From the Glass Case… # 2 – Gravity’s Rainbow

Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), the massive, sprawling postmodern novel by Thomas Pynchon, has its own Wikipedia page. That’s no surprise, given that almost everything these days has a Wikipedia page. In fact, it would be surprising if the novel did NOT have a Wikipedia entry all its own given its decidedly weighty place in modern literary fiction.

Simply put, Gravity’s Rainbow is a cult classic with an ardent fan base akin to the more recent Giant Book cult phenomenon of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996).

Put more descriptively (and we quote from the Wikipedia page), Gravity’s Rainbow “…transgresses boundaries between high and low culture, between literary propriety and profanity, and between science and speculative metaphysics”.

And: “The novel is regarded by many scholars as the greatest American novel published after the end of the second world war, and is “often considered as the postmodern novel, redefining both postmodernism and the novel in general””.

We’ve never read Gravity’s Rainbow (have never even tried) but the same can’t be said of Zak Smith. Who is Zak Smith and does he have a Wikipedia page? Turns out that he does though when we accessed it we saw that “This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedia’s deletion policy”. As of this writing (3/1/19), the page was still up.

But here’s the point. Among the works of Zak Smith, American artist (controversial, apparently), is Gravity’s Rainbow Illustrated: One Picture for Every Page (Tin House Books, 2006), 760 pages of Smithian/Pynchonian graphical weirdness.

The copy Bedlam has for sale (paperback at $75) is the true first edition. Apparently, there was a controversy over the title. This copy’s book spine retains the original title:

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The cover, however, bears a paste down sticker amending the title to Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow:

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No matter the title, this is a scarce book, particularly in the first edition (though Bedlam’s is nowhere near as pricey as the hardcover version in slipcase which we’ve seen listed for sale online for more than $1,000).

If you’re a Pynchon enthusiast, if you’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow, if you are interested in the literary periphery and associative ephemera, then you would do well to add this book to your collection.

 

3 thoughts on “From the Glass Case… # 2 – Gravity’s Rainbow

  1. Let me start by saying I’ve read every Pynchon title and loved every one of them for different reasons. With that out of the way, let me say I went at the newly released illustrated Zak with high hopes. Here’s how it went: I’d read a page of Gravity, look at Zak’s illustration, fail to line it up with anything I just read. move to the next page and repeat the process. Once in a great awhile I’d manage to dig out the source of Zak’s inspiration, but feared I was grasping at straws. Think of it this way: Ask 25 artists to make a drawing for each track on the White Album. Think any two would look the same? I don’t. Zak Smith’s book may be going for big bucks, but listening to George Guidall read Gravity to you in the car is a far more rewarding experience.

    1. Thanks for the excellent suggestion of listening to the estimable George Guidall’s reading of Gravity’s Rainbow. I remember listening to a recording of Joyce’s Ulysses and though I cannot remember the reader, the experience was extraordinary; it revealed the cadences and rhythm of the work, it revealed how to understand it, how to HEAR it. No doubt Guidall’s reading of Gravity provides the same clarity and insight.

      As for Zak Smith’s visual interpretation of the novel, we totally agree with you; pick any artist or interested Pynchonian and task him/her with representing Gravity’s Rainbow graphically and you will definitely come up with something completely Other than what Smith produced. That is not a bad thing, it’s the essence of art, the individual take. Like reading itself – anyone with a book in hand brings to the reading experience their own singular lived experience.

      Zak Smith just managed to produce his own visionary understanding of Pynchon’s monumental work and, in the process created something (good or bad is irrelevant) that is wholly unique. And because Smith’s work was published in the form of this book, his effort becomes, for better or worse, forever linked to Gravity’s Rainbow.

      1. Your fascinating response leaves me baffled. Is Smith’s book something other than what I thought it was? Is it good even if it isn’t? And by good, I mean: Does it work even if it doesn’t work? I’m forced to go to film: Houston’s film of Joyce’s The Dead is flawless, the story everyone read. His Under the Volcano leaves a viewer/reader disappointed. Why? It simply lacks the dark buzz of the novel. It isn’t UTV, but does that matter? FAT CITY, Houston’s adaptation of an all but forgotten boxing novel, is beautiful, perhaps even an improvement. Why? Because the novel is on the screen? I think so. What if no reader can find Gravity in Smith’s drawings? Let’s leave it with Sam Beckett for now: Fail. Fail again. Fail better.

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