Shall I Project A World: A Hermetic Analysis of The Crying of Lot 49
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. –Randolph Driblette to Oedipa Maas
The inherent difficulty with analyzing The Crying of Lot 49 is that, the further one goes down the rabbit hole of analysis, the more one feels like the main character, Oedipa Maas: it seems at times that any attempt to analyze the text will inevitably fall short in one way or another, simply because there are so great a many perspectives through which one might look. Foremost to be considered, of course, is the social satire of the day, but to touch only on that and not dive into the meaning of the text, of the story, and of its symbols, is to lose a valuable opportunity as a reader, and certainly as a prospective writer. The problem is not so much one of mystery, but of metaphor: the problem with analyzing The Crying of Lot 49 is that it leaves us feeling rather the way we feel when we talk about potential meanings of life, and yet it seems irresistible to talk about; to think about. One may read the book once in high school and think to themselves, “Now, what exactly was that supposed to be!” and, like Mike Fallopian, select the most reasonable explanation; then come back to it again in college after adopting the educated attitude of seagull-hassling Professor Emory Bortz, with an air of total self-satisfaction in their knowledge of Pynchon and the text, then come back to it after dropping acid and, like Mucho Maas, Oedipa’s husband, find a kind of unlimited, universal harmony in all things in the book, and be contented by the nature of the any/all/no explanation nature of the simple sensual pleasure that is reading the book.
But we are not to be content with that. We are not to be content with that any more than Oedipa is to be content with allowing the Tristero system to go unexplained, because it may simply be a postal mystery, and yet, to the mystic, it is a book which indicates such a great deal more. Again, like all texts and media which I analyze, I would encourage the reader to read The Crying of Lot 49, themselves, and so I’ll warn you there will be spoilers; but studies have shown that knowledge of a story’s ending increases the pleasure of experiencing the story, so read on, uninitiated, and when you do come to the book for the first time, you will have some things to think about straight from the gate.
The first thing we have to talk about here, again, is the problem of analyzing this book, which, despite its size, is a three-dimensional diamond in terms of its complexity. In order to get a complete picture of what the book is— in order to understand that the diamond is a diamond— we have to turn it around, this way and that, and glimpse its facets without lingering too long on one in particular. We seek not the letter of the thing, but the spirit of the thing: we seek to better understand the symbols, the patterns. We are doing this in order to uncover the true secret of the Tristero and what it represents, or, at least, to come a little closer to it— to, like Oedipa, press our faces to the wall of the Word and hear the rasping black breath of the Tristero on the other side.
THE BASIC PLOT
Now, class, if you’ll open your books to the copyright page, the first thing you’d ought to take note of is the fact that a portion of this novel was published in Esquire under the title “The World (This One), the Flesh (Mrs. Oedipa Maas), and the Testament of Pierce Inverarity.” This title will be increasingly important to keep in mind as we go on, but I’ll let Pynchon’s perfect opening line start us off and carry us out from there. All text from the 1990 Perennial Fiction reissue:
One summer afternoon Mrs Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. [pg 9]
Her Mazatlan affair long-since ended Oedipa is now married to Wendell ‘Mucho’ Maas and going to therapy with a fellow named Dr. Hilarius, and not keen to have her life disturbed; but a letter from the law firm of Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus, signed by Metzger, forces all of that to change. With, at the outset, the help of Metzger, then a parade of increasingly strange people, Oedipa gradually begins to uncover evidence of centuries-old postal fraud, a massive conspiracy which she refers to as ‘The Tristero’, based upon its appearance in a play she and Metzger go to see, called The Courier’s Tragedy. Written by the fictional Richard Wharfinger, who, we are told, was ‘no Shakespeare’, the Tragedy appears in part in the novel, and a particular, Vatican-only version of the graphic play contains what we will discover to be optional lines which only happen to be said during the performance of the play which Oedipa views: at the end of a pivotal sequence, the actor/director Randolph Driblette, playing the character of Gennaro, intones ‘No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow,/ Who’s once been set his tryst with Trystero.‘ This, in combination with a mysterious typo on a letter sent to her by Mucho (‘Report All Forgeries to Your Local Potsmaster’), and a reference in the play to the making of charcoal from human bones—which happens to be exactly what one of Inverarity’s investments is responsible for—leads Oedipa down a bizarre and somewhat disturbing rabbit-hole of increasing paranoia. Noting that she frequently stumbles upon a symbol representing a knotted postal horn with a mute in it, she sets about working with the denizens of San Narciso in hopes of discovering the secret connection between the symbol, something called W.A.S.T.E., the American postal system, and the nefarious, formless Trystero. Due to the complications represented by the nodus of characters and events occurring throughout the story, we must not examine the plot in a linear sense; rather, we must examine the characters based on their relevance, and the manner in which they help the plot to unfold. They are not based on linear order, nor importance; what I am interested in, again, is taking a closer look at the network of symbols presented by Pynchon and analyzing what it is that is happening in the microcosm of the story, from a psycho-spiritual sense.
The fictional City of San Narciso, like so many Inner Cities, functions perpetually in the background as a sort of metaphor for the psychic ground in which our story takes place. We are told it lays ‘further south, near L.A.’, and so by traveling to it, she is descending into the depths of the earth, into the depths of the unconscious. We are told that once, it served as Pierce’s base of operations and was a where a great deal of his land speculation took place; it is also where he lured Yoyodyne corporation, an aerospace corporation first created by Pynchon in V. This idea is one which is symbolic in and of itself, of Pynchon’s attention being drawn towards the story— of consciousness being drawn towards the story.
Metzger, easily the least-likable character in the novel, is the lawyer who is the co-executor of the will; I would like the reader to keep in mind one particular thing here— Metzger and Oedipa are executing Pierce’s will. It is a magnificent pun, you see, which will come into play later on in the essay as we explore the role of Pierce as the demiurge. For now, however, we will focus on Metzger himself; one rather has the sense that, were The Crying to be filmed today, he would be played by Jon Hamm, and we meet him immediately after meeting the first of our Paranoids, Miles:
That night the lawyer Metzger showed up. He turned out to be so good-looking that Oedipa thought at first They, somebody up there, were putting her on. It had to be an actor. He stood at her door, behind him the oblong pool shimmering silent in the mild diffusion of light from the nighttime sky, saying, “Mrs Maas,” like a reproach. His enormous eyes, lambent, extravagantly lashed, smiled at her wickedly; she looked around him for reflectors, microphones, camera cabling, but there was only himself and a debonair bottle of French Beaujolais, which he claimed to’ve smuggled last year into California, this rollicking lawbreaker, past the frontier guards.
A former child star, Metzger twenty years ago preformed under the name of Baby Igor, and he describes that his mother, “…was really out to kasher me, boy, like a piece of beef on the sink, she wanted me drained and white. Times I wonder…if she succeeded. It scares me. You know what mothers like that turn their male children into.”
Coming on with the slickness of black sulphur, Metzger describes himself as having been drained of redness and left all white— a symbol for how life has beaten him down as a person, tightened him up and given him over strictly into the hands of society, consciously disconnected from the feminine and the unconscious while unconsciously being obsessed by it and acting as a semi-conscious representative of it by enforcing Pierce’s will. Working as the most conscious and integrated Shadow archetype of the novel (though of course the unconscious is by definition the Shadow, and the Trystero, Pierce and man other things throughout the novel are symbols of the same), Metzger seduces Oedipa by playing a game: when they happen upon a movie featuring Baby Igor, already playing on television, Oedipa first drunkenly bets Metzger that the trio will not make it out of their sinking submarine and mine-assault alive, and if she is wrong, Metzger can have whatever he wants. The movie is being played out of order and Oedipa, wanting to know more about the movie and its plot, asks questions, but in return for her questions, Metzger wants her to strip off her clothes; she then runs into the bathroom to layer herself with clothes, and while Metzger talks about a sea red with blood, Oedipa, beach-ball shaped for all that she’s wearing, laughs so hard she falls over and causes a hair spray can to hit the floor and rocket around the bathroom, eventually breaking the mirror and cracking tiles in the shower. Metzger runs in to cover her, the dust settles, and the Paranoids happen to arrive roughly then, along with their girlfriends, to voyeuristically observe whatever’s happening in the room— Oedipa then sends them outside to serenade the lovers, and, as Oedipa asks (prompted by yet a third commercial of something owned by Pierce, this time a Turkish bath called Hogan’s Seraglio in downtown San Narciso) what Pierce did not own, Metzger responds “you tell me.” The serenade of the Paranoids, involving motifs of sea and moon, seems to indicate a longing for the anima, and references waiting to be drowned by the tide— many times, we have discussed that the sea is a symbol for the unconscious, and this is consistently true for The Crying of Lot 49, as is the desire of the masculine to integrate the feminine.
On and on, Oedipa and Metzger play their game, asking questions, until at last Oedipa is seduced, undressed by him, dozes off to find herself getting laid, and only after all this discovers that she had been right, and Mezger, being the shadow that he is, tricked her to get her into bed: Baby Igor, his father and dog really do die at the end of the movie. This role as trickster/executor of the Saturnine aspect’s will, and the fact that he, as black sulphur contains red sulphur, symbolizes a conscious Shadow which contains the failed potential of the emergence of a puer eternis. Much like Oedipa herself, Metzger is a bridge to the unconscious, though he is more our bridge to the unconscious in that he helps to provide the initial driving force of the plot—and he is, truly, more the ‘gatekeeper’ of the unconscious in terms of being the Shadow; the anima is the true ‘bridge inward’ and Hilarius is the other side of the Shadow, the cultural Shadow rather than the masculine Shadow, though the cultural Shadow is the one which impacts the masculine ego, and the masculine Shadow is the one which seduces the anima. Later he will run off with the fifteen-year-old girlfriend of Serge, of the Paranoids and, like the rest of the potential epiphanies Oedipa can have and integrate, be lost to her. Metzger’s role as the gatekeeper Shadow is referenced, even, at the very start of the third chapter, on page 44:
If one object behind her discovery of what she was to label the Tristero System or often only The Tristero (as if it might be something’s secret title) were to bring to an end her encapsulation in her tower, then that night’s infidelity with Metzger would logically be the starting point for it; logically. That’s what would come to haunt her most, perhaps: the way it fitted, logically, together. [pg 44]
The plot of the film, Cashiered, is worth noting in and of itself: in it, Baby Igor, his father, and their dog—a St. Bernard—are all in a submarine named Justine, after the dead mother; the mother, matter, serves as a vehicle for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (refer if you will to the Book of Tobit essay, which referenced the concept of the Logos being symbolized by dogs) with the son in this case taking the more literal form of the puer eternis, who is at once contained in and yet separate from Metzger, and who is, in this case, dead, drowned, and insalvagable at the end of the movie, along with the dog and the father; we should know from this symbol alone that no catharsis will be had for poor Oedipa, and those who follow her plight.
The Paranoids are a little bit like your aunt’s Tiffany lamp, in a way. You know the one— it’s sort of there in the background, been there as long as you can recall, and so it doesn’t seem like much, but then one day you happen to find out it’s worth so much you feel a physical cringe in your stomach the next time you so much as touch it. The Paranoids are a band of drop-outs who, like so many bands of the era, fashion themselves after the Beatles, and are introduced to us by way of Miles, the sixteen-year-old drop-out manager of Oedipa’s San Narciso motel, “Echo Courts”. Made of Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard, they are accompanied by their girlfriends, making them not only an ogdoad and thus a Jungian symbol of wholeness, but they are a perfectly balanced ogdoad, made up of a masculine quaternity and a corresponding feminine quaternity which will be broken by the interference of Metzger directly after the incident with Dr. Hilarius and the apparent dissolution of Oedipa’s marriage; that is, by the end of the book, the symbol of wholeness will have been destroyed, rather than integrated. Metzger, who represents the logical rules and boundaries of Western, male-dominated society in the sense of, say, the Emperor card in the tarot deck, has destabilized both Oedipa and the Paranoids— and, perhaps, in some deep and inexpressibly symbolic way, Pynchon, himself— in a kind of karmic retaliation for Oedipa’s failure to harmonize with her syzygy.
Interestingly, it is the Paranoids who make the initial connection which will lead Oedipa into the tangled web of Tristero; upon hearing about Pierce’s investment in the transport and sale of bones to be made into cigarette filters, they make reference to The Courier’s Tragedy, the play which they had seen the night previously and which happened to contain a similar plot, of bones being dredged up from a lake, burned into charcoal and the charcoal then made into ink. Coupled with their song-list, their serenade, in particular, seeming to be a kind of ode to the unconscious, The Paranoids are truly the back-up singers of Oedipa’s psyche— and, to paraphrase William S. Burroughs, a paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on.
MIKE FALLOPIAN, STANLEY KOTEKS, JOHN NEFASTIS AND EMORY BORTZ
Now there’s some names for you. I should hope I don’t have to explain too many of the jokes here— ‘fallopian’ as in ‘fallopian tubes’, ‘Koteks’ like ‘Kotex pads’, and ‘Emory Bortz’ is like, well— come on, now, just say it out loud. ‘Nefastis’ is a little more interesting in that it is less a pun and more a comment on his relation to Maxwell’s Demon and his lascivious attitude towards Oedipa, though it is still the feminized form of Latin ‘nefastus’, that is ‘profane,’ ‘impious,’ ‘wicked,’ etc. These four are a quaternity of figures, men with feminine names, who hint at our goal of balancing the feminine and masculine. It is also worth noting the order of appearance of the men: first Fallopian, the Koteks, then Nefastis and finally Bortz, as though we are viewing in a deeply abstract way the various aspects of femininity arising in fertility, bondage of the soul to material suffering in the form of the physical symbol of menstruation, the impious wickedness and witchery which comes with the feminine symbol of the unconscious, and then at last the simple surface glamor of the feminine— the Maya. Indeed, it is the superficially-named Emory Bortz who is able to deliver the superficial explanation of the conflict between Thurn and Taxis and the Tristero, but each of the feminine-named men in his turn has an important role to serve. Mike Fallopian, in particular, appears many times throughout as a personification of Oedipa’s more rational intuition and source of information, among other things (the fallopian tubes of course being in the ‘gut’, or near it, and themes of pregnancy with knowledge becoming increasingly relevant as the story goes on); Koteks, she discovers based on his doodling of the muted post horn, and it is from him that she learns of Nefastis, pretending to be a stockholder engaged in the plight of the corporation-subsumed engineer of modern capitalism; Nefastis, then, elaborates on an idea shared by Koteks, of Maxwell’s Demon, which sits in a box among air molecules and sorts fast ones from slow ones and can be communicated with, theoretically, the help of a ‘sensitive’. Her encounter with Nefastis is significant because it deals with the importance and individuality of the universal Metaphor, a theme encountered throughout the course of the novella, and it shows how the masculine and feminine, logical and emotional, logos and eros, conscious and unconscious elements process the problem of the universal metaphor differently.
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 ’30s, 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 off-set by the information the Demon gained about what molecules were there.
“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 thermodynamics 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 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.” [pg 105-106]
The inevitable failure of Oedipa to make the demon communicate foreshadows her failure to bring to complete consciousness the meaning of the Tristero; she must at last rely on the superficial, scholarly explanation provided by Emory Bortz which, still, if probed deeply enough, would reveal the truth to her, for in describing the symbolism behind pornographic woodcuts, and a pornographic, Vatican-witheld rewrite of The Courier’s Tragedy, Bortz describes a Puritan sect called the Scurvhamites who sound very similar in many ways to the gnostics, but seem to take a more literal interpretation of a sort of war between God and the demiurge, consciousness and unconsciousness.
Their central hangup had to do with predestination. There were two kinds. Nothing for a Scurvhamite ever happened by accident, Creation was a vast, intricate machine. But one part of it, the Scurvhamite part, ran off the will of God, its prime mover. The rest ran off some opposite Principle, something blind, soulless; a brute automatism that led to eternal death. The idea was to woo converts into the Godly and purposeful sodality of the Scurvhamite. But somehow those few saved Scurvhamites found themselves looking out into the gaudy clockwork of the doomed with a certain sick and fascinated horror, and this was to prove fatal. [pg 155]
The suggestion of Bortz, that those who rewrote a play they detested in part because they simply detested the theater and wanted to keep it as far away as possible from them, thought that Trystero symbolized this Other well, seems almost too intense a revelation for Oedipa to consider too deeply, and though she feels herself over an abyss, her insistence on knowing what Trystero was in the physical world keeps her from full revelation: it is there where she places her focus, and Bortz shows her a book in which he suggests she check chapter seven, but what she really wants is chapter eight, which describes an encounter with Trystero brigands. Bortz replaces Fallopian as her guide towards the end of the novella, an indication that she has placed more emphasis on the literal interpretation and rational manifestation of words rather than on her intuition or the idea of a conspiracy, but she is still missing the point— for the director of the moving production of The Courier’s Tragedy might himself have quite a bone to pick with the word-focused Bortz.
A manifestation of The Spirit Mercurius in the most literal sense, being a fictional character who is an actor who embodies another fictional character written by a fictional character, all of which is written by a non-fictional person, Randolph Driblette both directs and acts in the production of The Courier’s Tragedy seen by Oedipa Maas. He is focused on the spirit of the play, rather than the words, themselves; he is the Spirit, the Nous, and not the Logos which serves as the vehicle for the Spirit. Thus, he has more respect for his vision of the play than for the original words themselves, and even describes himself as being in the theater business for that exact reason— “To give the spirit flesh.” And let us not forget the original title of the short story, and Oedipa Maas’ connection to the idea of the Flesh, or Salt. Being the Mercurial Spirit in purest form, Driblette is last seen vanishing into the shower, that mixture of air and water, and, by the end of the novel, will have drowned himself in the Pacific ocean; he, like the theater, projects a world, and his world, his spirit, his interpretation of the play, will die with him, as he points out to Oedipa on page 79. To further add to the motif of the Mercurial Spirit, he wonders aloud what would happen were he to simply dissolve in the shower; his particular projection of the world would dissolve with him. The manner in which he perceives the consensus reality, his interpretation of it, his Spirit of it, would be gone; the objective, static things which make up the consensus reality would remain. That is why when Oedipa focuses simply on the postal conspiracy and not on the spirit surrounding it, she is missing the point.
As she once tried to reach out to Maxwell’s Demon, Oedipa tries to reach out to the ghost of Driblette, and feels briefly as if “the bright winged thing had actually made it into the sanctuary of her heart” and wonders if somehow the addition of those two most haunting lines— “No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow/ Who’s once been set his tryst with Trystero”— were not in some way a relation to, a preparation for, his suicide. But Driblette himself is the one who makes the finest point when he says to Oedipa:
“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 the 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 there to ask about bones and instead we talked about the Trystero thing. [pg 80]
Confronting the problem of death leads one, inevitably, to the unconscious, God, the Trystero— but note also the eerie, almost cold manner in which Driblette awaits Oedipa’s response. It brings to mind, most thoroughly, the Spirit Mercurius, here making an offer to the anima— search out not the letter of the thing, but the spirit of the thing, and do it with me. The anima, intimidated by this, off-kilter, not quite ready, perhaps, turns him down— and by the time she wishes to investigate the spirit of the thing, it is too late, the principle represented by Driblette has been subsumed again by the unconscious, and the epiphany has been lost. It is up to the astute reader, then, to give life to the Trystero mystery, much as Pyncho supplies us with the words and the yarn: it is up to us to make of ourselves the Spirit Mercurius which animates the story with our observing it.
If we are to assume Randolph Driblette, who is, according to Emory Bortz, ‘closer to the microcosm of the play as it existed around Wharfinger’s living mind than anyone else’, to be the Spirit Mercurius, Richard Wharfinger is a kind of reference to Pynchon— Driblette, like Mercury to the Sun, is closest to the Sol represented by the author, Pynchon, as we have already discussed, and, of course, Pynchon is indeed the literal author of those plays. Wharfinger’s work is perverted by a sect of Puritans, resulting in a pornographic version; The Courier’s Tragedy itself is a play which, with its overtones of conspiracy and paranoia, reflect the themes and vibrations of The Crying of Lot 49, and which obsesses Oedipa.
One thing you’ll note on reading this book is that basically everybody wants to fuck Oedipa Maas. Pierce had the dalliance with her; Mucho is married to her; Roseman, the lawyer to whom she goes for advice on the execution and who is, in the end, the cause of her going to meet Metzger, tries to play footsie with her and asks her to run away with him; Miles of the Paranoids come onto her, and the rest of the Paranoids are voyeurs, it seems; Metzger does indeed successfully get into her (very many pairs of) pants, though he will be the only one we see; John Nefastis seems to take it for granted that Oedipa’s efforts to determine whether or not she is a ‘sensitive’ will get him laid; and even the doomed director of the troubling performance of The Courier’s Tragedy, Randolph Driblette, teases her that she could fall in love with him. Then, there is her arrival at Echo Courts, in which we are told, almost off-handedly, that the hyper-sexualized nymph represented in painted sheet metal resembles Oedipa, 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.” One thinks rather of Remedios Varo and the resemblance of her androgynous figures to her own features; one also thinks of Pynchon’s complaint that the Beats of the 50s and the resurgence of followers in the 60s placed “too much emphasis on youth, including the eternal variety,” and this will be reflected in another, later ‘nymph’ reference, more in the vein of Vladimir Nabokov, however, than straight Greek Mythology; Metzger will run off with the fifteen-year-old girlfriend of Serge, who, in writing a song about the experience, laments, “For me, my baby was a woman,/ For him she’s just another nymphet.” Metzger, the ‘Humbert Humbert cat’ of the song, is by and large representative of, for lack of a better term, ‘the patriarchy’, which here means the Western capitalist mindset to which so many of us have adapted. He is engaged in politics and critical of the slightest hint of Communism, more or less tricks Oedipa into their first sexual interaction, and then eventually throws her over in favor of a younger standard of beauty. Oedipa is concerned with her age (a mere 28, mind), and told by the wife of Emory Bortz, Grace, that she has that, “certain harassed style…you get to recognize. I thought only kids caused it. I guess not.” [pg 150] We should also not fail to forget her name, which has been the subject of much debate, but I might posit the simplest explanation: that she and her husband were named for the Maas river. The implication of her first name is that she is the daughter of that very same man who would be her lover, though this is of course not true in-universe, though it is true that, as Pynchon’s anima, her relationship with any man in the novel, particularly Mucho, is inherently incestuous; but the symbolic nature of her name would make her, essentially, the daughter of a river, meaning Oedipa is, in her own right, a nymph. And, as Jung writes in Mysterium Coniunctionis, among other places, “mythologically, nymphs, dryads, etc. are nature-and tree-numina, but psychologically they are anima projections.” Oedipa, therefore, is Pynchon’s anima, wandering in the San Narciso which represents his Self as any inner City does. The almost-compulsive, sometimes rote desire of the male characters of the book is at once a comment on the social state of relationships at the time the book was written (and now, my God!) but also the unconscious desire to accept and integrate the anima, and, more importantly, to make use of her, which is reflected time and again with Oedipa’s own struggles with her femininity; there is also a struggle at work, a deep one, to replace the current conscious dominant with one which better integrates not just male and female, but what the male and female genders represent—consciousness and unconsciousness, spirit and matter.
When at last Oedipa comes to sit at the feet of Emory Bortz, she joins three grad students, two male and one female, thus rounding out a quaternity of pupils; she discovers then that the text of the play that she has acquired is a pirated copy, and evidently whosoever pirated Bortz’s text managed to get Vatican access. This must be so, because the mysterious lines of the play which have so tormented Oedipa are only available there, in the ‘pornographic’ edition of the play, and were not recited in Randy Driblette’s performances of the play—excepting, of course, the one attended by Oedipa, for reasons unknown to anyone but Driblette, who it just so happens has walked into the sea two nights before her arrival at the Bortz home. His suicide came after the striking of the set of The Courier’s Tragedy, and its result is a line which is most revealing, indeed:
They are stripping from me, she said subvocally—feeling like a fluttering curtain in a very high window, moving up to then out over the abyss—they are stripping away, one by one, my men. My shrink, pursued by Israelis, has gone mad; my husband, on LSD, gropes like a child further and further into the rooms and endless rooms of the elaborate candy house of himself and away, hopelessly away, from what has passed, I was hoping forever, for love; my one extra-marital fella has eloped with a depraved 15-year-old; my best guide back to the Trystero has taken a Brody. Where am I? [pg 152-153]
Considering that, on the same page which begins this sad revelation, Bortz refers to the play of The Courier’s Tragedy to be a microcosm which surrounded Wharfinger’s living mind, it is fair enough that we should, as usual, do the same, and consider The Crying of Lot 49 to be microcosm surrounding Pynchon’s living mind; Oedipa Maas, then, taken in this context, is nothing less than Pynchon’s anima, wandering through the eerie, almost passively hostile inner City of San Narciso, finding herself lost in the spell woven by the Saturnine demiruge of Pierce Invarariety, that very same spell which both disguises and unveils the Trystero, that unnameable, ungraspable aspect of the unconscious— some revelation waiting to be made, which cannot yet, without a perfect metaphor, be made fully conscious. Indeed, the question of ‘can’ or ‘should’ it become fully conscious never crosses the mind of the anima, who seeks only to serve as the bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness, much as the shadow/sulphur serves as its gatekeeper.
The anima bears a resemblance to alchemical Salt as much as the animus bears a resemblance to alchemical Sulphur, and these figures project themselves of course upon our daily living, and vice versa. Jung’s words on the extraverted [sic] feeling type and its appearance in women, then, is relevant here in understanding the way the anima, especially considering the fact that most of Jung’s thoughts on women tend to be projections of his own anima:
As feeling is undeniably a more obvious characteristic of feminine psychology than thinking, the most pronounced feeling types are to be found among women. When extraverted feeling predominates we speak of an extraverted feeling type. Examples of this type that I can call to mind are, almost without exception, women. The woman of this type follows her feeling as a guide throughout life. As a result of upbringing her feeling has developed into an adjusted function subject to conscious control. Except in extreme cases, her feeling has a personal quality, even though she may have repressed the subjective factor to a large extent. Her personality appears adjusted in relation to external conditions. Her feelings harmonize with objective situations and general values. This is seen nowhere more clearly than in her love choice: the “suitable” man is loved, and no one else; he is suitable not because he appeals to her hidden subjective nature—about which she usually knows nothing—but because he comes up to all reasonable expectations in the matter of age, position, income, size and respectability of his family, etc. One could easily reject such a picture as ironical or cynical, but I am fully convinced that the love feeling of this type of woman is in perfect accord with her choice. It is genuine and not just shrewd. There are countless “reasonable” marriages of this kind and they are by no means the worst. These women are good companions and excellent mothers so long as the husbands and children are blessed with the conventional psychic constitution.
But one can feel “correctly” only when feeling is not disturbed by anything else. Nothing disturbs feeling so much as thinking. It is therefore understandable that in this type thinking will be kept in abeyance as much as possible. This does not mean that the woman does not think at all; on the contrary, she may think a great deal and very cleverly, but her thinking is never sui generis—it is an Epimethean appendage to her feeling. What she cannot feel, she cannot consciously think. “But I can’t think what I don’t feel,” such a type said to me once in indignant tones. So far as her feeling allows, she can think very well, but every conclusion, however logical, that might lead to a disturbance of feeling is rejected at the outset. It is simply not thought. Thus everything that fits in with objective values is good, and is loved, and everything else seems to her to exist in a world apart.
–Jung, C. G., “Psychological Types”, The Portable Jung, pg 209-210
This is, in so many ways, the manner in which the anima operates—how well can we imagine Oedipa, or any anima, indeed, making that above protest! It is, however, a perfectly reasonable statement to say that one cannot think what one does not feel—that is the way we experience God. Again, ‘God’ is a metaphor. All language is a metaphor, a living metaphor working in pursuit of the perfect metaphor, just as the soul drives towards its syzygy, Oedipa seeks the experience of God, the unconscious, the Tristero, without realizing what she is seeking until it is too late for her to turn back. What the anima seeks to love—what all of us seek to love, above all things—is God. What the anima seeks is union with the unconscious, and she does this by means of interpretation and projection. Her husband, Mucho, who, in his work as a DJ, represents himself professionally as nothing more than a voice after casting off a profession dealing with intimate material representations of the physical lives of other people, has himself been divided into we are told what seems like twelve people, and this is the perfect representation for the shifting manner by which we and Oedipa both must view the Tristero, the unconscious; it also shows her that she cannot find what she is looking for outside of herself in the form of her stable husband and family life. She then turns to where she had previously gotten a kick, a thrill, from her extra-marital affair, only to find that he’s run off with one of the ogdoad, rendering the Paranoids now incomplete, lacking their symbol of wholeness; like Mary Magdalene full up with seven devils, then, Oedipa Maas goes on to discover Driblette has died. That is to say, the principle which had the closest, most living connection to the unconscious has been again lost to it, subsumed by it—like an epiphany had during an LSD trip which was only half-clear to begin with, any possible meaning, any possible reason for the ‘why’ of any of this, has been drowned in its unconscious home. Given all that, Oedipa can only consult the Wise Old Man, whose materialistic, rationalistic explanations for the Tristero are somehow unsatisfying—certainly, it is a postal conspiracy, but there is more to it than that. We—and Oedipa—are trying to approach an intuitive, feeling-based problem—confrontation with the unconscious—as a rational, explicable thing. We are searching first for a definition of the Tristero, and then, an explanation; but there is no explanation which Oedipa may find which will not disturb her thinking, disturb her entire sense of self.
It is near the end of the novel, in Oedipa’s hotel room, that we are given an elegant summation of the problem set out before her:
Change your name to Miles, Dean, Serge, and/or Leonard, baby, she advised her reflection in the half-light of that afternoon’s vanity mirror. Either way, they’ll call it paranoia. They. Either you have stumbled, indeed, without the aid of LSD or other indole alkaloids, onto a secret richness and concealed density of dream; onto a network by which X number of Americans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know, and you too, sweetie. Or you are hallucinating it. Or a plot has been mounted against you, so expensive and elaborate, involving items like the forging of stamps and ancient books, constant surveillance of your movements, planing of post horn images all over San Francisco, bribing of libraries, hiring of professional actors and Pierce Inverarity only knows what-all besides, all financed out of the estate in a way either too secret or too involved for your non-legal mind to know about even though you are co-executor, so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke. Or you are fantasying some such plot, in which case you are a nut, Oedipa, out of your skull.
Those, now that she was looking at them, she saw to be the alternatives. Those symmetrical four. She didn’t like any of them, but hoped she was mentally ill; that that’s all it was. [pg 171]
If that isn’t a familiar conversation that the alchemist or hermetic or other mystic has had with himself in one way or another, at one point or another, then I’m truly the Queen of England. (Note that based on the ordering of the plots and the ordering of the names of the Paranoids, the fact that the third Paranoid mentioned, Serge, who is then the one who loses his girlfriend to Metzger, may be a further unconscious symbol of what the truth of the matter, on some level, is— this is something we will explore further momentarily.) The problem confronting Oedipa is the problem of anyone who has started with a religious institution, say, the Catholic Church, and felt the slow pulse of something living beneath all the drab ritualistic surface. Oedipa is like the materialist/rationalist who is for the first time being forced to confront the subjective experience of the spiritual in the world, who is being overwhelmed by her psyche, its powers and implications— and what better way to symbolize this than with a painting.
In Mexico City [Oedipa and Pierce] somehow wandered into an exhibition of paintings by the beautiful Spanish exile Remedios Varo: in the central painting of a triptych, titled “Bordando el Manto Terrestre,” were 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. Oedipa, perverse, stood in front of the painting and cried…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 is no proof against its magic, what else? [pg 21-22]
“As above, so below; as within, so without.” The tower is indeed everywhere, but what Oedipa seems to fail to acknowledge is the sheer amount of power given a girl responsible for weaving the world— for the world she weaves by her observation is the book in which she lives, the tower in which she is trapped is the psyche of her author, and the knight she hopes to deliver her, the transcendent function, must come not from consciousness, but unconsciousness— it comes not from within the tower, but from without it, in that vast soup of potential which is at once created by the girl in need of escape and yet separate from her. What she also fails to consider is this— that the plot left behind by Pierce was, perhaps, meant to be a game, of sorts. A fun mystery for her to solve. When a person is overwraught with paranoia, their mind jumps directly to lessons of fear, rather than evidence of love. If the whole thing were a fabrication of Pierce’s, exactly how much time, effort and money would be required? Such a thing takes a great deal of love, as much as it could a great deal of hate— or, it could be a result of both emotions, they being as they are two sides to the same coin. What Oedipa fails to do is to think deeply enough; to analyze deeply enough. In one of the most telling and beautiful symbols of the book, an exquisite scene which fills most of a single page, and yet is appropriately hushed, Oedipa finds herself the only guest who can hear at a ball for deaf-mutes with whom she semi-willingly dances; the anima swirls amid masses of principles, picking reality after reality, explanation after explanation, waiting somehow for one explanation or another to conflict, and yet none of them do— none of the prospective world-views with which she has the opportunity to pair herself is technically ‘wrong’.
Back in the hotel she found the lobby full of deaf-mute delegates in party hats, copied in crepe paper after the fur Chinese communist jobs made popular during the Korean conflict. They were every one of them drunk, and a few of the men grabbed her, thinking to bring her along to a party in the grand ballroom. She tried to struggle out of the silent, gesturing swarm, but was too weak. Her legs ached, her mouth tasted horrible. They swept her on into the ballroom, where she was seized about the waist by a handsome young man in a Harris tweed coat and waltzed round and round, through the rustling, shuffling hush, under a great unlit chandelier. Each couple on the floor danced whatever was in the fellow’s head: tango, two-step, bossa nova, slop. But how long, Oedipa thought, could it go on before collisions became a serious hindrance? There would have to be collisions. The only alternative was some unthinkable order of music, may rhythms, all keys at once, a choreography in which each couple meshed easy, predestined. Something they all heard with an extra sense atrophied in herself. She followed her partner’s lead, limp in the young mute’s clasp, waiting for the collisions to begin. But none came. She was danced for half an hour before, by mysterious consensus, everybody took a break, without having felt any touch but the touch of her partner. [pg 131]
We are told on no uncertain terms that this occasion is deeply demoralizing for Oedipa, who then flees. It is demoralizing because, to Oedipa, she feels as though she has no agency; even though it seems a small miracle, she is simply pushed from hand to hand, the soul pushed from conscious dominant to conscious dominant, waiting for a conflict to tell her which is the ‘right’ one and finding that there is no ‘right’ one— she has every ability to select the right one, has every power to take control of her situation and take agency of her situation. She has the opportunity to view the situation as something by which she is terrorized and harrassed, or she can look at it for what it really is: a chance at knowledge and discovery, knowledge and discovery she cannot resist even if she finds it terrifying. Unconsciously, Oedipa is trying to find a new conscious dominant to replace the one (later twelve) represented by Mucho; the ego is no longer suited to the soul, and a new ego, essentially, is required. Without one, we would find ourselves a little like the way in which Mucho ends up— sensing that same unconscious, universal harmony Oedipa experienced in the deaf-mute ballroom, but without a practical and grounded way to apply it because we have lost all sense of ego to the Self. It is not desirable to be subsumed completely by the unconscious, because then one becomes unconscious; one must strive to cast light into the darkness, to pierce it, if you will, and to adapt one’s waking ego to integrate all that has been revealed. Mucho fails to do that— but, of course, he was set up to fail by his own big mouth.
As the husband of the anima, Mucho is of a great deal of importance. Throughout the novel, he works at the radio station KCUF as a DJ, having two years ago abandoned his job at a used car lot. The most telling thing about Mucho’s character is the true why of his having left the lot to begin with: “…at least he had believed in the cars. Maybe to excess: how could he not, seeing people poorer than him come in, Negro, Mexican, cracker, a parade seven days a week, bringing the most godawful of trade-ins: motorized, metal extensions of themselves, of their families and what their whole lives must be like, out there so naked for anybody, a stranger like himself, to look at…But the endless ritual of trade-in, week after week, never got as far as violence or blood, and so were too plausible for the impressionable Mucho to take for long. Even if enough exposure to the unvarying gray sickness had somehow managed to immunize him, he could still never accept the way each owner, each shadow, filed in only to exchange a dented, malfunctioning version of himself for another, just as futureless, automotive projection of somebody else’s life. As if it were the most natural thing. To Mucho it was horrible. Endless, convoluted incest.” [pg. 13-14]
Mucho, then, is a man who is not himself exactly thrilled by the prospect of reproduction, which for him does not solve the problem of death, nor is he thrilled, specifically, by living at all. Taking the car as an updated version of the chariot, it is thus largely a symbol of the ego, that vehicle which the Self drives to navigate the world; and he is specifically told to hang up the phone if Dr Hilarius calls in the time Oedipa is absent from Kinneret to settle Pierce’s affairs, which he clearly fails to do, because when next we see him, after the stand-off with Hilarius, he has been made part of an expanded version of The Bridge Project, now enlarged to include husbands. Oedipa initially assumes his change in mindset is due to a new woman— his new fascination with the idea of harmony, with the idea that,
“No matter who’s talking, the different power spectra are the same, give or take a small percentage…everybody who says the same words is the same person if the spectra are the same only they happen differently in time, you dig? But the time is arbitrary. You pick your zero point anywhere you want, that way you can shuffle each person’s time line sideways till they all coincide. Then you’d have this big, God, maybe a couple hundred million chorus saying ‘rich, chocolaty goodness’ together, and it would all be the same voice.” [pg 142]
The only other woman here, though, is LSD, and it has offered Mucho both peace and understanding, but it has also alienated him from Oedipa, or Oedipa has alienated herself from him, perhaps, by choosing to overlook The Bridge Inward— she looks for the Trystero in history books and stamp collections, tie pins and bathroom stalls, and yet not once does she consider looking within herself. Mucho does— is accused by Funch, his boss, of ‘coming on like twelve people’, a symbolically significant number in and of itself— and could thus in a sense be considered a representative of Pynchon’s failing, ‘dying king’ ego state in need of renewal or death, the husband in the tepid marriage who becomes divorced from the anima by what is essentially an inability to reconcile the internal and external, the masculine and feminine, the that and the thou. He could also be considered as a conscious dominant which no longer serves the Saturnine principle and must be punished and replaced, and as a result, Oedipa was called away from him so that Hilarius would enroll him in the LSD experiments, though even if that were not true Oedipa still would have had an affair with Metzger on her conscience. The anima, then, must find something suitable with which to replace the conscious dominant; it is that replacement for whom she is still waiting at the end of the novella, ignorant of her own power and agency in making that replacement.
Talk about a name that makes you smile! Hilarius, Oedipa’s shrink, has given her a prescription of tranquilizers before the story has started, and these, she has refused to take because she doesn’t know what’s in them— wise, considering what will eventually occur with Mucho, but perhaps Oedipa might do with a psychedelic experience to help her straighten herself out. Dr Hilarius is running a program he calls ‘The Bridge’, named for ‘the bridge inward’—that is to say, he, like many doctors of the early drug revolution, is running an experiment on the effects of LSD-25, mescaline, psilocybin and other psychedelics on a large sample of housewives. By the end of the novella, the project will also have expanded to their husbands, and will, evidently, have begun to effect the good doctor, himself, for when Oedipa goes to him for his help towards the end of the novel, he himself is off his rocker, pulling a Charles Whitman by holing himself up in his office with a rifle. He claims not to have taken the drug, and it becomes apparent that his insanity is only experimentally induced in a secondhand way: during World War II, he studied experimentally induced insanity which liberal SS thought would be more ‘humane’, and as a result he finally snaps near the end of the book, hallucinating Israelis climbing through his windows. While he fights off his phantom guilt, Oedipa, who has come to him for help, receives the advice of a lifetime:
“I came,” she said, “hoping you could talk me out of a fantasy.”
“Cherish it!” cried Hilarius, fiercely. “What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don’t let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be.” [pg 138]
This is yet another common dilemma faced by the modern mystic, whose society would, like so many societies of the past, do everything to squelch even the faintest connection to the unconscious. It is medicated, shamed and hidden away—in part, no doubt, because of people like Hilarius, whose dip into the cosmic pond would either result in something far worse or far better than his office stand-off. But for every person who is ‘protected’ from the inner ocean in such a fashion, far more, like Oedipa, are trained by society to reject the vaguest hint of such things. The fact that Dr Hilarius goes out of his way to mention he was a Freudian and claim that if he had been a real Nazi, he would have studied Jung are a fine example of this, this Western culture way of embracing Freud’s teachings, but going no further— of examining the thing from the exterior, from the surface, without analyzing much deeper than that. When Oedipa has a floating Uncle Sam hallucination at the start of the novel, he doesn’t want to hear about it, despite having called her, himself; he called her because he claims a good doctor has, not a telepathic connection with his patients, but a connection all the same— and yet by his very nature as a Freudian he is a denier of the unconscious. And, like so many Freudians (and Jungians, too) he seems to hold the man himself in a position of Christ, or at least that he has been trying to do that very thing, like a Christian who goes to Church Sunday after Sunday without feeling anything inside.
“I tried,” the shrink behind the door said, “to submit myself to that man, to the ghost of that cantankerous Jew. Tried to cultivate a faith in the literal truth of everything he wrote, even the idiocies and contradictions. It was the least I could have done, night wahr? A kind of penance.
“And part of me must have really wanted to believe—like a child hearing, in perfect safety, a tale of horror—that the unconscious would be like any other room, once the light was let in. That the dark shapes would resolve only into toy horses and Biedermeyer furniture. That therapy could tame it after all, bring it into society with no fear of its someday reverting. I wanted to believe, despite everything my life had been. Can you imagine?” [pg 134-135]
Outside of symbolizing the general non-Jungian psychiatric community’s reaction to the unconscious and the Western impulse to drug what we do not understand, Hilarius also serves another very important function in the book— his pills are, by and large, the final wedge between Mucho and Oedipa, the former of whom he gets ahold of while the latter is out of town. He is thus a sort of tempter, too, offering either an easy way to ignore the unconscious or an easy way to ‘understand’ it, which is, in and of itself, no real form of understanding.
The Spirit Mercurius manifests in the course of this novel in a great many forms, and Hialrius is certainly one of them, though he, along with Mr. Thoth, is perhaps one of the least-conscious forms of the manifestation— as an example of someone who is unconscious, who is ruled utterly by it without even being aware of it. Oedipa is ruled by it in the way the women of Remedios Varo’s Tower are ruled by the older woman who watched them spin the world, but she is aware of her watcher— and of something beyond even the watcher, perhaps— and craves to know more. Like Eve or Pandora, she seeks knowledge. Like Sophia, she has tasted light from Pleroma, and as a result she has created the demiurge.
…It took her till the middle of Huntley and Brinkley to remember that 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 a 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. [pg 11]
For a character who we never truly meet in the novel but in one fleeting memory and a few quick lines, Pierce certainly leaves an indelible mark on the novel. Though a real Scottish surname, there is no denying the resemblance Inverarity has to ‘Inveracity,’ meaning ‘untruthfulness’; and a good thesaurus will tell you that it indicates a cock-and-bull story— also a similarity to ‘inversion’, and ‘rarity’, and we could spend quite all day on the meanings of names in the novel, and many people have. Pierce’s last name is not so important as his first, however, for he pierces into Oedipa’s psyche and homelife like a sword.
Pierce, being (allegedly, probably) dead from the start of the novel, takes on an immediate Saturnine aspect not only by his death and the fact that he will loom over the novella as—yes, a Shadow—but also plays the Yahweh role in what is literature’s most simple and subtle Fall event. The woman is still technically at fault because, of course, had Oedipa never had her old, ended-prior-to-marriage dalliance with Pierce, had not picked up the phone that night, then perhaps Mucho Maas would have been left unmolested; but Mucho, the functioning ego, is still completely at fault for encouraging Oedipa to hang up, effectively, on God. Mucho is a man whose anima has picked up the spiritual phone and has the opportunity to renew her relationship with God, but that would mean picking God over the ego; the ego, who does not see the dilemma before the anima, simply tells her to hang up, but of course one does not simply hang up on the Lord, on Yahweh, on Saturn, on Pierce. Like all other Saturnine incarnations of the demiurge, Pierce is incredibly petty and is eager to punish Man for the least of crimes; and he is also, like the demiurge, the orchestrator of events, but himself representative of something higher than himself (the Trystero, that is, the unconscious), which in and of itself has greater implications for the universe of the characters— namely, that their world is a fictional one, a literary one, a world-within-a-world. After all— no matter what Pierce does, no matter what anybody in this novel does, no matter what anybody in any novel does, it is at its heart in some distant way a reflection of the psyche and will of the author. Pierce can, strictly speaking, be blamed for his cruelty no more than any demiurge. I would like to take a moment to refer again to Jung, this time in his Aion, specifically “Gnostic Symbols of the Self.”
…I would like to mention some of the Gnostic symbols for the universal “Ground” or arcanum, and especially those synonyms which signify the “Ground.” Psychology takes this idea as an image of the unconscious background and begetter of consciousness. The most important of these images is the figure of the demiurge. The Gnostics have a vast number of symbols for the source or origin, the centre of being, the Creator, and the divine substance hidden in the creature. Lest the reader be confused by this wealth of images, he should always remember that each new image is simply another aspect of the divine mystery immanent to all creatures. My list of Gnostic symbols is no more than an amplifications of a single transcendental idea, which is so comprehensive and so difficult to visualize in itself that a great many different expressions are required in order to bring out its various aspects.
According to Irenaeus, the Gnostics held that Sophia represents the world of the Ogdoad, which is a double quaternity. In the form of a dove, she descended into the water and begot Saturn, who is identical with Yahweh. Saturn, as we have already mentioned, is the “other sun,” the sol niger of alchemy. Here he is the “primus Anthropus.” He created the first man, who could only crawl like a worm. Among the Nassenes, the demiurge Esaldaios, “a fiery god, the fourth by number,” is set up against the Trinity of the Father, Mother, and Son. The highest is the Father, the Archanthropos, who is without qualities and is called the higher Adam. In various systems Sophia takes the place of the Protoanthropos. [Jung, C. G., Aion, pg 196-197]
He also adds in his essay “The Fish in Alchemy,” found in the same collection, that,
Saturn, in astrology the “star of the sun,” is alchemically interpreted as black; it is even called “sol niger” and has a double nature as the arcane substance, being black outside like lead, but white inside…the lead of the Philosophers, named lead of the air (Pb aueris), contains the “shining white dove” which is called the “salt of the metals.” Vigenere assures us that lead, “than which nothing is more opaque,” can be turned into “hyacinth” and back again to lead. Quicksilver, says Mylius, comes from the “heart of Saturn,” in fact is Saturn, the bright silveriness of mercury contrasting with the “blackness” of lead. The “bright” water that flows from the plant Saturnia is, according to Sir George Ripley, “the most perfect water and the bloom of the world.” How old this idea is can be seen from the remark of Hippolytus, that Chronos (Saturn) is a “power of the color of water, and all-destructive.” [pg 139]
So the demiurge, though created, in essence, by Sophia, also contains her, she who is the dove and salt of metals; in Oedipa’s role as the anima, which is closely tied also to the symbol of alchemical salt in the masculine psyche, she is, like Sophia, playing out the role of Protoanthropos— or endeavoring to, at any rate, for she out and out fails to reconcile the masculine and feminine elements of her author’s psyche, just as she fails to reconcile the conscious and unconscious, and so at the end of the novel finds herself still waiting, perhaps on the verge of making an unconscious principle conscious— but because the novel ends before any revelation can be had, assuming there is a revelation, an assimilation, to be had, the solution is by definition not made conscious for either the writer or reader who experiences the novel— for, when we read a work of fiction, that work becomes a temporary microcosm of our own macrocosm, as the brain is wired to empathetically experience stories as though they were really happening to us. When we read, then, The Crying of Lot 49, for instance, we project ourselves and facets of our psyches upon the characters in the same manner the writer does, whether consciously or unconsciously, though there are often a great many different meanings afoot, and a great many layers to the mystery of The Tristero. Pierce, the spited demiurge, is noted as having “owned a large block of shares [in Yoyodyne Corporation], had been somehow involved in negotiating an understanding with the county tax assessor to lure Yoyodyne here in the first place. It was part, he explained, of being a founding father.”
THE BONES/BEACONSFIELD CIGARETTES/DANDELION WINE
One of Pierce’s major investments is in Beaconsfield cigarette filters, a process of which he owns 51 percent; thus, he knew the secret of what kinds of bones are in the filters. That these should be bones is reminiscent to the metaphor of Saturn with his scythe, reaping wheat for harvest which is then processed and eventually made into bread. We see the same symbol being echoed, poignantly, softly, in the dandelion wine given Oedipa by Genghis Cohen, stamp collector, hired to inventory the stamp collection. He and Oedipa discuss real stamps and forgeries, and at one particular juncture he describes how the cemetery from which he picked the dandelions is long-gone.
“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. [pg 98-99]
The bones, a symbol of mortality and the cycle of birth/life/death, lest we forget, served as Oedipa’s entrance intro the Tristero conspiracy in the first place, much as the problem of death is inevitably what drives the alchemist, the gnostic, any religious man to look within himself. It is a great mystery, and Oedipa, whether or not she is consciously aware of it, is wrapped tightly within it.
Yes, Trystero was a person in the novel. Yes, Tristero is a postal conspiracy in the novel. Yes, the Tristero postal conspiracy could also be an elaborate prank faked by Pierce, who is not necessarily proven dead. But to the fragile, perhaps slightly deformed in-novel psyche of Oedipa Maas, regardless of whether it is real or fake, the Tristero represents so very much more, and this, deep down, is what obsesses her—Oedipa, a woman who does not read as deeply into things as she should, who fails to derive the inherent truth of her existence from a mysterious painting which moves her to tears in Mexico, suddenly must find the truth by projecting it on the Tristero.
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 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-clothesi n 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 it 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? [pg 54]
Throughout the novel, the Tristero is, like Saturn, like Pierce’s Shadow, paired consistently with blackness: in one scene, Genghis Cohen invites her to his office to serve her dandelion wine and show her a set of irregular stamps which show a black feather, of the type described by the near-senile old Mr. Thoth in her brief meeting with him; later, another set of forged stamps features horrific figures cloaked in black with heads set at unnatural angles; Driblette’s choice to depict the assassins in the play, an unusual one, according to him, results in the “capering” emergence of three figures cloaked head-to-toe in black with their bodies posed at unnatural angles.
As an anarchist private postal service which works primarily underground and in code, the Tristero system is comperable to any non-dominant or heretical religious sect which has been forced into the secrecy of symbols to avoid persecution; one thinks of alchemists, gnostics, hermeticists, roughly any mystery religion or direct method of mystical experience. The private postal service in and of itself, much like these struggling religious sects, represents the struggle of the unconscious against the conscious dominant of the age; it faces not only the government, but also another private postal service, more established, successful and traditional: the Church is to the unconscious as Thurn and Taxis is to the Tristero.
THURN AND TAXIS/THE POST HORN
In the universe of the novel, the real private postal service of Thurn and Taxis represents largely the established Christian church/the Spirit of the Times (that is to say, the rigid and empirical Western mindset against which the unconscious struggles to gain ground) and the crucifix, a symbol which has been appropriated, mis-appropriated and perverted by any number of groups. Oedipa finds it everywhere, all over the city, in all number of contexts. In a bar called The Greek Way, she encounters an unnamed member of Inamorati Anonymous, an inamorato being someone in love— “the worst addiction,” he tells Oedipa— who wears the symbol of the post horn on his lapel pin. Their organization was one founded by a scorned Yoyodyne executive who, in prevented from self-immolation, discovered the gasoline intended to make his death dissolved some of the ink on a stamp in his pocket and revealed the W.A.S.T.E. symbol. At the same time, in her initial discovery of the symbol, it was advertising a ‘good time’ in a bathroom stall; yet it also appears in the form of chalk drawings made by children for a game; yet still tattooed on the back of the hand of an old sailor, who is the one who at last reveals to her by way of incident the nature of the secret postal boxes, disguised as garbage cans and run by apparent hobos. Thus, much like the cross, which means anything from the crucifixion, to Jung’s quaternity, to the letter ‘t’, to, when inverted, LeVay-style Satanism, which in and of itself is an inversion which could be attributed more than anything else the crucifixion of St Peter, to nothing more than a symbol on a sorority girl’s necklace, the postal horn, in both its perverted and non-perverted forms, has an infinity of meanings upon which one might project. Even the meaning of the acronym—We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire—is a kind of motto one mind expect to find in any esoteric secret society, not to mention the wealth of symbolism to be considered in the fact that Oedipa first encounters the symbol of the muted post-horn in a bathroom stall, and that the mail system uses disguised garbage cans. The nigredo, after all, begins in the filth and the rubbish, and it is from all this trash that the stone is extracted. But, like all secret societies, the Tristero, whether real or imaginary in Oedipa’s world, must protect itself— and this need to repress their presence in the world results in the end of the novel, as Oedipa waits for someone new. Indeed, The Crying of Lot 49 could be considered in itself a kind of massa confusa; it is the initial state from which the stone is derived, the hermetic vessel which contains within itself everything it requires and is thus a whole requiring internal representation.
At the end of the book, at last, Gengis Cohen informs Oedipa that Pierce’s stamp collection is going up on auction as Lot 49, and a mysterious, never-before-seen buyer has placed a book bid; then, at the very last minute, we learn he has decided to show up in person. Oedipa, then, and we, the readers, sit to await the crying of Lot 49, and it is there that the book ends.
It is possible, of course, that the buyer is Pierce, himself, and he was never dead to begin with; it is possible it is a representative of the Tristero, plunging Oedipa even deeper into the mystery, or even someone who might initiate her deeper into the organization’s ways. Who the buyer actually is, is immaterial: what the buyer represents, however, is the whole and unified Self of her author. Who this Self is is a mystery because, at the time of the writing, the unconscious and conscious, the masculine and feminine, were yet un-united in their author, and so we do not learn with tangible certainty just who it is who is after Lot 49.
The symbolism of the number itself is tricky. I am not particularly familiar with numerology but I am a fan of intuitive interpretation, and there is indeed significance in numbers if one allows there to be, just as there can be significance in anything if one allows there to be. What is the significance of the number 49 in this context, then? An incomplete revelation— gnosis, missed by a hair’s breadth. A single unit separates 49 from 50; it is almost, not quite, a successful half of one hundred. Almost a thoroughly balanced anima. One might also consider the model that we are sixth-dimensional creatures experiencing the first through fourth dimensions by means of the fifth dimension, which, in my opinion is, perception/language. Oedipa begins to approach this revelation, but falters; like Randolph Driblette, that brief connection which appears and then fades, or the seizure of epiphany which touches Oedipa in the presence of the dandelion wine, Oedipa cannot gaze deeply enough into the darkness to find that it is filled with light. She is trapped in her experience of the fourth dimension, time, that tower which holds her, and cannot raise her consciousness, alter the lens of her perception, enough to make it to the fifth.
If you believe Wikipedia, Thomas Pynchon looks back unfavorably, or at least did, at one point, on The Crying of Lot 49, and this phenomenon of looking back unfavorably upon a very good book is not limited by any means to him. In the introduction to his collection Slow Learner, he claims to have forgotten in The Crying all he had learned before— but this is not a bad thing, necessarily. This kind of artistic un-learning is imperative in a creator’s career. If Picasso had not dived into such depths of common painting, he would not have torn it apart; if Pynchon did not forget all he had learned before The Crying, we may well never have had the explosion of post-modern prose that is Gravity’s Rainbow. But it is possible, too, that Pynchon at that point found himself disrupted by the experience of re-reading the book, disrupted by the fact that it had blossomed from a short story into a novella, disrupted by the implications and what he felt at the time was somehow an unworthy story. One might wonder whether or not his opinion had changed, but Pynchon, a notoriously private man (I can certainly admire that), would doubtless refer all speculators to Emory Bortz’s conversation with Oedipa out on the lawn of his house, though himself is presently alive.
“I would like to find out,” she presently plunged, “something about the historical Wharfinger. Not so much the verbal one.”
“The historical Shakespeare,” growled one of the grad students through a full beard, uncapping another bottle. “The historical Marx. The historical Jesus.”
“He’s right,” shrugged Bortz, “they’re dead. What’s left?”
“Pick some words,” said Bortz. “Them, we can talk about.” [pg 151]
How right they are, even if obnoxious people— for all one truly has, all one should truly look at, is the text. The words are all that there are in the end, all that will ever be: the words are what separate us from the unconscious, the Trystero, but one day, the words shall be what bring it forth with the power of the perfect metaphor; until then, the words shall be used to build a model of a man— used, as Oedipa writes beneath the muted horn, to project a world. Our world, our spirit, or Pynchon’s, or both, but, ideally, the spirit of the text, which may be completely different from the spirit Pynchon intended to impart. We must walk a line between the text and the projection, between the Word and the Spirit. It is for this reason that we must engage ourselves deeply with the art which fills our world— when we, like Oedipa before the Varo, are moved for mysterious reasons we cannot articulate, we owe it to ourselves, and to the creator of that work, to investigate deeply these feelings, and to understand what lurks behind them. For such movement of the spirit means that we have encountered something great— some beautiful breath of mystery which makes us, like dandelion wine, cloud with remembrance of that from which we come, that which is not really so very far away now, though it seems sometimes as if it never existed at all. There is no way to comprehensively analyze The Crying of Lot 49, no more than there is any way to comprehensively analyze any work dealing with the unconscious— for it is not the Word of the thing which holds the meaning in this case, but rather the Spirit of the thing which rides upon the Word and, formless, seeks form through our knowledge— seeks to reveal itself through an ever-perfecting metaphor. And, as a metaphor, The Crying of Lot 49 is practically perfect— even though Oedipa is ultimately unsuccessful, even though catharsis is not achieved, a negative example is still an example, and the pathos felt by the reader towards Ms Maas makes the mystery of the Tristero a truly irresistible one to us, as well as her.
Delilah, My Woman, my Pynchon and Nabokov-influenced debut novel, is free on Amazon for the next two days to celebrate the birthday of my father, so click here to get a copy and leave a review if you like it, or better yet, tell your friends you’ll put them in your basement until they read it. In the meantime, come back in two weeks for our next essay about the music of Michael Gira, creator of SWANS and Angels of Light.
M. F. Sullivan lives in Oregon and is presently working on the psychedelic novel, ALBEDO, follow-up to the transgressive DELILAH, MY WOMAN, free from September 23rd to September 24th. Be sure to grab your copy while you can, or buy it in hardback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.