Reading Martin Amis' Times Arrow and Dead Babies to complement (or, take a breath away from) Gravity's Rainbow. To give some brief background before I dive into this post - Time's Arrow is written backwards. So we start with a man at his death and slowly move backwards through his life. All dialogue is reversed. Amis is really easy to read compared to Pynchon. In case anyone hasn't read GR - its a clusterfuck of a narrative, switching back-and-forth between characters, POV, and time periods.
Yes. So, I've been doing some research into the concepts of entropy/physics because both the Pynchon and the Amis tap into and use these concepts. I've always been vaguely aware of these ideas but I've never done legitimate research about it. According to thermodynamics, energy is always exchanged between regions of a "closed space." Heat flows from warm regions to colder regions, but not vice versa (yes, yes, grade school science makes a comeback). As a result, there is always a consistent increase of unusable energy building up within a particular system (you can think of this in terms of a room, an individual - but also, obviously, the world-at-large). This unusable energy is entropy - and entropy and disorder in any particular space increases simultaneously. Leading to fears of an energy-world-death and all out anarchy. *Here I'm reminded of that scene from Godard's "Two or Three Things I Know About Her," when we're watching the coffee spinning in the cup...I need to watch that again*
Tied in with this is the concept of time's arrow, which is a philosophical concept superimposed onto thermodynamics to describe how humans view ourselves in relation to this energy exchange/increase process. Typical anthropomorphizing - we have an innate understanding of time as linear, moving forward as entropy increases, like a wire sliced through a wave of steadily-increasing energy. Essentially, "the inescapable increase of total entropy in a closed system marks the direction of time." So, in a fucked-up way, "progression" is the expulsion of energy that propels humanity forward, towards an unknown "target." And all of history is a rush into anarchy fuelled by the skittish paranoia produced by entropy. I think these concepts are so interesting in relation to the po-mo attitude - which is characterized by a kind of blasé inertia coupled with a manic desire to fragment, to destroy creatively. The symbol of the rocket in Gravity's Rainbow perfectly illustrates these concepts - the ambiguity, Slothrop's desire to move but his lack of a direction or destination, the paranoia, the frustration caused by the lack of any real "self" transferred into sex as violence or violence as sex, or "just" violence, plain and simple. And the immanence of the rocket except as a symbol, except when embodied with the energy of a bunch of sexually-frustrated men rushing into a new period because they have nothing better to do and not enough self-awareness to understand what's making them so impatient. Insert comments about phallic symbols here.
So of course it makes sense that po-mo lit disrupts the linearity of time's arrow, as though post-modernism itself is the "destination" that we've been leading up to since the modernist period. Anarchy has arrived when time is no longer a legitimate or trusted marker.
I love reading about bodies bodies bodies decaying, moving, fucking, shitting, hurting, standing still momentarily to take a breath, incapable of doing anything but creating - mostly by accident. I don't know why I love being reminded of my corporeality so much. But I think the whole process is brilliant, horrific and a little bit dissapointing, all at the same time. Just being human is the most mundane and incredible feat possible.
I got my science info from Richard Menke - "Narrative Reversals and the Thermodynamics of History in Martin Amis's Time's Arrow"
Illustration: Tilman Faelker