Contemporary American Fiction

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Thomas Pynchon

, 1962″]The Crying of Lot 49 describes the quest of Oedipa Maas, an “Everywoman”* living in Southern California, to execute the estate of her ex-love Pierce Inverarity.  In the process, she discovers signs of a system of underground mail service called The Tristero.  See The Crying of Lot 49 wiki for more background.  The central themes of the text include:

Weaving
The above painting by para-surrealist Remedios Varos appears in Crying in a “German Baroque Hotel” in Mexico City.  The painting depicts girls in a tower weaving a tapestry which holds everything in the world.  The word text originated in the latin word textus, which means to weave. Pynchon’s text flirts with this etymological origin, but he frequently draws attention to the role of the weaver/author, the inconsistencies of the design, and the possibility that the connections between the “threads” may be merely metaphors rather than true points of contact, and thus sites of meaning.  The centrality of weaving is also paralleled to Oedipa’s search, which is treated as both a quest and as the possible result of her paranoia.  At one point Oedipa asks herself, “shall I project a world,” which suggests the possibility that she is not uncovering connections, but creating (weaving) the constellations herself.  What if there is no meaning outside of language?  Outside of the text’s web?

Echoes/solipsism/paranoia
Oedipa is often unsure whether she is really perceiving a hidden order that connects random events, or whether she is projecting that order onto events.  This makes it difficult for her to distinguish between reality and dream.

Circularity
The novel ends where it begins, with the title, The Crying of Lot 49.  By this point, neither the reader nor Oedipa has gotten to the bottom of the plot(s).

Mass Media
Televisions, radios, advertisements, and other communication systems are ubiquitous in Crying and produce, in Colville’s words, “that illusion of communication.”

Questions:

1.  In a discussion of Crying, Georgiana M. M. Colville has written that “A postmodern novel may be about communication and postal systems and yet deliver no message.”  In the passage we read, Oedipa is searching for something.  What do you think it is?

2.  What is the significance of W. A. S. T. E.?

3.  What is the “word,” and what is its significance?

4.  Why is the sailor so important to Oedipa?  What is the significance of the DTs? or dt?

Journey Into the Mind of Watts – Pynchon’s response to, and characterization of, the 1966 Watts Riots.  This is one of Pynchon’s very few public “appearances.”

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