Capturing Thomas Pynchon







“Warren Douglas is Post Office Investigator Bill Mannerson in this diligent Republic programmer. Top billing, however, is awarded to Audrey Long as villainess Clara Kelso. The “maguffin” is a collection of rare stamps, which the baddies attempt to steal from stalwart Mr. Mannerson.”

I’ve had quite the morning of investigative work. I rose around 6:30 AM and got back on the trail of the surrealist artist, Remedious Varo. I clicked on google images of this woman that Thomas Pynchon latched on to in his novelette ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ – and gasped!

“My God! That’s the woman Mary Ann did a portrait of!”

I fought for air as I went to her youtube video. I got my snippet tool ready to capture this portrait. I stopped the action!

“Holy shit! Look at those teeth chomping down on her head like a shark!”

The person who made this video got artsy and did a scramble-thing between each painting. The painting following the portrait of Remedios, is the portrait that Thomas thought Mary Ann did of him, that did not make him happy. Did MA tell Tom the title?

All of a sudden that whole post I did on Dorian Gray and Zardoz was doing a kaleidoscope in my brain. By sheer accident I have captured Tom’s portrait, hidden in the attic. Frame by frame I am beholding the large teeth of Tom coming up from the depths of the void, from the “Bottomless, Unfillable Nothingness” – like a great white – and devouring this artist, this woman Alchemist, who may have been a Rosicrucian. Was Tom devouring Mary Ann, who I am rendering a famous accidental artist in this post?

Pynchon has bitten into The Rose, and has kept Varo in the Big Fish he became in the literary world, like a mysterious trophy. Varo is being used to make Tom more mysterious than he deserves to be. How dare he play hard-to-get with this fellow artist, who perhaps has been contacting me from the ethers, she begging for some sensitive soul to come rescue her?

“How fucking surreal!” this artist said, who delcated himself a surrealist with he was twelve. “And now, a surrealist artist comes to her rescue. And like Jonah, she is spit out of the Writer Whale who feeds on this tiny plankton, those lesser writers who try to figure him out, button-hole him, capture the essence of his being.

“But, Remedious is not a writer. Pynchon made a big mistake. He stepped out of his field of expertise to grab what his wife – the artist – was working on?” Was Mary Ann writing a paper on Varo? Did she take notes? Did Pynchon see these notes? I can’t see Tom at a museum, amongst all the people.

I finished my large cup of coffee and patted myself on the back.

“Good job Mr. Presso! You have done a splendid job of detective work that will receive laurels in the annals of literary investigation. You have connected Pynchon to a real work of art, two real artists, and a real person, he may have been married to. (I want to see the evidence) Hey! Wait a minute! I am an artist, and so was my sister. What we got her is a Creative Cluster!”

“Once Tharaldsen painted a man with massive teeth devouring a burger, which she titled Bottomless, Unfillable Nothingness. Pynchon thought it was him, and hated it. Tharaldsen insists it wasn’t, but their friend Mary Beal isn’t so sure. “I know she regarded him as devouring people. I think in the sense that he—well, I shouldn’t say this, because all writers do it. Writers use people.”

Boris Kacha

I now wanted to put Pynchon in a Cluster of Writers my grandfather had contact with. I went looking for my post on the camping trip Royal Rosamond, and crew, went on. I highly suspect the folks in the photograph below are writers of Pulp Fiction. Royal used to sail to the Channel Islands with his friend, Dashiel Hammet, who was a member of the Black Mask. I believe the person on the far left is Arthur K. Barnes, and to his left is John Butler. These two are sitting in the same position in the Black Mask group. How close are they? Note the guy on the left with a “piece”.

Then, I saw it, the TRUTH that Zed beholds in the vortex when Arthur Frane shows him THE BOOK.

“Holy crow! Butler wrote a pulp fiction story called “The Post Office Investigator”. Butler did it! He laid the egg that Pynchon hatched!

I now went into a psychic trance that almost always resembles walking around in a Grant Wood cityscape. Mary Ann has been on Pynchon’s case for a month about him getting a job because V is not selling enough to keep them alive in Mexico. Tom gets a job as an encyclopedia salesman, but has struck-out with the enclave of expats down by the beach.

On his way home, and not ready to face his wife, Tom ducks into a cheap movie theatre that shows old, and very bad, American movies. It is cool inside as Tom focuses on the Noir plot. Pulp Fiction is an example of postmodern fiction.

“She hands over the stamp and says it was all a mistake. She then whips her piece out of her purse and blasts Journet and Benedict. She grabs up the stamp and the fence’s cash and bolts for the door. She leaves lover-boy Morton to duke it out with Douglas over Benedict’s pistol. As she scrams from the building she is gobbled up by the just arrived P. O. Investigator Clark and Police Detective Henry. Inside, Douglas has disposed of the swine Morton after a well-staged bout of fist-i-cuffs. Douglas is thanked for his help and goes off to meet Miss Donnell. ”

Tom watches this movie three times. When he comes in the door, his wife is screaming at him. MA has been working on her artsy article she’s hoping she can sell to a magazine. Tom is disgusted by the sweat rolling down from Mary Ann’s armpits.

I now went looking for a site where I can make a WANTED poster. I put in a photo of Pynchon, how he may look today. When I went to look at the results, I gasped. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw the name the computer dealt Pynchon – at random?


“Holy shit! Am I looking at the name Pynchon secretly gave himself when he dare look in the mirror?”

Tom sees himself as a private dick. Somehow the great hidden agenda has come to the surface. Just follow the empty bottles like crumbs of bread. We all fear we will become our parents. Oedipa. Who was Tom’s mother? If you alter the names of places and people, in theory, you were not born.

I have twenty-seven years of sobriety. Here is a list someone made of all the drinks Tom mentions in his books. Mary Ann says Tom admonished her for wanting a drink early in the day, this having something to do with is parents. Alcoholism is a hereditary disease. Many alcoholic isolate, build a wall around themselves made of Krell metal. Take away the bottle of ketchup, and replace it with………?

But, I am just having a psychic vision here – or what-have-you!

One thing is for sure, this is a Surrealist Masterpiece! I can hear Varo’s laugh echoing from the back of that theatre they tore down long ago. Me thinks Tom still has the hots for Audrey Long, who does a walk-on in his movie ‘Inherent Vice’.

Jon Presco

Copyright 2014

The Crying of Lot 49 is a novella by Thomas Pynchon, first published in 1966. The shortest of Pynchon’s novels, it is about a woman, Oedipa Maas, possibly unearthing the centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies, Thurn und Taxis and the Trystero (or Tristero). The former actually existed and was the first firm to distribute postal mail; the latter is Pynchon’s invention. The novel is often classified as a notable example of postmodern fiction.

Near the beginning of The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa recalls a trip to an art museum in Mexico with Inverarity during which she encountered a painting, Bordando el Manto Terrestre by Remedios Varo. The painting shows eight women inside a tower, where they are presumably held captive. Six maidens are weaving a tapestry that flows out of the windows. The tapestry seems to constitute the world outside of the tower. Oedipa’s reaction to the tapestry gives us some insight into her difficulty in determining what is real and what is a fiction created by Inverarity for her benefit.


Thomas Pynchon


Arthur Kelvin Barnes (1909 – 1969) was an American science fiction author. Barnes wrote mostly for pulp magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. Barnes was most noted for his vivid and believable portrayals of alien life. As such, he is compared to Stanley G. Weinbaum. Before Barnes (and Weinbaum), SF writers usually portrayed aliens as earth-like monsters, with little originality.[1] He was a member of the Manana Literary Society.[2]

Barnes wrote a series of stories about “interplanetary hunters” Tommy Strike and Gerry Carlyle, collected in the books Interplanetary Hunter (1956) and Interplanetary Huntress (2007).

Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is well known for it’s postmodern attributes including it’s irregular narrative course and it’s many intertexual references.

Author Butler is best-known, at least in our little neck of the woods, for the numerous stories he pounded out for such pulps as Black Mask, Detective Fiction Weekly, Double Detective and especially, Dime Detective.

His best known series character, of course, was Steve Midnight, the trouble-prone hack for the Red Owl Cab Company of Los Angeles, who appeared in nine stories in Dime Detective, but he was also responsible for the adventures of police detective Rex Lonergan, undercover cop Tricky Enright, and hard-boiled phone company inspector Rod Case and even penned one story about Sandy Taylor of the Harbor Police.
But Butler was also one of the most prolific writers of B-pictures, eventually cranking out scripts for over 50 B-flicks, mostly for Republic Pictures, more than half of them westerns, many of them featuring Roy Rogers. among his screen credits are such classic — and occasionally alternative classics — as Ambush at Cimarron Pass, Drums Along the River, My Pal Trigger, The Vampire’s Ghost and– get this — Post Office Investigator, about a hard-boiled, um, post office inspector. A nitrate print of it survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archives but is not listed for preservation.

In the fifties, Butler moved on to television, again favouring westerns, although he also wrote for shows like The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu and 77 Sunset Strip.
Butler was also a bit of a wingnut, dressing up in cowboy drag and galloping through Griffith Park on his horse Prince. You might even say he died in the saddle — he broke his back during a ride in 1964.

Hoo-boy! They sure had some peculiar occupations, those hardboiled dicks of the pulps. ROD CASE was a hard-nosed investigator for the General Pacific Telephone Company in a short series of short stories that ran in Black Mask in the early 40’s.

“Warren Douglas is Post Office Investigator Bill Mannerson in this diligent Republic programmer. Top billing, however, is awarded to Audrey Long as villainess Clara Kelso. The “maguffin” is a collection of rare stamps, which the baddies attempt to steal from stalwart Mr. Mannerson. Aiding and abetting the hero is his spirited fiancee April Shaughnessy (Jeff Donnell). The film’s most interesting performances are rendered by Marcel Journet as a cosmopolitan criminal mastermind and former boxer Richard Benedict as Journet’s deaf-mute henchman. Originally clocking in at 60 minutes, Post Office Investigator seems to be brisker and more entertaining in the 48-minute version prepared for television. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi








Post Office Investigator (1949)

Continuing with my string of “Government Men” films, I dug into the box and pulled this one out. It is another quickie from that endless well-spring of programmers, “Republic Studios”.

The setting is an auction being held in a downtown office building. The auction is for a collection of rare stamps. There is a trio of less than savory types among those attending. Audrey Long, in a criminal role for a change, plays the new secretary of the auctioneer. She is the inside contact. Marcel Journet and Richard Benedict are the other two crooks. They pose as buyers. As the bidders examine the goods she slips a $100,000 stamp to Journet. Journet in turn hands off a fake to Long and returns to his seat.

The fake is replaced into the collection. Once Journet reaches his seat, he slips the stamp to confederate, Richard Benedict. Benedict asks the security guard if he could step out to grab a glass of water. Once in the hall, Benedict seals the stolen stamp inside a self- addressed envelope and drops it down the handy mail chute. Benedict then returns to his seat with his drink. The fake is soon discovered and the Police called. They do a search of the room and the patrons. Not finding anything, they release everyone.

Afterwards, Long meets her beau, Danny Morton for a few drinks. They talk about the $5,000 they will get for the job after the goods are fenced. Morton has an idea on how they can cut out Journet and Benedict and keep all the cash. Long, being the “sweet’ thing that she is, is all ears. The next morning Long is waiting beside the pickup box for the mailmen. Enter postmen Warren Douglas and Jimmie Dodd. Long bats her lashes at the boys and tells them she is in a jam. Long explains that she works in a Law office upstairs. Last night she says, “I put the wrong letter in the wrong envelope and dropped it in the mail.” She is sure that her boss will fire her if he finds out.

Would it be possible for her to retrieve said letter before it hits the system? She could fix her mistake and send it off again. Dodd is reluctant to do it but Douglas is a sucker for a dolly in distress. Douglas says he will do it if Long will join Dodd, his girl and himself on a date at 7 that night. She agrees and gives him the address on the letter she wants back. Douglas hands it over and heads back on his run with Dodd. Later that morning, the Police Lt. in charge of the robbery case, Thomas Browne Henry, decides he has the theft figured.

And right he his, a stamp switch and a drop of the swag down the mail chute. He calls on Post Office Inspector Cliff Clark with his theory. Clark calls in Dodd and Douglas and asks for the mailbags from the route. Dodd figures it has something to do with Long, Douglas however says it is just management doing a routine check. Later that night, Douglas, Dodd and his girl, Vera Marshe, swing by the office to pick up Long for the agreed upon foursome. Needless to say there is no sign of Long. Douglas has a quick check of the Lawyer’s office where Long said she worked. No Long, but there is pretty secretary, Jeff Donnell, who is locking up for the night.

Douglas talks Donnell into joining the group for a beer. As they drive past Central Park, Douglas suddenly remembers the address off the letter. It is just a block away. Douglas suggests they stop and see if Long is there. While all this is going on, Long is indeed at said address. She is asking Journet for her end of the stamp money. Journet says the envelope with the stolen stamp has not arrived yet. When it does, Journet will sell the stamp to a fence and Long will get her cut. There is a knock at the door, which is of course Douglas. Long tells Journet that Douglas is her escort for the night and says goodnight. Douglas figures the date is back on and smiles.

Said smile quickly evaporates when Long sticks a large pistol in his ribs and says come with her. Long walks Douglas out of the apartment building, past Dodd, Marshe and Donnell, to a waiting car with Morton sitting inside. She shoves Douglas into the auto and piles in after him. Douglas finally clues in that Long is “not”, Miss Sunshine and Roses. She pokes him with the piece and asks how he found her. “I recalled the address off the letter from when I gave it to you,” replies Douglas. Morton and Long have several quick words after which Morton starts the car. An un-needed trip to the bottom of the East River seems to be in Douglas’s immediate future.

The last thing Long and Morton want is someone blabbing about the double cross they pulled on Journet and Benedict. As he is being led to the dockside, Dodd and crew, who have been following Long’s car, lean on the horn. Douglas gets in a right cross to Morton’s chin and high-tails it to Dodd’s car. Once Douglas is inside, off they roar. They head straight to Investigator Clark’s office and come clean about the whole letter deal. Investigator Clark and Police Detective Henry ask Douglas to go undercover. They want him to go see Journet and Benedict and inform on Long. The two promise Douglas they will be close at hand if there are any problems.

Douglas is to tell Journet and Benedict that Long promised him 5 grand to help with the letter grab and double cross. Douglas is telling Journet about the deal because Long tried to deep six him instead of paying up. The details of the double cross must be worth something to Journet. Journet and Benedict are shall we say, “annoyed” with the info from Douglas. Phone calls are made and a meeting with all parties at the fence’s apartment is arranged. At the fence’s place, Journet and company quietly wait for Long with pistols drawn. Long, with Morton in tow, enters the apartment, sees the guns and Douglas and knows the jig is up. She hands over the stamp and says it was all a mistake. She then whips her piece out of her purse and blasts Journet and Benedict. She grabs up the stamp and the fence’s cash and bolts for the door. She leaves lover-boy Morton to duke it out with Douglas over Benedict’s pistol. As she scrams from the building she is gobbled up by the just arrived P. O. Investigator Clark and Police Detective Henry. Inside, Douglas has disposed of the swine Morton after a well-staged bout of fist-i-cuffs. Douglas is thanked for his help and goes off to meet Miss Donnell.

Excuse the somewhat rambling review here, but they sure packed a lot into the 60 minute runtime of this programmer. A very enjoyable quick paced timewaster!

It was great to see Miss Long as a villainous, double-dealing, knife in the back partner shooting nasty!

There is quite a lot of noir talent on display in this low-renter.

Long had roles in Game of Death, Insurance Investigator, Born To Kill, David Harding – Counterspy, and Desperate.

Douglas was in The Inner Circle, The Trespasser, Incident, Homicide, The Great Jewel Robber, Secrets of Monte Carlo, and Cry Vengeance.

Cliff Clark had bits in Bury Me Dead, Roses are Red, The Scar, Sorry, Wrong Number, Force of Evil, In This Corner, Shockproof, The Sun Sets at Dawn, Southside 1-1000, The Sellout, The Sniper, Scandal Sheet and Try and Get Me!

Richard Benedict was in Somewhere in the Night, Race Street, Smart Girls Don’t Talk, Shock Proof, Homicide, Scene of the Crime, The Window, Crossfire and Ace in the Hole.

Pretty Jeff (Jean Marie) Donnell had roles in Power of the Whistler, Night Editor, Mr. District Attorney, Roughshod, Walk Softly Stranger, The Blue Gardenia, Sweet Smell of Success, and In A Lonely Place.

The screenplay was by John K. Butler who also did Out of the Storm, Secret Service Investigator, Hideout, The Blonde Bandit, Secrets of Monte Carlo, When Gangland Strikes, No Man’s Woman and I Cover the Underworld.

The D of P was Republic regular John MacBurnie. His work included Out of the Storm, Hideout, Insurance Investigator, Street Bandits, The Red Menace, Missing Women, and Federal Agent at Large.

The director here was the under-rated George Blair. Blair always seemed able to get the most out of his cast and crew despite the low budgets he was saddled with. Examples of his noir include The Trespasser, Exposed, Federal Agent at Large, Secrets of Monte Carlo, Insurance Investigator, Unmasked, and Lonely Heart Bandit.






The Crying of Lot 49

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The Crying of Lot 49

1966 U.S. first edition

Thomas Pynchon

United States


Postmodern novel

1966 (J. B. Lippincott & Co.)

The Crying of Lot 49 is a novella by Thomas Pynchon, first published in 1966. The shortest of Pynchon’s novels, it is about a woman, Oedipa Maas, possibly unearthing the centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies, Thurn und Taxis and the Trystero (or Tristero). The former actually existed and was the first firm to distribute postal mail; the latter is Pynchon’s invention. The novel is often classified as a notable example of postmodern fiction.

Time included the novel in its “TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005”.[1]

Contents [hide]
1 Characters
2 Plot summary
3 Critical reception
4 Allusions in the book 4.1 The Beatles
4.2 Presidential politics and “49”
4.3 Vladimir Nabokov
4.4 Remedios Varo
4.5 The Courier’s Tragedy

5 References in popular culture
6 Notes
7 Editions
8 External links

##Oedipa Maas – The novel’s protagonist. After her ex-boyfriend, Pierce Inverarity, dies and she becomes co-executor of his estate, she discovers and begins to unravel what may or may not be a worldwide conspiracy. The character Oedipus in Greek playwright Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother. Founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud believed that all healthy boys go through an emotional stage just before entering the developmental stage he called latency in which they wish to supplant their father in their mother’s affections, and Freud called this phenomenon the “Oedipus complex”. (The analogous dynamic for girls, the subject of plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, he called the Electra complex.)
##Pierce Inverarity – Oedipa’s ex-boyfriend and a wealthy real-estate tycoon. The reader never meets him directly: all encounters are presented through Oedipa’s memories. At the beginning of the novel he is already dead and is said to have been extremely rich, having owned, at one time or another, a great deal of real property and holdings in California.
##Wendell “Mucho” Maas – Oedipa’s husband, Mucho once worked in a used-car lot but recently became a disc jockey for KCUF radio in Kinneret, California (a fictional town). Toward the end of the novel, the effects of his nascent LSD use alienate Oedipa.
##Metzger – A lawyer who works for the Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus law firm. He has been assigned to help Oedipa execute Pierce’s estate. He and Oedipa have an affair.
##Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard – The four members of the band The Paranoids, American teenagers who sing with British accents.
##Dr. Hilarius – Oedipa’s psychiatrist, who prescribes LSD to Oedipa as well as other housewives (she does not take it). He goes crazy toward the end of the story, admitting to being a former Nazi doctor at Buchenwald, where he worked in a program focused on experimentally induced insanity to render Jews permanently catatonic. He claims to use facial expressions as a weapon and boasts of a face he once made that drove a subject insane. He holes up in his office but is taken away peacefully by the police after Oedipa disarms him.
##John Nefastis – A scientist obsessed with perpetual motion. He has tried to invent a type of Maxwell’s demon in an attempt to create a perpetual motion machine. Oedipa visits him to see the machine after learning about him from Stanley Koteks.
##Stanley Koteks – An employee of Yoyodyne Corporation who knows something about the Trystero. Oedipa meets him when she wanders into his office while touring the plant.
##Richard Wharfinger – producer of The Courier’s Tragedy
##Randolph Driblette – A leading Wharfinger scholar and the director of the production of The Courier’s Tragedy seen by Oedipa and Metzger. Driblette commits suicide before Oedipa can extract any useful information from him about Wharfinger’s mention of the Tristero, but meeting him spurs her to go on a quest to find the meaning behind Trystero.
##Mike Fallopian – Oedipa and Metzger meet Mike Fallopian in The Scope, a bar frequented by Yoyodyne employees. He tells them about The Peter Pinguid Society. Oedipa searches him out again later.
##Genghis Cohen – The most eminent philatelist in the Los Angeles area, Cohen was hired to inventory and appraise the deceased’s stamp collection. Oedipa and he discuss stamps and forgeries.
##Professor Emory Bortz – Formerly of Berkeley, now teaching at San Narciso, Bortz wrote the editor’s preface in a version of Wharfinger’s works. Oedipa tracks him down to learn more about Trystero.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel follows Oedipa Maas, a California housewife who becomes entangled in a convoluted historical mystery when her ex-lover dies and designates her the co-executor of his estate. The catalyst of Oedipa’s adventure is a set of stamps that may have been used by a secret underground postal delivery service, the Trystero (or Tristero).

According to the historical narrative that Oedipa pieces together during her travels around Southern California, the Trystero was defeated by Thurn und Taxis – a real postal system – in the 18th century, but Trystero went underground and continued to exist into the present day (the 1960s). Its mailboxes are disguised as regular waste bins, often displaying its slogan, W.A.S.T.E. (an acronym for “We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire”), and its symbol, a muted post horn. The existence and plans of this shadowy organization are revealed bit by bit; or, then again, it is possible that the Trystero does not exist at all. The novel’s main character, Oedipa Maas, is buffeted back and forth between believing and not believing in it without ever finding firm proof either way. The Trystero may be a conspiracy, it may be a practical joke, or it may simply be that Oedipa is hallucinating all the arcane references to this underground network that she seems to be discovering on bus windows, toilet walls, and everywhere in the Bay Area.

The Trystero muted post horn
Prominent among these references is the Trystero symbol, a muted post horn with one loop. Originally derived, supposedly, from the Thurn and Taxis coat of arms, Oedipa first finds this symbol in a bar bathroom, where it decorates a graffito advertising a group of polyamorists. It later appears among an engineer’s doodles, as part of a children’s sidewalk jump rope game, amidst Chinese ideograms in a shop window, and in many other places. The post horn (in either original or Trystero versions) appears on the cover art of many TCL49 editions and in artwork created by the novel’s fans.

Oedipa finds herself drawn into this shadowy intrigue when an old boyfriend, the California real estate mogul Pierce Inverarity, dies. Inverarity’s will names her as his executor. Soon enough, she learns that although Inverarity “once lost two million dollars in his spare time [he] still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary.” She leaves her comfortable home in Kinneret-Among-The-Pines, a northern California village, and travels south to the fictional town of San Narciso (Spanish for “Saint Narcissus”), near Los Angeles. Exploring puzzling coincidences that she uncovers while parsing Inverarity’s testament, Oedipa finds what might be evidence for the Trystero’s existence. Sinking or ascending ever more deeply into paranoia, she finds herself torn between believing in the Trystero and believing that it is all a hoax established by Inverarity himself. Near the novel’s conclusion, she reflects,

He might have written the testament only to harass a one-time mistress, so cynically sure of being wiped out he could throw away all hope of anything more. Bitterness could have run that deep in him. She just didn’t know. He might himself have discovered The Tristero, and encrypted that in the will, buying into just enough to be sure she’d find it. Or he might even have tried to survive death, as a paranoia; as a pure conspiracy against someone he loved.

Along the way, Oedipa meets a wide range of eccentric characters. Her therapist in Kinneret, Dr. Hilarius, turns out to have done his internship in Buchenwald, working to induce insanity in captive Jews. “Liberal SS circles felt it would be more humane,” he explains. In San Francisco, she meets a man who claims membership in the Inamorati Anonymous (IA), a group founded to help people avoid falling in love, “the worst addiction of all”. And in Berkeley, she meets John Nefastis, an engineer who believes he has built a working version of Maxwell’s Demon, a means for defeating entropy. The book ends with Oedipa attending an auction, waiting for bidding to begin on a set of rare postage stamps that she believes representatives of Trystero are trying to acquire. (Auction items are called “lots”; a lot is “cried” when the auctioneer is taking bids on it; the stamps in question are “Lot 49”.)

Critical reception[edit]

Critics have read the book as both an “exemplary postmodern text”[2] and an outright parody of postmodernism.[3] “Mike Fallopian cannot be a real character’s name,” protests one reviewer.[4] Pynchon himself disparaged this book, writing in 1984, “As is clear from the up-and-down shape of my learning curve, however, it was too much to expect that I’d keep on for long in this positive or professional direction. The next story I wrote was The Crying of Lot 49, which was marketed as a ‘novel,’ and in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I’d learned up until then.”[5]

Allusions in the book[edit]

The Crying of Lot 49 book cover, featuring the Thurn und Taxis post horn
As ever with Pynchon’s writing, the labyrinthine plots offer myriad interconnecting cultural references. Understanding these references allows for a much richer reading of the work. J. Kerry Grant wrote A Companion to the Crying of Lot 49[6] in attempts to catalogue these references, but it is neither definitive nor complete.

The Beatles[edit]

The Crying of Lot 49 was published shortly after Beatlemania and the “British invasion” that took place in America and other Western countries. Indeed, internal context clues indicate that it is probably set in 1964, the year in which A Hard Day’s Night was released. Pynchon makes a wide variety of Beatles allusions. Most prominent are the Paranoids, a band composed of cheerful marijuana smokers whose lead singer, Miles, is a high-school dropout. The Paranoids all speak with American accents but sing in English ones; at one point, a guitar player is forced to relinquish control of a car to his girlfriend because he cannot see through his hair. It is not clear whether Pynchon was aware of the Beatles’ own nickname for themselves, “Los Para Noias”;[7] since the novel is replete with other references to paranoia, Pynchon may have chosen the band’s name for other reasons.

Pynchon refers to a rock song, “I Want to Kiss Your Feet”, an adulteration of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. The song’s artist, Sick Dik and the Volkswagens, evokes the names of such historical rock groups as the El Dorados, the Edsels, the Cadillacs, and the Jaguars[6] (as well as an early name the Beatles themselves used, “Long John and the Silver Beetles”). “Sick Dik” may also refer to Richard Wharfinger, author of “that ill, ill Jacobean revenge play” known as The Courier’s Tragedy.[6] On top of all this, the song’s title also keeps up a recurring sequence of allusions to Saint Narcissus, a 3rd-century bishop of Jerusalem.

Late in the novel, Oedipa’s husband, Mucho Maas, a disc jockey at Kinneret radio station KCUF, describes his experience of discovering the Beatles. Mucho refers to their early song “She Loves You”, as well as hinting at the areas the Beatles were later to explore. Pynchon writes,
“Whenever I put the headset on now,” he’d continued, “I really do understand what I find there. When those kids sing about ‘She loves you,’ yeah well, you know, she does, she’s any number of people, all over the world, back through time, different colors, sizes, ages, shapes, distances from death, but she loves. And the ‘you’ is everybody. And herself. Oedipa, the human voice, you know, it’s a flipping miracle.” His eyes brimming, reflecting the color of beer.”Baby,” she said, helpless, knowing of nothing she could do for this, and afraid for him.He put a little clear plastic bottle on the table between them. She stared at the pills in it, and then understood. “That’s LSD?” she said.
Presidential politics and “49”[edit]

Pynchon was also anticipating the American presidential election of 1968, in which former Vice-President Richard M. “Dick” Nixon defeated then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. John F. Kennedy is known[8] to have called Richard Nixon “sick” after overhearing one of Nixon’s verbal faux pas. The number 49 is the sum of the alphabetical orders of the letters–the alphanumeric value–in the word “yes”, and “yes” is the refrain James Joyce’s anti-heroine, Molly Bloom, repeats 68 times in her monologue at the end of his 1922 epic, Ulysses. There were precisely 49 members of the British Commonwealth of states at Queen Elizabeth II’s accession in 1952,[9] giving “49”, “yes”, the “gold” in “Gold Rush”, and San Francisco religious significance in the Anglican and Episcopalian churches.[10]

In the United States, postage stamp portraits are reserved for seminal contributors to American culture, and no portrait of a living person may appear on a stamp. Like all US presidents, Nixon and Kennedy sought greatness, but the “faults” in their personalities, resulting in JFK’s obsessive philandering and Nixon’s campaign “dirty tricks”, prevented either from completely realizing their potential in office, causing them and the country they served to “cry” from Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 to Ronald Reagan’s twenty years later. San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf lends its name to the character of Richard Wharfinger and suggests rather transparently that “Sick Dik’s” weakness was his pursuit of “fish” (female Christ-surrogates). Kennedy and Nixon had been frenemies since their election to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1948, and each defined himself to some extent in opposition to the other, Kennedy reacting against Nixon’s social backwardness and Nixon against Kennedy’s exaggerated wealth.[11] “Sick Dik” is therefore both Kennedy as the non-Nixon and Nixon as the non-Kennedy.

The novel’s implications for the presidential election that will determine who America’s 49th chief executive will be can only be surmised.

Vladimir Nabokov[edit]

Pynchon, like Kurt Vonnegut, was a student at Cornell University, where he probably at least audited Vladimir Nabokov’s Literature 312 class. (Nabokov himself had no recollection of him, but Nabokov’s wife, Véra, recalls grading Pynchon’s examination papers, thanks only to his handwriting, “half printing, half script”.)[12] The year before Pynchon graduated, Nabokov’s novel Lolita was published in the United States; among other things, including the novel’s adaptation to cinema in 1961 by Stanley Kubrick, Lolita introduced the word “nymphet” to describe a sexually attractive girl between the ages of nine and fourteen. In following years, mainstream usage altered the word’s meaning somewhat, broadening its applicability. Perhaps appropriately, Pynchon provides an early example of the modern “nymphet” usage entering the literary canon. Serge, The Paranoids’ teenage counter-tenor, loses his girlfriend to a middle-aged lawyer. At one point he expresses his angst in song:
What chance has a lonely surfer boyFor the love of a surfer chick,With all these Humbert Humbert catsComing on so big and sick?For me, my baby was a woman,For him she’s just another nymphet.
Remedios Varo[edit]

Near the beginning of The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa recalls a trip to an art museum in Mexico with Inverarity during which she encountered a painting, Bordando el Manto Terrestre by Remedios Varo. The painting shows eight women inside a tower, where they are presumably held captive. Six maidens are weaving a tapestry that flows out of the windows. The tapestry seems to constitute the world outside of the tower. Oedipa’s reaction to the tapestry gives us some insight into her difficulty in determining what is real and what is a fiction created by Inverarity for her benefit.
She had looked down at her feet and known, then, because of a painting, that what she stood on had only been woven together a couple thousand miles away in her own tower, was only by accident known as Mexico, and so Pierce had taken her away from nothing, there’d been no escape.
The Courier’s Tragedy[edit]

Pynchon devotes a significant part of the book to a “play within a play”, a detailed description of a performance of an imaginary Jacobean revenge play, involving intrigues between Thurn und Taxis and Trystero. Like “The Mousetrap”, based on “The Murder of Gonzago” that Shakespeare placed within Hamlet, the events and atmosphere of The Courier’s Tragedy (by the fictional Richard Wharfinger) mirror those in the larger story around them.

In many aspects it resembles a typical revenge play, such as The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, and plays by John Webster and Cyril Tourneur.

References in popular culture[edit]
##The Yoyodyne company, which first appears in V., is also referenced in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and is a manufacturer of starship drives in the Star Trek universe. Angel, the spin-off series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, includes a firm named Yoyodyne, although this may be an indirect allusion via the Buckaroo Banzai film. ABC television created a website for a fictional company named PB-Sales, in connection with its TV show Lost; PB-Sales specializes in managing and controlling other corporations, including Yoyodyne and Daystrom Data Concepts (a nod to the Star Trek episode “The Ultimate Computer”).[13] The GNU General Public License uses “Yoyodyne, Inc.” as the name of a company in an example of a copyright disclaimer.
##Both Radiohead and Yo La Tengo have included Pynchonian motifs in their works, some of them hinging upon TCL49.[14] Yo La Tengo named a song “The Crying of Lot G” on their album And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. Radiohead also references the novel in the name of their online merchandise shop and mailing list, W.A.S.T.E. (which originally sent out physical mail, making the reference more apt).
##Nicholas Meyer’s 1993 novel The Canary Trainer describes a fictional painting by the famous Impressionist Degas, which happens to show Sherlock Holmes playing violin in the Opera Garnier. To explain why this work is not prominently displayed in an art gallery, Meyer adds a tongue-in-cheek footnote, explaining that it was bought by the late “Marquis de Tour et Tassis”, then auctioned off by the Marquis’s widow. Both the aristocrat’s name (a clear variant of “Thurn and Taxis”) and the auction are nods to Pynchon.
##In the William Gibson novel Count Zero (1986), the multinational corporation Maas Neotek is named in honor of Oedipa Maas.[15]
##In the opening shot of the Mad Men episode “Lady Lazarus” (season 5, episode 8), character Peter Campbell is reading the novel.
##The anime film, Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space (2002), bases its plot about a religious cult becoming a mail order monopoly and intergalactic power on the novel’s Tristero.
##The sample configuration file for GNU’s Wget uses as a placeholder for the proxy setting.[16]
##The Phone Company (, established by Carl Malamud and Marshall Rose in 1991, used the posthorn of the Trystero guild as its logo.[17]
##A Google smartphone app for the third annual Treefort Music Fest (a QR Code scanner in the guise of a nominal secret decoder ring) prominently features the Trystero muted horn.[18]
##In the animated sitcom The Simpsons, (season 25, episode 542), entitled Diggs, the guest character has a broken arm and evidently “Oedipa Maas” visited him and signed his cast.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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1 Response to Capturing Thomas Pynchon

  1. Reblogged this on rosamondpress and commented:

    Rick Partlow insisted I made an appointment to see my sister when I went down to LA. I wish he had not done that, because we never got on a good footing. When he saw my artwork lined aganst the walls of Mickey Roonie’s old house, he said; “This looks good. We can take over the art world.” Phil Spector had all but taken over Music World, and, then he put a bullet in somebodies beautiful Muse. Music comes from the name Muse.

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