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Maxwell's Demon reads the poetry of Emily Dickinson

Joseph Francis Goecke, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This is an examination of the role of Maxwell's Demon in nineteenth-century American and British literatures, with emphasis on Emily Dickinson. Maxwell's Demon was a scientific fiction that attempted to overcome entropy (the lack of organization) in heat engines at uniform temperature. This scientific fiction had its origins in the literary fictions of the nineteenth-century as a variety of literary artists sought to overcome what they perceived as social uniformity brought about by evolution, democracy and capitalism. The common thread these cultural fictions shared was the image of an agent, either the Demon or the artist, mediating between randomness and ideal order. ^ Chapter One demonstrates how British authors such as Dickens, Tennyson, and Ruskin used the Maxwell's Demon metaphor to maintain traditional order and values. Chapter Two demonstrates how Americans like Emerson, Whitman, and Twain rejected the British model of order, seeing order not as making distinctions within society, but as making connections. Chapter Three focuses on Dickinson directly. She is a Maxwell's Demon who seeks to increase the chaos around her. Her desire for chaos leads to a discussion in Chapter Four of the Pragmatists. Like Dickinson, they saw chaos as a useful intellectual tool; unlike her, they sought to restrict it within a theoretical framework. Chapter Five is a reading of Dickinson in light of the Pragmatists, which demonstrates her desire for uncontrolled chaos. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Goecke, Joseph Francis, "Maxwell's Demon reads the poetry of Emily Dickinson" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9952681.