Study Guide

John Nefastis in The Crying of Lot 49

By Thomas Pynchon

John Nefastis

John Nefastis is a mad scientist at Berkeley who claims to have built a perpetual motion machine by implementing Maxwell's Demon. Oedipa learns of Nefastis from Stanley Koteks, an engineer at the Yoyodyne Corporation. She is intrigued because, if Nefastis's machine is real, then it would be an enormous scientific breakthrough.

But as Oedipa listens to how it works, she begins to realize that both Nefastis and Koteks are nuts. The machine requires that special people called sensitives stare at a picture of James Clerk Maxwell and then sort fast and slow air molecules with their minds. Yeah, that doesn't exactly follow the scientific method.

Oedipa later goes to visit Nefastis at his home on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. He explains Maxwell's Demon to her, and how it relates to the concept of entropy in both thermodynamics and information theory. (Check out our section on "Maxwell's Demon" in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" to learn more.)

Nefastis then brings out the machine,and leaves Oedipa to try to sort air molecules with her mind. When she fails, she thinks "Nefastis is a nut, forget it, a sincere nut. The true sensitive is the one that can share in the man's hallucinations" (5.26). Oedipa's suspicion is confirmed when Nefastis comes in to comfort her. He proposes that they have sex while watching a news broadcast on China. Oedipa runs out of his home screaming. Good call, Oedipa.

Later, when she's recovered from his sleazy insanity, Oedipa thinks that there is a similarity between herself and Nefastis. Like her, he observed two things that superficially seemed to look alike, but then he was able to make a "respectable" connection with the help of Maxwell's Demon (5.35). Oedipa is similarly faced "with a metaphor of God knew how many parts," but, unlike Nefastis, she has "nothing but a sound, a word, Trystero, to hold them together" (5.36).