Encyclopedic architectures: mathematical structures in the works of Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, & David Foster Wallace

Taylor, Stuart J. (2019) Encyclopedic architectures: mathematical structures in the works of Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, & David Foster Wallace. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This study examines intersections of mathematics and literature within encyclopedic narratives by Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace. My interdisciplinary approach draws upon the case of Nicolas Bourbaki, whose ‘encyclopedic’ treatise, Éléments de mathématique, provides an important cultural touchstone for contemporary visions of mathematics as a totalised system. The pseudonym for a group of world-leading French mathematicians working in the middle of the twentieth century, Bourbaki attempted to create a definitive mathematical textbook from three foundational structures. Bourbaki’s article ‘The Architecture of Mathematics’, often considered a manifesto for the group, details three ‘great’ or ‘mother-structures’ – topological, algebraic, and ordered structures – which together encompass the entirety of mathematical activity and theory. While playing an important part in Bourbaki’s project to unify, encircle, and totalise mathematics, these structures also reveal how encyclopedic narratives utilise the figurative efficacy of mathematics to challenge such epistemological exhaustion. Though Don DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star has long been recognised as structured upon the history of mathematics, considering how this encyclopedic novel alludes to its intertexts through the figure of the Möbius strip reveals its fundamentally topological structure. The difficult equations in Gravity’s Rainbow can be seen, through the concept of algebraic structures, to model Pynchon’s metaphorical processes. Finally, Wallace’s use of enumerated endnotes in Infinite Jest complements his interest in Georg Cantor’s mathematical set theory, explicated in Everything & More: understood through ordered structures, Wallace’s hierarchical manipulation of narrative containers are revealed to be mathematically informed representations of consciousness. By regarding the topological, algebraic, and ordered structures of mathematics as modelling DeLillo, Pynchon, and Wallace’s figurative strategies – respectively, of allusion, metaphor, and representations of consciousness – the interplay between mathematics and encyclopedic narrative can be better appreciated.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright issues the electronic version of this thesis will not be made available for viewing. Access to the print copy is available once any embargo periods have expired.
Keywords: Mathematics, literature, postmodern, postmodernism, DeLillo, Pynchon, Wallace, literature and science, Bourbaki, Carroll, Oulipo.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Q Science > QA Mathematics
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies
Supervisor's Name: Burn, Dr. Stephen J. and Voigt, Dr. Christian
Date of Award: 2019
Embargo Date: 28 May 2022
Depositing User: Mr Stuart J Taylor
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-72460
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 28 May 2019 15:17
Last Modified: 05 Nov 2019 08:03
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/72460

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