This is Not a Novel: The Crying of Lot 49

Author: WaïI Hassan (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

  • This is Not a Novel: The Crying of Lot 49


    This is Not a Novel: The Crying of Lot 49



Near the middle of The Crying of Lot 49, which for the time being I shall call a "novel," Oedipa Maas encounters the word "Trystero," which, also for the time being, I will agree with Molly Hite in describing as "a center to the interwoven references" (75) that yield themselves as clues (signifiers) in Oedipa's search for revelation. This encounter with the Word, itself a minor revelation, is soon stripped of significance by none other than the one who spoke it, Randolph Driblette. In the oft-quoted passage spoken from behind "the veil of shower-steam," Driblette lashes out against the basic assumption that words have meaning, undermining our very notions of what constitutes literature, textuality and signification: "'You guys, you're like Puritans are about the Bible. So hung up with words, words … The words, who cares? They're rote noises to hold line bashes with'" (79). At its structural center, the "novel" seems to undermine its ontological status as "literature" and its privilege as a "text." A "novel" belonging to a "novelistic tradition" – the notion is dribbled away, dunked into an epistemological loophole. The novel "speaks," in the sense in which Michel Foucault uses the word in reference to what he calls "modern fiction" (MB 9). Its "neutral space" is a degree zero of speaking at which "the 'subject' of literature (what speaks in it and what it speaks about) is less language in its positivity than the void language takes as its space when it articulates itself in the nakedness of 'I speak'" (12). Nietzsche's autocritique does not quite achieve this nakedness of language; how do we know, Foucault might ask, Zarathustra is not lying about lying? Pynchon goes beyond the self-referentiality of Nietzsche's discourse and of modernist fiction to question, not simply novelistic form, but the elements of form, the vocabulary of narrative, what it signifies and what it communicates.

How to Cite:

Hassan, W., (1993) “This is Not a Novel: The Crying of Lot 49”, Pynchon Notes , 86-98. doi:

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Published on
21 Sep 1993