Below are some selected quotations from the works of Thomas Pynchon. If anyone has any quotes they would like to add, please mail them to me.
Note: The page numbers to Gravity's Rainbow are from the 1973 Viking edition, and are marked by a "V" preceding the page number. The 1987 Penguin edition is identical; but the 1974 Bantam edition uses a different pagination. The page numbers for Mason & Dixon are from the Holt hardcover.
Perhaps history this century, thought Eigenvalue, is rippled with gathers in its fabric such that if we are situated, as Stencil seemed to be, at the bottom of a fold, it's impossible to determine warp, woof, or pattern anywhere else. By virtue, however, of existing in one gather it is assumed there are others, compartmented off into sinuous cycles each of which had come to assume greater importance than the weave itself and destroy any continuity. Thus it is that we are charmed by the funny-looking automobiles of the '30's, the curious fashions of the '20's, the particular moral habits of our grandpaernts. We produce and attend musicval comedies about them and are conned into a false memory, a phony nostalgia about what they were. We are accordingly lost to any sense of continuous tradition. Perhaps if we lived on a crest, things would be different. We could at least see.
--V., Chapter Seven, Part I
He had decided long ago that no Situation had any objective reality: it only existed in the minds of those who happened to be in on it at any specific moment. Since these several minds tended to form a sum total or complex more mongrel than homogeneous, The Situation must necessarily appear to a single observer much like a diagram in four dimensions to an eye conditioned to seeing the world in only three. Hense the success of failure of any diplomatic issue must vary directly with the degree of rapport achieved by the team confronting it. This had led to the near obsession with teamwork which had inspired his colleagues to dub him Soft-show Sydney, on the assumption that he was at his best working in front of a chorus line.
But it was a neat theory, and he was in love with it.The only consolation he drew from the present chaos was that his theory managed to explain it.
--V., Chapter Seven, Part VII
In the eighteenth century it was often convenient to regard man as a clockwork automaton. In the nineteenth century, with Newtonian physics pretty well assimilated and a lot of work in thermodynamics going on, man was looked on as a heat engine, about 40 per cent efficient. Now in the twentieth century, with nuclear and subatomic physics a going thing, man had become something which absorbs X-rays, gamma rays and neutrons.
--V., Chapter Ten, Part II
Right and left; the hothouse and the street. The Right can only live and work hermetically, in the hothouse of the past, while outside the Left prosecute their affairs in the streets manipulated by mob violence. And cannot live but in the dreamscape of the future.
A number of frail girls . . . prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.
--The Crying of Lot 49, Chapter 1
Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?
--The Crying of Lot 49, Chapter 1
"You one of those right wing nut outfits?" inquired the diplomatic Metzger.
Fallopian twinkled. "They accuse us of being paranoids."
"They?" inquired Metzger, twinkling also.
"Us?" asked Oedipa.
--The Crying of Lot 49, Chapter 3
The reality is in this head. Mine. I'm the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming out of my mouth, eyes, and sometimes other orifices also.
--The Crying of Lot 49, Chapter 3
Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night's old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of Breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjuror's secret by which -- though it is not often that Death is told so clearly to fuck off -- the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down twenty generations . . . so the same assertion-through-structure allows this war morning's banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V10
They are in love. Fuck the war.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V42
It's been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home -- only the millions of last moments . . . nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V148
She has turned her face, more than once, to the Outer Radiance and simply seen nothing there. And so each time taken a little more of the Zero into herself. It comes down to courage, at worst an amount of self-deluding that's vanishingly small: he has to admire it, even if he can't accept her glassy wastes, her appeals to a day not of wrath but of final indifference. . . .
--Gravity's Rainbow, V150
But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice -- guessed and refused to believe -- that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chance, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the rainbow, and they its children. . . .
--Gravity's Rainbow, V209
But out at the horizon, out near the burnished edge of the world, who are these visitors standing . . . these robed figures -- perhaps, at this distance, hundreds of miles tall -- their faces, serene, unattached, like the Buddha's, bending over the sea, impassive, indeed, as the Angel that stood over Lübeck during the Palm Sunday raid, come that day neither to destroy nor to protect, but to bear witness to a game of seduction . . . What have the watchmen of the world's edge come tonight to look for? Deepening on now, monumental beings stoical, on toward slag, toward ash the colour the night will stabilize at, tonight . . . what is there grandiose enough to witness?
--Gravity's Rainbow, V214
He lies on top of her, sweating, taking great breaths, watching her face turned 3/4 away, not even a profile, but the terrible Face That is No Face, gone too abstract, unreachable: the notch of the eye socket, but never the labile eye, only the anonymous curve of cheek, convexity of mouth, a noseless mask of the Other Order of Being, of Katje's being -- the lifeless non-face that is the only face of hers he really knows, or will ever remember.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V222
Proverbs for Paranoids:
1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
2. The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.
3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.
4. You hide, they seek.
5. Paranoids are not paranoid because they're paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.
-- Collected from Gravity's Rainbow, V237, 241, 251, 262, & 292
There was no difference between the behavior of a god and the operations of pure chance.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V323
It's a Rocket-raising: a festival new to this country. Soon it will come to the folk-attention how close Wernher von Braun's birthday is to the Spring Equinox, and the same German impulse that once rolled flower-boats through the towns and staged mock battles between young Spring and deathwhite old Winter will be erecting strange floral towers out in the clearings and meadows, and the young scientist-surrogate will be going round and round with Gravity or some such buffoon, and the children will be tickled, and laugh. . . .
--Gravity's Rainbow, V361
Kekulé dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, the dreaming Serpent which surrounds the World. But the meanness, the cynicism with which this dream is to be used. The Serpent that announces, "The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning," is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that "productivity" and "earnings" keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity -- most of the World, animal, vegetable, and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it's only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to being with, of no value to anyone or anything but the System, which must sooner or later crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V412
"Who has sent this new serpent into our ruinous garden, already too fouled, too crowded to qualify as any locus of innocence -- unless innocence be our age's neutral, our silent passing into the machineries of indifference -- something that Kekulé's Serpent had come to -- not to destroy, but to define to us the loss of . . . we had been given certain molecules, certain combinations and not others . . . we used what we found in Nature, unquestioning, shamefully perhaps -- but the Serpent whispered, 'They can be changed, and new molecules assembled from the debris of the given. . . . ' Can anyone tell me what else he whispered to us? Come -- who knows?"
--Gravity's Rainbow, V413
"Personal density," Kurt Mondaugen in his Peenemünde office not too many steps away from here, enunciating the Law which will one day bear his name, "is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth."
"Temporal bandwidth," is the width of your present, your now. It is the familiar "[delta-] t" considered as a dependent variable. The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V509
She watches Marvy's face as he pays Monika, watches him in this primal American act, paying, more deeply himself than when coming, or asleep, or maybe even dying.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V605
Those must have all been important to me once. What I am now grew from that. A former self is a fool, an insufferable ass, but he's still human, you'd no more turn him out than you'd turn out any kind of cripple, would you?
--Gravity's Rainbow, V660
It's a giant factory-state here, a City of the Future full of extrapolated 1930's swoop-facaded and balconied skyscrapers, lean chrome caryatids with bobbed hairdos, classy airships of all descriptions drifting in the boom and hush of the city abysses, golden lovelies sunning in roof gardens and turning to wave as you pass. It is the Raketen-Stadt.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V674
. . . it can get pretty fascist in here. . .
--Gravity's Rainbow, V677
M-maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us 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 immoratality. You hadda come back, every time, into a dying hunk of smelly meat! But We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified, Electroworld--
--Gravity's Rainbow, V699
What are the stars but points in the body of God where we insert the healing needles of our terror and longing?
--Gravity's Rainbow, V699
"I want to break out -- to leave this cycle of infection and death. I want to be taken in love: so taken that you and I, and death, and life, will be gathered inseparable, into the radiance of what we would become. . . ."
--Gravity's Rainbow, V724
Each will have his personal Rocket.
--Gravity's Rainbow, V727
Zoyd Wheeler drifted awake in sunlight through a creeping fig that hung in the window, with a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof. In his dream these had been carrier pigeons from someplace far across the ocean, landing and taking off again one by one, each one bearing a message for him, but none of whom, light pulsing in their wings, he could ever quite get to in time. He understood it to be another deep nudge from forces unseen.
Downtown, in the Greyhound station, Zoyd put Prairie on top of a pinball machine with a psychedelic motif, called Hip Trip, and was able to keep winning free games till the Vineland bus got in from L.A. This baby was a great fan of the game, liked to lie face down on the glass, kick her feet, and squeal at the full sensuous effect, especially when bumbers got into prolonged cycling or when her father got manic with the flippers, plus the gongs and lights and colors always going off. "Enjoy it while you can," he muttered at his innocent child, "while you're light enough for that glass to hold you."
. . . but at the distance she, Flash, and Justin had now been brought to, it would all be done with keys on alphanumeric keyboards that stood for weightless, invisible chains of electronic presence or absence. If patterns of ones and zeroes were "like" patterns of human lives and deaths, if everything about an individual could be represented in a computer record by a long strings of ones and zeroes, then what kind of creature could be represented by a long string of lives and deaths? It would have to be up one level, at least -- an angel, a minor god, something in a UFO. It would take eight human lives and deaths just to form one character in this being's name -- its complete dossier might take up a considerable piece of history of the world. We are digits in God's computer, she not so much thought as hummed to herself to sort of a standard gospel tune, And the only thing we're good for, to be dead or to be living, is the only thing He sees. What we cry, what we contend for, in our world of toil and blood, it all lies beneath the notice of the hacker we call God.
Though everyone in town was safe, the beaches were gone . . . all covered by the cool green Flood, which almost paralyzed her with its beauty, its clarity . . . for "days" she could watch nothing else, while all around her the town adjusted to its new shoreline and life went on. Late at "night" she went out on her deck and stood just above the surf, looking toward a horizon she couldn't see, as if into a wind that might really be her own passage, destination unknown, and heard a voice, singing across the Flood, this wonderful song, the kind you heard stoned over at some stranger's place one night and never found again, telling of the divers, who would come, not now but soon, and descend into the Flood and bring back up for us "whatever has been taken," the voice promised, "whatever has been lost."
"Mother says you're the Family outcast," Pitt remarks.
"The pay you money to keep you away," says Pliny....
"What they nail you on?" Uncle Ives wants to know....
"Along with some lesser Counts," the Revd is replying, "'twas one of the least tolerable of Offenses in that era, the worst of Dick Turpin seeming but the carelessness of Youth beside it, -- the Crime they styl'd 'Anonymity.'...."
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 1, pg. 9
Does Britannia, when it sleeps, dream? Is America her dream? -- in which all that cannot pass in the metropolitan Wakefulness is allow'd Expression away in the restless Slumber of these Provinces, and on West-ward, wherever 'tis not yet mapp'd, nor written down, nor ever, by the majority of mankind, seen, -- serving as a very Rubbish-Tip for subjunctive Hopes, for all that may yet be true, -- Earthly Paradise, Fountain of Youth, Realms of Prester John, Christ's Kingdom, ever behind the sunset, safe till the next Territory to the West be seen and recorded, measur'd and tied back in, back to the Net-Work of Points already known, that slowly triangulates its Way into the Continent, changing all from subjunctive to declarative, reducing Possibilities to Simplicities that serve the ends of Governments, -- winning away from the realm of the Sacred, its Borderlands one by one, and assuming them unto the bare mortal World that is our home, and our Despair.
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 34, pg. 345
Facts are but the Play-things of lawyers, -- Tops and Hoops, forever a-spin.... Alas, the Historian may indulge no such idle Rotating. History is not Chronology, for that is left to lawyers, -- nor is Remembrance, for Remembrance belongs to the People. History can as little pretend to the Veracity of the one, as claim the Power of the other, -- her Practitioners, to survive, must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc, spy and Taproom Wit, -- that there may ever continue more than one life-line back into a Past we risk, each day, losing our forbears in forever, -- not a Chain of single Links, for one broken Link could lose us All, -- rather, a great disorderly Tangle of Lines, long and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in common.
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 35, pg. 349
"Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir'd, or coerc'd, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power, -- who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish'd, as if it had never been. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev'ry Radius, Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume, Toilette, and Bearing, and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires, or even the Curiosity, of Government."
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 35, pg. 350
"I am told of certain Stars, in the Chinese system of Astrology, which are invisible so long as they keep moving, only being seen when they pause. Might thy Golem also share this property?"
The Company rushed to enlighten Dixon. "'Tis shar'd with this whole accursèd Continent," the quarrelsome Carrot-top lets him know, waving his Rifle and narrowly missing several Tankards upon the Table.
"-- Which, as if in answer to God's recession, remain'd invisible, denied to us, till it became necessary to our Souls that it come to rest, self-reveal'd, tho' we pretend to 'discover' it...."
"By the time of Columbus, God's project of Disengagement was obvious to all, -- with the terrible understanding that we were to be left more and more to our own solutions."
"America, withal, for centuries had been kept hidden, as are certain Bodies of Knowledge. Only now and then were selected persons allow'd glimpses of the New World,--"
"Never Reporters that anyone else was likely to believe, -- men who ate the Flesh and fornicated with the Ghosts of their Dead, murderers and Pirates on the run, monks in parchment Coracles stitched together from copied Pages of the Book of Jonah, fishermen too many Nights out of Port, any Runagate craz'd enough to sail West."
"All matters of what becomes Visible, and when. Revelation exists as a Fact, -- and continues, as Time proceeds. If new Continents may become visible, why not Planets, sir...."
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 50, pg. 486-7
All the way back to the Visto, Mason is seiz'd by Monology. "Text, --" he cries, and more than once, "it is Text, -- and we are its readers, and its Pages are the Days turning. Unscrolling, as a Pilgrim's Itinery map in ancient Days...."
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 51, pg. 497-98
"To rule forever," continues the Chinaman, later, "it is necessary only to create, among the people one would rule, what we call...Bad History. Nothing will produce Bad History more directly nor brutally, than drawing a Line, in particular a Right Line, the very Shape of Contempt, through the midst of a People,-- to create thus a Distinction betwixt 'em,-- 'tis the first stroke.-- All else will follow as if predestin'd, unto War and Devastation."
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 62, pg. 615
As all History must converge to Opera in the Italian Style, however, their Tale as Commemorated might have to proceed a bit more hopefully.
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 73, pg. 706
I had my Boswell, once," Mason tells Boswell, "Dixon and I. We had a joint Boswell. Preacher nam'd Cherrycoke. Scribbling ev'rything down, just like you, Sir. Have you," twiring his hand in Ellipses,-- "you know, ever...had one yourself? If I'm not prying."
"Had one what?"
"Hum...a Boswell, Sir,-- I mean, of your own. Well you couldn't very well call him that, being one yourself,-- say, a sort of Shadow ever in the Room who has haunted you, preserving your ev'ry spoken remark,--"
"Which else would have been lost forever to the great Wind of Oblivion,-- think," armsweep south, "as all civiliz'd Britain gathers at this hour, how much shapely Expression, from the titl'd Gambler, the Barmaid's Suitor, the offended Fopling, the gratified Toss-Pot, is simply fading away upon the Air, out under the Door, into the Evening and the Silence beyond. All those voices. Why not pluck a few words from the multitudes rushing toward the Void of forgetfulness?"
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 76, pg. 747