I would highly recommend this book. 5/5 Stars This book is seriously weird.
Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is a seminal piece of postmodern fiction. A hardcover edition of this text was first published in 1965 by J.B. Lippincott Company, and portions of this novel were published in magazines. The first portion was published in Esquire titled “The World (This One), the Flesh (Mrs Oedipa Maas), and the Testament. Another portion appeared in Cavelier. The aforementioned information was taken from a 2006 copy of The Crying of Lot 49 (TCL49 for short). I am not big on magazines, I have purchased few on rare occasions out of genuine curiosity, but never manage to read even half of it. There’s something missing. Knowing that Pynchon and various other I’m not motivated because there’s something missing. Writers such as Joseph Heller, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury have published short stories and parts of their novels in magazines fascinate me. I envy those who were around at the time that copies of these magazines were in circulation. It resurrects a kind of nostalgic feeling. I know Stephen King continues to publish short stories in magazines, magazines which I have purchased, but purchasing these magazines does not invoke the same feeling.
I know Stephen King continues to publish short stories in magazines, magazines which I have purchased, but purchasing these magazines does not invoke the same feeling I had previously described. In the age of the instant gratification, there is no need to purchase the magazine, you can always look up what the author has published online for free. This robs you of a kind of feeling, you know… the one I seem incapable of describing. Think of how it was before the age of the internet. Imagine purchasing a copy of Playboy magazine. Few people will have the privy of reading the articles and seeing those centerfolds. You hold in your hands an authentic piece of Americana (I would like to think of it as that, at least) it is a feeling that is entirely unique and it has been lost to annals of history. This what the age of the instant gratification has robbed us of, and even though I did not exist in a time prior to the age of the internet, I will say, I’ ve been robbed goddamnit. Not to say I am not thankful for the technological breakthroughs in my lifetime. I do enjoy Netflix quite a bit, but sometimes I want to go back.
Note: I did not get all of this the first time around, it took multiple readings and a hell of a lot of research on postmodernism and different schools of literary criticism for me to understand and appreciate this text.
The Crying of Lot 49 is Pynchon’s cautionary tale of late stage capitalism or postmodern capitalism, I will use the terms interchangeably. Postmodern capitalism began in 1945 after WWII, 4 years prior, in 1941 commercial television was introduced in the United States. This is big guys, take note of those events. Earnest Mandel a neo-Marxist coined the term late stage capitalism and in his book titled Late Capitalism he maps out the three different stages of capitalism. A layman’s definition of late stage or postmodern capitalism is a pervasion of industrialization and commodity culture in all areas of life. Thank God for those summaries online. I did not want to read that fucking book. Here’s my point, amongst all the rambling I do have one… The advent of the television in 1941 was a precursor to the pervasion of capitalism into all aspects of our lives. So what the fuck is so bad about this? Well, there are good things about postmodern capitalism, but I’m not here to blow smoke up your ass. Postmodern capitalism is detrimental to society and the individual. It brings forth a looming threat of sameness and the decentralization of identity, or the self. Now I’m not talking about 1984 or Brave New World kind of sameness, that’s extreme. Like I said before TCL49 is a cautionary tale.
The threats of decentralization identity and the threat of sameness are illustrated in Pynchon’s delightfully short text. Now we get to delve into the novel. Such Fun! I’ll summarize it as best as I can.
The Crying of Lot 49 is Thomas Pynchon’s second novel. Here Pynchon breaks conventionality when he assigns The Crying of Lot 49 a female protagonist named Oedipa Maas. She is an ordinary housewife that is informed that she has been named the executrix of her ex-lover, Pierce Inverarity’s estate. In the process of executing his will, Oedipa becomes entangled in a conspiracy involving a shadow organization known only as Tristero.The theme of paranoia is a defining characteristic of postmodern literature. This text was published during the height of the Cold War, the paranoia that had infiltrated America due to the threat of communism and the assassination of President Kennedy is reflected in this text in the way that Oedipa Mass becomes enmeshed in an alleged conspiracy and transforms from ordinary housewife to a paranoid woman on the verge of making a scene at the end of the end of the text in order to discover the identity of a specific bidder at an auctioning of Pierce Inverarity’s stamp collection
The theme of paranoia is a defining characteristic of postmodern literature. This text was published during the height of the Cold War, the paranoia that had infiltrated America due to the threat of communism and the assassination of President Kennedy is reflected in this text in the way that Oedipa Mass becomes enmeshed in an alleged conspiracy and transforms from ordinary housewife to a paranoid woman on the verge of making a scene at the end of the end of the text in order to discover the identity of a specific bidder at an auctioning of Pierce Inverarity’s stamp collection.
The heroine’s husband Mucho Maas is a victim of the decentralization of the self. In the first chapter of The Crying of Lot 49 Pynchon takes a maximalist approach to establishing Mucho’s identity. Mucho’s morning shaving routine, his eccentricity, his previous career as a used car salesman and his current occupation as a disk jockey is established as well as his belief that cars are a reflection of their owners, and the purchase of a used car is a kind of, “Endless, convoluted incest” [end of summary]
The decentered identity requires an external component to support its multiple identities and realities. When readers had previously encountered Mucho in The Crying of Lot 49 his identity was intrinsically woven with his eccentricities and his career, upon Oedipa’s return to Kinneret from San Narciso she discovers that Mucho’s sense of self has been completely dislodged. The external component which his identity is now dependant upon is whatever is playing on the radio (note that he is a disk jockey). He is described to be a roomful of people, and he confirms this belief. This horrifies Oedipa and myself. There is nothing that I fear more than the loss of my sense of self.
Let’s backtrack to the beginning of the novel, specifically the first three sentences. This is where the tv comes into play.
The Crying of Lot 49 is not an overtly religious text, religious motifs play a large role in the plot of this novel. From Oedipa’s invocation of the name of God in front of the TV tube screen, one can infer that watching the programs on television, purchasing goods and participating in the services that company’s offer a kind of religious activity. If this is a religious activity, then the church in this sense is the home in which the Television is housed, the priest, pastor, or minister is the television, the people who watch are the congregation and the god is whatever channel or program people happen to be watching.
Christians imitate Christ, in Pynchon’s text Christ has been replaced by TV and the messages of late stage capitalism, and that is downright terrifying. A blind following of the postmodern capitalist cult will result in the elimination of individuality and the decentralization of identity. If the threat of sameness that postmodern capitalism brings forth prevails, society will be cold and efficient, the world will be shaped according to the perfect model of capitalism (Assembly Lines) think of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Sameness is not realized in TCL49, but the decentralization of identity is illustrated through what had happened to Oedipa’s husband. And isn’t that just horrible?
Note: This is not a proclamation of what I am for or against. What I have said above is how I had experienced reading The Crying of Lot 49.
Mandel, Earnest. Late Capitalism. Trans. Joris De Bres. Verso, 1999.
Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: Harper Perennial , 2006.