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20100119 Crying of Lot 49, day 1

Page history last edited by Brian Croxall 10 years, 12 months ago


After discussing the Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography assignment at the beginning of class, we opened our discussion of Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. Working in small groups, we identified particular questions that we'd had about this admittedly recondite text. Even more importantly, we began considering What McLuhan Would Do (WWMD) with the novel. Tim suggested that McLuhan might point to the confusion within the novel as being emblematic of the general social upheaval of the 1960s. And given McLuhan's viewpoint (AKA technological determinism), it seemed likely that he would trace these social changes to increasing dominance of electronic media such as television, radio, and all of the other media within the text.


We turned our attention to the name of the town where Oedipa travels to execute the will: San Narciso. The name of this town as well as the hotel where Oedipa stays (see passages below) prompted us to consider Oedipa in terms of McLuhan's "Narcissus Narcosis." We recalled that McLuhan argues that each media is an extension of the self and that these extensions result in our being numbed. Oedipa's inability to communicate effectively seemed perhaps one exemplary result of this numbing process. It is not only Oedipa who seems to have problems communicating. When Pierce calls her for the last time, he only speaks to her through different accents and effectively says nothing. Even Oedipa and her husband, Mucho--who works for the radio station KCUF--fail to converse in meaningful ways about the will that she has been asked to execute. All of this problematic communication seems ironic in light of the characters' immersion within media forms--phone, book, radio, tv, film, circuits, Muzak, and art, to name but a few.


Word Count: 286



" Still, when she got a look at the next motel, she hesitated a second. A representation in painted sheet metal of a nymph holding a white blossom towered thirty feet into the air; the sign, lit up despite the sun, said "Echo Courts." The face of the nymph was much like Oedipa's, which didn't startle her so much as a concealed blower system that kept the nymph's gauze chiton on constant agitation, revealing enormous vermilion-tipped breats and long pink thighs at each flap. [...] The room would be good enough for the time she had to stay. Its door opened on a long courtyard with a swimming pool. whose surface that day was flat, brilliant with sunlight" (16).


  • In this passage, we see Pynchon clearly link Oedipa and her situation to the myth of Narcissus (since she's in San Narciso) and Echo. The fact that she looks like the nymph whose smile is so provocative is perhaps a foreshadowing of her encounter with Metzger in the hotel. More to the point, Oedipa's situation suggests that Pynchon might very well have been familiar with McLuhan's Understanding Media, which had been published only the year before his own novel appeared. McLuhan argues that we are all "gadget lovers" because different media help us alleviate the stresses placed on the body.


"What am I going to do?" she said.

"Oh, no," said Mucho, "you got the wrong fella. Not me. I can't even make out our income tax right. Execute a will, there's nothing I can tell you, see Roseman." (7)


  • This exchange between Oedipa and Mucho, which follows his long complaints to her about the difficulties of his own working day, reflects a lack of concern on his part for the distresses of her life. This rift between the couple perhaps presages the encounter between Oedipa and Metzger, but it also points to a more general problem of communication that takes place throughout the text. Even though there are multiple means for Oedipa, Mucho, and others to communicate with one another, what they end up saying is empty.



Oedipus-the protagonist of the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and whom Oedipa clearly seems to be named after. He blinds himself at the end of the play after he has failed to listen (ill communication) while pursuing the knowledge of the person who killed the previous king of Thebes. The play's thematic warning against seeking some types of knowledge seems important to consider when contemplating Oedipa's character

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