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Tom Stoppard and "Postmodern Science": Normalizing Radical Epistemologies in Hapgood and Arcadia.

Comparative Drama 2003, Spring, 37, 1

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In two of his more recent plays, Tom Stoppard takes contemporary science as his subject matter. In Hapgood (1988), he draws an analogy between the theory of quantum mechanics and international espionage, while in Arcadia (1993) he uses chaos theory to explain the difficulty that literary biographers confront when recovering the past. (1) Although these works are not as theatrically experimental as Stoppard's earlier work, they nonetheless engage the concerns of the postmodern era in their adoption of theoretical science. In his The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Jean-Francois Lyotard helps to elucidate such an engagement, especially in his explanation of how quantum mechanics rejects any hope of formulating a universal scientific narrative of reality: "The modalization of the [quantum] scientist's statement reflects the fact that the effective, singular statement (the token) that nature will produce is unpredictable. All that can be calculated is the probability that the statement will say one thing rather than another." (2) In this and similar assertions, Lyotard recognizes both quantum mechanics and especially chaos theory as the postmodern theories par excellence, given their radical incredulity over the possibility of achieving a grand metanarrative description of the universe. For Lyotard, the postmodern era and its cultural artifacts (including the scientific theories noted here) are uniquely characterized by their "incredulity towards metanarratives" (3) which raise the question of whether Stoppard's employment of quantum mechanics and chaos theory renders his work postmodern. Indeed, given the radical implications of these theories, one might expect a playwright as innovative as Stoppard, who has dabbled so extensively in nontraditional anti-narratives in such early works as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Real Inspector Hound, to use quantum mechanics to postmodern effect, to create a work that is quantum mechanically dubious about the possibility of narrative explicability. This assumption, however, proves to be incorrect, as much of Stoppard's investigation into these theories seeks to normalize them according to a classical interpretation rather than to revel in their anti-epistemological implications. (4)

Tom Stoppard and "Postmodern Science": Normalizing Radical Epistemologies in Hapgood and Arcadia.
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  • 2,99 €
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Performing Arts
  • Published: 22 March 2003
  • Publisher: Comparative Drama
  • Print Length: 51 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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