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Things are Not What They Seem: A Reading Response to Thomas Pynchon's <i>Entrophy</i> Things are Not What They Seem: A Reading Response to Thomas Pynchon's Entrophy

In this weeks selection - Entropy by Thomas Pynchon - language is manipulated in such a way that the reader has difficulty in finding a center. Using concrete language that is incredibly descriptive, the reader is taken in one direction while the story is actually proceeding in another. Things are not what they seem in our universe, not even in language.

In Pynchon’s story the characters are each experiencing a disintegration of sorts. One group is partying and having fun, although the party is quickly “deteriorating into total chaos” (Pynchon 2366). The other group consists of two people, one of whom is carefully watching for the “eventual heat-death” of “the universe” and nursing an injured bird back to health(Pynchon 2358), the other, Callisto’s girlfriend, Aubade, who lives “on her own curious and lonely planet” (Pynchon 2359), filters out the noise and distractions from her mind with consistent effort - she will not let disorganization take hold in her mind.

All of this chaos and disorganization is described vividly, “Rain splatted against the tar paper on the roof and was fractured into a fine spray off the noses, eyebrows and lips of wooden gargoyles under the eaves, and ran like drool down the windowpanes (Pynchon 2358). The reader is bombarded with forceful images that set the scene. Adding to the scenes of misery - a bird dying, sailors looking for hookers, rain and cold - there is noise everywhere - “Noise screws up your signal, makes for disorganization in the circuit” (Pynchon 2362). This is an adequate example of the chaos ensuing all around the party-goers.

Callisto’s scenes are in direct contrast to the chaos above him. In his apartment, quiet prevails. Aubade checks the temperature while Callisto muses to himself on the state of the universe. He remarks that entropy was “an adequate metaphor to apply to certain phenomena in his own world” (Pynchon 2361). This entropy he speaks of is being played out upstairs at the party as he speaks. The party is a chaotic and disorganized system that is rapidly experiencing a breakdown, just as Callisto’s view of the universe is experiencing a breakdown. You can see the theory of entropy within the party scenes - A partygoer downs tequila in an attempt to restore “order to his nervous system” (Pynchon 2360).

Among the multiple stories being played out, the reader is drawn into the chaos - not knowing where the story will go, not being able to determine a center in the plot. The language promises to move into one area and then shifts to another. We go from drunken, slurred speech to highly technical physics language. Caught between the two forms of language the reader finally reaches the end to find that nothing is resolved. Aubade smashes the window and she and Callisto “wait…until the moment of equilibrium was reached” (Pynchon 2367). But can there be equilibrium in a chaotic system? Can the very nature of language ever reach an equilibrium? The universe and language is forever mutable and the reader is left with a feeling of uncertainty and fear.


K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2006

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