The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49: Summary, Style and the Main Theme

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Thomas Pynchon, born 1937, is an American postmodern novelist. He gained the recognition for his intense and complex novels. His fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a broad array of genres and themes. One of the novels for which he is best known is, published in 1966, “The Crying of Lot 49”.

Summary

The protagonist of the novel is Oedipa Maas, a housewife. She is married to Wendell “Mucho” Maas; they lead a regular, mundane life in California until one day she receives a letter from a law firm informing her that her former lover, Pierce Inverarity, has passed out and he named her the executrix of his estate. It emerges that Pierce had died a year before his testament was found. Oedipa decides to fulfill her duty. She travels to the deceased’s hometown San Narcisco in order to meet the lawyer, Metzger, and fulfill the formalities. They meet to sort out Inverarity’s tangled financial issues, meanwhile starting an affair. Over all the process to in which Oedipa involves herself to find out more about Inverarity, she discovers covering the whole country long-lasting conspiracy. Oedipa Maas starts to struggle with revelations or versions of events that cannot be verified from the outside. The events disturb her sense of reality and in consequence lead up to her paranoia.

Style

Thomas Pynchon writes in a unique style that sets him apart from other authors who wrote in contemporary time. He was innovative in his willingness to put female characters as protagonists and at the same time he neither romanticized nor sexualized them. His focus is confined to the experience of a single figure. The main character of The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Maas, is the best example of very innovative approach toward the representation of women at these times.

Thomas Pynchon writes in a manner that disorients a reader. In his novels he shows us a world which we consider familiar but in point of fact it is by no means coherent with the reality. The narrator of The Crying of Lot 49 is unknown and omniscient. Due to that the events are described objectively, however the reader follows the protagonist and sees the story from her point of view. One of the purposes of the novel is to create doubt in the reader’s mind and make them question whether theprotagonist’s experiences are authentic or delusional, therefore the use of this kind of narration is essential. By this measure the reader stays within the confines of the narrator’s perspective what simulates the isolation of the character who gets into paranoiac delusion. The narration makes the main theme of the novel – paranoia- explorable.According to dictionaries paranoia is a mental condition leading to delusions of persecution and conspiracy or feeling unwarranted emotions such as fear or anxiety. It may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder, drug abuse, or of a serious mental illness. Paranoia is one of the most recognizable themes in postmodern literature.

Paranoia plays a paramount role in The Crying of Lot 49. Paranoia is the most pervasive theme of the novel as it influences the most important actions of the main character. The author concentrates on a specific interpretation of signs. However in the novel the paranoia is presented as a specific “regime of signs” rather than as a mental aberration. The “regime of signs” is a basic type of organization of signs in which the semiotic or signifying potential is dominant. The fundamental assumption of semiotics is that signs refer to other signs. Less important is what a given sign signifies; what matters is what this sign refer to. However the process of signification must be started off by a certain event or an object. The initiator must detach itself from indistinct background and begin to appear as a meaningful sign suppressing its actual meaning.

Delusional and paranoid thinking do not work entirely against Oedipa. Actually she starts to feel safe in a world she begins to live in. She supports the delusion by deliberately placing herself in paranoid situations – she feeds her derangement. Oedipa Maas is seeking meaning in a confusing world she is to live in. Against all the odds she strives to remodel the world into a meaning and structure. Oedipa is an example of a character who accepts the ambiguity of her reality. She fails to find the meaning and purpose of her world but she never comes to the conclusion that there is no meaning. She is aware and observant and her paranoia comes as a result.

Read more

Indifference and Subjugation of Women in The Crying of Lot 49

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

The text The Crying of Lot 49 is a book written by Thomas Pynchon the dwells on the life of an American housewife. Distinctively, the setting of the book is in the 1960s when the postal system was the main medium of communication. In the book, Oedipa is the central protagonist who is tasked with responsibility of fulfilling her first ex-husband’s will. Subsequently, Oedipa embarks on a quest to fulfill the will that leads to a discovery of a conspiracy. Notably, the experiences of the protagonist lead to her personal unearthing of the nature of the American Society. Oedipa’a quest leads to her discovery of indifference and subjugation of women in the American Society that is supported through the themes of gender chauvinism and conformity.

Indifference

Critically, indifference is a discovery made by Oedipa during her quest to fulfill the will of Pierce. As showcased in the novel, Oedipa rarely communicated with her husband on an emotional level. Likewise, the protagonist was not overly concerned with approval from her husband during her quest. Through extrapolation, Oedipa’s relationship with her husband is a reflection of indifference of women in American Society. Distinctively, Oedipa’s husband worked as a radio disc jockey and had numerous sexual encounters with teenage girls outside marriage. It is evident that Oedipa is aware of the infidelity of her husband but displays an indifferent attitude. Subsequently indifference leads to a mere comment of statutory rape by the protagonist concerning her husband’s infidelity. (Pynchon 31). Notably, the resilience and commitment shared by the protagonist as she pursues her quest can be interpreted as an initiative intended to compensate on her indifference during marriage. Distinctively, Oedipa embarks on a journey to discover the truth of the postal system in America, which subsequently destroys her marriage and other social interactions. Hence Oedipa’s marriage to Mucho is a reflection of indifference and a cavalier attitude that she became aware of during her mission to execute the will.

Next, the sexual encounter between Oedipa and her co-executor reveals indifference as a discovery made by the protagonist. Notably, as the two characters were playing Strip Boticelli, Oedipa becomes angry with her co-executor who tries to seduce her. However, despite the early reservations by the protagonist, she eventually allows the co-executor (Pynchon 27). The incident ends with Oedipa crying and her co-executor embracing the protagonist. Distinctively, the crying of Oedipa can be explained as a self-discovery process. For instance, Oedipa’s crying showcases the disappointment of the character who is cavalier and does not consider the repercussions of her actions in life. Thus Oedipa’s interaction envisions a personal discovery journey of a cavalier attitude in the protagonist.

Subjugation

Similarly, the quest by Oedipa reveals subjugation against the protagonist. As mentioned above, Oedipa leaves his current husband and embarks on the mission of fulfilling the will of Pierce. It is from this standpoint that the power of Pierce is still influential in the life of Oedipa despite his death. Consequently, the protagonists abandons her life with the ambition of executing the will and solving the mystery of the postal system. Notably, in the novel, Oedipa reveals her preference to the stillness of four walls rather than the misconceived perception of freedom (Pynchon 27). Distinctively, the sentiments shared by the protagonist reveals how the character recognizes subjugation of women in the American society.

Likewise, the inappropriate interaction between Oedipa and her psychiatrist becomes a point of self-discovery in the life of the protagonist. In the novel, Oedipa has frequent sessions with her psychiatrist. However, the relationship becomes toxic when the psychiatrist calls the protagonist at night. Moreover, the protagonist defends her fascination with the psychiatrist by stating how the sessions are beneficial (Pynchon 11). On the other hand, the psychiatrist capitalizes on the difficulties shared by Oedipa to try and run an experiment on the character. From an analytical perspective, the interaction between Oedipa and the psychiatrist depicts chauvinism and discrimination where the medical expert does not consider the well-being of the patient. Additionally, the attempt of the psychiatrist to enroll Oedipa for the LSD experiment showcases the egocentric nature of the professional. Thus the inappropriate interaction can be correlated with self-discovery where Oedipa recognizes discrimination and chauvinism against women in American society who become victims of subjugation.

Likewise, the mission to fulfill the will of Pierce enables Oedipa to correlate with domination by men in the American Society. After receiving the will, Oedipa approaches her lawyer with the intention of knowing how to best execute the directives. However, the lawyer perceives the encounter as an opportunity to sexually harass the protagonist (Pynchon 12). Critically, the experience is a path to self-discovery where the protagonist learns how chauvinism affects the perception of women in the American community. Additionally, the incident is a reflection of the indifference and complacency portrayed by women in the community. For instance, when the lawyer tries to harass the protagonist under the table, Oedipa ignores the attempt and seeks sanctuary in her boots (Pynchon 12). However, this is a copping mechanism and is a depiction of how women comply with the interest of men even if they are inappropriate. Hence, the incident becomes an essential step for self-discovery by Oedipa as she recognizes the presence of complacency, domination, and chauvinism in the society.

Lastly, the other discovery made by the protagonist in the novel is the relevance of a sense of purpose in life. Decisively, the Tristero mystery revealed how the protagonist lived a previous married life that was limited through physical and emotional isolation (Pynchon 308). Hence, the protagonist believes that by solving the mystery, she can regain purpose in life and value. Critically, a sense of purpose is important to the character as she previously lived a life of domination by men where her opinions and beliefs did not matter. Thus the unravelling of the Tristero mystery is a self-discovery process in the life of Oedipa that allows her to appreciate the importance of a sense of purpose in life.

Conclusion

Decisively, the analysis of the novel reflects various atrocities evident in the American community. As discussed above, women are faced with subjugation that is supported through conformity. Likewise indifference and complacency are traits portrayed by women, which facilitate atrocities against the gender. Critically, the analysis elicits a new perspective and mentality needed to address vices in the community and protect the welfare of women. For instance, self-discovery as showcased through the life of Oedipa is important as it enables an individual to understand limitations in life and take effective remedial strategies. Additionally, there is a need to resolve chauvinism, which often leads to domination of women that is dehumanizing. Hence, the review reveals the challenges to be addressed to guarantee the development of a fair and just American Society.

Read more

We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire: Silently Awaiting Meaning in The Crying of Lot 49

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Crying of Lot 49’s storyline is perhaps clearly explained by Randolph Driblette telling Oedipa, “You can put together clues, develop a thesis, or several…You could waste your life that way and never touch the truth” (56). The novel may seem frustrating to some readers, presumably undergraduate English majors, to search for meaning in Oedipa’s investigation into Tristero, involving a convoluted web of real and fictional references such as Clark Maxwell’s information entropy, The Courier’s Tragedy, and Calculus’s instantaneous rate of change. The involvement of written messages, from single words and symbols to entire texts, is crucial to Oedipa’s investigation into Tristero, yet these references don’t give a definitive, stable concept of what is Tristero, but instead constantly refers to other words and texts.

Oedipa’s investigation mimics Jacques Derrida’s concept of différance. Derrida argues that language doesn’t consist of the union of signifier and signified that Structuralism postulates, but instead is just a chain of signifiers that (1) postpones, or defers, meaning and (2) meaning is just a result of the differences by which we distinguish one signifier from another, and what we take to be meaning is actually a trace left behind the chain of signifiers. And throughout the novel, Oedipa’s investigation can be seen as an emulation of this concept as she struggles to find the meaning of Tristero through WASTE and the muted post horn.

Oedipa’s first encounter with evidence of Tristero occurs when she sees the word “WASTE” and the image of a “loop, triangle, and trapezoid” inscribed on the walls in the ladies’ bathroom at The Scope (44-45). Oedipa only references these two signs as much because she’s only seen them in writing. But when she and Genghis Cohen encounter the watermark of the same symbol she saw on the wall in comparison with the Thurn and Taxis post horn, Oedipa immediately recalls the scene of Niccoló’s assassination after Cohen remarks that the watermark resembles a muted horn (90). Oedipa realizes the symbol’s meaning is actually to “mute the Thurn and Taxis post horn” (90). Afterwards, Oedipa’s interaction with Stanley Koteks at Yoyodyne about the pronunciation of WASTE not only shows the shift of meaning about also about the arbitrary and slippery nature of language as Oedipa refers to it as a word, with Koteks reprimanding her, “It’s W.A.S.T.E., lady…an acronym” (81). This acronym is revealed later on to mean “WE AWAIT SILENT TRISTERO’S EMPIRE” (127). But the meaning of W.A.S.T.E. and Tristero gets even more convoluted when she encounters the muted horn with the word DEATH, with an inscription reading “DON’T EVER ANTAGONIZE THE HORN” (90). These two events demonstrate the consequence of Oedipa viewing these symbols as words and shapes since she referenced them through writing until her interactions cause her to differentiate their meaning.

Oedipa must also make use of other texts when words and symbols aren’t enough. The first obvious text and the catalyst to Oedipa’s investigation is the letter from the law firm naming her as a co-executor of Pierce Inverarity’s will at the beginning of the novel. The meaning of why Oedipa was named co-executor of Pierce’s will, much like the already dead Pierce, fades into the background of the storyline like a “shadow,” only to return later on (2). She also searches for the original version of The Courier’s Tragedy in the plagiarized anthology Jacobean Reference Plays at Zapf’s Used Books (55). She also attempts to piece together the beginnings of Trystero by consulting “obscure philatelic journals…an ambiguous footnote in Motley’s Rise of the Dutch Republic, an 80-year-old pamphlet on the roots of modern anarchism, a book of sermons…” (119). Oedipa searches endlessly through texts, trying to pursue connections between them and finding any clues.

For the reader, Oedipa’s investigation feels like looking through a dictionary to find a definition for a word, only to be given more words that are even further defined by more words. Even Mucho’s nickname for Oedipa, “Oed,” can be seen as an abbreviation for OED, of the Oxford English Dictionary. And Oedipa feels like a living dictionary or reference, “pursuing strange words in Jacobean texts” (76). She’s even self-aware that she may never reach the true meaning of these clues, lamenting that she can “never [know] the central truth itself” (69). Her investigation into the true meaning of Tristero is fruitless, even with “the image of the muted post horn all but saturating the Bay Area” (98). Each clue is “only some kind of compensation. To make up for her having lost the direct, epileptic Word…” (87) that only informs her, “If you know what this means…you know where to find out more” (99). Yet, she always ended “back where’d she started” (97). Like a chain of signifiers, the clues in Oedipa’s investigation only refer to other clues, never reaching a definite point of meaning.

At the end of the novel, there is no resolution on whether or not Tristero exists. But it does provide some relief for Oedipa, who no longer has to search through messages and texts to find their meanings, but instead she has to identify the anonymous bidder just by “await[ing] the crying of lot 49” (138). Since language has signifiers constantly referring to one another, nothing can exist outside of language. Throughout the novel, Oedipa wanders through an endless stream of texts and trying to find meaning by making connections. It isn’t until she realizes Tristero cannot exist outside of written text that she decides to step out of its confines. And at that moment, she is perhaps closer to the truth of Tristero’s existence than any of us will ever be.

Read more

Reading Signs in Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49: The Entropic Loss of Meaning and Paranoia

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Thomas Pynchon’s novella, The Crying of Lot 49, traces the quest of housewife Oedipa Maas who was appointed by her ex-lover, Pierce Inverarity, to execute his will. In her journey, she finds herself unwittingly distracted and bombarded by the multifarious, befuddling and fragmentary signs relating to the muted post horn, Thurn und Taxis, Tristero and WASTE, concomitantly succumbing to paranoia. Lot 49 recurrently plays with the role of signs and their pertinence to an unknown reality. Hence, underlying this essay is Jean Baudrillard’s theoretical framework in Simulacra and Simulation which conceives of a simulation of reality, transplanted by symbols and signs, and postulates the impossibility of seeking meaning in a hyperreal world (where the representation or sign has no original referent and meaning is non-existent). Thus, Pynchon’s work serves as a dizzying and stimulating read because it, I argue, provides an obfuscating, almost paranoiac, experience for both the protagonist and reader by way of the metaphorical concept of entropy. Ultimately, however, Oedipa begins to doubt in an overarching authority of the significations she encounters, culminating in her indifference of signs which is indicative of the postmodern condition wherein signs are ineluctably meaningless due to the ascendancy of hyperreality.

The Surfeit of Information

The economy of information in Lot 49 is characterised by constant referentiality and the excessiveness of unrelated data. The surfeit of information in the text is premised and foreshadowed in the first chapter: “As things developed, she was to have all manner of revelations. Hardly about Pierce Inverarity, or herself; but about what remained yet had somehow, before this, stayed away” (Pynchon 10). The multifarious, embedded narratives in the novella distract from the original, central story of Inverarity and are perhaps of inconsequential worth to the storyline, causing distress and destabilising the reader’s and Oedipa’s expectations of a neat narrative resolution – to attain “the central truth itself” (76).

Loss of Original Purpose

Indubitably, Pynchon constructs a world where meanings are unceasingly produced in seismic amounts and the increasing widespreadness of signs are managed and saturated by simulations and simulators to the point that the original intent of production perishes. In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard advances many representations of simulacra but of great interest to this discussion is the fourth stage of the sign-order which reflects an irreality. This simulacra is hyperreal since it is a copy “without origin or reality” (1) and “dissimulate[s] that there is nothing” (6). In her attempt to unravel Inverarity’s “true” identity, Oedipa gathers impertinent and unhelpful information on Tristero and the play The Courier’s Tragedy to uncover a historical postal conspiracy that Inverarity may or may not be invested in, but she does not achieve any satisfactory answers. Moreover, signs in a simulation are reduced to nothingness in Lot 49. Consider the following lines: “With her own eyes she had verified a WASTE system: seen two WASTE postmen, a WASTE mailbox, WASTE stamps, WASTE cancellations. And the image of the muted post horn all but saturating the Bay Area” (Pynchon 107). The use of antaclanasis or repetition would ideally engender various semantic negotiations as it signifies in each instance something different from other interpretations. However, the WASTE signs have ultimately lost their original aim and meaning through superfluous and repeated reproductions. Oedipa’s fervent preoccupation with decrypting this elusive (but empty) acronym is ironically a wasted effort which results in her paranoia and later indifference.

The Law of Entropy

Apposite to the hyperreal condition of Lot 49, typified by the overabundance of data, confusion and loss of original purpose, is the law of entropy. Entropy in information communication is analogous to “noise” – the measure of disorganisation in a system. Vine underlines that “informational entropy leads to the multiplication of messages in a system, and to exorbitance … promotes communicational disorder: it generates an excess of output that cannot be reduced to meaning, sense or coherence” (167). Thus, entropy prevents the message from being transmitted to the receiver and accounts for the distribution of unknowing in the lack of resolution at the end of Pynchon’s novels and confusion between the narrator, author and reader. Moreover, the disorderly, topsy-turvy turn of events in the text establishes Oedipa in an entropic condition where the inevitable loss of meaning leads to constant doubts, uncertainty and paranoia.

Paranoia

Consequently, Oedipa’s susceptibility to paranoia is symptomatic of her milieu where late-capitalist, postmodern hegemony reduces signs to a sense of hyperreality. John Johnston maintains that in Lot 49, “paranoia and the official discourse of the dominant cultural order belong to the same ‘semiotic regime’ … one that, in structural terms, allows no escape from interpretation, either for Oedipa or the reader” (71). Indeed, paranoia, rather than a mental disorder, is the process of working through the gargantuan web of information to make perceivable coherence – I suggest then that paranoia serves as a coping mechanism in response to the meaninglessness and absurdity of signs to preserve the self from an existential void because “when the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning” (Baudrillard 6). This nostalgia echoes the self’s desire to not be alienated from a perceived sense of external reality to circumvent the fear of the loss of self – that “some version of herself hadn’t vanished” (Pynchon 133). Hence, Oedipa enters a simulation of her own making. Oedipa seeks for absolute meaning behind arbitrary signs: “then it was part of her duty, wasn’t it, to bestow life on what had persisted, to try to be what Driblette was, the dark machine in the centre of the planetarium, to bring the estate into pulsing stelliferous Meaning, all in a soaring dome around her?” (64) Furthermore, Oedipa attempts to give narrative order to chaos by making her own “constellations” (65) – making connections and finding a “linking feature in a coincidence” (98). She locates the night of her affair with Metzger as the originating point of her revelation of the Tristero conspiracy: it would “logically be the starting point for it; logically. That’s what would come to haunt her most, perhaps: the way it fitted, logically, together” (31). The ostensibly neurotic repetition of “logic” intimates the anxiety to make rational sense of paranoia by adding coherence to the sequence of events and assigning a kind of narrative causality. Oedipa finally insinuates “how far it might be possible to get lost in this” (76) tumultuous world of unrelated data – her delirious fixation with finding the real causes her to experience adriftness, disorientation and alienation from the real or what “they’ll call … paranoia” (140). Towards the end of Lot 49, Oedipa is inundated with various possibilities of her situation that evoke great anxiety: Tristero really exists, she is a victim of Inverarity’s elaborate ruse, she is having hallucinations or she is utterly immersed in a fantasy.

The Act of Reading

In addition, Pynchon provokes reflection on the act of reading. The novella acts as an information system where entropy, and the inexorable transferable loss of meaning, is manifested as the text’s structural condition that readers have to grapple with. Like Oedipa, readers endeavour to make sense and rationality in a simulation (the text) but the mercurial and digressive nature of Lot 49 thwarts linear comprehension, causing the reader to lose sight of the original story. Ultimately, the novella cheekily and meta-textually deters from being “hung up with words, words” (62) and condemns the act of reading too deeply and suspiciously into signs and texts or risk “wast[ing] your life that way and never touch[ing] the truth” (63). Driblette informs Oedipa that “the reality is in this head. Mine. I’m the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming out of my mouth, eyes, sometimes other orifices also’ (62). Driblette represents Pynchon: as wielders of narrative authority, they both remain reticent and indifferent towards communicating a “singular truth” or meaning. Oedipa even begins to doubt the authority in signs towards the end of the novella, hence affirming the emptiness of signs in the aftermath of hyperreality.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Lot 49 jarringly and intriguingly thrusts the reader into a simulated reality where the reader, like Oedipa, is subject to the entropic task of sifting through the huge network of information to make sense of the story. More importantly, the text playfully highlights the unreliability of communication and perhaps places value in the lack of information. Hence, the text is worthwhile as it uniquely subverts the conventions of a detective novel by celebrating irresolution. The chaotic meaninglessness that haunts the story and is culpable for textual psychosis is valuable and exciting. If readers find themselves disoriented and in a state of neurosis after devouring the novella, Lot 49 has then successfully allowed them to imagine living in a certain hyperreality. The text even ratifies living in paranoia or “fantasy”: “Cherish it!” cried Hilarius, fiercely. “What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don’t let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be.’ (113) Thus, the text suggests that it is preferable to have paranoid beliefs than to have no beliefs at all – only then can we affirm our sense of individuality and importance in a purposeless, postmodern world which coerces uniformity, sameness and equilibrium.

Introduction

Thomas Pynchon’s novella, The Crying of Lot 49, traces the quest of housewife Oedipa Maas who was appointed by her ex-lover, Pierce Inverarity, to execute his will. In her journey, she finds herself unwittingly distracted and bombarded by the multifarious, befuddling and fragmentary signs relating to the muted post horn, Thurn und Taxis, Tristero and WASTE, concomitantly succumbing to paranoia. Lot 49 recurrently plays with the role of signs and their pertinence to an unknown reality. Hence, underlying this essay is Jean Baudrillard’s theoretical framework in Simulacra and Simulation which conceives of a simulation of reality, transplanted by symbols and signs, and postulates the impossibility of seeking meaning in a hyperreal world (where the representation or sign has no original referent and meaning is non-existent). Thus, Pynchon’s work serves as a dizzying and stimulating read because it, I argue, provides an obfuscating, almost paranoiac, experience for both the protagonist and reader by way of the metaphorical concept of entropy. Ultimately, however, Oedipa begins to doubt in an overarching authority of the significations she encounters, culminating in her indifference of signs which is indicative of the postmodern condition wherein signs are ineluctably meaningless due to the ascendancy of hyperreality.

The Surfeit of Information

The economy of information in Lot 49 is characterised by constant referentiality and the excessiveness of unrelated data. The surfeit of information in the text is premised and foreshadowed in the first chapter: “As things developed, she was to have all manner of revelations. Hardly about Pierce Inverarity, or herself; but about what remained yet had somehow, before this, stayed away” (Pynchon 10). The multifarious, embedded narratives in the novella distract from the original, central story of Inverarity and are perhaps of inconsequential worth to the storyline, causing distress and destabilising the reader’s and Oedipa’s expectations of a neat narrative resolution – to attain “the central truth itself” (76).

Loss of Original Purpose

Indubitably, Pynchon constructs a world where meanings are unceasingly produced in seismic amounts and the increasing widespreadness of signs are managed and saturated by simulations and simulators to the point that the original intent of production perishes. In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard advances many representations of simulacra but of great interest to this discussion is the fourth stage of the sign-order which reflects an irreality. This simulacra is hyperreal since it is a copy “without origin or reality” (1) and “dissimulate[s] that there is nothing” (6). In her attempt to unravel Inverarity’s “true” identity, Oedipa gathers impertinent and unhelpful information on Tristero and the play The Courier’s Tragedy to uncover a historical postal conspiracy that Inverarity may or may not be invested in, but she does not achieve any satisfactory answers. Moreover, signs in a simulation are reduced to nothingness in Lot 49. Consider the following lines: “With her own eyes she had verified a WASTE system: seen two WASTE postmen, a WASTE mailbox, WASTE stamps, WASTE cancellations. And the image of the muted post horn all but saturating the Bay Area” (Pynchon 107). The use of antaclanasis or repetition would ideally engender various semantic negotiations as it signifies in each instance something different from other interpretations. However, the WASTE signs have ultimately lost their original aim and meaning through superfluous and repeated reproductions. Oedipa’s fervent preoccupation with decrypting this elusive (but empty) acronym is ironically a wasted effort which results in her paranoia and later indifference.

The Law of Entropy

Apposite to the hyperreal condition of Lot 49, typified by the overabundance of data, confusion and loss of original purpose, is the law of entropy. Entropy in information communication is analogous to “noise” – the measure of disorganisation in a system. Vine underlines that “informational entropy leads to the multiplication of messages in a system, and to exorbitance … promotes communicational disorder: it generates an excess of output that cannot be reduced to meaning, sense or coherence” (167). Thus, entropy prevents the message from being transmitted to the receiver and accounts for the distribution of unknowing in the lack of resolution at the end of Pynchon’s novels and confusion between the narrator, author and reader. Moreover, the disorderly, topsy-turvy turn of events in the text establishes Oedipa in an entropic condition where the inevitable loss of meaning leads to constant doubts, uncertainty and paranoia.

Paranoia

Consequently, Oedipa’s susceptibility to paranoia is symptomatic of her milieu where late-capitalist, postmodern hegemony reduces signs to a sense of hyperreality. John Johnston maintains that in Lot 49, “paranoia and the official discourse of the dominant cultural order belong to the same ‘semiotic regime’ … one that, in structural terms, allows no escape from interpretation, either for Oedipa or the reader” (71). Indeed, paranoia, rather than a mental disorder, is the process of working through the gargantuan web of information to make perceivable coherence – I suggest then that paranoia serves as a coping mechanism in response to the meaninglessness and absurdity of signs to preserve the self from an existential void because “when the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning” (Baudrillard 6). This nostalgia echoes the self’s desire to not be alienated from a perceived sense of external reality to circumvent the fear of the loss of self – that “some version of herself hadn’t vanished” (Pynchon 133). Hence, Oedipa enters a simulation of her own making. Oedipa seeks for absolute meaning behind arbitrary signs: “then it was part of her duty, wasn’t it, to bestow life on what had persisted, to try to be what Driblette was, the dark machine in the centre of the planetarium, to bring the estate into pulsing stelliferous Meaning, all in a soaring dome around her?” (64) Furthermore, Oedipa attempts to give narrative order to chaos by making her own “constellations” (65) – making connections and finding a “linking feature in a coincidence” (98). She locates the night of her affair with Metzger as the originating point of her revelation of the Tristero conspiracy: it would “logically be the starting point for it; logically. That’s what would come to haunt her most, perhaps: the way it fitted, logically, together” (31). The ostensibly neurotic repetition of “logic” intimates the anxiety to make rational sense of paranoia by adding coherence to the sequence of events and assigning a kind of narrative causality. Oedipa finally insinuates “how far it might be possible to get lost in this” (76) tumultuous world of unrelated data – her delirious fixation with finding the real causes her to experience adriftness, disorientation and alienation from the real or what “they’ll call … paranoia” (140). Towards the end of Lot 49, Oedipa is inundated with various possibilities of her situation that evoke great anxiety: Tristero really exists, she is a victim of Inverarity’s elaborate ruse, she is having hallucinations or she is utterly immersed in a fantasy.

The Act of Reading

In addition, Pynchon provokes reflection on the act of reading. The novella acts as an information system where entropy, and the inexorable transferable loss of meaning, is manifested as the text’s structural condition that readers have to grapple with. Like Oedipa, readers endeavour to make sense and rationality in a simulation (the text) but the mercurial and digressive nature of Lot 49 thwarts linear comprehension, causing the reader to lose sight of the original story. Ultimately, the novella cheekily and meta-textually deters from being “hung up with words, words” (62) and condemns the act of reading too deeply and suspiciously into signs and texts or risk “wast[ing] your life that way and never touch[ing] the truth” (63). Driblette informs Oedipa that “the reality is in this head. Mine. I’m the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming out of my mouth, eyes, sometimes other orifices also’ (62). Driblette represents Pynchon: as wielders of narrative authority, they both remain reticent and indifferent towards communicating a “singular truth” or meaning. Oedipa even begins to doubt the authority in signs towards the end of the novella, hence affirming the emptiness of signs in the aftermath of hyperreality.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Lot 49 jarringly and intriguingly thrusts the reader into a simulated reality where the reader, like Oedipa, is subject to the entropic task of sifting through the huge network of information to make sense of the story. More importantly, the text playfully highlights the unreliability of communication and perhaps places value in the lack of information. Hence, the text is worthwhile as it uniquely subverts the conventions of a detective novel by celebrating irresolution. The chaotic meaninglessness that haunts the story and is culpable for textual psychosis is valuable and exciting. If readers find themselves disoriented and in a state of neurosis after devouring the novella, Lot 49 has then successfully allowed them to imagine living in a certain hyperreality. The text even ratifies living in paranoia or “fantasy”: “Cherish it!” cried Hilarius, fiercely. “What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don’t let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be.’ (113) Thus, the text suggests that it is preferable to have paranoid beliefs than to have no beliefs at all – only then can we affirm our sense of individuality and importance in a purposeless, postmodern world which coerces uniformity, sameness and equilibrium.

Read more

written information as a better means of communication

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Before the telephone was invented, people wrote letters to each other to stay in touch. Soldiers would write letters to their wives and families conveying their love and, even today, people write letters to better communicate. Writing is a way of expressing yourself, a way to think about what you are feeling and communicate that to other people. In The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon has his characters write letters in order for them to better understand each other and also to communicate to the reader what is happening in the novel. Indirectly, Pynchon is also satirizing the importance of letters and written communication because, in the novel, the letters confuse the plot instead of clarifying it. As the novel begins, Oedipa receives a letter that is seemingly clear, yet it is the beginning of a mystery that complicates the story and complicated Oedipa’s ability to think clearly. As she finds out more about the mystery of the Tristero, she comes across the W.A.S.T.E. system of mail. This system forces people to write letters even when they have nothing to say and mocks the United States Postal Service. Although this novel seems like an ordinary mystery, its underlying tones of satire, through malfunctioning communication, are prevalent within Oedipa and in the letters that are written between characters and the W.A.S.T.E postal system.

Oedipa Maas receives a letter that states that she is the legal executor of her ex-boyfriends estate. It contains pertinent information about what happened and what her duties are. To the reader, this is a point of clarification. Although the letters seems to be concise and to the point, it is the beginning of a big conspiracy that Oedipa will eventually uncover. After she receives the letter, she starts to see weird images that do not seem to be related. She talks about Rapunzel, magic, and Pierce. Its hard to understand why she would have such mysterious images from one letter, but what seems like a clear letter to the reader, is confusing to Oedipa. She reminisces about Pierce in her mind and then goes off on a tangent, not acknowledging the fact that she is confused over nothing. Pynchon is satirizing communication through letters and causes Oedipa to react unconventionally because she was to have all manner of revelations. Hardly about Pierce Inverarity, or herself; but about what remained, yet had somehow, before this, stayed away? (p10). It seems normal to think about the good times she had with Pierce, but she takes it a step further.

What follows her reminiscing thoughts is stories about her days with Pierce that turn into a revelation about herself. She is deluding herself into believing that Pierce had no effect on her, yet she thinks about him a great deal and does not even realize how much she thinks about him. She is having communication problems within herself because she is not being true to herself and her feelings. As the imagines Rapunzel in the tower she thinks, Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all? (p12). If she believes that she is the captive maiden, then she feels that she is somehow trapped and cannot get out, not because of her physical surroundings, but because something beyond her control is trapping her there. The only thing she could be trapped into at this point is going to sort out Pierce’s affairs. For some reason she feels that she is bind into doing this by magic. Obviously, she cannot understand why Pierce has chosen her as executor, which is why she thinks the magic visited her for no reason at all.

The reader is also struggling with communication because Pynchon is not clearly communicating his thoughts. The story, at first, seems simple, but Oedipa’s reaction to the letter complicates what the reader originally thought about the letter. In this way, Pynchon may be making a statement about how hard it is to communicate or that communicating effectively is impossible because we can never really know what someone else is thinking. He may be satirizing the way people communicate through literature and/or letters. Detective stories usually have the same ending where the detective solves the crime and clues are given all along. With this mystery, the clues are inconclusive and do not lead to the solution to the crime. Oedipa’s understanding of every situation is just beyond her reach, just like Pynchon keeps the readers understanding out of reach. Whenever we think we know what is happened, the book takes a turn in a different direction.

As the plot progresses and the mystery unfolds, Oedipa and the reader know less and less about what is going on. When Oedipa goes to San Francisco to find out more about the Tristero and W.A.S.T.E., she meets with John Nefastis to find out if she is sensitive, but they end up discussing entropy and communication. To be a sensitive she must communicate with the Demon so he tells her, Communication is the key. The Demon passes his data on to the sensitive, and the sensitive must reply in kind? (p84). To the reader, the whole idea of the machine and the theory of a sensitive seems a little ludicrous, yet the novel suggests that it is a serious concept to be considered. The idea that communication is the key is the key but not to entropy. This statement can be taken more broadly to mean the Pynchon stresses the importance of communication in every aspect of life. If communication is not handled properly, mistakes and miscommunications happen just like with the machine. If a person cannot communicate properly, the machine will not work. Oedipa is not sure if Nefastis is serious or if he is putting her on. Oedipa is, again, confused about what to believe because what is going on is not clear to her. She is dealing with the idea of entropy, which is new to her, and talking to people she has never met, which would put a doubt in her mind on what to believe because Nefastis has no credibility with her. Communication is something that takes hard work, yet even with hard work, it may not be attained. It is very hard to get your point across, especially with something like entropy. Oedipa tries to communicate with the Demon while Pynchon is trying to communicate with us.

Letters are the old fashion way of communicating, yet it is the only way to communicate according to the novel. People can listen to telephone conversations and even open US mail, but they can communicate safely through W.A.S.T.E. Oedipa overhears a mother telling her son, Write by W.A.S.T.E., remember, the government will open it if you use the other? (p100). Communication through this new system seems to be the only way to go. Pynchon is stressing the importance written communication and is mocking everything else. Using W.A.S.T.E. instead of the US postal system is a satire of the way he believes the postal system is run and since writing is so important, we should not leave it up to the government.

When everything is almost figured out, Oedipa begins to doubt herself and her findings, like in the beginning of the book. The Tristero is still a mystery but Pynchon leads us to believe that everything will eventually be sorted out. We believe like Oedipa, that the clues all point to the answer, but with further analysis of the clues, they may point to nothing. He confuses us and says, Did she know why Driblette had put in those two extra lines that night? Had he even known why? No one could begin to trace it? (p133). The more Oedipa communicates and learns about the Tristero, the less she is in tune with reality. Communication, in general, clarifies things, yet Oedipa is more confused, along with the reader. Pynchon is making another statement about communication or over-communication. If clues are over-analyzed, it can lead to more confusion, rather than clarification.

At the end of the novel things are so confused that, in a way, there is no closure. Oedipa and the reader start to doubt every clue that has been fed to them by Pynchon. His point of clarity through communication is a satire of communication. He tells us every little detail about the mystery, yet there is never a solution and we never find out who the bidder is. Of course this is not really relevant because he has already made his point by the end of the novel. Oedipa may be trapped in her imaginative tower, but it is not magic that is keeping her there. In a way, if communication worked functionally, she would be able to solve the mystery be communicating properly and asking the right questions. It is her ego that keeps her in that tower because if she surrenders and stops pursuing the mystery of the Tristero, her life would be given back to her and she would not be so isolated from the world.

Pynchon has brilliantly written a novel that delves deep into the depths of the inner soul. Is it possible to really communicate with people or are people doomed to never really be understood? Are letters and writing the key to clear communication? He is trying to communicate to his audience that letters are a beginning, but without them, there is nothing. It is books and literature that keep legends alive and his novel will be read for many years to come. The first step of communication is to be able to communicate with yourself. Oedipa has problems understanding her own thoughts, so it is impossible for her to understand and analyze what is going on around her. It is important to know what you are trying to communicate before you can communicate anything. Pynchon satirizes the way people communicate in his novel in order to show the effects of miscommunication. The ending is the epitome of communication because Pynchon proves that the facts of the letter or idea are more important than the outcome. The fact that Oedipa was able to work through her inner problems and work with other people, is more important than if she solves the mystery or not. If we had been told the ending, it may have put too much emphasis on the end result and his point may not have been made.

Read more

Meaningless Fragments Symbolizing Meaninglessness in ‘The Crying of Lot 49’

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

In Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, standard hierarchical structures are abandoned in a setting of postmodern cultural chaos. The use of fragmented pop culture contributes to many aspects of the book, namely the sense of combined freedom in the search for meaning. Moreover, this strange mess of references and images comments on the novel’s setting. California itself is famous for its overt and excess modernity, often a step ahead in popular culture. But with this advantage comes a tendency towards meaninglessness, a lack of depth. Fragmentation illustrates this shallow sensibility by developing countless, even entertaining details with no central force or purpose. Without a unifying meaning, these fragments overwhelm, something identifiable in any aspect of contemporary life, in any region. They distract both protagonist and reader from any point. But this ambiguity is the point itself.

Pynchon maintains a distinctly modern preoccupation in his chaotic embellishments. In the tradition of Eliot and Joyce, he rebels against any one imposed structure. (Fisher, in lecture, 4/24/00) Without any hierarchy to govern the direction of the narrative, there is a renewed sense of freedom. This is highlighted by Oedipa’s lack of ties or responsibilities. She is able to simply leave her husband, wander all over California, and return when she pleases. But freedom can also create a lack of order that goes too far, a negative state of chaos with no justification. Oedipa wants to believe, as she does early on, that “…it fitted, logically, together. As if…there were revelation in progress all around her.” (30) The flaw in this seemingly innocent freedom is in its sacrifice of reason. This becomes clear as Oedipa begins searching for order as much as fun and liberation. It no longer simply arrives as a revelation, but drives her action. She becomes an agent searching for meaning when she goes to The Scope, a local bar “because it seemed that a pattern was beginning to emerge….” (71) Perhaps Oedipa cannot help her “growing obsession with ‘bringing something of herself’…to the scatter of business interests that had survived Inverarity. She would give them order, she would create constellations.” (72) Surrounded by chaos, she recognizes the necessity of this force, and assumes she can restore logic, and thus meaning.

The desire to create a link among scattered information is foreign to the world in which Oedipa is operating, and therefore quite difficult. The first sign of trouble could be that “Much of the revelation was to come through [a] stamp collection…thousands of little colored windows into deep vistas of space and time: savannahs teeming with elands and gazelles, galleons sailing west into the void, Hitler heads, sunsets, cedars of Lebanon, allegorical faces that never were…” (30) This conglomeration of useless, antiquated images is a perfect metaphor for the fragmentation of pop culture in California’s strange post-modernity. It is a fitting illustration of the stage upon which our protagonist attempts to find conspiracy. With image upon detailed image piling into a strangely poetic list, this imagery overwhelms the reader. But after the rapture of its possible significance is passed, one cannot help wondering, as Oedipa does “…whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed to end), she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements, intimations, but never the central truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold.” (76) This is essentially the question asked by the ambush of pop culture. The story moves forward only because of Oedipa’s deep desire to find something unifying in the great amount of information she absorbs every day.

The concept of sensory overload, of too much information, is a distinctly modern idea. Industry and technology move too fast, inspiring transitory culture without any anchor. This idea is alluded to often, as with “radios playing songs in the lower stretches of the Top 200, that would never become popular, whose melodies and lyrics would perish as if they had never been sung.” (99) In such a state of constant bombardment, one must project their own desires onto the cultural landscape, creating a link that makes their world seem less intimidating and temporary. Oedipa does this with her conspiracy notion. One night, she wanders into the city, the ultimate modern landscape, with the hope that “Each clue that comes is supposed to have its own clarity, its fine chances for permanence.” (95) Separately, the range of “clues” she comes across are lush vignettes of modern life. There is “a drifting, dreamy cloud of delinquents in summer-weight gang jackets with the post horn stitched on in thread that looked pure silver,” (98) and “an exhausted busful of Negroes going on to graveyard shifts all over the city,…scratched on the back of a seat, shining for her in the brilliant smoky interior, the post horn.” (98) The language in these passages makes very clear distinctions. The fragments of reality ­ the delinquents, the sad state of the Negroes ­ are bleak in comparison to the symbol that stands out so brilliantly within them. In the face of so much frustration, Pynchon creates an actual visual connection for Oedipa to cling to.

The deep, subliminal need to link familiar fragments together betrays a great deal about the effect of constant fragmentation on the human soul. Oedipa begins looking for a human connection in all her desire for order. Her loneliness is a result of her environment, as is her constant need to dull it. The postmodern state creates lives like the ones Oedipa sees that night. The similarity between these observations is the absolute loneliness and sadness in the language. This is hardly a unifying connection. How can she help but search for control, moreover security, in a world that creates the “aging night-watchman, nibbling at a bar of Ivory Soap, who had trained his virtuoso stomach to accept also lotions, air-fresheners, fabrics, tobaccoes and waxes in a hopeless attempt to assimilate it all, all the promise, productivity, betrayal, ulcers, before it was too late?” (100) The sacrifices in “democratizing language” (Fisher, in lecture, 4/24/00) through fragmentation are not worth this barrage. Oedipa becomes more lonely than liberated by her freedom of association.

Oedipa’s need for deep human connection is a symptom of her increasing isolation. She turns to men time and time again in her search. In her first meeting with Metzger, she has a confidence and even playfulness in her sexuality. But even her agreement to sleep with him comes in a moment of distraction, fragmentation: “‘What do you want to bet, then’ She knew. Stubborn, they watched each other’s eyes for what seemed five minutes. She heard commercials chasing one another into and out of the speaker of the TV. She grew more and more angry, perhaps juiced, perhaps only impatient for the movie to come back on. ?Fine then…it’s a bet. Whatever you’d like.” (23) She clearly cares about this decision, as one of her few moments of emotion comes when she asks what Inverarity has told Metzger about her. Metzger responds “That you wouldn’t be easy,” and Oedipa “[begins] to cry.” (30) Her dependence on men is not simply about physical desire. This becomes more clear as she goes deeper into her quest. And as her independence continues, her self-awareness expands, making her able to comment on her own growing emptiness. When she learns of Driblette’s suicide, an interesting distinction in her character development is made.

The problem is that the men she is looking for are themselves fragments of pop culture, and caught up in the California surroundings that continue to send her to them.

Read more

seems singing by paranoids has meaning in communication

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Despite the fact that The Crying of Lot 49 is chock-full of the use of methods of communication, the only time when anything is actually communicated is when a few songs are sung by The Paranoids. Any letters mentioned in the novel are void of meaning; relationships tend to be self-indulgent and superficial; even radio broadcasts are phony. Moreover, of the few songs that are not sung by the Paranoids, none have any substantial meaning either. Overall, unless stated or utilized by a member of the band, no form of communication possesses the slightest trace of an actual desire to communicate.

The first time one sees meaning in communication is immediately before Oedipa and Metzger have sex – yet another form of exchange void of substance – when the Paranoids are singing outside their bedroom window. The song immediately has some sort of meaning because it tells a story: A man longs for the woman he loves, but knows he cannot go to her – “As I lie…and you lie alone tonight…how can I come to you” (Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999. 27). It may sound like a rather blas, overdone theme for a song; yet, compared to anything that has appeared in the novel before it, it is monumental in honesty and emotion. So far, the only other forms of communication have been shellacked with grandiose, Time Warner effects. For example, the entire book begins with Oedipa Maas being named executrix of an eccentric multi-millionaire’s will. Then, she visits his lawyer who studies nothing else but Perry Mason television episodes, the father of the concocted, kitschy detective drama. Finally, she drives to San Narciso, a city paved with prefabricated, Vegas-esque buildings and billboards, to find the coexecutor, Metzger. Something this fantastic could only occur in a Hollywood B-movie! Therefore, is not this song the first “true” thing she encounters, the first expression of substance?

The next major song by The Paranoids does not occur till the end of the novel; yet, prior to that, a few other forms of empty communication show up. First, while slumming around a bar called The Scope, Oedipa encounters Mike Fallopian who receives a letter via the underground postal service. He tells the reader (and Oedipa) in advance that the note will be garbage by explaining how “each member has to send at least one letter a week through the Yoyodyne system” (39); if they don’t, they’re fined. Therefore, one cannot expect a mandatory letter, like the one Fallopian opens, to have any sort of value. In fact, all it says is, “Dear Mike, … how are you? Just thought I’d drop you a note. How’s your book coming? Guess that’s all for now. See you at The Scope” (39). No one could possibly argue that the letter is of any consequence or that it presents any sort of meaning to its reader. Even the implication that the author of the letter wants to know how Mike’s book is doing is purely empty, for one has no doubt that he, in reality, doesn’t give a damn about it. Therefore, here is a perfect example of using a common form of communication to communicate nothing.

The next time there is a reasonably relative exchange of ideas between people is during Oedipa’s visit to the Yoyodyne stockholders’ meeting. While she’s there, the corporate stockholders sing two songs in praise of their beloved Yoyodyne. Normally, one would think that such a jubilant expression of loyalty would be expressed through meaningful, heart-felt words. Even my thesis would imply that, as they are singing songs, there should be honesty and emotion present. However, these little ditties were written by the corporate world. They, like the required Yoyodyne mailing system, are mandatory expressions churned out robotically no matter how many Vaseline-slick smiles one has singing them. The lyrics themselves seem to aureate hollow and capitalistic California ideals “Pink pavilions bravely shining,/ Palm trees tall and true” (65) and “Yoyodyne… Contracts flee thee yet./ DOD has shafted thee,/ Out of spite, I’ll bet” (66). Not only do the words lack worthwhile meaning, but they also show how jaded and corrupt the people singing them must be. Of course, if these people are like every first grader pledging allegiance to the flag, by now the words have become so heavily etched into their minds that they don’t even think about them when they’re reciting them, making even the act of singing insincere and rehearsed. Therefore, the only thing these two songs communicate is a lack of emotion.

Finally, after Oedipa has brushed with death thanks to Dr. Hilarious, she reunites with her husband, Mucho, in the back of his radio truck. One would presume that, as a couple, they would have the most honest forms of communication in the entire novel; yet, somehow, at this moment they manage to present one of the coldest and obscure relationships. She enters the truck greeted by a soundless smile from him, being told to “be herself” before having a microphone thrust in front of her. A couple of weeks, maybe closer to a month, without seeing her husband, and all Oedipa gets is a mic thrown in her face. Moreover, after receiving her comments on the rather mind-boggling events that just occurred in Dr. Hilarious’s office, Mucho bastardizes her name into Edna Mosh, saying that he “was allowing for the distortion on these rigs, and then when they put it on tape” (114), so it will come out clear in the final broadcast. In essence, he asks her to be herself only to document her as someone entirely different before sending it off to be regarded as fact by the rest of the world. If that’s not screwing with the veracity of communication, I don’t know what is.

The last major form of honest interaction between people occurs when Oedipa returns to Echo Courts and sees The Paranoids again. At this point, one of the band members, Serge, sings a song about how his girlfriend left him for an older man, and how he is now patrolling the schoolyards for a new female companion “For me, my baby was a woman/ For him she’s just another nymphet/ Why did they run around … As long as she’s gone away … I’ve had to find somebody new … I had a date last night with an eight-year-old” (120-121). Out of all the moments in the novel, this one seems to be the most painfully real and true. Here is Serge, obviously broken by the fact that someone whom he believed he loved has ditched him for a smooth-talking Humbert Humbert wannabe, singing his heart out in hope that his lyrics will consol him; for, in fact, there is no eight-year-old “groovy” replacement in his life. He is the only character, therefore, to really feel regret and loss, believe he experienced the emotion of love, and have the gusto to communicate it to the rest of the world. Overall, it is simply the one time, save possibly the first Paranoids song, where a form of communication actually communicates anything.

In essence, the entire novel displays how communication does not function. Perhaps the only reason Pynchon even gives The Paranoids a few moments of honest, expressible emotion is that he wants to show that the future generations have the hope of not being as jaded as the present one, allowing for the possibility for communication to reestablish itself truly in a society. Overall, though, regardless of Pynchon’s reasons for having The Paranoids be the tool, The Crying of Lot 49 only has people expressing meaning to each other when the band is singing.

Read more

The Sound of a Lot of Furious Crying: Moving Past the Present in The Sound and the Fury and Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49

August 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

It is fitting to discuss the recollection of the past in an age advancing to an unknown futurity and whose memories are increasingly banished to the realm of the nostalgic or, even worse, obsolete. Thomas Pynchon and William Faulkner, in wildly contrasting ways, explore the means by which we, as individuals and communities, remember, recycle, and renovate the past. Retrospection is an inevitability in their works, for the past is inescapable and defines, if not dominates, the present.Pynchon maintains an optimistic, Ovidian view of the past – we recycle our cultural memories into another, perhaps better, form. The resulting disordered array of culture, one as much filled in by the glut of contemporary television channels as by 17th-century revenge dramas, is organized by some supervisory principle. Much as the postal system orders geography into specific postal codes and zones, Maxwell’s Demon in The Crying of Lot 49 “connects the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow” (106); it applies a controlled, scientific objective to the sprawling, aesthetic subjective.But Pynchon’s culture is not one haunted by the ghosts, except for the ghosts in Hamlet and Scooby-Doo. Faulkner’s landscape is tortured by the tragedy of the South. In his view, the land is cursed because of two of the white man’s presumptions: that he could own other men, and that he could own the land. Focusing on the microcosm of the fallen Compson family, Faulkner details the extent to which various family members are saddled by past loss and how they confront their searing memories. In what has canonized The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner recreates the temporal confusion of the Compsons in the narrative, as well, through a non-sequential chronology and through sentences that combine past, present, and future tenses. Despite the occupational differences between the two authors, they share a surprising wealth of concerns, namely in the ordering of chaos. Pynchon’s order, however, remains a fruitful one of universality and coherence, while Faulkner contends that there is no real possible way to order memory, that each event is singular (indeed, he wanted the different times of the novel printed in corresponding colors), and that loss permeates the present despite attempts at reassessment or separation of the past.The first sentence of The Crying of Lot 49 introduces “Mrs Oedipa Maas” (9). Her name immediately and forcefully conjures up for the reader all the cultural baggage associated with the name Oedipa. It is, of course, the Latinate feminine of Oedipus, the tragic Greek hero who was fated to murder his father and sleep with his mother. Yet the female version of Oedipus is not Oedipa, but Electra. The obvious Freudian associations dare the reader into a (most likely pointless) psychoanalytic reading. Her name is not so much about psychological complexes as about language, and how language can act for the character. Oedipa also has “pa” within the name, but that is directly followed by the “Ma” in Maas. Furthermore, the initials of “Mrs Oedipa Mass” spell out “MOM.” Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, her husband’s nickname for her is “Oed,” or the abbreviations of the Oxford English Dictionary. This is what Oedipa is, a dictionary of various etymologies whose roots we uncover. Postmodernism often does away with traditional characterization at the expense of names because of all the name can offer us through its etymological past. There is nothing sinister about this recycling; it is simply a mode of cultural awareness, a way to recycle the chaotic past into some sort of organized present.Names in Faulkner carry with them the literal and figurative pronunciations of their forebears. Consider the following exchange in Benjy’s memory:Your name is Benjy, Caddy said. Do you hear. Benjy. Benjy.Dont tell him that, Mother said. Bring him here.Caddy lifted me up under the arms.Get up, Mau – I mean Benjy, she said. (39)Benjy was named Maury, after his uncle but, as Faulkner tells us in the index, “when at last even his mother realised what he was and insisted weeping that his name must be changed, was rechristened Benjamin” (213). Rechristening is a euphemistic term for what many of the Compsons try for in vain, the purging of their dark past in hopes for a second chance at baptism. But he is no longer even Benjamin; that seems too adult a name for his childlike status. This is not the only instance of a disastrous choice of names. Caddy names her daughter after her brother, Quentin. Jason, tormented by both his sister, for her escape and promiscuity, and by his brother, for his escape to Harvard and the ensuing financial detriment to the family (and preventing Jason from attending college), treats the female Caddy as her mother’s daughter, with cruelty and barbarity. Making up for the losses extracted from him by her mother and by Quentin, he creates a loss for her by bilking her of the money her mother sends her (a tangible inheritance) and forbidding any contact between the two (a more emotional inheritance). Unlike in Pynchon, the name in Faulkner is burdened, not burnished, by memorial associations.Nevertheless, these associations are ubiquitous in TCL49, with high and low cultural artifacts meshing together in a grand equation of cultural consciousness. For Pynchon, the collective cultural memory recognizes little difference between a museum of abstract, intellectual art and the stored experience of a concrete, dirty mattress. All gets conflated to one, as with one of the many catalogs of seemingly disparate items in the book:…clipped coupons promising savings of 5 or 10 cents, trading stamps, pink flyers advertising specials at the markets, butts, tooth-shy combs, help-wanted ads, Yellow Pages torn from the phone book, rags of old underwear or dresses that were period costumes…all the bits and pieces coated uniformly, like a salad of despair, in a gray dressing of ash, condensed exhaust, dust, body wastes… (14)What a clipped coupon and a deteriorating piece of underwear have in common is that they are both refuse, that they are both “coated uniformly” with the markers of decay, that their shared heritage is one of waste. In fact, the acronym W.A.S.T.E. courses through the novel, and not only for the effect of mystery. The acronym gives new meaning to a word (in this case, it stands for “We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire”), infusing its letters with rich language while simultaneously obscuring its past incarnations as a single word. Similar meanings are grafted onto Mucho’s radio station, KCUF (a curse reversed), and to the C.I.A. (not for Central Intelligence Agency, but for Conjuración de los Insurgents Anarquistas). Indeed, the term “anarchist miracle” refers to a chaotic dance does not burst into collisions but that “some unthinkable order” pervades “of music, many rhythms, all keys at once, a choreography in which each couple meshed easy, predetermined” (131). Maxwell’s Demon assigns order to the seemingly untamable, giving random pieces of information spatial organization, just as the postal system supervises the geographic sprawl of society. This organization, culling from the past to produce a new, ordered present, lends an optimistic air to cultural recycling, as exemplified by the tasty dandelion wine and its graver roots: “‘…You see, in spring, when the dandelions begin to bloom again, the wine goes through a fermentation. As if they remembered'” (98). Oedipa denies this meaning, but Pynchon implies that the world does function in this way, taking the scraps of refuse and reformulating them as something utile, even consumable.The cultural residue in Faulkner is of a far more pessimistic nature. Taken in conjunction with T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” The Sound and the Fury critiques the sterility of a non-ritualized modern society. Eliot’s poem demonstrates a fear of rain, of a fertile land in which “April is the cruellest month” and “Winter kept us warm.” The desiccated landscape provides a retreat for the individual against the march of time (since fertility and seasonal rituals are abolished) and has settled over the South:The day dawned bleak and chill, a moving wall of gray light out of the northeast which, instead of dissolving into moisture, seemed to disintegrate into minute and venomous particles, like dust that, when Dilsey opened the door of the cabin and emerged, needled laterally into her flesh, precipitating not so much a moisture as a substance partaking of the quality of thin, not quite congealed oil. (165)Only Dilsey’s outsider status (from the Compson family, at least), the quality that will make her and the other blacks “endure,” as Faulkner writes in the Appendix, turns the dust of death into a somewhat liquid state. The novel’s many losses – of family members, of innocence, of money, of land, of manhood (Benjy’s castration) – turn into one overpowering symptom of sterility, of a land stuck in the past and unwilling to engage the future. Even the title comes from a line in “Macbeth,” pointing not only to the novel’s tragic structure but to its associations with the high culture of the past (ironically, ambition, that most future-oriented of drives, is the major theme of Shakespeare’s play).With this harmful past to work from, it is no wonder that the Compson family has such trouble mining any good from its memory banks. Each of the three brothers’ narratives negotiates in a different, and equally destructive, manner with the past. Benjy’s narrative blends all times together in a disordered, fragmented style. Unable to distinguish between times, Benjy is reduced to, as much as his retarded development limits him to, a child-like state of perception. What is the cause and what is the effect is negligible – seeing the world in a temporal blur is akin to seeing it as an infant. Quentin, on the other hand, more logically perceives the past – but to an extreme. He is mired in the past, consumed with Caddy’s loss of virginity, with the pasture that was sold to send him to Harvard, with his uncaring father, and with the minute clicking away of his watch’s hands. This Hamlet-like absorption in the past sends him to his suicide, through which he continually steps in his own deathly shadow. The losses of the past negate any sort of future for him, and prove as unsuccessful a strategy as Benjy’s time warp. Finally, Jason proceeds through life as if the past were nonexistent. However, he, too, cannot escape memory, and must face the legacies of both Quentin and Caddy in the 17-year-old Caddy. That he tries to shackle her promiscuity also suggests his aversion to a fertile future, and squeezes Jason into the condensed middle of the present, an unbearable one which cannot help but notice the fading past and deteriorating future. The Compson family ultimately stands as a microcosm of ante-bellum South, showcasing the various approaches Southerners used for their own tragic, enduring history.The individual in TCL49 also sifts through his cultural stock, but for better use. Characters act in way they “doubtless learned from watching the TV” (108). Similarly, they react emotionally to popular culture as they would to other humans:But Roseman had also spent a sleepless night, brooding over the Perry Mason television program the evening before, which his wife was fond of but toward which Roseman cherished a fierce ambivalence, wanting at once to be a successful trial lawyer like Perry Mason and, since this was impossible, to destroy Perry Mason by undermining him. (18)As with star-struck fans who confuse actors with their screen personae, Roseman, and the rest of media-saturated America, receives its reality from culture, and not only from the contemporary culture of “Perry Mason,” but from the cultural pastiche behind the show: previous lawyer shows, previous legal plays and movies (the “quality of mercy” scene from “Merchant of Venice,” for instance, as much as “12 Angry Men”) and the legal system itself, from our society to the Greeks. Perry Mason is not simply Perry Mason; he is a mongrel blend of Portia, Henry Fonda, and Hammurabi. The individual is swallowed up in the whole, as with the group therapy sessions to which Oedipa travels in a car pool. Encountering collective pain in a collective transport, the element becomes the whole, just as Benjy, Quentin, and Jason become the Compson family, which, in turn, becomes the South.The structure of each book mirrors its approach to the past. A typical Faulknerian word is “undishonored,” used in the phrase “as yet undishonored.” He also writes sentences such as “She did not yet know she was a woman.” In both cases, there is negation (“undis”/”did not…know”) that precludes knowledge in the present and only allows it in future retrospection. It is the same principle behind having Benjy sparely relate in the opening scene “They were hitting,” having the word “caddie” spiral him off into thoughts of Caddy, and then understanding later in the book that the company was playing golf. In the same way that the hectic present can only be understood through the steadier lens of the future, the scattered past can only be understood through the (somewhat) more stable perception of the present. The Sound and the Fury must be read several times until the disorder of narrative coheres as an intelligible story. TCL49, too, is a mystery whose willful obfuscation and numerous red herrings add up only after a few readings, and whose “solution” never really appears, except for the mystery of the title in the final sentence. Some critics read the title of Faulkner’s novel as a challenge to the reader, in that, as “a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing,” the book defies traditional literary understanding. Faulkner ends the novel with Benjy howling, fulfilling the line from “Macbeth,” but after that has an image of order. The form of narrative, and not the content of life, is the only chance for order in the world. A new framing device of literary technique replaces the conventional teleological frame. The novel moves from Good Friday to Easter, from the innocence of Benjy’s opening section to the omniscience of Faulkner’s (or Dilsey’s) concluding section. While Perry Mason and Benjy’s howl seemingly signify nothing, the precision of authorial control reveals the deep material of the past in each novel from which we can attribute meaning.

Read more

Fragmentation in The Crying of Lot 49

July 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, standard hierarchical structures are abandoned in a setting of postmodern cultural chaos. The use of fragmented pop culture contributes to many aspects of the book, namely the sense of combined freedom in the search for meaning. Moreover, this strange mess of references and images comments on the novel’s setting. California itself is famous for its overt and excess modernity, often a step ahead in popular culture. But with this advantage comes a tendency towards meaninglessness, a lack of depth. Fragmentation illustrates this shallow sensibility by developing countless, even entertaining details with no central force or purpose. Without a unifying meaning, these fragments overwhelm, something identifiable in any aspect of contemporary life, in any region. They distract both protagonist and reader from any point. But this ambiguity is the point itself.Pynchon maintains a distinctly modern preoccupation in his chaotic embellishments. In the tradition of Eliot and Joyce, he rebels against any one imposed structure. (Fisher, in lecture, 4/24/00) Without any hierarchy to govern the direction of the narrative, there is a renewed sense of freedom. This is highlighted by Oedipa’s lack of ties or responsibilities. She is able to simply leave her husband, wander all over California, and return when she pleases. But freedom can also create a lack of order that goes too far, a negative state of chaos with no justification. Oedipa wants to believe, as she does early on, that “…it fitted, logically, together. As if…there were revelation in progress all around her.” (30) The flaw in this seemingly innocent freedom is in its sacrifice of reason. This becomes clear as Oedipa begins searching for order as much as fun and liberation. It no longer simply arrives as a revelation, but drives her action. She becomes an agent searching for meaning when she goes to The Scope, a local bar “because it seemed that a pattern was beginning to emerge….” (71) Perhaps Oedipa cannot help her “growing obsession with Œbringing something of herself’…to the scatter of business interests that had survived Inverarity. She would give them order, she would create constellations.” (72) Surrounded by chaos, she recognizes the necessity of this force, and assumes she can restore logic, and thus meaning.The desire to create a link among scattered information is foreign to the world in which Oedipa is operating, and therefore quite difficult. The first sign of trouble could be that “Much of the revelation was to come through [a] stamp collection…thousands of little colored windows into deep vistas of space and time: savannahs teeming with elands and gazelles, galleons sailing west into the void, Hitler heads, sunsets, cedars of Lebanon, allegorical faces that never were…” (30) This conglomeration of useless, antiquated images is a perfect metaphor for the fragmentation of pop culture in California’s strange post-modernity. It is a fitting illustration of the stage upon which our protagonist attempts to find conspiracy. With image upon detailed image piling into a strangely poetic list, this imagery overwhelms the reader. But after the rapture of its possible significance is passed, one cannot help wondering, as Oedipa does “…whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed to end), she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements, intimations, but never the central truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold.” (76) This is essentially the question asked by the ambush of pop culture. The story moves forward only because of Oedipa’s deep desire to find something unifying in the great amount of information she absorbs every day.The concept of sensory overload, of too much information, is a distinctly modern idea. Industry and technology move too fast, inspiring transitory culture without any anchor. This idea is alluded to often, as with “radios playing songs in the lower stretches of the Top 200, that would never become popular, whose melodies and lyrics would perish as if they had never been sung.” (99) In such a state of constant bombardment, one must project their own desires onto the cultural landscape, creating a link that makes their world seem less intimidating and temporary. Oedipa does this with her conspiracy notion. One night, she wanders into the city, the ultimate modern landscape, with the hope that “Each clue that comes is supposed to have its own clarity, its fine chances for permanence.” (95) Separately, the range of “clues” she comes across are lush vignettes of modern life. There is “a drifting, dreamy cloud of delinquents in summer-weight gang jackets with the post horn stitched on in thread that looked pure silver,” (98) and “an exhausted busful of Negroes going on to graveyard shifts all over the city,…scratched on the back of a seat, shining for her in the brilliant smoky interior, the post horn.” (98) The language in these passages makes very clear distinctions. The fragments of reality ­ the delinquents, the sad state of the Negroes ­ are bleak in comparison to the symbol that stands out so brilliantly within them. In the face of so much frustration, Pynchon creates an actual visual connection for Oedipa to cling to.The deep, subliminal need to link familiar fragments together betrays a great deal about the effect of constant fragmentation on the human soul. Oedipa begins looking for a human connection in all her desire for order. Her loneliness is a result of her environment, as is her constant need to dull it. The postmodern state creates lives like the ones Oedipa sees that night. The similarity between these observations is the absolute loneliness and sadness in the language. This is hardly a unifying connection. How can she help but search for control, moreover security, in a world that creates the “aging night-watchman, nibbling at a bar of Ivory Soap, who had trained his virtuoso stomach to accept also lotions, air-fresheners, fabrics, tobaccoes and waxes in a hopeless attempt to assimilate it all, all the promise, productivity, betrayal, ulcers, before it was too late?” (100) The sacrifices in “democratizing language” (Fisher, in lecture, 4/24/00) through fragmentation are not worth this barrage. Oedipa becomes more lonely than liberated by her freedom of association.Oedipa’s need for deep human connection is a symptom of her increasing isolation. She turns to men time and time again in her search. In her first meeting with Metzger, she has a confidence and even playfulness in her sexuality. But even her agreement to sleep with him comes in a moment of distraction, fragmentation: “‘What do you want to bet, then’ She knew. Stubborn, they watched each other’s eyes for what seemed five minutes. She heard commercials chasing one another into and out of the speaker of the TV. She grew more and more angry, perhaps juiced, perhaps only impatient for the movie to come back on. ŒFine then…it’s a bet. Whatever you’d like.” (23) She clearly cares about this decision, as one of her few moments of emotion comes when she asks what Inverarity has told Metzger about her. Metzger responds “That you wouldn’t be easy,” and Oedipa “[begins] to cry.” (30) Her dependence on men is not simply about physical desire. This becomes more clear as she goes deeper into her quest. And as her independence continues, her self-awareness expands, making her able to comment on her own growing emptiness. When she learns of Driblette’s suicide, an interesting distinction in her character development is made.The problem is that the men she is looking for are themselves fragments of pop culture, and caught up in the California surroundings that continue to send her to them.

Read more

View of Scene From pp. 101-105 in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49

July 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

Just before the morning rush hour, she got out of a jitney whose ancient driver ended each day in the red, downtown on Howard Street, began to walk toward the Embarcadero. She knew she looked terrible – knuckles black with eye-liner and mascara from where she’d rubbed, mouth tasting of old booze and coffee. Through an open doorway, on the stair leading up into the disinfectant-smelling twilight of a rooming house she saw an old man huddled, shaking with grief she couldn’t hear. Both hands, smoke-white, covered his face. On the back of the left hand she made out the post horn, tattooed in old ink now beginning to blur and spread. Fascinated, she came into the shadows and ascended creaking steps, hesitating on each one. When she was three steps from him the hands flew apart and his wrecked face, and the terror of eyes gloried in burst veins, stopped her.

“Can I help?” She was shaking, tired.

“My wife’s in Fresno,” he said. He wore an old double-breasted suit, frayed gray shirt, wide tie, no hat. “I left her. So long ago, I don’t remember. Now this is for her.” He gave Oedipa a letter that looked like he’d been carrying it around for years. “Drop it in the,” and he held up the tattoo and stared into her eyes, “you know. I can’t go out there. It’s too far now, I had a bad night.”

“I know,” she said. “But I’m new in town. I don’t know where it is.”

“Under the freeway.” He waved her on in the direction she’d been going. “Always one. You’ll see it.” The eyes closed. Cammed each night out of that safe furrow the bulk of this city’s waking each sunrise again set virtuously to plowing, what rich soils had he turned, what concentric planets uncovered? What voices overheard, flinders of luminescent gods glimpsed among the wallpaper’s stained foliage, candlestubs lit to rotate in the air over him, prefiguring the cigarette he or a friend must fall asleep someday smoking, thus to end among the flaming, secret salts held all those years by the insatiable stuffing of a mattress that could keep vestiges of every nightmare sweat, helpless overflowing bladder, viciously, tearfully consummated wet dream, like the memory bank to a computer of the lost? She was overcome all at once by a need to touch him, as if she could not believe in him, or would not remember him, without it. Exhausted, hardly knowing what she was doing, she came the last three steps and sat, took the man in her arms, actually held him, gazing out of her smudged eyes down the stairs, back into the morning. She felt wetness against her breast and saw that he was crying again. He hardly breathed but tears came as if being pumped. “I can’t help,” she whispered, rocking him, “I can’t help.” It was already too many miles to Fresno.

“Is that him?” a voice asked behind her, up the stairs. “The sailor?”

“He has a tattoo on his hand.”

“Can you bring him up OK? That’s him.” She turned and saw an even older man, shorter, wearing a tall Hamburg hat and smiling at them. “I’d help you but I got a little arthritis.”

“Does he have to come up?” she said. “Up there?”

“Where else, lady?”

She didn’t know. She let go of him for a moment, reluctant as if he were her own child, and he looked up at her. “Come on,” she said. He reached out the tattooed hand and she took that, and that was how they went the rest of the way up that flight, and then the two more: hand in hand, very slowly for the man with arthritis.

“He disappeared last night,” he told her. “Said he was going looking for his old lady. It’s a thing he does, off and on.” They entered a warren of rooms and corridors, lit by 10-watt bulbs, separated by beaverboard partitions. The old man followed them stiffly. At last he said, “Here.”

In the little room were another suit, a couple of religious tracts, a rug, a chair. A picture of a saint, changing well-water to oil for Jerusalem’s Easter lamps. Another bulb, dead. The bed. The mattress, waiting. She ran through then a scene she might play. She might find the landlord of this place, and bring him to court, and buy the sailor a new suit at Roos/Atkins, and shirt, and shoes, and give him the bus fare to Fresno after all. But with a sigh he had released her hand, while she was so lost in the fantasy that she hadn’t felt it go away, as if he’d known the best moment to let go.

“Just mail the letter,” he said, “the stamp is on it.” She looked and saw the familiar carmine 8? airmail, with a jet flying by the Capitol dome. But at the top of the dome stood a tiny figure in deep black, with its arms outstretched. Oedipa wasn’t sure what exactly was supposed to be on top of the Capitol, but knew it wasn’t anything like that…[dialogue] “He’s going to die,” she said.

“Who isn’t?”

She remembered John Nefastis, talking about his Machine, and massive destructions of information. So when this mattress flared up around the sailor, in his Viking’s funeral: the stored, coded years of uselessness, early death, self-harrowing, the sure decay of hope, the set of all men who had slept on it, whatever their lives had been , would truly cease to be, forever, when the mattress burned. She stared at it in wonder. It was as if she had just discovered the irreversible process. It astonished her to think that so much could be lost, even the quantity of hallucination belonging just to the sailor that the world would bear no further trace of. She knew, because she had held him, that he suffered DT’s. Behind the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s plowshare. The saint whose water can light lamps, the clairvoyant whose lapse in recall is the breath of God, the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or threatening about the central pulse of himself, the dreamer whose puns probe ancient fetid shafts and tunnels of truth all act in the same special relevance to the word, or whatever it is the word is there, buffering, to protect us from. The act of metaphor then was a thrust at truth and a lie, depending where you were” inside, safe, or outside, lost. Oedipa did not know where she was.

For the reader, deciphering the difference between Oedipa’s subconscious and the actual voice of the narrator in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, may bode a difficult task. Often, the prose surrounding Oedipa’s dialogue and internal monologue appears to transcend the mere understanding of a woman to a sense of omnipotence – the narrator, from his extreme grasp of detail to his highfalutin description of existential situations, dreamlike behavior or otherworldly circumstance, demonstrates a particular grasp of the human experience that reaches far beyond a singular Pynchon character. In this particular scene of old age and despair, the narrator, rather than bringing a slew of mundane details to the character at hand, creates his own conception of life and death under the guise of description. While he does track the observations of Oedipa, the narrator takes her character beyond the sphere of simple, human interpretation to a heightened realization of experience.

Oedipa, by no means, is devoid of agency as she approaches the elderly, drunken sailor. She feels emotionally mauled and physically ill as she staggers down the street, searching for the clue to the underground postal system, and eventually comes upon the man with the “post horn, tattooed in old ink now beginning to blur and spread.” The initial paragraph of this scene, appears to be rife with detail and physical description. The reader does not glean much from either the narrator or the character of Oedipa besides her clear despair and exhaustion. Pynchon sets the scene for the reader by basing the description in the realm of mundane, sordid reality. As the scene progresses, the narrator’s personality emerges; however, at the moment of encounter, the narrator clarifies the story line by offering the reader succinct bits of information regarding smell, feeling, taste, color and movement. The reader would immediately trust a narrator so steeped in detail; his observations seem sharp and incredibly poignant. For the reader, the description of “smoke-white hands,” a mouth “tasting of old booze and coffee,” the “disinfectant-smelling twilight of a rooming house” and “the terror of his eyes gloried in burst veins” rings with an inherent truth. With the gory, realistic detail of life at its dirtiest, saddest point, the reader cannot help but trust the narrator. At this initial paragraph, the scene maintains an incredible feeling of truth and life – no reader can debate the realism of detail or the narrator’s motives in describing the most base sights, tastes and sounds.

As the reader watched Oedipa move up the creaking stairs, slowly approaching the drunken old man, the narrator has already influenced the reader to a point of extreme trust. The readers observes and comprehends the very emotions and visions that Oedipa undergoes. The reader can see her very knuckles as they’re smudged by makeup; who could possibly dispute the legitimacy of a narrator that so thoroughly and accurately develops the character’s independent physical and emotional details? Moreover, the narrator uses a hook in the plot to pull the reader into the Oedipa’s observations at an even more extreme rate. As she sees the post horn on the hand of the man “shaking with grief she couldn’t hear,” the reliability of the narrator becomes more acute due to her lucky sighting of a clue. This paragraph does not attempt to trick the reader by a narrative style; rather, it attempts to lure the reader into a depth of trusted detail that will evolve into a point of heightened, experienced narration as the scene moves on to a more personal, philosophical level. The reader does not receive the impression of a strong-willed narrator at this point; the written word simply appears to have an implicit honesty of detail that affects the reader in a positive sense to better understand the ensuing human interaction.

The climactic image of the drunken man’s hands suddenly flying apart from in front of his face, draws the reader into the narrator’s acceleration of the plot. Still, Pynchon’s existential narrative style has not reared its head; the reader still has the impression of simplicity of theme surrounded by a detailed style. The constant reminders of the physical situation are textual markers for the reader to establish an intimacy with the narrator that stems from observational trust rather than from philosophical agreement. However, after Pynchon draws the reader into the scene with the detail of surrounding, he begins to describe the drunken sailor himself, a man with “an old, double-breasted suit, frayed gray shirt, wide tie, no hat.” As the man starts his own dialogue, the reader suddenly receives an inkling of mystery – the character that Oedipa approaches on the stair has a history without an explanation. His wife is in Fresno; he needs a letter sent through the one method that Oedipa is attempting to decipher – as he looks into her eyes, the man asks Oedipa to “drop it in the” and gestures to his tattoo with the ubiquitous horn symbol. Through these simple interactions, devoid of much detail besides the dialogue referring to a past woman that the reader has no prior experience with, the narrator draws the reader past the detail to some sort of mystery, another clue in the foggy plot, about to be solved by both Oedipa and the readers themselves. Pynchon’s flair for bringing the reader into the text by the trusted method of realistic description, appropriates a perfect opportunity for the narrator to address some more complicated themes resulting from the singular interaction between Oedipa and the sailor.

The narrator’s tone shifts to a more experienced pitch after Oedipa tricks the sailor into telling her where the drop box for the underground letters awaits. After the textual marker of “the eyes closed” occurs, suddenly the narrator acquires a new sense of omnipotence that was lacking at the beginning of the scene. No longer is the reader dwelling on the intricacies of detail in a physical reality; with the closed eyes, Pynchon marks a change into a dream state – the relationship between the narrator and the character becomes less important. Here, the narrator assumes the role of overseer – a force that Oedipa may or may not understand, as her character is almost subverted by this effusive narrator, saturated with concepts and ideas pertaining to life and longing. “Cammed each night out of that safe furrow the bulk of this city’s waking each sunrise again set virtuously to plowing, what rich soils had he turned, what concentric planets uncovered?,” seems to be a sentence more full of meaning than Oedipa could grasp in one observation of a man. With his eyes shut, the narrator takes on his own agency – he has the power and ability to dissect the very soul of this man as he lays back on the steps, his eyes shut in pain and sadness. A certain amount of wonderment and hope surrounds the narrator’s statement; even though the sailor connotes a sad state, the narrator asks larger questions of his worth to the point where he maintains the capability to uncover concentric planets. Clearly, Oedipa could not speculate quite so thoroughly if she were simply observing the sailor in a bad state of mind. The narrator, therefore, is assuming some sort of unstated power of observation that he either attributes to Oedipa indirectly, or maintains himself, as an unnamed force in the narrative.

The dreamlike state of mind that Pynchon so gloriously describes in this paragraph, does not necessarily imply Oedipa’s own conception of the situation. As the narrator describes the strange transition from reality to surrealism, “flinders of luminescent gods glimpsed among the wallpaper’s stained foliage, candlestubs lit to rotate in the air over him,” the reader understands that Oedipa cannot possibly see the sailor’s own dreams unless she is crafting all of the images of light from her own conception. Pynchon expertly links Oedipa’s subconscious being with the omnipotent aspect of the narrator, so the reader maintains a sense of trust with both the character and her narrator. Intimate with his characters, the narrator appears to overwhelm them here, drawing a picture of gods among the wallpaper, candles dangling freely above the head of the man as he dreams. The reader can observe a dramatic shift from the mundane detail of life to the outrageous happenings of a dream – a dream that almost coincides with reality, due to its narration and association with the “real” character of Oedipa. Moreover, Oedipa is immediately brought back into the picture by her link to the real world, here described as the mattress. As the candle light “prefigures” the cigarette that would one day light the mattress on fire, Oedipa sees death and dreaming combine themselves into a fateful display of the future. Her vision of the man, one day dying on his mattress after lighting himself on fire with Pynchon’s disturbing description of a sort of funeral pyre or burning effigy, is wrought with a dirty reality again, bringing the reader down from the existential pedestal into the realm of “a mattress that could keep vestiges of every nightmare sweat, helpless overflowing bladder, viciously, tearfully consummated wet dream.” Pynchon’s technique of switching the reader’s sentiments from the surreal to the utterly realistic, cause the narrator to maintain a sense of legitimacy. If he was always flying high among the “concentric planets” and broader concepts of life, then the readers would potentially lose their feeling of narrator reliability.

After the “insatiable suffering of a mattress” strikes both the reader and Oedipa as a larger concept that immediately graspable, the narrative returns again to a basic emotional stance: Oedipa sits on the steps of the apartment and takes the weeping, hopeless man in her arms. Pynchon, wrenching the heart strings of his readers by the simple narration of this scene, places them back into a realistic situation – one where empathy is the currency rather than high, philosophical ideas. A dialogue ensues with another member of the apartment, and Oedipa aids her weeping charge upstairs with the narrator prompting the concept that she views him as a child. Once in the sailor’s room, the reader receives the usual barrage of material detail (“a picture of a saint, a couple of religious tracts, a rug, a chair”) and then a second tier of thought – Oedipa’s fantasy that she could bring the landlord of the proverbial tenement to court, buy the sailor a new suit of clothes and send him to Fresno in search of his wife. The narrator creates an interesting combination of Oedipa’s fantasy and the blatant reality for the reader to interpret in much the same way as the previous scene where the reader doesn’t have as much of a grasp on whether the narrator created prolific thoughts in the name of Oedipa’s character or under the auspices of his own agenda. The reader received an initial clue from the tattoo of the man and then again at this point with the tiny man-symbol in the corner of the sailor’s stamp. The narrator continues the twists and progressions of the plot with these tiny textual pieces of evidence; however, after another stint with dialogue, the reader falls unsuspectingly into the midst of an incredible twist in narration that goes far beyond the simple agency of Oedipa.

The narrator’s views of the mattress somewhat overwhelm Oedipa’s own views of an image of a “Viking’s funeral,” as she imagines the mattress going up in flames with all the memories attached. Within, she sees: “the stored, coded years of uselessness, early death, self-harrowing, the sure decay of hope, the set of all men who had slept on it, whatever their lives had been, would truly cease to be, forever, when the mattress burned.” The reader does not know whether to decipher these philosophical terms at Oedipa’s level or another tier of meaning – the narrator’s. The narrator uses the pronouns “she” and “her” continuously throughout this paragraph, but once again, the narrator bears the responsibility of his overpowering intellectuality. As Oedipa ponders the case of the old man, a certain heightened sense of the narrator appears as the “metaphor” for delirium tremens is discussed. The narrator calls it the “trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s plowshare,” a hearkening back to the earlier paragraph where plowing was initially referred to in a metaphysical sense. As the narrator in lieu of Oedipa attempts to explain his conception of DT’s – a disorder that goes far beyond its simple medical definition under his terms – he sees “the act of metaphor then was a thrust at truth and a lie, depending where you were: inside, safe, or outside, lost.” As the scene continues, the reader is caught between the high-minded idea of a metaphor for life, death, truth and lying and Oedipa’s own consternation at watching the situation magnify in her own mind. Here lies the crux of Pynchon’s narrative style: Oedipa maintains a sense of agency in the eyes of the reader but also tends to take a step back as the narrator unleashes his own, unnamed sentiments and beliefs on the reader. Though Oedipa may feel and understand the poignant metaphor of the mattress and the DT’s, the narrator truly maps the meaning for the reader in a harrowing, yet enlightening, manner. At this point, the reader needs to chose whether the narrator or Oedipa or himself is “inside, safe, or outside, lost.” Pynchon, rather than simply telling the story, offers up a challenge, through the character of Oedipa, for the defenseless reader.

Read more
Order Creative Sample Now
Choose type of discipline
Choose academic level
  • High school
  • College
  • University
  • Masters
  • PhD
Deadline

Page count
1 pages
$ 10

Price