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 its treatment of war Gravity's Rainbow shares many features with poststructuralist theory, especially that of Paul Virilio and Jean Baudrillard. Pynchon articulates the poststructuralist notion proffered by Michel Foucault, Filles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and others that modern societies are disciplined by military structures rather than being ruled by law. Much of Gravity's Rainbow depicts the end of the Second World War as a significant moment in a process whereby military relations and realities are being extended into the post-war era. This view coincides with the arguments of Virilio, who coins the term "pure war" to denote how the military extension portrayed by Pynchon is inaugurated and maintained by the idea of deterrence. However, at times Gravity's Rainbow portrays the Second World War as a preparatory moment in the realization of practices of social control that are irreducible to war. Such control is the outcome of the reduplication of technologies of simulation. This current portrayal of Pynchon's novel accords with Baudrillard's theory of simulation. For Baudrillard, the reality of war has disappeared and been replaced by its simulation even where military conflicts do take place. In both Pynchon and Baudrillard the "law" that governs society is the drive towards digitality, death and simulation, which, paradoxically, is fostered by the hunger for the real. For Baudrillard it is impossible to determine whether his own concept of simulated war or Virilio's pure war most accurately designates the workings of social power. Similarly, Pynchon uses both concepts as diagnostics of power, and as a result Gravity's 


Rainbow remains indeterminate regarding the nature of power in post-war society.
    What is most extraordinary is that the two hypotheses, the apocalypse of real time and pure war along with the triumph of the virtual over the real, are realised at the same time, in the same space-time, each in implacable pursuit of the other. It is a sign .... that there will undoubtedly be no resolution of this situation: we will remain in the undecidability of war, which is the undecidability created by the unleashing of the two opposed principles.
    Soft war and pure war go boating.1
     A tale rampant with lawlessness and patterned around rather than within theaters of military conflict, Gravity's Rainbow2 appears to be neither a law novel nor a war novel. Pynchon's novel interrogates the relationship between the legal sphere of the ordinary regulation of behavior in society and the military sphere of the disciplines and logistics brought about by the exceptional state of armed conflict. However, Pynchon radically reconfigures the dynamics between these notions by simultaneously evoking structures of war, not law, as the regulatory authority of post-war society and describing both war and law as ruses or simulations that disguise the actual forces that are responsible for post-war social control.
     These two seemingly contradictory perceptions of war are, respectively, equivalent to "pure war" and "virtual" or "soft war" from the above quote from Baudrillard. Both Pynchon and Baudrillard present scenarios in which pure war and soft or simulated war co-exist (or in Baudrillard's phrase, "go boating"). In his writings on the Gulf War, Baudrillard states that the economy of these two contending notions is undecidable; while Pynchon consistently represents social regulation as irreducible to the law, he, like Baudrillard, refuses simpleanswers regarding the role of war in such processes of control.
     In War as Background in Gravity's Rainbow, Khachig Tololyan addresses how Pynchon evokes the Nazi state in terms of the V-2 program and the I.G. Farben cartel, which together represent the intersection of science, business, the military, and the political hierarchy and bureaucracy. 


For Tololyan, the program and the cartel are the means by which Pynchon represents war as a state of power which is designed to endure beyond the limits of total war. The V-2 endures thanks to the Allies' scavenging for rocket remnants and the realization that the V-2 would be "the perfect prototype of more sophisticated delivery systems" for nuclear weapons.3 The significance of the cartel is that, historically, it "gave modern war its peculiarly managerial character, and helped promote the view that peace is only a truce, during which foresighted technocrats prepare for the next war."4 The effect of Pynchon's fictionalized cartel is to expose "how deceptive the distinction between civilian and military life is, how entangling the norms of peace have been and what kinds of violence are done to people in their enforcement."5 War is utilized by those power structures embodied in the program and the cartel "to blind us to their own existence," an existence which remains precisely the same in periods of war and non-war.6
     While Tololyan accurately captures Gravity's Rainbow's post-war orientation and its vision of military discipline rather than ordinary law as the regulating factor in society, his analysis of the complexity of the dynamic between war and non-war in Pynchon's novel is limited. This dynamic is not simply one of continuity, where the differences between war and non-war are erased, but one involving the phase of total war as a preparatory moment in the manifestation of more sophisticated post-war power structures. Two of the novel's most powerful images illustrate Pynchon's concern with a deepening or transformation of power structures rather than their simple continuation. First, Pirate Prentice's dream of evacuation, which opens the novel, encapsulates Pynchon's martial dynamic whereby the curtailment of war entails an increase of certain of its aspects: "not a disentanglement from, but a progressive knotting into."7 This movement informs the entirety of Gravity's Rainbow, where the post-VE day geopolitical reconfigurations constitute an intensification rather than an evacuation from the state of war. Second, one of the tenets of Pavlovian conditioning in Pynchon's novel is expressed by Ivan Petrovich as "a silent


extinction beyond the zero."8 In Pynchon's novel, this concept refers not only to the "paradoxical" phase (where an experimental effect continues to exist without the presence of the strong stimulus that originally triggered it)9 and "ultra- paradoxical phase" (where an effect is produced by a negative stimuli that should have the opposite effect of the original stimulus)10 of Pavlovian conditioning, but also to the creation of new effects that themselves produce causes. In accordance with Pavlovian theory, Gravity's Rainbow does articulate the continued existence of the effects of military discipline and control independent of war (their initial cause), but Pynchon's novel also shows both how these effects are intensified under the new post-war conditions and how they themselves problematize the very existence of the "cause" of war.11
     In order to analyze and contextualize the relative importance of maintained and transformed structures of war in Gravity's Rainbow, it is helpful to consult poststructuralist theory. The writings of Paul Virilio, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari, as well as Baudrillard, are deeply concerned with the interplay between military procedures, state authority, and social regulation. These texts are, therefore, of great assistance in theorizing the nature of war and power in Gravity's Rainbow and demonstrating the fundamental congruence between French poststructuralist theory and American postmodern fiction such as Pynchon's. In works such as Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, Foucault insists that power operates through a massive field of normalization rather than through the law. Foucault rewrites Clausewitz's maxim that "[war is the continuation of policy by other means"12 by saying that power can be encoded either as war or politics. However, Foucault insists on the primacy of the military discourse of tactics and strategy because he believes that in western societies "the force relationships which for a long time had found expression in war ... gradually became invested in the order of political power."13 Moreover, Foucault argues that from the eighteenth century onward, the creation of docile and disciplined bodies by 


military training has been the basic model for widespread social regulation.14
     Deleuze and Guattari also challenge and reverse the notion that war is an expression of the power and agency of the law of the State. Just as Foucault argues that law is a ruse to disguise the fact that power functions through military disciplines, Deleuze and Guattari write that the state is subordinate to "the nomadic war machine." Citing George Dumezil's anthropological study of Indo-European culture, these writers argue that the nomadic war machine of, say, Genghis Khan is a "form of exteriority" which does not have war as its object and is historically appropriated and deployed by States for political ends.15 However, this process cannot occur without the State itself becoming appropriated within its own war machine, with the consequence that war is pursued for its own sake, and the total mobilization of the State is engineered to further this end. Militarization continues to be the case even in peacetime, as populations, rather than enemy armies, are subjected to the State's war machine. Deleuze and Guattari regard the Second World War as the pivotal moment in this latter process, and the parity between this theory and Pynchon's novel is a graphic illustration of the more general relevance of poststructuralism in the study of Gravity's Rainbow. Along with Foucault's discussion of how in modern society military discipline has been increasingly more important than law for guaranteeing state power, Deleuze and Guattari's analysis of the relation between the State and the war machine establishes a historical context in which Pynchon's articulation of war and power in Gravity's Rainbow can be placed.
     Whereas the analyses of Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari describe the historical developments out of which the military forces of Gravity's Rainbow emerge, Paul Virilio's writings on "pure war" theorize the continuation of military control into post-war society that is enacted by Pynchon through the post-war orientation of various characters and organizations. Many of Gravity's Rainbow's characters inhabit a "preserving routine [...] against what outside none of them can bear--the War, the absolute rule of chance, their own pitiable contingency here, in its 


midst.16 As we have seen, the ordinary details of war are absent from Gravity's Rainbow, and instead Pynchon fictionalizes characters' "preserving routines," which range from the repetition of compulsive behaviors to the reproduction of structures of control, that are continued beyond war's official curtailment.
     Like the aforementioned theorists, Virilio's work on pure war has a strong historical component, and Virilio's historicization is echoed in Pynchon's characterization of Brigadier Pudding's preserving routine. Virilio identifies the First World War as the moment in western history when, first, the interests of military engineers and business entrepreneurs converged to create the military-industrial complex, and, second, the significance of the technical discourse of war rapidly outstripped that of its political counterpart. As a result of these developments, argues Virilio, the economies of nation states have become increasingly organized around the production of weapons technology and special wartime economies.17 The technical strategy of war has overthrown political discourse proper, and even in peacetime societies have become based upon military mobilization, surveillance and discipline.18
     Even though Gravity's Rainbow is patently concerned with how the Second World War altered the nature of modern power, Pynchon's characterization of Pudding resonates with Virilio's argument that the First World War was an important juncture in the transformation of external battle (conflict) into internal policing (control). Pudding repeatedly undergoes a sado-masochistic war ritual in order to routinize the demons of unremitting total war, as depicted in his memories of a horrendous offensive at the Ypres salient in the First World War.19 The memory of war is vivid and powerful in Pudding's preserving routine. As Paul Fussell argues, Katje, in her role of Pudding's "Domina Nocturna," becomes "the incarnation of the spirit of military memory in all times and places."20 Also, the particular nature of Pudding's memories, along with their re-enactment as internal policing, reflects Virilio's argument regarding the importance of 


the First World War in the extension and codification of wartime activity as pure war.
     Blicero's ritualized and rationalized Oven games involving Katje Borgesius and Gottfried denote a more advanced and complex form of the preserving routines of pure war than is apparent in Pudding's experience. For Blicero and Katje, the ritual is the reality since, for Blicero at least, it has totally displaced military memory: "For some reason he finds it harder these days to remember. What is framed, dirt-blurry, in the prisms, the ritual, the daily iteration inside these newly cleared triangles in the forests, has taken over what used to be memory's random walk [....]"21 Also, this preserving routine involves the repeated enactment of a relation of domination. In his analysis of pure war, Virilio argues that whereas the political state envisions the army as one of its executive limbs, the social class of the military has as its ambition the total militarization of society,22 a colonizing thrust which is figured by Blicero's activities. This colonization of the social body existing in micro-form as Gottfried's incarceration involves, in Foucault's terms, the replacement of a civil justice based on politics and a "juridical subject" with a military justice based on logistics and operationality.23 Sanctioned by this idea of "justice," pure war is manifested as the repetitive structure of Blicero's human husbandry:
Pure War is neither peace nor war; nor is it, as was believed, "absolute" or "total" war. Rather, it is the military procedure itself, in its ordinary durability. The balance of terror, the nuclear coalition, peaceful coexistence--in short, the dissolution of the state of war and the military's infiltration into the movements of daily life--reproduce the metamorphoses of the hunter: from direct confrontation of the wild animal; to progressive control over the movements of certain species; then, with the help of the dog, to guarding semi-wild flocks; and finally to reproduction, breeding.24
     According to Foucault, the power formations derived from war exist as a web of inter-related micro-relations rather than as monolithic blocks. 


Similarly, in Gravity's Rainbow the preserving routines of pure war form a complex system of control and cannot be reduced to the activities of particular classes of people or organizations. Just as Katje and Gottfried are locked into Blicero's Oven games, so Pudding's ritual is also a preserving routine for its orchestrator, Ned Pointsman. Pointsman's chief preserving routine is his construction of war as a Pavlovian laboratory in which mechanistic causality reigns supreme. Pointsman fears the war's end since this represents both the demise of his own sense of power and, more fundamentally, the replacement of mechanistic causality with those models of probability theory associated with the "Antipointsman" Roger Mexico. Much like Pudding's adherence to memory, Pointsman is deeply attached to the notion of the cause-- the specific needs of wartime--because this justifies his laboratory experiments. Pointsman's fears are justified because in the post-war extensions of pure war, individual human agency, along with the military causes of and needs for control, will be eliminated in favor of the unexplained and unquestioned replication of impersonal military discipline. For Virilio, the entire thrust towards the technologization of society is borne of the military's awareness of the limitations of its proletariat (soldier) class: "A demanding and fragile transmission, a hazardous relay station which, for the war entrepreneur, poses the problem of its deterioration."25 In consequence, the onus is on the military engineer to remove the human from the workings of the war machine. Pointsman goes insane when he realizes that he is dispensable within the inauguration of pure war. As a technician, or cause, of the emergence of pure war, Pointsman may have thought himself safe from its reconfigurations, but it is precisely such causes which must be dispensed with in the era of pure war.
     Determined to hold on to the bureaucratic power of PISCES in the post-war phase, Geza Roszavolgyi is far more concerned than Pointsman with the effects of Slothrop's conditioning since he believes these effects to be crucial to his wider goal: the implementation of a preserving routine that will enable those power structures produced by war to outlast the phase of actual, total war. As Dale Carter argues, Roszavolgyi is aware of the need for a program, rather than an inspirational leader, to maintain control in "the crucial [phase] of post-war planning."26 However, Carter fails to emphasize that this program extends beyond the limit of the American 


space program to embrace military-style disciplines and procedures within civilian populations. Roszavolgyi's preoccupation with the programmatic effects of the preserving routine of war is due to his canny understanding that pure war is also "total peace." Virilio's fear that "[t]he economic war currently ravaging the earth is but the slow phase of declared war" is enthusiastically welcomed by Roszavolgyi as the forum in which his own power, and that of his technocratic caste, will be preserved.27 The structural relationship between Roszavolgyi's concern with the effects of war and Pointsman's identification with the causes of war is paralleled by the dynamic between Blicero's preserving routine and Pudding's adherence to military memory. In other words, Pynchon establishes a progression of preserving routines which tend toward the increased eradication of both memory and cause: from Pudding to Blicero (military), from Pointsman to Roszavolgyi (operational), Pynchon articulates how in the midst of war the extension of military control into the post-war era is being engendered.
     The tendency towards pure war manifested in these characters' post-war orientation is fully realized in Pynchon's representation of I.G. Farben and the "They"-system. Thomas Moore believes that "the reader of Gravity's Rainbow learns quickly to think of 'I.G. Farben' chiefly as a convenient designation or construct, an objective correlative for our paranoid reading skills and for characters' paranoid feelings,"28 a comment which is part of his larger thesis that, in Gravity's Rainbow, there is no objective confirmation of either the existence of the "They"-system or Their surveillance of Slothrop.29 However, to regard I.G. Farben as simply a metaphorical construct, or to categorically reject the presence of the "They"-system, is both to deny the complexity of the relationship between the historical and the fictional in Gravity's Rainbow, and to ignore one of the key interpretive issues within the novel, which has less to do with the existence of I.G. Farben and the "They"-system than it has to do with the nature of their agency and the kinds of power they impose. As Enzian notes, "[there are things to hold to. None of it may look real, but some of it is. Really."30
     The historical core of Pynchon's "They"-system is constituted by I.G. Farben and its affiliations with numerous other industrial concerns, notably ICI in Great Britain and Standard Oil in the United States. As is well 


documented, I.G. Farben and its affiliates bypassed political boundaries and alliances between nation states and established a transnational power structure. Historians agree that the continued success and growth of I.G. Farben was completely dependent upon Germany's military initiatives in the First and Second World Wars, and that the combine not only benefited from but also directed and was inseparable from military policy. During World War I, Germany's decision to mass produce synthetic nitrates reflected this inseparability, as key figures within the emerging I.G. Farben cartel were also decision-makers in the War Ministry.31 In the build up to the Second World War, the I.G. increasingly identified itself with Hitler's methods and goals, a development which Peter Hayes characterizes as "the manipulation and partial remaking of an industrial mentality by an ideological one.32 However, Hayes' distinction between Nazi "ideology" and I.G. Farben's "interests" becomes blurred in view of the fact that in the areas of chemical warfare and forced labor, I.G. Farben forced the hand of the Nazi military and government. The I.G.'s uniquely important role in German rearmament and militarization was assured by the combine's control of the German explosives industry, its development of synthetic substitutes for critical raw materials, its thorough "Nazification," and its deep involvement in Nazi espionage activities.33
     Pynchon's representation of I.G. Farben adheres to the historical view that the combine's power was based on the bypassing of national politics and the stimulation of military activity. However, Pynchon especially emphasizes the post-war reconfiguration of these elements, and in this regard his fiction conforms to the tenets of Virilio's pure war and total peace, where technological domination, as mobilized by the increasingly autonomous multinationals and supra-military, has broken the efficacy of national politics even in peacetime. Gravity's Rainbow is replete with references to transnational agreements among industrial concerns, most of which are aimed at the creation and post-war appropriation of the V-2 rocket. As a result of the industrial affiliations among Clive Mossmoon, Hilary Bounce, Dennis Joint and a myriad of other personnel, the integrity of national power and the entire rhetoric of patriotism, "sides," and "enemies" in war is undermined. I.G. Farben and the "They"-system thoroughly colonize the space of the text, yet their power does coalesce in 


particular locations, such as the Rocket- City of Mittelwerke and Zwolfkinder. These states are prototypes of the transnational Rocket-Cartel that is being inaugurated in the post-war Zone. The Rocket-Cartel represents the eradication of the democratic political state in favor of what Virilio calls a Minimum State of "the miniaturization of the political field.34 For Virilio, this loss of the space of democratic consultation and reflection signals the end of politics and the inauguration of the era of "trans-politics," which was commenced during the Second World War.35 The transpolitical marks the success of total military mobilization, where the potential for political dissent or difference is ironed out by the global, logistical elimination of any time in which to resist. By their utter absence in Gravity's Rainbow, political identity and opposition are revealed to have been eliminated by transpolitical power. Just as in Roger Mexico'smind "the Home Front is something of a fiction and lie, designed, not too subtly, to draw them apart, to subvert love in favor of work, abstraction, required pain, bitter death," so too in the emergent Rocket-Cartel military strictures enforce divisions among people that deny the possibility of real politics.36
     The military basis of transpolitical industrial power is widely evident in Pynchon's depiction of I.G. Farben, the "They"-system, and the Rocket. While the "They"-system might appear to seek a non-military type of post-war corporate power, such power is, as Sir Marcus Scammony notes upon realizing how Slothrop may have escaped his conditioning, derived from military power: "We've got the Army, when the time is right. Slothrop was a good try at a moderate solution, but in the end it's always the Army, isn't it?"37 Scammony's view is reiterated time and again in Gravity's Rainbow, as in the words of Mister Information: "The real War is always there. The dying tapers off now and then, but the War is still killing lots and lots of people."38 Transpolitical power as held by the "They"-system is, for Virilio, dependent upon the extension of military disciplines to encompass the social domination of both civilian populations and those members of the armed forces whom Virilio distinguishes from the military-industrial caste. The key features of this "military proletarianization" are the order to move and the command to work, both of which are regarded as an outcome of 


military industrialization.39 The unimpeded expanse of the military battlefield is extended to become a social field of endless movement. In wartime, Slothrop wonders whether the word "civilian" has any meaning, and this eradication of non-military existence is continued into the post-war Zone, where Displaced Persons adopt the soldierly role of anonymous and compulsory movement.40 Similarly, in wartime, populations are directed to submit themselves to the profit-making motives of the war-entrepreneur; in Virilio's analysis, total peace essentially means the retention of the disciplines of the war economy within the post-war phase. Pynchon repeatedly describes the true nature of the war as "a celebration of markets" and concerns about the post-war continuation of such markets are voiced by I.G. representatives.41
     These disciplines have wide-ranging effects (such as widespread insecurity leading to the "consumption of protection" and an ethos of deterrence), all of which conspire to drive economic and political power further into the hands of an unelected military-industrial class. Virilio argues that it is precisely this social formation which defines total peace in the postwar phase, where the military threat is everywhere and resistance is nowhere, where military assaults need not take the form of a physical attack since their threat is instantaneously omnipresent, overriding all reference to transmission and localization. In Gravity's Rainbow, the Rocket is the means by which a post-war world of deterrence is brought into being. For Franz Pokler, the Rocket represents both a physical and conceptual threat as he becomes aware that he is "at the Rocket's mercy: not only danger from explosions or falling hardware, but also its dumbness, its dead weight, its obstinate and palpable mystery."42 Even in the post-war phase the Rocket continues to exert its omnipresent terror upon characters such as Enzian: "the Rocket can penetrate, from the sky, at any given point. Nowhere is safe."43 As the novel's finale shows, the curtailment of war has not ended the reign of the Rocket's military theaters but rather has transformed all civilian locales, such as the Orpheus Theatre, into potential targets. It is this sense of potential or conceptual threat that is the hallmark of Virilio's ethos of deterrence, which assures the post-war continuation of military-style economies and disciplines. The Rocket's transformation from 


a revenge weapon of total war to a nuclear deterrence machine of pure and cold war is enabled through the scavenging for V-2 remains undertaken by Major Duane Marvy and others at the behest of various corporate bodies.
     "Soft war and pure war go boating."44 From the above analysis it would seem that the "law" enacted by Pynchon is that of Virilio's pure war, where post-war society is characterized by the continued existence of military authority. However, another "law" is evident in Gravity's Rainbow, which states, in accordance with the writings of Baudrillard, that war and military activities are simulations (instances of referentiality that are purely self- referential and lack a referent) and that non-military forms of control are at work in both wartime and peacetime. In simple terms, Virilio argues that war is everywhere, whereas Baudrillard contends that war is nowhere or "virtual" or "soft." In Pynchon's novel, the Baudrillardian view of war as simulation conjoins with a vision of pure war through the forces at work in the activities of I.G. Farben and the "They"-system.
     Baudrillard argues that in the case of the Gulf War the ratio of pure to simulated war is ultimately unfathomable. Similarly, in Gravity's Rainbow the agency of I.G. Farben oscillates between these two martial poles. Such undecidability is apparent even in historians' writings on I.G. Farben. For example, Joseph Borkin views I.G. Farben's post-war fate in terms redolent of pure war. Borkin notes that even though I.G. plants were frequent targets of Allied bombing raids, such raids must have been aimed at German heavy water facilities rather than I.G. plants, since there was an agreement "between heavy industry in Germany and abroad that [the former's] synthetic gasoline plants would not be [destroyed]."45 However, Richard Sasuly proposes the more radical thesis of simulated war. Sasuly documents that in addition to the shadowy possibility of transnational industrial pacts, the potential existed that I.G. plants would be realized in the post-war phase. Sasuly graphically describes the I.G. munitions installations built by the Nazis in the Bavarian forest towards the end of the war. Construction on one such factory was commenced in August 1944 and was never completed, a situation which Sasuly interprets as indicating that the plant was simply "waiting" to be transformed into a munitions factory. This facility was to be a "completely bomb-proof factory," like the Bavarian Motor Works in Munich which was externally destroyed by Allied bombing 


yet which remained internally intact and never ceased production until the war's curtailment.46
     By reworking historians' speculations, Pynchon inflects his treatment of I.G. Farben's with intimations of simulated war. Simulated war differs from pure war in that war structures are not simply extended into the phase of pure war. Rather, they are fulfilled in the absence of combat. In other words, theaters of war are a preparatory process through which the "They"-system obtains--not simply preserves--power. Power structures may invoke or declare actual war, but as some form of alibi, aimed at disguising the fact that war and peacetime are both under the control of non-military forces. In Gravity's Rainbow, this dynamic is exemplified by Enzian's illumination in the disused and decrepit Jamf Olfabriken Werke AG (a Nazi oil refinery), an experience which deepens the implications of Sasuly's comments on the I.G. munitions installations and Motor Works in Bavaria. Enzian realizes that the factory has in fact been reconstituted in perfect working order rather than destroyed by the Allied bombing, and he concludes that the functioning of the refinery during wartime was simply a preliminary operation which is now facilitating its true, intended functioning in the postwar phase. Accordingly, total war is not war at all; it is, for Enzian, the preparation for the ultimate state of war, the state of simulated war:
This serpentine slag-heap he [Enzian] is just about to ride into now, this ex-refinery [...] is not a ruin at all. It is in perfect working order. Only waiting for the right connections to be set up, to be switched on ... modified, precisely, deliberately by bombing that was never hostile, but part of a plan both sides--"sides?"--had always agreed on [....]
    ... [I]f what the IG built on this site were not at all the final shape of it, but only an arrangement of fetishes, come-ons to call down special tools in the form of 8th AF bombers [...] the bombing was the exact industrial process of conversion, each release of energy placed exactly in space and time, each shockwave plotted in advance to bring precisely tonight's wreck into being ....47


The humor and absurdism of Gravity's Rainbow is often used to intensify historians' comments by evoking the notion of "war" as a simulation. Sasuly describes how I.G. Farben proved more difficult to dismantle than the Nazi establishment in the Allies' postwar economic and geopolitical reconfigurations. In the joint declarations of Yalta (February 11, 1945) and Potsdam (July 17, 1945) Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union all agreed to destroy or take over all German industry which had produced or could produce materials for the German war machine, a policy which was codified as an Allied Joint Chiefs of Staff Resolution (JCS 1067). However, after a year of occupation during which JCS 1067 had not even begun to be implemented, the political will to enforce this resolution was undermined. The effect of this was "to stand the Potsdam agreement on its head and rip out its heart" and reinvigorate the I.G.'s economic standing.48 Where Sasuly hints that the Potsdam agreement was compromised in post-war life, Pynchon's multiple references to Potsdam's movie and showbiz ambiance, especially the presence of Mickey Rooney, indicate that these treaty negotiations along with the other trappings of war are simply a theatrical front.
     In his Gulf War writings, Baudrillard insists that "the disappearance of the symbolic passage to the act," along with the absence of dramatic uncertainty, an armistice and other definitive elements of war, marks the Gulf War as a simulation of war.49 Similarly, Pynchon suggests that the Second World War is a simulated war by evoking a crucial component within the structural apparatus of war--the Potsdam negotiations--as an act of mummery. In the scenarios described by both Baudrillard and Pynchon, civilians and soldiers certainly die, but this does not mean that a war has taken place. As Baudrillard comments:
[w]ar is no less atrocious for being only a simulacrum--the flesh suffers just the same, and the dead and former combatants are worth the same as in other wars .... What no longer exists is the adversity of adversaries, the reality of antagonistic causes, the ideological seriousness of war. And also the reality of victory or 

defeat, war being a process that triumphs well beyond these appearances.50
     In Baudrillard's terminology, Pynchon's Second World War is here a  "simulation of the third order." War appears to be the case (armed conflict does take place), yet what occurs is not war but rather the expression of a more fundamental and preparatory type of power (or "process"). This process masks itself by insisting upon war as a real and exceptional event utterly different from peacetime in order to disguise the fact that both war and peace are equally bound to its workings. Pynchon's Second World War simulates war just as, in Baudrillard's analysis, Watergate simulates scandal and Disneyland simulates the imaginary:
Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the "real" country, all of  "real" America, that is Disneyland .... Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order and to the order of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.51
If war is a simulation, then what is the true process of power in Gravity's Rainbow? If Pynchon were a Marxist then one might expect his anti-corporate views to register the "They"-system as a transpolitical economic conspiracy masquerading as national war effort. But Gravity's Rainbow is not a Marxist novel, and Pynchon repeatedly distances himself from economic conspiracy theory. In the context of the deceased Roland Feldspath's revelation to Slothrop about the nature of control, the former's "cryptic utterances that night at Snoxall's about economic systems are merely the folksy everyday background over here, a given condition of being."52 In other words, corporate economic power is simply the scenario in which a more fundamental form of power takes shape.
     The diminishment of the significance of human financial conspirators is also signified in Webley Silvernail's encounters with the laboratory animals at "The White Visitation." Silvernail explains to the rats and mice 


that all the earth's resources are exploited "to preserve an elite few, who are the loudest to theorize on freedom, but the least free of all."53 In suggesting that the powerful figures within transpolitical power structures are themselves beholden to a greater authority, Silvernail exposes how economic power, like law, politics, and war before it, is a simulation of power. As Silvernail goes on to posit, in Gravity's Rainbow it is the autonomous forces of technology and death that represent the ultimate form of power, as these forces attempt to transform the entire world into a synthetic simulation. It is possible, therefore, to speak of simulated war in Gravity's Rainbow not simply in terms of how actual combat is a simulation of war but also with reference to how the "war" which technology and death wage against the world aims to replace reality with its simulation.
     By applying the concept of pure war, we can understand the Rocket in Gravity's Rainbow as a military weapon that spawns the post-war weaponry of deterrence; however, if we speak of simulated war then the Rocket appears as the vanguard of cybernetic technologies that will become increasingly autonomous in the post-war era. Throughout Gravity's Rainbow Pynchon describes the Rocket in terms of a technological unfolding that manipulates human agents rather than being manipulated by them. As Slothrop dimly realizes as he investigates the technological bases of IG Farben, the Rocket represents technology's drive to become cybernetically self-enclosed as the "Next Higher Assembly"54 "Slothrop finds he has paused in front of the blue parts list that started all this. How high does it go ... ahhhh. The treacherous question is not meant to apply to people after all, but to the hardware!"55 At the novel's conclusion, where Gottfried is enshrouded in the S- Gerat and is launched in the post-war Rocket 00000, we realize that the ultimate goal of this Next Higher Assembly is to appropriate and merge with the human. However, as this Rocket traces an arc of time from its Ascent in the post-war Zone to its Descent upon the moviegoers in the Orpheus Theatre in 1970s Los Angeles, the reader also realizes that the purpose of the post-war Rocket is to be a deterrence machine, a virtual threat that never reaches its target. In accordance with an earlier statement on the mathematical foundation of the V-2, Rocket 00000 remains an "unmeasurable gap above the roof of this old theatre, the last delta-t."56 "The moving vehicle is frozen, in space, to 


become architecture, and timeless. It was never launched. It will never fall."57
     Whereas Virilio sees deterrence as an index of pure war, Baudrillard regards this as the sign of war having become fully simulacra, virtual, and "soft." For Baudrillard, deterrence represents a more advanced form of simulated war than is apparent in the "real" events of the Second World War and Potsdam: it is a simulacrum of the fourth order in that "it has no relation to any reality [of war] whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum."58 Pynchon's Second World War, like Baudrillard's Watergate and Disneyland, attempts to affirm its exceptionality so that its commonality with everyday life will not be perceived by populations. In post-war deterrence, the simulation is intensified because populations still adhere to common-sense distinctions between war and peace even though virtual war has become the condition of everyday life. Although he uses the language of weaponry, Baudrillard is concerned not with the prospect of war but how deterrence is symptomatic of wider and more fundamental manifestations of simulation in society:
The utopia of a targetted promotion or targetted information is the same as that of the targetted missile: it knows not where it lands and perhaps its mission is not to land but, like the missile, essentially to have been launched (as its name indicates). In fact, the only impressive images of missiles, rockets or satellites are those of the launch. It is the same with promotions or five year plans: the campaign launch is what counts, the impact or the end results are so uncertain that one frequently hears no more about them. The entire effect is in the programming, the success is that of the virtual model.59
Similarly, Pynchon is less concerned with the Rocket per se (even in its post- war incarnation as a deterrence machine) than he is with how the technological processes which were accelerated in its development have engendered an entire world of simulation. Even though he is unaware of these wider tendencies towards simulation, Enzian, in his "stimulant talk," realizes that war, law, politics, economics and even the Rocket itself are all 


distractions from and preliminary stages in the realization of technological processes:
    It means this War was never political at all, the politics was all theatre, all just to keep the people distracted ... secretly, it was being dictated instead by the needs of technology ... by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the energy-burst of war, crying, "Money be damned, the very life of [insert name of Nation] is at stake," but meaning, most likely, dawn is nearly here, I need my night's blood, my funding, funding, ahh more.... The real crises were crises of allocation and priority, not among firms--it was only staged to look that way--but among the different Technologies, Plastics, Electronics, Aircraft, and their needs which are understood only by the ruling elite ....60
     In Gravity's Rainbow, the technological foundation of the Rocket, I.G. Farben and, consequently, Germany's prosecution of war is Friedrich August Kekule's "dream" of the ouroboros. In this dream Kekule realizes that the otherwise impenetrable structure of benzene is identical to the shape of the ouroboros, its six carbon atoms being arranged in the shape of a ring, or a snake with its tail in its mouth. According to Gravity's Rainbow's chemical genealogies, Kekule's dream leads to Laszlo Jamf's "National Socialist chemistry" (which partakes of a lauding of the macho ionic bond, a loathing of the "mutable" and "soft" covalent bond, and the urge to move beyond carbon-based organic chemistry to the inorganic) and ultimately to Imipolex G (the synthetic material to which Slothrop has been conditioned to respond).61 This process occurs not by dialectical development or progress, but by the simulatory reduplication of the closed system of the benzene molecule.
     Moreover, the creation and continuation of I.G. Farben's power is based on the replication of the cybernetic technology of the benzene ring; therefore, the benzene ring is not simply a symbol or metaphor for this attempt to freeze and hold power, it is actually the agent of such power's manifestation. The I.G. cartel, with its initial closed rings of six major industrial concerns, or the I.G.'s promise to deliver Germany's self- sufficiency in explosives, oil and rubber, and thus avoid hazardous 


interactions outside the closed ring of the Fatherland, do not simply offer "Kute Korrespondences" with Kekule's dream, they are the effects of its realization.62
     For both Pynchon and Baudrillard, synthetic technologies such as those derived from the I.G. tradition represent the ushering in of an entire society of simulation. The technological processes that seem to be such a powerful causal force in Gravity's Rainbow are not, therefore, simply concerned with their own realization but also and especially with enabling social control. The novel's most important statement on the connection between chemistry and control occurs as the deceased Walter Rathenau, architect of the German cartelized state during the First World War, speaks via the medium of Peter Sachsa to an elite group "from the corporate Nazi crowd."63 Rathenau's highly enigmatic words include the appeal to his auditors, "You must ask two questions. First, what is the real nature of synthesis? And then: what is the real nature of control?"64 Baudrillard provides something of an answer to these questions by addressing the non-technological consequences of the development of plastics:
Isn't it a miracle that with plastics, man has invented an undegradable matter, thus interrupting the cycle which through corruption and death reverses each and every substance on the earth into another? ... This has no longer anything to do with the "progress" of technology or the rational aims of science. It is a project which aims at political and mental hegemony, the phantasy of a closed mental substance like the Baroque stucco angels whose wing-tips touch in a curved mirror.65
     The technologies of Gravity's Rainbow interrupt the cycles of life and death, and, by promising the possibility of the control of immortal substances, cause a fetishization of immortal life. So fetishized, life becomes a simulation, and in Pynchon's novel the simulation of life equates with death. Produced from fossilized life-forms, the benzene ring creates a "dance of the fossils," which represents the desire for immortality and control and the denial of life; technology thus creates the same form of simulation as the "glass coffin" of Biosphere 2 (as described by 


Baudrillard), where the attempt to create a living environment only produces its deathly simulation.66 As he addresses his father in a disembodied textual fragment, even Slothrop is not immune from the temptations of disembodied immortality generated by technological possibilities:
Maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever with all the other souls it's got stored there. It could decide who it would suck out, a-and when. Dope never gave you immortality. You hadda come back, every time, into a dying hunk of smelly meat! But We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld--67
     The dynamic of this process, where a willful obsession with producing and controlling life and the real actually engenders its opposite (simulation) is communicated by Rathenau: "You think you'd rather hear about what you call 'life': the growing, organic Kartell. But it's only another illusion. A very clever robot. The more dynamic it seems to you, the more deep and dead, in reality, it grows."68 Rathenau's reference to the robot is significant because the type of simulation fantasized by these members of the "They"-system involves the "indefinite reproducibility"69 that, according to Baudrillard, characterizes the replacement of the traditional relations of production between original and copy (the automaton) with those of the model and its unlimited clonings (the robot).70
     The societal effects of the technological exhumation and circulation of dead matter are reinforced by the implementation of mathematical "Analysis" in Gravity's Rainbow. Whereas Rocketry components are derived from the inorganic chemistry of the benzene ring, the Rocket's flight trajectory is made possible by the "analytic legacy" emanating from the calculus of Leibniz. However, calculus (and film) are "flightless themselves" and are instead "pornographies of flight."71 In expressing the desire for real and living flight, Leibniz's dream of reducing the world to the ones and zeroes of binary code actually produces a simulation or 


pornography of flight. In Baudrillard's writings, the binary code, as dreamt of by Leibniz, is "the core of the processes of simulation that dominate us."72 Analysis and the code are the bases of power in the works of both Baudrillard and Pynchon: Baudrillard suggests that digitality is manifested as political duopoly (the ultimate form of monopoly as far as Baudrillard is concerned, since it simulates choice between two essentially identical political bodies). Pynchon notes how analysis is the mechanism by which the reality of flux and continuity among people is replaced by the simulation of division and separation. In both cases, digital analysis conjoins with technological reproducibility to determine the "law" of social control: "the phantasm of the code, which is equivalent to the reality of power, is confused with the idealism of the molecule."73
     Despite the parity between Baudrillard and Pynchon, not even the technological and mathematical elements upon which the Rocket is based constitute the absolutely fundamental nature of power in Gravity's Rainbow. As is implied in the preceding discussion, the "revealing" and "unfolding" of technology from the mineral resources of the earth is the vehicle for the establishment of a type of control equated with death.74 Speaking of technological exhumation, Rathenau states: "The real movement is not from death to any rebirth. It is from death to death-transfigured. The best you can do is to polymerize a few dead molecules. But polymerization is not resurrection [...]. The persistence, then, of structures favoring death. Death converted into more death."75 Just as deterrence signals the transfiguration or simulation of war, so too societal simulation based on plastics and analysis represents the transfiguration of death. The impersonal force of death, then, is the agent of power in Pynchon's vision of a zombified post-war world, where even the cyclical nature of death is expunged in favor of a permanently reproducible state of deathliness and work.
     Because Rathenau identifies power with the endless replication of death, he states that "[all talk of cause and effect is secular history, and secular history is a diversionary tactic."76 In Gravity's Rainbow, history, along with politics and law, have become empty signs, ruses to distract attention from the replication of control systems. To a large degree, these 


control structures are military in nature and embody a pure war conducted against civilian populations. However, these power structures exist in world devoid of actual war (even where armed conflicts apparently take place), and their technological and simulatory aspects suggest that they are non-military in nature. As in Baudrillard's Gulf War texts, the combination of pure and simulated war in Gravity's Rainbow is, therefore, ultimately undecidable. Such undecidability is due, in part, to Pynchon's refusal to state who or what is responsible for both Kekule's dream and the "planetary mission" to impose a protraction of simulated death (a refusal which is but one instance of Gravity's Rainbow's overall resistance to final analysis).77 If we, like Laszlo Jamf, seek the answer to such questions, then it is perhaps at this point that we should turn from Gravity's Rainbow to the works of H.P. Lovecraft.



*  Nicholas Spencer was educated at Wigan College of Technology, St. John's College, Oxford, and Emory University. He has written several articles on contemporary American Literature, the most recent of which was an essay on William Gibson and Bruce Sterling that appeared in Contemporary Literature.



3. Khachig Tololyan, War as Background in Gravity's Rainbow, in APPROACHES TO GRAVITY'S RAINBOW 48 (Charles Clerc ed., 1983).

4. Id. at 55.

5. Id. at 59-60.

6. Id. at 60.

7. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 3.

8. Id. at 85.

9. Id. at 48.

10. Id. at 49.

11. I.P. PAVLOV, CONDITIONED REFLEXES 271-72, 275-76 (G.V. Anrep ed., 1960).

12. CARL VON CLAUSEWITZ, ON WAR 119 (J.J. Graham trans., Anatol Rapoport ed., 1968).

13. MICHEL FOUCAULT, THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY 102 (Robert Hurley trans., 1978).

14. See MICHEL FOUCAULT, DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH 162-69 (Alan Sheridan trans., 1979).

15. GILLES DELEUZE & FELIX GUATTARI, A THOUSAND PLATEAUS 354 (Brian Massumi trans., 1987).

16. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 96 (Since Thomas Pynchon is known for his use of the ellipse, the ellipses inserted by the Author are in brackets [....]).

17. See PAUL VIRILIO & SYLVERE LOTRINGER, PURE WAR 28 (Mark Polizotti trans., Jim Fleming & Sylvere Lotringer eds., 1983).

18. PAUL VIRILIO, SPEED AND POLITICS 46 (Mark Polizzotti trans., 1986).

19. Id. at 77, 79, 235.

20. Paul Fussell, The Brigadier Remembers, in PYNCHON: A COLLECTION OF CRITICAL ESSAYS 219 (Edward Mendelson ed., 1978).

21. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 101.

22. See VIRILIO & LOTRINGER, supra note 17, at 17-18.

23. See FOUCAULT, supra note 14, at 73-131.

24. PAUL VIRILIO, POPULAR DEFENSE & ECOLOGICAL STRATEGIES 35 (Mark Polizzotti trans., Jim Fleming & Sylvere Lotringer eds., 1990).

25. Id. at 28.


27. VIRILIO, supra note 18, at 46.


29. See id. at 71.

30. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 659.



33. Id. at 7, 69-211.

34. VIRILIO, supra note 24, at 61.

35. See VIRILIO & LOTRINGER, supra note 17, at 28.

36. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 41.

37. Id. at 615.

38. Id. at 645.

39. See VIRILIO, supra note 18, at 43.

40. See PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 22.

41. Id. at 105.

42. Id. at 402.

43. Id. at 728.

44. BAUDRILLARD, supra note 1, at 50.

45. BORKIN, supra note 31, at 130.


47. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 520.

48. SASULY, supra note 46, at 191-224.

49. BAUDRILLARD, supra note 1, at 26.

50. JEAN BAUDRILLARD, SIMULACRA AND SIMULATION 37-38 (Sheila Faria Glaser trans., Dalia Judovitz & James I. Porter eds., 1994).

51. Id. at 12-13.

52. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 238.

53. Id. at 230.

54. Id. at 252.

55. Id. at 251-52.

56. Id. at 760.

57. Id. at 301.

58. BAUDRILLARD, supra note 50, at 6.

59. BAUDRILLARD, supra note 1, at 42.

60. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 521.

61. Id. at 577.

62. Id. at 590.

63. Id. at 164.

64. Id. at 167.



67. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 699.

68. Id. at 167.

69. BAUDRILLARD, supra note 65, at 55.

70. See id. at 53-55.

71. PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 567.

72. BAUDRILLARD, supra note 65, at 69.

73. See id. at 59.

74. See PYNCHON, supra note 2, at 166.

75. Id. at 166-67.

76. Id. at 167.

77. Id. at 521.