Esther’s Space- journey through my life

January 21, 2008

that is soooo postmodern

Filed under: ENG 597: Literature in the Information Age, p()5t^^()d3,~]\[ — estherspace @ 7:42 pm

While this novel is hailed as a prime example of postmodern fiction, I was not enchanted by it. It is painfully, obviously, postmodern, with fragmentation of the subject, a creative narrative mode, and the loss of a connection between the individual and lived history, so on and so forth. But, it is in many ways an academic novel, and I would argue that its accessibility for the general public is fairly limited. I couldn’t cruise with it until I figured out that trying to link all of the Inverarity remarks was a waste of energy, since, despite what common sense told me, he and his estate were not what the book was about.

Throughout the narrative Oedipa Maas is occupied by her desperate attempts to understand herself and and her place in life, that is, when she is not otherwise occupied by the drama of getting laid. Oedipa seems to think that if she can understand where she is in life, she will know how to proceed both in life and as executor of Inverarity’s estate. This sense of misdirection on the road of life smacks strongly of Fredric Jameson’s ideas of a postmodern world. Using the metaphor of a city, Jameson feared that, in a postmodern world, all traditional markers would be removed, leaving people to feel alienated and unable to mentally map where they were in the city or their position in relation to any tradition markers, such as buildings or street names. (see Postmodernism: the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, ~ p51) As if to give credence to his theory, Oedipa’s first reactions to San Narciso, a town basically run by Yoyodyne technologies, is that it is, “less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts,”(Pynchon 13) and later, looking down on the city from a hill;

she thought of the time she’d opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit. The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate. There’d seemed no limit to what the printed circuit could have told her (if she had tried to find out); so in her first minute in San Narciso, a revelation also trembled just past the threshold of her understanding. (Pynchon 14)


Looking at a model of a printed circuit such as this one, it is easy to see how amazingly coordinated such a circuit is from above, but if one is aware of how much information is stored in that small square, it quickly becomes dizzying when one imagines navigating the complex channels of communication.

This inability to navigate the channels through which information travels is a problem that continues to plague Oedipa. Creating an obsession with finding out the truth of the relationship between the Thurn & Taxi and the Tristero private mail delivery systems, Oedipa is transferring all of her anxieties about herself onto a project and questions that would seem to have a conclusive answer. However, Oedipa finds it impossible to find the answer to the question of who controls the secret non-government mail delivery systems that she witnesses in operation, and in her quest she begins to look everywhere for her answers, including such sources as a play by a possibly fictional playwrite, where the line that most interests her is highly compromised in it’s authenticity.  Even the symbol that inspires her to investigate the matter, the muted horn, has been adopted by other organizations, misconstruing it’s original meaning and purpose.

As the answers to her problems fail to become clear to Oedipa, she begins to fear that she is perhaps hallucinating, or that the entire question of a modern-day private mail delivery system is a hoax that Inverarity has set up to fool her. She reveals that her belief and faith in the idea of a true history that has been documented and can be recalled at anyone’s convenience is shaken.

By the end of the novel, Oedipa has grown very little, except in her awareness of the lack of a norm for her to fit into. She is still lost within the channels of information, “it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer” (Pynchon 150). But this acceptance of instability has given her some sense of peace.  She no longer trusts in the power of any one particular person, such as her whacko therapist, to sort everything out, but instead simply embraces the idea that:

It was not an act of treason, nor possibly even of defiance.   But it was a calculated withdrawal….since they could not  have withdrawn into a vacuum (could they?), there had to exist the separate, silent, unsuspected world.  (Pynchon 101)

This is the obvious answer to Oedipa’s tumultuous quest to discover the solutions to her problems, and works marvellously for the novel.  But, as a  member of the real world, I am left asking “why?”  Why do they have to exist in a separate, silent, unsuspected world of covert mail delivery?  They aren’t saying anything of interest to the government in their letters, if Fallopian’s letter is any indication.  It’s not even a form of resistance towards the USPS.  So why? This entire operation, and all of it’s murderous disagreements over territory or whatnot, seems to have no goals or long-term purpose.  So why bother?  And if you’re going to say that it’s not about the mail, it’s a metaphor for literature, I’m going to disagree with you.  And perhaps I’ll write a book explaining why.  Later.
Things I wanted to discuss more:


connecting the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow (p85)

sex in the book

“…it doesn’t mean anything. Wharfinger was no Shakespeare” (p60)

“members of the third sex” (p89)


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