Orpheus and Eurydice in hell and other quantum spaces: The Golden Mean and spiritual transformation in Pynchon's fiction
Patrick Jennings, Mary Kay
Isle, Walter W.
Doctor of Philosophy
Pynchon's inclusion of scientific principles and mathematical concepts in his novels has been duly noted by critics as part of the encyclopedic references in his fiction. Pynchon, however, fictionally employs his scientific and mathematical acumen as part of an encompassing Metaphor of Extremes and Means that both provides a structure for his fiction and describes the great complexity human beings experience when they attempt to interpret the natural world and their unique position in it. Pynchon's metaphor has as it basis two extreme perspectives of the natural world: the mythological world view which has shaped most of human thought over the ages, and the Newtonian view which displaced the mythological in the seventeenth century and ushered in the Age of Reason. Pynchon peoples his fictional worlds with two extreme groups of characters: those who function intuitively and exhibit attributes akin to the frenzied rituals associated with the worship of Dionysus, the ancient Earth God, and those who operate on the Apollonian principles of causality and a will to power. Together, these two perspectives and these two groups of characters provide the extremes in Pynchon's Metaphor. More difficult to recognize is Pynchon's representation of the Golden Mean, identifiable by both a mediating perspective and characters open to alternative possibilities. The mediating perspective he identifies with quantum physics which contains both the mythological view point in its intuitive sense of forces operating below or behind the sensually observable world and the Newtonian perspective upon which quantum principles depend. The mediating characters in Pynchon's Metaphor are Orpheus and Eurydice figures who have connections with both Dionysians and Apollonians in the various novels and often initially exhibit Dionysian or Apollonian characteristics. Yet, they depart from such behavior to forge new paths in search of the Golden Mean. Doing so requires that they lose their Dionysian or Apollonian selves by means of a descent into a quantum-like space from which they emerge enlightened and ready to encounter an absolutely new order of existence---one in which their spiritual identity is retained and the constraints of physical existence which ends in entropy and death is transcended. Increasingly in Thomas Pynchon's novels is the idea that loss of self and interconnectedness is necessary for spiritual transformation which has ramifications far beyond the transformation of the individual. In his most recent novel, Mason & Dixon, the novel's protagonist is a dual-natured Orpheus consisting of both Mason and Dixon who are finally inseparable, joined as they are by the Line they drew. The Golden Mean is the point at which connections occur and distinctions between seemingly mutually exclusive extremes begin to blur. Each extreme is ameliorated by the Golden Mean even as it remains part of a larger pattern that can be glimpsed at and articulated through metaphor, the most human of connecting devices. In Pynchon's Metaphor the Golden Mean suggests a way back to connectedness with that which is larger than oneself and offers the possibility of spiritual redemption and continued existence after death.
Modern literature; American literature; Physics