Technology has long been recognized as a mixed blessing. Its up/downside nature was illustrated nicely in Walt Disney's Fantasia by the myth of the Sorcerer's Apprentice:not only does the "magic" of the machine produce what you desire, it often gives you much more than you can use--as Oedipa Maas, the heroine of this stark American fable, discovers on her frenetic Californian Odyssey. Information which strains to reveal Everything might well succeed only in conveying nothing, becoming practically indistinguishable from noise.But there is noise, and Noise. Many of the devices Pynchon uses to establish informational patterns in Lot 49 are metaphors for life in a mythic, fractionalized and increasingly noisy modern America.
Hapless Oedipa returns from an afternoon tupperware party to find she has been named executrix of immensely wealthy and fiendishly reclusive Pierce Inverarity's complicated estate.It is not a responsibility she desires; it is one she accepts.In doing so, she begins what is at first an active pursuit of information relating to Inverarity's eclectic holdings, but which soon metamorphoses into a passive role as a receiver of incomplete and contradictory data.Eventually, as Mendelson points out, she "receive[s] evidence far more frequent[ly] and insistent[ly] than she found when she was actually looking for it."Eventually, Oedipa becomes something of a receptive "coil" exposed to a communicative medium over-rich in signals.
Soon there grows a sinister urgency about Oedipa's urge to decipher, and she sacrifices all--life, husband, lover, stability--to what becomes her cause celebré:differentiating meaningful information from meaningless noise.And we come to understand that Oedipa's urgent meaning--that quality of being Oedipa which separates and defines her--is the message she longs to extract from the chaos of signals around her; and that her generalized fear has solidified into a specific struggle to prevent this newly acquired "self" from disintegrating back into pure (but not necessarily simple) noise.
That the world has things to tell her is not an entirely new idea to Oedipa.At the inception of her role as executrix, she sits in her convertible gazing down upon a typical Southern California suburb--and is instantly reminded of the insides of a transistor radio:
... there was to both outward patternings 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) ...
However, hieroglyphs can be merely decorative--intriguing manifestations of absolutely nothing; and therefore random signals broadcast to the medium at large; a medium of which Oedipa just happens to be a part.Oedipa's dilemma quickly becomes a parallel to the theorized task of Maxwell's Demon:Where the Demon is fabled to sort hot from cold molecules and thus produce Work, Oedipa must sort useful from useless information and thus...