Surrealpolitik: The Crying of Lot 49

Author: Thomas Pynchon

London: Vintage Books (2000, first published in 1965)

Quick Summary

A refreshingly short yet fully delirious arrangement of words describing intuition, paranoia, and absurdity. This is the story of Oedipa Maas's investigation into Trystero, which she gets pulled into as a result of being named executor of an old flame's will. Trystero is an ambiguous term referring either to a man or a movement or possibly just a zeitgeist, involving an underground postal system and some obscure symbology. The title refers to the auctioning off ("crying") of a collection of forged stamps, valuable because they were forged by Trystero to resemble real stamps but to include Trystero symbols or other images serving to undermine the official postal service. It becomes impossible to tell whether it's real, or Oedipa's imagination, or possibly a very elaborate practical joke played by Pierce Inverarity, the old flame. There's no way to tell what's what; it's like a Rorschach test.


There are 19 quotes currently associated with this book.

What did she so desire to 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: and 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 forces, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else? (page 11)
Tags: [Myth, Literary/Poetic]
Oedipa found herself after five minutes sucked utterly into the landscape evil Richard Wharfinger had fashioned for his seventeenth-century audiences, so preapocalyptic, death-wishful, sensually fatigued, unprepared, a little poignantly, for that abyss of civil war that had been waiting, cold and deep, only a few years ahead of them. (page 46)
Tags: [Apathy/Resistance, Literary/Poetic]
It is about this point in the play, in fact, that things really get peculiar, and a gentle chill, an ambiguity, begins to creep in among the words. Heretofore the naming of names has gone on either literally or as metaphor. But now, as the Duke gives his fatal command, a new mode of expression takes over. It can only be called a kind of ritual reluctance. Certain things, it is made clear, will not be spoken aloud; certain events will not be shown onstage; though it is difficult to imagine, given the excesses of the preceding acts, what these things could possibly be. (page 51)
Tags: [Culture, Media, Literary/Poetic]
The fifth act, entirely an anticlimax, is taken up by the bloodbath Gennaro visits on the court of Squamuglia. Every mode of violent death available to Renaissance man, including a lye pit, land mines, a trained falcon with envenom'd talons, is employed. It plays, as Metzger remarked later, like a Road Runner cartoon in blank verse. At the end of it about the only character left alive in a stage dense with corpses is the colourless administrator, Gennaro. (page 55)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Everyday Life, Culture, Literary/Poetic, Bureaucracy]
'Sure this Koteks is part of some underground,' he told her a few days later, 'an underground of the unbalanced, possibly, but then how can you blame them for being maybe a little bitter?' (page 66)
Tags: [Lead Quote Candidate, Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic]
She could, at this stage of things, recognize signals like that, as the epileptic is said to -- an odour, colour, pure piercing grace note sounding his seizure. Afterwards it is only this signal, really dross, this secular announcement, and never what is revealed during the attack, that he remembers. Oedipal wondered whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed to end), she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements, intimations, but never the central truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold; which must always blaze out, destroying its own message irreversibly, leaving an overexposed blank when the ordinary world came back. (page 71)
Tags: [Rationality, Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic, Dreams]
She glanced down the corridor of Cohen's rooms in the rain and saw, for the very first time, how far it might be possible to get lost in this. (page 72)
Tags: [Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic]
She fell asleep almost at once, but kept waking from a nightmare about something in the mirror, across from her bed. Nothing specific, only a possibility, nothing she could see. (page 76)
Tags: [Rationality, Literary/Poetic, Dreams]
She moved through it carrying her fat book, attracted, unsure, a stranger, wanting to feel relevant but knowing how much of a search among alternate universes it would take. For she had undergone her own educating at a time of nerves, blandness and retreat among not only her fellow students but also most of the visible structure around and ahead of them, this having been a national reflex to certain pathologies in high places only death had had the power to cure, and this Berkeley was like no somnolent Siwash out of her own past at all, but more akin to those Far Eastern or Latin American universities you read about, those autonomous culture media where the most beloved of folklores may be brought into doubt, cataclysmic of dissents voiced, suicidal of commitments chosen -- the sort that bring governments down. (page 77-78)
Tags: [Activism, Culture, Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic, Dreams]
Either Trystero did exist, in its own right, or it was being presumed, perhaps fantasied by Oedipa, so hung up on and interpenetrated with the dead man's estate. Here in San Francisco, away from all tangible assets of that estate, there might still be a chance of getting the whole thing to go away and disintegrate quietly. She had only to drift tonight, at random, and watch nothing happen, to be convinced it was purely nervous, a little something for her shrink to fix. (page 82)
Tags: [Rationality, Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic]
The executive heard lewd laughter, zippers, the thump of shoes, heavy breathing, moans. He took his tie out of the gasoline and started to snigger. He closed the top on his Zippo. 'I hear laughing,' his wife said presently. 'I smell gasoline,' said the efficiency expert. Hand in hand, naked, the two proceeded to the kitchen. 'I was about to do the Buddhist monk thing,' explained the executive. 'Nearly three weeks it takes him,' marvelled the efficiency expert, ' to decide. You know how long it would've taken the IBM 7094? Twelve microseconds. No wonder you were replaced.' (page 87)
Tags: [Literary/Poetic, Bureaucracy]
So she...entered the city again, the infected city. And spent the rest of the night finding the image of the Trystero post horn...What fragments of dreams came had to do with the post horn. Later possibly, she would have trouble sorting the night into real and dreamed...In Golden Gate Park she came on a circle of children in their nightclothes, who told her they were dreaming the gathering. But that the dream was really no different from being awake, because in the mornings when they got up they felt tired, as if they'd been up most of the night. When their mothers thought they were out playing they were really curled in cupboards of neighbours' houses, in platforms up in trees, in secretly-hollowed nests inside hedges, sleeping, making up for these hours. The night was empty of all terror for them, they had inside their circles an imaginary fire, and needed nothing but their own unpenetrated sense of community. They knew about the post horn, but nothing of the chalked game Oedipa had seen on the sidewalk. You used only one image and it was a jump-rope game, a little girl explained: you stepped alternately in the loop, the bell, and the mute, while your girlfriend sang:

Tristoe, Tristoe, one, two, three,
Turning taxi from across the sea...

'Thurn and Taxis, you mean?'

They'd never heard it that way. Went on warming their hands at an invisible fire. Oedipa, to retaliate, stopped believing in them. (page 88-90)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Literary/Poetic, Dreams]
'You know what a miracle is. Not what Bakunin said. But another world's intrusion into this one. Most of the time we coexist peacefully, but when we do touch there's cataclysm.' (page 91)
Tags: [Carnival, Everyday Life, Truth & Real, Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic, Dreams, Madness]
She heard him pacing around his office. Unearthly siren-sounds converged on them from all over the night. 'There is a face,' Hilarius said, 'that I can make. One you haven't seen; no one in this country has. I have only made it once in my life, and perhaps today in central Europe there still lives, in whatever vegetable ruin, the young man who saw it. He would be, now, about your age. Hopelessly insane. His name was Zvi. Will you tell the "police", or whatever they are calling themselves tonight, that I can make that face again? That it has an effective radius of a hundred yards and drives anyone unlucky enough to see it down forever into the darkened oubliette among the terrible shapes, and secures the hatch irrevocably above them? Thank you.' (page 103)
Tags: [Humor, Literary/Poetic, Madness]
'There is me, there are the others. You know, with the LSD, we're finding, the distinction begins to vanish. Egos lose their sharp edges. But I never took the drug, I chose to remain in relative paranoia, where at least I know who I am and who the others are. Perhaps that is why you also refused to participate, Mrs Maas?' He held the rifle at sling arms and beamed at her. 'Well, then. You were supposed to deliver a message to me, I assume. From them. What were you supposed to say?'

Oedipa shrugged. 'Face up to your social responsibilities,' she suggested. 'Accept the reality principle. You're outnumbered and they have superior firepower.' (page 104)
Tags: [Hallucinogens, Truth & Real, The Other, Literary/Poetic, Madness]
'In the dream I’d be going about a normal day's business and suddenly, with no warning, there'd be the sign. We were a member of the National Automobile Dealer's Association. NADA. Just this creaking metal sign that said nada, nada, against the blue sky. I used to wake up hollering.' (page 110-111)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Humor, Everyday Life, Literary/Poetic, Dreams]
And with the end of the Holy Roman Empire, the fountainhead of Thurn and Taxis legitimacy is lost forever among the other splendid delusions. Possibilities for paranoia become abundant. If Tristero has managed to maintain even partial secrecy, if Thurn and Taxis have no clear idea who their adversary is, or how far its influence extends, then many of them must come to believe in something very like the Scurvhamite's blind, automatic anti-God. Whatever it is, it has the power to murder their riders, send landslides thundering across their roads, by extension bring into being new local competition and presently even state postal monopolies, disintegrate their Empire. It is their time's ghost, out to put the Thurn and Taxis ass in a sling. (page 127)
Tags: [Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic]
'Has it ever occurred to you, Oedipa, that somebody's putting you on? That this is all a hoax, maybe something Inverarity set up before he died?'

It had occurred to her. But like the thought that someday she would have to die, Oedipa had been steadfastly refusing to look at that possibility directly, or in any but the most accidental of lights. 'No,' she said,' that's ridiculous.'

Fallopian watched her, nothing if not compassionate. 'You ought,' quietly, 'really, you ought to think about it. Write down what you can't deny. Your hard intelligence. But then write down what you've only speculated, assumed. See what you've got. At least that.' (page 129)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Rationality, Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic]
San Narciso was a name; an incident among our climatic records of dreams and what dreams became among our accumulated daylight, a moment's squall-line or tornado's touchdown among the higher, more continental solemnities -- storm-systems of group suffering and need, prevailing winds of affluence. There was the true continuity, San Narciso had no boundaries. No one knew yet how to draw them. She had dedicated herself, weeks ago, to making sense of what Inverarity had left behind, never suspecting that the legacy was America. (page 137)
Tags: [Conspiracy, American Exceptionalism, Literary/Poetic, Dreams]