The Crying of Lot 49

A Woven Conspiracy College

Near the end of Thomas Pynchon’s 1965 novel The Crying of Lot 49, the protagonist Oedipa finds herself at a crossroads after trying to unravel the mystery of W.A.S.T.E., a conspiratorial underground postal system, without finding many tangible results. “It was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer,” Pynchon writes, “the zeroes and ones twinned above… Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would be either a transcendent meaning, or only the earth” (Pynchon 181). Earlier in the novel, however, this discrepancy is not represented as a simple binary. Just pages before, when considering the validity of her suspicions, Oedipa thinks to herself “Either you have stumbled… onto a secret richness and concealed destiny of a dream… Or you are hallucinating it. Or a plot has been mounted against you… Or you are fantasying some such plot” (170-171). Oedipa equates the existence of W.A.S.T.E. with “transcendent meaning” and “secret richness,” but given the later binary description, does this mean she considers the other three options as simply other mundane parts of “only the earth”? Even next to the possibilities of hallucination or an incredibly elaborate practical joke, is the only thing that can make the world more...

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