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TIME, NARRATTVE, AND THE MULTIVERSE: POST-NEWTONIAN NARRATIVE IN BORGES'S "THE GARDEN OF THE FORKING PATHS" AND BLAKE'S VALA OR THE FOUR ZOAS David M. Baulch I. The Multiverse and Literary Theory Time does not flow. Other times are just special cases of other universes. (David Deutsch 288) In taking as an epigraph this initially baffling statement about time from a recent book by Oxford physicist David Deutsch, I want to initiate a brief exploration of what his subtitle calls "the science of parallel universes and its implications" as a metaphor for thinking about the representation of time and the structure of physical reality in literary narrative. Deutsch's statement suggests that time, and consequently the universe to which that time refers, may be far different than the way one can subjectively experience it or adequately express this experience in a literary narrative. Given the radical implications of Deutsch's notion ofparallel universes for thinking about physical reality, it is prudent to consider quantum theorist Werner Heisenberg's statement, "that what we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning" as a good credo for literary criticism, as well as for physical science (58). Literary realism, we can say, is not merely a matter of representation conventions, but also an effect of a critical methodology. Still, one hardly needs an interpretation of quantum phenomena, let alone Deutsch's controversial interpretation of them, to know that literary realism has little if anything to do with the reality of the universe or even one's experience of it. Literary criticism traditionally accounts for the difference between physical reality and literary realism by means of the notion of verisimilitude: the sense of truth that is conveyed by literature's imitation of reality. With the rise to predominance of the novel in the eighteenth century as the primary vehicle for narrative realism, the truth of the literary real has been closely connected to the assumptions of Newtonian or classical physics and its empirical epistemology as the dominant forms within which our cultural understanding ofphysical reality since the Enlightenment is constructed. These forms of knowing provide the answers for much of western culture's habitual methods of questioning. Foremost among the concepts ofclassical/empirical science that structure literary realism in particular, and narrative in general, is the assumption that time is a more or less endless linear progression and that events within time refer to a single-valued, objectively verifiable world. Despite roughly a century of study of the various paradoxes quantum phenomena present for science's understanding of the behavior of the material world at its most minute, literary criticism Vol. 27 (2003): 56 THE COMPAKATIST continues to regard its object in predominantly Newtonian terms. By contrast, this essay is devoted to the speculative possibilities inherent in the alternative perspective known as "the many-worlds interpretation of quantum events." In the following pages, I want to explore the implications for literary criticism of the many-worlds attempt to confer an ontological existence upon the unobserved and largely unobservable aspects of the quantum theory and its suggestion that reality is radically different from the way that we assume that we experience it.1 In particular, this essay invokes Deutsch's notion of physical reality as the constant proliferation ofparallel universes, what he calls a "multiverse " rather than a universe, and his further claims about the nature of time. These ideas offer an alternative frame of reference to the dominant view of physical reality reflected in literary realism and its subsequent treatment in literary criticism, views that privilege the world as constructed by classical physics. This essay does not take up Deutsch's ideas because they are held by the majority of physicists studying quantum phenomena, but rather because the rich imaginative possibilities of his view of physical reality speak to some of the most radical experiments with literary narrative since the advent of Enlightenment science .2 For literary study, Deutsch's version of the many-worlds view offers an explanatory framework for rereading texts that resist both the worldview of classical physics and the one implicit in the dominant Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum phenomena. With this approach in...


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