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Who's crying? What's a lot? Why 49?

Anne Dalke's picture

On Monday we'll be looking at "The Role of Analogy in Science" (so look back @ that essay, which was assigned 2 weeks ago). Stepan describes the role metaphors play in science. As you read the first 1/2 of The Crying of Lot 49, be on the lookout for the metaphors Pyncheon uses that you find compelling, intriguing, puzzling, interesting. Say why.

sky stegall's picture

rosemary beat me to it...

and i'm glad she did, or i'd be worried i was the only one seeing this in the book - the whole story is analogous to women attempting to gain entry into the "priesthood" of science.  oedipa sees the mystery all around her, is intrigued and perhaps plagued by it, but never allowed in on its secrets. there are those who would help her, if they had true entree themselves, but generally they don't.   it reminds me of an episode in my childhood, when i was trying to figure out nuclear power (i was maybe 9 and very precocious) and it drove me nuts that my dad couldn't answer my questions - well-educated he may be, but when it gets to specialized physics knowledge you've got to ask the right people.  anyway, oedipa is taking in data from all over but never getting the full picture (yet, anyway).  sounds like science to me.  and she's finding herself turned out by the very members-only club she's investigating.  gender?  sure.  it's an analogy.  i'd like to leave y'all with a quote: "science is physics, everything else is stamp collecting." - ernest rutherford.

eli's picture

Importance of Conspiracy

Taking a step back from the book a bit, the underlying current is one of trying to determine what is real, and what is not. Oedipa spends the entire course of the novel trying to figure out the Tristero are real. Which is why we have the entire title for the book; her necessity to try to determine the authenticty of the Tristero leads her to cry for lot 49, the stamp collection.

So again, taking a step back, what does this have to do with science? With feminism? With science, we spend our time trying to figure out what is real and what is not. We need tangible proof to determine authenticity. So often we forget that the belief that there is something whose existence we can prove is relaly what drives us, NOT necessarily the object itself. It is the pursuit, not the evidence, not the Truth, that really makes science what it is.

I think it's important to note that the protagonist is a woman. How many of the other characters are women? Exactly. The people who tote her along on this journey are all men. What does -that- say for the feminist perspective?

Pemwrez2009's picture

not very originial... I guess I'm not very original but I can relate to Odile, Flora, Rebecca and Sam...finding that connecting link has not been the easiest task in this book. Part of what my trouble was with Properties of Light had to do with separating the story line from understanding the science...which was hard because I'm not a science person...however with this book my problem was more that i spent so much time trying to determine an obvious connection between gender and science... this was such a fun read though...despite feeling like I was running like a chicken with its head cut off...

I got very lost towards the beginning of the story with Oedipa and her ideas...maybe it was because I was trying desperately to find connections...


Hopefully class will help clarify my obvious in-ept-atude..

oschalit's picture

not to sound like a broken record...

I had a similar reaction to the first half of the book as Flora, Rebecca and Sam. While I am actually really enjoying the book - I have found myself laughing out loud a few times and then smiling at the silliness of some of the scenes - the connection to science (gender has found its way in subtly) is still a bit over my head. I suppose that my problem is transitioning from Properties to 49. Whereas Properties literally hit me over the head with physics and philosophy, 49 seems quite distanced from the topic at hand. Perhaps I am looking too hard and need to be patient. 

I have picked up on some interesting themes of perspective and alternating lenses...but my desperation for something to connect to the class may have caused me to see something that actually is not there. So, needless to say i don't feel confident discussing my ideas yet until i have read some more. I hope that reading further will shed some light on these ideas and then i can share them with you all....or you know, with serendipity.

Rebecca's picture

Difficult to find the science

I have to agree with Flora and Sam. I am having trouble connecting this book to our work in class.

On p 11 when Oedipa is describing the girls in the painting as being in the tapestry world it reminded me of the conceptual physics class discussion of having different models of the universe. This happens again on p12 when Oedipa discusses the "tower (that) is everywhere and the knight of deliverance (that is) no proof against its magic. Why are these alternative models significant? They make the story more interesting to read but I am not sure how to connect them to gender or science. (They are Oedipa’s view from somewhere?)

I am definitely looking forward to discussing this tomorrow and hopefully will find some clarity.

As an aside doesn't it take much longer for bones to turn into charcoal?


rmalfi's picture

Starting to understand

When I first started reading this book, I had some trouble figuring out what was going on, and what the point was. I haven't quite gotten through the entire novel (almost there), but I'm actually seeing a lot of connection to what we've been talking about. The famous line from the book is Oedipa's "Shall I project a world?" She is charged with weaving a story from the evidence Inverarity ("untruth") has left behind... She expresses throughout her fact finding endeavors that she's afraid her obsession is simply that and nothing more... Pynchon's pretty brilliant -- I know when I'm reading that there is a ton of stuff that I'm not catching on to - once I resolved to just plow through the fact that I didn't understand rather than try to interpret every line, I started to get more out of the story.

There's a lot I could say... so let me focus on a couple things. I think agency plays a huge role in this novel. On page 65, the narrator talks about Oedipa's "growing obsession, with 'bringing something of herself' - even if that something was just her presence - to the scatter of businsess interests that had survived Inverarity. She would give them order, she would create constellations." She would project a world. She's sees herself in her investigations -- she's not an objective eye. The same is true of Pynchon himself. As far as I know "Tragedy of Courier" is not an actual play -- he creates a fictional play within his own fiction (A true Shakespearean trick). He sees himself in his own writing. He also designs the story so that Oedipa is trying to gain some truth from this fictional play, which is fictional on two counts from our perspective as the reader. His layering is pretty awesome.

Then there is this whole business with the Demon sorting machine and entropy... and I have to say this was a little lost on me. It might make more sense as I continue to read. Oedipa is (for our purposes) a female researcher surrounded by mystery... she is trying to deduce truth from multiple evidence sources.... In the case of the Demon machine she is not " a sensitive" -- she is incapable of deriving information from this source (much like the physics preist metaphor).

Anyway these are some thoughts. I apologize for the disconnected nature of this entry -- it reflects my own thought process in deciphering this text!

Sam's picture

I didn't see much of a

I didn't see much of a relation to science.

I may just not be very good at these kinds of books, because half the time I wanted to toss it across my room or thanking God that neither Metzger or Oedipa are real people because I would throttle them both for being silly ninnies.

Well. Okay. I think I can see a relation to gender and science in that context-- the whole plot is setting up this harebrained <i>thing</i>, and you as a reader are reading along and going "huh?" much like a physicist encountering an unexplained phenomenon in the context of the real world, where a lot of other stuff is going on.

I guess? Maybe that's really reaching, but I, uh, got nothing. I admit I read the book mostly to go "bzuh?"

Flora's picture


I don't know that I have very much to say about Pynchon. The first half of the book seems to me to be laying the groundwork for the second, so at this halfway point, I don't have a lot of thoughts about gender and science. Maybe a little in the depiction of the engineer, but mostly I'm thinking about communism and playwrights right now. Stepan doesn't help me much here. I suppose I could try to force some of the insights related on these pages into a scientific framework, but I would be more interested in discussing them in the framework of the book itself. It seems to follow its own logic, which as of now, does not speak directly to gender/science relations.