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Richard Olehla

THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY WORD:


LACANS NAME-OF-THE-FATHER, PARANOIA
AND POSSIBLE MADNESS IN THE CRYING OF LOT 49

Richard Olehla

InhisSeminars,JacquesLacanstatesthatparanoiahasitsrootsintheforeclosureofthe
ultimatemeaning,thesignifieroftheOther.ForLeoBersani,paranoiaissomethinglike
unfounded suspicions about a hostile environment. Oedipa Maas from The Crying of
Lot 49 loses her initial knowledge of the world and goes through paranoid searching to
finallychangetheknowledgeoftheworldtoamereacknowledgementofitsexistence.In
Gravitys Rainbow, Tyrone Slothrop paranoids from door to door in a hotel. This
articleexploreswhatmakesPynchonscharactersparanoid,byprovidinganinsightinto
Lacans theory of the NameoftheFather and the subsequent feeling of paranoia, which
accordingtoFredricJamesonleavestheparanoidwithonlyaseriesofpureandunrelated
presents in time. How important is the figure of the father in Pynchons novels: Pierce
Inverarity in The Crying of Lot 49 and Laszlo Jamf in Gravitys Rainbow? Can
PynchonsmoreorlessrealfathersofbeidentifiedwithLacanssymbolicfather?Canthey
represent meaning for others, the Word? Apart from these problems, different types of
paranoia in Pynchons novels (paranoia in religion, cultural, linguistic and semiotic
paranoia)arediscussed,andthequestionofwhetherPynchonscharactersshouldbecalled
paranoidorschizophrenicisaddressed.

For some, the source of paranoia in American culture is the Puritanism of


the first settlers who saw danger and hostile forces everywhere around
them, especially in nature and American Indians. However, paranoia was
alsopresentinotherreligiouscommunities,suchastheCatholicChurchand
later the Mormons. 1 So, from the beginning the enemies (because a
1

See, e.g., Samuel Chase Coale, Paradigms of Paranoia: The Culture of Conspiracy in
ContemporaryAmericanFiction(Tuscaloosa:TheUniversityofAlabamaPress,2005)16.

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The Quest for the Holy Word

conspiracytheoryasthebasisforparanoiaalwaysrequirestheexistenceof
an enemy, adversary) were not only inanimate objects, such as nature, or
culturaldifferences,suchasthoseseeninnativeinhabitants,butalsoclashes
ofideologies.
ThisideaofthedemonicotherhasremainedinAmericanculturesince
then: over the course of time, the fear of Indians changed into the fear of
Asianimmigration(theYellowPeril).Asenemies,Catholicswerereplaced
firstbytheSovietEmpireinthe1950sandthen,afteritsfall,bythefearof
globalterrorism.TimothyMelleygoessofarastowritethatoursenseofa
national identity has often been based on demonizing others, viewing
ourselvesinconfrontationwithaliensandsubversiveoutsiders,whether
religious, racial, or otherwise. 2 In the modern era, crystal clear enemies,
defined on the basis of the colour of their skin, religion, social beliefs or
otherwise, have been turned into entities that cannot be defined or
delineatedwithsuchcertainty.Theonlythingtheyhaveincommonisthat
they are in control of our lives or at least we and characters in works of
fiction, suppose they are. These controlling organizations can be
institutionalized (such as the CIA in the works of Don DeLillo), but often,
theirstructureismorediffuse, 3 whichisthecaseofPynchonsThem.
Indeed,Pynchonscharactersliveinastateofpermanentfear,incessant
paranoia,whichcaneventuallydrivethemmadoratleast,thecharacters
are prone to think about their mental sanity. They confront the reality as
they see it with their own eyes with the reality conceived of before
something happened or someone put them on a quest for meaning; hence
they try to judge which of these two concepts is more sane or more
plausible.
Whatisthatsomethingorsomeonethatchangedtheirlifeforeverand
began their race for truth and the meaning of life? For Oedipa Maas, the
protagonist of Pynchons The Crying of Lot 49, it is one Pierce Inverarity, a
recentlydeceasedtycoonthathadmadeOedipacoexecutrixofhislastwill.
ForTyroneSlothrop,thecentralcharacterofGravitysRainbow,itisanever
endingchainofV2explosions,whichalwaysoccurinplaceswherehehad
a sexual experience several days or even hours before. Neither Oedipa nor
Tyrone choose their fate; it has been imposed on them. The role of Pierce
Inverarity and Lazslo Jamf, the scientist in IG Farben and child Tyrones

TimothyMelley,EmpireofConspiracy:TheCultureofParanoiainPostwarAmerica(Ithaca
andLondon:CornellUniversityPress,2000)16.
3 Melley,EmpireofConspiracy,16.
2

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Richard Olehla

tutoris,inaway,similar:asfathers,theyinstructtheirchildrenonhowto
liveandshapetheirfutureworld.However,neitherofthemisarealfather
tothemainhero;theyaremerepaternalmetaphors. 4
ThistermofJacquesLacansseemstobecrucialfortheunderstandingof
Inveraritys position in The Crying of Lot 49. It also stands behind various
understandings of paranoia presented in Pynchons novels: behind its
cultural,semioticandlinguisticrepresentations.Theproblemofparanoiain
Pynchonsnovelshasbeendiscussedbyanumberofauthors. 5 Incontrastto
their approaches, 6 this essay offers a classification of various causes of
paranoiainPynchon.ItalsoanalysesLacansconceptofparentalauthority,
which can be seen as (once when the signifying chain is broken and the
authorityofthefather,orGod,nolongerworksforOedipaMaas)oneofthe
causesofOedipasparanoia.

Lacans Concept of Parental Authority

The Lacanian father is defined as a concept and does not have to be a real
person, a real father. In the symbolic order, he is reduced to a mere
representation, a paternal metaphor. In Lacans work, this concept is

SeeJacquesLacan,crits(Paris:ditionsduSeuil,1966)199.
For Pynchon criticism, see, e.g., Gregory Flaxman, Oedipa Crisis: Paranoia and
ProhibitioninTheCryingofLot49,PynchonNotes,4041(1997):4160;JohnJohnston,
TowardstheSchizoText:ParanoiaasSemioticRegimeinTheCryingofLot49,New
Essays on The Crying of Lot 49, ed. Patrick ODonnell (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1991), 4472; Aaron S. Rosenfeld, The scanty plot: Orwell,
Pynchon,andthePoeticsofParanoia,TwentiethCenturyLiterature(Winter2004),126.
Otherauthorsandtextswillbementionedinthisessay.
6 In his essay, Flaxman mentions Lacans concept of the nameofthefather, but he
rather concentrates on the role of jouissance than on the importance of the father
figure. He analyzes the passages where paranoia occurs during Oedipassearch,but
doesnotmentionitscauses.Johnstonfocusesonthedifferencebetweenparanoiaand
schizophrenia, a task this essay also briefly touches on, but he favours a Deleuzean
understanding of both terms rather than a Lacanian one. Rosenfeld deals with the
difference between paranoia in Orwells 1984 and The Crying of Lot 49 and makes a
difference between modernist and postmodernist paranoia. However, his analysis of
thesubjectendswiththedefinitionthatparanoiainPynchonisbasedonontological,
sometimesevennarcissisticground,andstatesthatmetaphorcanbeviewedasoneof
thewayshowtoavoidparanoia,whichisindirectoppositiontomyunderstandingof
theroleofmetaphor.
4
5

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called the NameoftheFather (NomduPre) and is loosely based on


FreudsworkTotemandTaboo.Itrefersneithertotherealfather,nortothe
imaginaryfather(thepaternalimago),butonlytothesymbolicfather.
Theroleofthefatherinthefamilyistoprovidemeaning,whichLacan
associateswiththephallus,which,atsomepoint,maybecometheultimate
meaning for the child: the child falls in love with its father. The same
situationmayappearwhentheroleofthefatheriscompletelytakenoverby
the mother, who becomes the bearer of the phallusmeaning for the child.
Again,thechildmaybeoverwhelmedbythepowerofitsmotherandfallin
lovewithher.
Wrongbehaviourofthefathertowardsthechildisadangerousposition
which,ifitisnotovercome,leadstoanincestuousrelationship.Thisisthe
case of Oedipa Maas for whom Pierce Inverarity was a lover and a father
figure,aproviderofthemeaningoflifeandlateritsultimateshaperat
thesametime.Inthissense,Oedipacanbeunderstoodasafemaleversion
of Oedipus, Pynchons joke being that he did not name her after Electra,
Oedipuss female parallel in Greek mythology. This break in the parental
authorityismanifestedinrelationtoGodand,aswewillsee,itisalsothe
sourceofseveraltypesofparanoiainPynchonscharacters.
If thepaternalauthority,theNameoftheFather,isreplacedbyGodin
therelationshipofthesubject,ortheman,andthesignifier,whatisthecode
of communication between them? In communication between two
individuals, speech is the code. In case of mans relationship with God,
religionissuchacode.Fiercereligiousgroupshavehadalongtraditionin
the United States. All of them, from the first Puritans to the followers of
David Koresh who died in the infamous Waco massacre, understand
religionasameansthroughwhichGodspeakstothemandtheyclaimtheir
actionsimplementHiswill.
Therefore, this style of communication is only oneway. It is not a
dialogueinwhichGodwouldrevealtheWordandthenwouldbeavailable
for additional questions, but a closed system of words that are taken for
signs. This form of communication emphasizes the subordinate position of
man in relation to God and the ability of men to make claims on Gods
powerasexecutorsofHiswill.
Forsuchgroups,asagrimreligioussectofScurvhamitesinTheCryingof
Lot49,religionrepresentstheultimatecodeoftheworld,thedescriptionofa
perfect order. Scurvhamites do not interpret the Bible and do not try to
definetheirownmeaning:theyrathersearchforthealreadydefinedGods
meaning in the Scripture. They see the Tristero, which opposes their own,
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totalitarianvisionoftheworld,asthebruteOther, 7 orassomeopposite
principle, something blind, soulless: a brute automatism that led to eternal
death. 8 ForScurvhamites,meaningissimplyamatterofpredestination:if
oneisbornontherightside,hepossessesthetruthandwillbesaved.
The meaning of the symbolic order, provided by the Other, is equal to
themeaningoftherealorder.Accordingtothislogic,whenoneopposesthis
ruling principle, this universal truth of the Chosen, he opposes Gods will,
divinemeaningitself,andwillbeforeverdamned.Thissoundssimpleand
clear,but,aswehavementioned,anynotionoftheenemymayrepresenta
sourceofparanoia.Andindeed,suchisthecasehere.Anyreligionorfaith
inGodmaybeeoipsoparanoid,becauseitdefinestheenemy(mayitbethe
Devil or groups of infidels) and constantly searches for that enemy
everywhere. The same applies to God: the believer can be paranoid about
God, because he does not cease to search for Him and may never get any
trueevidenceofHisexistence.NowonderthatHisbehaviourseemstothe
believer not to be based on any rational grounds and to be similar to the
operationsofpurechance. 9
In a man driven by his rationality, this may lead to the rejection of his
subordinatepositiontoGod.However,withthelossofGod,onealsoloses
thegeneralacknowledgementofdivinemeaning,suchasthatprovidedby
religion, the divine meaning of the symbolic order. In other words, man is
neverabletoidentifythemeaningoftherealorderwiththedivinemeaning
of the symbolic order, simply due to the fact that the meaning of the real
orderisbynatureindividualandcannotbeshared.Theproblemthereforeis
thatmanneverknowsifthemeaninghehasgraspedisdivinemeaning,as
originallyintendedbyGod;orelse,ifsomethingisrightorwrong.
So,thequestionis:howisthemeaningconstructedintherealorder,in
human communication? Does each of the signifiers construct its own
meaning, or can meaning, the Truth, be constructed on the mutual
agreement of both? If the former is the case, there is no possibility of
common,universaltruthandtheworldisonlyaheapoffragments, 10 aset
of individual truths, a world where all communication serves for a mere

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1966)
156.
8 Pynchon,TheCryingofLot49,155.
9 ThomasPynchon,GravitysRainbow(NewYork:Penguin,1973)323.
10FredricJameson,Postmodernism,ortheCulturalLogicofLateCapitalism,NewLeft
Review,1.146(JulyAugust1984):71.
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adjustment of ones own truth and where true meaning stays foreclosed
from human understanding. Such a world would be a world without any
notionofreality;behindtheimageoftheworld,therewouldonlybeother
images.
This is the world of Oedipa Maas, when she searches in vain for the
Tristero.Layersofrealitypeellikeanonion:whenonelayerispeeledaway,
anotherappears.OedipacanneverknowthewholetruthabouttheTristero,
simplybecausethereisnomanorGodthatwouldproveherfindingsright.
ThedeeplydisquietingpositionofOedipasinTheCryingofLot49(and
other Pynchons characters, like Slothrops in Gravitys Rainbow), the
relationship of man and absent God, where God is the sole bearer of
meaning and this meaning can never be shared by the protagonist, where
the parental authority is lost or blurred forever, defines two types of
paranoiainPynchonsworks:culturalandlinguisticparanoia.

Cultural Paranoia

Theculturalorenvironmentalparanoia,inducedbytherelationshipofman
and God, which is essentially hierarchical, was first defined by Leo
Bersani. 11 Interestingly, this is the paranoia of the controlling side, and not
one of the controlled. Surely enough, Pynchons characters are paranoid
becausetheykeepsearchingforthesecretagentsofthestatepower(suchas
ithasbeendescribedinOrwells1984).Butthecontrollingpower,thepower
ofthestateisparanoidallthesame.Intotalitarianregimes,thestatenever
ceases to search for the enemy and constantly redefines him. Different
ideologies, interest groups and races are pronounced enemies of the state,
only because they are too dangerous or rather, they are considered too
dangerousfortherulingideology.
Thisfeatureofculturalparanoiaaconstantneedtosearchforandfind
enemies creates an opposition of the enemy and the victim. Being an
enemy or a victim also defines the position of the individual in the
framework of the whole conspiracy: one is either inside the structure or
outsideit.Thispositioncanchangequiterapidly,suchaswasthecaseofthe
leadersoftheFrenchRevolutionormonsterpoliticalprocessesintheSoviet
Union in the 1920s and 1930s, and later in the whole of the Eastern Bloc.

11

See Leo Bersani, The Culture of Redemption (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard
UniversityPress,1990).

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Revolutionseattheirchildren.Theenemybecomesarealthreattothestate,
when the state denominates him so. In The Crying of Lot 49, this happens
with the Tristero, which started as an attempt to establish a parallel postal
service and ended up as a giant plot againstthestate.Itisnowonderthat
structures or groups outside the state jurisdiction in the novel, like for
example The Inamorati Anonymous, try to stay totally independent of the
officialstructures:

For here were God knew how many citizens, deliberately choosing
not to communicate by U.S. Mail. It was not an act of treason, nor
possibly even of defiance. But it was a calculated withdrawal, from
thelifeoftheRepublic,fromitsmachinery.Whateverelsewasbeing
denied them out of hate, indifference to the power of their vote,
loopholes, simple ignorance, this withdrawal was their own,
unpublicized, private. Since they could not have withdrawn into a
vacuum (could they?), there had to exist the separate silent,
unsuspectedworld. 12

These groups also develop their own communication codes. By using


varioushints,indirectnames,allegoriesandmetaphorstheyaimtoconceal
the true meaning of their communication from an outsider, and thus,
sometimesratherunwillingly,createaconspiracyagainstthestate.Inthese
unofficiallanguagesofconspiracies,thelanguagesystemofsignsandtheir
meaningisshifted,distorted.

Linguistic Paranoia

In Jacques Lacans understanding, it is the figure of the father who lays


down the law of the language system. In other words, it is the father who
definesthemeaningofsignifiers.Iftherelationbetweenthefatherandthe
child is broken, the child can suffer from psychosis. So, as Lacan states,
madnessinmaniscausedbytheforeclosureoftheNameoftheFatherin
theplaceoftheOther,andthefailureofthepaternalmetaphor. 13
Thisistherootoftheothertypeofparanoiainducedbytherelationship
betweenmanandGod.Weshallcallthistypelinguisticparanoia,whichcan

12
13

Pynchon,TheCryingofLot49,124.
JacquesLacan,crits,215.

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be further subdivided. The first of these two subtypes is internal linguistic


paranoia. Lacan stated that meaning depends on the relationship between
two signifiers. As it has been stated earlier, such a definition draws the
ultimate,divinemeaning,theWord,outsidethesubjectandplacesitinthe
fieldoftheOther,God.There,itcanneverbereached. 14
Contrarytothesymbolicorder,meaningintherealorderisconstructed
ontheaxisbetweenthetwosignifiers,orineachofthem.Paranoiaisthen
the result of the feeling that there is no means of proving ones own truth
andcomparingittodivinemeaning.
The problem of this dilemma is that is has some tautological quality. If
oneisrightabouthisparanoia,hisfeelingsarejustified,andthereforeheis
not paranoid at all. And on the contrary; if one is wrong in his paranoia,
thereisnothingtobeafraidof.
ThisisexactlythefinalpositionofOedipaMaasattheendofTheCrying
ofLot49.Eithershehasdiscoveredarealsecretorganisationwithhistorical
roots,oritisonlyherownhallucinationandsheprojectsmeaningontosigns
onlyrandomlyassociated. 15 Thethirdpossibilityisthatsheisavictimofa
huge hoax played upon her by Pierce Inverarity, andthefourththatsheis
hallucinating such a hoax. Oedipas problem is that none of the four
possibilitiesreallytakesheranywhere,becausetheexistenceoftheTristero
cannotberationallyacknowledged.
Therefore, on the semiotic level, paranoia has nothing to do with the
truthofdivinemeaning,theWord.Itisalwaysconnectedwithatheorythat
isnotsupportedwithcasestudies,whichwouldprovethetheoryright.One
cansaythatalltheoriesbearinthemselvesanucleusofparanoia. 16
Opposed to this internal linguistic concept stands external or
interpersonal linguistic paranoia. The gap between the signifier (signifiant)
and the signified (signifi) must be bridged by man: he must search for the
closest bond between the two. However, this relation will always be
approximate, even if there is only an infinitesimal gap between the two
elements that create the sign. It works on both sides of the process of
communication: when receiving, or understanding, and also on the side of

Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III, The Psychoses 19551956 (Le
Seminaire, Livre III, Les Psychoses, 1981), ed. Jacques Alain Miller, trans. Russell
Grigg(NewYork:W.W.NortonandCo.,1993)303.
15Johnston,TowardstheSchizoText,52
16Bersani,TheCultureofRedemption,181.
14

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emitting, formulating. In other words, when one is putting his ideas into
wordsorwrittensigns.
Thefeelingofparanoiamayhideinourfrustrationthatisbornoutofour
inability to express what we think or feel, in our fear that we will be
misunderstoodbytheotherside.Theothersideisnotbetteroff,sinceitalso
experiences the danger of misunderstanding our words. It can be said that
linguistic paranoia is the fear of misinterpreting, but also of being
misinterpreted.
ThisisthekindofparanoiathatdisturbsOedipaonherjourneythrough
thenovel.Sheisstillconvincedthathervisionoftheworldcanbeunified
with universal meaning. When she asks Shall I project a world? 17 it is
moreasignofdespairthananattempttocreativelyprogressinhersearch
for the Tristero. She is constantly afraid that she might have overlooked
something important, that she did not understand what their men
(interpreterpriests in the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari) told her,
thatsheisonthewrongtrack.Sheisneversurewhostandsinthecentreof
herinterest:isittheTristero,orherfatherlikelateloverPierceInverarity?
Hermistakeisthatsheisstillbotheredwithallthesequestions:shouldshe
throwthemaway,hervisionoftheworld,wherethetranscendentandthe
concrete,thesymbolicandthereal,theconnotativeandthedenotative,the
hidden and the visible, the individual and the universal areone,wouldbe
morestableandappeased.
However, in such a case she would not be able to access a world of
significances that are denied by cultural orthodoxy. 18 Paranoia was once
takenonlyforamedicaldiagnosis,orasPlaterstatesinTheGrimPhoenix,it
was a form of psychosis based on a logical structure of relationships that
interpretsrealityintermsofevidenceofpersecution. 19 InPynchonsworks,
paranoia develops into something bigger, more complex. It even has a
potential for creativity, as Coale writes, it is a critically creative
perspective. 20 Ultimately, paranoia becomes a form of communication of
theindividualwiththeworldaroundhim,awayofsurvivalandthewayof

Pynchon,TheCryingofLot49,82.
Deborah Madsen, The Postmodernist Allegories of Thomas Pynchon (New York: St
MartinsPress,1991)67.
19William Plater, The Grim Phoenix: Reconstructing Thomas Pynchon (Bloomington and
London:IndianaUniversityPress,1978)188.
20Coale,ParadigmsofParanoia,5.
17
18

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reaching some higher sense. It is a form of relating the individual to


community,tosomeexternaltruth(orsystemofbelief). 21
According to the same author, paranoia of the Pynchons world is not
negative any more, let alone an illness. It becomes a landmark of a new
lifestyle,aformoflifeamidsomuchwaste,somuchdeath. 22 Originallya
diagnosis of human illness, paranoia develops into a highly rational and
sane principle, thanks to which Pynchons characters, like Tyrone Slothrop
ofGravitysRainbowisabletomoreorlessfunctionintheworld.

Semiotic Paranoia

Intheoryofsign,paranoiamaybedefinedasaspecific,subjectivereading
andinterpretationofsigns. 23 InAThousandPlateaus,DeleuzeandGuattari
call it a specific regime of signs. 24 According to them, signs themselves
lackmeaningbecausetheyrefertosomeothersigns.Thequestioniswhatis
thecentralsigntowhichallothersignsreferanddoesitexistatall?
In The Crying of Lot 49, this central position is gradually increasingly
occupiedbytheTristero.Whatchangeshereisthesignifierpartofthesign;
thesignifiedorderiscompleteallatonce. 25 Again,thetruemeaningofthe
sign cannot be mastered by people, who by approaching the signifier part
are never able to know what the real nature of the signified order is. How
can one be convinced that the meaning one is ascribing to the sign is the
rightone,thefinalone?
As Johnston remarks, the birth of the sign, or rather of its ascribed
meaning, is accomplished through repetition. 26 When a sign is incessantly
repeated,eachtimewithasmallvariation,itmayacquireacrucialmeaning
for the understanding of ones world. Sometimes, the repetition may even
leadtotheprotagonistsobsessionwiththesign.Aratherunimportantword
and a sign of a muted horn at the beginning, the Tristeros importance for
Oedipagrowsupbysimplerepetition,buteachtimewithasmalldifference,
Plater,TheGrimPhoenix,190.
TheGrimPhoenix,190.
23Johnston,TowardstheSchizoText,47.
24Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
(Mille plateaux, 1980), trans. Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum
2004)7074.
25ClaudeLviStraussquotedinJohnston,TowardstheSchizoText,77n2.
26TowardstheSchizoText,49.
21
22

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deviation or deformation, until it becomes the ultimate meaning of the


wholenovel.
The principle of deformation provides the author with great authority.
Bysimplefactthatsomenamesresembleothernames,denoteapersonora
place,theauthorcanplayajoyfulgamewithhisreaders,whotendtosearch
forhiddenmeaninginthenamesofplacesandcharacters.
Surely, in The Crying of Lot 49, the easiest riddle is the name of the
protagonist.Aswehavealreadystated,Oedipasnameremindsthereader
ofOedipus,andconsequentlyoftheOedipalcomplex.Alsoquitesimpleis
the case of San Narciso, which clearly refers to San Francisco. Also other
names in The Crying of Lot 49 are reminiscent of hidden concepts and
meaning: the first name of Oedipas lover, Pierce, is an allusion to the
founder of modern semiotics Charles S. Peirce, whereas Stanley Koteks
inherited his surname from Kotexhygienicpads,afactwhichprovideshis
character with a totally new set of denotations. 27 Similarly, in V., the
character of Benny Profane creates a binary opposition with the sacred
spectreoftheenigmaticV.
However,inquiteanumberofcasesamoremischievouscriticmight
evensaythatthishappensquiteregularlytheauthortakestheopportunity
to make fun of the readers by providing his characters with meaningless,
thoughtellingnames.ProbablythemostevidentproofofPynchonssenseof
humour is the name of Mucho Maas, which, a translation from Spanish
mucho mas, means only a lot more. Surely enough, there have been
attempts to read some more metaphysical meaning into Muchos name,
which only proves that sometimes critics go too far in their analyses and
semiotic theories and come up with some wild and too creative concepts.
For example, according to Coale, Slothrops surname confirms Tyrones
passivity throughoutthenovel:theetymologyofthenamecomesdownto
sloth,oneofthesevenbiblicalsins.
In Gravitys Rainbow, Pynchon denotes that paranoia is the reflex of
seeing other orders behind the visible. 28 Pynchons heroes are driven to
search for the meaning, but they do not know if they should search in the
immanent,visiblesphere,orinthetranscendental,invisiblesphere.Inboth
cases,paranoiaisbasedonthelossofimmediatemeaning,ortostateitmore
clearly,ontheobservationthatdivinemeaning,LacansNameoftheFather,

Cf.DianaYorkBlaine,DeathandTheCryingofLot49,ReadingfromtheMargins,ed.
NiranAbbas(London:AssociatedUniversityPresses,2003)61.
28Pynchon,GravitysRainbow,219.
27

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isunclearanduntouchable.WhendrivingbacktoSanNarciso,OedipaMaas
suddenly sees a transcendent meaning behind the hieroglyphic streets. 29
Once again, it is a simple binary opposition: either the visible covers up
meaning, and then Oedipa must search in the hidden, invisible sphere, or
meaning is expressed in the visible pattern, in which case the law of
linguisticparanoiathatonecanneverbesureofthemeaningofwhatone
seesiswillworkagain.Inbothalternatives,meaningwillstayforeclosed
fromtheprotagonist,andultimatelyalsofromthereaderandthecritic.
Agoodexampleofsuchreadingsofmeaninginsignsaretheacronyms
appearing in The Crying of Lot 49. When Mucho sees the word NADA
writtenacrossthesky,itmayhavetwodifferentmeanings. 30 Thefirstoneis
literal: Mucho may be haunted by his memories from the past when he
workedasausedcarssalesman.ThewordNADAisthenatrueacronym,
standingforNationalAutomobileDealersAssociation.
However, the transcendental meaning of the word nada is more
intimidating.TheSpanishwordnadasignifiesnothing.Itmaystandfor
Muchos numbness, nothingness of his life after he lost personal integrity
whenhestartedtakingDrHilariuspills.Outsidethenovel,italsorefersto
the former appearances of nada in American literature, with an obvious
exampleofHemingwaysshortstoryAClean,WellLightedPlace.
ThecasesoftheothertwoacronymsD.E.A.T.H.andW.A.S.T.E.are
alsoobvious.Buttheirtranscendentalmeaningdeathandwastearemore
disquieting, and their immanent meaning Dont Ever Antagonize The
Horn and We Await Silent Tristeros Empire points directly to the
novelscentraltopicandsecret,theTristero.
IndecipheringthetruemeaningoftheseacronymsPynchonscharacters
mustcopewiththebinarychoiceandtheycanneverknowifthechoicethey
makerepresentsdivinemeaningorifitisyetanotherofPierceInveraritys
jokes. This type of paranoia in Pynchons novels can therefore be called
semioticparanoia,ortheparanoiaofthechoice. 31
Pynchon,TheCryingofLot49,181.
Johnston,TowardsaSchizoText,58.
31Semioticsisalsointherootsofanothertypeofparanoia,aestheticparanoia.Thework
of art is defined by its aesthetic function, which is not a product of human thinking
andwhichistotallyindependentinitseffectonmansconsciousness.Itisunreachable
andinaccessibleforgeneralunderstanding.Itmustbedefinedoverandoveragain,by
everybody,oneachoccasionandtowardseachworkofart.Itisessentiallysubjective
and individual. The mediator between the work of art, its function and the mind of
themanisthemetaphor;itisthetruesourceofthequestformeaning.Again,onecan
29
30

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Richard Olehla

Thecrucialprinciplewhichmakesthemeaningofthesigncontinuously
ambiguousandforcesPynchonsprotagoniststoconstantlymakechoicesis
that of metaphor. 32 Metaphor is the cause of binary oppositions in The
Crying of Lot 49, and consequently the reason why the characters are
paranoid. It appears on both the practical, everyday level and on the
theoretical level. In the former case, when Oedipa sees San Narciso for the
firsttime,itremindsherimmediatelyofaprintedcircuit 33 orevenofsome
hieroglyphicorder. 34
Toillustratetheuseofmetaphoronthetheoreticallevel,weshallanalyse
OedipasmeetingwithJohnNefastis.Whenshevisitshim,Nefastisexplains
toherthesimilaritiesbetweenthetwoequationswhichexpressavolumeof
entropy in communication theory and in thermodynamic theory, and
reputedlyprovesitbyshowingherMaxwellsDemon.
The Demon, hidden in the eyes of James Clerk Maxwell, is believed by
Nefastistosortoutthemoleculesintheclosedsystemoftheaquarium.Itis
themetaphoroftheequationofentropy,functioningonthebasisofastream
ofinformationthatistransferredinbetweenMaxwellseyesandtheeyesof
themedium.Thewholeprocessisfuelledbythepowerofmetaphor,which
isatthesametimethesourceoftruthforNefastisandthesourceofparanoia
forOedipa.
ContrarytoNefastis,Oediparefusestobelieveinthephysicalpowerof
metaphor, 35 sinceitdoesnotfitintoherrationalideaoftheworld:[Does]
search for all the different aspects of the aesthetic function and the metaphor itself
thus becomes the true meaning, the Word. The feeling of paranoia does not surge
from the wrongright opposition, but from the fact that one can ascribe the aesthetic
function(andcanthereforesaythatsomethingisaworkofart)toanything,evento
theconceptsthatdonotcarryanyaestheticfunction.Theperfectexampleofthisvain
questformeaningmaybepopculture,wherecriticssometimestrytofindmeaningat
whatevercost;evenwhentheobjectisvoidofanymetaphysicaldimension.
32Inthisessay,metaphorisunderstoodasafigureofspeechinwhichanexpressionis
used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a
similarity. Metaphor, WordNet, Princeton University. http://wordnet.
princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=metaphor,4May2006.However,thesemioticmeanings
of the original and the metaphorical expression differ from each other. This
discrepancy between the two meanings produces semiotic uncertainty, which is the
pointofinterestinthefollowingpassage.
33Pynchon,TheCryingofLot49,24.
34TheCryingofLot49,25.
35Inphysics,humanthinkingisnotconsideredwork,sinceitdoesnotneedanyenergy.
However, this traditional idea may be opposed with the EEG (electro

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The Quest for the Holy Word

theDemonexistonlybecausethetwoequationslookalike?Becauseofthe
metaphor? 36 ThislackoffaithisalsothereasonwhyshefailsasNefastiss
mediumandisnotabletoestablishanycontactwiththeDemonduringthe
demonstration. Oedipas rationality obstructs her from finally touching the
transcendental.
And of course, the relationship between Oedipa Maas and Maxwells
Demon also works the other way round. As the only agent of the novel,
OedipaisthemetaphorofMaxwellsDemon.Sheistheonetodecidewhich
of the binaries is going to work out for her, literally to sort out the infinite
possibilitiesthatliebeforeher.Herveryfunctionastheagentofthenovelis
thereforebasedonmetaphor. 37
InGravitysRainbow,metaphorbecomesthecrucialtropeofthenovel.It
appears in the story from the very beginning: when Pirate Prentice sees a
rocket bomb destroying London, he thinks of it as incoming mail. 38 The
reader tends to think of such a denomination as metonymy, the trope of
incoming mail being a slang expression of secret agents and other
inhabitants of the bombed city for deadly V2. However, then the reader
discoversthattherocketthatPrenticesawexplodingcarriedanactualletter,
hiddeninacapsuleintherocket.Metonymychangesintometaphorbecause
the certainty of denomination (the meaning of the expression incoming
mailisequaltoV2)vanishesaway.
And most importantly, metaphor is the central agent of the novel,
embodied in the mysterious Them. Them are never personalised or
otherwise identified, a fact which which led Melley to the theory that
Themcanbeanembodimentofthetextofthenovelitself:

The central interpretive question seems to be whether meaningful


eventsaredirectedbyasupremelycompetentmailmanasymbolic
orderofThemorwhethertheyaremerelymademeaningfulbya
discourse (psychology) or a psychosis (paranoia) that finds
everythingimportant. 39

encephalography), on which the changes in the waves emitted by the brain can be
measured.
36Pynchon,TheCryingofLot49,85.
37Coale,ParadigmsofParanoia,149.
38Pynchon,GravitysRainbow,6.
39Melley,EmpireofConspiracy,86.

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In Melleys understanding, the discourse becomes the only bearer of


meaning,itappearstobeThem. 40 Agencypanic,asMelleynamesit,is
apossiblesourceofparanoia,sincethenovelhasnoclearpersonificationof
thecentralagentanymore.Thetextitselfbecomesthemaincharacter.
Inthisunderstanding,thetextworksasaclosedsystem,wherethelevel
of entropy is constantly growing, until it reaches the final equilibrium.
Entropybasedonthesecondlawofthermodynamics,inherentinPynchons
fiction, can therefore be understood in the same way as Apocalypse. The
difference between the two concepts is polarity: whereas during the last
battle between Christ and the Devil, everything will burn, in entropy,
everything will freeze. Fire versus ice, Apocalypse and entropy form yet
anothersetofbinaryoppositions. 41

Metaphor as a Way to God

Wehavealreadydiscussedtheroleoflinguisticsinrelationtoreligionasa
codeofcommunicationwithGod.Metaphorwithitspoeticpowerisanother
factor that is involved in this relationship. It appears here as a creative
principle of the behaviour of various characters in relation to God and to
divinemeaning.
In The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipas roaming through the night (which is
itself a metaphor of the initiation journey) leads the protagonist to meet a
presumablydyingsailoronthestaircaseleadingtohisdimapartment.Ina
deeplymovingsceneinwhichOedipaholdsthedyingsailorinherarmsa
metaphor of a pieta Oedipa realizes that the sailors illness itself is a
metaphor:

She knew, because she had held him, that he suffered DTs. Behind
the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling
unfurrowing of the minds plowshare. The saint whose water can
lightlamps,theclairvoyantwhoselapseinrecallisthebreathofGod,

Empire of Conspiracy, 86. Melley also quotes the notorious statement from Jacques
DerridasOfGrammatology:Thereisnothingoutsidethetext.
41AnenjoyabledescriptionofthistheoryisprovidedinKenKeseysnovelSailorSong,
wherebothconceptsaredisputedbyamadpreacherEmilGreenerandanexhippie
Bellisario. Their dispute is based on the account of a famous poem by Robert Frost
FireandIce:Somesaytheworldwillendinfire/Somesayinice.
40

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The Quest for the Holy Word

the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or


threatening about the central pulse of himself, the dreamer whose
punsprobeancientfetidshaftsandtunnelsoftruthallactinthesame
special relevance to the word, or whatever it is the word is there,
buffering,toprotectusfrom.Theactofmetaphorthenwasathrust
attruthandalie,dependingwhereyouwere:inside,safe,oroutside,
lost.Oedipadidnotknowwhereshewas. 42

Oedipa sees that the sailors illness makes it impossible for him (and
consequentlyforanybodyelse)tomakeatruecontactwithGodanddivine
meaning.SheseesthemetaphoroftheDTsasanultimateobstaclestanding
inthewayofmeaning(athrustatthetruthandalie)andthinksthatitis
importanttobeapartoftheconspiracy.Shesupposesthatthemetaphoris
ofdivineoriginwhichisafatalmistake.Metaphorisahumanconstruct,a
poetic trope, a figure of speech. It denies the human any access to the
meaningoftheWord,theWordofthefirstsentenceoftheBookofGenesis:
InthebeginningtherewastheWord,andtheWordwaswithGod,andthe
Word was God. The true meaningoftheWord,theLogos,becomes,with
the interference of man, only a metaphor of the original meaning, which
stays foreclosed from the man. The ultimate truth is lost and cannot be
found. What is even worse, there is nobody who will even provide a
substituteforit,whowill,godlikeguaranteethetruth.
Such is the world of Oedipa Maas, the world without a supreme
authority which can decide for her which way she should choose. Neither
ratio,whichliesatthebasisofOedipasupbringingandeducation,northe
experience, which she gains on her quest for the Tristero, helps solve her
problem. It is rather the other way round: the more information about the
TristeroOedipacomesacross,themorepossibleroadsforhertotake.
AndthereadersfollowOedipasfateandfindthemselvesintheexactly
same situation. While at the beginning, they learn that Oedipa is named
executor of Inveraritys estate, at the end of the novel, they know nothing
more. Just as Oedipa has to decide if she believes in the existence of the
Tristero or not, or if she believes in the existence of Inveraritys giant plot,
thereadermustdecideifthereisacoherentstructuretoPynchonsfiction
or[he]imaginesit;orPynchonhasdeliberatelylaunchedaplotaimedatthe

42

Pynchon,TheCryingofLot49,128.

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Richard Olehla

readertomakehimorhersenseastructure;orthereaderfantasizessucha
plot. 43
Inthissense,wecantalkaboutaparanoiathatexistsoutsidethebook,
theparanoiaofthereader.Itisthereaderhimselfwhohastochoosewhat
thetruemeaningofwhatheisreading(thatis,ofthesignifiers)actuallyis.
And,asthishasbeenprovedimpossibleforPynchonscharacters,itisalso
impossible for Pynchons audience. The paranoia of the reader is further
complicated by irony in Pynchons works. The reader can never be sure if
theauthormeantwhathewroteorifheisbeingironic.WhenCoalewrites
thatallegorytyranizestext, 44 wecanalsostatethatallegorytyrannizesthe
reader.Again,sheerrationalitydoesnothelpthereaderinthismatter.Ina
similarsense,Platerevendefinestheparanoiaofthecritic. 45

Paranoid or Schizophrenic?

Inculturalterminology,theWordisoftensubstitutedbyanotionofofficial
history, 46 which is always a story told from the point of view of the
dominant order, which can contain political differences but notontological
ones. 47 Thedominantorderdecidesaboutthepowerandtheessenceofthe
Word. In todays world, divine meaning may then be transformed and
presented as a cultural concept, and be controlled by the most successful
ideology.Thewinnersofmeaningdecideaboutwhatisnormalandwhat
isabnormal,whoissaneandwhoisnot,whoisrightandwhoiswrong.Of
course, the former of the two always being the winners, the latter their
adversaries,enemies.
However, to decide what truth is requires knowledge. When Jean
Franois Lyotard asks, knowledge and power are simply two sides of the

Plater,TheGrimPhoenix,188.
Coale,ParadigmsofParanoia,140.
45Platerunderstandsthistypeofparanoiaasfollows:[T]hecriticvoluntarilybecomes
thecenterofanelaborateplothatchedbysomeremoteauthor.TheGrimPhoenix,187.
Melley defines the paranoia of the critic somewhat differently, based rather on the
scholars thoughts than on the analysis of the text itself. In his Preface to Empire of
Conspiracy,hewritesthathefeelsparanoidwhenhereadsaboutanideapresentedby
acolleagueofhis,whichherenderedhisown,anoriginalideathatshouldexistonly
inhishead.
46Johnston,TowardsaSchizoText,71.
47TowardsaSchizoText,71.
43
44

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The Quest for the Holy Word

samequestion:whodecideswhatknowledgeis,andwhoknowswhatneeds
to be decided? 48 he links knowledge and power together in a way that is
inevitablyparanoid.Onecandecide,butonecanneverknow.Thisquestion
of authority and control is a deeply postmodern problem: what is normal
todaymaynotbenormaltomorrow,becausethecontrolwillbetakenover
bysomebodywithadifferentdiscourse.
The difference between paranoia and schizophrenia may also mark the
boundariesbetweenmodernandpostmodernconceptsinPynchonsworks.
When one is paranoid, he still believes there is still some universal truth,
divine meaning, the Word, however hidden or foreclosed it may be. In a
world where everybody is potentially schizophrenic (or at least labelled as
schizophrenicbytheleadingdiscourse),thereisnobeliefintheconceptof
universaltruth. 49
The binary opposition of existence/nonexistence of truth mark the
positionsoftheprotagonistsofPynchonsnovels.Oedipastillbelievesthat
shewillbeabletofindoutabouttherealnatureofthesecretoftheTristero.
InGravitysRainbow,Slothroptakesadvantageofhiscreativeparanoia 50
andwedgeshiswaythroughthenovelasfarashecan.Thecreativesideof
paranoia works, again, on the reader: whereas in The Crying of Lot 49 the
reader asks if Oedipa can really become a part of the Tristero when she is
sittingintheauctionhallandawaitingthecryingofthelotwithpresumably
forged stamps, the level of textual entropy in Gravitys Rainbow is so high
thatthereaderhastoliterallycreatehisownstory. 51 Inthissense,TheCrying
ofLot49ispredominantlyaworkofmodernism,whereasGravitysRainbow
thatofpostmodernism.
ButthingsarenotsoblackandwhitewithOedipaMaas.Althoughshe
alwaystriestoworkherwaythroughthenovelbyputtingtwoconceptsinto

JeanFranoisLyotard,ThePostmodernCondition:AReportonKnowledge(LaCondition
postmoderne: raport sur le savoir, 1979), trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Brian
Massumi(MinneapolisandLondon:UniversityofMinnesotaPress,1984)89.
49Forfurtherillustrationoftheconcept,see,e.g.,EugeneHolland,DeleuzeandGuattaris
AntiOedipus:IntroductionintoSchizoanalysis(LondonandNewYork:Routledge,1999)
3: If we understand schizophrenia (in this first approximation) to designate
unlimitedsemiosis,aradicallyfluidandextemporaneousformofmeaning,paranoia
by contrast would designate an absolute system of belief where all meaning was
permanently fixed and exhaustively defined by a supreme authority, figurehead, or
god.
50Pynchon,GravitysRainbow,258.
51Plater,TheGrimPhoenix,197.
48

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Richard Olehla

mutualopposition,herlogicalbeliefthattruthshouldbealwaysbeonone
sideonlyletsherdowneventually:EitherOedipaintheorbitingecstasyof
atrueparanoia,orarealTristero. 52 Insteadofanalyzingthefinalsituation,
Oedipa (or the author?) chooses to synthesize the two opposites into one
conclusion. So, at the very end of the novel Oedipa is able to achieve the
onlypieceofknowledge:thattruthiseverywhereornowhere,thusmoving
fromthemodernviewatthebeginningofherquesttothepostmodernone
atitsend.

52

Pynchon,TheCryingofLot49,181(emphasisadded).

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