Chaos and Literary Comparison
Abstract: I will show how chaos is can be found in art, specifically in literature, and analyze John Hawkes's Travesty to show the similarities between literature and chaos.
John Hawkes describes the "artistic challenge" as conceiving the inconceivable. In accordance with that thought, Wallace Stevens says, "Imagination is the power that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal." It is arguable that chaos, deterministic disorder, is both abnormal and inconceivable to the untrained mind; even to the person accustomed to chaos, the imagination is key to his/her perception of chaos. Therefore, chaos can be found not only in nature and scientific studies, but also in art, specifically literature. This assertion can be proved most easily through an analysis of John Hawkes's Travesty.
The short novel takes place in a speeding elegant sports car. The driver, who is the narrator, refers to himself as Papa. Papa is driving his daughter and a poet and family "friend," Henri. While driving, Papa informs them that he is aware of Henri's affair with both Papa's daughter and wife, and he is going to crash the car and all of its passengers into the stone wall of a desolate farmhouse. His purpose for this violent action is not, as would be easily concluded, to get revenge--that would simply be a bonus; his real purpose is to produce art. Papa is somewhat of an artist, and he has decided that the ultimate aesthetic is produced by the melding of the automobile into a new complex array according to his mental blueprint:
One moment the car in perfect condition, without so much as a scratch on its curving surface the next moment impact, sheer impact. Total destruction. In its own way it is a form of ecstasy, this utter harmony between design and debris (Hawkes, 17).
It is the phase change, the moment when the car, a particle in movement, turns chaotic that fascinates Papa.
He refutes the perception of life as a slow, undisturbed flow; he welcomes turbulence as a factor of art and life in general. He focuses on the processes by which turbulence is obtained, and on the moment when that turbulence reveals itself. He is interested in the instant when the ordinary flow of molecules becomes random: the transition between "invention and destruction, the calculable and the inscrutable, the process of life and the stasis of death" (Conte, 123). He is aware that chaos is an undeniable part of his life which he can only comprehend through his imagination and, therefore, through art (no matter how bizarre that art may appear to be).
The initial conditions in the story are infidelity, betrayal, and artistic temperament. The variables produced by these initial conditions are Papa's driving skill, the empty road, and the time of night. All of these variables are crucial; if one is changed in the slightest way, it alters Papa's original plan, thereby taking away the...