Tuesday, May 22, 2007

4th June

Join us on Monday 4th June for a glass of wine, and for our final meeting of the academic year!

We'll be concluding our discussion of Pynchon's work with two extracts from Mason & Dixon (1997), pages 116-24 and 190-8, introduced by Nicky Reeves. As ever, photocopies of the set readings are available in the Whipple Library boxfile.

I hope to see you then!

Next year

Yes, it's that time again, when thoughts start to turn to future plans for the group. At our meeting on 4th June we'll be discussing ideas for themed readings (one current suggestion is the metaphysical poets). If you have any suggestions, would like to volunteer to help out with seminar organisation, or have a preference as to when and where we should hold the meetings then please do come along, or get in touch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

21st May

Many thanks to everyone who came along last week for a great discussion of Against the Day. We might be beginning to get the measure of Pynchon...

Our seminars continue on Monday, 21st May, when Josh will be introducing one of Pynchon's short stories, 'Entropy', which is published in Slow Learner (1984) Boston: Little, Brown, pp. 79-98.

As usual, we meet in the upstairs seminar room of Darwin College from 7.30-9pm. See you then!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A few comments for the discussion of "Against the Day"

If you have time before tomorrow night, you might like to take a look at Wikipedia's very well written entry on the Luminiferous Ether. Among other things, it contains a link to an article by Dirac, written in the 1950s, suggesting a version of electromagnetism in which something rather like an ether plays a role.

I'm interested in thinking about other examples in the same sort of category, theoretical constructs that were or are inferred toexist in order to solve some problem or explain some phenomenon,but which turned out, or may turn out, in fact not to exist.

An interesting modern example is the notion of "beables" or"elements of reality" that some theoretical physicists thinkare missing from quantum theory as currently formulated andrequired to make proper sense of the theory. (A "beable" is John Bell's term for something that can really be out there,as opposed to a quantum observable, which seems, at least in some interpretations of the theory, to require an observer to bring it into existence.)

Another modern example, perhaps, are superstrings (aka branes aka various other names). Yet another, arguably, is the idea of "qualia" or elementary sensations that some suppose might be fundamental objects in a theory of the conscious mind.

In all of these cases there's a great deal of popular interest, and many people who aren't professional physicists or philosophers or psychologists hold strong views one way or the
other. It'd be interesting to try to characterise what types of scientific question evoke
such passionate popular interest. (Though perhaps one should first query whether all
these questions can properly be characterised as purely scientific: is perhaps part of the key, in many cases, that they go beyond the scope of science, at least as presently understood?)

Pynchon's playful exploration of popular fascination with scientific ideas -- the
lightarians and their fricasse recipes, and so on -- reminded me a little of a
riff about fractals by Michael Kelly, which you can find at www.michaelkelly.fsnet.co.uk/frac.htm.

Enough for now.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

14th May

Our next meeting will take place on Monday, 14th May, from 7.30-9pm in the upstairs seminar room of Darwin College. Adrian will be introducing the set reading, taken from Pynchon's latest book, Against the Day. The selected passage (pages 57-80) is available for photocopying in the Whipple Library box file, as usual. I hope to see you then!

Some of you may be interested to read the following reviews, available online, to get a sense of reactions to the book as a whole: London Review of Books, New Yorker, TLS, New York Times (many others are linked to here).

There is also further information available on Random House's Pynchon pages, including an Against the Day wiki, currently under construction, and a commentary on the extract we shall be reading.