Jump to content

Explore aside menu

The Crying of Lot 49


"The next story I wrote was "The Crying of Lot 49," which was marketed as a novel and in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I'd learned up till then."

Thomas Pynchon. "Introduction." Slow Learner. Little, Brown, Boston, 1984: 3-23 (22).

Excerpts from Criticism

"But if the brilliance of Lot 49's parody of revenge tragedy is any indication, the person most at home with Jacobean texts is Oedipa's creator, who in The Crying of Lot 49 offers readers an indirect glimpse of himself: in his protagonist, that is, Pynchon projects his own anguish at the American denial of diversity. Through her he inhabits and participates in an American social and cultural moment of enormous consequence."

David Cowart. "Chapter Four: Pynchon and the Sixties." Thomas Pynchon and the Dark Passages of History, University of Georgia Press, 2011: 82-135 (90).

"The attack of The Crying of Lot 49, expressed by the narrator but reflective of Oedipa [Maas]'s consciousness, is directed at America, where, "with the chances once so good for diversity, " a form of the sterile has nevertheless evolved as a result of the "excluded middles." [...] Although punctuated by a sense of loss, the apposite passage near the end of Pynchon's short narrative uses a conventional means of attack, vulgar invective, to pit narrator-Oedipa in opposition to America: "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" (136). One of the essential principles of classical logic, the Law of the Excluded Middles states that every proposition must be either true or false, thereby eliminating the possibility that a proposition may be neither true or false but, rather, doubtful or undecidable. [...] Such uncertainty functions as a metaphor for the neglected middle of diversity that emerges from The Crying of Lot 49's eccentric narrative. As metaphor, the attack on logical positivism is central to the text's vision: it entails attack as well on an America that excludes from power those whom the text identifies punningly as "W.A.S.T.E.," the unofficial organization of communication for America's disinherited. America is thus the object of The Crying of Lot 49's satire."

Theodore D. Kharpertian. "The Crying of Lot 49: History as Mail Conspiracy." A Hand to Turn the Time: The Menippean Satires of Thomas Pynchon. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, London/Toronto, 1990: 85-107 (86).

But Oedipa has "all manner of revelations," and a shadowy armature seems to be taking shape. Is she still in her head, or is the great plot real? If so, is it malign? To discover it may be the same thing as inventing it. What Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann call "the social construction of reality" proceeds because there are phenomena we cannot simply wish away; death is one, but there are others. The construction is what our social situation permits-say, the national limits, the limits of California, ultimately the limits of dissident groups and our protestant selves. As we plot against reality we comply with or deviate from the institutionalized plots; a great deviation is called a sect if shared, paranoia if not. There is always a way of coding the material, even that which on other views is simply waste. Having instituted a system one keeps it intact either by legitimating extraneous material or, if that is too difficult, or the threat too great, by nihilating it.

Making sense of other somewhat arbitrary symbolic universes, understanding their construction, is an activity familiar to all critics. Certainly it involves choices, a limitation of pluralities. The activity of the critic, thus understood, is nomic. It seeks order, and is analogous to the social construction of reality. What Oedipa is doing is very like reading a book. Of course books can be read in very strange ways-a man once undertook to demonstrate infallibly to me that Wuthering Heights was an interlinear gloss on Genesis. How could this be disproved? He had hit on a code, and legitimated all the signs. Oedipa is afraid she may be like that man, or that she is drifting into paranoia, the normal hermeneutic activity in disease, and Pynchon's great subject.

Kermode, Frank. "The Use of the Codes." Approaches to Poetics. Ed. Seymour Chatman. Columbia University Press, Columbia, New York, United States (1973): 51-79.