The Crying of Lot 49

Symbols and Meaning in The Crying of Lot 49 College

Although the postmodern classic The Crying of Lot 49 is known for its obscurity and lack of a single interpretation, it should not be seen as an experiment in a tortured narrative of curve-balls that destroys the reader’s assumptions without leaving anything in place. Rather, its very indefinite structure is part of the novel’s meaning, the writing medium carrying the message more than the book’s content or plot. We can gain insight into what Pynchon is trying to accomplish by considering the “sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west” (p.1). Here the old epistemological problem, the zen koan of a tree falling out of earshot, cues us into a discussion of our relation to reality. Rather than arguing extreme objectivity (the sun rises regardless of an observer) or subjectivity (there is no sunrise for the student stuck in the library), the novel will argue a middle path: sunrise is a process of an observer watching the sun. When Oedipa watches the circuit of houses from a San Narcisco slope, she sees the limitless possibilities of what she can see – “There’s seemed no limit to what the printed circuit could have told her (if she tried to find out)” (p. 14)....

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