Full title: The Concept of Pynchon’s Entropy and its Role in Postmodern Society Marked by Massive Consumerism and Oversaturation with Information
Pynchon deals in his work with a complex concept of entropy and reveals how certain trends in our contemporary culture marked by massive consumerism, have a tendency that is similar to that of an entropy. The mechanics for the entropy in our culture seem to work as an entropy in Physics ‘ going in direction of a heat-death, where new ideas will cease to develop due to the fact that all intellectual energy will be exhausted.
The two main scientific types of entropy, thermodynamic and that of information theory, are deeply explored by Pynchon in his early short story Entropy. As such, this short story provides a view of Pynchon’s early engagement with the concept of entropy, which increases in complexity in his later works The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow. The objective of this paper is to analyze the role of entropy in Pynchon’s short story Entropy and his novel The Crying of Lot 49, in which we can observe a change in Pynchon’s perspective on the concept of entropy with the introduction of Maxwell’s Demon. Encountering difficulties with the mechanics of entropy, there is a chance for us, the readers, to prevent heat-death, or in other words information death. Just as Maxwell’s Demon, the reader is invited to sort out and filter the information that their get and thus avoid being overwhelmed by media that oversaturate our society.
The Concept of Entropy
There are two main scientific understandings of entropy that Pynchon considers in his works – that of thermodynamics and that of information theory. Originally, Rudolf Clausius was first to come up with the term already in 1865 assuming that ‘energy etymologically means work-contents as a term to denote the transformation-contents within a system’. Clausius proposed that, ‘the entropy of a system is the measure of the unavailability of its thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work’ (OED) and that any transfer of heat within the system always increases the entropy of the whole system, meaning that the universe tends towards ever-increasing entropy. Norbert Wiener elaborated on these notions and in his The Human Use of Human Beings he came up with a theory of the heat-death of the universe. The heat-death will happen the highest level of entropy has been reached and there is no other remaining source of energy to create some mechanical work or motion. This have inspired Pynchon to explore the concept of entropy in his short story Entropy, as he stated in the introduction to Slow Learner (12). In The Human Use of Human Beings, Wiener explains the heat-death tendency of
the universe by saying that
as entropy increases, the universe, and all closed systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate and lose their distinctiveness, to move from the least to the most probable state, from a state of organization and differentiation in which distinctions and forms exist, to a state of chaos and sameness (15).
We can find these thermodynamic entropic notions and implications in Pynchon’s Entropy and even more so in his later works.
The almost forgotten term of entropy re-emerges after some time in information theory as the ‘measure of the average information rate of a message or language’ (OED) .As Norbert Wiener remarks ‘information is what we receive and impart to interact with or control our outside environment'(19), but all forms of information become less organized and less coherent in transfer, which is an entropic tendency. ‘In control and communication we are always fighting nature’s tendency to degrade the organized and destroy the meaningful; the tendency, as Gibbs has shown us, for entropy to increase (19)’. Thus, to get the content of messages transmitted from one source to another, the entropy or distortion of the message must be canceled out by redundant information. ‘The information carried by a message is essentially the negative of its entropy, and the negative logarithm of its probability. That is, the more probable the message, the less information it gives’ (20).
Thomas Pynchon’s Short Story Entropy
Even though Pynchon himself criticizes his early grasp of entropy in his Slow Learner: ”It is simply wrong to begin with a theme, symbol or other abstract unifying agent, and then try to force characters and events to conform to it’ (12), he established a basis for this notion and by doing he was able to develop his ideas concerning entropy further in The Crying of Lot 49 and other works: ‘Since I wrote this [Entropy] story I have kept trying to understand entropy’ (14).
Two different apartments create the setting of the story, each representing one of the two already mentioned scientific notions of entropy; that of information theory and
that of thermodynamics. On an example of events that take place at these two apartments, Pynchon shows as, how certain social and cultural tendencies in the American society mirror the principles of an entropy. Entropy begins in February of 1957 in Washington D.C. with Meatball Mulligan’s lease-breaking party that has lasted for nearly forty hours in his apartment on the third floor. It is in this apartment, that all other events of the story that resemble the tendencies of communication theory entropy take place. Mulligan’s apartment is in the state of a considerable chaos and the reader encounters totally random party guests occupying the rooms of the apartment under the influence of alcohol and other
drugs, such as Sandor Rojas, a former Hungarian Freedom fighter, and his three friends: ‘on the kitchen floor, amid a litter of empty champagne fifths […] staying awake on Heidseck and benzedrine pills’ (81); the members of the Duke di Angelis quartet jazz group ï¿½ï¿½ Duke, Vincent, Krinkles and Paco, who ‘sat crouched over a 15-inch speaker which had been bolted into the top of a wastepaper basket, listening to 27 watts worth of The Heroes’ Gate at Kiev,’ (81) with cannabis sativa cigarettes in the living room or the State Department and NSA government girls who ‘had passed out on couches, chairs and in one case the bathroom sink’ (81-82).
As the story goes on, the reader is able to observe that the party guests are alienated not only from each other, but also from society by remaining at the party for a longer period of time, and thus isolating themselves from the outside world. In this way reaches Mulligan’s apartment a higher state of entropy. According to information theory, it causes distortion or ‘noise’ in communication and the content or ‘signal’ of the message becomes too incoherent to be received and understood by the recipient, which leads to a break-down in communication. Mulligan’s neighbor, Saul, is mistaken for a burglar when he chooses a window over a door for his arrival: ‘A shaggy woebegone figure stood out on the fire escape, raking his fingernails down the windowpane’ (86), and then rather sits
on a kitchen appliances rather than on a chair: ‘Sitting on the stove, Saul was like any big rag doll that a kid has been taking out some incomprehensible rage on'(89). He seems to violate social conventions without much concern. The reader finds out that Saul is not only detached from the outside world, he is also separated from his wife Miriam because of a lapse in communication regarding communication theory, symbolized by the broken window’ ‘and when the glass broke I reckon something in her broke too. She stormed out of the house crying, out in the rain’ (89). Saul further explains that Miriam is deeply troubled by computer behavior which resembles human behavior: ‘I made the mistake of saying you can just as well turn that around and talk about human behavior like a program fed into an IBM machine’ (90), which points at Norbert Wiener’s theory of living organisms and machines sharing the ability to decrease entropy by making decisions based on processing and sorting information, ‘The machine, like the living organism, is […] a device which locally and temporarily seems to resist the general tendency for the increase of entropy’. The assumption underlying this theory is that ‘the synapse in the living organism corresponds to the switching device in the machine’ (33), indicating that there really are strinking similarities to be find between advanced machines and human behavior. Meatball Mulligan seems not to be suprise by Saul’s reply about human behavior resembling computer behavior and Saul adds: ‘In fact, it is sort of crucial to communication, not to mention information theory,’ (90) which ist the most explicit evidence for the information theory entropy to ne present at Mulligan’s apartment. Saul emphasizes the word noise when he says:
I love you, No trouble with two-thirds of that, it’s a closed circuit […] But that nasty four-letter word in the middle, that’s the one you have to look out for. Ambiguity. Redundance. Irrelevance, even. Leakage. All this is noise (90-91).
He thus makes the reader attentive about relation between ‘noise’ and ‘signal’. ‘Noise screws up your signal, makes for disorganization in the circuit’ (91), however, it is not just Saul’s circuit that ‘noise’ disorganizes, it is also the organized content or ‘signal’ of any message in information theory as an entropic tendency. Despite Saul’s understanding of noise in communication theory, there is a surprising amount of miscommunication surrounding his actions, comments and understanding of other people, such as when he is mistaken for a second-story man because he does not use the door or when he cannot understand the reason for his wife’s rage: ‘And I can’t figure out why. If anybody should know why, I should’ (91). Later he implies that most human interaction is ‘noise,’ when Meatball declares: ‘Well now, Saul […]you’re sort of, I don’t know, expecting a lot from people. I mean, you know. What it is is, most of the things we say, I guess, are mostly noise,’ (91) and finally, when Meatball tries to explain the reason why Miriam got so upset: ‘by ‘human being’ you meant something that you can look at like it was a computer. It helps you think better on the job or something. But Miriam meant something entirely ” (91) Saul interrupts Meatball with a comment consisting of only ‘noise’ ‘ ‘The hell with it’ (91). Right before the conclusion is to be reached, is content or ‘signal’ is distorted and lost in transmission: ‘Meatball fell silent’ (91). Thus, the extent of Saul’s alienation from society and human beings due to his profession, as suggested by Meatball,
causes too much entropic ‘noise’ and distortion for him to receive and transmit information clearly and consequently,to understand and to be understood by other human beings.
The chaos in Meatball Mulligan’s apartment takes a quick turn for the worse as meaningful communication ceases entirely and the guests alienate themselves further from
each other by moving towards private spheres of activity that are symptomatic of the escalating miscommunication, such as the morra players, who are most likely attempting to settle a dispute that ordinary words could not: ‘There was a two-handed, bilingual morra game on over by the icebox’ (96), but it soon turns out to be equally fruitless, because the
involved parties cannot understand each other, ‘The morra players were nose-to-nose, screaming trios, sette at the tops of their lungs’ (96) At first, this miscommunication appears to be dcaused by a language barrier between French and Italian, but as Saul points out to Meatball earlier, it is just another form of ‘noise’ distorting the ‘signal’ of the message, ‘No, ace, it is not a barrier. If it’s anything it’s a kind of leakage […] Ambiguity. Redundance. Irrelevance, even. Leakage. All this is noise’ (90). Since the messages of the morra players become lost in the transmission, the players shout at each other in roder to strengthen the ‘signal’ and fight the ‘noise’, but the ‘noise’ interfering between the two languages is too strong to be overcome in such a way.
We find Saul further removed or alienated from the others at the party when he engages in a private activity that is symptomatic of miscommunication as well, ‘Saul had filled
several paper bags with water and was sitting on the fire escape, dropping them on passersby in the street’ (96). Since Meatball Mulligan already ‘abandoned Saul to a bottle of tequila […] ‘ (92), after being unable to alleviate Saul’s frustration with an explanation caused by failure of communication, Saul’s frustration over being unable to communicate
with his wife seems to escalate to exerting it upon random people passing below with his prank of dropping water bags. Saul is not shown to have a connection with anyone else in the apartment, other than Meatball, so when his frustration is not resolved and Meatball leaves him alone, he descends into greater entropy and confusion and spreads that confusion to random people even outside of the apartment, causing more chaos and
The entropy in Meatball Mulligan’s apartment continues to increase, as a ‘fat government girl’ (96) provokes the sailors into a brawl by hitting the one named Slab with her
head, ‘Figuring this was as good an excuse for a fight as any, Slab’s buddies piled in’ (96) while the girl found sleeping in the sink and moved to the shower earlier
expresses her fear of drowning, ‘She had apparently sat on the drain and the water was now up to her neck’ (96) until finally ‘The noise in Meatball’s apartment had reached a sustained, ungodly crescendo, (96) that not even Mulligan can comfortably ignore anymore, as he contemplates what to do next,:
The way he [Meatball] figured, there were only about two ways he could cope: (a) lock himself in the closet and maybe eventually they would all go away, or (b) try to calm everybody down, one by one. (a) was certainly the more attractive alternative. (96)
The first option is not unlike the alienating tendency observed amongst most of the guests, who seclude themselves in private spheres of their own and disregard everything beyond those spheres as a result of being unable to achieve meaningful communication between each other, because their messages are lost in transit, distorted by ‘noise.’ Such distortion is a natural tendency towards disorganization and entropy in information theory, as explained by Wiener, ‘In control and communication we are always fighting nature’s tendency to degrade the organized and to destroy the meaningful; the tendency, as Gibbs has shown us, for entropy to increase’ (19). The party guests’ alienation from society and by extension, from each other, causes interference or ‘noise’ in their attempts to communicate with the other people at the party, leading to miscommunication that discourages them from attempting to communicate at all, which, in turn, leads to more misunderstanding, confusion, chaos and entropy in the apartment. Thus, if Meatball were to follow their example, which follows the natural tendency of entropy to increase, and withdraw himself from the guests and events in the apartment too, the entropy and chaos would most likely simply continue to increase. Meatball’s absence would not stop the arrival of new guests that would continue to perpetuate the party by bringing more alcohol with them. Mulligan briefly considers the easier option of isolating himself from the chaos in the closet, but realizes that he does ‘not feature being alone’ (96). Finally, he concludes
that the harder option is preferable to the easier one, ‘The other way was more a pain in the neck, but probably better in the long run,’ (97) and decides to counter the descent into
greater chaos and entropy in his apartment even though it requires more effort and work to impose order against the natural course of entropy:
So he [Meatball] decided to try and keep his leasebreaking party from deteriorating into total chaos; he gave wine to the sailors and separated the morra players; […] he helped the girl in the shower to dry off and get into bed; he had another talk with Saul; he called a repairman for the refrigerator, which someone had discovered was on the blink. (97)
The process of increasing entropy or chaos is automatic and in order to counter it and create order, additional effort and work is required, such as in Mulligan’s case, when it takes him the rest of the day to organize the chaos and disorder in his apartment. The state of Mulligan’s apartment not only exemplifies entropy as understood by information theory, but also reflects the confusion and loss of purpose to do anything. On the other hand, Calisto’s apartment is kind of deserted island, the only place in the boulding, directly above Mulligan’s place, where the entropy decreases. the effects of entropy, as understood in thermodynamics, which is the science concerned with the correlations between mechanical energy and heat and how they convert from one to the other, are exemplified through Callisto’s apartment and its inhabitants. The apartment itself is depicted as a completely isolated artificial greenhouse: ‘Hermetically sealed, it was a tiny enclave of regularity in the city’s chaos, alien to the vagaries of the weather, of national politics, of any civil disorder’ (83-84), 65 It represents a temporary place of order, amidst the increasing disorder or entropy of the external world, exemplified by the aforementioned events that transpire in Mulligan’s apartment directly below. The amount
of energy that Callisto has had to exert to create this local and temporary island to resist the effects of entropy is reflected by the amount of time it has taken him: ‘this hothouse jungle it had taken him seven years to weave together’ (83). The amount of time spent is much greater than the amount of energy Mulligan spent to create a lesser degree of local and temporary order amongst the guests in his apartment. The temperature in Callisto’s ‘hothouse jungle’ is not revealed, but the temperature outside remains stagnant, even though the weather is going through extreme changes:
Outside there was rain […] The day before, it had snowed and the day before that there had been winds of gale force and before that the sun had made the city glitter bright as April, though the calendar read early February (82).
Callisto closely monitors the outside temperature with the help of the other inhabitant, Aubade, and recognizes in it a symptom of a highly entropic state or even heat-death, which might indicate an approaching apocalypse.Unlike Meatball Mulligan, who invited the chaos and disorder of the outside world into his apartment and has become affected by it, Callisto has removed himself from the disorganized outside world and isolated himself within a local and temporary island of ecological balance or order in his apartment, which as the reader is told, neither he, nor Aubade, ever leaves, Callisto realizes that the scientific tendency toward greater entropy and heat-death extends beyond science to
everything in the world around him:
The horrible significance of it all dawned on him [Callisto]: only then did he realize that the isolated system ‘ galaxy, engine, human being, culture, whatever ‘ must evolve spontaneously toward the Condition of the More Probable (87)
Callisto discovers ‘in entropy or the measure of disorganization for a closed system an
adequate metaphor to apply to certain phenomena in his own world, (87), and illustrates this with a few instances, ‘He saw, for example, the younger generation responding to Madison Avenue with the same spleen his own had once reserved for Wall Street […] ‘ (88), where Madison Avenue is a symbol of the advertising industry that perpetuated American consumerism through mass media and Wall Street symbolizes American capitalism and finance. Callisto then reveals the connection between consumerism and entropy: ‘In American ‘consumerism’ [Callisto] discovered a similar tendency from the least to the most probable, from differentiation to sameness, from ordered individuality to a kind of chaos’ (88).
This suggests that the effects of consumerism contribute to greater entropy, because the observed tendencies correspond closely to those of entropy. Until finally, Callisto
conceives that just as entropy increases in a closed system and inevitably leads to heat-death, so too must society, as he foresees:
A heat-death for his culture in which ideas, like heat-energy, would no longer be transferred, since each point in it would ultimately have the same quantity of energy; and intellectual motion would, accordingly, cease. (88)
Despite Callisto’s meticulous attempts to create a local and temporary island of order or ecological balance in his apartment, the death of the bird he tried to bring back to health for the past three days by transferring heat indicates, that even Callisto’s ‘hothouse jungle’ has reached a state of high probability, high entropy and possibly even heat-death, where the transfer of heat-energy is no longer possible, Realizing that the apartment has succumbed to the inexorable effects of entropy and that there is no escape from it, Aubade reconnects the apartment to the outside world by breaking a window and slowly awaits the unavoidable heat-death:
until the moment of equilibrium was reached, when 37 degrees Fahrenheit should prevail both outside and inside, and forever, and the hovering, curious dominant of their separate lives should resolve into a tonic of darkness and the final absence of all motion (97-98).
Entropy in The Crying of Lot 49
Pynchon’s image of the concept of entropy changes and develops in his following
novel, In The Crying of Lot 49 we encounter a counteragent to entropy: Maxwell’s demon. Although Clerk Maxwell’s theoretical concept of Maxwell’s demon reversing the effects
of entropy sounded promising at first and gave some hope of resisting heat-death, later scientific developments in fields such as information theory revealed a number of issues with the concept, some of which surface in The Crying of Lot 49, that put the whole idea in question (Wiener 28-29).
Unlike in Entropy with each type of entropy pertaining to one of the apartments, Thomas Pynchon no longer provides such clear differentiations between them in The Crying of Lot 49, but rather implicitly reveals features of both as they occur throughout the events in the book, as observed by the main protagonist, Oedipa Maas. In doing so, Pynchon conveys his observation of the similar tendencies between American consumer culture and those of thermodynamic entropy and information theory to the reader. Although the outlook of culture following the same principles as thermodynamic or information theory entropy and progressing towards inevitable heat-death is bleak, Pynchon’s tone in The Crying of Lot 49 is not as hopeless or apocalyptic as in Entropy due to a potential alternative. Pynchon provides a certain amount of hope of resisting cultural heat death by assuming a role much like that of what the physicist Clerk Maxwell envisioned in his 1871 hypothesis in Theory of Heat for his demon, which came to be named after him (Grant 68). Maxwell conceived the demon as an entity that operates a door between two enclosed spaces of a closed system, filled with fast- and slow-moving molecules. By allowing the fast-moving, high-energy molecules to pass only into one of the spaces and the slow-moving, low-energy molecules to pass only into the other space, the demon would raise the temperature of the space with the fast-moving molecules and lower the temperature of the other space, without expending. any physical work. In doing so, the demon would be violating the second law of thermodynamics, which, as Norbert Wiener puts it, ‘tells us that energy spontaneously runs downhill in temperature’ (29), causing greater entropy within a closed
system and eventually, heat-death. Thus, as Wiener concludes, ‘In other words, the Maxwell demon seems to overcome the tendency of entropy to increase’ (29), but the demon also seems to reverse the natural tendency of entropy by causing an increase in energy temperature in the space with fast-moving molecules as a result of the sorting process. However, Wiener then proceeds to point out a central issue with Maxwell’s demon, as does Oedipa Maas when she asks, ‘Sorting isn’t work?’ (The Crying of Lot 49 ,86) Oedipa expresses this objection in response to Stanley Koteks’ explanation of the Maxwell demon:
Since the Demon only sat and sorted, you wouldn’t have to put any real work into the system. So you would be violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics, getting something for nothing, causing perpetual motion (86).
Koteks responds to Oedipa’s objection by explaining that mental work is not considered mechanical work, as understood by thermodynamics. Norbert Wiener explains the issue of mental sorting with the Maxwell demon as ‘a very interesting distinction between the physics of our grandfathers and that of the present day. In nineteenth-century physics, it seemed to cost nothing to get information’ (29). Thus, the Maxwell demon could operate under this assumption, but developments in physics since that assumption had progressed to the point of realizing ‘that the demon can only gain the information with which it opens or closes the door from something like a sense organ which for these purposes is an eye’ (Wiener 29) .
In order to be able to gather information about the molecules, such a sense organ requires light to come into contact with it and with the observed particles. Unfortunately, if the
light and the molecules are in a state of balance, they become indistinguishable from each other and the eye is rendered incapable of perceiving the location or velocity of the molecules at all. Even if the light and the molecules are not in a state of balance initially, the interaction between the light and the molecules will eventually result in a balanced state, rendering the demon’s sorting capability only temporary at best (Wiener 29-30).
Another issues is revealed as Oedipa recollects Nefastis’ explanation:
As the Demon sat and sorted his molecules into hot and cold, the system was said to lose entropy. But somehow the loss was offset by the information the Demon gained about what molecules were where (The Crying of Lot 49 105)
This recollection suggests that the Maxwell demon is only reducing entropy and sorting locally in the thermodynamic sense, while increasing entropy elsewhere by acquiring the
information about the location and velocity of the molecules. Regardless, Maxwell’s Demon provides a significant point of convergence of the two different types of entropy, thermodynamic and informational, as Oedipa recalls from Nefastis’ explanation, ‘The two fields were entirely unconnected, except at one point: Maxwell’s Demon’ (105). Grant anticipates that
the demon ‘sees’ the molecule in the light reflected from it, but the light energy is dissipated into heat in the process, bringing about an increase in entropy at least as great as the decrease accomplished as a result of knowledge the demon gains about the molecule (85).
Thus, it seems that the process of acquiring knowledge or meaning out of the gathered information causes an increase in entropy of the demon at the same time. This is also
evidenced by Oedipa Maas, who, like the reader following her footsteps, assumes a role much like that of the Maxwell Demon in pursuing the truth behind the mystery of the
elusive Trystero. In doing so, Oedipa reduces the thermodynamic entropy of her life, which had initially been unvaryingly uniform in her opinion: ‘shuffling back through a fat deckful of days which seemed […] more or less identical, […]’ ( The Crying of Lot 49 11) of a typical consumer, suggested by her presence at a Tupperware party ‘Mrs Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party […]’ (9). Sorting through the remains of Inverarity’s estate and the related Trystero mystery provide plenty of variety in Oedipa’s life over the previous monotony. However, the process of accumulating information about the Trystero causes her and the reader’s uncertainty, confusion or informational entropy about it to increase, because she eventually cannot distinguish the meaningful information
from the meaningless or gain tangible facts from it. Therefore, the second law of thermodynamics is not violated, because even if a local decrease in entropy is achieved, it
is only temporary and results in a greater increase in entropy elsewhere. Oedipa becomes increasingly preoccupied with organizing the fragmented remains of Pierce Inverarity’s estate as executrix of his will along with making sense out of conspiracy theory about Trystero, she is eventually overwhelmed by the sheer excess of related information and signs. This renders her unable to process the entirety of information by sifting through it and increases entropy within her, just as it increases within the Maxwell demon as a result of reducing of the entropy in a closed system by sorting molecules. As John Nefastis, whom Oedipa encounters not long after Stanley Koteks on her quest, seems to realize, the Maxwell demon cannot work on its own and requires influence from outside its closed system to operate. He reinvents the demon in his ‘Nefastis’ machine that requires the external influence of a ‘sensitive’ person in order to dispose of the accumulated information entropy from the demon.
The Demon passes his data on to the sensitive and the sensitive must reply in kind. [….] The sensitive must receive that staggering set of energies, and feed back something like the same quantity of information. To keep it all cycling. (The Crying of Lot 49 105)
Thus, while the demon reduces thermodynamic entropy within the closed system by sorting molecules, the ‘sensitive’ person seems to reduce the information entropy of the demon by processing the acquired information about the molecules and most likely feeding meaningful information back to the demon for it to be able to continue in the sorting process. Although Oedipa is not successful at communicating with the demon to complete the loop, her attempts to impose some form of order upon the information she acquires throughout her journey closely resembles the information processing of a ‘sensitive’ person required to complete the circuit of the Nefastis machine. While the Maxwell Demon requires a sense organ in the form of an eye to acquire information about the molecules by gauging their velocity, Oedipa, like the ‘sensitive,’ must use her mind and common sense to process the acquired information to sort the meaningful from meaningless and arrive at meaning. By extension, the reader is also prompted to process the information Oedipa acquires along her journey in order to arrive at some meaning and also performs a similar task to that of a Maxwell demon, by participating in the sorting of information, rather than molecules, just like the ‘sensitive’ appears to. However, due to the effects of entropy in information theory, the ‘signal’ or content and meaning of messages of any kind tends to degrade and becomes distorted by interference, so the messages are often not received clearly, if they are received at all. Therefore, processing the received information and deriving meaning from it by distinguishing the ‘signal’ from ‘noise’ in order to reduce the uncertainty or entropy becomes increasingly difficult for Oedipa, due to the received messages either being incomplete or containing too much ‘noise’ to derive the ‘signal’ or meaning from it.
Another significant instance of information entropy occurs with the discrepancy between Wharfinger’s version of The Courier’s Tragedy omitting the Trystero assassins and Driblette’s theater reproduction including both. This discrepancy can be attributed to the passage of time and re-creation of the play creating ‘noise’ in the form of distortion in the original message, which contributes to Oedipa’s increasing uncertainty or entropy
about the existence of the Trystero. The ambiguity that Oedipa senses in her attempts to decode the Tristero is the novel’s equivalent of noise. ‘She has no way of knowing how closely the messages she is receiving resemble the messages that have been ‘sent’ (Grant 30). Therefore, like Oedipa, the reader also experiences increasing uncertainty or entropy about the mystery of the Trystero in following Oedipa’s footsteps and about the plot of the whole novel since Oedipa does not arrive at a unified understanding of it by the end of the novel.
Living in consumer culture that is overabundant with information made available through mass media, it has become almost impossible to discern which piece of information is important and which is redundant and misleading. By leaving his works open to a wide variety of interpretations, Pynchon reduces the probability of readers arriving at identical conclusions, and thus decreases the entropic tendency towards sameness. The difference between the entropy in the Pynchon’s earlier short story and the entropy in The Crying of Lot 49 allow readers different interpretations. It might be considered as Pynchon’s attempt to reverse the socio-cultural entropy. Readers are enriched by the experience of active participation and they actively take place in processing of information flow and become more experienced in distinguishing meaningful information from a surplus and misleading information distributed through the mass media and. As a result, readers are encouraged to seek their own interpretations of contemporary chaotic world that is permeated by consumerism which contributes to higher entropy in society in several ways, but most importantly, by conditioning consumers to comply with its materialistic value scheme and adopt it for their own in an effort to promote greater consumption, which leads to the irrational and excessive reduction of all items that cease to hold material value to disposable waste, eve if such consumption is unsustainable. Corporations have a vested interest in perpetuating omnipresent consumerism in society because there is much material gain and profit to be made from the bountiful consumption of their products by consumers. To that end, corporations go to great lengths to shape people into the desired pattern of a good consumer and in doing so, instigate greater entropy in society and culture by promoting uniform material want over individual
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