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Modernism, Fiction and Mathematics$
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Nina Engelhardt

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474416238

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474416238.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 14 June 2021

Mathematics and Fiction: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’S Rainbow

Mathematics and Fiction: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’S Rainbow

(p.126) 4 Mathematics and Fiction: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’S Rainbow
Modernism, Fiction and Mathematics

Nina Engelhardt

Edinburgh University Press

Chapter 4 sets the engagement with modernist mathematics into broader context when examining the rise, fall and transformation of Enlightenment thinking and science in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. This chapter also zeroes in on a topic that runs through all chapters: the interrelations of mathematics and fiction. The analysis focuses on illustrations of fictionality regarding the mathematical concepts of infinitesimals, the calculus, and probability theory and their philosophical and ethical consequences. The examination of interdependent ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ elements in mathematics provides a new perspective on Brian McHale’s identification of ontological uncertainty as the novel’s definitive postmodernist trait: the chapter shows that the novel’s renegotiation of mathematics is a decisive factor in its introduction of postmodernist features. As the title ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ with its combination of a scientific and a poetical image implies, Pynchon’s novel suggests that the shared use of fictional concepts both in mathematics and in literature connects the seemingly opposed realms.

Keywords:   Gravity’s Rainbow, Mathematics and fiction, Enlightenment, Infinitesimals, Calculus, Probability theory, Mathematics and ontology, Mathematics and postmodernism

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