Thomas Pynchon and our desire for meaning

Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is no easy read. Some might even call it torturous.

Picture this: you receive a task, not anticipating much effort on your part. Then, out of nowhere, you’re on a quest for which you most certainly did not sign up. That’s what Lot 49 is all about. The reader’s experience mirrors that of the protagonist, Oedipa Maas, so when she gets lost, so do you.

Pynchon’s 1965 postmodern novel confronts us with our need, our yearning, for meaning. What begins as a mission to be executor of a former lover’s estate, spirals into a series of seemingly unrelated incidences that cause Oedipa to stray ever further from any means of resolution or certainty.

I cannot call Lot 49 an enjoyable read, but that is not to say that I dislike it. It became so confusing and difficult to follow that, eventually, I accepted my fate as a lost traveler and allowed the book to take me where it wished. Pynchon cleverly highlights the fact that when we stray from the conventions of our constructed reality, we become most uncomfortable. Oedipa encounters so many red herrings that the line between real and false becomes indiscernible.

… a plot has been mounted against you… so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke. Or you are fantasying some such plot, in which case you are a nut, Oedipa, out of your skull (131).

Perhaps that is what makes the novel so terrifying. Or, alternately, it may be the mysterious muted post horn symbol (see header image), which pops up everywhere in Oedipa’s world, but which leads to few explanations.

Oedipa weaves her way through a “reality” that consists not of comprehensive wholes but, rather, bizarre characters and pieces of information that seem to have no correlation whatsoever. The post horn may be the symbol for an underground postal system, called W.A.S.T.E., that hides from the eye of the US government. Or it may just be Oedipa’s convoluted hallucination which leads to nowhere and nothing.

If you found this review too cryptic, good. You’ve just experienced a tiny taster of Lot 49.

I dare you to read it.

[Header image: sourced]

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