Talk:Chapter 1

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Oedipa's name, further discussion

Some suggest the Oedipus reference is to an incident earlier in the king's career, having to do, in fact, with the way he became king of Thebes. Oedipus famously solved the riddle of the Sphinx and heroically freed Thebes of her curse (cf. the deeds of young Theseus, the labors of Herakles, etc.). Sophocles' play has an older Oedipus finally figuring out the riddle of his own birth, over-confident in his own ability to figure things out. Oedipus is the riddle-solver, by definition. And doesn't it make sense to think of Oedipa as a riddle-solver? Q.E.D. Now the riddle is sometimes said to be "what walks on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet at night?" The answer is man (baby=4; man=2; old man with cane = 3), which is where this gets interesting: one of the legendary precepts engraved on the temple of Apollo at Delphi is "gnothi seauton", "know yourself". This almost certainly is taken to mean not (as we might tend to think) that we should discover ourselves as individuals, but rather that we should know our own nature, i.e. the nature of mankind, i.e. "know that you are mortal". Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx with the answer "man", but he doesn't know himself as a man, fallible and doomed--count no man blessed until he's dead, Greeks were fond of saying--not until the peak of his powers, walking on two legs, so to speak. His story doesn't end there: he wanders the earth blind after putting out his eyes (death would be too good for himself), and eventually as an old man settles on Athens as a place to die, knowing that his spirit will be a powerful force in the land of his death (see Soph., Oedipus at Colonus). This is the essence of a hero for the Greeks, a mortal who remains powerful in death, as is reflected in their practice of hero-cult offerings at grave sites (compare, say, Xtian saints' relics, bones thought to have power). As an old man, Oedipus is like a holy prophet (compare the blind sage Tieresias, or the legendary blind poet Homer), a man who sees without eyes (compare what Paul Atreides becomes in the second Dune novel). So, does Oedipa ascend to some deeper understanding by the end of the novel? Wait and see.
Oedipa's name is probably pronounced in the American fashion, ED-i-pa, not British fashion, EED-i-pa, because Mucho uses the short form "Oed," which almost has to be ED.
A further comic level in the name Oedipa: It looks like a feminization of Oedipus, which is a Latin name derived from the Greek Oidipous. While -pus has the look of a word-ending that might alternate between masculine and feminine forms, like proper names Julius/Julia or adjectives sanctus/sanctum/sancta, in fact it stands in for Greek -pous, meaning "foot," a form that doesn't alternate. (All feet are the same gender no matter who's wearing them.) Whoever coined the name Oedipa pretended to know a little more than they really did.

Additionally, there is the Freudian concept of the Oedipal Complex. Basically, a son loves his mother (in an unconscious sexual way) and is jealous of his father and wants to kill him and have his mom all to himself. The daughter version of this is called the Electra Complex. In the Electra Complex the daughter is upset that she has no penis and is jealous of her father's penis and becomes angry at him ("penis envy").

Psychological concepts run rampant throughout The Crying of Lot 49, usually parodied as if they were being reflected back in a funhouse mirror. When the novel was issued in 1966, many parodies concerning psychotherapy were in progress, noteably 1967's inspired The Presidents's Analyst. At the center of this parody, the patient saves the doctor from himself.

Viewing Oedipus Rex as an early Whodunit", as our author does in CoL49, one remembers that the plot resolution of 'Oedipus Rex' reveals our proto-typical gumshoe realizing he was the perp' all along, Oedipus is the detective that swears vengance on Oedipus the criminal. Oedipus is blinded by his revelation. Revelation, Illumination, the "Knowing" that came to so many who took on hip new therapys in the '60's, sometimes the blindness that came from seeing too much, all elements in the story. . . .


Hollander's reference to Bartók is rather superficial. Most Hungarian listeners can identify the "serenade theme" in Movement Four as the chorus of a popular irredentist song, nostalgic enough as it was written after Hungary's dismemberment in the Treaty of Trianon (1920), when Transylvania was attached to Romania (see the reference to the "Transylvanian Consulate" on the next page). So even if not "dry", it definitely sounds "disconsolate", an expression of desperate homesickness. Musicologists cannot quite pin down why Bartók chose to paraphrase such a trivial song; the most recent theory is that by giving it a Romanian rhythmic twist, he expressed his nostalgia for the multicultural Greater Hungary thad had been lost forever. (Sorry but I can only give a Hungarian link; the musical sheet is at the bottom.) I think the main theme here is intrusion rather than exile as the serenade tune is disrupted by the Shostakovichian "drunken gang".

The emotional impact (affect) of the tune in question---presumably the first subject of the fourth movement, first three pitches E, F-sharp, A-sharp---is more to the point than what it might have meant to most Hungarians or to Bartók. Played by several different woodwinds in succession, the adjective disconsolate is, as Pynchon unusually for a writer usually is on musical matters, exactly right.--Dezama125 (talk) 10:06, 1 January 2013 (PST)

Painting by Remedios Varo, extended discussion

Bill Brown notes that "Pynchon saw Bordando el Manto Terrestre when, as part of the first full retrospective of the painter's work, it was displayed at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1964, a year after her death at the age of 55. Painted in 1961, el Manto (oil on masonite, roughly 40 by 48 inches) is the central panel in an autobiographical triptych. It is possible that Pynchon, writing Lot 49 in 1965, recalled the painting from memory or incomplete notes, and not with a reproduction of it set in front of him. He gets a lot wrong." --Dezama125 (talk) 12:45, 1 January 2013 (PST)Brown is quoting Janet A. Kaplan, author of Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys about when Pynchon probably saw the painting. I mention that because Brown's article gets most of what he claims Pynchon got wrong wrong. (I have added italics to "a lot" here per Brown's original, so that the reader may get some sense of his wit.) I will adopt the numbering of his points in my response to them.

1. First, Brown makes the mistake of forgetting point of view, which is Oedipa's throughout. However you read what's going on in the painting, whether Oedipa gets it right is far less important than what it means to her. The Rapunzel/captive maiden trope, it is clear, preceded seeing the painting for Oedipa. She makes a connection between that idea about herself and the painting---she can't be wrong to do so. So Brown's statement that "nothing [in the painting] suggest that the girls . . . are prisoners" is hardly to the point. Having proved that "Pynchon" got it wrong, he then proceeds to adopt the idea (from Varo, by way of Kaplan) that one of the girls---though supposedly not a prisoner---"escapes." . . . Next, while Brown is right that the tower in the painting is not circular (this may be one of the few things he gets entirely right), it is not definitely octagonal. The floor pattern suggests that there are eight sides, but the fact that there are six women embroidering, and that the small tower in the foreground, which seems to be a miniature twin of the main tower, looks hexagonal, at least raise the possibility that it is six-sided. (Note also that the roofs of all the buildings in the painting follow perspectival convention and show half their sides, four-sided roofs showing two, six-sided three, and so on.) Finally, of the two embroiderers' faces visible, Brown says that they are "clearly smiling." I leave it to the reader to decide if that is right---to me one of them has a very slight smile, and one looks merely neutral, as if concentrating on her work.

2. I don't see what's wrong with the term "slit windows." It's not patent that someone in the room couldn't see out of them if the fabric of the mantle of the earth wasn't also being fed out of them. You couldn't see much, true, because they are slits, but does that mean they aren't windows? If Kaplan is referring to the slits, as Brown suggests, when she mentions "battlements," I think that is a misleading term, but I'm not sure whether the error is hers or Brown's. (Battlements are those notches in top of a medieval castle towers, whose function was to allow people to look out (!) from behind a protecting wall as well as to be able to shoot arrows at an enemy surrounding the castle.) Brown does notice the echo of the shape of the alcove in the background with that of the imaginary window that allows us to see inside the tower. Though his point that the window is "dream-like" rather than simply a visual convention may seem strained applied to the painting, the sense of receding, echoing frames is alluded to later in the book, when Oedipa meets Genghis Cohen (p. a94), and in the book it does acquire a dreamlike quality. I'm afraid, however, that much of his discussion of the windows seems as though Brown is trying to score points against Pynchon.

3. Brown doesn't see the fabric spilling out of the slits as " 'filling' any void, nor does it manage to 'contain' the whole world." Again, his reading of the image is tendentious. The black clouds that form the background of the painting surely could represent "the void"; and the fact that the embroidered fabric falls away from the tower into a spherical shape suggest that the world is being pictured. Anyway, the title refers to the "earth's mantle" (el manto terrestre)---what is the mistake in assuming that the earth is the world? (Brown's citing the other meaning of bordando---circumnavigating as well as embroidering---while worth pondering, seems to be a non sequitur.) His reading of the bodies of water as filling gaps in the embroidery done by the young women is not the only way to view the image: If they are embroidering all of the features that elaborate the plain stuff of the mantle (buildings, people, trees, etc.), the bodies of water could just as well be their work. If the young woman on the left can plot her escape by embroidering an image of herself reunited with her lover, then one has to consider whether it is merely a message she is sending to him or whether she is creating the world in which she will rejoin him, as is seen in the next panel of the triptych. (Note that the houses and trees embroidered by the young woman on the right emerge from the slit as "mere embroidery" on fabric, but that as the material flows down, they become real houses and trees.)

4. Brown is correct that Pynchon doesn't mention the other two figures in the painting, the central figure who holds a book and stirs the vessel from which flows the thread that the young women use to embroider, and the small figure playing a wind instrument in an alcove in the background. (By the way, Brown is wrong that the instrument may be a recorder. It could either be a shawm or a cornett, the first, a medieval ancestor of the oboe, the second, a kind of trumpet made of wood covered with leather.) Clearly, the other figures aren't mentioned because Oedipa identifies with the embroiderers. The text doesn't mention the ship sailing on a body of water in the distance or any number of other details; it doesn't describe the other panels of the triptych. I hope not to belabor the point, but again, what's most important to the reader is what's most important to Oedipa. Brown could be right that there is some reason why the spooky central figure isn't mentioned, but that can never be anything more than speculative. It is true that Pynchon's writing invites this kind of speculation, and naturally, as a student of Derrida, Brown is going to look for what's left out as much what's there.

All in all, however, Brown's conclusion seems both hyperbolic and wrongheaded: "None of this [the detail of the painting] is adequately captured, [and] indeed, most of it [is] changed to the opposite of what it had previously been, by Pynchon's recollection." My sense of what Derrida says is that the author's intentionality has little to do with the text; in all fairness, that ought to restrain any attempt to deride the putative inadequacy of the text's representation of the painting, even if it was as inaccurate as Brown claims.

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