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What is "postmodern" about Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49? Especially the...

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zbyr | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 24, 2009 at 7:37 AM via web

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What is "postmodern" about Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49?

Especially the general features of postmodernism in literature are important.

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 12, 2013 at 7:20 PM (Answer #1)

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Uncertainty is a major theme in this text. The fact that this uncertainty is derived from an epistemological stand-point makes the text "postmodern". Additionally, the notion the text explores regarding the fictive nature of constructed "knowledge" and "truth" are fully participant in a postmodern ethos of what we might call "knowledge instability". 

Oedipa Maas is engaged in a quest for the truth in this novel, searching an essential confirmation of her own perceptions. Is the W.A.S.T.E. system a real conspiracy or just a "projection" of her imagination? As she weaves a series of connections and paranoid realizations together into a tapestry of frightening coincidence, Oedipa is forced to ask whether or not what she has found is meaningful. 

Some questions that apply to her conundrum at the novel's end are: 

  • If the only way to construct meaning is to draw connections that require a leap of faith and which offer no "proof" in and of themselves, then does meaning become fancy, fantasy, or paranoia? Or does meaning resist the arbitrary nature of such a vision?
  • Is meaning only possible as a participatory, dynamic process instead of as an objective, self-existing, autonomous thing?  

In addition to these thematic concerns, Pynchon utilizes some postmodern narrative techniques, using frequent allusions, scientific language and concepts, and an open-ended conclusion.

Meta-fiction is also used here as Pynchon includes numerous passages dealing with plays within the novel and dealing with the idea (and fundamental problems) of literary interpretation.

In some instances the [postmodern] work will make a comment about itself in a critical way, making a self-reflexive comment on the whole process of writing, reading, or understanding literature. (eNotes)

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