The science in modernist literature: Degeneration, dynamics and demons
Clark, Shari Jill
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My study covers specific works by three Modernist artists: Joseph Conrad, Ezra Pound, and Fritz Lang, in regard to their similar uses of tropes taken from scientific models. All of these authors use different modes to express similar ideas: that scientific models work to exteriorize what would normally be deemed interiorized psychology and emotion, abstract concepts that can only be expressed by linking them to conventional symbols, I argue that all three authors use these models to create allegories of metamorphosis, transformations of bodies which mirror transformations of consciousness, where order emerges out of the chaos of spontaneous simultaneity of human existence. Conrad's novel, The Secret Agent, poet Pound's early Modernist, Imagist, and Vorticist poems (1908-1920), and director Fritz Lang all use reified images drawn from science that emblematize their primary narrative and metanarrative themes, conflating form with function to achieve several literary goals at once. I use a framework drawn from David Porush's “Fictions as Dissipative Structures: Prigogine's Theory and Postmodernism's Roadshow," based on Porush's relation of similarities between the novel and the characteristics of dissipative structures. My study focuses on demonstrating the categories of similarities between dissipative structures, self-organizing systems, strange attractors, holographic phenomena as panoptical metaphor of part-to-whole, and order arising out of disorder. Chapter II of my dissertation, "Scientisms, Strange Attractors, and Thermodynamics: Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent," is crucial for explaining exactly how scientisms work as discursively self-reinforcing cultural iconographies which effectively code everything within their paradigms, as well as demonstrating how all three of the authors I am studying use the human body in correlation with scientific models to reify the social and cultural themes concerning them. The body of Stevie becomes a synecdoche for London's discursive urban sprawl which I explain as I connect the scientific tropes Conrad uses in the novel. Time, as figured in the Prime Meridian and Stevie's body, is revealed to be irreversible and ever-moving toward entropy and heat death. The circle and the hyperbola are revealed as figures predating what is now known as the strange attractor configuration, emblematic of concentric and eccentric social and cultural status (points of "being" and "becoming") as "oscillating" in a dialectic balance between the extremes of the bourgeois and anarchist factions of London society: they are "hyperbolic" both figuratively (ironically) and literally. In the last chapter of this section, I discuss Stevie's chaotic explosion as the "chemical" and biological catalyst for re-establishing order in that milieu. The Conrad section basically covers the first four sections of Porush's categories of dissipative structures, so that by Chapter III, I frame Pound's Modernist works using the fifth of Porush's categories, holographic phenomena, entitled "Atomic Trans- formations in the Vortex: Ezra Pound's Chemical Poetics," Pound establishes the motive energy of what he refers to as his cultural "vortex," his symbol for the cultural paradigm of London art, using the geometry of the atom, the vortex, the turbine, and the crystal. In his view, these forms offered a way to explain his own metamorphosis into a poet capable of producing the Gesamtskunstwerk, the total cultural art work of an artistic community, works emblematic of the goals of the Vorticists, Chapter IV of this dissertation covers the last category of Porush's dissipative structures, the revelation of order emerging out of chaos, with an analysis of Fritz Lang's epic Metropolis (1926). The figure of the Maria-cyborg contains many patriarchal codings, all of which deconstruct, but all of which re-establish patriarchal control through the discourses written into this city society. This dissertation concludes with the idea that these authors, while using different modes of expression, all manage to demonstrate order arising out of the dissipative structures of texts through allusion to previous literary orders.