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Essay/Term paper: Crying of lot 49

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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The philosophy behind all Pynchon novels lies in the synthesis of
philosophers and modern physicists. Ludwig Wittgenstein viewed the world
as a "totality of facts, not of things."1 This idea can be combined with a
physicist's view of the world as a clos ed system that tends towards
chaos. Pynchon asserts that the measure of the world is its entropy.2 He
extends this metaphor to his fictional world. He envelops the reader,
through various means, within the system of The Crying of Lot 49.

Pynchon designed The Crying of Lot 49 so that there would be two levels of
observation: that of the characters such as our own Oedipa Maas, whose
world is limited to the text, and that of the reader, who looks at the
world from outside it but who is also
affected by his relationship to that world.3 Both the reader and the
characters have the same problems observing the chaos around them. The
protagonist in The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Mass, like Pynchon's audience,
is forced to either involve herself i n the deciphering of clues or not
participate at all.4

Oedipa's purpose, besides executing a will, is finding meaning in a life
dominated by assaults on people's perceptions through drugs, sex and
television. She is forced out of her complacent housewife lifestyle of
tupperware parties and Muzak into a chao tic system beyond her
capabilities to understand. Images and facts are constantly spit forth.
Oedipa's role is that of Maxwell's Demon: to sort useful facts from
useless ones. The reader's role is also one of interpreting countless
symbols and metaphor s to arrive at a meaning. Each reader unravels a
different meaning. Unfortunately, Maxwell's Demon can only apply to a
closed system. Pynchon's fictional system is constantly expanding to
include more and more aspects of contemporary America.5 Therefo re, the
reader and Oedipa are inefficient sorters. Both are left at a panicky
state of confusion, or paranoia.

Paranoia unites the reader and Oedipa. If we define "paranoia" not as a
mental aberration but as a tendency to find meaning in symbols whether the
meanings exist or not, we can clearly see the similarity between Oedipa
and us. Paranoids do not see plot s here and there in history; they see a
conspiracy as the driving force behind all historical events.

At the climax of the novel, Oedipa sees the muted post horn everywhere she
goes. Could she simply be delusional, as most witnesses to her think, or
is there actually a conspiracy involving the Trystero? As Oedipa delves
into the Trystero's history and P ierce's estate, one of four
possibilities arises: "...either she has indeed stumbled onto a secret
organization having objective, historical existence ...; or she is
hallucinating it by projecting a pattern onto various signs only randomly
associated; or
she is the victim of a hoax...; or she is hallucinating such a hoax..."6
The tension among all four possibilities leads to Oedipa becoming
increasing more paranoid as the novel progresses.

One of the most effective literary techniques Pynchon uses to involve the
reader in his fictional world is his use of details.7 The explicit history
of Thurn and Taxis serves to overburden the reader with names and places
that on the surface have no rela tion to the story at hand. The purpose
of these details is to overlap the reader's world with the fictional one.
Pynchon flirts with the reader. He allows the reader to see more of his
world than any of his other characters can. Pynchon wants to lure the
reader into the character's search for meaning.

Furthermore, the alternations of fact with fiction, such as the
description of the historical basis of the Peter Pinguid Society8, confuse
the reader to such an extent that he is forced to rely upon Oedipa to
decipher reality from illusion. Pynchon even denies the reader and Oedipa
time to sort out the information by moving rapidly to the next event.

The blending of authenticity with fiction introduces an epistemological
aspect to Pynchon's work. Much of The Crying of Lot 49 tackles the
historical evidence for the Trystero. Scholars have found that the actual
history of the Trystero, a Renaissance p ostal system, was shrouded in
mystery. It is also entirely possible that GIs were buried underneath a
lake after W.W.II. Why is it not possible that their bones were used for
cigarette filter? Pynchon wants the reader to recognize and plunge into
the sha ded area between fiction and reality. Pierce and Pynchon tell
Oedipa and the reader, respectively, that we don't know much for certain.
In Pynchon's comical world, our senses deceive us, ruling out an Empirical
solution to the epistemological question.
What seems rational really is not, making a Rationalist solution
unacceptable. By ruling out a basis for an epistemological interpretation
outside the text, Pynchon commands the audience to accept Oedipa as its

The mystery-story plot used in Lot 49 is the most obvious
reader-involvement technique. What is the Trystero? Who was Pierce
Inverarity? These basic questions are placed close to the novel's surface
to drive the reader to explore further, at the very l east. In fact, a
mystery novel is a very basic meta-novel. The reader construes a suspect
before the author reveals it to him. In our case, we think that events,
places and names connect, but we are never sure until Pynchon confirms it
for us, if at all.

There are many metaphors that describe the relationship between the author
and reader in Lot 49. The name Oedipa Maas evokes the famous Greek
riddle-solver Oedipus, whose quest to interpret the Delphic prophecies
leads to his downfall. Maas elicits the r eader to think of Newton's
laws, where Oedipa is acted upon by the gravity of her surroundings. An
object, once put in motion, as Oedipa is when she is named executrix of a
will, tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.
Pynchon give s us two options when presenting metaphors like the Oedipus
or Newtonian allusion: either they are patterns for interpreting the
meaning of Lot 49, or they are unclear, deceptive invitations for
interpretations, purposely made up by the author.10

The character that unites the respective quests of the reader and Oedipa
is Pierce Inverarity, Oedipa's dead ex-boyfriend. The objects that
Inverarity leaves behind at his death are clues to his identity. It is
the job of Oedipa to "bestow life on what had persisted, to try to be what
Driblette was, the dark machine in the center of the planetarium, to bring
the estate into pulsing stelliferous Meaning, all in a soaring dome around

To Oedipa, Pierce is a thought that could impose an order on the chaos of
clues around her. Pierce could make complicated networks out of nothing.
He alone created the chaos around Oedipa. Pynchon succeeds in embodying
Pierce Inverarity as a force with in the novel. Pierce was a "knight of
deliverance"12 who had "failed to free Oedipa Maas from the tower of her
own consciousness of the world."13 To put it in terms of paranoia,
Inverarity is the conspirator behind all events in the novel.

The author, Pynchon, parallels Pierce. Pynchon creates a web of events
that the reader must interpret. The reader is blanketed beneath a
"semiotic regime," a place where signs and symbols can be decoded in an
infinite number of ways.14

The most ingenious method of involving the reader in the novel in Lot 49
is the mock-Jacobean drama 'The Courier's Tragedy'. Pynchon compares
Oedipa witnessing the play to the reader apprehending the novel. For
example, Pynchon switches from Jacobean vo cabulary to modern phrases
("While a battle rages in the streets outside the palace, Pasquale is
locked up in his patrician hothouse, holding an orgy."15). This distances
the reader from the play, similar to Oedipa's role as a confused onlooker,
thereby giving Oedipa and us a false sense of security. We soon find
elements of 'The Courier's Tragedy' almost in all subsequent events of the

Pynchon, via Driblette, speaks to the reader: "You guys, you're like the
Puritans about the Bible. So hung up with words, words."16 This is not a
warning to the reader and Oedipa against interpretation. Instead, it is a
warning to the reader and Oedipa
of the addictive nature of their respective searches. Oedipa's search
for the original version of 'The Courier's Tragedy', which is obstructed
by her inability to separate her play from its author, editor or producer,
is an exaggerated metaphor of the r eader's troubles in making sense of
the novel.17

The above-mentioned metaphors and literary techniques are vehicles for
many other of Pynchon's themes. For our purposes, they serve to wed the
reader's quest for a literary meaning with Oedipa's quest for
self-discovery. As mentioned before, a major ele ment within the reader
and Oedipa's quest is paranoia. Paranoia pushes the reader through the
text. We are constantly led towards a conclusion, but then deceived. Our
inability to decipher symbols relates to our inability to increase the
communicative entropy of our world. Nevertheless, The Crying of Lot 49
succeeds in actively involving the reader within the text, a hallmark of
postmodern literature.

Duyfhuizen, Bernard. "Disrupting Story in The Crying of Lot 49," Mindful
Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon. Boston: Little,Brown, 1976. Hipkiss,
Robert M. The American Absurd. New York: University of Chicago Press,
1985. Johnston, John. "Paranoia as a Semiotic Regime in The Crying of Lot
49," New Essays on the Crying of Lot 49. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1991. Plater, William M. The Grim Phoenix. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1978. Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. St.
Louis: Harper & Row, 1966. Seed, David. The Fictional Labyrinths of
Thomas Pynchon. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988. Wittgenstein,
Ludwig. Tractus Logico-Philosophicus. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
1 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractus Logico-Philosophicus, p. 7.

2 William M. Plater, The Grim Phoenix (Indiana University Press, 1978), p. 2.
3 The Grim Phoenix, p. 12.

4 Bernard Duyfhuizen, "Disrupting Story in The Crying of Lot 49," Mindful Pleasures (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), p. 3.

5 John Johnston. "Paranoia as a Semiotic Regime in The Crying of Lot 49,"New Essays on the Crying of Lot 49 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 4.

6 "Paranoia", p. 4.

7 The Grim Phoenix, p. 15.

8 Crying of Lot 49, p. 49.

9 Robert Hipkiss, The American Absurd, (University of Chicago: New York), p. 90
10 Paranoia as a Semiotic Regime, p. 6.

11 Crying of Lot 49, p. 58.

12 Crying of Lot 49, p. 22
13 The Grim Phoenix, p. 26
14 Paranoia as a Semiotic Regime, p. 1
15 Crying of Lot 49, p. 69.

16 Crying of Lot 49, p. 79
17 David Seed, Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon (University of Iowa Press: Iowa City), p. 124.


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