Crying of Lot 49




The philosophy behind all Pynchon novels lies in the synthesis of
philosophers and modern physicists. Ludwig Wittgenstein viewed
the world as a "totality of facts, not of things."1 This idea
can be combined with a physicist's view of the world as a closed
system that tends towards chaos. Pynchon asserts that the
measure of the world is its entropy.2 He extends this metaphor
to his fictional world. He envelops the reader, through various
means, within the system of The Crying of Lot 49.

Pynchon designed The Crying of Lot 49 so that there would be two
levels of observation: that of the characters such as our own
Oedipa Maas, whose world is limited to the text, and that of the
reader, who looks at the world from outside it but who is also
affected by his relationship to that world.3 Both the reader and
the characters have the same problems observing the chaos around
them. The protagonist in The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Mass, like
Pynchon's audience, is forced to either involve herself in the
deciphering of clues or not participate at all.4

Oedipa's purpose, besides executing a will, is finding meaning in
a life dominated by assaults on people's perceptions through
drugs, sex and television. She is forced out of her complacent
housewife lifestyle of tupperware parties and Muzak into a
chaotic system beyond her capabilities to understand. Images and
facts are constantly spit forth. Oedipa's role is that of
Maxwell's Demon: to sort useful facts from useless ones. The
reader's role is also one of interpreting countless symbols and
metaphors to arrive at a meaning. Each reader unravels a
different meaning. Unfortunately, Maxwell's Demon can only apply
to a closed system. Pynchon's fictional system is constantly
expanding to include more and more aspects of contemporary
America.5 Therefore, the reader and Oedipa are inefficient
sorters. Both are left at a panicky state of confusion, or
paranoia.

Paranoia unites the reader and Oedipa. If we define "paranoia"
not as a mental aberration but as a tendency to find meaning in
symbols whether the meanings exist or not, we can clearly see the
similarity between Oedipa and us. Paranoids do not see plots here
and there in history; they see a conspiracy as the driving force
behind all historical events.

At the climax of the novel, Oedipa sees the muted post horn
everywhere she goes. Could she simply be delusional, as most
witnesses to her think, or is there actually a conspiracy
involving the Trystero? As Oedipa delves into the Trystero's
history and Pierce's estate, one of four possibilities arises:
"...either she has indeed stumbled onto a secret organization
having objective, historical existence ...; or she is
hallucinating it by projecting a pattern onto various signs only
randomly associated; or she is the victim of a hoax...; or she is
hallucinating such a hoax..."6 The tension among all four
ossibilities leads to Oedipa becoming increasing more paranoid as
the novel progresses.

One of the most effective literary techniques Pynchon uses to
involve the reader in his fictional world is his use of details.7
The explicit history of Thurn and Taxis serves to overburden the
reader with names and places that on the surface have no relation
to the story at hand. The purpose of these details is to overlap
the reader's world with the fictional one. Pynchon flirts with
the reader. He allows the reader to see more of his world than
any of his other characters can. Pynchon wants to lure the
reader into the character's search for meaning.

Furthermore, the alternations of fact with fiction, such as the
description of the historical basis of the Peter Pinguid
Society8, confuse the reader to such an extent that he is forced
to rely upon Oedipa to decipher reality from illusion. Pynchon
even denies the reader and Oedipa time to sort out the
information by moving rapidly to the next event.

The blending of authenticity with fiction introduces an
epistemological aspect to Pynchon's work. Much of The Crying of
Lot 49 tackles the historical evidence for the Trystero.
Scholars have found that the actual history of the Trystero, a
Renaissance postal system, was shrouded in mystery. It is also
entirely possible that GIs were buried