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The Crying of America: A Calculated Withdrawal from The Life of the Republic

On a long trip from HK to JFK I reread The Crying of Lot 49 by Pynchon.

I read it as a desperate attempt to find some transcendent numinous meaning and depth in an America homogenized by its material and spiritual progress into an ugly seedy place where mystery apparently no longer resides. Oedipa Maas, the protagonist, stumbles onto hints of an alternative secret mailing system organized by the centuries old originally European Tristero, with mailboxes randomly placed among the debris of strip malls and underpasses, serviced by hardly noticed bums who keep Tristero running in America.

Some excerpts:

Write by WASTE,” she said, “remember. The governement will open it if you use the other.”

(WASTE is the secret age-old alternative mailing system used by the Tristero: We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire in acronym is written on the mailboxes.)


For here were God knew how many citizens, deliberately choosing not to communicate by U.S. Mail. It was not an act of treason, not possibley even of defiance. But it was a calculated withdrawal, from the life of the Republic, from its machinery. Whatever else was being denied them out of hate, indifference to the power of the vote, loopholes, simple ignorance, this withdrawal was their own, unpublicized, private. Since they could not sithdraw into a vacuum ( could they?), there had to exist teh separate, silent, unsuspected world.


Either you have stumbled indeed, without the aid of LSD or other indole alkaloids, onto a secret richness and concealed density of dream; onto a network by which X number of Americans are truly communicating whiles reserving their lies, reciations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that narrowns the head of everybody American you know, and you too sweetie. Or you are hallucainating it.


Behind the hieryglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth. ? Another mode of meaning the obvious, or none.  For there either was some Tristero beyond the appearnace of the legacy America, or there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could be continue and manage to be relevant to it, was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia.

Who doesn’t wish there were some secret numinous logic to what is going on, then and now? Even more so now. And a way of communicating that is private.

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