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The Crying of Lot 49

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Abstract

Although published only three years after V., The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) makes a staggering contrast with the earlier novel.1 It is less than a quarter its length, it appears to possess a simple linear plot, and it covers both a short time-span and a very specific local area — Southern California. The novel’s perspective throughout stays close to that of its protagonist Mrs. Oedipa Maas although, as we shall see, this method presents Pynchon with certain formal difficulties. Oedipa is named as co-executor for a dead real-estate tycoon and former lover — Pierce Inverarity — and during her investigations into his estate stumbles across an underground postal network whose roots lie in Renaissance Europe. Whereas in V. Stencil personified an absurdly blinkered activity, Oedipa is much closer to a conventional fictional character because Pynchon grants her more awareness. Stencil’s quest is absurd from the beginning; Oedipa’s moves from normality into strangeness and, unlike Stencil, she realizes how a plethora of information constantly sidetracks her from a simple search. Although both novels use a quest pattern Oedipa reacts much more than Stencil and discovers one of the central paradoxes of the novel, a paradox pointed out by Norbert Wiener: that although the United States has the most highly developed communications media in the world, information is nevertheless guarded with the utmost secrecy by small groups.2

Keywords

Railroad Track Paperback Edition Marshall McLuhan Conventional Fictional Character Quest Pattern 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 8.
    Robert Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960) p. 44.Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Thomas Schaub, Pynchon: the Voice of Ambiguity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981) pp. 21–42.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    Jean-Baptiste Moëns, Timbres de l’office Tour et Taxis depuis leur origine jusqu’à leur suppression (1847–67) (Brussels: Le Timbre Poste, 1880).Google Scholar
  4. 21.
    Molly Hite, Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1983) p. 71.Google Scholar
  5. 24.
    Harold Innis, Empire and Communications (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951) p. 14.Google Scholar
  6. 25.
    The various references to death in the novel have been discussed by Marie-Claude Profit in her ‘The Rhetoric of Death in The Crying of Lot 49’, Pynchon Notes, 10 (Oct. 1982) pp. 18–36.Google Scholar
  7. 27.
    M. R. Siegel, Pynchon: Creative Paranoia in ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  8. 28.
    Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (London: Jonathan Cape, 1966) p. 4.Google Scholar
  9. 32.
    H. M. McLuhan, Understanding Media (London: Sphere Books, 1967) p. 16.Google Scholar
  10. 36.
    Timothy Leary, The Politics of Ecstasy (London: Paladin Books, 1970) p. 104.Google Scholar
  11. 39.
    Anne Mangel, ‘Maxwell’s Demon, Entropy, Information: The Crying of Lot 49’ in Mindful Pleasures pp. 87–100. Other discussions of entropy in the novel are: P. L. Abernethy, ‘Entropy in Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49’, Critique, 14.ii (1972) pp. 18–33;Google Scholar
  12. J. P. Leland, ‘Pynchon’s Linguistic Demon: The Crying of Lot 49’, Critique, 16.ii (1974) pp. 45–53;Google Scholar
  13. Zoltan Abadi-Nagy, ‘The Entropic Rhythm of Thomas Pynchon’s Comedy in The Crying of Lot 49’, Hungarian Studies in English, 11 (1977) pp. 117–30; and Mendelson, ‘The Sacred, the Profane’, pp. 127–8.Google Scholar
  14. 40.
    Abraham Moles, Information Theory and Esthetic Perception (University of Illinois Press, 1966) p. 19; Arnheim, Entropy and Art, p. 15.Google Scholar
  15. 41.
    J. Clark Maxwell, Theory of Heat, 2nd edn (London: Longmans, Green, 1872), p. 308. Mangel, p. 91.Google Scholar
  16. A useful article on this subject from a journal Pynchon is known to have read is Walter Ehrenberg’s ‘Maxwell’s Demon’, Scientific American, 217 (Nov. 1967) pp. 103–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 45.
    Michael Harrington, The Other America (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963) pp. 11, 12.Google Scholar
  18. 49.
    Benjamin Muse, The American Negro Revolution (New York: Citadel Press, 1970), p. 206.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Seed 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LiverpoolUK

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