WTF: Byron the Bulb

Carol asks:

Does anyone care to comment on Byron the Bulb?  Beyond Weisenburger’s cartel explanation and my own memory of my father’s ramblings about how lightbulbs could be made to last forever if GE were not so greedy, I wonder what this is all about.

This is actually something I had thought about trying to linger on, but I tend toward laziness at the end of the long downhill slide of a book like this. I did poke around online a bit, and even in some online scholarly databases, but I tended to find weird results, Byron also being the name of a celebrated Romantic poet.

I suppose it’s easy enough to read Byron the Bulb as a little symbol or miming of the counterforce described in section four, working as do Pirate, Katje and the rest against larger forces mashed up of industry, military, science, and personal ambition. It’s also interesting to note that that Phoebus cartel was apparently a real thing (thanks to Paul for his curiosity and for reporting this fact, which it would not have occurred to me to think might be true) , which maybe lends an air of legitimacy to the whole notion of justified paranoia.

Beyond that, I’ve got nothing very, ahem, illuminating to say. Here’s hoping someone can do better in the comments.

15 thoughts on “WTF: Byron the Bulb

  1. Paul Debraski May 2, 2012 / 9:32 am

    I never imagined that Phoebus cartel was real. Or maybe not “real” but that they actually had a name! I can’t get over how much of this book is based on reality–and the most far fetched things seem to be true.

  2. Lauren Gallant May 2, 2012 / 7:30 pm

    I remain willing to believe that Pynchon did nothing without a reason, but this particular vignette tested my willingness. In frustration, I scribbled in the margin, “Why am I reading about this???”

  3. Dennis May 3, 2012 / 12:28 pm

    I spent a rather sleepless night last night and much of my mind revolved around Byron. This episode always stuck in my throat, but I’m willing to believe that it has a purpose, so here are my thoughts.

    One of the main themes in the novel is that of the elite vs the preterite. This come from the Calvanist tradition, but stems, ultimately, from early church doctors. These early doctors envisioned an over determined world view, on in which the stories in the bible were simultaneously history, prophesy of the life of Christ and prophesy of cosmological history (the fall, redemption and final judgement). So when we come to concepts like free will and pre-destination, though they seem contradictory, Augustine argued for both in his writings. By Christorpher Marlows time the Calvinst still maintained pre-destination while Roman Catholicism rejected it.
    The acceptance of pre-destination and the acceptance of an over-determined world gives rise to the search for signs within this world that reflect that order. Sort of like how some people assume they are smart because the happen to be rich.
    Now flip those assumption onto a self-aware member of the preterite. Knowledge of these sign are identical to paranoia. Paranoia sees connections and the more connections there are, the more tenuously they are held together. Those connections can only be maintained by assuming an overdetermined world.
    Back in part 3 there is a discussion between der Springer and Naerrisch about paranoia and after der Springer gets captured Naerrish says that he wasn’t “paranoid in his heart.” (p 500 & 503/32-3). What would it mean to be paranoid within your heart? Like the Calvinist, there must be purpose and meaning in everthing. For the Calvinist, it’s there by God’s design. For the secular paranoiac, it’s there by conspiracy. And for the secular seeker of symbols if everything has meaning and purpose, then it must have intelligence to drive it,, down to fluctuations in the electical grid. An much earlier episode described how many people saw the electrical as controlled by Them for some purpose, but here, random processes can be given an actor. Byron may, in some way, represent the limits of such thoughts.

  4. clerner1 May 3, 2012 / 5:41 pm

    Thanks Dennis! I really enjoyed your thoughts on this. The paranoia is very intriguing to me, and this takes it to the highest level. If there is such a limit in Gravity’s Rainbow!

  5. Lauren Gallant May 3, 2012 / 6:44 pm

    Interesting! In my pondering since my earlier outburst of frustration, I have wondered if in some way, Slothrop and Byron both represent outliers. If everything is, indeed, connected and the novel’s characters are acting out upon the paths that were chosen for them, then both Slothrop and Byron can be seen as operating at the fringes, spinning off their paths and damn the man! Are they harbingers of chaos or its spawn?

  6. Dennis May 5, 2012 / 8:09 pm

    I was wondering if anyone noticed the parallel between Pretice’s dream in episode 24 and the opening dream. (Yes, I’m a bit behind, but as folks read on ahead, I think we can now start talking about the book more synopticly.) I felt the tone was similar, and the clincher was the line (542/28-30) about a “shot of a little streat-crowd staring in a dusty show-window, someplace so far into the East End that no one except those who lived there had ever heard of it.” Compare that to (3/14-5) “…and it is poorer the deeper they go…ruinous secret cities of poor, places whose names he has never heard…”

    I don’t have time right now to test tonal consistency to see if we should consider it the same narrator as the opening narrative (Did I mention that I was behind?) but Christine’s confusion/vision concerning the various narrators and their individual reliability suggests to me that it bears some scrutiny. I’m hoping that there will be some protracted coda where we can view the carnage from some distance and discuss the battle.

  7. Naptimewriting August 15, 2014 / 2:37 am

    I’ve been eager for Saunders, Mitchell, Gaddis, Gaitskill, Danielewski, Gass. If we could conceive a group read for Stein, I’d ask for one. But I just don’t see it happening.
    How did the Karamazov group-ish read go?

    • Naptimewriting August 15, 2014 / 2:38 am

      Why in heaven’s name did this nest here? The Internet is tired.

      • Daryl L. L. Houston August 15, 2014 / 8:09 am

        I deleted a spam comment that must have hosed up the nesting, though I wouldn’t have expected it to go sideways in quite this way.

    • Daryl L. L. Houston August 15, 2014 / 8:14 am

      Oooh, we sort of half did Gaddis a couple of years ago. Or maybe I sort of half did Gaddis along with the LARB without making it an actual group thing here. I forget. Gass could be interesting. I’ve read just a couple of his and have been wanting to read more. I think somebody did Danielewski shortly after Infinite Summer; I read his house book but didn’t follow along with that group read (if in fact I’m not just imagining it). Gaitskill I’ve never read. Maybe I should!

      The Karamazov thing will be a one-time meetup in the real world with human bodies in about a month. I finished the book and am thinking maybe I need to skim it again and make something useful of the notes I took, but in the mean time I’m reading some Ozick and thinking about Faulkner. Will make a reminder for myself in about 5 weeks to think more about a possible group read here.

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