Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Crying of Lot 49

So I found a new obsession last week with my discovery of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.  It's one of those books that infects your mind.  You listen to the news and hear Pynchon's commentary reaching across the 1960's to today's world.  It is probably the most relevant book to modern times I have ever read.

So if you're wondering what makes it such a profound work just imagine watching the first two seasons of lost and discovering everything in that show is real...

I am going to post my verbal essay for class below.  It is attempting to answer the mystery behind Pynchon's use of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and basically managed to get everyone in the class laughing--including my professor.

According to the website Wikipedia:

 “The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium—the state of maximum entropy. Equivalently, perpetual motion machines of the second kind are impossible.”  

Of course that definition comes with a few other terms that have to be defined like entropy and thermodynamic equilibrium.  The same website states thermodynamic equilibrium is:

“In thermodynamics, a thermodynamic system is in thermodynamic equilibrium when it is in thermal equilibrium, mechanical equilibrium, radiative equilibrium, and chemical equilibrium. Equilibrium means a state of balance. In a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, there are no net flows of matter or of energy, no phase changes, and no unbalanced potentials (or driving forces), within the system. A system that is in thermodynamic equilibrium experiences no changes when it is isolated from its surroundings.”

 And finally as if it is not confusing and scientific jargon laden enough, entropy is defined as: 

“In thermodynamics, entropy is a measure of the number of specific ways in which a thermodynamic system may be arranged, often taken to be a measure of disorder, or a measure of progressing towards thermodynamic equilibrium. The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium, which is the state of maximum entropy.”  

I find the standard definition of the Second Law of Thermodynamics kind of humorous when coupled with The Crying of Lot 49 as the beginning is extremely complicated with a little statement almost randomly tossed in about perpetual motion machines.  It’s also slightly funny to look at entropy and thermodynamic equilibrium’s definitions because—when paired with this novel—they sound a lot like sorting mail.  While entropy is pushing everything towards chaos the second law of thermodynamics states that you cannot side step entropy—which is what all this business is really about.  It’s almost like Pynchon wrote a book about sorting mail to poke fun at physicists.  So how does all this stuff relate to the novel?

Within the book Oedipa finds a clue in a bathroom stall at the Scope with the symbol of a muted post horn with WASTE written below it.  Later in the novel when she is touring the Yoyodine plant she stumbles onto Stanley Kotex drawling the same symbol on a pad of paper.  She engages Kotex and he offers her attempts to persuade her as a “stock holder” to change the company’s ownership of intellectual property.  Oedipa ironically offers Thomas Edison as the last person to really invent anything of value and Kotex  explains James Clark Maxwell and John Nefastis inventions.  Kotex tells her about Nefastis’s perpetual motion machine based on Maxwell’s the Demon. 

 And here I have to offer a side note…James Clark Maxwell was real.  He did some crazy stuff like event electromagnetic theory and influenced Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.  So it would be really funny if the demon was real…right.  It’s real.  Wikipedia shows two boxes full of little molecules and a green demon sitting on top of them opening a trap door between the two. 

Okay, so Kotex explains Nefastis’s Demon working by a sensitive taking the place of the demon and staring at a picture of Clark Maxwell.  Kotex explains it doesn’t really violate the Second law of Thermodynamics because “It’s mental work but not work in the thermodynamic sense,” (p. 80).  Almost sounding like the Remedious Varios painting described by Dr. Madden last class Oedipa wonders if she is a sensitive and thinks to herself, “Shall I project the world?” (p. 81).  While it is funny to think of a man who majorly influenced the modern world making a machine with a demon operating it the bigger question should be why would Maxwell care so much about sorting molecules?  The big reason Maxwell creates his Demon is resisting the forces of the universe that is propelling us all to our inevitable death—entropy.  If one can stop entropy couldn’t they live forever?  

When Oedipa finds John Nefastis in Oakland she tries to operate his demon machine to see if she is a sensitive.  Nefastis expands on how the demon connects with entropy and the Second Law:

“ Entropy is a figure of speech, then,’” sighed Nefastis, ‘a metaphor. It connects the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow.  The machine uses both. The demon makes the metaphor not only verbally graceful, but also objectively true,’” (101). 

While staring at Clark Maxwell’s image she sees he could be holding something in hands that have been cropped out of the picture.  She wonders what was in his hands and I think it could have been a muted post horn or an upside down dead badger?  Maybe Maxwell’s machine works and expands the mystery of Tristero even further?  Could he be one man moving through the pages of history?  Who is that mysterious bidder?

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