Something to Compare It to Then: Rereading Terror in Coincidences Between Pynchon's Germany and America's 9/11



On September 11, 2001, I was lecturing on "bomb culture" to a class of students who–I suggested–could have no idea of the climate of fear created during the Cold War by the possibility that a single rogue intercontinental ballistic missile might unleash nuclear holocaust. I had recently returned from a trip to Germany, where I had joined other dedicated Pynchon readers and scholars traveling to sites which appear in Gravity's Rainbow. We had been to Berlin, Slothrop's "City Sacramental" (372), visited the V-2 rocket research facilities at Peenemünde and seen what remains of the underground Mittelwerke, near Nordhausen, where slave laborers from Dora and other camps had died assembling the missiles used for Hitler's vengeance strikes in 1944–1945. Pynchon's 1973 novel and the terror weapons of the Second World War were fresh in my mind as I walked out of class to find myself watching the map of another City Sacramental, New York, inverted and transformed by debris, dust and shreds of office documents. The fragments of papers which drifted over lower Manhattan as a poignant testimony to lives lost in the World Trade Center towers were soon to be followed by other records of the missing. Personal profiles of victims appeared as fliers and posters in the streets of Manhattan and as "Portraits of Grief" in the New York Times. These echoed strangely another paper trail of loss: the "[a]dvertisements for shelter, clothing, the lost, the taken, […] out in the wind, when the wind comes, stuck to trees, door-frames, planking, pieces of wall–white and fading scraps, writing spidery, trembling, smudged, thousands unseen, thousands unread or blown away" (373) that Slothrop finds in war-devastated Berlin in 1945; and the "scrap of newspaper headline" which elliptically informs him of the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima (693).


How to Cite: Dalsgaard, I. H. (2008) “Something to Compare It to Then: Rereading Terror in Coincidences Between Pynchon's Germany and America's 9/11”, Pynchon Notes.(0). doi: