According to the OpenSyllabusProject.org, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 ranks as the 282nd (sadly, not 49th) most commonly assigned text in college courses. No doubt, it is often assigned as a novel to represent postmodern fiction. The elements that lead many to classify it as postmodern fiction almost all surface one final time in the final scene.
The literary critic Brian McHale has written frequently about postmodernism in American fiction, and Pynchon’s texts have come up in many of books on the topic. In “Pynchon’s Postmodernism” from The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon, Brian McHale briefly identifies some characteristics of postmodern fiction:
- Irony and Pastiche
Reading the final passage from The Crying of Lot 49, one can see many of these characteristics at play. The following video is my reading of the passage if you need a review of it.
“We’re in luck. Loren Passerine, the finest auctioneer in the West, will be crying today.”
“Will be what?”
“We say an auctioneer ‘cries’ a sale,” Cohen said.
“Your fly is open,” whispered Oedipa. She was not sure what she’d do when the bidder revealed himself. She had only some vague idea about causing a scene violent enough to bring the cops into it and find out that way who the man really was. She stood in a patch of sun, among brilliant rising and falling points of dust, trying to get a little warm, wondering if she’d go through with it.
“It’s time to start,” said Genghis Cohen, offering his arm. The men inside the auction room wore black mohair and had pale, cruel faces. They watched her come in, trying each to conceal his thoughts. Loren Passerine, on his podium, hovered like a puppet-master, his eyes bright, his smile practiced and relentless. He stared at her, smiling, as if saying, I’m surprised you actually came. Oedipa sat alone, toward the back of the room, looking at the napes of necks, trying to guess which one was her target, her enemy, perhaps her proof. An assistant closed the heavy door on the lobby windows and sun. She heard a lock snap shut; the sound echoed a moment. Passerine spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to belong to the priesthood of some remote culture; perhaps to a descending angel. The auctioneer cleared his throat. Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49.
Which characteristic strikes you as most dominant?