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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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The Economist refers to Alaska as "Lot 49"

Image copyright the Economist.

Too much of an opportunity to pass off for a quick post, the Economist recently featured a humorous take on the US map. Tucked away as the heading for Alaska was the, for some, cryptic heading "Lot 49", subtitled "For sale all enquiries welcome".

For those in the know, this is a reference to Thomas Pynchon's seminal postmodernist novel, The Crying of Lot 49, "crying" being the term used to describe the actions of an auctioneer; they "cry" the "lots" that are for sale. In Pynchon's novel, the protagonist, Oedipa Maas, is carried to the brink, and no further, of revelation in her quest to uncover what she believes is a secret, anti-governmental post office system derived from the centuries old Thurn and Taxis system, and now commonly known as W.A.S.T.E. The novel ends with the auctioneer about to ask for bids on a set of stamps that, if a shady buyer put in a blocking bid, would confirm Oedipa's suspicions.

So, Economist, what's the conspiracy? Who would be the buyer? It's nice to see a Pynchon reference out there in public, but does it go any further than "we need to make it look like Alaska is for sale, maybe we can stuff an unrelated highbrow literary reference in here"? I can well see why Obama might well want to sell off Alaska, given certain political "forces" that hail from that region, but can't quite get my head around any deeper connotation of the Pynchon allusion and the 49th State. Perhaps I'm missing something.