The Importance of Pynchon

cryingoflot49As I’m practically finished with my MA thesis, it’s time to sum up what I’ve learned from that experience. Although beside Pynchon I wrote about DeLillo, the latter will be also the subject of my PhD dissertation and most probably I’ll be writing here more often about his works.

Studying science is not easy. Studying science and applying that to literary analysis is a real pain in the ass. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, the relationship between science and literature is not only concerned with science fiction (which sometimes has practically nothing to do with scientific concepts at all) or just some superficial metaphors and concrete representations through the elements of plot. A more or less in-depth understanding is obligatory in the study of the scientific background of a literary work; it’s rather obvious that in interdisciplinary approaches an understanding of a particular discipline is needed, but it’s far more easier to get a grasp of existentialism in the study of Dostoevsky than of quantum physics in Andrew Crumey’s works.

Pynchon’s entropic inspirations came from reading Henry Adams’ and Norbert Wiener’s writings. The first was a historian, who proposed a “theory of history” based on the second law of thermodynamics, whereas the latter was a scientist, who, beside creating the discipline of cybernetics, wrote about his reflections on our civilization and how it can be analyzed from the perspective of entropy known from physics and information theory.

Entropy is a very interesting concept which can be useful in analyzing the world around us; globalization, the development of mass media like internet, etc. In The Crying of Lot 49, however, Pynchon didn’t limit himself to writing only about various closed systems evolving into a state of disarray/dispersion.

The world of the novel is ruled by the forces of order and chaos, represented by different constituents, like Yoyodyne corporation or Tristero. The key to its interpretation is to abandon a stereotypical assumption that order = good and chaos = evil. On the one hand, Pynchon’s point concerns the fact that order may lead to some really bad shit, like fascism and stuff, and chaos may counterbalance this. However, it’s not simply the case of inverting some dichotomy. The most important thing is that order and chaos are complementing each other and this is pretty much what makes the world go round. If one force is temporarily breaking through the balance, destruction happens.

Such attitude towards order and chaos changed in Pynchon’s later works, like Gravity’s Rainbow, where extreme order is always pretty much evil and chaos is the winning superhero; or at least that’s what I’ve been taught, I haven’t had much time yet to delve into GR to such extent.

One way or another, Pynchon is an another author who taught me the importance of looking at world as a system, or even a system of systems (of systems of systems…). By faithfully sticking to simple binary oppositions, we are doomed to fail in this game. It’s not easy to be always aware of how complex our reality is (represented, i.a., by science) but by trying to, we move a little bit closer to the unattainable ideal of “truth,” whatever that would be.