The Crying of Lot 49 (Perennial Classics)

ISBN: 0060931671
ISBN 13: 9780060931674
By: Thomas Pynchon

Check Price Now

Genres

1001 Books American American Literature Classics Favorites Fiction Literature Novels Postmodern To Read

About this book

The highly original satire about Oedipa Maas, a woman who finds herself enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy, meets some extremely interesting characters, and attains a not inconsiderable amount of self knowledge.

Reader's Thoughts

Ashley

This book epitomizes exactly what bothers me about postmodernists. You could spend your life decoding all the images and symbols and patterns and names and places and endless conspiracy theories that Pynchon has so densely packed into only one hundred and fifty pages; you could think and think and ask yourself "What's real?" to infinity; you could do that, sure, but all that effort would essentially be pointless, because in the end, none of it means anything, because there is no meaning but what we decide is the meaning, so why even bother in the first place. I guess if you're interested in that sort of thing -- endless questioning, never any resolution -- than this book is for you. With that said, however, I enjoyed the book. Why? Because Pynchon is a master word-smith. If I could construct a sentence like this guy, I'd be set for life. [3.5 stars, really]

Juliana

Ok, so I didn't actually read this book, but I did try. It sounded cool from the description, and I've often come across references to it. Amazon.com recommended it to me, and I tend to agree with their recommendations. I generally give a book about 50 pages to hook me, and this book just irritated me more and more as I went along. I found the "ironic" wordplay more annoying than funny. Some of the characters seemed like they had potential, but not enough for me to care. I think I got to page 60 or 70 and decided that it just wasn't worth my time.

Arjun Ravichandran

What a mindfuck of a book. There is no other way to describe it. Is this even a novel, or some weird ostrich-like burrowing into language and reality? I heard of Pynchon when completed Ulysses and apparently his magnum opus (Gravity's Rainbow) is very like Ulysses in its sheer density of narrative. Before embarking on yet another torturous, soul-bending literary quest so soon after my bout with Joyce, I figured that I would try one of Pynchon's more 'conventional' works. 'Conventional' here simply means that there is some kind of a plot (a housewife named, of all things, Oedipa Maas, who discovers a global centuries-old conspiracy being two rival postal carriers) which turns out to be a non-plot (the novel is structured like a detective story, but instead of gullible Oedipa finding clues upon clues to reveal the mystery, her progress reveals simply more and more blankness, more and more leads without an answer).Hidden within the folds of this postmodern 'shaping' of our non-reality (really, there is no other way to describe it) lies some of the most interesting and beautiful sentences I've read. I've rapidly become a fan of Pynchon's writing ; you can tell that every sentence is so finely-crafted, so painstakingly and meticulously planned. And they are so convoluted, cramming clause after clause separated by comma after comma ; very often I had to read one line several times, not only because it was so elaborately constructed, but also because of the sheer beauty of the fractured meaning Pynchon crams into it. Take this line, for example : 'She remembered drifters she had listened to, Americans speaking their language carefully, scholarly, as if they were in exile from somewhere else invisible yet congruent with the land she lived in; and walkers along the roads at night, zooming in and out of your headlights without looking up, too far from any town to have a real destination. And the voices before and after the dead man's that had phoned at random during the darkest slowest hours, searching ceaseless among the dial's ten million possibilities for that magical Other who would reveal herself out of the roar of relays monotone litanies of insult, filth, fantasy love, whose brute repetition must someday call into being the trigger of the unnamable act, the recognition, the Word.' So, what is the novel about? No idea. But the book is intoxicating, and I mean that quite literally ; I felt my unconscious being tickled both while reading it and after putting it down.

mary

so imagine you're browsing through a bookstore on a lazy saturday afternoon. you stop in the pynchon section, and there, out of the corner of your eye, you see this *guy* and he's checking you out. you think, wow! this is one for the movies! does this actually happen? (this is a sexually oriented biased review, sorry)you proceed to chat, laughing at the length of gravity's rainbow. and you go next door with your new books to grab a cup of coffee, which turns into dinner, whuch turns in to crepes at this great little shop, which turns into a long walk, which turns into a bottle of syrah in your living room over twelve hours later.and you're so compelled. the conversation is amazing, he's SO dynamic, he tells good stories even though it has the tendency to be stream of consciousness, he's convoluted and mysterious and you never want this night to end. he makes random allusions that you always pretend to recognize but don't really understand. he draws random doodles on scraps of paper, napkins, bathroom walls, foreheads of strangers, anywhere he can get his point across. you can't get out of your mind how brilliant this guy must be and how lucky you are to have him, in all his overeducated and hypnotic glory, sitting on your couch. and with all the wine in your head, the evening takes a turn for the intimate. it gets a much heavier that you would ever expect for a first encounter like this, especially because you just met this guy (scandalous!!!) but you feel so wrapped up in his world that you just go along with it and enjoy. and trust me, you do enjoy it. and right as your about to come to the full, uh, realization of your enjoyment, he says, "oh god!" and stops and looks at you awkwardly. and you recognize at that moment that the enjoyment is um, bust, and you will never have that full realization. that's what reading this book is like. but trust me, the encounter is well worth it.

Jeremy

I've never read Pynchon before, but his style, those winding, iridescent sentences seem like an important reference point for a lot of American authors who come after him, people like Don Delillo, Donald Barthelme, David Foster-Wallace, Johnathan Franzen, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson etc. He's able to synthesize obscurant historical references, pop culture, conspiratorial paranoia and drug use into this funky, swirling melange. It would almost be a kind of metaphysics, if it wasn't so kooky and consistently playful. Reading this, it feels like someone peeling off the surface of postwar American life, showing you this messy, bizarre, occasionally terrifying blend of forces that might have it in for you, or might just be yanking your chain. Or maybe both.

Dusty Myers

I'm if anything a fussy writer. The sort of guy who prefers to come up with excuses why all the factors surrounding the writing of some story or chapter aren't quite right, rather than actually sit down and let the thing get written anyway. I like to worry sentences, and I like to worry about sentences that sound like other sentences I've read so many times before. "She got out of the car and looked searchingly up at the sky." There's some piece in me that could never be satisfied with that sitting on the page.For a while I thought this was big of me. I thought it meant I cared foremost about language. And maybe in the tiny, fussy domain of the short story it's the sort of thing readers won't like to be given, but in a novel such concern is a little ridiculous. Thinking hard about the ways I read novels I know that if everything's chugging along smoothly and I'm at full engagement with the story when I come across such a sentence all I do is register the information it gives me. Its blandness doesn't stop me in my tracks. And so there's room in novels for these sentences. James called novels shaggy beasts; finessing every god damn line will get nobody anywhere.Oh, I imagine Pynchon has such sentences in this novel, but what I want to talk about are the other ones, the ones that won't probably ever get written again. Lots of the best sentences in this book spill down their pages. Some of them are "attainable," so to speak, in the challenge I made with myself as I read the book to assess my own ability to craft the sentences he already did. Ones like this one, where you just accumulate well observed details, aren't really that hard to write: "She thought of other, immobilized freight cars, where the kids sat on the floor planking and sang back, happy as fat, whatever came over the mother's pocket radio; of other squatters who stretched canvas for lean-tos behind smiling billboards along all the highways, or slept in junkyards in the stripped shells of wrecked Plymouths, or even, daring, spent the night up some pole in a lineman's tent like caterpillars, swung among a web of telephone wires, living in the very copper rigging and secular miracle of communication, untroubled by the dumb voltages flickering their miles, the night long, in the thousands of unheard messages (149)."Do-able, right? Well, maybe not "planking" or "swung". Those words would never occur to me in the places they fall. But then look at these, just a page later: "Perhaps she'd be hounded someday as far as joining Tristero itself, if it existed, in its twilight, its aloofness, its waiting. The waiting above all; if not for another set of possibilities to replace those that had conditioned the land to accept any San Narciso among its most tender flesh without a reflex or cry, then at least, at the very least, waiting for a symmetry of choices to break down, to go skew. She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit, to be avoided; and how had it ever happened here, with the chances once so good for diversity? For now it was like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would be either a transcendent meaning, or only the earth (15)."The former bit takes merely a good eye, perhaps some experience, and a decent way with words, all of which can be picked up in a short number of years. The latter, though, takes some new kind of mind all together. A nimble, fluid mind, that can make leaps of association that all sort of swell around one another.Another thing that makes this book so rad is its subject: postal conspiracy. So nice to read something new. It's always very en vogue to write stories about "weird" types. For lots of uninspired writers with little imagination, weird gets translated into the noble rural poor. (I read at least 15 of these stories today for the lit-mag I screen for.) For others, and often for me, it translates to people with nontraditional jobs, the sorts of careers no one goes to school for.Here the strangeness of philatelists, underground postmasters, and Jacobean community theatre folk all seems very closely strange, somehow. Maybe this whole entry is longhand for saying I can't find a way to call this book quirky. Is this only because of its age?

Manny

"So, what do you think it's about?" she asked, as she took a preliminary sip from her cocktail. "Entropy, to start with," he replied. "If only he'd known the Holographic Principle. It follows from thermodynamic calculations that the information content of a black hole is proportional to the square of its radius, not the cube, and the Universe can reasonably be thought of as a black hole. Hence all its information is really on its surface, and the interior is a low-energy illusion. Wouldn't you say that the book is rather like that too?"The rest of this review is in my book What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations

Gary

Words can't express this book....it's a novella....it's short.....it's extremely "dense" as my son described it. I'd had a copy for years,and he raved,and I just read it. With that to go on....read it.....I really don't want to discuss it much, because it just needs to be read,and saying much about it, since it's so short,would be all spoilers. Trust me on this one.....;-)

matt

Surprised I haven't commented on this one yet. Read it in undergrad, a perfect place for doing so, in a philosophy and literature class. It's a wonderful picaresque, this one. Pynchon gets a lot of probing social satire, a bit of metaphysical weight, and scrambles up his erudition with his mischeif to produce something darting, fast, occasionally eerie, and sort of matter-of-factly absurd. Everybody knows how the standard for a classic is a book which everyone talks about and no one reads. Pynchon's sort of like that, at least in terms of my exposure to him. this is not to slag him or the general reading public- his prose is a doozy. He knows everything, sees through everything, and has a heart and a pelvis which is constantly in motion. One thing I enjoy about his work (the little I really know about it, having been but here and a couple other places at most) is the fact that even though he's paranoically learned and insightful he's still sort of a regular dude- likes the rock and/or the roll, goofy jokes, B- grade culture, enjoys a bit of herbal or chemical supplements now and again. He's no prude, even as his sort of latent anarchism leads him to a near-nihilistic p.o.v: is there conspiracy? Or chaos? Lot 49 is an excellent fun, brightly lit, hallucinogenically realized entrance point into the mad funhouse of his mind, which is I think as good a place as any to begin to delve into the madness and dark beauty of the 20th Century consciousness. this might be the intro ticket- where the big balloon goes next is entirely up to you.

Alex

So, here we have The Da Vinci Code as written by someone with self-awareness. And if that made you want to read this, you shouldn't. I liked this! I thought it was fun, and funny. I have only the barest sense of what it's about.I get the conspiracy, I think. We have an underground, rebel mail system. As best I can figure, we're talking about protest here: the way the counterculture communicates and has always communicated, quietly, throughout history. I kept thinking about Howard Zinn as I was reading about this: he was writing the same book, except Zinn (years later) was actually writing it.I was mystified about the names, though. They must mean something! One doesn't name one's protagonist after Oedipus for nothing. When you reference Oedipus, you mean someone who fucked his mom and killed his dad. Here the gender roles are reversed, so...okay, if we take Inverarity as her father figure, she did fuck him. I see no mother figure here, though - unless it's herself; at various times she plays mother, student, granddaughter. She inhabits different roles as they suit her investigation. But she certainly doesn't kill herself. So...I've confused myself.And while we're at it, why name the stamp collector Genghis Cohen, a Jewish Genghis Khan? There's clearly a subtheme about Jews here (see: her shrink), but I can't put all that together either.Cryng is obsessed with connections. As Amy Hungerford showed me, Oedipa is able to connect with different people in different ways. I noticed the recurrence of the word "circuit," as in mental circuits, or the way a city at night resembles a circuit board. Beautiful image, Pynchon.And there are some wonderful images here. "Windows gagged each with its air conditioner" is one I underlined. What a terrific thing to say.It's about faith, too: "Are you there, little fellow, Oedipa asked the Demon, or is Nefastis putting me on. Unless a piston moved, she'd never know." If you haven't read the book you don't know what the scene is, but you might get the idea. Such is faith: unless a piston moves, you never know.It loses steam after the hallucinatory all-nighter she pulls around 2/3 through, for me. She seems to grow afraid of the mystery, and I grow bored because where are my answers? (view spoiler)[It's fine for Pynchon to leave the mystery bidder unidentified - this is a book about mystery and it's cool to end on one - but the bit leading up to that final unreveal is unsatisfying from a reading point of view; it feels like Pynchon lost interest, to me. He sets up these wonderful threads, and I don't expect him to pull them together, but I expect to feel that there's a pull, and I didn't. (hide spoiler)]It's a cool book, though. Fun to read; complicated enough to write a thesis about; there's even a truly weird sex scene. I dig it, man.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

Jonathan

The description of this book is: "The highly original satire about Oedipa Maas, a woman who finds herself enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy, meets some extremely interesting characters, and attains a not-inconsiderable amount of self-knowledge." A better description would be: "The highly incomprehensible satire about Oedipa Maas, a woman who finds herself enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy the reader will never have a chance of understanding, meets some extremely dull characters whose behavior makes no sense, and supposedly attains a not-inconsiderable amount of self-knowledge, though the reader will never be able to know what this self-knowledge is, because the reader won't understand why she ever behaves the way she does."Imagine a book in which you can't understand what the hell any of the characters are thinking. You don't know who the characters are, they are rarely developed (or, if so, the developments are so sudden that it's almost nonsensical), you don't know why they are going to the places they're going to, you don't know why this character is fucking that character--none of it makes any sense. The narrator never tells you anything that'll give you an idea of why he's telling his story the way he is. Further imagine that, adding to the confusion, there are no line breaks between completely different scenes; so suddenly they'll be in a completely different time and place and unless you're paying the closest of attention, you won't notice it. It's filled with unfunny, uncreative puns, the "plot" (if there is one) makes little sense--rarely is it clear if the scene you're reading has any significance. Usually, the significance is symbolic at best. Characters are introduced, then dropped, and you'll never know why their behavior was so nonsensical. It's like reading a book in which every character is on drugs.After trying to read Virginia Woolf's awful "Mrs. Dalloway" (for the same class), I never thought I'd be more confused by a book. This book proved me wrong. If you're a fan of that, you may enjoy this. Myself, I find modernism unbearable.I'll admit that there are some mildly funny parts, and I'm sure that a fan of this book will simply tell me that I'm "not getting it," or that I'm not reading carefully enough. That may be true, but I shouldn't have to reread every fucking page of this book five or six times to understand what the fuck is going on or why any characters are behaving the way they do. If I could just understand the characters, it would make all the difference. But none of the characters in this book make any freaking sense!I couldn't believe it when I read, in another review, that this is one of Pynchon's more "approachable" books.Maybe I'll edit/update this when I'm done reading the book, if my views change. I doubt they will.

Carolyn

Okay, so it's postmodern. I respect that. That's great, fine- fine. Ranked one of the best novels ever written... Got it. So I hesitate when I say I don't like it. Although it's Pynchon's shortest and most accessible work, it's a labor intensive read, and I admit, I had to keep re-reading passages for cohesion and perspective. In the end I felt distracted by Pynchon's intentions. He loads each sentence with meaning (sometimes dated, some references are relics of the Beatles era), and strangles my potential appreciation by having each word (practically) be excessively coded, layered, and distorted by its own signifiers. The novel dances on the edge of a clever sometimes seemingly straightforward story, and then sadly falls into an an overbearing muddle of disjointedness. From the reviews I've read, it's wonderful book. And I admit, certain pages, certain lines are damn close to poetic. The ending classically dark and unresolved. So I suppose the story itself deserves another couple billion reads for me to appreciate, and frankly, I don't have the desire or will for it. The book repels me, but I'll keep it for a later.

Oscar

¡Una locura!¡Una tomadura de pelo! Estas, y otras, son las expresiones que se te pasan por la cabeza mientras lees esta delirante novela de Pynchon. Mientras vas leyéndola, no puedes dar crédito a lo que te está contando ni a los personajes que ta va presentando. Pero, como si de un sumidero se tratase, o de un maelström, no puedes evitar quedar atrapado en su brillante e inteligente historia.De inicio los nombres son curiosos, Edipa, su marido Wendel "Mucho" Maas, el doctor Hilarius, la empresa Yoyodine, Gengis Cohen, el abogado Metzger... Pero vayamos al principio de todo, cuando Edipa Maas recibe una carta en la que se le notifica su nombramiento como albacea de la herencia del difunto Pierce Inverarity, un ricachón con el que estuvo liada hace un tiempo. Ni corta ni perezosa, Edipa se irá camino de San Narciso para encontrarse con el consejero Metzger, coadjutor junto a ella del testamento de Inverarity. Tras el encuentro en un bar con un tipo llamado Mike Falopio, miembro de la Sociedad Peter el Grasiento, Edipa descubrirá en los servicios un curioso mensaje junto a un no menos curioso dibujo. Y como si de una bola de nieve que baja por la ladera de una montaña se tratase que se va haciendo más y más grande, todo se le irá complicando a la buena de Edipa, que, por cierto, está bajo un tratamiento de pastillas recomendado por su psiquiatra, el doctor Hilarius. El viaje hilarante de Edipa no ha hecho más que comenzar, y en él se encontrará con todo tipo de historias, donde la casualidad no existe, porque éstas parecen venir a su encuentro por sí solas. Por esto mismo, Edipa entrará en una suerte de estado paranoico, donde parece que todos quieren jugársela.La inteligencia y erudición de Pynchon es obvia. Es capaz de crear una película de aventuras y submarinos, una obra de teatro jacobita, un máquina capaz de modificar la física termodinámica jugando con la entropía, una conspiración secreta contra el correo convencional, etcétera, etcétera, y todo ello en menos de doscientas páginas. Algunas escenas son un delirio absoluto, pero hay que tener en cuenta que la novela se escribió en los años 60, cuando la psicodelia estaba de moda. No quiero pensar lo que es capaz (lo que ya ha hecho) en más de mil páginas.'La subasta del lote 49' es mi primer acercamiento al mundo de Thomas Pynchon, y he quedado fascinado.

Ian Paganus

Appetite for DeconstructionMost readers approach a complex novel, like a scientist approaches the world or a detective approaches a crime - with an appetite for knowledge and understanding, and a methodology designed to satiate their appetite.“The Crying of Lot 49” (“TCL49”) presents a challenge to this type of quest for two reasons.One, it suggests that not everything is knowable and we should get used to it.Second, the novel itself fictionalizes a quest which potentially fails to allow the female protagonist, Oedipa Maas, to understand the situation confronting her.Arguably, Pynchon serves up a work that reveals more about method than it does about the subject matter of the quest, the world around us.Who Dunnit?If this were a who-dunnit, we don’t end up learning who dunnit.It is all hunt and no catch.If we are seeking the metaphysical truth, we do not find it.The truth might even have escaped or got away.It might never have been there in the first place.Or there might not be something as simple as the truth.To this extent, “TCL49” might be a novel about futility, rather than success.Get It?Inevitably, this affects the way any review approaches the novel.It is not simply a matter of whether the reviewer “got it” and conveys this to their readers.Even if you think you got it, there is no guarantee that your understanding reflects what Pynchon intended (behind the scenes).You could be wrong. You might even be making the very mistake that “TCL49” might be trying to caution us against.Pierce Inverarity’s WillThe novel commences with Oedipa learning that she has been appointed Co-Executor of the Estate of California real estate mogul and ex-lover, Pierce Inverarity.An Executor is a person who inherits the assets and liabilities of a person (the Testator) on their death and has to distribute the net assets of their Estate (their "Legacy") to the Beneficiaries identified in the Testator’s Will (their “Last Will and Testament”).Often, people only find out that they have been appointed an Executor when the Testator has died and their Will has been located.However, it is a good idea to let somebody know during your lifetime that you wish to appoint them as your Executor, because they might not wish to accept the burden after your death.It is implied in “TCL49” that Pierce has actually died (the legal letter says that he died “back in the spring”), but it does not automatically follow from learning about your appointment that the Testator has died.This is My Last Will and TestamentA Will is literally an expression of your intentions (your will) with respect to your property. You give instructions or directions to your Executor.It is often called a Testament, the etymology of which is related to the Ten Commandments or Testimony issued by God.In a very loose metaphorical way, the novel sets up Pierce’s Will as the Will of God, something which Oedipa is and feels compelled to obey.There is a potential clue in her reaction to the legal letter:"Oedipa stood in the living room, stared at by the greenish dead eye of the TV tube, spoke the name of God, tried to feel as drunk as possible."Whether or not Pierce might be symbolic of God, Oedipa’s actions in the novel are dictated and driven by his Will.Pierce Inverarity’s NamePierce’s name is also pregnant with implication, if not necessarily definitive meaning.The noun “arity” means the number of arguments a function or operation can take; in logic, it determines the number of inferences that may be deduced from a particular fact.“Verarity” is not a word in its own right, but it is quite close to “veracity”, which has lead some commentators to infer that it suggests a concern with the truth.When you add the prefix “in-“ (as a negative) to it, the word could be concerned with the absence of truth.When you add the first name, Pierce, to the equation, some have suggested that it implies the piercing of the truth (or untruths).Alternatively, the prefix “in-” might mean “into” which might imply the piercing or penetration of the truth.There are also suggestions that “Inver” might be a pun on the word ”infer” or the process of inference.Sign of the TimesI haven’t seen any references to the American philosopher Charles S. Peirce (different spelling) who made an enormous contribution to the field of semiotics (the study of signs and sign processes).If there is any link, then Pierce’s full name might imply “unreliable or untruthful signs”.Charles S. Peirce also recognised that logical operations could be carried out by electrical switching circuits (as long ago as 1886).This concept is the foundation of “logic gates” and digital computers (of which, more later):http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logic_gate”All Manner of Revelations”When Oedipa discovers her obligations as Executor, she is initially skeptical:" ‘…aren't you even interested?’‘In what?’‘In what you might find out.’ 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."Originally Oedipa saw herself as a pensive Rapunzel-like figure, waiting for someone to ask her, in the sixties, to “let down her hair”.Pierce arrives, but is not quite what she is looking for. Despite a romantic holiday in Mexico, she remains in her tower:"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. “Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey. “If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?"The Tristero SystemOedipa’s appointment as Executor is the beginning of a series of revelations (or, in the Biblical sense, Revelations) that “end her encapsulation in her tower”.The trigger for these revelations is Pierce’s stamp collection:"… his substitute often for her - thousands of little colored windows into deep vistas of space and time… She had never seen the fascination."The stamps turn out to be “forgeries”, postage stamps used not by the official postal service, but by an underground rival or illegitimate shadow called “Tristero”.No sooner does Oedipa learn of the existence of Tristero, then she starts to find evidence that it still exists on the streets of California: its symbol is a muted post horn, adding a mute to the horn of its traditional private enterprise rival in nineteenth century Europe, Thurn and Taxis.Her quest is to learn the significance of Tristero and how much Pierce knew about it.“W.A.S.T.E.”Tristero’s modern American manifestation is “W.A.S.T.E.”, which we eventually learn stands for “We Await Silent Tristero's Empire”.It delivers correspondence between various disaffected underground, alternative and countercultural groups, bohemians, hippies, anarchists, revolutionaries, non-conformists, protesters, students, geeks, artists, technologists and inventors, all of whom wish to communicate with each other without government knowledge or interference.The postal system confers privacy, confidentiality on their plots and plans.Its couriers wear black, the colour of anarchy.Yet, from the point of view of Tristero, it is not the content of the correspondence that matters, it is its delivery.It’s almost as if these companies are early proof that the medium is more important than the message.All postal systems grew from early attempts to guarantee safe passage of diplomatic correspondence between different States and Rulers in Europe.Indeed, Tristero’s rival, Thurn and Taxis, was an actual postal service and is still an extremely wealthy family in Germany.A World of SilenceSilence is important to any non-conformist or underground movement, not only from the point of secrecy, but in the sense that Dr. Winston O'Boogie (A.K.A. John Lennon) subsequently maintained that, “A conspiracy of silence speaks louder than words”.It is the desire for silence that unites the underground in opposition to the Government and the mainstream political culture:"For here were God knew how many citizens, deliberately choosing not to communicate by U. S. Mail. "It was not an act of treason, nor possibly even of defiance. But it was a calculated withdrawal, from the life of the Republic, from its machinery. "Whatever else was being denied them out of hate, indifference to the power of their vote, loopholes, simple ignorance, this withdrawal was their own, un-publicized, private. "Since they could not have withdrawn into a vacuum (could they?), there had to exist the separate, silent, unsuspected world."[Note the idiomatic but ambiguous use of the expression “God knows how many”, as if God or Tristero or Pierce did actually know how many.]From Aloof Tower to UndergroundOedipa is a relatively middle class, middle aged woman, who married a used car salesman and DJ for a radio station called KCUF, after her affair with Pierce.Her quest drags her from her tower and exposes her to another side of life, just as life in America (well, Berkeley, San Francisco) was starting to get interesting (1966).She is a stranger in a strange land, having grown up and been educated during the conservative, Cold War 50’s:"...she had undergone her own educating at a time of nerves, blandness and retreat among not only her fellow students but also most of the visible structure around and ahead of them, this having been a national reflex to certain pathologies in high places only death had had the power to cure, and this Berkeley was like no somnolent Siwash out of her own past at all, but more akin to those Far Eastern or Latin American universities you read about, those autonomous culture media where the most beloved of folklores may be brought into doubt, cataclysmic of dissents voiced, suicidal of commitments chosen, the sort that bring governments down."While Oedipa is ostensibly trying to get to the bottom of Tristero, she is actually going on a journey of self-discovery.The narrative forces her down from her tower of withdrawal to street-level engagement and then ultimately into the underground.Bit by bit, she ceases to define herself in terms of her husband or Pierce, but in terms of her own identity.Like the symbol of Tristero, she has been silenced, her horn has been muted, she has had to stand by her man and be secondary.Her adventure frees her from the chains of middle class conformity.It is a preparation for a new life of autonomy.Scientific MethodOedipa’s methodology is that of a flawed scientist or detective.She uses logic to make sense of what she perceives.She constantly asks the question “why?”She builds and applies logical systems where she processes information in a simplistic binary "either-or", "zero or one" fashion (pre-empting computers), according to whether it proves a point or disproves it.She applies the “Law of the Excluded Middle”: "Everything must either be or not be." (Or the Law of Noncontradiction: "Nothing can both be and not be.")She learns things and processes them as best she can.But she misses opportunities and fails to investigate clues she ought to. She is human. She is fallible.She reads old books with different typesetting and sees “y’s where i’s should’ve been”.“I can’t read this,” she says.So she learns the limits of logic. And she learns the appeal of nonconformity and freedom and communication.Despite the masculine nature of the metaphor, she removes the mute from her horn. The Crying of Lot 49The eponymous Crying of Lot 49 is the auction of the forged Tristero stamps that takes place in the last pages of the novel.Oedipa discovers that a major bidder (possibly associated with Tristero) has decided to attend the auction personally, rather than bid remotely “by the book”.The novel ends with the anticipation of Oedipa and the reader discovering the identity of the bidder for the stamps.Is it Tristero? Is it even Pierce?Pynchon deprives us of this revelation.This has frustrated many readers. However, it suggests that this was not the most important revelation that was happening in the novel.The real revelation is Oedipa’s discovery of herself. She sees “I” where previously she has seen only “why”.At the same time, she discovers America and its diversity, which is far greater than the white bread community who are content with the U.S. Mail:"She had dedicated herself, weeks ago, to making sense of what Inverarity had left behind, never suspecting that the legacy was America."Ultimately, it is Pierce’s and Pynchon’s will that the novel and her journey end this way.

Adam

A slapstick parody/send-up, resembling Kafka meets the Marx Brothers, of sixties culture; targeting psychology, the military/industrial complex, right wing whackos, movies, literature, and views of reality and history. One of Pynchon’s lightest and most inconsequential works (though not the worst which is Vineland); and his most dated (it just screams “written in the sixties). The fun lies in digging through his wealth of allusions and references (Jacobean drama, psychology, The Beatles, science, Lolita) and in whether or not you believe the central conspiracy is all in Oedipa Mass’s head.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *