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Gravity's Rainbow and US racial strife

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I recently been doing a reread of Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. In a very interesting scene early in the book the main character Tyrone Slothrop is given truth serum by the very MKUltra-y group PISCES to talk to him about his feelings and anxieties towards black people (a young Malcolm X makes an appearence in his hallucinations). Two things that jump out at me is that this scene references "the Kenosha Kid" which is presented as a kind of dance as well as a dream-fugue personage. In addition to this the same pages talk about the "Charleston"dance and the "Charlottesville shout". ..

Now the Charleston is a reference to a well known dance, so I can't really read too much into that and any connection with the 2015 Charleston Church Massacre, but the "Charlottesville shout"? Charlottesville is a small city with no real known notoriety prior to the chaotic riot in 2017, especially not in 1972. If it were merely for alliteration why not "Charlotte shout"? If he was trying to match the meter (Kenosha Kid and Charlottesville shout have the same number of syllables when pronounced), there are references to other dances in between which don't alliterate or don't have that meter (the Lindy, the Philadelphia). As far as I know, neither the Charlottesville Shout nor the Kenosha Kid were actual dances from the 1920's, whereas all the rest appear to be (or are the names of major cities: "Big Apple" etc.).

So we have a scene wherein a character is undergoing a kind of experimental therapy investigating his racial anxieties, and two dances/cities were made up by Pynchon to be put in, The Kenosha Kid and Charlottesville Shout, which are not major cities at all, both of which have recently or currently been the center of racial strife/attention/riots? All in a book published almost fifty years ago?

Posted : November 12, 2021 10:29 PM