There are two levels of participation within The Crying of Lot 49: that of the characters, such as Oedipa Maas, whose world is limited to the text, and that of the reader, who looks at the world from outside it but who is also affected the world created by the text.3 Both the reader and the characters have the same problems observing the chaos around them. The protagonist in The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Mass, like the reader, is forced to either involve herself in the deciphering of clues or not participate at all.4
The philosophy behind The Crying of Lot 49 seems to lie in the synthesis of philosophers and modern physicists. Ludwig Wittgenstein viewed the world as a "totality of facts, not of things."1 This idea can be combined with a physicist's view of the world as a closed system that tends towards chaos. Pynchon asserts that the measure of the world is its entropy.2 He extends this metaphor to his fictional world. He envelops the reader, through various means, within the system of The Crying of Lot 49.
Pynchon designed The Crying of Lot 49 so that there would be two levels of observation: that of the characters such as our own Oedipa Maas, whose world is limited to the text, and that of the reader, who looks at the world from outside it but who is also affected by his relationship to that world.3 Both the reader and the characters have the same problems observing the chaos around them. The protagonist in The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Mass, like Pynchon's audience, is forced to either involve herself in the deciphering of clues or not participate at all.4
Oedipa's purpose, besides executing a will, is finding meaning in a life dominated by assaults on people's perceptions through drugs, sex and television. She is forced out of her complacent housewife lifestyle of tupperware parties and Muzak into a chaotic system beyond her capabilities to understand. Images and facts are constantly spit forth. Oedipa's role is that of Maxwell's Demon: to sort useful facts from useless ones. The reader's role is also one of interpreting countless symbols and metaphors to arrive at a meaning. Each reader unravels a different meaning. Unfortunately, Maxwell's Demon can only apply to a closed system. Pynchon's fictional system is constantly expanding to include more and more aspects of contemporary America.5 Therefore, the reader and Oedipa are inefficient sorters. Both are left at a panicky state of confusion, or paranoia.
Paranoia unites the reader and Oedipa. If we define "paranoia" not as a mental aberration but as a tendency to find meaning in symbols whether the meanings exist or not, we can clearly see the similarity between Oedipa and us. Paranoids do not see plots here and there in history; they see a conspiracy as the driving force behind all historical events.
At the climax of the novel, Oedipa sees the muted post horn everywhere she goes. Could she simply be delusional, as...