In Dreams (The Crying of Lot 49)

I’ve been looking forward to finishing The Crying of Lot 49.

I’m not someone who cares very much about being hooked by intriguing plots. One of my favorite books, The Sun Also Rises, is mostly about people going to cafes.

The Crying of Lot 49 spends four chapters piquing my interest in a potentially sensational plot, but chapter 5 is a slog. Shame on me.

The chapter is partly a dream sequence, but it gets to be too much. I start suspecting that I’m about to be had, and that this plot, now that it’s something I care about, is not going to pay off. You’ve got me very, very interested in the promise of some centuries-spanning conspiracy about who controls the mail (of all things), and then you grind things to a halt by building deftly crafted nods on looping city bus routes into something so off-puttingly ponderous that I wonder if I’ve just finished the book 50 pages before it’s over because, I mean, come on.

But the effect is brilliant in a very precise way. See, the first four chapters of the book are quick. They’re not quick in the sense of slight or spurious, but what I mean is that they move. Chapter 5 does not. It slows everything down. It distorts time. It’s a morass that takes far too long to get through. It’s an incredible trick, and I’m certain it’s intentional. It’s very much like sleeping and very much like dreaming. It’s a slog, and it’s too much, but it’s annoyingly well-done.

Something I’ll take with me from this particular dream is the idea that miracles are the intrusion of one world into another:

“You know what a miracle is. Not what Bakunin said. But another world’s intrusion into this one. Most of the time we coexist peacefully, but when we do touch there’s cataclysm.

This is Milton. This is the Gospels of Mark and John. This is true.

Milton’s Nativity Ode is all about the intrusion of heaven into history and the breaking of temporal strictures and the fleeing of the idols in the presence of eternity. John talks about the Word becoming flesh. For Mark, everything is immediate, everything has equal weight (the weight of exceeding urgency), and everything is coming and everything is here.

Speaking of miracles. Roy Orbison:

(A follow-up post…post!…here).