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Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon 
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Post Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
[I've been wanting to discuss this novel for a long time. I first read it in the 80s when I was in the service and was immediately intrigued by it. I've never read anything like it before or since. This essay will come in installments as it is not going to be a quick read situation. Also, just let me say SPOILER ALERT!!!! This is not written to get you to read the book. You should read it beforehand. That's not hard because it is very short--a novella, really--and you don't have to buy it as the text is available on the internet. If you read this essay without having read the novel first, it will be spoiled for you because I intend to analyze every part of it from beginning to end. I hope you find it engaging and educational. It certainly was educational for me. Excerpts from the novel will be in bold. Although this is an essay rather than a discussion, you are, of course, welcome to chime in anytime you wish. --DB Roy]

The Crying of Lot 49 is the second of Thomas Pynchon’s novels. His first, V, was published in 1963. The Crying of Lot 49 was published in 1966 by J.B. Lippincott & Co. Its timing was perfect coming out just as free love and feminism rose to the national consciousness and consciousness itself was being expanded via psychotropic substances.

The main character of the story is Oedipa Maas, an attractive, young woman in her early 30s living in Kinneret-on-the-Pines in Southern California. She is not a hippie or anything that could be termed counter-culture. She is, in fact, a suburban housewife and a self-proclaimed Young Republican who comes home one day from a Tupperware party to discover in a letter that her former-millionaire boyfriend, Pierce Inverarity, had died and had named her co-executor of his estate. Her fellow executor was a lawyer named Metzger.

When Oedipa’s husband, Wendell, comes home, she shows him the letter. Wendell, a former used car salesman (an occupation he utterly despised), is now a disc jockey called Mucho at a local rock station, KCUF. Like Oedipa, he is not even remotely counter-culture, but he dresses with a touch of hippie to his look—paisley ties and flared dress pants—and wears his hair longish (but not long) so that he won’t look too square to the kids who comprise the station’s listenership. He is at war with his boss, Funch, whom he claims is trying to censor him for coming on too strongly to the teeny bopper girls who call the station for requests. Mucho, however, is rather thin-skinned, sensitive and full of insecurities and often suffers from nightmares. Mucho tells Oedipa to talk to their lawyer, Roseman, about the letter and the responsibilities of an executor. “I’m not capable,” he tells her.

Oedipa remembers the last time she had spoken to Pierce Inverarity:

…last year at three or so one morning there had come this long-distance call, from where she would never know (unless now he’d left a diary) by a voice beginning in heavy Slavic tones as second secretary at the Transylvanian Consulate, looking for an escaped bat; modulated to comic-Negro, then on into hostile Pachuco dialect, full of chingas and maricones; then a Gestapo officer asking her in shrieks did she have relatives in Germany and finally his Lamont Cranston voice, the one he’d talked in all the way down to Mazatlan. “Pierce, please,” she’d managed to get in, “I thought we had…”

“But Margo,” earnestly, “I’ve just come from Commissioner Weston, and that old man in the fun house was murdered by the same blowgun that killed Professor Quackenbush,” or something.

“For God’s sake,” she said. Mucho had rolled over and was looking at her.

“Why don’t you hang up on him,” Mucho suggested, sensibly.

“I heard that,” Pierce said. “I think it’s time Wendell Maas had a little visit from The Shadow.” Silence, positive and thorough, fell. So it was the last of his voices she ever heard. Lamont Cranston.

Although we might think Inverarity possibly drunk or high during the call, we will learn later that, just like everything he says to or does with Oedipa, he has left subtle, tantalizing and sinister clues. About what, though? Yes, a very good question—about what?
Later that night—or rather, early in the morning—Oedipa is awakened by the phone ringing at 3 a.m. just as it had done with the last call she got from Pierce. She answers it to discover the caller is her shrink, Dr. Hilarius who speaks with a German accent:

But he sounded like Pierce doing a Gestapo officer.

“I didn’t wake you up, did I,” he began, dry. “You sound so frightened. How are the pills, not working?”

“I’m not taking them,” she said.

“You feel threatened by them?”

“I don’t know what’s inside them.”

“You don’t believe that they’re only tranquilizers.”

“Do I trust you?” She didn’t, and what he said next explained why not.

“We still need a hundred-and-fourth for the bridge.” Chuckled aridly. The bridge, die Brucke, being his pet name for the experiment he was helping the community hospital run on effects of LSD-25, mescaline, psilocybin, and related drugs on a large sample of surburban housewives. The bridge inward. “When can you let us fit you into our schedule.”

“No,” she said, “you have half a million others to choose from. It’s three in the morning.”

“We want you.” Hanging in the air over her bed she now beheld the well-known portrait of Uncle Sam that appears in front of all our post offices, his eyes gleaming unhealthily, his sunken yellow cheeks most violently rouged, his finger pointing between her eyes. I want you. She had never asked Dr. Hilarius why, being afraid of all he might answer.


“I am having a hallucination now, I don’t need drugs for that.”

“Don’t describe it,” he said quickly. “Well. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about.”

“Did I call you?”

“I thought so,” he said, “I had this feeling. Not telepathy. But rapport with a patient is a curious thing sometimes.”

“Not this time.” She hung up. And then couldn’t get to sleep. But would be damned if she’d take the capsules he’d given her. Literally damned. She didn’t want to get hooked in any way, she’d told him that. “So,” he shrugged, “on me you are not hooked? Leave then. You’re cured.”

She didn’t leave. Not that the shrink held any dark power over her. But it was easier to stay. Who’d know the day she was cured? Not him, he’d admitted that himself. “Pills are different,” she pleaded. Hilarius only made a face at her, one he’d made before. He was full of these delightful lapses from orthodoxy. His theory being that a face is symmetrical like a Rorschach blot, tells a story like a TAT picture, excites a response like a suggested word, so why not. He claimed to have once cured a case of hysterical blindness with his number 37, the “Fu-Manchu” (many of the faces having like German symphonies both a number and nickname), which involved slanting the eyes up with the index fingers, enlarging the nostrils with the middle fingers, pulling the mouth wide with the pinkies and protruding the tongue. On Hilarius it was truly alarming. And in fact, as Oedipa’s Uncle Sam hallucination faded, it was this Fu-Manchu face that came dissolving in to replace it and stay with her for what was left of the hours before dawn. It put her in hardly any shape to see Roseman.

But nevertheless Oedipa goes to see Roseman later that morning. Roseman, like most of the other characters in the novel is a bit paranoid and insecure and got his jollies off writing an essay on the unreality of Perry Mason whom he longed to be like in the courtroom but never could hope to. Of course, the essay never seems to get finished. Oedipa explains to him that Pierce Inverarity had died and made her in co-executor handing him the letter she received from Metzger:

“Why would he do a thing like that,” Roseman puzzled, after reading the letter.

“You mean die?”

“No,” said Roseman, “name you to help execute it.”

“He was unpredictable.” They went to lunch. Roseman tried to play footsie with her under the table. She was wearing boots, and couldn’t feel much of anything. So, insulated, she decided not to make any fuss.

“Run away with me,” said Roseman when the coffee came.

“Where?” she asked. That shut him up.

Back in the office, he outlined what she was in for: learn intimately the books and the business, go through probate, collect all debts, inventory the assets, get an appraisal of the estate, decide what to liquidate and what to hold on to, pay off claims, square away taxes, distribute legacies . . .

“Hey,” said Oedipa, “can’t I get somebody to do it for me?”

“Me,” said Roseman, “some of it, sure. But aren’t you even interested?”

“In what?”

“In what you might find out.”

Last edited by DB Roy on Sat Jul 16, 2016 11:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
Part of Pynchon’s novel is concerned with Oedipa as a woman in a man’s world. In the sixties things were different for women. The lawyer profession was largely male-dominated and we see Roseman trying to play footsie with Oedipa who ignores him by not making any fuss (the German word for foot). The sexual harassment game is one that women have been forced to play forever and, in Oedipa’s time, not many avenues open were to her except to either play along or ignore it and hope the harasser stops. In this case, Roseman stops simply because he is unsure of what he really wants being so insecure and paranoid.

There had hung the sense of buffering, insulation, she had noticed the absence of an intensity, as if watching a movie, just perceptibly out of focus, that the projectionist refused to fix. And had also gently conned herself into the curious, Rapunzel-like role of a pensive girl somehow, magically, prisoner among the pines and salt fogs of Kinneret, looking for somebody to say hey, let down your hair. When it turned out to be Pierce she’d happily pulled out the pins and curlers and down it tumbled in its whispering, dainty avalanche, only when Pierce had got maybe halfway up, her lovely hair turned, through some sinister sorcery, into a great unanchored wig, and down he fell, on his ass.

So Oedipa keeps herself in a kind of isolation waiting for that one man to free her from it—Pierce Inverarity. She is also insulated in her boots when Roseman tries his game of footsie but Roseman is no Pierce. The city of Kinneret was Oedipa’s Rapunzel tower. Of course, we cannot help but notice the similarity of Kinneret to minaret.


A minaret is a tower attached to a mosque where a muezzin stands and calls the faithful to prayer. Once again, we have the imagery of Oedipa as a kind of muezzin calling out to someone to come and get her before she gets too old to be regarded by most men as desirable.

When Oedipa and Pierce take a trip to Mexico, they wander into a gallery containing a painting by Remedios Varo called “Bordando el Manto Terrestre” or “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle” which Pynchon describes:

...a number of frail girls with heart-shaped faces, huge eyes, spun-gold hair, prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.


We see a hexagonal tower with one wall removed for our convenience. Inside are six girls in what look like priestly vestments—black or dark-blue robes with high, white collars. The girls appear to be clones, each with light-colored, swept back hair. Each sits at a loom and works on her own tapestry that trails out of slit windows to fill in the black, foggy world outside with streets and buildings, distant hills, bodies of water with ships which are all embroidered on the tapestry. The thread for each girl’s tapestry comes from a rather cryptic device in the center of the floor. Rather like an hourglass-shaped double-chambered cauldron that might be used by an alchemist. The cauldron is open at the top which is where the wispy threads emanate but also emanate through two holes in the bottom chamber of the cauldron and one can see there appear to be holes on the side facing away from the viewer. These bottom threads, however, are not being incorporated into the tapestry as the other threads but are looped around the wheels of the looms, driving them, before returning to the holes.


The threads float wisplike and spidery while, on the floor, are two holes next to the girls nearest the viewer and more of these threads emanate from these holes and are floating up and being incorporated into their tapestries. Around the “waist” of the cauldron floats a mysterious ring. There are also a series of raised lines emanating sun-like from where the cauldron sits dividing the floor into eight pie-like pieces. Since the cauldron resembles the symbol for infinity—a figure 8—that may be what it represents—the mysterious void spoken of in Buddhist lore from which all things spring.


But even stranger, is that the cauldron is being stirred by what appears to be a type of sorceress or high priestess robed in black, tall, wearing a conical black hat and a veil that covers her nose, mouth and chin. She wears an under garment that is tighter fitting and of indeterminate color. She holds a book in her other hand, perhaps a magical grimoire. She gazes straight ahead, eyes languid, as though lost in a daydream or under a spell. Behind her stands another woman in a robe that also appears to be the same indeterminate-colored material. She appears to be playing a type of flute. Is the music hypnotizing them?


Oedipa’s reaction to the painting is one of recognition and sadness:

Oedipa, perverse, had stood in front of the painting and cried. No one had noticed; she wore dark green bubble shades. For a moment she’d wondered if the seal around her sockets were tight enough to allow the tears simply to go on and fill up the entire lens space and never dry. She could carry the sadness of the moment with her that way forever, see the world refracted through those tears, those specific tears, as if indices as yet unfound varied in important ways from cry to cry. 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. What did she so desire escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?

It is this “magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all” that will consume Oedipa and the reader as the novel moves on.

Remedios Varo.

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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
Link to pdf of the novella The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon 58 pages.


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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
This book was a particular favorite of a prof I had as a sophomore for a course in Non-Shakespearean Elizabethan drama. He had us read it, but not being precocious, I'm afraid I was mystified by the book. Mystified in a good way, though. I hope I'd be more ready now to grasp it now, a good opportunity because DB Roy is will do a great job of commentary.

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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
Oedipa now explains to Mucho that she had to leave for the city of San Narciso to meet with the lawyer, Metzger, and start delving into Inverarity’s books. Mucho seems disappointed that she is leaving but not distraught. She reminds him to hang up on Hilarius if he calls. She arrives in San Narciso near L.A. on a Sunday in a rented Impala and surveys the city which appears, at first glance, indistinguishable from any other southern Californian town. Oedipa surveys a subdivision:

She looked down a slope, needing to squint for the sunlight, onto a vast sprawl of houses which had grown up all together, like a well-tended crop, from the dull brown earth; and she thought of the time she’d opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit. The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate. There’d seemed no limit to what the printed circuit could have told her (if she had tried to find out); so in her first minute of San Narciso, a revelation also trembled just past the threshold of her understanding.

As Oedipa searches for a place to stay, she passes the Galactronics Division of Yoyodyne, Inc., the largest employer in San Narciso, lured there by Pierce Inverarity who owned a large block of the company’s shares. She drives on and comes across a small motel and studies the sign for a moment:

A representation in painted sheet metal of a nymph holding a white blossom towered thirty feet into the air; the sign, lit up despite the sun, said “Echo Courts.” The face of the nymph was much like Oedipa’s, which didn’t startle her so much as a concealed blower system that kept the nymph’s gauze chiton in constant agitation, revealing enormous vermilion-tipped breasts and long pink thighs at each flap. She was smiling a lipsticked and public smile, not quite a hooker’s but nowhere near that of any nymph pining away with love either. Oedipa pulled into the lot, got out and stood for a moment in the hot sun and the dead-still air, watching the artificial windstorm overhead toss gauze in five-foot excursions.

Oedipa is shown to a room by the motel manager, Miles, who is a teenager in a lapelless mohair suit a la the Beatles. He speaks with an English accent but is American. He is in a group called the Paranoids who imitate the British Invasion groups hoping to land a contract with a major label.

Miles sings Oedipa a song that his band plays and she says that maybe with a demo her husband could plug it on his station. Instead, Miles tries to put the make on her. She grabs a TV aerial to either thrash or skewer him with and Miles backs off. So, once again, we see Oedipa caught up in a man’s world where she is objectified into a sex toy except that her harasser, like Roseman, is too insecure and paranoid—and, in this case, too inexperienced, to go through with it. Instead, Miles shakes Oedipa down for a tip and leaves.

Later that night, Oedipa is surprised by a very handsome man standing at her door with a bottle of French wine. Oedipa thinks he must be an actor and that somehow she is being punked for some kind of television program. Instead, the hunk turns out to be Metzger, her co-executor, who hunted her down gumshoe-style and decided to meet her on his terms. She lets him in and they commence to talking and drinking.

Oedipa learns that Metzger actually was an actor at one time—a child actor—named Baby Igor.

“My mother,” he announced bitterly, “was really out to kasher me, boy, like a piece of beef on the sink, she wanted me drained and white. Times I wonder,” smoothing down the hair at the back of his head, “if she succeeded. It scares me. You know what mothers like that turn their male children into.”

“You certainly don’t look…” Oedipa began, then had second thoughts.

Metzger flashed her a big wry couple rows of teeth. “Looks don’t mean a thing any more,” he said. “I live inside my looks, and I’m never sure. The possibility haunts me.”

“And how often,” Oedipa inquired, now aware it was all words, “has that line of approach worked for you, Baby Igor?”

So, yet again Oedipa is being mashed but by a man using a different ploy: the ol’ I’m-afraid-I-might-be-gay-but-maybe-you’re woman-enough-to-convince-me-I’m-not ploy. However, Oedipa, as always, has things under control. She knows when to ignore, when to threaten, when to pretend to give in. In this case, Metzger is so good looking that she’s not ruling the possibility of letting him mash her.

Oedipa turns on the television and, coincidentally, a Baby Igor movie is playing. Shot in the thirties, it is a boy (Baby Igor), his father and his dog. The movie is called Cashiered:

“About you and your mother.” “About this kid and his father, who’s drummed out of the British Army for cowardice, only he’s covering up for a friend, see, and to redeem himself he and the kid follow the old regiment to Gallipoli, where the father somehow builds a midget submarine, and every week they slip through the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara and torpedo the Turkish merchantmen, the father, son, and St. Bernard. The dog sits on periscope watch, and barks if he sees anything.”

The movie, being a musical, has an interlude where Baby Igor sings a sing accompanied by a Greek fisherman with a zither who appears out of nowhere. Oedipa skepticism kicks into high gear:

Either he made up the whole thing, Oedipa thought suddenly, or he bribed the engineer over at the local station to run this, it’s all part of a plot, an elaborate, seduction, plot. O Metzger.

So Metzger becomes a kind of ersatz Inverarity devising plots and overseeing conspiracies strictly for her benefit or detriment, depending upon how one looks at it.

“You didn’t sing along,” he observed. “I didn’t know,” Oedipa smiled. On came a loud commercial for Fangoso Lagoons, a new housing development west of here.

“One of Inverarity’s interests,” Metzger noted. It was to be laced by canals with private landings for power boats, a floating social hall in the middle of an artificial lake, at the bottom of which lay restored galleons, imported from the Bahamas; Atlantean fragments of columns and friezes from the Canaries; real human skeletons from Italy; giant clamshells from Indonesia-all for the entertainment of Scuba enthusiasts. A map of the place flashed onto the screen, Oedipa drew a sharp breath, Metzger on the chance it might be for him looked over. But she’d only been reminded of her look downhill this noontime. Some immediacy was there again, some promise of hierophany: printed circuit, gently curving streets, private access to the water, Book of the Dead. . .

Fangoso Lagoons is yet another level of conspiracy with all its secrets imported from elsewhere and dropped to the bottom of a lake and even the lake is artificial. Its map, like San Narciso itself, resembles, to Oedipa, a printed circuit board—an attempt broadcast or transmit something, some kind of information. What information? That’s what we must find out. What was it or Pierce trying to tell us? Since Pierce is dead, it’s as though he speaks to Oedipa (and so to us) from the grave. As though the dead are always trying to communicate with the living. But communicate what?

Perhaps we get a hint when Metzger explains to Oedipa the link between being an actor and being a lawyer:

“But our beauty lies,” explained Metzger, “in this extended capacity for convolution. A lawyer in a courtroom, in front of any jury, becomes an actor, right? Raymond Burr is an actor, impersonating a lawyer, who in front of a jury becomes an actor. Me, I’m a former actor who became a lawyer. They’ve done the pilot film of a TV series, in fact, based loosely on my career, starring my friend Manny Di Presso, a one-time lawyer who quit his firm to become an actor. Who in this pilot plays me, an actor become a lawyer reverting periodically to being an actor. The film is in an air-conditioned vault at one of the Hollywood studios, light can’t fatigue it, it can be repeated endlessly.”

Perhaps the dead want to tell us that we live many lives, that the totality of existence is one of many lifetimes, first perhaps as an actor, then as a lawyer, then as an actor again. We switch roles, don new costumes and return to the stage a new character. As Metzger points out, “…it can be repeated endlessly.” Each life scatters our memories of previous lives and so we cannot see the totality. The waters of life are murky and the word Fangoso is Spanish for muddy. We can only surmise if Metzger’s assessment of Perry Mason was anything like Roseman’s criticism of the same.

Sun Jul 17, 2016 9:11 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
In the Baby Igor movie, the Turks have patrols in the water searching for the submarine and Metzger asks Oedipa if she would like to wager on the outcome.

“Of course not,” said Oedipa, “the movie’s made.” He only smiled back. “One of your endless repetitions.”

“But you still don’t know,” Metzger said. “You haven’t seen it.” Into the commercial break now roared a deafening ad for Beaconsfield Cigarettes, whose attractiveness lay in their filter’s use of bone charcoal, the very best kind.

“Bones of what?’ wondered Oedipa.

“Inverarity knew. He owned 51% of the filter process.”

“Tell me.”

“Someday. Right now it’s your last chance to place your bet. Are they going to get out of it, or not?”

They decide to wager by stripping or what Metzger refers to as “Strip Botticelli.” Oedipa got to ask Metzger yes or no questions concerning the outcome of the movie. A no answer would result in removing an article of clothing. She then goes into the bathroom and starts putting numerous layers of clothing and jewelry.

It all seemed to take hours to put on and she could hardly walk when she was finished. She made the mistake of looking at herself in the full-length mirror, saw a beach ball with feet, and laughed so violently she fell over, taking a can of hair spray on the sink with her. The can hit the floor, something broke, and with a great outsurge of pressure the stuff commenced atomizing, propelling the can swiftly about the bathroom. Metzger rushed in to find Oedipa rolling around, trying to get back on her feet, amid a great sticky miasma of fragrant lacquer. “Oh, for Pete’s sake,” he said in his Baby Igor voice. The can, hissing malignantly, bounced off the toilet and whizzed by Metzger’s right ear, missing by maybe a quarter of an inch. Metzger hit the deck and cowered with Oedipa as the can continued its high-speed caroming; from the other room came a slow, deep crescendo of naval bombardment, machine-gun, howitzer and small-arms fire, screams and chopped-off prayers of dying infantry. She looked up past his eyelids, into the staring ceiling light, her field of vision cut across by wild, flashing overflights of the can, whose pressure seemed inexhaustible. She was scared but nowhere near sober. The can knew where it was going, she sensed, or something fast enough, God or a digital machine, might have computed in advance the complex web of its travel; but she wasn’t fast enough, and knew only that it might hit them at any moment, at whatever clip it was doing, a hundred miles an hour. “Metzger,” she moaned, and sank her teeth into his upper arm, through the sharkskin. Everything smelled like hair spray. The can collided with a mirror and bounced away, leaving a silvery, reticulated bloom of glass to hang a second before it all fell jingling into the sink; zoomed over to the enclosed shower, where it crashed into and totally destroyed a panel of frosted glass; thence around the three tile walls, up to the ceiling, past the light, over the two prostrate bodies, amid its own whoosh and the buzzing, distorted uproar from the TV set. She could imagine no end to it; yet presently the can did give up in mid-flight and fall to the floor, about a foot from Oedipa’s nose.

She lay watching it.

“Blimey,” somebody remarked. “Coo.” Oedipa took her teeth out of Metzger, looked around and saw in the doorway Miles, the kid with the bangs and mohair suit, now multiplied by four. It seemed to be the group he’d mentioned, the Paranoids. She couldn’t tell them apart, three of them were carrying electric guitars, they all had their mouth open. There also appeared a number of girls’ faces, gazing through armpits and around angles of knees. “That’s kinky,” said one of the girls.

“Are you from London?” another wanted to know: “Is that a London thing you’re doing?” Hair spray hung like fog, glass twinkled all over the floor. “Lord love a duck,” summarized a boy holding a passkey, and Oedipa decided this was Miles. Deferent, he began to narrate for their entertainment a surfer orgy he had been to the week before, involving a five-gallon can of kidney suet, a small automobile with a sun roof, and a trained seal.

“I’m sure this pales by comparison,” said Oedipa, who’d succeeded in rolling over, “so why don’t you all just, you know, go outside. And sing. None of this works without mood music. Serenade us.”

“Maybe later,” invited one of the other Paranoids shyly, “you could join us in the pool.”

“Depends how hot it gets in here, gang,” winked jolly Oedipa. The kids filed out, after plugging extension cords into all available outlets in the other room and leading them in a bundle out a window.

Metzger helped her stagger to her feet. “Anyone for Strip Botticelli?” In the other room the TV was blaring a commercial for a Turkish bath in downtown San Narciso, wherever downtown was, called Hogan’s Seraglio. “Inverarity owned that too,” Metzger said. “Did you know that?”

“Sadist,” Oedipa yelled, “say it once more, I’ll wrap the TV tube around your head!”

“You’re really mad,” he smiled.

She wasn’t, really. She said, “What the hell didn’t he own?”

Metzger cocked an eyebrow at her. “You tell me.”

The layers of clothing again represent insulation from the outside world. Oedipa sheaths herself from unsuitable suitors—in this case, Metzger. His movie star looks make him a bit of a peacock. He’s good with the ladies and he knows it. Oedipa knows such men are nice to look at but bad to be in a relationship with. He might be good for a quickie and for legal advice but little else. Metzger’s term “Strip Botticelli” no doubt refer to the Italian artist, Sandro Botticelli and may be intended for this painting The Birth of Venus.


Venus may represent Oedipa in Metzger’s attempt to strip her naked, to peel away all the psychological armor and find the pure, innocent, virgin woman underneath, unspoiled by the world. She stands once again isolated but vulnerable. All the while, a commercial blares from the television advertising Hogan’s Seraglio, a Turkish bath. A seraglio is a sequestered room that were used by the wives and concubines of Ottoman sultans—a place where the harem is kept. Metzger wants Oedipa naked and vulnerable and in his harem, i.e. he wants to bang her, to notch his gun with yet another one. The bath is, of course, owned by Inverarity.

The name Inverarity is Scottish. It is found in Scottish surnames and as the name of a village in Scotland. How this ties in to the dead man in out story is not readily apparent but the Urban Dictionary states that Inverarity is also the name of a chubby or fat wise man. Essentially, a Buddha.


Pierce is a kind of wise man judging from all the tantalizing clues he leaves for Oedipa to uncover jigsaw-like and put them together. He is like a balloon filled with these secrets and she must puncture that balloon to get them and hence the name Pierce Inverarity.


Metzger and Oedipa begin playing Strip Botticelli:

“Oboy,” said Oedipa. She poured a drink. “Did Baby Igor get to Constantinople in the good submarine ‘Justine’?”

“No,” said Metzger. Oedipa took off an earring. “Did he get there in, what did you call them, in an E Class submarine.”

“No,” said Metzger. Oedipa took off another earring.

“Did he get there overland, maybe through Asia Minor?”

“Maybe,” said Metzger. Oedipa took off another earring.

“Another earring?” said Metzger. “If I answer that, will you take something off?” “I’ll do it without an answer,” roared Metzger, shucking out of his coat. Oedipa refilled her glass, Metzger had another snort from the bottle. Oedipa then sat five minutes watching the tube, forgetting she was supposed to ask questions. Metzger took his trousers off, earnestly. The father seemed to be up before a court-martial, now.

“So,” she said, “an early reel. This is where he gets cashiered, ha, ha.”

“Maybe it’s a flashback,” Metzger said. “Or maybe he gets it twice.” Oedipa removed a bracelet. So it went: the succession of film fragments on the tube, the progressive removal of clothing that seemed to bring her no nearer nudity, the boozing, the tireless shivaree, of voices and guitars from out by the pool. Now and then a commercial would come in, each time Metzger would say, “Inverarity’s,” or ‘Big block of shares,” and later settled for nodding and smiling. Oedipa would scowl back, growing more and more certain, while a headache began to flower behind her eyes, that they among all possible combinations of new lovers had found a way to make time itself slow down. Things grew less and less clear. At some point she went into the bathroom, tried to find her image in the mirror and couldn’t. She had a moment of nearly pure terror. Then remembered that the mirror had broken and fallen in sink. “Seven years’ bad luck,” she said aloud. “I’ll be 35.” She shut the door behind her and took the occasion to blunder, almost absently, into another slip and skirt, as well as a long-leg girdle and a couple pairs of knee socks. It struck her that if the sun ever came up Metzger would disappear. She wasn’t sure if she wanted him to. She came back in to find Metzger wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and fast asleep with a hard-on and his head under the couch. She noticed also a fat stomach the suit had hidden. On the screen New Zealanders and Turks were impaling one another on bayonets. With a cry Oedipa rushed to him, fell on him, began kissing him to wake him up. His radiant eyes flew open, pierced her, as if she could feel the sharpness somewhere vague between her breasts. She sank with an enormous sigh that carried all rigidity like a mythical fluid from her, down next to him; so weak she couldn’t help him undress her; it took him 20 minutes, rolling, arranging her this way and that, as if she thought, he were some scaled-up, short-haired, poker-faced little girl with a Barbie doll. She may have fallen asleep once or twice. She awoke at last to find herself getting laid; she’d come in on a sexual crescendo in progress, like a cut to a scene where the camera’s already moving. Outside a fugue of guitars had begun, and she counted each electronic voice as it came in, till she reached six or so and recalled only three of the Paranoids played guitars; so others must be plugging in.

Which indeed they were. Her climax and Metzger’s, when it came, coincided with every light in the place, including the TV tube, suddenly going out, dead, black. It was a curious experience. The Paranoids had blown a fuse. When the lights came on again, and she and Metzger lay twined amid a wall-to-wall scatter of clothing and spilled bourbon, the TV tube revealed the father, dog and Baby Igor trapped inside the darkening “Justine,” as the water level inexorably rose. The dog was first to drown, in a great crowd of bubbles. The camera came in for a close-up of Baby Igor crying, one hand on the control board. Something short-circuited then and the grounded Baby Igor was electrocuted, thrashing back and forth and screaming horribly. Through one of those Hollywood distortions in probability, the father was spared electrocution so he could make a farewell speech, apologizing to Baby Igor and the dog for getting them into this and regretting that they wouldn’t be meeting in heaven: “Your little eyes have seen your daddy for the last time. You are for salvation; I am for the Pit.” At the end his suffering eyes filled the screen, the sound of incoming water grew deafening, up swelled that strange 30’s movie music with the massive sax section, in faded the legend THE END.

Oedipa had leaped to her feet and run across to the other wall to turn and glare at Metzger. “They didn't make it!” she yelled. “You bastard, I won.”

“You won me,” Metzger smiled.

“What did Inverarity tell you about me,” she asked finally.

“That you wouldn’t be easy.”

She began to cry.

“Come back,” said Metzger. “Come on.”

After awhile she said, “I will.” And she did.

Sun Jul 17, 2016 9:15 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
There is likely some symbolism between the Turkish bath commercial and the fact that Baby Igor fighting against the Turks in the movie. Also with the hairspray can-turned-deadly projectile and Yoyodyne, the biggest employer in San Narciso. It is an aerospace corporation that manufactures mainly missiles. Is Pierce controlling things from beyond the grave or is it just coincidence? Oedipa is unaware of these strange connections for now. As Pynchon writes: “Things then did not delay in turning curious.”

It may have been an intuition that the letter would be newsless inside that made Oedipa look more closely at its outside, when it arrived. At first she didn’t see. It was an ordinary Muchoesque envelope, swiped from the station, ordinary airmail stamp, to the left of the cancellation a blurb put on by the government, REPORT ALL OBSCENE MAIL TO YOUR POTSMASTER. Idly, she began to skim back through Mucho’s letter after reading it to see if there were any dirty words. “Metzger,” it occurred to her, “what is a pots-master?”

“Guy in the scullery,” replied Metzger authoritatively from the bathroom, “in charge of all the heavy stuff, canner kettles, gunboats, Dutch ovens . . .”

She threw a brassiere in at him and said, “I’m supposed to report all obscene mail to my pots-master.”

“So they make misprints,” Metzger said, “let them. As long as they’re careful about not pressing the wrong button, you know?”

Later that evening, Oedipa and Metzger go to a bar called The Scope across the street from the Yoyodyne complex, a favorite watering hole of the engineers of the company.

The Scope proved to be a haunt for electronics assembly people from Yoyodyne. The green neon sign outside ingeniously depicted the face of an oscilloscope tube, over which flowed an ever-changing dance of Lissajous figures. Today seemed to be payday, and everyone inside to be drunk already. Glared at all the way, Oedipa and Metzger found a table in back. A wizened bartender wearing shades materialized and Metzger ordered bourbon. Oedipa, checking the bar, grew nervous. There was this je ne sais quoi about the Scope crowd: they all wore glasses and stared at you, silent. Except for a couple-three nearer the door, who were engaged in a nose-picking contest, seeing how far they could flick it across the room.


A sudden chorus of whoops and yibbles burst from a kind of juke box at the far end of the room. Everybody quit talking. The bartender tiptoed back, with the drinks.

“What’s happening?” Oedipa whispered.

“That’s by Stockhausen,” the hip graybeard informed her, “the early crowd tends to dig your Radio Cologne sound. Later on we really swing. We’re the only bar in the area, you know, has a strictly electronic music policy. Come on around Saturdays, starting midnight we have your Sinewave Session, that’s a live get-together, fellas come in just to jam from all over the state, San Jose, Santa Barbara, San Diego.”

“Live?” Metzger said, “electronic music, live?”

“They put it on the tape, here, live, fella. We got a whole back room full of your audio oscillators, gunshot machines, contact mikes, everything man. That’s for if you didn’t bring your ax, see, but you got the feeling and you want to swing with the rest of the cats, there’s always something available.”

“No offense,” said Metzger, with a winning Baby Igor smile.

While Metzger and Oedipa sit there, a thin, young man in a drip-dry suit comes up to them and seats himself at their table and introduces himself as Mike Fallopian of the Peter Pinguid Society.

“You one of these right-wing nut outfits?” inquired the diplomatic Metzger.

Fallopian twinkled. “They accuse us of being paranoids.”

“They?” inquired Metzger, twinkling also.

“Us?” asked Oedipa.

The Peter Pinguid Society was named for the commanding officer of the Confederate man-of-war “Disgruntled,” who early in 1863 had set sail with the daring plan of bringing a task force around Cape Horn to attack San Francisco and thus open a second front in the War For Southern Independence. Storms and scurvy managed to destroy or discourage every vessel in this armada except the game little “Disgruntled,” which showed up off the coast of California about a year later. Unknown, however, to Commodore Pinguid, Czar Nicholas II of Russia had dispatched his Far East Fleet, four corvettes and two clippers, all under the command of one Rear Admiral Popov, to San Francisco Bay, as part of a ploy to keep Britain and France from (among other things) intervening on the side of the Confederacy. Pinguid could not have chosen a worse time for an assault on San Francisco. Rumors were abroad that winter that the Reb cruisers “Alabama” and “Sumter” were indeed on the point of attacking the city, and the Russian admiral had, on his own responsibility, issued his Pacific squadron standing orders to put on steam and clear for action should any such attempt develop. The cruisers, however, seemed to prefer cruising and nothing more. This did not keep Popov from periodic reconnoitring. What happened on the 9th March, 1864, a day now held sacred by all Peter Pinguid Society members, is not too clear. Popov did send out a ship, either the corvette “Bogatir” or the clipper “Gaidamak,” to see what it could see. Off the coast of either what is now Carmel-by-the-Sea, or what is now Pismo Beach, around noon or possibly toward dusk, the two ships sighted each other. One of them may have fired, if it did then the other responded; but both were out of range so neither showed a scar afterward to prove anything. Night fell. In the morning the Russian ship was gone. But motion is relative. If you believe an excerpt from the “Bogatir” or “Gaidamak”’s log, forwarded in April to the General-Adjutant in St. Petersburg and now somewhere in the Krasnyi Arkhiv, it was the “Disgruntled” that had vanished during the night.

“Who cares?” Fallopian shrugged. “We don’t try to make scripture out of it. Naturally that’s cost us a lot of support in the Bible Belt, where we might’ve been expected to go over real good. The old Confederacy.”

But that was the very first military confrontation between Russia and America. Attack, retaliation, both projectiles deep-sixed forever and the Pacific rolls on. But the ripples from those two splashes spread, and grew, and today engulf us all.

“Peter Pinguid was really our first casualty. Not the fanatic our more left-leaning friends over in the Birch Society chose to martyrize.”

“Was the Commodore killed, then?" asked Oedipa.

Much worse, to Fallopian’s mind. After the confrontation, appalled at what had to be some military alliance between abolitionist Russia (Nicholas having freed the serfs in 1861) and a Union that paid lip-service to abolition while it kept its own industrial laborers in a kind of wage-slavery, Peter Pinguid stayed in his cabin for weeks, brooding.

‘But that sounds,” objected Metzger, ‘like he was against industrial capitalism. Wouldn’t that disqualify him as any kind of anti-Communist figure?’

“You think like a Bircher,” Fallopian said. ‘Good guys and bad guys. You never get to any of the underlying truth. Sure he was against industrial capitalism. So are we. Didn’t it lead, inevitably, to Marxism? Underneath, both are part of the same creeping horror.”

“Industrial anything,” hazarded Metzger.

“There you go,” nodded Fallopian.

“What happened to Peter Pinguid?” Oedipa wanted to know.

“He finally resigned his commission. Violated his upbringing and code of honor. Lincoln and the Czar had forced him to. That’s what I meant when I said casualty. He and most of the crew settled near L.A.; and for the rest of his life he did little more than acquire wealth.”

“How poignant,” Oedipa said. “What doing?”

“Speculating in California real estate,” said Fallopian. Oedipa, halfway into swallowing part of her drink, sprayed it out again in a glittering cone for ten feet easy, and collapsed in giggles.

“Wha,” said Fallopian. “During the drought that year you could’ve bought lots in the heart of downtown L. A. for .63 apiece.”

So, we get the first of our alternative history lessons in the novel. The story of Peter Pinguid is the story of the military-industrial complex. An American and Russian vessel fired “projectiles” at one another presumably early missiles. So this is the very beginning of Yoyodyne. Those projectiles are now lost somewhere on the floor of the Pacific just as the memories of these beginnings are lost to us today. But those lost memories still left their mark and we feel their effects to this day. The world today was carved out and shaped by wars and strife. All nations and territories today were wrested away from someone else in an earlier time. The land that is now America was wrested by European immigrants from the tribes of native peoples who lived on it and those tribes had engaged in endless warfare with one another for territory and then the white natives had to wrest their land away from the British crown and then wrested Texas away from Mexico. And one of the great tools to aid in wresting away land from someone else is the missile or similar projectile. Bullets are, after all, just smaller type of missile. Peter Pinguid represents the war machine—the biggest speculator in real estate that there has ever been.

A great shout went up near the doorway, bodies flowed toward a fattish pale young man who'd appeared carrying a leather mailsack over his shoulder.

“Mail call,” people were yelling. Sure enough, it was, just like in the army. The fat kid, looking harassed, climbed up on the bar and started calling names and throwing envelopes into the crowd. Fallopian excused himself and joined the others.

Metzger had taken out a pair of glasses and was squinting through them at the kid on the bar. “He’s wearing a Yoyodyne badge. What do you make of that?”

“Some inter-office mail run,” Oedipa said.

“This time of night?”

“Maybe a late shift?” But Metzger only frowned. “Be back,” Oedipa shrugged, heading for the ladies’ room.

On the latrine wall, among lipsticked obscenities, she noticed the following message, neatly indited in engineering lettering:

“Interested in sophisticated fun? You, hubby, girl friends. The more the merrier. Get in touch with Kirby, through WASTE only, Box 7391, L. A.”

WASTE? Oedipa wondered. Beneath the notice, faintly in pencil, was a symbol she’d never seen before, a loop, triangle and trapezoid, thus:


This is only illustration that appears in the novel. All others you see in this essay are my own additions. And so here it begins.

Fri Jul 22, 2016 2:43 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
Oedipa studies the symbol:

It might be something sexual, but she somehow doubted it. She found a pen in her purse and copied the address and symbol in her memo book, thinking: God, hieroglyphics. When she came out Fallopian was back, and had this funny look on his face.

“You weren’t supposed to see that,” he told them. He had an envelope. Oedipa could see, instead of a postage stamp, the handstruck initials PPS.

“Of course,” said Metzger. “Delivering the mail is a government monopoly. You would be opposed to that.”

Fallopian gave them a wry smile. “It’s not as rebellious as it looks. We use Yoyodyne’s inter-office delivery. On the sly. But it’s hard to find carriers, we have a big turnover. They’re run on a tight schedule, and they get nervous. Security people over at the plant know something’s up. They keep a sharp eye out. De Witt,” pointing at the fat mailman, who was being hauled, twitching, down off the bar and offered drinks he did not want, “he’s the most nervous one we’ve had all year.”

“How extensive is this?” asked Metzger.

“Only inside our San Narciso chapter. They’ve set up pilot projects similar to this in the Washington and I think Dallas chapters. But we’re the only one in California so far. A few of your more affluent type members do wrap their letters around bricks, and then the whole thing in brown paper, and send them Railway Express, but I don’t know . . .”

“A little like copping out,” Metzger sympathized.

“It’s the principle,” Fallopian agreed, sounding defensive. “To keep it up to some kind of a reasonable volume, each member has to send at least one letter a week through the Yoyodyne system. If you don’t, you get fined.” He opened his letter and showed Oedipa and Metzger.

Dear Mike, it said, how are you? Just thought I'd drop you a note. How’s your book coming? Guess that's all for now. See you at The Scope.

“That's how it is,” Fallopian confessed bitterly, “most of the time.”

“What book did they mean?” asked Oedipa.

Turned out Fallopian was doing a history of private mail delivery in the U.S., attempting to link the Civil War to the postal reform movement that had begun around 1845. He found it beyond simple coincidence that in of all years 1861 the federal government should have set out on a vigorous suppression of those independent mail routes still surviving the various Acts of ‘45, ‘47, ‘51 and ‘55, Acts all designed to drive any private competition into financial ruin. He saw it all as a parable of power, its feeding, growth and systematic abuse, though he didn’t go into it that far with her, that particular night. All Oedipa would remember about him at first, in fact, were his slender build and neat Armenian nose, and a certain affinity of his eyes for green neon.

So Fallopian gives us our second lesson in alternative history. Oddly, as with the Peter Pinguid story, it also centers around the Civil War which was barely over 100 years at the time this novel was written. Pynchon is using it as a metaphor for a smaller breaking off a larger and going off on its own—at first openly for which there would be a reckoning for rebelling and then the next time secretly or underground where the larger, as with the Yoyodyne security people, would know something was up but not precisely what or where. Yoyodyne is a metaphor for the United States as well as encapsulating the plot of the story. The Old South broke off openly and paid for it but did something else break off in secret and go underground and, as a result, was still operating? If so how old was it and what are its roots, if it exists?

We get a clue from Fallopian’s thesis that the Civil War was caused by government enforcement of postal reform. Did Fallopian know of any private mail couriers that survived all those various congressional reform acts he mentioned? Did it influence the Yoyodyne workers to subvert the company’s internal mail system? Since, according to Fallopian, there were chapters operating in other states, who or what was overseeing it? Was it, in fact, worldwide?

So began, for Oedipa, the languid, sinister blooming of The Tristero. Or rather, her attendance at some unique performance, prolonged as if it were the last of the night, something a little extra for whoever’d stayed this late. As if the breakaway gowns, net bras, jeweled garters and G-strings of historical figuration that would fall away were layered dense as Oedipa’s own street-clothes in that game with Metzger in front of the Baby Igor movie; as if a plunge toward dawn indefinite black hours long would indeed be necessary before The Tristero could be revealed in its terrible nakedness. Would its smile, then, be coy, and would it flirt away harmlessly backstage, say good night with a Bourbon Street bow and leave her in peace? Or would it instead, the dance ended, come back down the runway, its luminous stare locked to Oedipa’s, smile gone malign and pitiless; bend to her alone among the desolate rows of seats and begin to speak words she never wanted to hear?

Now Oedipa and Metzger decide to take a trip out to Fangoso Lagoons, one of the last projects Inverarity worked on before his death. The Paranoids and their chicks accompany them following behind in a convertible. Upon arrival, they saw the artificial lake called Lake Inverarity and the pale-green social hall built in the middle of it as an artificial island. The hall was an art nouveau imitation of a “European pleasure-casino,” a thing of impressive beauty and grace. Oedipa has sandwiches and Metzger has a big thermos of tequila sours.

They have no way to get out to the social hall which is accessible only by boat so the Paranoids decide to steal one since there a great many tied to the pier.

“Why are you walking around,” inquired Oedipa, “with your eyes closed, Metzger?”

“Larceny,” Metzger said, “maybe they’ll need a lawyer.” A snarl rose along with some smoke from among pleasure boats strung like piglets along the pier, indicating the Paranoids had indeed started someone’s outboard. “Come on, then,” they called. Suddenly, a dozen boats away, a form, covered with a blue polyethylene tarp, rose up and said, “Baby Igor, I need help.’

“I know that voice,” said Metzger.

“Quick,” said the blue tarp, “let me hitch a ride with you guys.”

“Hurry, hurry,” called the Paranoids.

“Manny Di Presso,” said Metzger, seeming less than delighted.

“Your actor/lawyer friend,” Oedipa recalled.

“Not so loud, hey,” said Di Presso, skulking as best a polyethylene cone can along the landing towards them. “They're watching. With binoculars.” Metzger handed Oedipa aboard the about-to-be-hijacked vessel, a ly-foot aluminum trimaran known as the “Godzilla II,” and gave Di Presso what he intended to be a hand also, but he had grabbed, it seemed, only empty plastic, and when he pulled, the entire covering came away and there stood Di Presso, in a skin-diving suit and wraparound shades.

“I can explain,” he said.

“Hey,” yelled a couple voices, faintly, almost in unison, from up the beach a ways. A squat man with a crew cut, intensely tanned and also with shades, came out in the open running, one arm doubled like a wing with the hand at chest level, inside the jacket.

“Are we on camera?” asked Metzger dryly.

“This is real,” chattered Di Presso, “come on.” The Paranoids cast off, backed the “Godzilla II” out from the pier, turned and with a concerted whoop took off like a bat out of hell, nearly sending Di Presso over the fantail. Oedipa, looking back, could see their pursuer had been joined by another man about the same build. Both wore gray suits. She couldn’t see if they were holding anything like guns.

“I left my car on the other side of the lake,” Di Presso said, “but I know he has somebody watching.”

“Who does,” Metzger asked.

“Anthony Giunghierrace,” replied ominous Di Presso, “alias Tony Jaguar.”


“Eh, sfacim’,” shrugged Di Presso, and spat into their wake.

The Paranoids were singing, to the tune of “Adeste Fideles”:

Hey, solid citizen, we just pinched your bo-oat,
Hey, solid citizen, we just pinched your boat . . .

grab-assing around, trying to push each other over the side. Oedipa cringed out of the way and watched Di Presso. If he had really played the part of Metzger in a TV pilot film as Metzger claimed, the casting had been typically Hollywood: they didn’t look or act a bit alike.

Di Presso reveals that Tony Jaguar is a big figure in the Cosa Nostra and also his client. Metzger is puzzled as to why Di Presso is running from a client and Di Presso says Jaguar wants to borrow money to pay off gambling debts and other even more shady business that he wants no part of. He also reveals that he is bringing a suit against the estate of Pierce Inverarity.

The wind had risen.

“Tell me about the lawsuit,” Metzger said, trying with both hands to keep his hair in place.

“You’ve been into Inverarity’s books,” Di Presso said. “You know the Beaconsfield filter thing.” Metzger made a noncommittal moue.

“Bone charcoal,” Oedipa remembered.

“Yeah, well Tony Jaguar, my client, supplied some bones,” said Di Presso, “he alleges. Inverarity never paid him. That’s what it’s about.”

“Offhand,” Metzger said, “it doesn’t sound like Inverarity. He was scrupulous about payments like that. Unless it was a bribe. I only did his legal tax deductions, so I wouldn’t have seen it if it was. What construction firm did your client work for?”

“Construction firm,” squinted Di Presso.

Metzger looked around. The Paranoids and their chicks may have been out of earshot. “Human bones, right?” Di Presso nodded yes. “All right, that’s how he got them. Different highway outfits in the area, ones Inverarity had bought into, they got the contracts. All drawn up in most kosher fashion, Manfred. If there was payola in there, I doubt it got written down.”

“How,” inquired Oedipa, “are road builders in any position to sell bones, pray?”

“Old cemeteries have to be ripped up,” Metzger explained. “Lake in the path of the East San Narciso Freeway, it had no right to be there, so we just barrelled on through, no sweat.”

“No bribes, no freeways,” Di Presso shaking his head. “These bones came from Italy. A straight sale. Some of them,” waving out at the lake, “are down there, to decorate the bottom for the Scuba nuts. That’s what I’ve been doing today, examining the goods in dispute. Till Tony started chasing, anyway. The rest of the bones were used in the R&D phase of the filter program, back around the early ‘50’s, way before cancer. Tony Jaguar says he harvested them all from the bottom of Lago di Pieta.”

“My God,” Metzger said, soon as this name registered. “GI’s?”

“About a company,” said Manny Di Presso. Lago di Pieta was near the Tyrrhenian coast, somewhere between Naples and Rome, and had been the scene of a now ignored (in 1943 tragic) battle of attrition in a minor pocket developed during the advance on Rome. For weeks, a handful of American troops, cut off and without communications, huddled on the narrow shore of the clear and tranquil lake while from the cliffs that tilted vertiginously over the beach Germans hit them day and night with plunging, enfilading fire. The water of the lake was too cold to swim: you died of exposure before you could reach any safe shore. There were no trees to build rafts with. No planes came over except an occasional Stuka with strafing in mind. It was remarkable that so few men held out so long. They dug in as far as the rocky beach would let them; they sent small raids up the cliffs that mostly never came back, but did succeed in taking out a machine-gun, once. Patrols looked for routes out, but those few that returned had found nothing. They did what they could to break out; failing, they clung to life as long as they could. But they died, every one, dumbly, without a trace or a word. One day the Germans came down from the cliffs, and their enlisted men put all the bodies that were on the beach into the lake, along with what weapons and other materiel were no longer of use to either side. Presently the bodies sank; and stayed where they were till the early ‘50’s, when Tony Jaguar, who’d been a corporal in an Italian outfit attached to the German force at Lago di Pieta and knew about what was at the bottom, decided along with some colleagues to see what he could salvage. All they managed to come up with was bones. Out of some murky train of reasoning, which may have included the observed fact that American tourists, beginning then to be plentiful, would pay good dollars for almost anything; and stories about Forest Lawn and the American cult of the dead; possibly some dim hope that Senator McCarthy, and others of his persuasion, in those days having achieved a certain ascendancy over the rich cretini from across the sea, would somehow refocus attention on the fallen of WW II, especially ones whose corpses had never been found; out of some such labyrinth of assumed motives, Tony Jaguar decided he could surely unload his harvest of bones on some American someplace, through his contacts in the “family,” known these days as Cosa Nostra. He was right. An import-export firm bought the bones, sold them to a fertilizer enterprise, which may have used one or two femurs for laboratory tests but eventually decided to phase entirely into menhaden instead and transferred the remaining several tons to a holding company, which stored them in a warehouse outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, for maybe a year before Beaconsfield got interested.

“Aha,” Metzger leaped. “So it was Beaconsfield bought them. Not Inverarity. The only shares he held were in Osteolysis, Inc., the company they set up to develop the filter. Never in Beaconsfield itself.”

“You know, blokes,” remarked one of the girls, a long-waisted, brown-haired lovely in a black knit leotard and pointed sneakers, “this all has a most bizarre resemblance to that ill, ill Jacobean revenge play we went to last week.”

“The Courier’s Tragedy,” said Miles, “she’s right. The same kind of kinky thing, you know. Bones of lost battalion in lake, fished up, turned into charcoal…”

“They’ve been listening,” screamed Di Presso, “those kids. All the time, somebody listens in, snoops; they bug your apartment, they tap your phone…”

“But we don’t repeat what we hear,” said another girl. “None of us smoke Beaconsfields anyway. We’re all on pot.” Laughter. But no joke: for Leonard the drummer now reached into the pocket of his beach robe and produced a fistful of marijuana cigarettes and distributed them among his chums. Metzger closed his eyes, turned his head, muttering, “Possession.”

Remember this was the mid-60s when most Americans believed pot was an addictive drug and drove people mad. Di Presso sees his pursuers getting closer and decides to run for it telling Metzger not to harass them since they are his clients. He hops into the Godzilla II and is gone. Suddenly, Oedipa realizes that they are all stranded.

So they were, until well after the sun had set and Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard and their chicks, by holding up the glowing roaches of their cigarettes like a flipcard section at a football game to spell out alternate S’s and O’s, attracted the attention of the Fangoso Lagoons Security Force, a garrison against the night made up of one-time cowboy actors and L. A. motorcycle cops. The time in between had been whiled away with songs by the Paranoids, and juicing, and feeding pieces of eggplant sandwich to a flock of not too bright seagulls who’d mistaken Fangoso Langoons for the Pacific, and hearing the plot of The Courier’s Tragedy, by Richard Wharfinger, related near to unintelligible by eight memories unlooping progressively into regions as strange to map as their rising coils and clouds of pot smoke. It got so confusing that next day Oedipa decided to go see the play itself, and even conned Metzger into taking her.

Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:13 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
The next day, Oedipa and Metzger go to a small theater in San Narciso to see the Tank Players act out The Courier’s Tragedy directed by one Randolph Driblette. Written in Middle English in iambic pentameter, most of it appears to be blank verse. To review, iambic pentameter consists of a metrical foot called an iamb, i.e. an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, and there are five of these iambs per meter of verse. Blank verse means the verses do not rhyme although, in Wharfinger’s play, some of them undoubtedly do. Shakespeare and Milton, for example, wrote in iambic pentameter. Pynchon tells us that “Oedipa found herself after five minutes sucked utterly into the landscape of evil Richard Wharfinger had fashioned for his 17th-century audiences, so preapocalyptic, death-wishful, sensually fatigued, unprepared, a little poignantly, for that abyss of civil war that had been waiting, cold and deep, only a few years ahead of them.”

The plot is long and convoluted and so we shall let Pynchon recount it for us:

Angelo, then, evil Duke of Squamuglia, has perhaps ten years before the play’s opening murdered the good Duke of adjoining Faggio, by poisoning the feet on an image of Saint Narcissus, Bishop of Jerusalem, in the court chapel, which feet the Duke was in the habit of kissing every Sunday at Mass. This enables the evil illegitimate son, Pasquale, to take over as regent for his half-brother Niccoló, the rightful heir and good guy of the play, till he comes of age. Pasquale of course has no intention of letting him live so long. Being in thick with the Duke of Squamuglia, Pasquale plots to do away with young Niccoló by suggesting a game of hide-and-seek and then finessing him into crawling inside of an enormous cannon, which a henchman is then to set off, hopefully blowing the child, as Pasquale recalls ruefully, later on in the third act,

Out in a bloody rain to feed our fields Amid the Maenad roar of nitre’s song And sulfur’s cantus firmus.

Ruefully, because the henchman, a likeable schemer named Ercole, is secretly involved with dissident elements in the court of Faggio who want to keep Niccoló alive, and so he contrives to stuff a young goat into the cannon instead, meanwhile smuggling Niccoló out of the ducal palace disguised as an elderly procuress.

This comes out in the first scene, as Niccoló confides his history to a friend, Domenico. Niccoló is at this point grown up, hanging around the court of his father’s murderer, Duke Angelo, and masquerading as a special courier of the Thurn and Taxis family, who at the time held a postal monopoly throughout most of the Holy Roman Empire. What he is trying to do, ostensibly, is develop a new market, since the evil Duke of Squamuglia has steadfastly refused, even with the lower rates and faster service of the Thurn and Taxis system, to employ any but his own messengers in communicating with his stooge Pasquale over in neighboring Faggio. The real reason Niccoló is waiting around is of course to get a crack at the Duke.

Evil Duke Angelo, meanwhile, is scheming to amalgamate the duchies of Squamuglia and Faggio, by marrying off the only royal female available, his sister Francesca, to Pasquale the Faggian usurper. The only obstacle in the way of this union is that Francesca is Pasquale’s mother her illicit liaison with the good ex-Duke of Faggio being one reason Angelo had him poisoned to begin with. There is an amusing scene where Francesca delicately seeks to remind her brother of the social taboos against incest. They seem to have slipped her mind, replies Angelo, during the ten years he and Francesca have been having their affair. Incest or no, the marriage must be; it is vital to his long-range political plans. The Church will never sanction it, says Francesca. So, says Duke Angelo, I will bribe a cardinal. He has begun feeling his sister up and nibbling at her neck; the dialogue modulates into the fevered figures of intemperate desire, and the scene ends with the couple collapsing onto a divan.

The act itself closes with Domenico, to whom the naive Niccoló started it off by spilling his secret, trying to get in to see Duke Angelo and betray his dear friend. The Duke, of course, is in his apartment busy knocking off a piece, and the best Domenico can do is an administrative assistant who turns out to be the same Ercole who once saved the life of young Niccoló and aided his escape from Faggio. This he presently confesses to Domenico, though only after having enticed that informer into foolishly bending over and putting his head into a curious black box, on the pretext of showing him a pornographic diorama. A steel vise promptly clamps onto the faithless Domenico’s head and the box muffles his cries for help. Ercole binds his hands and feet with scarlet silk cords, lets him know who it is he’s run afoul of, reaches into the box with a pair of pincers, tears out Domenico’s tongue, stabs him a couple times, pours into the box a beaker of aqua regia [a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids—au.], enumerates a list of other goodies, including castration, that Domenico will undergo before he’s allowed to die, all amid screams, tongueless attempts to pray, agonized struggles from the victim. With the tongue impaled on his rapier Ercole runs to a burning torch set in the wall, sets the tongue aflame and waving it around like a madman concludes the act by screaming,

Thy pitiless unmanning is most meet,
Thinks Ercole the zany Paraclete.
Descended this malign, Unholy Ghost,
Let us begin thy frightful Pentecost.

The lights went out, and in the quiet somebody across the arena from Oedipa distinctly said, “Ick.” Metzger said, “You want to go?”

“I want to see about the bones,” said Oedipa. She had to wait till the fourth act. The second was largely spent in the protracted torture and eventual murder of a prince of the church who prefers martyrdom to sanctioning Francesca’s marriage to her son. The only interruptions come when Ercole, spying on the cardinal’s agony, dispatches couriers to the good-guy element back in Faggio who have it in for Pasquale, telling them to spread the word that Pasquale’s planning to marry his mother, calculating this ought to rile up public opinion some; and another scene in which Niccoló, passing the time of day with one of Duke Angelo’s couriers, hears the tale of the Lost Guard, a body of some fifty hand-picked knights, the flower of Faggian youth, who once rode as protection for the good Duke. One day, out on manoeuvres near the frontiers of Squamuglia, they all vanished without a trace, and shortly afterward the good Duke got poisoned. Honest Niccoló, who always has difficulty hiding his feelings, observes that if the two events turn out to be at all connected, and can be traced to Duke Angelo, boy, the Duke better watch out, is all. The other courier, one Vittorio, takes offense, vowing in an aside to report this treasonable talk to Angelo at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, back in the torture room, the cardinal is now being forced to bleed into a chalice and consecrate his own blood, not to God, but to Satan. They also cut off his big toe, and he is made to hold it up like a Host and say, “This is my body,” the keenwitted Angelo observing that it’s the first time he’s told anything like the truth in fifty years of systematic lying. Altogether, a most anti-clerical scene, perhaps intended as a sop to the Puritans of the time (a useless gesture since none of them ever went to plays, regarding them for some reason as immoral).

The third act takes place in the court of Faggio, and is spent murdering Pasquale, as the culmination of a coup stirred up by Ercole’s agents. While a battle rages in the streets outside the palace, Pasquale is locked up in his patrician hothouse, holding an orgy. Present at the merrymaking is a fierce black performing ape, brought back from a recent voyage to the Indies. Of course it is somebody in an ape suit, who at a signal leaps on Pasquale from a chandelier, at the same time as half a dozen female impersonators who have up to now been lounging around in the guise of dancing girls also move in on the usurper from all parts of the stage. For about ten minutes the vengeful crew proceed to maim, strangle, poison, burn, stomp, blind and otherwise have at Pasquale, while he describes intimately his varied sensations for our enjoyment. He dies finally in extreme agony, and in marches one Gennaro, a complete nonentity, to proclaim himself interim head of state till the rightful Duke, Niccoló, can be located.

There was an intermission. Metzger lurched into the undersized lobby to smoke, Oedipa headed for the ladies’ room. She looked idly around for the symbol she’d seen the other night in The Scope, but all the walls, surprisingly, were blank. She could not say why, exactly, but felt threatened by this absence of even the marginal try at communication latrines are known for.

Act IV of The Courier’s Tragedy discloses evil Duke Angelo in a state of nervous frenzy. He has learned about the coup in Faggio, the possibility that Niccoló may be alive somewhere after all. Word has reached him that Gennaro is levying a force to invade Squamuglia, also a rumor that the Pope is about to intervene because of the cardinal’s murder. Surrounded by treachery on all sides, the Duke has Ercole, whose true role he still does not suspect, finally summon the Thurn and Taxis courier, figuring he can no longer trust his own men. Ercole brings in Niccoló to await the Duke’s pleasure. Angelo takes out a quill, parchment and ink, explaining to the audience but not to the good guys, who are still ignorant of recent developments, that to forestall an invasion from Faggio, he must assure Gennaro with all haste of his good intentions. As he scribbles he lets drop a few disordered and cryptic remarks about the ink he’s using, implying it’s a very special fluid indeed. Like:

This pitchy brew in France is “encre” hight;
In this might dire Squamuglia ape the Gaul,
For “anchor” it has ris’n, from deeps untold.


The swan has yielded but one hollow quill,
The hapless mutton, but his tegument;
Yet what, transmuted, swart and silken flows
Between, was neither plucked nor harshly flayed,
But gathered up, from wildly different beasts.

All of which causes him high amusement. The message to Gennaro completed and sealed, Niccoló tucks it in his doublet and takes off for Faggio, still unaware, as is Ercole, of the coup and his own impending restoration as rightful Duke of Faggio. Scene switches to Gennaro, at the head of a small army, on route to invade Squamuglia. There is a lot of talk to the effect that if Angelo wants peace he’d better send a messenger to let them know before they reach the frontier, otherwise with great reluctance they will hand his ass to him. Back to Squamuglia, where Vittorio, the Duke’s courier, reports how Niccoló has been talking treason. Somebody else runs in with news that the body of Domenico, Niccoló’s faithless friend, has been found mutilated; but tucked in his shoe was a message, somehow scrawled in blood, revealing Niccolo’s true identity. Angelo flies into an apoplectic rage, and orders Niccolo’s pursuit and destruction. But not by his own men. It is at about this point in the play, in fact, that things really get peculiar, and a gentle chill, an ambiguity, begins to creep in among the words. Heretofore the naming of names has gone on either literally or as metaphor. But now, as the Duke gives his fatal command, a new mode of expression takes over. It can only be called a kind of ritual reluctance. Certain things, it is made clear, will not be spoken aloud; certain events will not be shown onstage; though it is difficult to imagine, given the excesses of the preceding acts, what these things could possibly be. The Duke does not, perhaps may not, enlighten us. Screaming at Vittorio he is explicit enough about who shall not pursue Niccoló: his own bodyguard he describes to their faces as vermin, zanies, poltroons. But who then will the pursuers be? Vittorio knows: every flunky in the court, idling around in their Squamuglia livery and exchanging Significant Looks, knows. It is all a big in-joke. The audiences of the time knew. Angelo knows, but does not say. As close as he comes does not illuminate:

Let him that vizard keep unto his grave,
That vain usurping of an honour’d name;
We’ll dance his masque as if it were the truth,
Enlist the poniards swift of
Those who, sworn
To punctual vendetta never sleep,
Lest at the palest whisper of the name
Sweet Niccoló hath stol’n, one trice be lost
In bringing down a fell and soulless doom
Unutterable. . . .

Back to Gennaro and his army. A spy arrives from Squamuglia to tell them Niccoló’s on the way. Great rejoicing, in the midst of which Gennaro, who seldom converses, only orates, begs everybody remember that Niccoló is still riding under the Thurn and Taxis colors. The cheering stops. Again, as in Angelo's court, the curious chill creeps in. Everyone onstage (having clearly been directed to do so) becomes aware of a possibility. Gennaro, even less enlightening than Angelo was, invokes the protection of God and Saint Narcissus for Niccoló, and they all ride on. Gennaro asks a lieutenant where they are; turns out it’s only a league or so from the lake where Faggio’s Lost Guard were last seen before their mysterious disappearance.

Meanwhile, at Angelo’s palace, wily Ercole’s string has run out at last. Accosted by Vittorio and half a dozen others, he’s charged with the murder of Domenico. Witnesses parade in, there is the travesty of a trial, and Ercole meets his end in a refreshingly simple mass stabbing.

We also see Niccoló, in the scene following, for the last time. He has stopped to rest by the shore of a lake where, he remembers being told, the Faggian Guard disappeared. He sits under a tree, opens Angelo’s letter, and learns at last of the coup and the death of Pasquale. He realizes that he’s riding toward restoration, the love of an entire dukedom, the coming true of all his most virtuous hopes. Leaning against the tree, he reads parts of the letter aloud, commenting, sarcastic, on what is blatantly a pack of lies devised to soothe Gennaro until Angelo can muster his own army of Squamuglians to invade Faggio. Offstage there is a sound of footpads. Niccoló leaps to his feet, staring up one of the radial aisles, hand frozen on the hilt of his sword. He trembles and cannot speak, only stutter, in what may be the shortest line ever written in blank verse: “T-t-t-t-t . . .” As if breaking out of some dream’s paralysis, he begins, each step an effort, to retreat. Suddenly, in lithe and terrible silence, with dancers’ grace, three figures, long-limbed, effeminate, dressed in black tights, leotards and gloves, black silk hose pulled over their faces, come capering on stage and stop, gazing at him. Their faces behind the stockings are shadowy and deformed. They wait. The lights all go out.

Back in Squamuglia Angelo is trying to muster an army, without success. Desperate, he assembles those flunkies and pretty girls who are left, ritually locks all his exits, has wine brought in, and begins an orgy.

The act ends with Gennaro’s forces drawn up by the shores of the lake. An enlisted man comes on to report that a body, identified as Niccoló by the usual amulet placed round his neck as a child, has been found in a condition too awful to talk about. Again there is silence and everybody looks at everybody else. The soldier hands Gennaro a roll of parchment, stained with blood, which was found on the body. From its seal we can see it’s the letter from Angelo that Niccoló was carrying. Gennaro glances at it, does a double-take, reads it aloud. It is no longer the lying document Niccoló read us excerpts from at all, but now miraculously a long confession by Angelo of all his crimes, closing with the revelation of what really happened to the Lost Guard of Faggio. They were—surprise—every one massacred by Angelo and thrown in the lake. Later on their bones were fished up again and made into charcoal, and the charcoal into ink, which Angelo, having a dark sense of humor, used in all his subsequent communications with Faggio, the present document included.

But now the bones of these Immaculate
Have mingled with the blood of Niccoló,
And innocence with innocence is join’d,
A wedlock whose sole child is miracle:
A life’s base lie, rewritten into truth.
That truth it is, we all bear testament,
This Guard of Faggio, Faggio’s noble dead.

In the presence of the miracle all fall to their knees, bless the name of God, mourn Niccoló, vow to lay Squamuglia waste. But Gennaro ends on a note most desperate, probably for its original audience a real shock, because it names at last the name Angelo did not and Niccoló tried to:

He that we last as Thurn and Taxis knew
Now recks no lord but the stiletto’s Thorn,
And Tacit lies the gold once-knotted horn.
No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow,
Who’s once been set his tryst with Trystero.

Trystero. The word hung in the air as the act ended and all lights were for a moment cut; hung in the dark to puzzle Oedipa Maas, but not yet to exert the power over her it was to.

The fifth act, entirely an anticlimax, is taken up by the bloodbath Gennaro visits on the court of Squamuglia. Every mode of violent death available to Renaissance man, including a lye pit, land mines, a trained falcon with envenom’d talons, is employed. It plays, as Metzger remarked later, like a Road Runner cartoon in blank verse. At the end of it about the only character left alive in a stage dense with corpses is the colorless administrator, Gennaro.

Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:15 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
At the very beginning of the play, we learn that the duke of Squamuglia had poisoned the duke of neighboring duchy of Faggio by poisoning the feet of a statue of Saint Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem, knowing that the duke of Faggio kissed them every Sunday. The first parallel, whether it has dawned on Oedipa or not, is that the play mentions Saint Narcissus and the city in which the play takes place is San Narciso, Spanish for Saint Narcissus.


In the fourth act of the play, we learn about the strange parallel of the bones in the Italian lake when the play’s protagonist, Niccoló, learns about the Lost Guard of Faggio, 50 young knights who disappeared near a lake never to be seen again. The next day, the duke of Squamuglia is poisoned. The bones are recovered somehow by Angelo who has them made into charcoal from which he makes his personal ink by which conducts all his written business just the American GIs’ bones are recovered and made into charcoal for cigarette filters. The GIs died on a beach and the world Faggio is Italian for beech or beechwood.

Angelo’s words regarding his ink reveal all:

This pitchy brew in France is “encre” hight;
In this might dire Squamuglia ape the Gaul,
For “anchor” it has ris’n, from deeps untold.

In modern English: “This ink in French is encre called; In this might this duchy ape the French, For anchor it has risen from the depths [of the lake where the bones of the Faggian Guard lay submerged].


The swan has yielded but one hollow quill,
The hapless mutton, but his tegument;
Yet what, transmuted, swart and silken flows
Between, was neither plucked nor harshly flayed,
But gathered up, from wildly different beasts.

That is, his quill pen came from a swan who only had to give up one feather, a sheep gave up his skin to make the parchment, but the ink that flows between both quill and parchment was made from the bones of the submerged dead knights.

What we are not told is how the knights were dispatched. But we get a clue after Angelo is told about the dead, mutilated body of Domenico. He orders Niccoló’s death. But the assassins will not be just anybody. Certainly not his own inept bodyguard. Who the assassins will be, the entire court knows but no one dares say as the very name is not to be spoken aloud or taken in vain:

Let him that vizard keep unto his grave,
That vain usurping of an honour’d name;
We’ll dance his masque as if it were the truth,
Enlist the poniards swift of
Those who, sworn
To punctual vendetta never sleep,
Lest at the palest whisper of the name
Sweet Niccoló hath stol’n, one trice be lost
In bringing down a fell and soulless doom
Unutterable. . . .

That is, let him—Niccoló—keep his mask or disguise (as a Thurn and Taxis courier) to his grave. We’ll pretend we don’t know who he really is. But we’ll enlist the daggers of those who will slay at the mere mention of the Thurn and Taxis name that Niccoló has usurped for his own purposes.

At this point, some history is required:

The Tassis family were the imperial couriers of the Holy Roman Empire. Their service was established by Franz von Tassis (or Taxis) in the 13th century in several city-states of Italy and expanded throughout Europe over the next two centuries. Leonard I of the Tassis family was appointed Postmaster General of the Imperial Reichspost in 1595. Twenty years later, Emperor Mathias decreed that the office become hereditary in the male lineage under Lamoral I von Taxis and, to keep the Reichspost under its control, the house was allowed rename itself Thurn und Taxis in 1650. By 1695, the family’s status had risen from hereditary imperial count (decreed in 1624) to imperial prince under decree by Emperor Leopold I and became known as the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis. At one point, the house employed some 20,000 couriers familiar by their livery and single horse-drawn carts called carrioles. The family built breweries and castles all over Europe. Through the ravages of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, however, Thurn und Taxis lost a great many of their postal districts and therefore revenue.

In July 1806, the Imperial Reichspost and office of Postmaster General, then held by Karl Alexander the fifth prince of Thurn und Taxis, was abolished by the Confederation of the Rhine and taken under governmental control. The following month, after the empire lost to Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz, Holy Roman Emperor Francis II declared the empire dissolved. Princess Therese, consort of Karl Alexander, brokered a deal with both the Confederation on the Rhine and Napoleon so that the postal monopoly would remain in the hands of Thurn und Taxis as a privately owned enterprise.

In 1806, the Thurn und Taxis Post was created in Regensberg. In 1808, however, Bavaria placed the post under governmental control. Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dahlberg, Arch-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire and Prince-Archbishop of Regensburg, then ceded Regensburg to Bavaria prompting Thurn und Taxis to move its headquarters to Frankfurt am Main.

After the defeat of Napoleon, Thurn und Taxis issued a claim of being the rightful post of the German Confederation. The Congress of Vienna agreed and Article 17 of the German Federal Act of 1815 stated that any states of the Confederation that wished to establish or continue with independent couriers must pay compensation to Thurn und Taxis. Several duchies and principalities now fell under the postal control of the House of Thurn and Taxis. After the Act went into effect, the state of Hesse-Kassel gave over its postal system to Thurn und Taxis in 1816. The Kingdom of Württemburg, unable to pay the compensation owed, went over to Thurn und Taxis in 1819.

In 1847, the German-Austrian Postal Association was founded in Dresden. The House of Thurn und Taxis joined it in 1850 much to the displeasure of the Prussia. Two years later, Thurn und Taxis issued two types of postage stamps—groschen and kreuzer—named after types of German coins.

A Thurn und Taxis Groschen stamp.

A Thurn und Taxis Kreuzer stamp.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1866, the Prussians occupied the Thurn und Taxis headquarters in Frankfurt. In January of 1867, Thurn und Taxis was forced to transfer its contracts to the Prussian government for the sum of three million thaler by the last Thurn und Taxis Postmaster General, Eduard von Schele zu Schelenburg. On July 1st of that year, the official handover took place and so came the end of the Thurn und Taxis Post. The Thurn und Taxis family still exists in Europe and are still very wealthy.

So, evidently, there was a group out to destroy or undermine the Thurn und Taxis postal monopoly. Whether they are simply assassins or the same courier service that Angelo uses to communicate with Pasquale in Faggio is not explicitly stated.

Then while Niccoló rests by the same lake where the Faggian Lost Guard was last seen and reads the letter about coup led by Ercole in Faggio that has deposed and killed Pasquale, his disgust over Angelo’s lies about wanting peace is interrupted by the sound of something that terrifies him—footsteps drawing nearer. He sees who is approaching and stutters out, “T-t-t-t-t!” before he is set upon by three figures in covered in black from head to foot. What was Niccoló trying to say?

When Gennaro and his army come up on the lake and find Niccoló’s mutilated body, they find a miraculous confession written in Angelo’s hand admitting this crimes including the destruction of the Lost Guard and the turning of their bones into charcoal to make the ink he used on his documents and letters sent to Faggio. Gennaro remarks:

He that we last as Thurn and Taxis knew
Now recks no lord but the stiletto’s Thorn,
And Tacit lies the gold once-knotted horn.
No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow,
Who’s once been set his tryst with Trystero.

So we at last learn the name of the assassins that Niccoló tried to name—Trystero.
Who or what was Trystero? To find out about them and the coincidence of the bones, Oedipa supposes that she will have to talk to the director—Driblette.

He had also played the part of Gennaro the winner. “Look, Metzger,” Oedipa said, “come on backstage with me.”

“You know one of them?” said Metzger, anxious to leave.

“I want to find out something. I want to talk to Driblette.”

“Oh, about the bones.” He had a brooding look.

Oedipa said, “I don't know. It just has me uneasy. The two things, so close.”

“Fine,” Metzger said, “and what next, picket the VA.? March on Washington? God protect me,” he addressed the ceiling of the little theatre, causing a few heads among those leaving to swivel, “from these lib, overeducated broads with the soft heads and bleeding hearts. I am 35 years old, and I should know better.”

“Metzger,” Oedipa whispered, embarrassed, “I’m a Young Republican.”

“Hap Harrigan comics,” Metzger now even louder, “which she is hardly old enough to read, John Wayne on Saturday afternoon slaughtering ten thousand Japs with his teeth, this is Oedipa Maas’s World War II, man. Some people today can drive VW’s, carry a Sony radio in their shirt pocket. Not this one, folks, she wants to right wrongs, 20 years after it’s all over. Raise ghosts. All from a drunken hassle with Manny Di Presso. Forgetting her first loyalty, legal and moral, is to the estate she represents. Not to our boys in uniform, however gallant, whenever they died.”

“It isn’t that,” she protested. “I don’t care what Beaconsfield uses in its filter. I don’t care what Pierce bought from the Cosa Nostra. I don’t want to think about them. Or about what happened at Lago di Pieta, or cancer . . .” She looked around for words, feeling helpless.

“What then?” Metzger challenged, getting to his feet, looming. “What?”

“I don’t know,” she said, a little desperate. “Metzger, don’t harass me. Be on my side.”

“Against whom?” inquired Metzger, putting on shades.

Metzger waits in the car while Oedipa heads backstage to talk with Driblette.

A girl removing fake blood from her face motioned Oedipa on into a region of brightly-lit mirrors. She pushed in, gliding off sweating biceps and momentary curtains of long, swung hair, till at last she stood before Driblette, still wearing his gray Gennaro outfit. “It was great,” said Oedipa. “Feel,” said Driblette, extending his arm. She felt. Gennaro’s costume was gray flannel. “You sweat like hell, but nothing else would really be him, right?”

Oedipa nodded. She couldn’t stop watching his eyes. They were bright black, surrounded by an incredible network of lines, like a laboratory maze for studying intelligence in tears. They seemed to know what she wanted, even if she didn’t.

“You came to talk about the play,” he said. “Let me discourage you. It was written to entertain people. Like horror movies. It isn’t literature, it doesn’t mean anything. Wharfinger was no Shakespeare.” “Who was he?” she said. “Who was Shakespeare. It was a long time ago.” “Could I see a script?” She didn’t know what she was looking for, exactly. Driblette motioned her over to a file cabinet next to the one shower.

“I’d better grab a shower,” he said, “before the Drop-The-Soap crowd get here. Scripts’re in the top drawer.”

But they were all purple, dittoed, worn, torn, stained with coffee. Nothing else in the drawer. “Hey,” she yelled into the shower. “Where’s the original? What did you make these copies from?”

“A paperback,” Driblette yelled back. “Don’t ask me the publisher. I found it at Zapf’s Used Books over by the freeway. It’s an anthology, Jacobean Revenge Plays. There was a skull on the cover.’

“Could I borrow it?”

“Somebody took it. Opening night parties. I lose at least half a dozen every time.” He stuck his head out of the shower. The rest of his body was wreathed in steam, giving his head an eerie, balloon-like buoyancy. Careful, staring at her with deep amusement, he said, “There was another copy there. Zapf might still have it. Can you find the place?”

Something came to her viscera, danced briefly, and went. “Are you putting me on?” For awhile the furrowed eyes only gazed back.

“Why,” Driblette said at last, “is everybody so interested in texts?”

“Who else?” Too quickly. Maybe he had only been talking in general.

Driblette’s head wagged back and forth. “Don’t drag me into your scholarly disputes,” adding “whoever you all are,” with a familiar smile. Oedipa realized then, cold corpse-fingers of grue on her skin, that it was exactly the same look he’d coached his cast to give each other whenever the subject of the Trystero assassins came up. The knowing look you get in your dreams from a certain unpleasant figure. She decided to ask about this look.

“Was it written in as a stage direction? All those people, so obviously in on something. Or was that one of your touches?”

“That was my own,” Driblette told her, “that, and actually bringing the three assassins onstage in the fourth act. Wharfinger didn’t show them at all, you know.”

“Why did you? Had you heard about them somewhere else?”

“You don’t understand,” getting mad. “You guys, you’re like Puritans are about the Bible. So hung up with words, words. You know where that play exists, not in that file cabinet, not in any paperback you’re looking for, but…” a hand emerged from the veil of shower-steam to indicate his suspended head, “…in here. That’s what I’m for. To give the spirit flesh. The words, who cares? They’re rote noises to hold line bashes with, to get past the bone barriers around an actor’s memory, right? But the reality is in this head. Mine. I’m the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming out of my mouth, eyes, sometimes other orifices also.”

But she couldn’t let it quite go. “What made you feel differently than Wharfinger did about this, this Trystero.” At the word, Driblette’s face abruptly vanished, back into the steam. As if switched off. Oedipa hadn’t wanted to say the word. He had managed to create around it the same aura of ritual reluctance here, offstage, as he had on.

“If I were to dissolve in here,” speculated the voice out of the drifting steam, “be washed down the drain into the Pacific, what you saw tonight would vanish too. You, that part of you so concerned, God knows how, with that little world, would also vanish. The only residue in fact would be things Wharfinger didn’t lie about. Perhaps Squamuglia and Faggio, if they ever existed. Perhaps the Thurn and Taxis mail system. Stamp collectors tell me it did exist. Perhaps the other, also. The Adversary. But they would be traces, fossils. Dead, mineral, without value or potential.

“You could fall in love with me, you can talk to my shrink, you can hide a tape recorder in my bedroom, see what I talk about from wherever I am when I sleep. You want to do that? You can put together clues, develop a thesis, or several, about why characters reacted to the Trystero possibility the way they did, why the assassins came on, why the black costumes. You could waste your life that way and never touch the truth. Wharfinger supplied words and a yarn. I gave them life. That’s it.” He fell silent. The shower splashed.

“Driblette?” Oedipa called, after awhile.

His face appeared briefly. “We could do that.” He wasn’t smiling. His eyes waited, at the centres of their webs.

“I’ll call,” said Oedipa. She left, and was all the way outside before thinking, I went in there to ask about bones and instead we talked about the Trystero thing. She stood in a nearly deserted parking lot, watching the headlights of Metzger’s car come at her, and wondered how accidental it had been.

Metzger had been listening to the car radio. She got in and rode with him for two miles before realizing that the whimsies of nighttime reception were bringing them KCUF down from Kinneret, and that the disk jockey talking was her husband, Mucho.

Last edited by DB Roy on Fri Aug 05, 2016 9:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Fri Aug 05, 2016 10:54 am
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
THOUGH she saw Mike Fallopian again, and did trace the text of The Courier’s Tragedy a certain distance, these follow-ups were no more disquieting than other revelations which now seemed to come crowding in exponentially, as if the more she collected the more would come to her, until everything she saw, smelled, dreamed, remembered, would somehow come to be woven into The Tristero.

For one thing, she read over the will more closely. If it was really Pierce’s attempt to leave an organized something behind after his own annihilation, then it was part of her duty, wasn’t it, to bestow life on what had persisted, to try to be what Driblette was, the dark machine in the centre of the planetarium, to bring the estate into pulsing stelliferous Meaning, all in a soaring dome around her? If only so much didn’t stand in her way: her deep ignorance of law, of investment, of real estate, ultimately of the dead man himself. The bond the probate court had had her post was perhaps their evaluation in dollars of how much did stand in her way. Under the symbol she’d copied off the latrine wall of The Scope into her memo book, she wrote Shall I project a world? If not project then at least flash some arrow on the dome to skitter among constellations and trace out your Dragon, Whale, Southern Cross. Anything might help.

If we read the above passage closely, we see the existentialism present in Pynchon’s story. Existentialism is a philosophy developed by Søren Kierkegaard and expanded on by later philosophers and thinkers as Dostoyevski, Nietszche, Heidegger, Heller, Camus and Sartre. The basic premise of existentialism is that we are conscious beings capable of independent thought and action and not simply what society labels us. Ask someone who Babe Ruth was and he may tell you that Ruth was a great baseball player who hit 714 home runs in his career but this is only the label society has hung on Ruth. But what this tell us about the man himself? He is, first and foremost, a conscious being who decided his own deeds. Through our own consciousness, we impart our own meaning to the universe and impose our own values upon it. What you may imagine yourself to be, has no bearing on how others see you. Your actions define you to others and you are responsible for how they see you. So aside from his being a great baseball player, was Ruth a “nice guy” or a “jerk”?

The idea that we give the world meaning and impose our own values on it implies that the world is ultimately absurd. The reason bad things happen to good people or that a harmless, helpless child dies of cancer at age three while Hitler went onto rule much of Europe while killing millions is because the world is absurd. No matter how good of a life you lead, you can be killed out there for no reason at all or die of a heart attack in the prime of your life. We tend to say things as “the world is unfair” or “life isn’t fair” which indicates that we place a certain order on the world and then express remorse or anger when the world doesn’t comply. But the outside world is neither fair nor unfair, neither good nor bad. It is completely neutral and all the conscious creatures making their own decisions determine what kind of place the world is and it may permeate the entire world or simply a small piece of it. The outside world is the big Absurd. Ultimately, questions as “What is the meaning of life?” are meaningless. Does it really make any difference if we are good or evil for what does that mean to the Great Absurdity we are thrust into the day we are born? It means nothing because absurdity is meaninglessness.

Driblette implies as much by saying, “I’m the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming out of my mouth, eyes, sometimes other orifices also.” He also said, “If I were to dissolve in here, be washed down the drain into the Pacific, what you saw tonight would vanish too.” In other words, Driblette is creating his own meaning and imposing his own values on something that is otherwise meaningless—just words read off a page, fickle sense-data. Since it is up to each individual to create his or her own meaning of the chaos surrounding us, Oedipa knows that she must follow Diblette’s example:

Under the symbol she’d copied off the latrine wall of The Scope into her memo book, she wrote Shall I project a world? If not project then at least flash some arrow on the dome to skitter among constellations and trace out your Dragon, Whale, Southern Cross. Anything might help.

But in Pynchon’s tale, it isn’t so much the Absurd that Oedipa must fight against to wrest meaning from her existence. To understand what she is struggling against, we must go back to the Varo painting, “Bordando el Manto Terrestre” when Oedipa saw the mysterious black figure stirring the cauldron while holding a spellbook and realized that “…what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?”

We are all Oedipa, locked in our towers, able to see only a small portion of the world from the window, trying to make sense of it, longing for a rescue that can never come because each of us is truly alone, on our own. Love does not conquer all. But Oedipa’s sense that she is at the mercy of an anonymous and malignant magic is now amped up by the presence of the Tristero—whoever they are—mysterious but no longer formless, black but not invisible. But if she is to understand this malignant magic, “how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force,” then the Tristero might be a good place to start projecting her first constellation of meaning, connecting one dot to the next.


Fri Aug 05, 2016 9:33 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
Oedipa decides to attend a Yoyodyne stockholders’ meeting for no other reason than because she hadn’t been doing much as the executor of a will and thought this might spur her into action. After getting a visitor’s badge and eating in the huge cafeteria and listening to the Yoyodyne songs sung by shareholders and proxies and led by the company president, Clayton “Bloody” Chiclitz, she wanders off into the bewilderingly large complex. From the moment of her arrival, we are again presented with Oedipa as a woman lost in a man’s world where she is an interloper and not particularly welcome. Nobody at Yoyodyne, other than Oedipa, even appears to be female.

Somehow Oedipa got lost. One minute she was gazing at a mockup of a space capsule, safely surrounded by old, somnolent men; the next, alone in a great, fluorescent murmur of office activity. As far as she could see in any direction it was white or pastel: men’s shirts, papers, drawing boards. All she could think of was to put on her shades for all this light, and wait for somebody to rescue her. But nobody noticed. She began to wander aisles among light blue desks, turning a corner now and then. Heads came up at the sound of her heels, engineers stared until she’d passed, but nobody spoke to her. Five or ten minutes went by this way, panic growing inside her head: there seemed no way out of the area. Then, by accident (Dr Hilarius, if asked, would accuse her of using subliminal cues in the environment to guide her to a particular person) or howsoever, she came on one Stanley Koteks, who wore wire-rim bifocals, sandals, argyle socks, and at first glance seemed too young to be working here. As it turned out he wasn’t working, only doodling with a fat felt pencil this sign:


“Hello there,” Oedipa said, arrested by this coincidence. On a whim, she added, “Kirby sent me,” this having been the name on the latrine wall. It was supposed to sound conspiratorial, but came out silly.

“Hi,” said Stanley Koteks, deftly sliding the big envelope he’d been doodling on into an open drawer he then closed. Catching sight of her badge, “You’re lost, huh?”

She knew blunt questions like, what does that symbol mean? would get her nowhere. She said, “I’m a tourist, actually. A stockholder.”

“Stockholder.” He gave her the once-over, hooked with his foot a swivel chair from the next desk and rolled it over for her. “Sit down. Can you really influence policy, or make suggestions they won’t just file in the garbage?”

“Yes,” lied Oedipa, to see where it would take them.

“See,” Koteks said, “if you can get them to drop their clause on patents. That, lady, is my ax to grind.”

“Patents,” Oedipa said. Koteks explained how every engineer, in signing the Yoyodyne contract, also signed away the patent rights to any inventions he might come up with.

“This stifles your really creative engineer,” Koteks said, adding bitterly, “wherever he may be.”

“I didn’t think people invented any more,” said Oedipa, sensing this would goad him. “I mean, who's there been, really, since Thomas Edison? Isn’t it all teamwork now?” Bloody Chiclitz, in his welcoming speech this morning, had stressed teamwork.

“Teamwork,” Koteks snarled, “is one word for it, yeah. What it really is is a way to avoid responsibility. It’s a symptom of the gutlessness of the whole society.”

“Goodness,” said Oedipa, “are you allowed to talk like that?”

Koteks looked to both sides, then rolled his chair closer. “You know the Nefastis Machine?” Oedipa only widened her eyes. “Well this was invented by John Nefastis, who’s up at Berkeley now. John’s somebody who still invents things. Here. I have a copy of the patent.” From a drawer he produced a Xeroxed wad of papers, showing a box with a sketch of a bearded Victorian on its outside, and coming out of the top two pistons attached to a crankshaft and flywheel.

“Who’s that with the beard?” asked Oedipa. James Clerk Maxwell, explained Koteks, a famous Scotch scientist who had once postulated a tiny intelligence, known as Maxwell’s Demon. The Demon could sit in a box among air molecules that were moving at all different random speeds, and sort out the fast molecules from the slow ones. Fast molecules have more energy than slow ones. Concentrate enough of them in one place and you have a region of high temperature. You can then use the difference in temperature between this hot region of the box and any cooler region, to drive a heat engine. Since the Demon only sat and sorted, you wouldn’t have put any real work into the system. So you would be violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics, getting something for nothing, causing perpetual motion.”

“Sorting isn’t work?” Oedipa said. “Tell them down at the post office, you’ll find yourself in a mailbag headed for Fairbanks, Alaska, without even a FRAGILE sticker going for you.”

“It’s mental work,” Koteks said, “But not work in the thermodynamic sense.” He went on to tell how the Nefastis Machine contained an honest-to-God Maxwell’s Demon. All you had to do was stare at the photo of Clerk Maxwell, and concentrate on which cylinder, right or left, you wanted the Demon to raise the temperature in. The air would expand and push a piston. The familiar Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge photo, showing Maxwell in right profile, seemed to work best.


Oedipa, behind her shades, looked around carefully, trying not to move her head. Nobody paid any attention to them: the air-conditioning hummed on, IBM typewriters chiggered away, swivel chairs squeaked, fat reference manuals were slammed shut, rattling blueprints folded and refolded, while high overhead the long silent fluorescent bulbs glared merrily; all with Yoyodyne was normal. Except right here, where Oedipa Maas, with a thousand other people to choose from, had had to walk uncoerced into the presence of madness.

“Not everybody can work it, of course,” Koteks, having warmed to his subject, was telling her. “Only people with the gift. ‘Sensitives,’ John calls them.”

Oedipa rested her shades on her nose and batted her eyelashes, figuring to coquette her way off this conversational hook: “Would I make a good sensitive, do think?”

“You really want to try it? You could write to him. He only knows a few sensitives. He’d let you try.” Oedipa took out her little memo book and opened to the symbol she’d copied and the words Shall I project a world? “Box 573,” said Koteks. “In Berkeley.”

“No,” his voice gone funny, so that she looked up, too sharply, by which time, carried by a certain momentum of thought, he’d also said, “In San Francisco; there’s none” and by then knew he’d made a mistake. “He’s living somewhere along Telegraph,” he muttered. “I gave you the wrong address.”

She took a chance: “Then the WASTE address isn’t good any more.” But she’d pronounced it like a word, waste. His face congealed, a mask of distrust. “It’s W.A.S.T.E., lady,” he told her, “an acronym, not ‘waste,’ and we had best not go into it any further.”

“I saw it in a ladies’ John,” she confessed. But Stanley Koteks was no longer about to be sweet-talked.

“Forget it,” he advised; opened a book and proceeded to ignore her.

She in her turn, clearly, was not about to forget it. The envelope she’d seen Koteks doodling what she’d begun to think of as the “WASTE symbol” on had come, she bet, from John Nefastis. Or somebody like him. Her suspicions got embellished by, of all people, Mike Fallopian of the Peter Pinguid Society.

“Sure this Koteks is part of some underground,” he told her a few days later, “an underground of the unbalanced, possibly, but then how can you blame them for being maybe a little bitter? Look what's happening to them. In school they got brainwashed, like all of us, into believing the Myth of the American Inventor, Morse and his telegraph, Bell and his telephone, Edison and his light bulb, Tom Swift and his this or that. Only one man per invention. Then when they grew up they found they had to sign over all their rights to a monster like Yoyodyne; got stuck on some ‘project’ or ‘task force’ or ‘team’ and started being ground into anonymity. Nobody wanted them to invent only perform their little role in a design ritual, already set down for them in some procedures handbook. What’s it like, Oedipa, being all alone in a nightmare like that? Of course they stick together, they keep in touch. They can always tell when they come on another of their kind. Maybe it only happens once every five years, but still, immediately, they know.”

As Metger and Fallopian sat in the Scope and argued about Marxism and surplus value—what Pynchon calls “typical Southern California dialogue"—Oedipa recalls something she had seen back at Fangoso Lagoons when she went back to Lake Inverarity. It was bronze plaque, a historical marker, commemorating an event that occurred on that spot in 1853:

On this site…a dozen Wells, Fargo men battled gallantly with a band of masked marauders in mysterious “black uniforms.” We owe this description to a post rider, the only witness to the massacre, who died shortly after. The only other clue was a cross, traced by one of the victims in the dust. To this day the identities of the slayers remain shrouded in mystery.

A cross? Or the initial T? The same stuttered by Niccoló in The Courier’s Tragedy. Oedipa pondered this. She called Randolph Driblette from a pay booth, to see it he’d known about this Wells, Fargo incident; if that was why he’d chosen to dress his bravos all in black. The phone buzzed on and on, into hollowness. She hung up and headed for Zapf’s Used Books. Zapf himself came forward out of a wan cone of 15-watt illumination to help her find the paperback Driblette had mentioned, Jacobean Revenge Plays.

“It’s been very much in demand,” Zapf told her. The skull on the cover watched them, through the dim light.

Did he only mean Driblette? She opened her mouth to ask, but didn’t. It was to be the first of many demurs.

Back at Echo Courts, Metzger in L.A. for the day on other business, she turned immediately to the single mention of the word Trystero. Opposite the line she read, in pencil, Cf. variant, 1687 ed. Put there maybe by some student. In a way, it cheered her. Another reading of that line might help light further the dark face of the word. According to a short preface, the text had been taken from a folio edition, undated. Oddly, the preface was unsigned. She checked the copyright page and found that the original hardcover had been a textbook, Plays of Ford, Webster, Tourneur and Wharfinger, published by The Lectern Press, Berkeley, California, back in 1957. She poured herself half a tumbler of Jack Daniels (the Paranoids having left them a fresh bottle the evening before) and called the L.A. library. They checked, but didn’t have the hardcover. They could look it up on inter-library loan for her. “Wait,” she said, having just got an idea, “the publisher’s up in Berkeley. Maybe I’ll try them directly.” Thinking also that she could visit John Nefastis.

She had caught sight of the historical marker only because she’d gone back, deliberately, to Lake Inverarity one day, owing to this, what you might have to call, growing obsession, with “bringing something of herself” even if that something was just her presence to the scatter of business interests that had survived Inverarity. She would give them order, she would create constellations; next day she drove out to Vesperhaven House, a home for senior citizens that Inverarity had put up around the time Yoyodyne came to San Narciso. In its front recreation room she found sunlight coming in it seemed through every window; an old man nodding in front of a dim Leon Schlesinger cartoon show on the tube; and a black fly browsing along the pink, dandruffy arroyo of the neat part in the old man’s hair. A fat nurse ran in with a can of bug spray and yelled at the fly to take off so she could kill it. The cagy fly stayed where it was. “You’re bothering Mr. Thoth,” she yelled at the little fellow. Mr. Thoth jerked awake, jarring loose the fly, which made a desperate scramble for the door. The nurse pursued, spraying poison. “Hello,” said Oedipa.

“I was dreaming,” Mr. Thoth told her, “about my grandfather. A very old man, at least as old as I am now, 91. I thought, when I was a boy, that he had been 91 all his life. Now I feel,” laughing, “as if I have been 91 all my life. Oh, the stories that old man would tell. He rode for the Pony Express, back in the gold rush days. His horse was named Adolf, I remember that.”

Oedipa, sensitized, thinking of the bronze marker, smiled at him as grand-daughterly as she knew how and asked, “Did he ever have to fight off desperados?” “That cruel old man,” said Mr. Thoth, “was an Indian killer. God, the saliva would come out in a string from his lip whenever he told about killing the Indians. He must have loved that part of it.”

“What were you dreaming about him?” “Oh, that,” perhaps embarrassed. “It was all mixed in with a Porky Pig cartoon.” He waved at the tube. “It comes into your dreams, you know. Filthy machine. Did you ever see the one about Porky Pig and the anarchist?”

She had, as a matter of fact, but she said no. “The anarchist is dressed all in black. In the dark you can only see his eyes. It dates from the 1930’s. Porky Pig is a little boy. The children told me that he has a nephew now, Cicero. Do you remember, during the war, when Porky worked in a defense plant? He and Bugs Bunny. That was a good one too.”

“The Blow Out” starring Porky Pig from 1936.

“Dressed all in black,” Oedipa prompted him.

“It was mixed in so with the Indians,” he tried to remember, “the dream. The Indians who wore black feathers, the Indians who weren’t Indians. My grandfather told me. The feathers were white, but those false Indians were supposed to burn bones and stir the boneblack with their feathers to get them black. It made them invisible in the night, because they came at night. That was how the old man, bless him, knew they weren’t Indians. No Indian ever attacked at night. If he got killed his soul would wander in the dark forever. Heathen.”

Once again, there is the angle of bones being burned and turned into charcoal.

“If they weren’t Indians,” Oedipa asked, “what were they?”

“A Spanish name,” Mr. Thoth said, frowning, “a Mexican name. Oh, I can’t remember. Did they write it on the ring?” He reached down to a knitting bag by his chair and came up with blue yarn, needles, patterns, finally a dull gold signet ring. “My grandfather cut this from the finger of one of them he killed. Can you imagine a 91-year-old man so brutal?” Oedipa stared. The device on the ring was once again the WASTE symbol.

She looked around, spooked at the sunlight pouring in all the windows, as if she had been trapped at the centre of some intricate crystal, and said, “My God.”

“And I feel him, certain days, days of a certain temperature,” said Mr. Thoth, “and barometric pressure. Did you know that? I feel him close to me.”

“Your grandfather?”

“No, my God.”

So she went to find Fallopian, who ought to know a lot about the Pony Express and Wells, Fargo if he was writing a book about them. He did, but not about their dark adversaries.

“I’ve had hints,” he told her, “sure. I wrote to Sacramento about that historical marker, and they’ve been kicking it around their bureaucratic morass for months. Someday they’ll come back with a source book for me to read. It will say, ‘Old-timers remember the yarn about,’ whatever happened. Old-timers. Real good documentation, this Californiana crap. Odds are the author will be dead. There’s no way to trace it, unless you want to follow up an accidental correlation, like you got from the old man.”

“You think it’s really a correlation?” She thought of how tenuous it was, like a long white hair, over a century long. Two very old men. All these fatigued brain cells between herself and the truth.

“Marauders, nameless, faceless, dressed in black. Probably hired by the Federal government. Those suppressions were brutal.”

“Couldn’t it have been a rival carrier?”

Fallopian shrugged. Oedipa showed him the WASTE symbol, and he shrugged again.

“It was in the ladies’ room, right here in The Scope, Mike.”

“Women,” he only said. “Who can tell what goes on with them?”

Sun Aug 07, 2016 2:46 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
Time for some more history. The first American postal routes formed in Boston in 1639 and a Boston-New York route opened in 1672. In 1691, William and Mary, acting as the British Crown (they were actually Dutch), authorized Thomas Neale a twenty-one-year grant to create the North American Postal Service. Neale made New Jersey Governor Alexander Hamilton the deputy postmaster and the first true post office in the colonies began in 1692 but only in Virginia and ran until 1710 when Neale’s patent expired by which time Parliament extended the English post office to serve all the colonies. By the mid-18th century, mail routes ran between Boston, New York and Philadelphia via the Crown Post—England’s colonial mail service—which colonists grew to hate. Ben Franklin and William Goddard seized the opportunity to establish an independent post office in the colonies. Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General in the colonies in 1775 when the Second Continental Congress decreed the United States Post Office. His post office became the direct forerunner of the U.S. Postal Service. The United States Post Office Department (USPOD) was officially created in 1792 under constitutional authority. It became a cabinet-level department in 1872.


Prior to stamps, when a letter was delivered, the recipient paid the cost to the postman. This caused all kinds of problems—it slowed down delivery, the recipient was often not at home or refused the letter, the postman could become a target for robbery, etc. Prepayment of letters was the preferred and, eventually, the only method of paying for mail and stamps were the proof of that payment. The first stamp known to be used in the United States was a three-cent issued in 1842 by a private courier in New York known as the City Despatch Post. This was also the first adhesive stamp used in the U.S. (which were invented by Rowland Hill of England in 1837).


To prevent the stamp from being re-used, the envelope or card was stamped in the upper right corner covering the stamp with cancellation lines called a killer at the post office after the letter is picked up from its point of origin. The cancellation lines across the face of the stamp means that it cannot be used again. Alongside the killer was the postmark which contains the date, location and often even the time that the letter arrived at the post office. This marks the time at which the post office takes charge of the letter. The postmark was originally called a Bishop mark after English Postmaster General Henry Bishop who implemented the idea in 1661. Every office had its own postmarks so distinctive (including the military) that, even decades later, one knows where a letter was sent from, when and if the writer was civilian or military. In fact, historians often rely on these postmarks when dating letters.

In 1845, Congress passed an act where letters were charged by weight (a convention first adopted by Rowland Hill) at a rate of five cents per half-ounce for up to 300 miles and 10 cents per half-ounce up to 3000 miles. In 1851, a new act set the rate at five cents per half-ounce for up to 3000 within the borders of the U.S. This act also offered a 40% discount on prepaid postage which effectively reduced the price to three cents. By 1856, pre-payment was a requirement and were issued in the form of postage stamps (although federal stamps were first issued in 1847) or a stamped envelope and so the modern American postal system was born. It was transformed into the Unites States Postal Service (USPS) in 1971.

First federally issued stamps, 1847. These stamps were no longer in use after 1851.

1851 issue stamps.

According to Fallopian, these acts were not passed to reduce the costs of mailing a letter so much as to undercut all competition to drive the private couriers out of business and keep the postal system a government monopoly. So, at some point, we must assume, the Tristero came to the United States but when? Even more importantly, why?

Among Inverarity’s many possessions was a fine stamp collection worth quite a lot that, as executor, Oedipa would need to get appraised. Metzger retained a philatelist from L.A. on the instructions of the will named Ghengis Cohen. With Metzger away on other business and the Paranoids off at a recording studio one dreary, wet morning, Oedipa gets a call from Cohen. He had questions concerning some of the stamps in the collection.

“There are some irregularities, Miz Maas,” he said. “Could you come over?”

She was somehow sure, driving in on the slick freeway, that the “irregularities” would tie in with the word Trystero. Metzger had taken the stamp albums to Cohen from safe-deposit storage a week ago in Oedipa’s Impala, and then she hadn’t even been interested enough to look inside them. But now it came to her, as if the rain whispered it, that what Fallopian had not known about private carriers, Cohen might.

When he opened the door of his apartment/office she saw him framed in a long succession or train of doorways, room after room receding in the general direction of Santa Monica, all soaked in rain-light. Genghis Cohen had a touch of summer flu, his fly was half open and he was wearing a Barry Goldwater sweatshirt also. Oedipa felt at once motherly. In a room perhaps a third of the way along the suite he sat her in a rocking chair and brought real homemade dandelion wine in small neat glasses.

“I picked the dandelions in a cemetery, two years ago. Now the cemetery is gone. They took it out for the East San Narciso Freeway.”

She could, at this stage of things, recognize signals like that, as the epileptic is said to an odor, color, pure piercing grace note announcing his seizure. Afterward it is only this signal, really dross, this secular announcement, and never what is revealed during the attack, that he remembers. Oedipa wondered whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed to end), she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements, intimations, but never the central truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold; which must always blaze out, destroying its own message irreversibly, leaving an overexposed blank when the ordinary world came back. In the space of a sip of dandelion wine it came to her that she would never know how many times such a seizure may already have visited, or how to grasp it should it visit again. Perhaps even in this last second but there was no way to tell. She glanced down the corridor of Cohen’s rooms in the rain and saw, for the very first time, how far it might be possible to get lost in this.

“I have taken the liberty,” Genghis Cohen was saying, “of getting in touch with an Expert Committee. I haven’t yet forwarded them the stamps in question, pending your own authorization and of course Mr. Metzger’s. However, all fees, I am sure, can be charged to the estate.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Oedipa said.

“Allow me.” He rolled over to her a small table, and from a plastic folder lifted with tweezers, delicately, a U. S. commemorative stamp, the Pony Express issue of 1940, .03 henna brown. Cancelled. “Look,” he said, switching on a small, intense lamp, handing her an oblong magnifying glass.

“It’s the wrong side,” she said, as he swabbed the stamp gently with benzine and placed it on a black tray.

“The watermark.”

Oedipa peered. There it was again, her WASTE symbol, showing up black, a little right of center.

“What is this?” she asked, wondering how much time had gone by.

“I’m not sure,” Cohen said. “That’s why I’ve referred it, and the others, to the Committee. Some friends have been around to see them too, but they’re all being cautious. But see what you think of this.” From the same plastic folder he now tweezed what looked like an old German stamp, with the figures 1/4 in the centre, the word Freimarke at the top, and along the right-hand margin the legend Thurn und Taxis.


“They were,” she remembered from the Wharfinger play, “some kind of private couriers, right?”

“From about 1300, until Bismarck bought them out in 1867, Miz Maas, they were the European mail service. This is one of their very few adhesive stamps. But look in the corners.” Decorating each corner of the stamp, Oedipa saw a horn with a single loop in it. Almost like the WASTE symbol. “A post horn,” Cohen said, “the Thurn and Taxis symbol. It was in their coat of arms.”

Thurn und Taxis coat-of-arms. Note the post horn at the top. The animal at the bottom is a badger as the name Tassis is a variation of "tasso" the Italian word for a badger.

And Tacit lies the gold once-knotted horn, Oedipa remembered. Sure. “Then the watermark you found,” she said, “is nearly the same thing, except for the extra little doojigger sort of coming out of the bell.”

“It sounds ridiculous,” Cohen said, “but my guess is it’s a mute.”

She nodded. The black costumes, the silence, the secrecy. Whoever they were their aim was to mute the Thurn and Taxis post horn.

“Normally this issue, and the others, are unwater-marked,” Cohen said, “and in view of other details the hatching, number of perforations, way the paper has aged it’s obviously a counterfeit. Not just an error.”

“Then it isn’t worth anything.”

Cohen smiled, blew his nose. “You’d be amazed how much you can sell an honest forgery for. Some collectors specialize in them. The question is, who did these? They’re atrocious.” He flipped the stamp over and with the tip of the tweezers showed her. The picture had a Pony Express rider galloping out of a western fort. From shrubbery over on the right-hand side and possibly in the direction the rider would be heading, protruded a single, painstakingly engraved, black feather. “Why put in a deliberate mistake?” he asked, ignoring, if he saw it, the look on her face. “I’ve come up so far with eight in all. Each one has an error like this, laboriously worked into the design, like a taunt. There’s even a transposition—U. S. Potsage, of all things.”


“How recent?” blurted Oedipa, louder than she needed to be.

“Is anything wrong, Miz Maas?” She told him first about the letter from Mucho with a cancellation telling her report all obscene mail to her potsmaster.

“Odd,” Cohen agreed. “The transposition,” consulting a notebook, “is only on the Lincoln .04, Regular issue, 1954. The other forgeries run back to 1893.”


“That’s 70 years,” she said. “He’d have to be pretty old.”

“If it’s the same one,” said Cohen. “And what if it were as old as Thurn and Taxis? Omedio Tassis, banished from Milan, organized his first couriers in the Bergamo region around 1290.”

They sat in silence, listening to rain gnaw languidly at the windows and skylights, confronted all at once by the marvellous possibility.

“Has that ever happened before?” she had to ask.

“An 800-year tradition of postal fraud. Not to my knowledge.” Oedipa told him then all about old Mr. Thoth’s signet ring, and the symbol she’d caught Stanley Koteks doodling, and the muted horn drawn in the ladies’ room at The Scope.

“Whatever it is,” he hardly needed to say, “they’re apparently still quite active.”

“Do we tell the government, or what?”

“I'm sure they know more than we do.” He sounded nervous, or suddenly in retreat. “No, I wouldn’t. It isn’t our business, is it?”

She asked him then about the initials W.A.S.T.E., but it was somehow too late. She’d lost him. He said no, but so abruptly out of phase now with her own thoughts he could even have been lying. He poured her more dandelion wine.

“It’s clearer now,” he said, rather formal. “A few months ago it got quite cloudy. You see, in spring, when the dandelions begin to bloom again, the wine goes through a fermentation. As if they remembered.”

No, thought Oedipa, sad. As if their home cemetery in some way still did exist, in a land where you could somehow walk, and not need the East San Narciso Freeway, and bones still could rest in peace, nourishing ghosts of dandelions, no one to plow them up. As if the dead really do persist, even in a bottle of wine.

Sun Aug 07, 2016 7:06 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
So the Tristero or Trystero, as we learned in Wharfinger’s play did not hesitate to kill Thurn und Taxis couriers. Angelo had gotten Niccoló killed in just this fashion. The W.A.S.T.E. symbol tells Oedipa that not only was their goal to shut down the Thurn und Taxis postal monopoly but that they are still active and operating in the United States. But what did this have to do with Pierce and why was he leaving her clues as to the existence of this group?

Oedipa heads out to Berkeley. “She wanted to find out where Richard Wharfinger had got his information about Trystero. Possibly also take a look at how the inventor John Nefastis picked up his mail.”

She found the Lectern Press in a small office building on Shattuck Avenue. They didn’t have Plays of Ford, Webster, Tourneur and Wharfinger on the premises, but did take her check for $12.50, gave her the address of their warehouse in Oakland and a receipt to show the people there. By the time she’d collected the book, it was afternoon. She skimmed through to find the line that had brought her all the way up here. And in the leaf-fractured sunlight, froze.

No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow, ran the couplet, Who once has crossed the lusts of Angelo. “No,” she protested aloud. “‘Who’s once been set his tryst with Trystero.’” The pencilled note in the paperback had mentioned a variant. But the paperback was supposed to be a straight reprint of the book she now held. Puzzled, she saw that this edition also had a footnote:

According only to the Quarto edition (1687). The earlier Folio has a lead inserted where the closing line should have been. D’Amico has suggested that Wharfinger may have made a libellous comparison involving someone at court, and that the later ‘restoration’ was actually the work of the printer, Inigo Barfstable. The doubtful ‘Whitechapel’ version (c. 1670) has ‘This tryst or odious awry, O Niccoló,’ which besides bringing in a quite graceless Alexandrine, is difficult to make sense of syntactically, unless we accept the rather unorthodox though persuasive argument of J.-K. Sale that the line is really a pun on ‘This trystero dies irae . . . .’ This, however, it must be pointed out, leaves the line nearly as corrupt as before, owing to no clear meaning for the word trystero, unless it be a pseudo-Italianate variant on triste (= wretched, depraved). But the ‘Whitechapel’ edition, besides being a fragment, abounds in such corrupt and probably spurious lines, as we have mentioned elsewhere, and is hardly to be trusted.

Then where, Oedipa wondered, does the paperback I bought at Zapf’s get off with its “Trystero” line? Was there yet another edition, besides the Quarto, Folio, and “Whitechapel” fragment? The editor’s preface, signed this time, by one Emory Bortz, professor of English at Cal, mentioned none. She spent nearly an hour more, searching through all the footnotes, finding nothing.

“Dammit,” she yelled, started the car and headed for the Berkeley campus, to find Professor Bortz.

She should have remembered the date on the book 1957. Another world. The girl in the English office informed Oedipa that Professor Bortz was no longer with the faculty. He was teaching at San Narciso College, San Narciso, California.

Of course, Odeipa thought, wry, where else? She copied the address and walked away trying to remember who’d put out the paperback. She couldn’t.

No Hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow
Who’s once been set his tryst with Trystero.

Means what? A hallowed skein of stars, i.e. a tangle of venerated stars, would be constellations—houses of the zodiac—appealed to by astrologers to affect favorable or beneficial outcomes. But not even these can guard or watch over someone due to have a secluded meet-up with Trystero. Not even the heavens can help him. So we get from this that Trystero isn’t a mere human agency involved in postal delivery but a secret society apparently supernaturally endowed or at least that is how they were perceived in Wharfinger’s day. This would account for why the characters in the play were reluctant to dwell on the words of Angelo concerning how Niccoló will meet his fate. Such forbidden talk may warrant a visit from those who should not be spoken of. You never know who might be listening.

The Trystero or at least the view of them is that they were not just a private courier service but a veritable Holy Vehm. The Vehm formed in the Westphalia region of Germany in the 13th century. They were composed on common men rather than nobles or royals (although its leaders undoubtedly did their bidding) as a secret vigilante society. Members had to swear oaths and agree to suffer the consequences should they reveal any of the Vehm’s many secrets. The Vehm had some 200,000 men in its ranks within 50 years after its formation. Their job was to ensure that members of society were conforming to societal norms although they veiled it in biblical language so that they appeared to be upholding Christian values. Anyone accused of not living this Christian life were tried by the Vehm. The sentence for a guilty verdict was always carried out at midnight. Those accused of witchcraft and heresy were tried by a special “forbidden court” and a “secret tribunal” by a special division of the Vehm called the Black Vehm. These sentences were said to be the harshest and likely involved torture and confession.

In the United States, Vehm-like organizations formed in the 19th century such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Callithumpians. In both cases, the accused were given warnings and eventually summoned. The Callithumpians, to my knowledge, never executed any of their targets but were more about public shaming. The Klan and the Vehm, on the other hand, seemed unlikely to dispense any punishment but death. To be summoned was itself a death sentence. There are no known instances of anyone being found innocent. The Vehm, great reduced in number, went underground during the Age of Enlightenment but did not disband for they supposedly publicly proclaimed their existence during the Nazi takeover of Germany and allied themselves to the regime and issued many condemnations of the Jews. How many Nazis were members of the Vehm is open to speculation as is whether or not the Vehm fell with the Nazis in 1945. The Trystero do not appear to be part of the Vehm but seem to be regarded as being Vehmic in nature.

The Holy Vehm. They supposedly wore black hoods.

Interesting too the verse references a skein of stars and Oedipa writes of projecting constellations to start making meaning of what Inverarity has left behind. Yet the verse states that no constellation will help when one is due to meet Trystero. But that is exactly what Oedipa intends to do—have her tryst with Trystero—in order to make meaning of it all. But her efforts to project constellations on their blackness may not help her. The verse indicates that it will not.

So how deeply was Inverarity invested with Trystero? He clearly knows about them but how much did he know? Did he know their secrets or were they someone he had stumbled onto? Did he leave the task of trying to unmask them to Oedipa? Why her? Did he simply see something in her that told him she would be the one? Another clue that Inverarity left that Oedipa that she does not seemingly put together was that his last communication with her was a phone call in which he spoke in the voice of Lamont Cranston, the alter ego of the Shadow—a famous radio show in the days before television took over. The Shadow could hypnotize people and learned, through his travels in Asia, how to cloak himself from sight by clouding people’s minds. He could enter rooms and not be seen. He could speak to someone standing next to him and, while they could hear him, they could not see him.

Posters from the height of the show’s popularity depict the Shadow in a now all-too-familiar way:



This is definitely not a coincidence. The idea of the Shadow having supernatural powers such that he cannot be blocked or hidden from are also traits given to Trystero. Most younger people who read Pynchon’s novel in 1966 almost certainly did not make this connection. Probably most still miss it today but at least we have the internet as a research tool. The only way most could have seen the connection in ’66 would have been to have a lucky encounter. So Pynchon does to the reader what Inverarity does to Oedipa—puts the clues out there and let you chase them down if you’re astute enough to recognize them.

After visiting Berkeley campus, Oedipa goes to visit John Nesfastis and see his odd machine that Stanley Koteks had told her about:

She pulled the Impala into a gas station somewhere along a gray stretch of Telegraph Avenue and found in a phone book the address of John Nefastis. She then drove to a pseudo-Mexican apartment house, looked for his name among the U. S. mailboxes, ascended outside steps and walked down a row of draped windows till she found his door. He had a crewcut and the same underage look as Koteks, but wore a shirt on various Polynesian themes and dating from the Truman administration.

Introducing herself, she invoked the name of Stanley Koteks. “He said you could tell me whether or not I’m a ‘sensitive’.”

Nefastis had been watching on his TV set a bunch of kids dancing some kind of a Watusi. “I like to watch young stuff,” he explained. “There's something about a little chick that age.”

“So does my husband,” she said. “I understand.”

John Nefastis beamed at her, simpatico, and brought out his Machine from a workroom in back. It looked about the way the patent had described it. “You know how this works?”

“Stanley gave me a kind of rundown.” He began then, bewilderingly, to talk about something called entropy. The word bothered him as much as ‘Trystero” bothered Oedipa. But it was too technical for her. She did gather that there were two distinct kinds of this entropy. One having to do with heat-engines, the other to do with communication. The equation for one, back in the ‘30’s, had looked very like the equation for the other. It was a coincidence. The two fields were entirely unconnected, except at one point: Maxwell’s Demon. As the Demon sat and sorted his molecules into hot and cold, the system was said to lose entropy. But somehow the loss was offset by the information the Demon gained about what molecules were where.

“Communication is the key,” cried Nefastis. “The Demon passes his data on to the sensitive, and the sensitive must reply in kind. There are untold billions of molecules in that box. The Demon collects data on each and every one. At some deep psychic level he must get through. The sensitive must receive that staggering set of energies, and feed back something like the same quantity of information. To keep it all cycling. On the secular level all we can see is one piston, hopefully moving. One little movement, against all that massive complex of information, destroyed over and over with each power stroke.”

“Help,” said Oedipa, “you’re not reaching me.”

“Entropy is a figure of speech, then,” sighed Nefastis, “a metaphor. It connects the world of thermo-dynamics to the world of information flow. The Machine uses both. The Demon makes the metaphor not only verbally graceful, but also objectively true.”

“But what,” she felt like some kind of a heretic, “if the Demon exists only because the two equations look alike? Because of the metaphor?”

Nefastis smiled; impenetrable, calm, a believer. “He existed for Clerk Maxwell long before the days of the metaphor.”

But had Clerk Maxwell been such a fanatic about his Demon's reality? She looked at the picture on the outside of the box. Clerk Maxwell was in profile and would not meet her eyes. The forehead was round and smooth, and there was a curious bump at the back of his head, covered by curling hair. His visible eye seemed mild and noncommittal, but Oedipa wondered what hangups, crises, spookings in the middle of the night might be developed from the shadowed subtleties of his mouth, hidden under a full beard. “Watch the picture,” said Nefastis, “and concentrate on a cylinder. Don’t worry. If you’re a sensitive you’ll know which one. Leave your mind open, receptive to the Demon’s message. I’ll be back.” He returned to his TV set, which was now showing cartoons. Oedipa sat through two Yogi Bears, one Magilla Gorilla and a Peter Potamus, staring at Clerk Maxwell’s enigmatic profile, waiting for the Demon to communicate.

Are you there, little fellow, Oedipa asked the Demon, or is Nefastis putting me on. Unless a piston moved, she’d never know. Clerk Maxwell’s hands were cropped out of the photograph. He might have been holding a book. He gazed away, into some vista of Victorian England whose light had been lost forever. Oedipa’s anxiety grew. It seemed, behind the beard, he’d begun, ever so faintly, to smile. Something in his eyes, certainly, had changed . . .And there. At the top edge of what she could see: hadn’t the right-hand piston moved, a fraction? She couldn’t look directly, the instructions were to keep her eyes on Clerk Maxwell. Minutes passed, pistons remained frozen in place. High-pitched, comic voices issued from the TV set. She had seen only a retinal twitch, a misfired nerve cell. Did the true sensitive see more? In her colon now she was afraid, growing more so, that nothing would happen. Why worry, she worried; Nefastis is a nut, forget it, a sincere nut. The true sensitive is the one that can share in the man’s hallucinations, that’s all.

How wonderful they might be to share. For fifteen minutes more she tried; repeating, if you are there, whatever you are, show yourself to me, I need you, show yourself. But nothing happened. “I'm sorry,” she called in, surprisingly about to cry with frustration, her voice breaking, “It’s no use.” Nefastis came to her and put an arm around her shoulders.

“It's OK,” he said. “Please don’t cry. Come on in on the couch. The news will be on any minute. We can do it there.”

“It?” said Oedipa. “Do it? What?”

“Have sexual intercourse,” replied Nefastis. “Maybe there’ll be something about China tonight. I like to do it while they talk about Viet Nam, but China is best of all. You think about all those Chinese. Teeming. That profusion of life. It makes it sexier, right?”

“Gah,” Oedipa screamed, and fled, Nefastis snapping his fingers through the dark rooms behind her in a hippy-dippy, oh-go-ahead-then-chick fashion he had doubtless learned from watching the TV also.

“Say hello to old Stanley,” he called as she pattered down the steps into the street, flung a babushka over her license plate and screeched away down Telegraph. She drove more or less automatically until a swift boy in a Mustang, perhaps unable to contain the new sense of virility his auto gave him, nearly killed her and she realized that she was on the freeway, heading irreversibly for the Bay Bridge. It was the middle of rush hour. Oedipa was appalled at the spectacle, having thought such traffic only possible in Los Angeles, places like that. Looking down at San Francisco a few minutes later from the high point of the bridge’s arc, she saw smog. Haze, she corrected herself, is what it is, haze. How can they have smog in San Francisco? Smog, according to the folklore, did not begin till farther south. It had to be the angle of the sun. Amid the exhaust, sweat, glare and ill-humor of a summer evening on an American freeway, Oedipa Maas pondered her Trystero problem. All the silence of San Narciso the calm surface of the motel pool, the contemplative contours of residential streets like rakings in the sand of a Japanese garden had not allowed her to think as leisurely as this freeway madness.

For John Nefastis (to take a recent example) two kinds of entropy, thermodynamic and informational, happened, say by coincidence, to look alike, when you wrote them down as equations. Yet he had made his mere coincidence respectable, with the help of Maxwell's Demon.

Now here was Oedipa, faced with a metaphor of God knew how many parts; more than two, anyway. With coincidences blossoming these days wherever she looked, she had nothing but a sound, a word, Trystero, to hold them together.

She knew a few things about it: it had opposed the Thurn and Taxis postal system in Europe; its symbol was a muted post horn; sometime before 1853 it had appeared in America and fought the Pony Express and Wells Fargo, either as outlaws in black, or disguised as Indians; and it survived today, in California, serving as a channel of communication for those of unorthodox sexual persuasion, inventors who believed in the reality of Maxwell’s Demon, possibly her own husband, Mucho Maas (but she’d thrown Mucho’s letter long away, there was no way for Genghis Cohen to check the stamp, so if she wanted to find out for sure she’d have to ask Mucho himself).

Another parallel is Pynchon’s penchant for the period of the 1930s—the Baby Igor movie, the Porky Pig cartoon and the Shadow radio show (which began airing in 1930). When Nefastis explains the equations for the two types of entropy, he says that “[t]he equation for one, back in the ‘30’s, had looked very like the equation for the other. It was a coincidence.” What do the thirties signify to Pynchon?

We also run into postal metaphors with Maxwell’s Demon sorting the hot and cold molecules. The concept of entropy arose in 1865 upon the work of a German physicist named Rudolf Julius Emanuel Clausius when he mathematically explained the workings of the Carnot heat engine. Nicolas Carnot developed his hypothetical heat engine in 1824 by which it would transfer heat from one region to a cooler region and, in the process, use the energy to perform work. Carnot’s work was expanded upon a decade later by a French engineer named Benoît Paul Émile Clapeyron with a graph which revealed the Carnot cycle to be a closed curve. This led to a reformulation of the Carnot principle.

Clausius provided the mathematics to explain Clapeyron’s graph and yet a new formulation of Carnot’s principle now known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics when he introduced the world to the word “entropy”: the total entropy of an isolated system always increases over time, or remains constant in ideal cases where the system is in a steady state or undergoing a reversible process. In other words, heat energy can never be converted into mechanical energy with one hundred percent efficiency. There is always a certain amount of the energy that is lost, unusable. Entropy is basically negative energy. The reason your car’s exhaust can’t be doubled back around to your engine to increase its efficiency is that there simply isn’t much energy available in the exhaust to make using it worthwhile. The exhaust is the same temperature as the engine and without a temperature differential, no work can be done. It would cost more than one would get out of it to add devices to make the exhaust’s heat usable. The reason is that the free energy has already been used and exhaust is full of entropy or negative energy which cannot be used. When it comes to using energy to perform work, not only can you never get more energy out than you put into it but you can’t even break even. You’ll always lose more energy than you get out and the more energy you put in, the more you lose.

In information theory, entropy is the amount of unpredictability of the content of information. An information transfer requires three basic components: a transmitter to send out information, a channel on which to transmit that information and a receiver on that channel to receive the transmitted information. The information is sent out in the form of messages. If there are four possible messages, the receiver will try to guess which message will be sent out. Entropy is at maximum when any of the messages are as likely to be sent as any of the other three. But if the messages pertain to the weather and the sky is blue and cloudless, the receiver can deduce which message will be transmitted and so the entropy is greatly decreased.

In the Oedipa’s case, the Trystero is functioning as Maxwell’s demon sorting the mail into mainstream and underground creating hot and cold regions of messages—ordinary mail of bills, junk and Christmas cards and the mail that circulated around America’s underbelly whatever that might be. And what was the work that was being performed in the process? What was the goal of these little, black, demonic sorters in their little black box busily sorting away?

Fri Sep 02, 2016 6:21 pm
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Post Re: Essay on "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon
Either Trystero did exist, in its own right, or it was being presumed, perhaps fantasied by Oedipa, so hung up on and interpenetrated with the dead man’s estate. Here in San Francisco, away from all tangible assets of that estate, there might still be a chance of getting the whole thing to go away and disintegrate quietly. She had only to drift tonight, at random, and watch nothing happen, to be convinced it was purely nervous, a little something for her shrink to fix. She got off the freeway at North Beach, drove around, parked finally in a steep side street among warehouses. Then walked along Broadway, into the first crowds of evening.

But it took her no more than an hour to catch sight of a muted post horn. She was moseying along a street full of aging boys in Roos Atkins suits when she collided with a gang of guided tourists come rowdy-dowing out of a Volkswagen bus, on route to take in a few San Francisco nite spots. “Let me lay this on you,” a voice spoke into her ear, “because I just left,” and she found being deftly pinned outboard of one breast this big cerise ID badge, reading Hi! MY NAME Is Arnold Snarb! AND I’M LOOKIN’ FOR A GOOD TIME! Oedipa glanced around and saw a cherubic face vanishing with a wink in among natural shoulders and striped shirts, and away went Arnold Snarb, looking for a better time.

So the Trystero appear to be active in San Francisco. The reference to Roos Atkins suits concerns a San Francisco-based clothing manufacturer. Oedipa pinned involuntarily with a badge identifying her as Arnold Snarb. Oedipa is being turned male because in order for her to carry out her task of assessing and executing the estate of Pierce Inverarity, an estate that is a rich man's capitalist empire, Oedipa is a woman in a man's world and therefore unlikely to get anywhere. In Oedipa's world of the sixties when the sexual revolution was underway, women's rights were a big topic but not transgenderism, which was still a taboo topic. Here, suddenly, in the middle of the gay male capital of the world, is an attractive young woman advertising to the world that she is a man. A man looking for a good time. In Oedipa's world, men don't understand women and don't want to as evidenced by Mike Fallopian's remark at the Scope when Oedipa tells him how she had found the W.A.S.T.E. symbol on the wall in the ladies' room: “Women,” he only said. “Who can tell what goes on with them?” It is the woman's place to understand the man and his wants and needs, not the other way around.

Even more to the point, we cannot be certain that Arnold Snarb was a man to begin with. We only read about a winking cherubic face. Could Arnold have been a mannish-looking woman infiltrating a gay man's bar and then passing the transgender mantle to another woman unapologetically female in appearance? The possibility introduces us to a different phase of male domination--that even in the gay world gay men are more valued than gay women. Transgender then becomes not a choice of lifestyle for gay women but a way to survive in the male dominated world of homosexuality.

Somebody blew on an athletic whistle and Oedipa found herself being herded, along with other badged citizens, toward a bar called The Greek Way. Oh, no, Oedipa thought, not a fag joint, no; and for a minute tried to fight out of the human surge, before recalling how she had decided to drift tonight.

“Now in here,” their guide, sweating dark tentacles into his tab collar, briefed them, “you are going to see the members of the third sex, the lavender crowd this city by the Bay is so justly famous for. To some of you the experience may seem a little queer, but remember, try not to act like a bunch of tourists. If you get propositioned it’ll all be in fun, just part of the gay night life to be found here in famous North Beach. Two drinks and when you hear the whistle it means out, on the double, regroup right here. If you’re well behaved we’ll hit Pinocchio’s next.” He blew the whistle twice and the tourists, breaking into a yell, swept Oedipa inside, in a frenzied assault on the bar. When things had calmed she was near the door with an unidentifiable drink in her fist, jammed against somebody tall in a suede sport coat. In the lapel of which she spied, wrought exquisitely in some pale, glimmering alloy, not another cerise badge, but a pin in the shape of the Trystero post horn. Mute and everything.

All right, she told herself. You lose. A game try, all one hour’s worth. She should have left then and gone back to Berkeley, to the hotel. But couldn’t.

“What if I told you,” she addressed the owner of the pin, “that I was an agent of Thurn and Taxis?”

“What,” he answered, “some theatrical agency?” He had large ears, hair cropped nearly to his scalp, acne on his face, and curiously empty eyes, which now swiveled briefly to Oedipa’s breasts. “How’d you get a name like Arnold Snarb?”

Wed Dec 28, 2016 9:54 pm
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