Lois Zamora nsIn literature thermodynamics, Lois Parkinson Zamora (c.1944-) is an American literary theorist noted for her study of the use of entropy as a literary theme, particularly in regards to apocalypse theories, namely to describe the end of times, such as appears through the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, and James Purdy. [1]

In 1988, Zamora, in her Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs, entry on apocalypse, she summarizes use of the metaphor of entropy and the second law to describe the end of times as follows: [1]

“A contemporary variation on the apocalyptic vision is provided by the metaphor of entropy. Like apocalypse, entropy is an eschatological vision; it is based on the second law of thermodynamics, which describes the gradual leveling of energy in the universe and the molecular equilibrium called heat death at the end of the process. Entropy posits a world moving toward its extinction inexorably and irreversibly; the end is not to be orchestrated with the great crescendo of apocalyptic cataclysm but rather with the decrescendo of entropic chaos. This eschatology is far more pessimistic than conventional apocalyptic eschatology. The end is not caused by man’s action and God’s reaction, but is produced by decomposition, disintegration, and gradual loss of energy and differentiation. The anthropomorphism of the traditional apocalypse, with it implicit sense of purposeful history responding to human as well as to divine actions, yields to the bleak mechanism of a purely physical world that is irreversibly running out of energy. Whereas the apocalyptic vision sees a causal relationship between past, present, and future, the law of entropy, when applied to human affairs, negates such rational, temporal continuity. History does have a direction as it moves towards heat death, but it admits not human influence, no logical relationship between cause and effect. The use of the metaphor of entropy to describe the end of times appears through the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, and James Purdy.”

This is a fairly decent summary, considering Zamora’s aim was to contain her discussion to American fiction. The dominate initiator of heat death eschatology in world fiction, however, was French astronomer Camille Flammarion and his 1893 science fiction novel The End of the World.

In 1989, Zamora, in her Writing the Apocalypse, traces the history from of apocalypse theory from early Christianity times up through modern times, in which she devotes a chapter, entitled “Apocalypse and Entropy”, to the use of entropy in the works of Pynchon as he culled from American historian Henry Adams and, through Adams, the physicists Rudolf Clausius, William Thomson, Ludwig Boltzmann, Willard Gibbs, and supposedly Werner Heisenberg. [2]

Zamora completed her BA in English at Stanford University (1966) and both her MA (1970) and PhD (1977) in comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She currently is a professor of English, history, and art at the University of Houston.

1. Zamora, Lois Parkinson. (1988). “§Apocalypse, subsection: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century American Apocalyptic Literature”, in: Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs A-J, Volume 1 (pg. 96), Seigneuret, Jean-Charles, editor. Greenwood Publishing Group.
2. Zamora, Lois P. (1989). Writing the Apocalypse: Historical Vision in Contemporary U.S. and Latin American Fiction (Chapter 3: Apocalypse and Entropy: Physics and the Fiction of Thomas Pynchon, pgs. 52-75). Cambridge University Press.

Further reading
● Zamora, Lois Parkinson. (1980). "The Entropic End: Science and Eschatology in the Work of Thomas Pynchon." Science/Technology and the Humanities, 3(i): 35-43.
● Zamora, Lois Parkinson. (1982). The Apocalyptic Vision in America: Interdisciplinary Essays on Myth and Culture (entropy, 4+ pgs). Bowling Green University Press.

External links
Lois Parkinson Zamora (faculty) – University of Houston.
Zamora, Lois Parkinson – WorldCat Identities.

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