The Sound and the Fury and The Crying of Lot 49
It is fitting to discuss the recollection of the past in an age advancing to an unknown futurity and whose memories are increasingly banished to the realm of the nostalgic or, even worse, obsolete. Thomas Pynchon and William Faulkner, in wildly contrasting ways, explore the means by which we, as individuals and communities, remember, recycle, and renovate the past. Retrospection is an inevitability in their works, for the past is inescapable and defines, if not dominates, the present.
Pynchon maintains an optimistic, Ovidian view of the past - we recycle our cultural memories into another, perhaps better, form. The resulting disordered array of culture, one as much filled in by the glut of contemporary television channels as by 17th-century revenge dramas, is organized by some supervisory principle. Much as the postal system orders geography into specific postal codes and zones, Maxwell's Demon in The Crying of Lot 49 "connects the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow" (106); it applies a controlled, scientific objective to the sprawling, aesthetic subjective.
But Pynchon's culture is not one haunted by the ghosts, except for the ghosts in Hamlet and Scooby-Doo. Faulkner's landscape is tortured by the tragedy of the South. In his view, the land is cursed because of two of the white man's presumptions: that he could own other men, and that he could own the land. Focusing on the microcosm of the fallen Compson family, Faulkner details the extent to which various family members are saddled by past loss and how they confront their searing memories. In what has canonized The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner recreates the temporal confusion of the Compsons in the narrative, as well, through a non-sequential chronology and through sentences that combine past, present, and future tenses. Despite the occupational differences between the two authors, they share a surprising wealth of concerns, namely in the ordering of chaos. Pynchon's order, however, remains a fruitful one of universality and coherence, while Faulkner contends that there is no real possible way to order memory, that each event is singular (indeed, he wanted the different times of the novel printed in corresponding colors), and that loss permeates the present despite attempts at reassessment or separation of the past.
The first sentence of The Crying of Lot 49 introduces "Mrs Oedipa Maas" (9). Her name immediately and forcefully conjures up for the reader all the cultural baggage associated with the name Oedipa. It is, of course, the Latinate feminine of Oedipus, the tragic Greek hero who was fated to murder his father and sleep with his mother. Yet the female version of Oedipus is not Oedipa, but Electra. The obvious Freudian associations dare the reader into a (most likely pointless) psychoanalytic reading. Her name is not so much about...