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Beautiful Chaos

Chaos Theory and Metachaotics in Recent American Fiction

Gordon E. Slethaug

Publication Year: 2000

Explores the way chaos theory is incorporated in the work of such writers as Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Don DeLillo, and Michael Crichton. Beautiful Chaos is the first book to examine contemporary American fiction through the lens of chaos theory. The book focuses on recent works of fiction by John Barth, Michael Crichton, Don DeLillo, Michael Dorris, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, Carol Shields, and Robert Stone, all of whom incorporate aspects of chaos theory in one or more of their novels. They accomplish this through their disruption of conventional linear narrative forms and their use of strategic tropes of chaos and order, but also—and more significantly for an understanding of the interaction of science and fiction—through their self-conscious embrace of the current rhetoric of chaos theory. Since the publication of James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science in 1987, chaos theory has been taken up by a wide variety of literary critics and other scholars of the arts. While considering the relationship between chaos theory and recent American fiction, Beautiful Chaos details basic assumptions about orderly and dynamic systems and the various manifestations of chaos theory in literature, including mimesis, metaphor, model, and metachaotics. It also explains particular features of orderly and dynamic systems, including entropy, bifurcation and turbulence, noise and information, scaling and fractals, iteration, and strange attractors.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Postmodern Culture

Beautiful Chaos: Chaos Theory and Metachaotics in Recent American Fiction

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xi-xxix

Mandelbrot sets that involve stochastic processes, unstable aperiodic behavior, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, self-organizing systems, and far from-equilibrium systems. Gleick admits that similar concepts were developed during the same period in the Soviet Union and such European research centers as the Max Planck Institute in Germany ...

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pp. xxxi

I would like to acknowledge those who have had a direct hand in reading and providing helpful critical comments on this manuscript: Dr. Neil Hultin, Dr. Warren Ober, and Dr. James Van Evra of the University of Waterloo and Dr. Iska Alter of Hofstra University. I would also like to thank Dr. Mark Spielmacher for his care in checking my citations. Finally, ...

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1. Dynamic Fiction and the Field of Action: Mimesis, Metaphor, Model, and Metachaotics

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pp. 1-26

Aristotle's suggestion in The Poetics that the function of art is to imitate reality assumes that reality and its mimetic counterparts are easily recognized over time, whether in a script, a picture, or a dramatic production. This principle of mimetic representation was challenged by Modernists who saw themselves as being true to a very different notion of ...

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2. Orderly Systems: Growth, Competition, and Transgression

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pp. 27-44

It is perhaps too great a generalization to speak of orderly systems as if they were distinct from those that are more disorderly, for system theory, quantum theory, and chaos theory all recognize the strange mixture of order and disorder in any system. Even so, whether they are open, living systems, closed systems, information systems, or—for lack of a better ...

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3. Entropic Crisis, Blockage, Bifurcation, and Flow

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pp. 45-60

As system theory became more fully conceptualized during the 1950s and '60s, people tried to use it in understanding, and even stabilizing, a seemingly ever more complex and potentially disorganized society. They wished to know how unpredictable, minor causes could grow to extreme proportions, destroying social patterns and disrupting social systems. ...

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4. Turbulence, Stochastic Processes, and Traffic

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pp. 61-78

The inclination toward order, balance, and equilibrium presumed by system theorists is complicated and even contested by unpredictable initial conditions and sudden blow-ups (such as explosions, sudden storms, and giant waves in nature). Moreover, as in a sound system that picks up noise, amplifies it, and shuts out "orderly" messages, ...

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5. Energy, Noise, and Information

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pp. 79-96

In a century dominated by communications and telecommunications—such as newspaper, film, telephone, radio, television, and Internet—the performance of those systems is of paramount importance, for ineffective functioning and interference can be annoying and costly, at times even destructive. Because unwanted signals and inappropriate information ...

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6. Juxtapositional Symmetry: Recursion, Scaling, and Fractals

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pp. 97-122

Energy in a living system and noise in an information system may be systematically turned into heat, work, and coded information, or, conversely, they may remain as random behavior without discernible pattern or message. Seemingly random behavior, however, might well involve a ...

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7. Iteration

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pp. 123-146

... juxtapositional in nature, in chaos theory iteration involves "the continual reabsorption or enfolding of what has come before" (Briggs and Peat 66). It is not merely another round, cycle, or reiteration of the same thing; it uses the information of previous cycles, and thus accounts for changes caused by accretion and deletion. Such iterations commonly create a feedback ...

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8. Strange Attractors

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pp. 147-162

... features over time. Some patterns may be like swings of a pendulum following nearly identical paths, flowing toward generally approximate basins of attractions, or clustering around multiple points of attraction. As we have seen in the previous chapters, some writers are reluctant to follow one route or pattern too strictly and unambiguously but prefer ...

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9. Synoptic Study: “The Coded Dots of Life”

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pp. 163-186

In exploring the writings of Barth, DeLillo, Dorris, Maclean, McCarthy, Morrison, Pynchon, and Stone, I have suggested that they use chaos theory in various and complex ways as fact, concept, literary structure, and metaphor. They do so in small part through their metaphors of chaos and order; in greater part, through structural principles drawn from new ...


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pp. 187-192


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pp. 193-200


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pp. 201-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780791491737
E-ISBN-10: 0791491730
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791447413
Print-ISBN-10: 0791447413

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 2000

Series Title: SUNY series in Postmodern Culture