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The Crying of Lot 49 (English Edition) Kindle-editie
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Pynchon reveals anti-heroine Oedipa Maas as an adulteress on the novel's first pages, executor of the wealthy estate of a recently deceased ex-lover, Pierce Inverarity (How great are these names, by the way? All of Pynchon's choices for character names in this book are hysterically funny). Her journey from there is hilarious, surprising at every turn, chock full of conspiracy theory and peppered with meaningless sex and sexual advances. Oedipa's obsession with the mystery she believes Inverarity left behind for her to solve, that of an underground mail service called the Trystero, speaks to the boredom Pynchon assumes for the American upper class of his day, the longing for a purpose and constant uncertainty as to whether that purpose really means anything at all.
Here are three quotes where I feel Pynchon writes very directly with regard to American life:
"`I came,' [Oedipa] said, `hoping you could talk me out of a 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.'" (page 113)
"You're chicken, she told herself, snapping her seat belt. This is America, you live in it, you let it happen." (page 123)
". . . maybe even [stumbled] onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know, and you too, sweetie." (page 141)
The Hilarius (another fantastic name, of course) quote from page 113 says to me that Pynchon feels we Americans need our fantasies, need an element of craziness in our lives because the easy life here isn't necessarily what people expect it to be. It's set up beautifully by Oedipa's desire at that moment to give up her search.
The quote from page 123, Oedipa talking to herself about what she should be able to do, how she should be able to affect outcomes and events, delineates an expectation so many Americans have that's, unfortunately, not always met with success.
The most powerful quote of the three, in my opinion, is the one from page 141. Whether Oedipa's mission was real or contrived, worthy or a waste of time, here she describes "everybody American" she knows as living with "exitlessness" and an "absence of surprise to life," and includes herself in that group. Through Oedipa and her adventure and her own conflicting opinions about it, Pynchon conveys a strong desire to break from quotidian life in the leisure class, a yearning for any sort of struggle but an uncertainty about that very yearning.
Part of what Pynchon writes in The Crying of Lot 49, in my opinion, presents random sex and infidelity as one answer attempted by people in Oedipa's shoes, the bored housewives and their working husband counterparts, and this purported solution comes up empty time and time again. Oedipa herself seems to realize this as the novel progresses, succumbing to seduction early on but then rejecting it and feeling disgusted by its perpetrators later. Surely a long essay could be written just about Pynchon's treatment of sex in this book, but this review is getting long, so I'll cut it off here.
I loved this book for all of its complexity, this review is just a few thoughts on one theme that stuck with me.
Shall I project a world? -- Oedipa Maas
Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, rich in allusion, multilayered, and bristling with scintillating gems of simile and metaphor drawn from thermodynamics, mathematics, and information theory, is an example of an increasingly prominent school of imaginative literature in which the novel decidedly is constructed as a problem of semiotics or meaning that is more like a puzzle than a story.
As such, it begs the question whether it marks a point in the development of the novel analogous to the period soon after the perfection of the camera when painters all but abandoned representational art for the "abstract" art of the mind's eye. The first suggestion that CL49 involves a similar departure comes by way of its protagonist's very name, Oedipa Maas.
Fatuous and Improbable, Oedipa is not so much a name as a signifier that directs readers to other texts, bringing to mind Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, and perhaps even Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. So extensively does the text prompt such sleuthing for cross-references that diligent readers soon find themselves immersed in something much like the mind-bending discovery phase of Oedipa's effort to execute the will of a former lover, California tycoon Pierce Inverarity.
"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." A northern California housewife holdup in the suburbs at the novel's outset, during the 1960s, Oedipa, educated, childless, and very much a ward of the 1950s, sees herself as being like Rapunzel, imprisoned in a tower and waiting for someone or something to free her.
Once, years before her feckless marriage to Wendell "Mucho" Maas, she had seen Inverarity as the agent of her liberation, but "all that had gone on between them had really never escaped the confinement of that tower." Her effort to uncover and settle Inverarity's vast, shadowy, and complicated holdings launches her into what might be called an epistemological mysteries trip in which every revelation begets a riddle and ever riddle becomes a clue to some deeper mystery leading her to wonder whether she had lost her mind, stumbled on a global conspiracy, or fallen for a cruel hoax.
As hyperbolic as her situation may seem, it presaged a real-world case in point. Three years after the book's 1966 publication, it was rumor that The Beatles' Paul McCarney had been killed in a 1966 car crash. Evidence of both his death and his replacement by a look-alike, it was said, could be found when certain Beatles songs were played backwards and when various Beatles album covers were examined closely.
In the mass mania that followed, the turntables and styluses destroyed by playing records backwards were innumerable, as were the hours spent pouring over album covers. For some, as with Oedipa, everything, even the slightest coincidence, got immeshed in the conspiracy; and the weight of it all was more than they seemed able to bear.
Whether madness, hoax, uncanny coincidence, or conspiracy, Oedipa's trip permits this observation: Such meaning as one finds in life springs from the same human tendency as that which makes the Big Dipper and Orion, the hunter, appear in the night sky: that 20-watt apparatus between ones ears connects the dots even when no such connections actually exist.
Nor does restricting the mind's operation to the norms of science offer an escape from uncertainty and the prospect of illusion. Instead, such efforts confine the self to a realm that admits nothing that can not be objectified. Yet those other things--such as love, community, and hope--would always remain at the twilight edges of awareness where, under the circumstances, they can only induce dread.