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Magenta and Green

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From: "Coloring Gravity's Rainbow" - Pynchon Notes, #16, Spring 1985
N. Katherine Hayles and Mary B. Eiser

Slothrop's Color Complements: Purple and Green

Already complex, Slothrop's color code becomes ever more complicated when the two base colors, purple and yellow, begin shifting along their respective scales. In "Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering," Slothrop's natural side, previously represented by yellow, shifts toward green, color of deepest light penetration on the pigment scale. Thus a new pairing is formed between green and purple (or magenta), purple still representing Slothrop's synthetic self. Purple and green are each other's complements, so when they are combined, they transform into white light. After he "produces" a gaudy orange, green and yellow handkerchief and gives it to Tantivy, Slothrop is associated exclusively with green and purple, transforming to white. These colors also dominate the costume changes Katje uses to seduce Slothrop. The first day he meets her, Katje's blonde lashes are "full of acid green (p. 187); later she wears an "emerald tiara" and a "gown of sea-green velvet" (p. 190). That night before they have sex, she changes to a dress of pure white. In the morning, Slothrop dons a purple satin bedsheet in desperate pursuit of his clothes. While masquerading as the "Great Purple Kite," Slothrop gets stuck in a tree and is surrounded by green "pungent leaflight" (p. 199). Dressed for the party chez Raoul de la Perlimpinpin, Slothrop sports a French green suit with a "subtle" purple check" (p. 224). By the time he leaves France for "neutral" Switzerland in preparation for the Zone, Slothrop's outfit has undergone a significant bleaching:

among all the somber street faces and colors only he is wearing white, shoes zoot 'n' hat, white as the cemetery mountains here... (p. 259)

Slothrop's identification with purple and green may indicate that he is being transformed into a projected image, because these colors habitually occur in relation to hallucinated or filmed images. If so, the collapse of the magenta/green complements into white light can be understood as the white light shining through a chemically impregnated celluloid strip that creates the illusion of color in film. In a film image, the perception of color is twice mediated: first because color inheres not in the object itself, because its color too is mediated through the psychophysical processes that comprise color perception). In addition to suggesting his increasing fragmentation, then, the purple/green pairing indicates that Slothrop, like a cinematic image, is receding from us through increasing layers of mediation. The suggestion prepares for the moment when Slothrop will cease to exist as anything other than the wave phenomenon that is white light itself, purveyor of all colors but possessed of none.

(pp. 16-17)

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