The narrative is set primarily in Europe at the end of World War II and centers around the design, production and dispatch of V-2 rockets by the German military, and, in particular, the quest undertaken by several of the characters to uncover the secret of a mysterious device named the "Schwarzgerät," (“black device”) or "00000."
The novel was nominated for the 1973 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and won the National Book Award in 1974. Since its publication, Gravity's Rainbow has spawned an enormous amount of literary criticism and commentary, including two reader's guides and several online concordances.
- A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
- In the static space of the architect, he might've used a double integral now and then, early in his career, to find volumes under surfaces whose equations are known — masses, moments, centers of gravity. But it has been years since he's had to do with anything that basic...in the dynamic space of the living Rocket, the double integral has a different meaning. To integrate here is to operate on a rate of change so that time falls away: change is stilled....'Meters per second' will integrate to 'meters'. The moving vehicle is frozen, in space, to become architecture, and timeless. It was never launched. It will never fall.
- It means this War was never political at all, the politics was all theatre, all just to keep the people distracted...secretly, it was being dictated instead by the needs of technology...by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the energy-burst of war.
- There must be cubicles like this all over the ETO: only the three dingy scuffed-cream fiberboard walls and no ceiling of its own. Tantivy shares it with an American colleague, Lt. Tyrone Slothrop. Their desks are at right angles, so there’s no eye contact but by squeaking around some 90 degrees. Tantivy’s desk is neat, Slothrop’s is a godawful mess. It hasn’t been cleaned down to the original wood surface since 1942. Things have fallen roughly into layers, over a base of bureaucratic smegma that sifts steadily to the bottom, made up of millions of tiny red and brown curls of rubber eraser, pencil shavings, dried tea or coffee stains, traces of sugar and Household Milk, much cigarette ash, very fine black debris picked and flung from typewriter ribbons, decomposing library paste, broken aspirins ground to powder. Then comes a scatter of paperclips, Zippo flints, rubber bands, staples, cigarette butts and crumpled packs, stray matches, pins, nubs of pens, stubs of pencils of all colors including the hard-to-get heliotrope and raw umber, wooden coffee spoons, Thayer’s Slippery Elm Throat Lozenges sent by Slothrop’s mother, Nalline, all the way from Massachusetts, bits of tape, string, chalk… above that a layer of forgotten memoranda, empty buff ration books, phone numbers, unanswered letters, tattered sheets of carbon paper, the scribbled ukelele chords to a dozen songs including “Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose is Ireland” (“He does have some rather snappy arrangements,” Tantivy reports, “he’s a sort of American George Formby, if you can imagine such a thing,” but Bloat’s decided he’d rather not), an empty Kreml hair tonic bottle, lost pieces to different jigsaw puzzles showing parts of the amber left eye of a Weimaraner, the green velvet folds of a gown, slate-blue veining in a distant cloud, the orange nimbus of an explosion (perhaps a sunset), rivets in the skin of a Flying Fortress, the pink inner thigh of a pouting pin-up girl… a few old Weekly Intelligence Summaries from G-2, a busted corkscrewing ukelele string, boxes of gummed paper stars in many colors, pieces of a flashlight, top to a Nugget shoe polish can in which Slothrop now and then studies his blurry brass reflection, any number of reference books out of the ACHTUNG library back down the hall -- a dictionary of technical German, an F.O. Special Handbook or Town Plan -- and usually, unless it’s been pinched or thrown away, a News of the World somewhere too -- Slothrop’s a faithful reader.
- They are in Love. Fuck the War.
- But why are we taught to feel reflexive shame whenever the subject comes up? Why will the Structure allow every other kind of sexual behavior but that one? Because submission and dominance are resources it needs for its very survival. They cannot be wasted in private sex. In any kind of sex. It needs our submission so that it may remain in power. It needs our lusts after dominance so that it can co-opt us into its own power game. There is no joy in it, only power. I tell you, if S and M could be established universally, at the family level, the State would wither away.
- You think you’d rather hear about what you call ‘life’: the growing, organic Kartell. But it’s only another illusion. A very clever robot. The more dynamic it seems to you, the more deep and dead, in reality, it grows. Look at the smokestacks, how they proliferate, fanning the wastes of original waste over greater and greater masses of city. Structurally, they are strongest in compression. A smokestack can survive any explosion -- even the shock wave from one of the new cosmic bombs... as you all must know. The persistence, then, of structures favouring death. Death converted into more death. Perfecting its reign, just as the buried coal grows denser, and overlaid with more strata -- epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city.
- Death has come in the pantry door: stands watching them, iron and patient, with a look that says try to tickle me.
- Tap my head and mic my brain / stick that needle in my vein
- pronouncing asshole with a certain sphinctering of the lips so it comes out ehisshehwle.
- read old agonies inside poor Dumpster, who'd tried suicide last semester: the differential equations that would not weave for him into any elegance.
- Don’t forget the real business of the War is buying and selling. The murdering and the violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals. The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as spectacle, as diversion from the real movements of the War. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught History as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death’s a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try ‘n’ grab a piece of that Pie while they’re still here to gobble it up. The true war is a celebration of markets. Organic markets, carefully styled “black” by the professionals, spring up everywhere. Scrip, Sterling, Reichsmarks continue to move, severe as classical ballet, inside their antiseptic marble chambers. But out here, down here among the people, the truer currencies come into being. So, Jews are negotiable. Every bit as negotiable as cigarettes, cunt, or Hershey bars.
- The odors of shit, death, sweat, sickness, mildew, piss, the breathing of Dora, wrapped him as he crept in staring at the naked corpses being carried out now that America was so close, to be stacked in front of the crematoriums, the men’s penises hanging, their toes clustering white and round as pearls... each face so perfect, so individual, the lips stretched back into death-grins, a whole silent audience caught at the punch line of the joke... and the living, stacked ten to a straw mattress, the weakly crying, coughing, losers... All his vacuums, his labyrinths, had been on the other side of this. While he lived, and drew marks on paper, this invisible kingdom had crept on, in the darkness outside... all this time.... Pokler vomited. He cried some. The walls did not dissolve -- no prison wall ever did, not from tears, not at this finding, on every pallet, in every cell, that the faces are ones he knows after all, and holds dear as himself, and cannot, then, let them return to that silence...
- 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.
- Well, there is the heart of it: the monumental yellow structure, out there in the slum-suburban night, the never-sleeping percolation of life and enterprise through its shell, Outside and Inside interpiercing one another too fast, too finely labyrinthine, for either category to have much hegemony any more. The nonstop revue crosses its stage, crowding and thinning, surprising and jerking tears in an endless ratchet...
- Homosexuality in high places is just a carnal afterthought now, and the real and only fucking is done on paper....
- Non-Masons stay pretty much in the dark about What Goes On, though now and then something jumps out, exposes itself, jumps giggling back again, leaving you with few details but a lot of Awful Suspicions.
- Bland, still an apprentice, hadn’t yet shaken off his fondness for hallucinating. He knows where he is when he’s there, but when he comes back, he imagines that he has been journeying underneath history: that history is Earth’s mind, and that there are layers, set very deep, layers of history analogous to layers of coal and oil in Earth’s body... it’s hard to get over the wonder of finding that Earth is a living critter, after all these years of thinking about a big dumb rock to find a body and psyche, he feels like a child again, he knows that in theory he must not attach himself, but still he is in love with his sense of wonder, with having it found again, even this late, even knowing he must soon let it go.... To find that Gravity, taken so for granted, is really something eerie, Messianic, extrasensory in Earth’s mindbody... having hugged to its holy center the wastes of dead species, gathered, packed, transmuted, realigned, and rewoven molecules to be taken up again by the coal-tar Kabbalists of the other side, the ones Bland on his voyages has noted, taken, boiled off, teased apart, explicated to every last permutation of useful magic, centuries past exhaustion still finding new molecular species, combining and recombining into new synthetics... The rest of us, not chosen for enlightenment, left on the outside of Earth, at the mercy of a Gravity we have only begun to learn how to detect and measure, must go on blundering inside our front-brain faith in Kute Korrespondences, hoping that for each psi-synthetic taken from Earth’s soul there is a molecule, secular, more or less ordinary and named, over here - kicking endlessly among the plastic trivia, finding in each Deeper Significance and trying to string them all together like terms of a power series hoping to zero in on the tremendous and secret Function whose name, like the permuted names of God, cannot be spoken... plastic saxophone reed sounds of unnatural timbre, shampoo bottle ego-image, Cracker Jack prize one-shot amusement, home appliance casing fairing for winds of cognition, baby bottles tranquilization, meat packages disguise of slaughter, dry-cleaning bags infant strangulation, garden hoses feeding endlessly the desert... but to bring them together, in their slick persistence and our preterition... to make sense out of, to find the meanest sharp sliver of truth in so much replication, so much waste.... Lucky Bland, to be free of it.
- No, as none of these, but instead a point in space, a point hung precise as the point where burning must end, never launched, never to fall. And what is the specific shape whose center of gravity is the Brennschluss Point? Don't jump at an infinite number of possible shapes. There's only one. It is most likely an interface between one order of things and another. There's a Brennschluss point for every firing site. They still hang up there, all of them, a constellation waiting to have a 13th sign of the Zodiac named for it...
- 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... no more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.
- Trees, now--Slothrop's intensely alert to trees, finally. When he comes in among trees he will spend time touching them, studying them, sitting very quietly near them and understanding that each tree is a creature, carrying on its individual life, aware of what's happening around it, not just some hunk of wood to be cut down. Slothrop's family actually made its money killing trees, amputating them from their roots, chopping them up, grinding them to pulp, bleaching that to paper and getting paid for this with more paper. "That's really insane." He shakes his head. "There's insanity in my family." He looks up. The trees are still. They know he's there. They probably also know what he's thinking. "I'm sorry," he tells them. "I can't do anything about those people, they're all out of my reach. What can I do?" A medium-size pine nearby nods its top and suggests, "Next time you come across a logging operation out here, find one of their tractors that isn't being guarded, and take its oil filter with you. That's what you can do."