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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


'Just mail the letter': Circulation and the Epistle in The Crying of Lot 49
Xavier Marcó del Pont

Scheduled in the Auditorium - Médiathèque: Thursday 8 June, from 10:45 to 11:15

Much of the literary analysis of Pynchon's second novel, The Crying of Lot 49 (1965), has focused on what critics have perceived to be one of its central themes: communication. In a novel that recurrently employs mise-en-abyme, commentators have frequently noted the microcosmic quality of The Courier's Tragedy –the play at its heart– which, like The Mousetrap in Hamlet, mirrors the larger narrative within which it is embedded (Couturier 1987). Frank Kermode, Tony Tanner, and Maurice Couturier have all been quick to highlight the fact that The Tank, the theatre at which Oedipa sees the play performed, is located ‘between a traffic analysis firm and a wildcat transistor outfit’ (CL49 43) between ‘circulation and communication’ (Kermode 1983, 85). Whilst this duality is crucial to Tanner’s reading of the novel, Couturier rephrases it stating that the theatre is ‘“framed” between (...) information gathering and broadcasting’ (1987, 17). A large part of existing scholarship has prioritised the communicational and informational aspect of this presumed duality, neglecting the role that circulation plays within the novel. Whilst it would be practically impossible to fully extricate one theme from the other, this paper will predominantly aim to interrogate the themes of navigation and circulation, with particular respect to the ways in which they contribute to the narrative structure of the novel.

The paper will be divided into two sections. I will first offer a reading of the importance of the concept of the epistle as container of meaning within the novel. This section will consist of an extended, in-depth reading of the opening portion of Lot 49, which will reveal it to be a deconstruction of so-called snail mail, beginning with the missive Oedipa receives at the opening of the text and quickly becoming a recurrent textual trope. Tracing the scattered constitutive parts of the epistolary form throughout the text, this section will conclude by showing that the novel itself bears the hidden mark of none other than its creator, in the form of embedded, pseudo-acrostic authorial signatures interspersed all through the narrative. The postal trope, with its networks and counter-networks (as embodied in the WASTE system) will then lead to the second half of the paper, in which Lot 49 will be examined in light of Oedipa’s movements through the urban spaces of the text’s Californian setting. Through this discussion of transit and circulation in the novel, I will conclude by proposing that the carefully engineered narrative structure of The Crying of Lot 49 is ultimately revealed when read through the lens of spatial navigation.