Pynchon’s Gnostic hell


A faked epigraph on page 546 of Gravity’s Rainbow:

Dear Mom, I put a couple of people in Hell today. . . .

I know there’s a lot happening in the book, and I’m sure I miss a lot of it, just like a good deal of Joyce goes over my head.  I just don’t catch all the allusions.  And it’s one reason why a lot of people don’t have much affection for postmodern literature in general, I’m sure: it seems to be all about exclusivity, about getting the joke.

This really struck me, though, and not just because of the Gnostic allusion.   There’s just something terrible and perfect about the words at this point in the novel, some  inevitability that’s completely at odds with the weirdness of the epigraph itself.   The book has morphed into a kind of melancholy nightmare, Slothrop is falling apart in a way that’s unexpectedly heartbreaking, and there’s an airlessness to the landscape that feels an awful lot like hell.   And what follows the epigraph is a fantasy trip to a real, fully imagined hell, something like Joyce’s Nighttown section without any of the catharsis.   And again, that terrible and sustained melancholy through the whole thing.

The epigraph is what grabbed me, though.   A promise of something odd, beautiful, revelatory…

About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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