From Isolation to Affirmation: Love of the World in The Crying of Lot 49
Scheduled in the Hôtel Fleuriau: Wednesday 7 June, from 15:15 to 15:45
The theme which dominates The Crying of Lot 49 is that of loneliness, and beneath its shadow, the theme of love. Oedipa is struck by the death of her former lover, Pierce Inverarity, and in her grief searches the city of San Narciso for some shred of his passing. What she finds instead is not Inverarity’s ghost, but a newfound love of the lives around her and a care for the world they have in common. Leaving her ordinary life to discover a world wracked by consumer excess, Oedipa is forced to engage in acts of creation and connection that enable her to reshape the world anew.
Much has been written on the topics of paranoia and isolation in Pynchon’s novels, yet comparatively little has been said on the manner in which his characters fill this void. Since its release, The Crying of Lot 49 has been taken as a work of satire, as a conspiracy thriller, and as an experiment in absurdism. What these perspectives lack is an eye for the constructive and creative solutions which Pynchon’s novel provides as alternatives to his parodic world. Although the novel ends in paranoid anticipation, the course charted up to that point is one of emergence from isolation and desperate reconnection to a world on the brink of oblivion. I identify in The Crying of Lot 49 a dual project of critique and creation, which damns the world as it is while providing grounds for a world worth loving.
I believe that Pynchon’s novel depicts in hyperbole certain realities of life under consumer capitalism. Drawing from Walter Benjamin’s comments on the dream-world of consumerism, I see Oedipa’s universe as populated by the commodities and detritus of a consumer culture run amok. Oedipa’s search for Inverarity and Tristero begins with the manipulation of these phantasmagoria to imagine structure in the world, and culminates in her attempts to ‘project a world’ more stable than the one given to her. To describe the values that emerge to fill Oedipa’s loneliness, I adopt Hannah Arendt’s concept of amor mundi, or love of the world. This love manifests itself in Oedipa’s story in two ways. Firstly, in Oedipa’s re-engagement with her fellow lost souls, and in her attempts to find and preserve the voices lost to solitude. Secondly, in Oedipa’s imagining of a world both maintained and populated by these voices. As Arendt writes, human life as such survives in the ‘Volo ut sis (I want you to be)’ of community and the resulting amor mundi of a common world. Thus, I argue that Oedipa’s reconstitution of the world is firstly a creative act on her part, begetting a need for communal participation, and culminating in a continual affirmation of this love for a newfound world.