Atonalism, Nietzsche and Gravity's Rainbow: Pynchon's Use of German Music History and Culture

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Henry-Louis de la Grange, a scholar of Gustav Mahler's life and works, tells us that an "early plan of the Fourth Symphony, put together some time before that symphony was composed … contained a 'Scherzo in D major' entitled 'Die Welt ohne Schwere' ('The World Without Gravity')" (2.800). Given this suggestive title, any reader well trained by Pynchon to see connections and affiliations in the most trivial detail may recall the dialogue between Saure Bummer and Gustav Schlabone in Gravity's Rainbow and wonder whether Gustav's given name is meant to evoke Mahler's, and wonder also whether the song's words, if any exist, have some relevance to Pynchon's novel. Any account of the German dialectic in music that Schlabone trumpets would surely include Mahler, a contemporary of Strauss and a composer much admired by Schonberg for taking German music the first steps away from tonality, deploying dissonances first initiated by Wagner (Friedrich 167). La Grange describes the fruitful period in which Mahler wrote a series of songs including "Die Welt ohne Schwere," but he says nothing about the song's words. The instrumental music itself, according to La Grange, became the fourth movement of Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

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... 11 Thomas Schaub has seen "the dialogue between Gustav and Säure [in Gravity's Rainbow] as more than realism, more than comedy; rather than incidental, it is a miniature (for Pynchon) of the argument at the heart of modern historysocial, psychoanalytical, and political." 12 All of these accounts suggest some of the variety of ends to which Pynchon has employed music: for character development and aspiration, for verisimilitude, for formal order, for thematic development. 13 Yet, in spite of these important critical accounts of what music Pynchon has used and how he has used it, music has remained strangely undertheorized in Pynchon criticism. ...
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Through Pynchon-written songs, integration of Italian opera, instances of harmonic performance, dialogue with Plato’s 'Republic' and Benjamin Franklin’s glass armonica performance, 'Mason & Dixon 'extends, elaborates, and investigates Pynchon’s own standard musical practices. Pynchon’s investigation of the domestic, political, and theoretical dimensions of musical harmony in colonial America provides the focus for the novel’s historical, political, and aesthetic critique. Extending Pynchon’s career-long engagement with musical forms and cultures to unique levels of philosophical abstraction, in 'Mason & Dixon'’s consideration of the “inherent Vice” of harmony, Pynchon ultimately criticizes the tendency in his own fiction for characters and narrators to conceive of music in terms that rely on the tenuous and affective communal potentials of harmony.
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