V2 to Bomarc: Reading Gravity’s Rainbow in Context

Abstract

In this article I argue that while Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, is set primarily between 1944-1946 in Europe, it also simultaneously addresses itself to its own authorial context—that of the “Long Sixties” in America. In particular I consider details of Pynchon’s employment at the Bomarc Service News in the years 1960-1962—the Bomarc being a surface-to-air interceptor missile manufactured by the Boeing Aircraft Company for the United States Air Force. Given that the V-2 rocket is the preeminent symbol of control in Gravity’s Rainbow, I argue that we ought to consider Gravity’s Rainbow in relation to the Bomarc, a technological descendent of the V-2, and a key defensive weapon in the Air Force’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a centralised system for continental air defence, and the preeminent computerised command and control system of its time. The Bomarc was for these reasons a crucial component of a technical system of control that provided the primary material support for what Paul Edwards has described as the “closed-world discourse” of Cold War America. In light of this history I proceed to read the novel in terms of the operative presence of this discourse in the American public domain—in articles, newsreels and other media—demonstrating the manner in which the ‘Rocket-State’ of Gravity’s Rainbow reconstitutes the human subject as a cyborg, thereby problematising the liberal humanist conception of the subject as discrete, autonomous and autopoetic. I supplement this contextual reading of the novel with formalist considerations for the manner in which the reader of the novel is implicated in Gravity’s Rainbow’s own operations of closure and control, and argue that the reader of the novel is also, regardless of context, subjected to and by the act of reading the novel considered in cybernetic terms. I conclude the essay by reading the novel’s closing moments against the grain of my own argument, and attempt to articulate a place of exception to the regime of control performed by the novel in relation its context and its reader.

How to Cite

Comyn J. . (2014) “V2 to Bomarc: Reading Gravity’s Rainbow in Context”, Orbit: A Journal of American Literature. 2(2). doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/orb.387

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Authors

Joshua Comyn (University of Melbourne)

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

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This article has been peer reviewed.

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