Graduate Theses & Dissertations

All Things Fusible
This dissertation presents the work of the American science fiction writer Neal Stephenson as a case study of mediations between literature and science by mobilizing its resonances with contemporary science studies and media theory. Tracing the historical and thematic trajectory of his consecutively published novels Snow Crash (1992), The Diamond Age; or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995), Cryptonomicon (1999), Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle I (2003), The Confusion: The Baroque Cycle II (2004), and The System of the World: The Baroque Cycle III (2004), it approaches Stephenson’s fiction as an archaeology of the deep history of science that leads from late twentieth-century cyberculture, to world-war-two cryptography, and the seventeenth-century rise of the Royal Society. Refracted through a parallel reading of Stephenson’s novels and the theoretical work of Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, Friedrich A. Kittler, Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, and others, this dissertation offers a literary discussion of the relations among cybernetics, complexity theory, information theory, systems theory, Leibnizian metaphysics, and Newtonian alchemy. Recognizing these hybrid fields as central to contemporary dialogues between the natural sciences and the humanities, Stephenson’s work is shown to exhibit a consistent engagement with the feedback loops among physical, artistic, narratological, and epistemological processes of innovation and emergence. Through his portrayal of hackers, mathematicians, natural philosophers, alchemists, vagabonds, and couriers as permutations of trickster figures, this dissertation advances a generalized notion of boundary transgressions and media infrastructures to illustrate how newness emerges by way of the turbulent con-fusion of disciplines, genres, knowledge systems, historical linearities, and physical environments. Uninterested in rigid genre boundaries, Stephenson’s novels are explored through the links among artistic modes that range from cyberpunk, to hard science fiction, historiographic metafiction, the carnivalesque, and the baroque. In a metabolization of the work performed by science studies, Stephenson’s fiction foregrounds that scientific practice is always intimately entangled in narrative, politics, metaphor, myth, and the circulation of a multiplicity of human and nonhuman agents. As the first sustained analysis of this segment of Stephenson’s work, this dissertation offers a contribution to both science fiction studies and the wider field of literature and science. Author Keywords: Complexity Theory, Cyberpunk, Michel Serres, Neal Stephenson, Science Fiction, Science Studies

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