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Quirks of the Quantum

Quirks of the Quantum: Postmodernism and Contemporary American Fiction

SAMUEL CHASE COALE
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrp98
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  • Book Info
    Quirks of the Quantum
    Book Description:

    Episodic and disconnected, much of postmodern fiction mirrors the world as quantum theorists describe it, according to Samuel Chase Coale. InQuirks of the Quantum,Coale shows how the doubts, misgivings, and ambiguities reflected in the postmodern American novel have been influenced by the metaphors and models of quantum theory. Coale explains the basic facets of quantum theory in lay terms and then applies them to a selection of texts, including Don DeLillo'sUnderworld,Joan Didion'sDemocracy,and Thomas Pynchon'sAgainst the Day.Using a new approach to literature and culture, this book aims to bridge the gap between science and the humanities by suggesting the many areas where they connect.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3287-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    THIS BOOK IS NOT about physics, let alone mathematics, equations, or matrices, but is about conflicting and controversial quantum theories in books written by scientists for the general public and their effect on the fiction writers and texts I discuss. It is about the quantum, subatomic realm, that elusive “bottom line” of all quantum theories, as represented and explored in these books, which are clearly limited when it comes to discussing actual experiments and mathematics. There is no single quantum theory that explains all, although I will often use that term as a general description of the several different and...

  5. 1 Deconstructing Quantum Theory: From Modernism to Postmodernism
    (pp. 13-46)

    SO MUCH HAVE THE popular conceptions of quantum and cosmological theories invaded our intellectual and cultural space that even as prolific and profound a literary critic as George Steiner resents their hypnotic power: “But why should quantum physics have a monopoly on contradiction and difficulty?” (32). Quantum theory as popularly conceived has seized the popular imagination: Einstein was “elected” the most important person of the twentieth century byTimemagazine. Such visionary work has obviously infiltrated literary criticism and philosophy in many ways. It is “out there” and is virtually the metanarrative of our time.

    Much postmodern fiction incorporates underlying...

  6. 2 The Quantum Flux as/in Fiction
    (pp. 47-92)

    IN THE PAST several years no one has written about the relationship between quantum theory and literary deconstruction as perceptively and as rigorously as Arkady Plotnitsky, whose essay “Thinking Singularity with Immanuel Kant and Paul de Man: Aesthetics, Epistemology, History, and Politics” I discovered in Marc Redfield’sLegacies of Paul de Man(2007). He has also writtenThe Knowable and the Unknowable: Modern Science, Nonclassical Thought, and the “Two Cultures”(2002) andReading Bohr: Physics and Philosophy(2006). I would like to try and summarize his descriptions and definitions of quantum theories in relation to deconstruction before looking at how...

  7. 3 Styles of Quantum Leaps
    (pp. 93-126)

    VISIONS OR INTIMATIONS of the quantum realm not only haunt the structure of much postmodernist fiction but also affect the style of many of these writers. Just as that structure can be episodic, fragmented, discontinuous, and disrupted, just as it can raise questions about the relationship between separate parts and the uncertain possibility of a larger whole, and just as it can suggest randomness and chance, as opposed to causality and consequence, so can a writer’s style. “Often science,” suggests George Steiner, “will mask, by mathematical formalization, the verbal, the metaphoric suggestions of a prior epistemology” (118), just as style...

  8. 4 Quantum Quandaries: Death and/of the Self
    (pp. 127-158)

    WE HAVE SEEN how quantum theories contribute to the structure and the style of works by several writers in contemporary American fiction, underwriting them in a way that reflects the postmodern vision from many angles, but they also underscore several themes that these writers create and confront. The idea of a quantized self and the effects of the radical disruption in a character’s life caused by the actual death of the self, as well as the assault on the autonomous self as celebrated in American culture and myths, is very much at the visionary center of several of these writers’...

  9. 5 Revelation of the Quantum Realm: Underworld and Against the Day
    (pp. 159-194)

    THE FIRST REVIEWS ofUnderworldin 1997 praised the opening prologue, a description of a 1951 baseball game; delighted in the number of characters and incidents; hailed the prose style and the backwards chronology; and focused on the half-century of history, between the Cold War and its collapse, covered in the book. Michiko Kakutani of theNew York Timesin “Of America as a Splendid Junk Heap: A Novel That Tries to Grasp the Heft and Texture of 50 Years” declared it an “astonishing new novel . . . an amazing performance . . . a dazzling, phosphorescent work of...

  10. Epilogue: A Selection of Postmodern Critics
    (pp. 195-200)

    HEISENBERG’S IDEA that “the observer changes the thing observed” becomes the literary theorist’s notion that “the act of observation determines what is and isn’t observed” (Lindley 7). As a result several literary critics have relied upon quantum and/or chaos theory to help them understand what goes on in many postmodernist works of fiction.

    Will considering the literary work as an event rather than an object, as does Derek Attridge, help us apply “quantum techniques” to our way of reading? Attridge suggests as much. Reading fiction immerses us in “a process of adjustment” (63). “[It stages] the fundamental processes whereby language...

  11. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 201-208)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 209-222)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-224)