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Inside, Outside, Upside Down - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
Inside, Outside, Upside Down
In my contemporary literature class yesterday, the one with the newfangled classroom, I discussed two different interpretations of Oedipa's adventure in The Crying of Lot 49. On the one hand, you could argue that she never makes it out that tower -- or at least the metaphor of a tower -- because her experiences don't bring her to any final resolution, that her travels around California in pursuit of information about the Tristero conspiracy are ultimately like the trip she takes to Mexico. "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. "

On the other hand, you could claim, as I did in class, that, while she never arrives at any final resolution, her resolve to take up the search confers a freedom on her that she would otherwise never have tasted. In the end, of course, these two interpretations get slotted into the undecidable binary opposition on which the search for certainty invariably founders:
She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit, to be avoided; and how had it ever happened here, with the chances once so good for diversity? For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth... Ones and zeroes. So did the couples arrange themselves... Another mode of meaning behind the obvious, or none. Either Oedipa in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real Tristero. For there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue, and manage to be at all relevant to it, was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia.
But perhaps the problem lies precisely in a willingness to discount means in pursuit of ends, to exclude middles by holding on to the shimmering mirage of a goal with nothing beyond it, to believe, finally, that it is possible to deploy the phrase "in the end" without telling a lie.

At the end of class I mentioned Pynchon's 1990 novel Vineland, noting that it was in some sense a sequel to The Crying of Lot 49. I didn't have time to explain how the former functions as a critique of the desire for absolutes, a puritanical investment in purity. But I did cite the passage where, at that mafia wedding down on the Peninsula -- somewhere in the vicinity of Saratoga and Atherton -- a reference is made to Deleuze and Guattari's Italian Wedding Fake Book. This was a pretext for reading the famous quotation in Deleuze and Guattari's The Anti-Oedipus where the impulse to seek beginnings and ends is dismissed as an outmoded approach to everyday life:
We live today in the age of partial objects, bricks that have been shattered to bits, and leftovers. We no longer believe in the myth of the existence of fragments that, like pieces of antique statue, are merely waiting for the last one to be turned up, so that they may all be glued back together to create a unity that is precisely the same as the original unity. We no longer believe in a primordial totality that once existed, or in a final totality that awaits us at some future date.
This passage does a great job of explaining why the choice between those two interpretations of Oedipa's adventures derives from all-or-nothing thinking that is its own kind of prison. Not to mention that the image of fragments that can't be glued back together resonates nicely with Walter Benjamin's The Origin of German Tragic Drama and highlights of German Romanticism too.

This morning, as I was sitting down to type out Skylar's spelling words for the week, I glanced over at the cookbook holder I'd left on the table with The Anti-Oedipus inside it and found an early passage that matches up ever so nicely with The Crying of Lot 49, suggesting that Pynchon was engaged in the same second-guessing of psychoanalysis that preoccupies Deleuze and Guattari: "A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst's couch." While Oedipa does manage to break free of Dr. Hilarius's couch, she is never able to appreciate her adventures as a means without end. Unless Pynchon one day makes an explicit statement on the matter, it will be impossible to know for certain whether his reference to Deleuze and Guattari in Vineland is meant to function as an endorsement of their philosophical project. Yet, given the fact that the title of their first collaborative venture overlaps with the name of Pynchon's protagonist, it makes sense to presume that the name-checking is both informed and sympathetic. And then there's the intriguing possibility that The Anti-Oedipus might have been composed with the character of Oedipa in mind.

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Comments
morimur From: morimur Date: February 1st, 2006 04:12 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This is a sixth reference in one week to The Crying of Lot 49 from completely unrelated people. It makes me wonder how is it that I've never heard of this book before and why I have not read it yet.

Reading your post made me want to run to the book store at lunch and start reading The Crying of Lot 49 this very evening.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 1st, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Once you start reading it, the fact there have been all these seemingly unrelated references to it popping up everywhere will seem deeply amusing to you! I can't guarantee that you'll like it -- it tends to inspire slavish devotion or peeved indifference -- but I know that, if you do end up getting into it, it will stick with you like few other texts.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: February 1st, 2006 05:25 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You're absolutely right about that. The book so defines my first semester of college--first year, actually, as I kept hearing the word entropy everywhere (science class, anthro, art history, study groups in the dorm lounge)--that I both want desperately to teach it and am desperately afraid of that.

On excluded middles, I really like the part where (ok, maybe there are lots of parts where but I can't remember and I am exerting powerful powers of restraint to keep from heading down the hall and yanking the book off the shelf and reading the whole damn thing in one sitting) the ors just explode. At least four points or more. And what happens when supposed binary logic doesn't hold, or when the code just signifies so multiply it barely signifies at all?

Ors make me think of Beckett. Kierkegaard. And German things.

Kate Hayles has a new book out now, you know, on ones and zeroes. I don't and won't have time to take a spin but I heard rumblings it was to break much wide open? _My Mother Was A Computer_, I believe.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: February 1st, 2006 06:10 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
no shit man. what the fuck? how did it slip past my radar?

it'll have to wait till i can actually find it here.

i did manage to get my paws on a copy of tropic of cancer. still haven't read any miller.

i expect to fall in love with it.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: February 1st, 2006 06:47 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
still haven't read any miller.

i expect to fall in love with it.


I love love love love Miller. I think you'll fall in love with it or hate it with a passion; it doesn't seem to invoke a middle ground.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: February 1st, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I like to read these posts. They make me feel like I'm taking a correspondence course, which is a nice radical mindshift from a day of Yu Gi Oh and Mousetrap.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 1st, 2006 05:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks! I'm suffering from some sort of boundary dissolution that makes me all of a sudden willing to share aspects of my daily life that I have kept separate from my LJ existence. Maybe it's the fact that I know I'm being read by students taking the class.

There's also the chance that I might trick my partner into reading passages from the novel and discovering that she likes them. I've already insinuated my taste for Pavement into her iPod Shuffle playlists so effectively that she's freely admitting to liking some of their songs instead of maintaining that pose of studied indifference she cultivated for so long. . . :-)

Maybe I'll keep this up for other books.
From: bobo_amargo Date: February 2nd, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Senses of Endings

Though I think your suggestion that Pynchon might have been suspicious of the classic expression of the Oedipus complex is probably on the right track, I resist the notion that he'd've endorsed -- or endorses -- the idea of salutary schizophrenia.

First of all, notice how D & G say, "we no longer believe . . . ," implying that the epoch of endings has come to an end. If you don't believe that the concept of endings has further sway, then you can't live in an era of no endings because that era is, as they intimate, inherently connected to the by-gone era of endings. Even if you embrace the paradox (as they doubtless would), you have to embrace with it the recurring appetite for endings.

Second, I think we tend, in discussing closure, to commit what Peter Geach used to call the quantifier-shift fallacy. We tend, that is, to move FROM the argument that for every narrative, there's an ending such that that narrative will come to it ([x][Ey] [Fxy]) TO the argument that there's an ending such that every narrative will come to it ([Ey][x][Fxy]). If we don't commit this fallacy, then all we're committing ourselves to when we yield to our appetite for an ending is, I would say, a satisfaction of a limited, partial (you might even say, fragmentary) sort -- a satisfaction that is analytically built in to the concept of story-telling in the first place.

Narrative=Piecing Things Together
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