Friday, September 16, 2011

The Crying of Lot 49

For years I have wondered what the title Crying of Lot 49 written by Thomas Pynchon in 1966 referred to. So I finally checked the book out from Faulk Central to discover that the phrase is also the last line of the novel. The story is about a conspiracy to subvert the US postal system, and the main protagonist, Oedipa Mass, is a suburban housewife who becomes aware that there may be more to life than her sterile mode of existence. The novel is full of absurdist names, metaphors, freaky characters, allusions, cultural symbols, and terms overloaded with confusing meanings. The crying refers to the auctioneer's voice and lot 49 is the collection of stamps being auctioned. But the stamps may also be crying a message, but I am not re-reading the book to figure it out.

Below is an example of Pychon's writing, and the passage still resonates today since the government reported this week that more than 46 million Americans are living under the government’s official poverty line, which is the highest number in the 52 years the Census Bureau has recorded such data.

Yet at least he had believed in the cars, maybe to excess: how could he not, seeing people poorer than him come in...bring with them the most godawful of trade-ins: motorized, metal extensions of themselves, of their families and what their whole lives must be like, out there so naked for anybody, a stranger like himself, to look at...inside smelling hopeless of children, of supermarket booze, or two, sometimes three generations of cigarette smokers, or only of dust--and when the cars were swept out you had to look at the actual residue of these lives, and there was no way of telling what things had been truly refused ...or had simply (perhaps tragically) been lost: clipped coupons promising savings of 5 or 10¢, trading stamps, pink flyers advertising specials at the market, butts, tooth-shy combs, help-wanted ads, Yellow Pages torn from the phone book, rags of old underwear or dresses that already were period costumes, for wiping your own breath off the inside of a windshield with so you could see whatever it was, a movie, a woman or car you coveted, a cop who might pull you over just for drill, all the bits and pieces coated uniformly, like a salad of despair, in a grey dressing of ash, condensed exhaust, dust, body wastes--it nauseated him to look, but he had to look.

My favorite passage in the book is a conversation between Oedipa Maas and her psychiatrist, Dr. Hilarius.

“I came," she said, "hoping you could talk me out of a fantasy."
Cherish it!" cried Hilarious, fiercely. "What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by it's little tentacle, don't let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be".

The Crying of Lot 49
is one of the titles on APL Recommends Cult Classics list.

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