Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is the first truly quantum novel in American Fiction. Written in 1966, the book is penned by a Cornell educated electrical engineer living in the midst of a scientific revolution. Published before the Standard Model of Elementary Particles, the author’s work is a direct representation of the newly accepted uncertainty in pre-quantum physics that dominated scientific discourse at the time. Before both Pynchon’s book and Quantum Theory becoming established, the consensus of the science community was that the production of meaning could only take place on the basis of models. That is, normal science operates within the framework of a paradigm - a set of partially grounded assumptions, definitions, conventions, questions, and procedures (Palmeri 979). Yet as Pynchon wrote The Crying of Lot 49, Quantum Theory was beginning to show us that allowing science to operate within the framework of a paradigm also allowed for the production of anomalous data which as it accumulated began to call into question the validity of the present model. Science, like any knowledge based institution, was not one to discredit the dominant model until presented with a new one that accounted for such anomalies. Science was in a period of crisis, normal science was virtually paralyzed between paradigms, the emergence of the new Quantum model revealed the metaphoric nature of all models. The scientist working within the Quantum framework actually sees a different world, for observed data are shaped by the questions the paradigm formulates and the criteria for acceptable answers (Palmeri 979). It is within this space that existed Pynchon’s mind when creating the world of Oedipa Maas. Much like scientific theory, literature too exists within paradigms. Since the beginning of the Historic Era, the written word has existed as a model of explanation. And much like science, where periods of history and discovery have changed our approach to the model, literary...
Cited: Kermode, Frank. The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966) 62.
Palmeri, Frank. 1987. “Neither Literally nor as Metaphor: Pynchon 's the Crying of Lot 49 and the Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” ELH , Vol. 54, No. 4 (Winter, 1987), pp. 979-999
Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. 1966. Reprint. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. Print.
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