Thomas Pynchon s The Crying of Lot 49 and Inherent Vice as Parodies of Detective Genre


4th International BAKEA Conference, 7 - 09 October 2015

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University Affiliated: Yes


Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Inherent Vice as Parodies of Detective Genre

Having profound impact on American literature, Thomas Pynchon has written dense and complex novels, noted for their postmodernist characteristics including intertextuality, metafiction, black humor and playfulness.  Along with their postmodern nature, almost all of his novels, to some extent, contain ‘detective’ stories.  In The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), the heroine Oedipa Maas, a housewife, is named the co-executor of his ex-lover’s will. During the execution, the focus of Oedipa -hailing Oedipus of Sophocles- shifts to unraveling the mystery of a shadowy underground postal system and she turns out to be an amateur ‘detective’. The challenge is that the each ‘clue’ function  ning as ‘free floating’ signifier does not bring clarity to the case which may or may not be real. A similar pattern is available in his seventh novel Inherent Vice (2009) -later filmed by Paul Thomas Anderson- in which a professional, sandal-wearing, “pothead” detective Larry “Doc” Sportello is at work in California of the 70s.

Thomas Pynchon plays with detective genre by parodying which can be described as a “metafictional mirror to the process of composing” a literary text (Rose 1979). According to Linda Hutcheon, parody is “a form of imitation […] characterized by ironic inversion, not always at the expense of the parodied text”. In other words, it is “repetition with critical distance, which marks difference rather than similarity”. (Hutcheon 2000) Having a dialogical nature, a parodic work comically criticizes its target while reworking and crystallizing the conventions of its features. Pynchon plays with American hardboiled and noir fictions in postmodernist fashion. In this study, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Inherent Vice (2009) are examined with regards to how Pynchon works and challenges the traditional detective genre through the use of parody.   

Keywords: Pynchon, detective fiction, parody, Inherent Vice, The Crying of Lot 49,