Disorder and Misunderstanding in Thos Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49

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Disorder and Misunderstanding The Crying of Lot 49

When reading Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" one is flooded with a deluge of historical references (dates, places, events) and, unless a historical genius, probably feels confused as to the historical accuracy of such references. As critics have shown, Pynchon blends factual history with fiction and manages, as David Seed writes in "The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon," to "juxtapose(s) historical references with reminders of the novel's status as artefact so that the reader's sense of history and of fiction are brought into maximum confrontation" (128). Pynchon, for example, in "Lot 49" speaks at length about Maxwell's Demon, a machine proposed in 1871 by physicist
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At the beginning of the novel we learn that she has been given the job of "sorting it (Pierce's estate) all out" (1) which she attempts to accomplish by "shuffling back through a fat deckful of days" (2). The Demon sorts molecules and thus gains information about them, which in turns allows it to create order among chaos. Oedipa, similarly, seeks to act as a "dark machine in the center of the planetarium, to bring the estate into pulsing stelliferous Meaning" (64) (Mangel 90: 1971). The comparison couldn't be more obvious; Oedipa as "machine," "sorting" clues, gaining information, discovering patterns and order and, ultimately, a "Meaning."

This metaphoric parallel becomes weak, however, when we realize that as Oedipa probes deeper into the issues, "other revelations...seemed to come crowding in exponentially, as if the more she collected the more would come to her,"(64). Oedipa becomes unable to accurately mimic Maxwell's Demon; she simply cannot sort through all of the clues, nor can she place the "truthful" ones on one side and the "false" ones on the other. This inability stems not only from the copious amount of information she receives but the ultimately unknowable (and, as we shall see, distorted) nature of such "clues;" Oedipa can never truly know if a clue is "true" or "false." Nonetheless, the other side of Maxwell's Demon, the side Pynchon chooses not to explicitly elaborate,
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