Excuse Me, While I Kiss The Sky

Sometimes a phrase or association just jumps out at me, and in this week’s reading, it was the following section (ellipses Pynchon’s):

Even a month ago, given a day or two of peace, he might have found his way back to the September afternoon, to the stiff cock in his pants sprung fine as a dowser’s wand trying to point up at what was hanging there in the sky for everybody. Dowsing Rockets is a gift, and he had it, suffered from it, trying to fill his body to the pores and follicles with ringing prurience . . . to enter, to be filled . . . to go hunting after . . . to be shown . . . to begin to scream . . . to open arms legs mouth asshole eyes nostrils without a hope of mercy to its intention waiting in the sky paler than dim commercial Jesus. . . .

Slothrop has just learned from Greta about a highly erotic suit made of Imipolex-G but doesn’t quite manage to put together all the facts and come to certain important conclusions. But that’s almost beside the point. What made me sit up and take notice was that mention of a scream, which zipped me right back to the opening line of the book:

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

It’s strangely worded, isn’t it? Memorable, sure, but there’s also something very slovenly about the choice of so prosaic a verb as “comes” in such a sentence, unless the word turns out to be a sort of double-entendre picked up 500 pages later. So the rocket screams and part of binary Slothrop that has been conditioned to be attracted to that black substance ensconced within the rocket provokes a screaming as well, inviting the question of exactly which screaming it is we’re hearing at the beginning, or whether one can be properly distinguished from the other.

4 thoughts on “Excuse Me, While I Kiss The Sky

  1. Christine April 17, 2012 / 2:15 am

    Clawing my way back into the Slothrop-centric bits of this week’s reading (oh, how I loved being Slothrop-free in the Pokler and U.S.S. Badass and Tchitcherine sections because they were slower, more philosophical, and less damned Slothrop-y) I spent some time researching.

    In the original New York Times Book Review article, Richard Locke argues that the screaming across the sky is a direct answer to Rilke (think Wallace’s “I am in here” as a play on Hamlet’s “Who’s there?”).

    From Locke’s review:
    “The ‘Elegies’ begin with a cry: ‘Who, if I screamed, would hear me among the angelic orders? And even if one of them suddenly pressed me against his heart, I would fade in the strength of his stronger existence. For Beauty is nothing but the beginning of Terror that we’re still just able to bear, and why we adore it is because it serenely disdains to destroy us.’

    These lines are hideously amplified in the first words of Pynchon’s novel: ‘A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.’ This sound is the scream of a V-2 rocket hitting London in 1944; it is also the screams of its victims and of those who have launched it. It is a scream of sado-masochistic orgasm, a coming together in death, and this too is an echo and development of the exalted and deathly imagery of Rilke’s poem.”

    I feel that your question about the double-entendre paid off, 500 pages after the foreplay (or foreward-play as the case may be) of the screaming that comes but is put on hold for a while before it finishes is probably spot on. And I feel that Locke is on to something about the persistent references to Rilke and that the screaming, nay the novel, might answer the poet’s question about a scream of love and terror and death.

    I think it’s both. I also think the “to open arms legs mouth asshole eyes nostrils without a hope of mercy to its intention waiting in the sky paler than dim commercial Jesus” is a drawn and quartered helplessness of a character stretched to his limits, predominantly aware now that he is a lab rat created by others and eviscerated at their will. He is, it seems, slipping away mentally from paranoia to psychosis. And that nobody notices, cares, or will help. The thought of the searchlight Jesus, projected in the quintessential cross-nailed pose onto a sky nobody’s looking at echoes with the recurring theme of uncertainty. Is the war over or just begun? Are we alive or dead? Whose side is the narrator on? Does love equal survival or is it a fantasy of those living amongst the dead? Is sex directly linked to life or to death?

    Screaming is not just terror or warning or awareness. Screaming in this novel is a loss of self and control and consciousness. Slothrop’s desire to just give in and let his whole body scream is the death wish of letting go.

    Or the narrator has misled me again. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  2. Dennis April 19, 2012 / 12:07 am

    I never thought to link the opening line to Rilke. (maybe because my translation uses “cried out” for schreien; maybe because I can be incredibly dense when put to the test.) It does create an inversion in that the narrator of the Duino Elegies asks if he were to scream and I see the rocket as connected more closely to the angelic ordenung: consider the angel over Lubeck or the ice saints mentioned in the first paragraphs of Part3 section 1. These last three seem to exemplify the cold, distant and destructive nature of the angelic order in a way that Rilke does with his angels. Their appeal is vision, glory and death.

    This reminded me a bit about the earlier commentary on Tannhaeuser (how do you get those ulauts in your text?) In the normal gloss of it, the sexual dalliance causes problems by misdirecting. It’s very much the same in the Arthurian cycles where Galahad and Lancelot are denied vision of the Grail because they are focused on carnal love and adventure. But, while the implication in the Grail stories suggests this is bad, maybe, for the novel, it is a good thing. Weisenburger glosses the Evil Hour as the time when Dame Holda appears a key to open a marvelous treasure (Weis. P182; glossing GR 374/39-375/2). But, in my mind, the white goddess is closer in aspect to the angelic order. So when we come to the next mention of the Evil Hour (439/37-40) “the White Woman is waiting fro Slothrop.”, we might expect something to come of it, but just prior to that he is distracted from his paranoia about the choice of Max Schlepzig as a cover by a sexual daliance. And the conclusion is that “he isn’t expecially disposed to leave.”

    The treasure that the White Woman offers might be seen as vision, glory and death. The act of making love and procreating is, as we have been told earlier in the book, a way of giving death the finger. She is exemplified by Beethoven and the desrie to march on Poland rather than Rossini, growing fat and happy in his 30s. The choice between being Frodo or Samwise. (Yes, I did mention _Lord_of_the_Rings_. Don’t be hatin’) My thesis is that the distraction of daliance is actually life affirming and acts in a positive, constructive manner.

  3. Christine @ Hearkin and Harkin April 19, 2012 / 1:46 am

    [Don’t know about Daryl, but I get umlauts by typing into MSWord and inserting a symbol of the umlauted letter, then copying and pasting in here. Daryl’s wicked awesome at WordPress, so he might have a fancy secret to save the step of composing in another program and pasting in here.]

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