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COMPARATIVE 9T9ÍU9 Volume 37 No. 1 · Spring 2003 Tom Stoppard and"Postmodern Science": Normalizing Radical Epistemologies in Hapgood and Arcadia Daniel Jernigan In twoofhis more recentplays,Tom Stoppardtakes contemporaryscience as his subject matter. In Hapgood (1988), he draws an analogy between the theory of quantum mechanics and international espionage, while in Arcadia (1993) he uses chaos theory to explain the difficulty that literary biographers confront when recovering the past.1 Although these works are not as theatrically experimental as Stoppard's earlier work, they nonetheless engage the concerns of the postmodern era in their adoption oftheoretical science. In his The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge,Jean-François Lyotard helps to elucidate such an engagement , especially in his explanation of how quantum mechanics rejects any hope of formulating a universal scientific narrative of reality: "The modalization of the [quantum] scientists statement reflects the fact that the effective,singular statement (the token) that nature will pro- 4 Comparative Drama duce is unpredictable. All that can be calculated is the probability that the statement will say one thing rather than another."2 In this and similar assertions, Lyotard recognizes both quantum mechanics and especiallychaos theoryas the postmodern theories parexcellence,given their radical incredulityoverthe possibilityofachieving a grand metanarrative description ofthe universe. For Lyotard,the postmodern era and its cultural artifacts (including the scientific theories noted here) are uniquely characterized by their "incredulity towards metanarratives,"3 which raise the question of whetherStoppard's employment ofquantum mechanics and chaos theory renders his work postmodern. Indeed, given the radical implications of these theories, one might expect a playwright as innovative as Stoppard, who has dabbled so extensively in nontraditional anti-narratives in such early works as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Real InspectorHound ,to use quantum mechanics to postmodern effect, to create a work that is quantum mechanically dubious about the possibility of narrative explicability. This assumption, however, proves to be incorrect ,as much ofStoppard's investigation into these theories seeks to normalize them according to a classical interpretation rather than to revel in their anti-epistemological implications.4 I. Hapgood: Quantum Metaphor, Classical Results Hapgood begins with an information exchange between secret government agents of Britain and the Soviet Union that has been specifically designed by the British to ferret out a double agent who has been slipping information to the Russians. When the exchange goes awry, the playtakes on the shape ofan espionage thriller with agents ofthe British government attempting to put the pieces back together in order to understand exactly how things went wrong. Betty Hapgood is the quickthinking ,businesslike "mother" ofthe operation; she is so good at keeping a complete mental picture of all the intricacies ofa particular situation that she can play a game of chess with another agent without the luxury of a board. Joseph Kerner is a Russian physicist who had been sent to Britain as a "sleeper"years earlier, except that Hapgood has convinced him to work as a double agent (she also has a son, Joe, by him). DanielJernigan5 Ofall of Hapgood's associates—Blair (her boss), Ridley, Wates (an American agent), and Merryweather—Ridley is of particular note because he emerges as the double agent working for the Russians who is finally implicated in the act ofespionage. The mystery surrounding Ridley's espionage derives its complexity from the set itself, which Stoppard describes as follows: We are lookingatpart ofthe men's changing room ofan old-fashioned municipal swimming-baths. It is ten o'clock in the morning. The cubicles are numbered, and they have doors that conceal occupancy although they don't meet theground.... Fourofthe cubicles have to "work". There arefour ways ofcoming and going: "Lobby", "Pool", "Showers", and,for the sake ofargument , "Upstage." (1) The permutable possibilities for coming and going play themselves out to their full potential in the scene that follows, and it takes nearly three pages of stage directions to describe the intricacies of the exchange. Central to the scene, and to the mystery that follows, is the entrance of Ridley"from the lobby" with his briefcase in hand. Going "on a perambulation " he "moves around and through, in view and out ofview, demonstrating that theplace as a...


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