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The flow of networks and rivers: communicating history and recording language in Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry.

The flow of networks and rivers: communicating history and recording language in Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sharon O'Hara. Originally submitted for Postmodern Writing and Culture at National University of Ireland Maynooth, with lecturer Dr. Moynagh Sullivan in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sharon O'Hara. Originally submitted for Postmodern Writing and Culture at National University of Ireland Maynooth, with lecturer Dr. Moynagh Sullivan in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/13/2014

 
1
The flow of networks and rivers: communicating history andrecording language
in Pynchon‟s
The Crying of Lot 49 
and
Winterson‟s
Sexing the Cherry 
 
 I could tell you the truth as you will find it in diaries and maps and log-books. I could faithfully describe all that I saw and heard and give you a travel book. [...]  For the Greeks, the hidden life demanded invisible ink. They wrote an ordinary letter and in between the lines set out another letter, written in milk. The document looked innocent enough until one who knew better sprinkled coal-dust over it. What the letter had been no longer mattered; what mattered was the life  flaring up undetected... till now.
(Winterson 10)Metafiction, a postmodern narrative play with literary conventions and the re-ordering of traditional expectations for the novel, is often seen as a particularly dissonant form of expression. A multiplicity of voices, perceptions and images proliferate in thepostmodern novel, akin to sensory bombardment and confusion. Historiographicmetafiction, for example, rewrites history as a plurality of truths and accounts. Patricia
Waugh divides metafictional writing into the “paranoia [...] of the sixties and seventies”
and the newer 
“celebration [...] of the fantastic, fabulatory extravaganzas,
[and] magicalrealism
” (9).
Two novels that seem, comparatively, to encompass this dynamic of paranoia giving way to celebration
are Thomas Pynchon‟s
The Crying of Lot 49 
(
COL49 
)
and Jeanette Winterson‟s
Sexing the Cherry 
(
STC 
). Both novels understandcommunication as inherently fraught with inconsistencies and effacements. Often, theseeffacements figure themselves as the creation of documents and papers; the solidity of such things engender a lie that language, and reality itself, are equally as solid. It is, infact, their permeability and our inability to grasp or fix them in time or space that createsour need to communicate to each other 
 – 
but what we are saying and how we translatethese messages are the questions that create both confusion and celebration, despair and joy, and of course, the spaces in between.
Legitimated stories and communication systems
 
2
For 
COL49 
, the mystery Oedipa Maas is trying to uncover is the history of United Statespostal system monopoly, and the possibility of the continuing existence of an alternative,underground movement of communication dating back to the shrouded and mysteriousfigures
of „
the Tris
tero‟,
about whom or what Oedipa comes to know very little.In the apprehension of a hidden communication system, Oedipa finds that simplydiscovering its existence is not enough to comprehend it. It is nowhere near tangibleenough. That is why she turns to the physical records of this system, the documentsthemselves: the last will and testament of Pierce Inverarity; the published version(s) of the Jacobean tragedy which mentions the mysterious
Trystero
; as well as Lot 49 itself,the collection of stamps that bear the muted post-horn symbol of W.A.S.T.E., anacronym for the underground postal system that is translated, eventually, as
“We AwaitSilent Tristero‟s Empire”.
However, while these records tantalise and tease, the sheer amount of them dissipates, despite their tangibility, into meaninglessness. The letterssent by the Peter Pinguid Society imply a waste of their own: they are pointless,communication for the sake of communication. The waste land implied by this paper litter of legal documents, stamps, letters and patents is one characterised by loss andleakage
. Oedipa‟s first encounter with the muted post
-horn symbol, for example, isgraffiti in
a ladies‟
 bathroom. Later, she finds a blank bathroom wall disquieting, its lack 
of the “marginal try at communication latrines are known for”
(53), implicitly sensingthat even wasteful communication is better than none at all.Py
nchon‟s
own fascination with entropy certainly indicates this understanding of thedisintegration and wastefulness of language. The Nefastis Machine, a metaphysicaloperation that
concretises James Maxwell‟s thought experiment, Maxwell‟s Demon,requires „sensitives‟ to transmit and receive psychic messages by focusing on a picture of 
 
 
3
the theory‟s author 
. Entropy, as Oedipa is informed, is theorised separately in physicsand information theory. The connection Nefastis finds between two divergent disciplinesis language, entropy being the metaphor 
or “figure of speech” (85)
that enables confusion between the two. What this confusion means is that language is a tenuous connector of reality, at best, and self-creates its own meaning at worst. While John Nefastis hasdiscovered, in his realisation of 
Maxwell‟
s Demon, a literal
deus ex machina
that hasresolved all of his anxieties about the relationship between these coincidences, Oedipa
‟sinability to “share in the man‟s
hallucination
s” (86)
is a crisis of faith
 – 
in God,authority, reality,
and language‟s ability to channel any of them.
Despite her hope thatW.A.S.T.E. will become
her new religion, Oedipa‟s role as a sceptic and a non
-believer is often propelled by her encounters with the madness of those overflowing with belief inan incoherent system. Dr. Hilarius attempts
to “cultivate a faith in everything [Freud]wrote, even the idiocies and contradictions” (109)
as penance for his Nazi past, yet it isnot enough to save him
from the „Israelis‟
in his paranoid delusions of capture. Variousother faiths in systems of communication and comprehension inundate the novel, from
Mucho‟s belief in
perceiving the separation of individual tonal frequencies, to theInamorati Anonymous, whose commitment to preventing love is regulated by atelephone dispatch system of anonymous sponsors. The possibility of reversing theinevitable movement into disorder and loss is clung to anxiously by those who still have belief systems.If faith is one way of accessing meaning that is under attack, then art offers no refugeeither. The Jacobean revenge play,
The Courier’s Tragedy 
, is the Thurn and Taxis historyturned fiction, or vice versa as the argument might go, and
once again, any of Oedipa‟s
attempts to find meaning in a line that first introduces her to the enigmatic Tristero are

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