Jack’s Naughty Bits: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

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Jack's Naughty Bits

Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is one of the most bizarre and extraordinary
novels of the twentieth century. It is gigantic and taxing, and few who begin it finish. I only
succeeded in the rush of a forty-eight hour delirium — boxer-shorted and unshaven in a squalid
Parisian chambre de bonne with a pot of lentils between my knees. By the book’s end I
was fully participating in the manic paranoia that fueled its composition, and when I
staggered out onto the brightly lit street, I had a very difficult time figuring out what I was
supposed to do next.


Gravity’s Rainbow is one of those handful of novels, more a world than a book,
that overwhelms you with the totality of its vision, immersing you well above the eyeballs.
It’s also a very difficult novel to pin down: on the one hand an act of extreme dementia,
furiously interlarded with layers of conspiracy and machination, on the other a consummate
genre-bender, interchanging moments of Three Stooges-like farce with hard science, statistical
theory and meticulous wartime history. It’s the kind of book writers probably shouldn’t read,
considering the effects on the ego of having one’s achievements monumentally dwarfed.


But all eulogizing aside, the scene I’ve selected is not for the squeamish.
Rarely does a writer of true greatness emerge from the legions of scribblers, rarer still does such
a writer address the furthest frontiers of what most people think unthinkable. Here is one of
those exceptional moments.

* * *

From Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

She is naked, except for a long sable cape and black boots with court heels. Her only jewelry a
silver ring with an artificial ruby . . . extended, waiting his kiss . . .


He is on his knees, bare as a baby . . .


Six on the buttocks, six more across the nipples . . . Some nights she’s gagged him with a
ceremonial sash, bound him with a gold-tasseled fourragère or his own Sam Browne.
But tonight he lies humped on the floor at her feet, his withered ass elevated for the cane,
bound by nothing but his need for pain, for something real, something pure . . . The clearest
poetry, the endearment of greatest worth . . .


She turns, “Hold up my fur.” . . . “Be careful, don’t touch my skin.”


Her intestines whine softly . . . A dark turd appears out the crevice, out of the absolute
darkness between her white buttocks . . . he leans forward to surround the hot turd with his
lips, sucking on it tenderly, licking along its lower side . . . The stink of shit floods his nose,
gathering him, surrounding. . . The turd slides into his mouth, down to his gullet. He gags, but
bravely clamps his teeth shut. Bread that would only have floated in porcelain waters
somewhere, unseen, untasted . . .


With his tongue he mashes shit against the roof of his mouth and begins to chew, thickly now,
the only sound in the room . . .


She orders him to masturbate for her . . . The Brigadier comes quickly. The rich smell of semen
fills the room like smoke.


“Now go.”

© Thomas Pynchon