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

The Government in The Crying of Lot 49 – Satire on Miscommunication and Complicated Relationships

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Crying of Lot 49

Thomas Pynchon’s novel, The Crying of Lot 49, presents the reader with a satire of miscommunications and the complexity of human relationships in our government, military, and industrial nation hidden behind the façade of a mystery novel. With the use of entropy, Pynchon is able to confirm that although human nature drives people to endeavor to take control of the universe, the more effort is put into this attempt, the more chaotic and unsystematic the world becomes. This is proven most effectively through Oedipa’s questioning of reality versus conspiracy further exemplifying the phenomenon of chaos, a strong theme throughout 1960s America.

First of all, a prevalent theme in the 1960s was sexual liberation. In the very beginning of the novel Oedipa sleeps with Metzger simply out of boredom with her marriage and the momentary need for erotic satisfaction. This represents the increasing awareness of women’s desires and the lessening of moral restraints upon sex in that time period.

Furthermore, LSD was an progressively more popular recreational drug and the hallucinations (or the fear of experiencing them) felt by Oedipa is prevalent throughout the use leading the reader to believe that she is either using drugs or simply having trouble maintaining her sanity , much in the way an acid user would in Pynchon’s 1960s experience. This familiarity with hallucinations represent the constant confusion faced by Oedipa as her mind creates situations that may seem real on the outside but are actually figments of her imagination. This illusion becomes real when, in Chapter 5, Oedipa discovers that her husband, Mucho, has been tripping on LSD and having flashbacks to his time working in the car lot.

Another symbol of the breakdown in communication are the letters in the novels. Generally letters represent a clear, direct form of communication but as the Tristero works, the letters are ultimately forced and meaningless, providing no additional information or aid to Oedipa. Maxwell’s demon, additionally, needs a higher, unattainable form of communication in order to operate, leaving it defunct.

In Oedipa’s search for truth and a better understanding of the American way, she discovers that the post-modern quest for knowledge, but ultimately realizes that “there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue…was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia.” Due to miscommunications, as well as the drug use predominant in sixties’ culture, Oedipa becomes isolated, losing touch with her loved ones and Pynchon is able to depict his surreal, and conspiracy filled America. Even the United States government in the novel, much like the government Pynchon experiences, can not impose an order on the world by way of controlling mail delivery. Underground groups continue to spring up in both cases, undermining the power of the government.

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

Page count
1 pages
$ 10

Price