The University of Texas at Austin

Law in Popular Culture collection

Oklahoma City University Law Review
Volume 24, Number 3 (1999)
reprinted by permission Oklahoma City University Law Review



       In the Plechazunga episode of Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon reproduces the Anabaptist rebellions in Frankenhausen (1525) and Munster (1535), Germany. Moreover, Pynchon's characterization of Tyrone Slothrop and the narrative representations of these events bear striking resemblances to the character of Jack Wilton and the retelling of the Munster rebellion in Thomas Nashe's 1594 novel, The Unfortunate Traveller. Such dual historical and literary perspectives illuminate relationships between ideas of order and chaos, law and lawlessness, not just in Gravity's Rainbow, but in the unique Pynchonesque cosmology which informs his other works. The symbolic significance of the rainbow--emblem of the Anabaptist cause--thus comes to represent in Gravity's Rainbow both law and chaos; an Apocalyptic sign and an ongoing search for origins.

     I will be drawing parallels between Gravity's Rainbow and some of its historical and literary precursors. In particular, episodes in Gravity's Rainbow restate ideological arguments and reenact events from the Anabaptist rebellions in Frankenhausen (1525) and Munster (1534-1535). Further, Pynchon's narrative representation of these events bears a striking resemblance to Thomas Nashe's 1594 novel, The Unfortunate Traveller. Such dual historical and literary perspectives, considered together, illuminate one way that Pynchon structures at least one part of Gravity's Rainbow into a coherent, cohesive narrative. Such a focus articulates relationships between ideas of order and chaos, and between law and 


lawlessness, not just in Gravity's Rainbow, but in the uniquely Pynchonesque cosmology that informs his other works. Within this context, the rainbow represents not only the gravitational flight of the rocket, but a complex metaphor which links the Apocalypse with a search for origins: the genesis of early modern European Protestant ideologies concerning socialism and capitalism, and apocalypse and redemption. Before identifying parallels between Gravity's Rainbow, the Anabaptist rebellions, and The Unfortunate Traveller, it is first necessary to discuss ways that my approaches to religion, history, and law either follow, or differ from, those of prior commentators on Pynchon's works.
     Interest in the interplay of religion and history has long been a staple in studies of Pynchon's works. Commenting on Gravity's Rainbow (GR),1 for example, Marcus Smith and Khachig Tololyan claim that GR represents a type of religious apocalyptic writing known as a "Jeremiad" and that "[e]very reader of Gravity's Rainbow ... quickly becomes aware of Pynchon's deep involvement with American Puritanism."2 Similarly, Scott Sanders notes that "the mental structures implied in Pynchon's fiction reproduce dominant features of Calvinist and Puritan doctrine."3 Molly Hite, however, denies such a connection, insisting instead that GR "is in many ways a historical novel, but it is a novel about secular history."4
     Part of the argument here may be due to different perceptions of  "religion" and "history" in commentary on Pynchon's works. With few exceptions, studies of religion have been relatively straightforward; for Pynchon, most critics argue, religion generally means Puritanism, and, 


more specifically, New England Puritanism.5 In such studies, "Christian Europe" is often relegated to a mythic, perhaps barbaric past, a place that "was always ... death and repression."6 Or, as Smith and Tololyan put it, "[d]espite the general applicability of the term 'Christian Europe,' it virtually never means Catholic Europe in GR; rather, it almost always refers to Protestant Europe and its expansion since the seventeenth century."7 While Smith and Tololyan make convincing points, it is still somewhat difficult to make the leap that GR, a novel ostensibly "about" World War II set in the "European theater," is a type of New England Puritan allegory or Jeremiad.
     Instead, if we--like Slothrop--revisit the Puritan past and reconsider "the fork in the road America never took, the singular point she jumped the wrong way from,"8 we can see that a focus on early modern European beginnings of the Reformation illuminate the road not taken by critics in their discussions of GR. The attached map provides a way to begin this discussion. Khachig Tololyan originally produces this map9 to show Slothrop's European wanderings, which are depicted by a solid line until he gets to Cuxhaven. After that, a dotted line heads south (near or past the Luneburg Heath), ending in a large blank area of the map marked with a question mark.10 Tololyan's map thus reproduces Slothrop's fragmentation and disappearance by deconstructing him into segments and then a question mark. If we add the approximate locations of Munster and Frankenhausen to Tololyan's map, we see that the dotted line points south to Westphalia and/or Thuringia; or, for our purposes, in the general direction of Munster and Frankenhausen, cities involved in the two most violent Anabaptist rebellions of the first half of the sixteenth century. The obvious question here, of course, is how sixteenth-century domestic religious rebellions figure into a novel, once again, ostensibly about a global--and, for the most 


part in GR-- secular, twentieth-century war? We can begin to discuss this question by considering ways that Pynchon writes about history.
     In Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes suggests that "history is just another literary genre,"11 while in Postmodernism, Fredric Jameson suggests that one of the features that characterizes postmodern art is a "search for origins," a contemplation or quest for a sense of self within a constructed historical perspective.12 We would add to Jameson's remark, however, a fundamental feature of "history" in Pynchon's works: the "encyclopedic"13 quality of Pynchon's novels precludes a single dominant historical perspective: instead, such "searches," while universal, become polysemous and thus ultimately emanate not from "a constructed historical perspective," but from what Kenneth Burke refers to as a "perspective of perspectives."14 All of these comments are helpful when considering Pynchon's "uses of history," since Pynchon does not simply write "about" history; instead, he writes about how we think and write about history.
     Tolstoy, prefiguring Grover Snodd in Pynchon's The Secret Integration, uses a mathematical approach to history to describe our knowledge and concept of history as the "differentia[tion] of history."15 Tolstoy suggests that our ability to understand history is dependent upon our ability to measure it asymptotically, in increasingly small increments (delta t's under the curve of history and experience).16 Such an approach also prefigures the concept of fractal geometry developed in Benoit Mandelbrot's ideas concerning the infinite nature of measurement.17
     Spatially, Pynchon's characters and narrators often refer to history as pieces or loops: in V., for example, Stencil suggests that by collecting the "rags and tatters" of past events, he can construct a "Rathouse" of history.18 While Stencil's conflation of German and English in "Rathouse" echoes the fragmented nature of the "rags and tatters" of history, it produces not a 


single unitary edifice, but rather a proliferation of heteroglossic multilingual meanings. Collectivization thus paradoxically works against unity. Earlier, in V., the "Stencilized" narrative of Fausto I and II's journal provides a different view: "How wondrous is this St. Giles Fair called history! Her rhythms pulse regular and sinusoidal--a freak show in caravan, travailing over thousands of little hills. A serpent hypnotic and undulant, bearing on her back like infinitesimal fleas ...."19 In this remarkably compressed passage, history is simultaneously anthropomorphic, dynamic, and animal, and "her" characteristics and narrative features--"the mixing of metaphors, crowding of detail, rhetoric for its own sake"20--underscore both the overcrowding and the freakishness of the privileged moments of historical time. "History" thus becomes a crowded but moving narrative "place," which, looped and snake-like, paradoxically moves forward and up and down ("over thousands of little hills") by moving side-to-side. Finally, well into GR, as hierarchies break down and the law of cause and effect ceases to exist, the significance of historical time is offset by the redundant or "wasteful" moments of everyday life. Much like The Crying of Lot 4921 and Pynchon's story Low-lands,22 such an image describes both human existence and "history" as a type of ontological trash pile in which the quest for "Deeper Significance" is replaced simply by trying "to make sense out of, to find the meanest sharp sliver of truth in so much replication, so much waste."23
     In terms of time, in Pynchon's cosmology, narratives reproduce and then critique "[o]fficial history ... a vectoral, one-directional deterministic vision of past reality."24 Such a deterministic vision "ignores the 'might-have-beens' which were available to individuals or to the colonial Puritans, and by obscuring the alternatives offered by the past also obscures the possibilities that the present may still be offering Now, under the shadow of the Rocket."25 Moreover, as Hite points out, such a vision "has a meaningful order only when it is constituted as a linear narrative, [that] will make sense only after it has ended."26


     In Pynchon's critique of official history, "historical events" are always on-going and are constantly being rewritten as an infinite set of texts or palimpsests both in the explicate "official" world of "Now" and within folded, "implicate," or hidden universes of "who knows where or when."27 As "[t]ime is transmuted into space,"28 historical events from different times and places often become fused. In other words, as Thanatz says, "[i]t will look like the world you left, but it'll be different. Between congruent and identical there seems to be another class of look-alike that only finds the lightning-heads."29 In GR the real war goes on beneath official history: "The Germans-and-Japs story was only one, rather surrealistic version of the real War. The real War is always there."30 In another example earlier in GR, Pynchon conflates Puritan past and London present (it is September 8, 1944): "[S]lender church steeples poised up and down all these autumn hillsides, white rockets about to fire, only seconds of countdown away [...] this is how it does happen-yes the great bright hand reaching out of the cloud...."31 As Smith and Tololyan rightly point out, this apocalyptic fusion of Rocket and church is reinforced by virtually every subsequent reference to the Rocket.32
     Smith and Tololyan argue that in GR "[l]ike the old Puritan preachers, Pynchon begins by forcing on us a vision of the Imminent End, the nearness of the day when human history will reach its apocalyptic fulfillment."33 One of these "old Puritan preachers" was, of course, John Milton, and Pynchon's narrative stance in GR recapitulates that of Milton in prophetic prose works such as Of Reformation. Here, Milton looks back to an idyllic past, debunks it, proceeds through a long history of wrongs and misdirections, and then foreshortens the future with an imminent dualistic promise of Apocalypse and either Damnation or Salvation. Pynchon does 


much the same thing, but his emphasis on pop culture and low humor Disneyfies Reformation millenarianism, transforming it into a type of Doomsday theme park in which the Apocalypse is both entertaining and is always occurring. In such an environment, the past becomes omnipresent and conventional notions such as "history," and "future" come to represent "dead tokens of exhausted positivism."34
     In GR, the deterministic vision of official history and the chaos of randomness is balanced by the invocation and evocation of certain forms of law. Occasionally, law is presented in traditional, jurisdictional contexts. In V., for example Stencil tells us that:
As Fausto II and III, like their island, became more animate, they moved closer to the time when like any dead leaf or fragment of metal they'd be finally subject to the laws of physics. All the time pretending it was a great struggle between the laws of man and the laws of God.35
   As this passage indicates, traditional systems of law are both hierarchical and competitive, but the laws of physics get at least part of us all in the end. Often, a text or historical figure represents a form of law which governs the tension between good and evil and between determinism and chaos. In Paradise Lost, Milton, of course, has the Bible and Satan. In GR, Pynchon has The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Max Weber.36
     Several critics note the pervasive influence of Max Weber in general in GR, and of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in particular. Thomas Schaub, for example, argues persuasively that Weber's text provides a matrix of meaning for words such as "grace," "elect," "invisibility," etc., which Pynchon uses extensively in GR.37 Edward Mendelson notes that the phrase "routinization of charisma" which Pynchon repeats twice38 is from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Moreover, as Mendelson notes:


Charisma ... is not ... Pynchon's only inheritance from Weber. Pynchon's pervasive insistence on the reality of process finds theoretical justification in Weber's social analyses, which pursue a dynamic understanding of society rather than a reified one. At a seance early in Gravity's Rainbow, the spirit of Walter Rathenau refers to the successions of geologic strata--"epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city." "These signs are real," Rathenau (or Pynchon's extension of him) continues. "They are also symptoms of a process. The process follows the same form, the same structure. To apprehend it you will follow the signs. All talk of cause and effect is secular history, and secular history is a diversionary tactic."39
Earlier in Gravity's Encyclopedia, Mendelson mentions that "[a]lthough the organizing historical intelligence behind each of Pynchon's books may be identified with little difficulty ... no one has yet identified a source for any of the local clusters of data in Pynchon's work."40 If, as the transitive logic would argue in the first passage, cause and effect is a diversionary tactic, one methodology appropriate for writing about "local clusters" of history in Pynchon's narratives involves not a chronologically linear historical exegesis, but both an excavation of previous events and reconsideration of the chronotopes of previous narratives. In other words, in Pynchon's palimpsested universe, we should look for, and overlay, both the "where" and "when" of the texts behind the texts, ad infinitum. In this way, if we "follow the signs" (and use Khachig Tololyan's map) historical excavation of the Anabaptist movement and the rebellions in Frankenhausen (1525) and Munster (1534-1535) will lead to the construction of meaning, not only in the Plechazunga episode, but in larger portions of GR's complex narrative.
     The Anabaptist movement began near Zurich during the second decade of the sixteenth century, when Luther confronted a group of Wittenburg radicals he termed "Schwarmer" (enthusiasts).41 The first wave of 


Anabaptists were not city-dwellers, but rather peasants and rural artisans.42 A.G. Dickens notes that "[t]he Anabaptists had no great spiritual leader, no generally accepted epitome of doctrine, no central directive organs."43 Anabaptist beliefs took shape around local preachers. Among these was Bernard Rothmann, a popular preacher and ex- Lutheran, "who denounced infant baptism and advocated a community of goods."44 Melchior Hoffmann, described by some as the "evil genius" of Anabaptism, "[e]cho[ed] ancient Gnostic teaching [in that] he insisted that Jesus did not actually take flesh from his Mother, that his nature was single and wholly divine."45 Hans Hut, described as a prototype of the Pied Piper of folk legend of a later day, was a printer and bookbinder who wandered through southern Germany selling his books and preaching apocalyptic and millenarian ideas.46
     The most widely circulated Anabaptist document is the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, in which they reject infant baptism, renounce warfare and the "'unchristian devilish weapons of force,"'47 vow that they will not "go to law nor serve as magistrates."48 Further, Dickens notes, they believed in polygamy and "free will, as opposed to the Protestant orthodoxy of predestination."49 Most Anabaptist preachers "did not systematically teach communism, though versions of it proved useful under pioneering conditions like those in Moravia."50 Further, "[t]he doctrine of psychopannychism, the sleep of the soul between death and resurrection, often appeared in Anabaptist teaching."51 However, their "most broadly subversive doctrine lay in a rejection of secular law and military duties; some Anabaptists did not merely dissociate Church and State but claimed to be an elect body justified in renouncing all obligations towards the rest 


of society."52 It is this attempt at autonomy and the rejection of orthodox secular and religious authority that was eventually to cause the persecution of the Anabaptists by both Protestants and Catholics alike, the severity of which, Dickens observes, "shocks even those of us inured to the values of the sixteenth century."53
     The growth of Anabaptism in Germany and the Low Countries began to cause conflict by the spring of 1525, when the peasants around Muhlhausen, in Thuringia and the Harz region, were drawn into open revolt. The battle of Frankenhausen occurred on May 15, when the peasants were dispersed and slaughtered by the princes. The battle occurred after the Anabaptist preacher, Thomas Muntzer, had incited the normally pacifist peasants to attack the prince's troops "by assuring them that the appearance of a rainbow was a sign from God that victory would be theirs."54 It is important here to note that the rainbow became the symbol for Anabaptism; Muntzer's army used it as an ensign at Frankenhausen, rainbow colored flags flew over Munster during its siege, and the rainbow became closely associated, as we shall see, with the Anabaptists in subsequent narratives such as The Unfortunate Traveller.
     After Frankenhausen, and during the later 1520s and early 1530s, "Anabaptism spread wildly amongst poor townsmen and peasants in many European countries."55 In 1533-34, in the episcopal city of Munster, religious radicals were not only defying the Catholic Prince Bishop, but ousting the Lutherans from influence. The political and social conditions in Munster seemed to coincide with the eschatological views of Melchior Hoffman, so his followers deemed Munster The New Jerusalem.56 Dutch Anabaptists "organized a mass emigration to Munster, only to find themselves turned back by the Netherlands authorities at the border and subjected to fierce persecution."57 Gradually, however, thousands of Anabaptists from Germany and the Low Countries arrived at Munster and both Catholics and Lutherans were driven from the city.58 By January 1534, the Anabaptists had gained control of Munster, and a siege army made up 


of both Protestants and Catholics and led by Bishop Franz of Waldeck surrounded the city.59
     Supported by the ex-Lutheran preacher Berhard Rothmann and the wealthy cloth merchant Bernhard Knipperdolling, Jan Matthys was the Anabaptist leader in Munster until April 1535, when he was killed leading a small group of men against the Bishop's army. Matthys was succeeded by Jan Bockelson, a.k.a. John Leyden, Jon Leiden, Jan van Beukelson, Jan van Bockelezoon, or Jan van Leyden, a far more radical Anabaptist preacher who quickly dissolved the city council, established a strict theocracy of twelve elders, and named himself king.60 It should be stressed here with an eye towards GR that critics of the Anabaptists often note that Bockelson's name is remarkably close to Bockig-- which, in German slang, means pig-headed. Dickens notes that although "he showed military skill, John appears to have become insane during the last stages of the siege."61 He established polygamy and married sixteen wives; he "appeared in royal regalia before bowing subjects in the market- place;"62 and he considered himself not to be an "ordinary king," but the King of Kings, a Messiah of the Last Days.63 While the siege was on-going, Bockelson set up a throne in the marketplace draped with gold; he had coins minted with his image on them; and he gave himself the power to rename the streets and the days of the week and to name all newborn children.64
     The siege dragged on through the spring, and at least 1500 people attempted to escape the city amid stories of famine and cannibalism. All but a few were immediately killed by the Bishop's forces.65 Eventually, the town was betrayed from within and on June 25, 1535, two Anabaptists led the bishop's army into the city.66 What then took place was nothing short of systematic genocide. In accordance with the bishop's policies of war, there was to be no mercy for the conquered except for pregnant women and priests. The killing lasted for two days. The armed Anabaptists killed in 


battle were hacked to pieces and their bodies scattered on the plains surrounding Munster. The remaining 200 armed Anabaptists were hunted down in the cellars, attics, and tunnels and were killed. On June 27, the surviving men and women were gathered at the cathedral square where they were tried, condemned and executed. Their bodies were buried in the cathedral square.67
     King John, Bernhard Knipperdolling, and another leader named Krechting were captured alive. Carted around to several locations, over a period of several months they were publicly tortured and interrogated by representatives of different leaders, all of whom sought to better understand the Anabaptist theological positions, as well as the perceived underground international threat posed by Anabaptism. Eventually, on January 21, 1536, the three were "tortured to death by red-hot tongs, and their bodies suspended in an iron cage from the tower of St. Lambert's [Church.68 Pynchon recapitulates such images in the references to Gottfried suspended in the Rocket near the end of GR.
     In the words of Heinrich Bullinger, a contemporary commentator, "'God opened the eyes of the governments by the revolt at Munster ... and thereafter no one would trust even those Anabaptists who claimed to be innocent."'69 Modern commentators, however, put the event into different perspectives. John Oyer notes that:
the peculiar Munsterite error derived from their view that the church they were assembling was absolutely pure; it permitted no sinful or hypocritical persons in its midst. They added their apocalypticism and extended their church into a temporal Kingdom of Christ in which only the righteous would rule. In their establishment of their Kingdom of Christ they taught rebellion against the established civil authority, and they even assigned the sword to those who occupied the office of the Word.70
A.G. Dickens observes that "[w]e beg many questions if we point to their spiritual descendants, the sects of seventeenth-century England and New England, and then blandly claim that the Anabaptists made immense 


contributions to modern religious and civic freedom."71 Instead, Dickens argues:
however admirable their intentions, the Anabaptists did in effect strike a terrible blow against the more tolerant elements in Reformation thought. More decisively than the excesses of peasant rebels, Anabaptist indiscretion blasted the infant shoots of liberalism which grew upon Lutheran and Zwinglian trees. In the imaginations of many otherwise gentle and moderate men, Anabaptism seemed no mere inchoate trend, no mere confused and wrangling congregationalism, but a vast international conspiracy to tear down the fragile social structure of Europe. In that setting, some degree of persecution hence became quite inevitable and it was by no means wholly religious in character.72
     Other studies in the social sciences have used Munster as a type of test case or historical focal point to debate Weber's theories concerning relationships between charisma and history and between charisma and the evolution of political and economic movements. Tal Howard, for example, argues that charisma is revolutionary and depends on a period of social unrest to flourish.73 The "routinization of charisma" refers to "the means by which a charismatic movement becomes infused with everyday social institutions."74 For Howard and others, the Munster rebellion represents a type of historical ground Zero where the fledgling Protestant movements determined whether their future would include socialism or capitalism.75
     In literature, the retelling of the Munster rebellion began shortly after 1535, and by 1594 and the appearance of Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller, the story was so well known that Nashe could reshape it into a complex--and one might argue, Pynchonesque--satire, whose humor depended upon a certain level of knowledge about the event among his English readers, most of whom were "university wits" or middle-class 


workers.76 Moreover, Nashe does not simply retell the events of Munster; instead, through the persona of his narrator and knight errant, Jack Wilton (a knight who does not like to fight and whose main virtue is his uncanny ability to align himself with the losing side), he produces a picaresque novel which--much like Don Quixote and GR--is occasionally historically accurate. At other times, however, the retelling of historical events is confused, inaccurate, partial, or simply wrong. These narrative techniques parody historical events and satirize those oppositional forces which give shape to history. When Jack Wilton recounts the battle of Munster, for example, he unabashedly tells us that he fought for the Anabaptists, at least right up until the fighting started. Here, of course, he plays on the well known fact that all the Anabaptist soldiers at Munster were killed. Further, his descriptions of the battle conflate the rebellions at Frankenhausen and Munster, and, in doing so, lead to a broader critique and satire of the struggle for hegemony among religious and secular forces. A close reading of a few passages from The Unfortunate Traveller provides a glimpse of the jocular, informal, and, some might argue, coarse style Nashe uses (charges often level led at Pynchon's writing in GR) within the broader, overarching Apocalyptic framework.
     Ignoring a historical gap of nineteen years, Jack Wilton says that at the end of the battle of Marignano:
like a Crowe that still follows aloof where there is carrion, I flew me over to Munster in Germanie, which an Anabaptistical Brother named John Leiden, kept at that instant against the Emperor and the Duke of Saxonie. Here I was in good hope to set up my staff for some reasonable time, deeming that no City would drive it to a siege, except they were able to hold out: and prettily well had these Munsterians held out, for they kept the Emperor and the Duke of Saxonie at play for a space of a year, and longer would have done, but that Dame Famine came amongst them: whereupon they were forced by Messengers to agree upon a day of Fight, when according to their Anabaptisticall error they might all be new christened in their owne blood.77

Nashe follows with an elaborate description of the Anabaptist soldiers, emphasizing ways that their military regalia and accoutrements function as costumes which parodically reflect their positions as craftsmen and artisans:
That day came, flourishing entered John Leiden the Botcher into the field, with a scarf made of lysts like a bow-case, a cross on his breast like a thread bottom, a round twilled Tailor's cushion, buckled like a Tankard- bearer's device to his shoulders for a target, the pike whereof was a pack- needle, a tough prentice's club for his spear, a great brewer's cowl on his back for a corselet, and on his head for a helmet a huge high shoe with the bottom turned upwards, embossed as full of hobnails as ever it might sticke: his men were all base handicrafts, as cobblers, and curriers, and tinkers, whereof some had bars of iron, some hatchets, some cool-staves, some dung- forkes, some spades, some mattocks, some wood-knives, some adzes for their weapons: he that was best provided had but a piece of a rustie browne bill bravely fringed with cob-webs to fight for him.78
Jack Wilton, replete with his own baroque equipage and his motto emblazoned on his shield--"I live in hope to 'scape the rope"--joins this army of "base handicrafts" as well as "John Leiden and all the crue of Cnipperdollings and Muncers."79 Nashe's reference to "Muncers" is worth noting since it plays on the connection between people of Munster and the traditional reference to followers of Thomas Muntzer, the Anabaptist preacher who died at Frankenhausen ten years earlier.
     Nashe delays the battle for several pages in a convoluted narrative which begins with a rhetorical question about the origins of the Munster conflict, turns into an invective against Cardinal Wolsey, and then concludes with a parody of Anabaptist religious practices, noting that they normally ask God "to condescend to their requests, and if he refused, to rail on him and curse him to his face, to dispute with him and argue with him of injustice for not being so good as his Word with them."80 Finally, picking up the narrative thread of the battle and foreshortening it, Wilton says:


Deteriora sequitur they followed God as daring him. God heard their prayers, Quod petitur poena est. It was their speedy punishment that they prayed for. Lo according to the sum of their impudent supplications, a sign in the heavens appeared, the glorious sign of the rainbow, which agreed just with the sign of their ensign that was a rainbow likewise. Whereupon, assuring themselves of victorie Miserie quod volunt, facile credunt (that which wretches would have they easily believe), with shouts and clamors they presently ran headlong on their well-deserved confusion. Pitiful and lamentable was their unpitied and well performed slaughter.81
     Here, Nashe satirically suggests that the rainbow appears at Munster to fulfill the Anabaptist's prayers for "their speedy judgment;" in other words, to confirm that they were all soon to be killed. Historically, of course, ten years earlier Thomas Muntzer had told the Anabaptists at Frankenhausen that the appearance of the rainbow signaled God's assurance of a coming victory. Wilton concludes this almost oxymoronic or antithetical passage with an image of the Anabaptists gloriously rushing headlong to certain death which is both "prayed for" and "well-performed." Here, as in other places in The Unfortunate Traveller and in GR, such changes in the narrator's perspective signal a transition from soldier to observer, from actor to voyeur, from inmate to escapee.
     Finally, Wilton must find a way to end the Munster narrative "cleanly." Characteristically, on one level, he blames his need to curtail the narrative on the impatience of his pen, but on another there is an obvious sense of sympathy for this "dirty" tale of the perhaps senseless deaths of so many working-class people:
This tale must at one time or other give up the ghost, and as good now as stay longer; I would gladly rid my hands of it cleanly, if I could tell how, for what with talking of cobblers, tinkers, rope-makers, botchers and dirt-daubers, the mark is clean out of my Muse's mouth, and I am as it were, more than duncified twixt divinity and poetry. What is there more as touching this tragedy that you would be resolved of? Say quickly, for now is my pen on foot again. How John Leiden died, is that it? He died like a dog; he 

was hanged and the halter paid for. For his companions, do they trouble you? I can tell you they troubled some men before, for they were all killed and none escaped, not so much as one to tell the tale of the rainbow. Hear what it is to be Anabaptists, to be Puritans, to be villains; you may be counted illuminate botchers for a while, but your end will be "Good people pray for us."82
The narrator's pen extricates him from the Munster episode in The Unfortunate Traveller, while it is another "type," the printer's daughter, who rescues Slothrop in GR.
     The Plechazunga episode in GR precedes the "scattering,"  "disappearance," "vanishing," or whatever it is that happens to Slothrop near the end of the novel (perhaps a simple "Poof!" is the best way to describe it). To briefly reconstruct the narrative: Slothrop, on his way to Cuxhaven, stumbles into some quasi-mythic town "near Wismar"83 and is coopted into reenacting the role of Plechazunga, the pig god who supposedly drove out the Norse invaders in the tenth century or so. Slothrop dons the multi-colored (perhaps rainbow-colored?) pig costume and surprise, it fits perfectly. The day of the festival he performs his role as Plechazunga and drives out the phony Norse invaders. There follows a scene of ganz gemutlichkeit,84 in which everyone shares food, drink and song and Slothrop--realizing the narrator's utopian male fantasy--shows up with "TWO healthy young ladies in summer dresses and woodsoled shoes."85 This idyllic, utopian vision does not last long however, since amid the calm, "little vortices" appear signaling the presence of a black market.86 For Pynchon, this Weberian nod may be the beginnings of capitalism within this communal festivity. With typical precognition, Slothrop senses imminent danger as the narrator says, "[l]ast of his line, and how far-fallen--no other Slothrop ever felt such fear in the presence of Commerce."87 Things suddenly turn bad when the German police show up and, with "efficiency and glee ... [and] nostalgia for the old days,"88 they beat up the villagers. Subsequently, some Russian troops show up and join 


in the fun, also beating up the villagers. The Germans and Russians beating up the innocent villagers may allude to the Catholic and Lutherans warring against the Anabaptists. Slothrop is eventually "rescued" by a nameless seventeen-year-old girl who takes him to her house.
     The parallels between Anabaptism and GR continue here. The father of the girl who rescues Plechazunga from the police was:
[A] printer, married during his journeymanship, his wanderyears now stretched out to ten, no word where he's been since '42 .... She has a snapshot of him on holiday, someplace Bavarian, waterfalled, white-peaked, a tanned and ageless face, Tyrolean hat, galluses, feet planted perpetually set to break into a run.89
Such a description reproduces an image of Hans Hut, a wandering Anabaptist printer and bookseller with a following in scores of villages and towns in south Germany and Austria. As Dickens notes, he was a charismatic preacher who "filled the role of a Pied Piper in the German folk legend of the day."90 Considering the girl's father, the narrator goes on:
It touches Slothrop's own Puritan hopes for the Word, the Word made printer's ink, dwelling along with antibodies and iron-bound breath in a good man's blood, though the World for him be always the World on Monday, with its cold cutting edge, slicing away every poor illusion of comfort the bourgeois takes for real ... did he run off leaflets against his country's insanity? was he busted, beaten, killed?91
The smooth transition here from "Word" to "World" occurs almost unnoticed on first reading, but the fate of the girl's father is left in doubt. The answer to both of these questions when asked of Hans Hut, however, is yes, that is exactly what happened.
     What happens to Slothrop after he leaves the village has puzzled critics since the novel's publication. We know that he winds up somewhere south of Cuxhaven in a large open field in the Zone, and when,


later in the day he became a crossroad, after a heavy rain he doesn't recall, Slothrop sees a very thick rainbow here, a stout rainbow cock driven down out of pubic clouds into Earth, green wet valleyed Earth, and his chest fills and he stands crying, not a thing in his head, just feeling natural ....92
Characteristically, and much like Nashe, Pynchon here gives us an image of the rainbow which can be interpreted as either providential or apocalyptic.
     Later, near the end of GR, one of the narrators says:
     As some secrets were given to the Gypsies to preserve against centrifugal History, and some to the Kabbalists, the Templars, the Rosicrucians, so have this Secret of the Fearful Assembly, and others, found their ways inside the weatherless spaces of this or that Ethnic Joke. There is also the story of Tyrone Slothrop, who was sent into the Zone to be present at his own assembly--perhaps, heavily paranoid voices have whispered, his time's assembly--and there ought to be a punch line to it, but there isn't. The plan went wrong. He is being broken down instead, and scattered.93
This is one of the most often quoted passages in GR, and in this context, I read it to mean that Munster was one of the significant moments in the ascendancy of the Protestant ethic, which, in turn, gave rise to capitalism, the "time" in which Slothrop ostensibly "lives."
     Still later, a spokesman for the Counterforce says, "[w]e--it was a very odd form of heretic-chasing, really. Across the Low Countries, in the summer. It went on in fields of windmills, marshlands, where it was almost too dark to get a decent sight."94 The "spokesman," who speaks from the perspective of one of Franz of Waldeck's soldiers at Munster, then goes on to discuss chasing heretics through the tunnels, killing them, and drinking their blood. Finally, he lapses into some philosophical comments about drinking blood and the Holy Grail.
     While the parallels between GR and the historical and literary precursors I have discussed should be clear, what Pynchon is doing here 


goes beyond any simple one to one Kute Korrespondences or a Hunt the Symbol type of game. One way to analogize the process is to use information theory, one of Pynchon's commonly occurring metaphors. Correlational features between an event and its replication can be described in terms of bandwidth: an obviously retold event would have numerous points of correspondence and thus strong signal and a wide bandwidth. Others, which reproduce an event but include "noisy" features that do not match (such as setting the Plechazunga/Munster episode in a coastal town, rather than in a walled city in central Germany) would have a fainter signal or narrower bandwidth. The exact replication of an historical event (the narrative equivalent of an Aristotelian mimesis praxeos akin to Borges's Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote) is purely theoretical, but practically impossible. In other words, in Pynchon's novels, although certain historical events may be repetitious and perhaps omnipresent, the narrative perspectives on these events constantly change.
     The perspective we have of Slothrop after he sees the rainbow reproduces the Anabaptist idea of psychopannychism, a belief that the soul sleeps after death and before Judgment Day. The theological debate among early Protestants took shape from a simple question: what happens to the soul after the death of the body? Does it go immediately to heaven or hell, or does it have to wait, as the Book of Revelations suggests, until the day of Judgment when all souls will be deemed either saved or damned? Luther and Calvin held that souls immediately went to heaven or hell, while the Anabaptists firmly held to psychopannychism, and this formed one of the initial differences in the two types of doctrine.95 Christopher Lasch points out, in The Culture of Narcissism, that the Munster Anabaptists were anarchic and antinomian, and they actively sought the apocalypse, since they believed that "a sleeping king" would awaken and establish a New World Order (like the Arthurian legends).96 In other words, to paraphrase the epigraph from Wernher van Braun's at the beginning of GR, the sleeping king does not know extinction, he only knows transformation.
     In Anabaptist interpretations, including hymns, the soul resides in natural objects and sleeps in a type of alternate or ulterior world until Judgment Day. It is within this context then, that the final sections of GR develop, beginning with Thanatz's perhaps schizophrenic comments (or 


thoughts) about Blicero: "He won't be here, he's only dead only dead? Isn't that an 'interface' here? A meeting surface for two worlds ... sure, but which two?"97 The perspectives in these final segments often shift from This Side to The Other Side (or Another Side), particularly with reference to Slothrop. Some, such as Pig Bodine, see him; in other episodes, we "see" him with his mother Nalline or we see him in other things: "Some believe that fragments of Slothrop have grown into consistent personae of their own. If so, there's no telling which of the Zone's present-day population are offshoots of his original scattering."98 Moreover, Slothrop shows up on album covers, in flowers, "adrift in the hostile light of the sky, the darkness of the sea...."99 With its emphasis on hymns, Preterition, and faces appearing out of nowhere, the final pages of GR emphasize not only the idea of "a Soul in ev'ry stone...."100 but the coming together of this world and The Other Side in a type of Apocalyptic fulfillment. Yet this apocalyptic myth also becomes a search for origins. In other words, at the end of GR, while the Time (a delta t of indeterminate length), may be at hand, we're fine as long as "There is a Hand to turn the time [....]"101




*  Terry Reilly is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He has published works on Goethe, Shakespeare, and Doris Lessing, as well as on Thomas Pynchon.


2. Marcus Smith & Khachig Tololyan, The New Jeremiad: Gravity's Rainbow, in CRITICAL ESSAYS ON THOMAS PYNCHON 169, 169-84 (Richard Pearce ed., 1981).

3. Scott Sanders, Pynchon's Paranoid History, in 21 TWENTIETH CENTURY LITERATURE 177, 187 (1974). These views, which see a close connection between religion and history in GR, are the more orthodox with respect to Pynchon criticism. For more on this, see, for example, Joseph W. Slade, Religion, Psychology, Sex, and Love in Gravity's Rainbow, in APPROACHES TO GRAVITY'S RAINBOW 153-198 (Charles Clerc ed., 1983); John M. Krafft, "And How Far- Fallen": Puritan Themes in Gravity's Rainbow, in 18 CRITIQUE 55 (1977); Catharine R. Stimpson, Pre-Apocalyptic Atavism: Thomas Pynchon's Early Fiction, in MINDFUL PLEASURES: ESSAYS ON THOMAS PYNCHON 31 (George Levine & David Leverenz eds., 1976); David Marriot, Gravity's Rainbow: Apocryphal History or HistoricalApocrypha?, 19 JOURNAL OF AMERICAN STUDIES 69 (1985).


5. Exceptions include DWIGHT EDDINS, THE GNOSTIC PYNCHON (1990), and the numerous references to the Kabbalah in STEVEN WEISENBURGER, A GRAVITY'S RAINBOW COMPANION; SOURCES AND CONTEXTS FOR PYNCHON'S NOVEL (1988). Most studies of religion in Pynchon's works contain an obligatory nod to Pynchon's ancestor, William Pynchon, Puritan writer and founder of Springfield, Massachusetts.

6. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 317.

7. See Smith & Tololyan, supra note 2, at 175.

8. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 556.

9. See Map A at the end of this Article.

10. Khachig Tololyan, War as Background in Gravity's Rainbow, in APPROACHES TO GRAVITY'S RAINBOW 36, 31-68 (Charles Clerc ed., 1983).



13. Edward Mendelson, Gravity's Encyclopedia, in MINDFUL PLEASURES: ESSAYS ON THOMAS PYNCHON 161 (George Levine & David Leverenz eds., 1976).


15. THOMAS H. SCHAUB, PYNCHON: THE VOICE OF AMBIGUITY 76  (1981) (Tolstoy's comment is reproduced as the epigraph to Chapter 4).

16. Id.


18. THOMAS PYNCHON, V. 279 (1973).

19. Id. at 307.

20. Id. at 308.


22. Thomas Pynchon, Low-lands, in SLOW LEARNER 155 (1984).

23. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 590.

24. Smith & Tololyan, supra note 2, at 176.

25. Id.

26. HITE, supra note 4, at 101.

27. For more on relationships between implicate and explicate spaces, see John Briggs, Reflectaphors: The (Implicate) Universe as a Work of Art, in QUANTUM IMPLICATIONS (Basil Hiley & F. David Peat eds., 1987). An excellent application of this theory to Pynchon's MASON & DIXON can be found in Stefan Mattesich, Telluric Texts, Implicate Spaces, in POSTMODERN CULTURE (1997), available at < only/issue.997/review-5.997>.

28. HITE, supra note 4, at 101.

29. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 664.

30. Id. at 645.

31. Id. at 29 (emphasis in original) (Since Thomas Pynchon is known for his use of the ellipse, the ellipses inserted by the Author are in brackets [....]).

32. Smith & Tololyan, supra note 2, at 170.

33. Id. at 171.

34. Id. at 181.

35. PYNCHON, supra note 18, at 321.


37. See SCHAUB, supra note 15, at 128.

38. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 325, 464.

39. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 167. Mendelson, supra note 13, at 175.

40. See id. at 170.

41. Tal Howard, Charisma and History: The Case of Munster, Westphalia, 1534-1535, 35 ESSAYS IN HISTORY 49, 50 (1993), available at <http://>.


43. Id. at 135.

44. See id. at 130.

45. Id.

46. See id. at 128.


48. Id. at 136.

49. Id.

50. Id.

51. Id.

52. Id.

53. Id.


55. DICKENS, supra note 42, at 128.

56. See Howard, supra note 41, at 50.

57. See DICKENS, supra note 42, at 131.

58. Id.

59. See OYER, supra note 54, at 160.


61. See DICKENS, supra note 42, at 134.

62. Id.

63. See Howard, supra note 41, at 61.

64. Id.

65. See id. at 58.

66. THE MENNONITE ENCYCLOPEDIA identifies the traitor as one Johan Glandorp, one of John's aides. Howard, supra note 41, at 58, says the two traitors were guards named Heinrich Gresbeck and Hans Eck.

67. Howard, supra note 41, at 58.

68. DICKENS, supra note 42, at 134.

69. Id. at 134.

70. OYER, supra note 54, at 161.

71. DICKENS, supra note 42, at 137.

72. Id.

73. See Howard, supra note 41, at 53.

74. Id.

75. See id. at 3. See also Margrit Eichler, Charismatic Prophets and Charismatic Saviors, in 55 THE MENNONITE Q. REV. 45 (1981); James M. Stayer et al., From Monogenesis to Polygenesis: The Historical Discussion of Anabaptist Origins, 49 THE MENNONITE Q. REV. 109 (1975).

76. THOMAS NASHE, THE UNFORTUNATE TRAVELLER (John Lehmann Ltd. 1950)  (1594). Further citations are from this edition and will be referred to parenthetically. I have modernized the spelling for convenience.

77. Id. at 35.

78. Id.

79. Id. at 41.

80. Id.

81. Id. at 42.

82. Id. at 43.

83. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 567.

84. Id. at 570.

85. Id. at 569.

86. Id.

87. Id.

88. Id. at 570.

89. Id. at 571-72.

90. DICKENS, supra note 42, at 128. Compare also the woodcut of Hans Hut by Christoffel van Sichem in Dickens 126, and Pynchon's description of the printer in GR.

91. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 571.

92. Id. at 626.

93. Id. at 737-38 (emphasis in original).

94. Id. at 738.

95. See JOHN CALVIN, PSYCHOPANNYCHIA (Unwin 1979) (1542).


97. PYNCHON, supra note 1, at 668.

98. Id. at 742.

99. Id.

100. Id. at 760.

101. Id.