  Indeed, these six words communicate a multiplicity of sense; they can be profitably studied and decoded like a magick rune. This one line accurately characterizes the literary impact of the entire book.  It screamed so loud that it got rejected for the 1974 Pulitzer Prize despite being unanimously recommended by the jurors.  It also screams a multiplicity on a psychic level, confronting the worst aspects of humanity with a Counterforce.  And, this line resonates with the album I recorded with Bill Laswell and The Master Musicians of Jajouka in 1990, Apocalypse Across the Sky. I don't know if Pynchon was an influence on the album title or not? The music of Jajouka definitely fits in with the atmosphere of Gravity's Rainbow in many regards and is a counterforce of its own.

The second sentence encapsulates core concepts in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze appearing in his Master's Thesis, Difference and Repetition.  Everything repeats, but turns up something different each time;  it demonstrates Deleuze's unique take on Nietzsche's Eternal Return - what returns = difference. It seems a genius second line, especially if you just finished reading the book and immediately start again as did Timothy Leary when he first got hands on it.  

Deleuze, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Pynchon, Timothy Leary, and Aleister Crowley share the common ground of wanting to change the world, to reimagine and reinterpret it along more creative lines that gives power to individual expression and freedom from any form of tyranny and fascism — what William Burroughs called Control; Deleuze through his philosophy of difference, Leary via the raising of consciousness and his S.M.I2.L.E. formula, Crowley through Magick and Thelema, Nietzsche with the transvaluation of values and the creation of the Übermensch, and Pynchon through an arcane literary mixture of all of the above and more.

In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze attempts a monumental shift in how we see the world by attacking what he calls the dogmatic image of thought.  We get programmed and conditioned, probably beginning in our DNA, to interpret everything we perceive according to conventions and categories first established by Plato, and reinforced by Aristotle, Descartes and Kant.  This is the philosophy of the Same, of Recognition, of Essences and Identities.  We see a chair and know it "is" a chair because we recognize that it looks the same as other chairs.  We immediately and unconsciously attach a label and identity to the object as a "chair." It shares some essence of "chairness" found in Plato's Ideal or Archetypal chair.  Any difference between two chairs or two objects gets determined by what is not the same about them.  Difference gets subordinated to the Same in conventional philosophy.  Deleuze joins Nietzsche's project to overturn Platonism, to usurp the dominance of Representation which habitually and commonly takes the map for the territory to use Korzybski's metaphor.  Deleuze aims to create of philosophy of "difference in itself," a philosophy of difference not subordinated to the same or to recognition.

The valorisation of the same and subordination of difference to it for the past 2500 years has real world, sociological consequences.  It appears the root of racism, sexism, nationalism and any kind of identity politics.  Them that's the same as us = good; those that be different = bad.  Hitler attempted to off all the Jews because they were different than the Aryans.  This difference meant they were inferior according to his perverse and distorted beliefs, yet beliefs based on a longstanding algorithm of the Same.  Of course, we find far more complexity in the cause of the Holocaust than this reductionist view, but it does exemplify the potential danger of unconscious assumptions.

Difference in itself finds its ontology between identities.  Difference = in between; the in between = the Bardo.  Paying attention to difference = a way into the Bardo while alive.  Learning to handle the Bardo = a way to survive death as discussed in Part 2.  Gravity's Rainbow, to me, appears the best example of difference in itself realized in literature; a multiplicity of portholes into the Bardo; an excellent training ground to ride the explosion and expulsion of death and come out something different on the other side.  Thou knowest! And the sign shall be my ecstasy, the consciousness of the continuity of existence, the omnipresence of my body. Liber Al I:26 - Nuit in her starring role as the univocity of Being.

Beyond memory, the evident paradox of the death instinct lay in the fact that, despite its name, it seemed to us from the outset to be endowed with a double role: to include all the force of the different in repetition, and at the same time to provide the most positive and most excessive account of repetition.  Difference and Repetition, p. 289

Pynchon presents a coded plan for reimagining the world along creative lines.  We can learn much about it by examining the name of his main character, Tyrone Slothrop.

Notice that the first and last letters = Pynchon's initials.  I suspect Tyrone Slothrop's name derives somewhat from Cervantes's Don Quixote.  This book has long been seen as a metaphor for realizing a high ideal, some kind of vision of a different world, or a different way of dealing with this world.  Gravity's Rainbow shares this metaphor in a more occult way.  Much like Quixote, Slothrop comes to imagine himself as a super-hero, he goes around in a Rocketman costume complete with cape, much like Quixote dons the uniform of a medieval knight errant and imagines himself a member of the highest Order of Chivalry.

"Who can doubt that in future times, when the true history of my famous deeds sees the light, the sage who chronicles them will, when he recounts this my first sally, so early in the morning, write in this manner: "Scarce had ruddy Apollo spread over the face of the wide and spacious earth the golden tresses of his beauteous hair, and scarce had the speckled little birds with their harmonious tongues hailed in musical and mellifluous melody the approach of rosy Aurora who, rising from her jealous husband's soft couch, disclosed herself to mortals in the portals and balconies of La Mancha's horizon, when the famous knight Don Quixote de la Mancha, quitting the slothful feathers of his bed, mounted his famous steed Rocinante and begin to ride over the ancient and far-famed Plain of Montiel?" - Don Quixote, p. 30 -31, Penguin Books 2001

This scene describes a golden dawn.  We see the sloth of Slothrop in this quote while we get "porthols" (portals) reading Slothrop backwards and changing the position's of the letters t and h.  "...mortals in the portals and balconies of La Mancha's horizon" suggests entering the Bardo.

We have said before that two anagrams of opposite sense can be made from Tyrone Slothrop:
(1) Sloth Entropy leaves an extra letter "o"
(2) Try One Porthol(e)s except it misses the letter "e" for a correct spelling.

O = The Devil in the Tarot
E = The Star

The extra o from Sloth Entropy = the problem; the missing e from Try One Porthols also = the problem but at least indicates a direction for a solution.  The Devil, when poorly signified as it is here, indicates aggressive and out of control male energy gone amok; unbalanced energy that starts wars like WW II, the literal setting in GR, but with a subtext that this problem along with potential solutions remains current.  As I write this, the U.S. appears on the brink of a war with Iran, a war likely far more deadly and severe than either Iraq or Afghanistan if allowed to go the full course.  On a psychic level, I see this deriving from rampant male egos pushing their aggressive, phallic, territorial disease on the world.  Iran nearly experienced
A SCREAMING COMES ACROSS THE SKY last night.

Tyrone Slothrop = every WoMan.  He portrays the Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (Finnegans Wake protagonist) in GR.  James Joyces sprinkles Earwicker's initials, HCE, throughout Finnegans Wake, at one point saying: Here Comes Everybody.  Slothrop = you, me,  and everyone with a spiritual bone in their body.  His two anagrams, Entropy Sloth and Try One Portholes (TOP) = the internal dynamic between the animal and the Being; the primate and the Star.  Follow his adventures as he becomes Rocketman for a time then narrowly escapes castration by fortuitously changing costumes (masks) in the nick of time, so to speak.

We can take a different look at the two anagrams as indicating two different series of themes coursing through Gravity's Rainbow and run it through Deleuze.

The law governing two simultaneous series is that they are never equal. One represents the signifier, the other the signified.
 - Logic of Sense, p. 37

These are linguistic terms. The signifier = how we represent something - an object, a person, a world, etc.; the signified = the thing itself.  Plato called it intelligibility (signifier) and sensibility (signified). Korzybski used the metaphor of the map = signifier and the territory = signified.

As I see it, Entropy Sloth = the signifier; Try One Portholes = the signified.

We will not say, therefore, of the two series it (Tyrone Slothrop in this case) animates, that the one is originary and the other derived, though they certainly may be originary or derived in relation to one another.  They can also be successive in relation to one another. But they are strictly simultaneous in relation to the entity by means of which they communicate.  They are simultaneous without ever being equal, since the entity has two sides, one of which is always absent from the other.  It behooves it, therefore, to be in excess in the one series in which it constitutes it as signifying, and lacking in the other which it constitutes it as signified; split apart, incomplete by nature or in relation to itself.  It's excess always refers to its own lack.  But even these determinations are still relative.  For that which is in excess in one case is nothing but an extremely mobile empty place; and that which is lacking in another case is a rapidly moving object, an occupant without a place, always supernumary and displaced.                             
- Logic of Sense, p.41

The "extremely mobile empty place" occurs in the series Entropy Sloth.  The "occupant without a place" in Try One Portholes.  

I have composed several essays comparing the philosophy of Deleuze with Crowley's magick and the above quote provides another excellent example of their synergy.  The word "place" in the description of both series appears a key.  See The Book of Lies chapter 57.  Therein lies a methodology. Thomas Pynchon appears intuitively and intimately familiar with both Crowley and Deleuze.  His ability to animate their concepts in his literature really seems quite astounding!

To restate the problem qabalistically, we have an excess of O (The Devil) and a lack of E (The Star).  Where can we find some of the missing E in Pynchon's convoluted cryptogram?  Let's take a look at the name of the Timothy Leary character in GR, Steve Edelman.  An anagram of that name gives us:

"Lsd tv man" with "eee" left over. 

Why three Es?  Because of a well-known occult axiom that states anything repeated three times automatically becomes a folk song. LSD gives the common association with Tim Leary, his media signature; three Es — to discover the meaning of this, read up on The Star in The Book of Thoth by Crowley.  TV MAN because Leary loved publicity and tv = television = tell a vision, something he never failed to attempt.  In Steve Edelman's case, the three e's become the telling vision. 

The extra O misses his E. O(70) + E(5) = 75
75 = NUIT, THE STAR GODDESS - as it appears in Crowley's gematria dictionary.

To restate: Vineland  = Gravity's Rainbow part 2 concerning these esoteric themes. A direct, alchemical continuation, update, and refinement seventeen years later. This is how Vineland ends.  The context is the character Prairie waking up after sleeping in the woods:

" ... before settling down into sleep, sleeping then unvisited till around dawn, with fog still in the hollows, deer and cows grazing together in the meadow, sun blinding in the cobwebs on the wet grass, a redtail hawk in an updraft soaring above the ridgeline, Sunday morning about to unfold, when Prairie woke to a warm and persistent tongue all over her face.  It was Desmond, none other, the spit and image of his grandmother Chloe, roughened by the miles, face full of blue-jay feathers, smiling out of his eyes, wagging his tail, thinking he must be home."  p. 385

Desmond is Prairie's dog who has been missing.  We have here rich qabalistic imagery.  Tim Leary introduced the S.M.I2.L.E. around the time Gravity's Rainbow came out, not too long after the Starseed Transmissions — I don't know what came first?  I don't know if Pynchon knew about this formula at that time, but it seems highly probable he knew of it when writing Vineland.  The phrase, "smiling out of his eyes" connects with Leary.  His character in Pynchon's world, Steve Edelman, has extra E's in his anagram.  Eye corresponds with O.  smiling out of his eyes = E out of O = The Star out of The Devil.  See chapter 23 in The Book of Lies for the OUT formula. 

"grandmother Chloe" seems another rich image when analyzed, which I won't do here, only to note that when you say Chloe you actually pronounce the letters o and e. Two of the main female characters,  mother and daughter Frenesi and Prairie, have names that end with an e sound.  One of the main plotlines concerns the fact that Frenesi has been completely missing from 14 year old Prairie's life.  Prairie sets out to find out about her mother's life and to meet her.

If you find all this interesting, then check out the opening quote to Vineland by blues musician Johnny Copeland.  It gives the novel a circular aspect.


Another chiaroscuro book cover from Pynchon

To be continued ...

Friday, June 7, 2019

Gravity's Rainbow, Timothy Leary and the Occult Part 3


"... it is not often Death is told so clearly to fuck off."

- Gravity's Rainbow, p. 10

Thomas Pynchon's unwavering attention on Death in Gravity's Rainbow has strong emotional motivation. The book is dedicated to Richard Fariña, his close friend who tragically died at the age of 29 in a motorcycle accident near Carmel California. It happened on the day of a party jointly celebrating the release of his book, Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up To Me and the 21st birthday of his wife Mimi Baez, sister of Joan.  Pynchon served as Best Man at Fariña's wedding to Baez.

At the time of his death, Richard Fariña seemed on his way to becoming a significant cultural figure of his times.  He performed as a folksinger, released two albums before he died and another posthumously.  At the time of his death he was producing an album for Joan Baez. A music critic once said he would have given his friend Bob Dylan a run for his money had he lived.  He was a well-known character in hipster circles. The splash his short life made is excellently documented in Positively 4th Street, The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez  Fariña, and Richard Fariña, by David Hajdu, a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in the nascent history of the 1960s.

Fariña's death has least two direct references in Pynchon's next novel Vineland published 17 years after GRVineland continues the revolt against the finality of Death.  It appears very much a continuation of Gravity's Rainbow in terms of esoteric communication.  I consider Vineland even more of a masterpiece in that regard and would suggest those new to Pynchon tackle Vineland first.  It's an easier read and less scatalogical. Other themes connect the two novels such as authoritarian persecution and extreme, hyperbolized, paranoia.

Fariña died when the bike he was a passenger on failed to negotiate a curve on Carmel Valley Road.  As Pynchon writes in the Foreward to a later edition of Been Down So Long ..., they were going about 90 mph when it should have been no faster than 35 mph.

"The band played up and down in valleys still in those days unknown except to a few real-estate visionaries, little crossroads places where one day houses'd sprawl and the rates of human affliction in all categories zoom.  After work, unable to sleep, the Corvairs liked to go out and play motorhead valley roulette in the tule fogs.  These white presences, full of blindness and sudden highway death, moved, as if conscious, unpredictably over the landscape.  There were fewer satellite photos back then, so people had only the ground-level view. No clear bounded shape - all at once, there in the road, a critter in a movie, to quick to be true, there it'd be.  The idea was to enter the pale wall at a speed meaningfully over the limit, to bet that the white passage held no other vehicles, no curves, no construction, only smooth, level, empty roadway to an indefinite distance - a motorhead variation on a surfer's dream." - Vineland p. 37 1997 Penguin edition

56 pages later finds a chapter dedicated to a wedding scene set in the same area as Fariña's wedding, in the hills just south of San Francisco.  Fog connects this scene to the previous one quoted.  We find the father of the bride Ralph Wayvone:

"Emerging from a pool the size of a small reservoir in plaid swim trunks from Brooks Brothers, unable even at first glance to be mistaken for the white marble statues surrounding it, Ralph Wayvone Sr., caped himself with a towel stolen not that long ago from the Fairmont, ascending a short flight of steps, and stood looking out over a retaining wall that seemed in the morning fog to mark the edge of a precipice, or of the world.  With only a few tree silhouettes, and both freeways and the El Camino Real miraculously silent ...." p. 92

Pynchon attacks the finality of biological death through strong and consistent doses of Kether among other things.  How?

Wayvone = way v one = "way of one"  in the abbreviated, phonetic style Pynchon uses throughout Vineland to express his more rustic characters' speech patterns; also v = The Hierophant as discussed earlier.  Compare "way of one" with "try one," Tyrone Slothrop's first name anagram.  Wayvone also sounds like "wavy one" which suggests the ubiquity of physical energy transmissions in waves.  Note the allusion to the Hero in the quote.

The interpretation that one refers to Kether in this instance gets reinforced by reading the last 3 paragraphs of the chapter previous to the wedding scene in which Frensei Gates speculates on the nature of God and the World.  On page 97, still at the wedding, we find a sentence that might also serve as a mission statement of sorts for Pynchon's writing or of a working mystic: "I'm a percussion person, my job is to take hard knocks and rude surprises, line 'em up in a row in some way folks can dance to ..."  Vineland has two major Wayvone characters, Ralph Sr. and Ralph Jr., and three more minors one, Senior's wife, another son, and the daughter who is getting married.

 Apart from the direct allusions to Richard Fariña's roadway accident mentioned, we find a few more references to driving too fast around curves sprinkled throughout the book.  Perhaps the most revealing to Pynchon's state of mind at the time occurs on page 374 near the end:

"Out on those runs, speeding after moonset through the smell of the redwoods, with all the lights out, trying to sense among the different patches of darkness where the curves were, and what gear to be in for grades that were nearly impossible to see, bouncing along in a vintage Power Wagon, Zoyd from among somebody's collection of beat-up old 8-track tapes usually found himself listening to the Eagles' Greatest Hits, in particular "Take It to the Limit," basically his whole story these days, singing mournfully along, though obliged from time to time to interrupt himself as some new set of headlights appeared ..."

Vineland concludes on a very upbeat note, very life affirming.  For me, it recalls the ending of Joyce's Ulysses with more subtle encoding.  We have a "foreign magician and his blond tomato assistant" whose Act imitates a defiance of gravity and death.  How Pynchon imitates this defiance in his writing is coded in the "Power Wagon" Zoyd drives in the last excerpt.  Decoding this message requires reading the book and paying close attention.  Here's a clue: check the behavior of the Thanatoid dogs and compare that to the last sentence in the book.  Know that Pynchon was influenced by James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov (also strongly influenced by Joyce), and remain open to the possibility that Pynchon knows, or could invoke, some of Crowley's magick formulas as I've previously suggested. 

William S. Burroughs famously said that he wrote himself out of the tragic black hole created by the accidental shooting death of his wife by his own hand.  Could Pynchon, clearly influenced by Burroughs, intend his writing to do the same regarding the death of Fariña on a personal level and the suffering and death of War victims on a global scale?

In Lines of Flight, an abstruse commentary on Pynchon's oeuvre through the lens of Deleuze, Guattari, Derrida and other philosophers, Stefan Mattessich suggests that The Rocket can also be a metaphor for the writer's pen.  This matches the correspondence of The Rocket with the Roman deity Mercury in the previous post.  Mercury = the god of communication.  The writer's pen adds and constructs the influence of Kether into Death's domain.  Close examination will make this quite evident in the Vineland scenes quoted above.


The white rocket as a pen adding whiteness into the blackness of War, Death and human suffering to create a chiaroscuro effect.

The idea of the writer's pen becoming a magical implement creating new realities has precedence in Aleister Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice.  In the introduction to that book Crowley endeavors to systematize Magick in a similar way that Euclid did with Geometry, and Spinoza did with his philosophy in The Ethics.  We find a definition of Magick in the first section of this Introduction, a postulate in the second section, and a series of theorems in the third.  Nearly every one of these comes with a practical illustration.

I. Definition

MAGICK
is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.
     (Illustration: It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge.  I therefor take "magical weapons," pen, ink, and paper; I write incantations — these sentences — in the "magical language" i.e. that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct; I call forth "spirits," such as printers, publishers, booksellers, and so forth, and constrain them to convey my message to those people.

In this example, the Author makes explicit the magick inherent to the construction and dissemination of a book and stays silent regarding any effects the writing may have.  My favorite anecdote of change brought about through writing occurred at the height of WWII when it appeared England would soon get overwhelmed by the forces of fascism.  Aleister Crowley wrote a one page tract known today as the Rights of WoMan as an antifascist support of Liberty.  After publishing and magically consecrating it, he sent it to every well-known person he knew well or had the address for.  Ten days after publication, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor causing the U.S. to declare to war on  Japan, Italy, and Nazi Germany, a pivotal point in the turning of the War.  Admittedly, this event reads as circumstantial, we'll never know for sure if Crowley's literary ritual had anything to do with it, yet it does encourage similar experimentation in dire situations.

Some models in quantum physics may provide a material basis and explanation for how writing can help change the World.  It appears easy to view Gravity's Rainbow as a kind of subatomic particle accelerator juxtaposed into an historical time and place.  The characters serve as the subatomic particles while their connections and entanglements illustrate behavior in the quantum universe.  The last time I heard Timothy Leary speak, at the Wetlands in New York in 1993, he urged everyone to "think of yourself as a quark," the fundamental unit of matter.  He fleshes this position out in the article, Willam Gibson: Quark of the Decade originally published in Mondo 2000, now included in the book Chaos and Cyber Culture.  To give you an idea:

Q. Who can explain these mysterious digital programs? Who can read us young, wanna-be quarks nice bedtime stories to make us feel secure about loosening up? Who can make us feel comfortable with the chaotic science of our wild times? Who can make us laugh at the structures crumbling before our eyes in Einstein smiles because relativity and the fractal natures of the running programs are always funny? (Why? Because they surprise us.) Who will get us giggling like shocked schoolkids at the facts of life? Who will tickle us with accurate disorder? 

A. The artists-poets-musicians-storytellers. The popularizers of quantum linguistics.

Anyone who has read GR will likely recognize it in this question.   It certainly appears full of surprises with tons of humor including slapstick.  Leary goes on to call Thomas Pynchon the greatest and last of the "quantum linguists." (We do not use the nervous term "science fiction" to describe the quantum-science writers.) Murray Gell-Mann, the physicist who first postulated the existence of quarks, found the word in Finnegans Wake; another example of how writing changes the world we live in and how we see it.  Finnegans Wake had a significant influence on Gravity's Rainbow.



Pynchon may have found the title to his book in science literature:

Gravity's rainbow is a theory that arose from attempts by physicists to generate a "theory of everything," or a theory of the universe that unites quantum mechanics and general relativity.

This theory holds that different wavelengths of light have different measures of gravity and are separated in the same way a prism splits white light into the different frequencies of the rainbow.  It doesn't require much imagination to see how this applies to the book of the same name.

A talking head in A Journey into the Mind of P likens the In the Zone section to a "quantum subatomic smasher" with Slothrop "wormholing his way around it.

Wormholes are solutions to the Einstein field equations for gravity that act as "tunnels," connecting points in space-time in such a way that the trip between the points through the wormhole could take much less time than the trip through normal space - Richard F. Holman


We find multiple anomalies and insinuations of alternate rates of time in GR.  More on that next time.  Slothrop reversed = porthol(e)s - a synonym for wormholes.  

"He entered a brick labyrinth that had been a harmonica factory.  Splashes of bell-metal lay forever unrung in the factory dirt.  Against a high wall that had recently been painted white, the shadows of horses and their riders drummed.  Sitting, watching, from workbenches and crates, were a dozen individuals Squalidozzi recognized right away as gangsters.  Cigar-ends glowed, and molls whispered back and forth in German.  The men ate sausages, ripping away the casings with white teeth, well cared for, that flashed in the light of the movie. ... Crowned window frames gave out on the brick courtyard where summer air moved softly.  The filmlight flickered blue across empty windows as if it were breath trying to produce a note.  The images grew blunt with vengeance.  "Yay!" screamed all the zoosters, white gloves bouncing up and down.  Their mouths and eyes were as wide as children's.

... For days, as it turned out, the gangsters had known Squalidozzi was in the neighborhood; they could infer to his path, though he himself was invisible to them, by the movements of the police which were not.  Blodgett Waxwing —for it was he—used the analogy of a cloud chamber, and the vapor trail a high-speed particle leaves ...
    "I don't understand."
    "Not sure I do either, pal.  But we have to keep our eye on everything, and right now all the hepcats are going goofy over something called 'nuclear physics.'"
 - Gravity's Rainbow, p. 391

Much photon movement in the first paragraph.

To be continued ...
    

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Gravity's Rainbow, Timothy Leary, and the Occult Part 2

We saw in the previous post that Thomas Pynchon considered the possibility he had an Extrapersonal Source for his writing.  I saw two interesting synchronicities related to publishing that blog, one I'd rate as about 8 or 9 on a scale of 10, the other maybe a 3 or 4.  I had compared Gravity's Rainbow to Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson based on a conversation almost 35 years ago.  I still know that person, but haven't stayed in touch.  The last time we spoke seems at least 20 years ago.  Within a minute of posting that blog on Facebook he gave me a "like.".  The next morning the TVs at the gym played repeated footage of rockets shooting into space and Kim Jun (Rocket Man)  Un with a silly grin.  Renowned scientific researcher John Lilly postulated that highly meaningful synchronicities have an Extrapersonal Source which he dubbed Coincidence Control.  Synchronicities seem to affirm something in certain contexts.

Timothy Leary had a lot of time to think and write when in jail.  By miraculous serendipity (if this blog had a soundtrack it would be playing the theme for Extrapersonal Source right about now), against prison rules, he received a copy of Gravity's Rainbow and proceeded to devour it at least twice as soon as he got it.  The fact that Gravity's Rainbow, of all books, got anywhere near him in prison seems unbelievable.  The book appears about as revolutionary and anti-establishment as it ever gets in fiction.  Richard Nixon gets blatantly skewered.    I'll let a blog called Future Conscience pick up the story from here.  I believe this is by Robert A Gordon:

"Leary lived a varied life filled with scientific research; psychedelic therapy; metaphysical exploration; social commentary and government oppression.  During his time spent inside prison, he developed a futurist philosophy summed up in the phrase S.M.I2.L.E. - Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, Life Extension.  These ideas developed out of Leary's life-long interest in the evolution of humanity away from our primal roots, but they also had another influence which Leary termed the 'Starseed Transmission'.

The Starseed Transmissions were a series of experiments in group telepathy that occurred during Leary's time in prison.  These experiments allegedly culminated in a communication with some kind of extra-terrestrial intelligence; that through a rather cryptic series of messages set forth the futurist programme that Leary would adhere to quite stringently for the latter part of his life.  Whatever happened during that time, it certainly had a profound impact on the man and his ideas of future progress."

I believe the Starseed Transmissions were within a year or two prior to Leary reading Gravity's Rainbow, it could have been closer, I don't know.  If he did indeed make contact with an Extrapersonal Source, then perhaps that source through Coincidence Control arranged to get him that book, a book that in many ways mirrored his life?  In the  first sentence from the above quote you could change "Leary lived a varied life ..." to "Gravity's Rainbow contains ..." and it would read just as accurate.  I wonder if Leary ever considered GR as part of the Starseed Transmissions or perhaps related in some way?  After all, it is a book that ends with the character Gottfried (God peace) going towards the stars although he also dies. The final words in the novel suggest that everyone else go there too, to the stars.

This research makes me want to find out about the genesis of the S.M. I2. L.E. formula; how did Dr. Tim come up with it? All three categories, Space Migration, Intelligence Increase and Life Extension play intrinsic roles in the theater of Gravity's Rainbow.  To begin in the middle with Intelligence Increase - you have to get smarter just to read the book and figure out what's going on.  You will learn an incredible amount about the end of World War II in Europe, not simply historical facts, rather some idea of what it felt like to go through that chaotic period.

Leary's annotated copy of Gravity's Rainbow
Courtesy of the New York Public Library Archives

I've seen a cool documentary on YouTube, A Journey into the Mind of P with a superb soundtrack by The Residents.  Actually, the film looks great for two thirds or three quarters then becomes creepy when switching into fanboy stalker mode.  A talking head at one point says, "Pynchon is a cryptogram, a code to be cracked." Like solving any puzzle or maze, you get smarter by doing it; not just with that particular puzzle, your puzzle solving skills increase overall; known as becoming maze-bright.  Gravity's Rainbow seems a cryptogram par excellence.  The multiple levels ensure that you could crack it indefinitely getting smarter each time and never have absolutely everything figured out.  The notion that GR emanates from an Extrapersonal Source with the readers to decipher ( as per his letter mentioned in the last post) means that this transmission doesn't get limited, rather it forms a synergy with Pynchon's own formidable knowledge, intelligence and resources.  I bet his intelligence increased substantially while serving as a translator and conduit for this esoteric download.  The Extrapersonal Source factor ("...for there is a factor infinite & unknown;" Liber Al 2:32) indicates that data and things he didn't consciously know about could have found a way into the book.  The  construction of the Gravity's Rainbow labyrinth had outside help.  The more you run it, the smarter you get.  It's not possible to read this book without intelligence increasing.

In 1973 Richard Poirier wrote an insightful review of GR, one of the first.  He writes about the "reverberating structures or assemblies" that help construct the book's labyrinth.

One obvious example is the sign of double integrals, resembling two elongated S's. It is at once a mathematical principle behind the velocity rate of the Rocket, the insignia of the SS, the shape of the tunnels at Nordhausen (the Nazi's rocket research complex), the shape of lovers side by side in bed; in physics, the symbol of entropy is S.

Not only that.  "S" on the Tree of Life = the path of Samekh = Sagittarius, the Archer.  GR begins on the first Sunday of Advent, December 1944 in the sign of Sagittarius.  Thanks to John Ebert for this start date. Ebert also pointed out that an archer shooting an arrow into the heavens becomes an apt analogy for a rocket launching.  In the hermetic sciences this symbolizes the arrow of aspiration.  The corresponding tarot card, XIV Art, reveals a significant alchemical aspect to this path as described in The Book of Thoth in the commentary on that card worth reading in its entirety to help penetrate the occult veils in GR.  I will quote a small portion: "the last three paths of the Tree of Life make the word Qesheth, a rainbow, and Sagittarius bears the arrow which pierces the rainbow, for this path leads from the Moon of Yesod to the Sun of Tiphareth."  Yes, this path connects the sixth to ninth Sephira, sometimes signified by the number 69.

The Arrow ( = the Rocket), both in this card and in Atu VI, is of supreme importance.  The Arrow is, in fact the simplest and purest glyph of Mercury, being the symbol of directed Will.  Mercury has a starring role in GR in the highly repetitive and varied patterning of the  c-s letter combination.  C+ S = 68, or in deity nomenclature Christ/Mercury (see Crowley's The Paris Working.) In Coincidance, Robert Anton Wilson mentions the repetitive use of the S symbol in Finnegans Wake.  This should give a picture of the endless, intelligence increasing labyrinth Pynchon and his Source construct.

The subject of Space Migration exists in Gravity's Rainbow mostly as virtual - real, without yet being actual.  By that I mean that it exists in the background, in the character of The Rocket which Pynchon connects with The Tower, the path of Pe, the explosive opening of the Eye of Horus.  The face of the Rocket (The Tower) displays mostly War.  Can we find a creative use for the Rocket (The Tower)?  How about Space Migration?

Ascent

"This ascent will be betrayed to Gravity.  But the Rocket engine, the deep cry of combustion that jars the soul, promises escape.  The victim, in bondage to falling, rises on a promise, a prophecy of Escape. ..."

" ... last word from Blicero: "The edge of evening . . . the long curve of people all wishing upon the first star. . . . Always remember those men and women along the thousands of miles of land and sea.  The true moment of shadow is the moment in which you see the point of light in the sky.  The single point, and the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep . . . "
Always remember.
The first star hangs between his feet.
Now -"
- GR p. 774 - 775

One subplot in GR does specifically bring up Space Migration.  Rocket engineer Franz Polker's daughter has recurring dreams and fantasies about living on the Moon and making a home there, fantasies that she shares with her dad and he participates in.  Somewhere in a biographical note on Werner von Braun, the Nazi and later American rocket engineer who got N.A.S.A off the ground, it says that his interest in rockets was always to get humans into space, he never wanted them for war use, but went along with it to fund and further the rocket research.  GR begins with a von Braun quote:  

Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.  Everything science has taught me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death.

This brings us to the subject of Life Extension, the final term in the S.M.I2.L.E. formula.  Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson almost always spoke about the extrinsic side of the formula - constructing and living in High Orbital Mini Earths; the migration of terrestrial life off the planet as the next step in human evolution; drugs and technologies to dramatically prolong the life of the body, or revive it in the future, etc.  

In a groundbreaking essay, 22 Alternatives to Involuntary Death originally published by New Falcon, later turned into a book by Ronin, Timothy Leary wrote as one alternative:

Develop New Rituals

Our cultural taboos have prohibited the development of much detailed work in this area, but some important research has been done by E.J. Gold described in The New American Book of the Dead. We need new rituals to guide the post-body transition.

This brings us to bardo training which could be succinctly called: Get Familiar with Death.  This describes the method of Life Extension prevalent in Gravity's Rainbow.  Death seems almost as big a character as the Rocket.  Of course, the Rocket delivers Death; these two characters seem conjoined, like twins.  The very last scene in the book occurs in a movie theater about to get struck by a rocket.  The book ends with everyone in the theater about to die.  The novel begins with the sound of a rocket going across the sky.  Two alternate interpretations come to mind: the whole novel takes place in a movie theater with the story and events making up the film the audience watches.  The second interpretation has to do with the fact that the V2 rocket was supersonic, it travelled faster than the speed of sound.  By the time you heard it screaming across the sky it had already hit land and exploded.  Everyone in the theater is already dead at the start of the book.  The event in the last section of the book occurs prior to the event at the beginning.  Many reviewers have commented upon the circular form of GR.  The end of the fourth sentence at the start, "... but it's all theatre.", connects with the theatre at the end.  

Von Braun's opening quote regarding death echoes at the end of GR:

"The screen is a dim page spread before us, white and silent ...

The last image was too immediate for any eye to register.  It may have been a human figure, dreaming of an early evening in each great capital luminous enough to tell him he will never die, coming outside to wish on the first star.  but it was not a star, it was falling, a bright angel of death.  And in the darkening and awful expanse of screen something has kept on, a film we have not learned to see..."

The last sentence quoted matches the description of death from the Tibetan Buddhist point of view; "... something has kept on" = spiritual existence after death; "a film we have not yet learned to see..." = the Bardo.  GR endeavors to show us this film.  Note the use of the word "on", recalling Crowley's formula ON.  Other instances of this word in the book suggest that either Pynchon or his Extrapersonal Source knows this formula.

Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation, but they also believe in a 49 day transitional period after the departing spirit, the voyager, leaves the physical body upon its death and before it takes rebirth in a new incarnation.  This transitional period is not life or death.  The Tibetans came up with the word bardo to describe this between lives space.  The Bardo soon came to refer to any space in between not just those regarding biological death.  Leading this Western use of Tibetan terminology was Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner with their book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Leary says that the psychedelic researchers found it  difficult to notate and catagorize their results in a consistently scientific way; The Tibetan Book of the Dead is what they turned to help map their experiences.  The Bardo designating the territory of the in between seems well suited for mapping the psychedelic trip, a space, a series of spaces, the subject travels through in between their usual personality.  Conversely, I once recorded E.J. Gold giving an account of why he wrote The American Book of the Dead.  He said that in the late sixties John Lilly asked him to translate the Tibetan Book of the Dead to help with the large number of young people overdosing on psychedelics and having a rough time.  The guided instructions intended for the Voyager who has died and left their body substantially helped people feeling fearful on their trip.



The Bardo territory can be effectively simulated without dying and without taking drugs.  Among other things, words, language, and writing in the hands of a master like Thomas Pynchon can make the reader feel like they entered a bardo space.  Gravity's Rainbow contains many bardo sequences that quite effectively simulate this space.  A theory states that becoming familiar, less freaked out, by these bardo simulations will provide habits and skills that will help the Voyage navigate the post-mortem condition when the time comes for their body to die; bardo training -  knowing and getting  familiar with Death becomes a very familiar in GR.  Death becomes a character popping up explicitly and alluded to implicitly in many multiple ways.  Death seems omnipresent, always in the background when not directly mentioned.

The book starts with the sound of a rocket "screaming across the sky."  Because of its supersonic speed this means it has already landed and exploded; seems likely someone has died.  The next few pages up to the introduction of Pirate Prentice run through a series of bardo spaces - a bardo sequence.  Beginning with "The Evacuation still proceeds ..."(p. 3) the book describes all the in betweeness of people leaving their homes transitioning to a hopefully safe refuge.  Historically based on the 1944 evacuation of 1.5 million Londoners when the Nazi's first began firing the V2 rocket at them, Pynchon writes impressionistically of what that transition felt like in the moment.  The writing creates bardo percepts and affects.  The subject in these pages seems to be the event itself, not in the historical sense, but of what it may have felt like to experience it happening.

The name of the main antagonist, Blicero, is a German nickname for death.  He's introduced on p. 30: "into the realm of Dominus Blicero," translated by Weisenburger to mean "into Death's domain."

On page 256 we see a "flopping Sydney Greenstreet Panama hat." Weisenburger notes the reference to a 1944 film, Between Two Worlds, "set in London during the blitz."  Most of the characters in it have died, but don't know it. " ... their task is to work through their fate by understanding the kind of person they are..." very much keeping in line with the bardo process.  Greenstreet's character, known as "The Examiner" is the one passing final judgement.  His name is Reverend Tim Thompson, coincidentally a conflation of Tim Leary and Thom Pynchon's first names.

One of the psychics working at The White Visitation, Carroll Eventyr, can communicate with the dead and receives valuable information at times.  She can repeat but can't remember what was said so all her paranormal sessions are recorded.  A few episodes later in the book take place on the luxury yacht Anubis named after the Egyptian deity who guides souls through the land of the dead.  Anubis = the Roman God, Mercury.  This is only the tip of the iceberg regarding references and allusions to death and the bardo.

Starting with the blatant opening quote, the subject of the transcendence of death gets fairly frequent play.  Another thing I discovered is that several times Pynchon uses the word "smile" in a way that recalls S.M.I2.L.E. I have to wonder if this influenced Leary at all when he came up with this formula possibly around the time he read G.R., or if that's a coincidence from Dr. Tim and Mr. Thom tuning in to the same Extrapersonal Source?  The  first subject of the death/rebirth sequence below reminds me of Leary:

"A beautiful Christmas gift," he confessed to the resident on his ward, "it's the season of birth of fresh beginnings." Whenever the rockets fall - those which are audible - he smiles, turns out to pace the ward, tears about to splash from the corners of his merry eyes, caught up in a ruddy high tonicity that can't help cheering his former patients.  His days are numbered. He's to die on V-E Day.  If he's not in fact the War, then he's its child-surrogate, living high for a certain term but come the ceremonial day, look-out.  The true king only dies a mock death. Remember. Any number of young men may be selected to die in his place while the real king, foxy old bastard, goes on. Will he show up under the Star, slyly genuflecting with the other kings as this winter solstice draws on us?" Bring to the serai gifts of tungsten, cordite, high octane. Will the child gaze up from his ground of golden straw, then gaze into the eyes of the old king who bends long and unfurling overhead, leans to proffer his gift, will the eyes meet, and what message, what possible greeting or entente will flow between the king and the infant prince? Is the baby smiling, or is it just gas? Which do you want it to be?" (p.133)

This death/rebirth episode conflates the death of War with the Nativity scene, the birth of Christ, rocket materials, someone whose description suggests Timothy Leary and an allusion to one of Aleister Crowley's most recognized instructions that he claimed derived from an Extrapersonal Source.  The sentence "Will he show up under the Star" = "Will under love" to anyone who knows the Star tarot card.  Pynchon's penchant for reversing things turns this into " love under will." .  Crowley, and many Thelemites to this day, close all their personal correspondence with: "Love is the law, love under will."  Liber Al 1:57.

Crowley claimed his methods could produce Christs.  (Postcards for Probationers, Equinox I Vol. 2).  The word Christ comes from an Ancient Greek term that means "Anointed One" and doesn't necessarily refer to a particular historical individual.  The difference with Crowley's production of Christs is that he believed anyone could do it given sufficient time and effort.  It corresponds with Tiphareth on the Tree of Life.

In case anyone like me wondered what the word "serai" means in the last quote -  it's of Persian origin and is a different word for "caravansary" i.e. a caravan; this suggests the three Magi and their gifts to the newborn Messiah.

140 pages later another death/rebirth scenario plays out.  It's connected to the one quoted above by the fact of it occurring on V-E Day:

"It is peacetime again now, no room for the pigeons in Trafalager Square on V-E Night, everyone at the facility that day mad drunk and hugging and kissing, except for the Blavatskian wing of Psi section, who were off on a White Lotos Day pilgrimage to 19 Avenue Road, St. Johns Wood." (p.273)

This gives the historically correct address where Madame Helena Blavatsky, noted mystic and founder of the Theosophical Society, died on this same date in 1891.   Steven Weisenburger explains the white lotos symbolism in Gravity's Rainbow Companion:

"[Theosophy's] three aims were to promote the unity of mankind; to promote the comparative study of religion, philosophy and science; and to explore human psychic faculties. Theosophists adopted the Hindu white lotos, a symbol of the Trimurti, or threefold godhead, as a sign of these unified aims.  To them, the lotos also symbolized the unity of world religions; in Hinduism it is padma, birthplace of the gods, and in Buddhism it is Buddha's throne, just as in Egyptian religions the lotos was Horus's seat. It came to Christianity as the multifoliate rose. Blavatsky died on the Buddha's birthday, May 8, 1891 at the address Pynchon gives on Avenue Road ..." (p. 168)

May 8 also marks Thomas Pynchon's birthday.  He turned 8 on V-E Day.  Aleister Crowley gave significance to the fact that Blavatsky established Theosophy in 1875, the year he was born.  The death/rebirth pattern appears as a major recurring theme in Timothy Leary's, High Priest.

All of this suggests the Hero archetype.  Tyrone Slothrop goes though a few different alter-egos before his fragmented personality completely breaks apart.  His last identity before dissolution is the mythical Plechazunga, the Pig-Hero.  This leads to him traveling around in a Pig-Hero costume for a few days that inadvertently saves him from castration.  Another series of events related to the Hero by way of homonym resonance gets found in the extensive subplot concerning the Herero indigenous people of Southwest Africa and their war with the German Empire in the early XXth Century.

In Richard Poirier's review linked to above he writes:

Film is everywhere in Gravity's Rainbow.  So is musical comedy - any scene might break into a lyric.  So are comic books, and although Plastic Man and Sundial are directly mentioned, Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel, the superheroes of World War II comics determine the tone and conduct of many of the characters.

Both Batman and Superman are directly alluded to.  Toward the end Slothrop joins a group of misfit superheroes called the Floundering Four which could point to what Pynchon sees as missing from the World.  More on that next time.  For an excellent essay on the comic book angle see A Comic Source of Gravity's Rainbow which can be downloaded for free.

To be continued ...