Sequence, Causality, and Determinism: Anxiety over the Collision of Past and Future in Eliot’s Poetry and Joyce’s Prose


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Bachelor's Degree

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This essay was the last essay I wrote during my time studying abroad at Oxford University, and although it was written for a tutorial specifically on T.S. Eliot, it is truly a reflection of the scholarly and analytical growth I experienced during my time at Oxford. Although this essay is obviously structured around in-depth textual analysis and literary theory, the idea for the essay came from a different discipline entirely: it is, in fact, a kind of literary retelling of the famous physics thought experiment called “Schrodinger’s cat”. I cannot pretend to understand the physics aspect of the thought experiment, but my rudimentary understanding is essentially this: a cat is in a box with a radioactive element that may or may not decay. If the element decays, then a vial of poison in the box will be broken, and the cat will die. As long as the element does not decay, this will not happen. The important part of the experiment is this: as long as we don’t look in the box to see what has happened, then the cat is both alive and dead. In other words, reality is not really reality until it is observed, so as long as we haven’t observed the cat, it exists in both possible states. As I was analyzing the works of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, I came to realize that these authors (both of whom were writing several years before Schrodinger published his cat problem) seemed to understand this phenomenon. I actually began writing the essay with an intro about Schrodinger’s cat, but this got edited out in my writing process. Nevertheless, the remnants of my thought about Schrodinger’s cat are evident throughout the essay, and I am particularly proud of this essay because of the way I was able to take ideas from two very different intellectual disciplines and bridge them into a successful essay. Even if the sciences and the humanities sometimes appear to be at odds, I truly believe that many scholars from many different disciplines are saying the same things in different ways, and finding the similarities is often more satisfying than finding the differences.