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Quirks of the Quantum

Postmodernism and Contemporary American Fiction

Samuel Chase Coale

Publication Year: 2012

Episodic and disconnected, much of postmodern fiction mirrors the world as quantum theorists describe it, according to Samuel Chase Coale. In Quirks 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's Underworld, Joan Didion's Democracy, and Thomas Pynchon's Against 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.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Series: Cultural Frames, Framing Culture

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

So many people — family, friends, colleagues, students, audiences, presenters of papers at various conferences, and selected readers — have contributed to this book that it’s impossible to even begin to list them all. But let me set the academic stage first. ...

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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, ...

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1. Deconstructing Quantum Theory: From Modernism to Postmodernism

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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). ...

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2. The Quantum Flux as/in Fiction

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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’s Legacies of Paul de Man (2007). ...

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3. Styles of Quantum Leaps

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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, ...

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4. Quantum Quandaries: Death and/of the Self

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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. ...

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5. Revelation of the Quantum Realm: Underworld and Against the Day

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pp. 159-194

The first reviews of Underworld in 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. ...

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Epilogue: A Selection of Postmodern Critics

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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. ...

Works Cited

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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780813932873
E-ISBN-10: 0813932874
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813932859
Print-ISBN-10: 0813932858

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Cultural Frames, Framing Culture
Series Editor Byline: Robert Newman See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 867739263
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Quirks of the Quantum

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Physics in literature.
  • Literature and science -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Postmodernism (Literature) -- United States.
  • Quantum theory in literature.
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