Simplicity and Complexity

Pondering Literature, Science, and Painting
Floyd Merrell
A fascinating exploration of the connections among science, art, and literature


Behind every apparently placid surface there lies an unruly ocean of complexity. Fractals, chaos theory, and dissipative structures bear witness to these hidden complexities of the universe. Complementing these ideas in the sciences, fiction from the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Thomas Pynchon, and Samuel Beckett reveals our deep-seated desire for simplicity while we are obliged to learn to cope with complexity. And painting, especially since Paul Cézanne, evinces the complexity pervading what we often wish to take simply as what there is.

Simplicity and Complexity is about simplicity and complexity, order and disorder, as seen through the lenses of fiction, the sciences, and works of art. Floyd Merrell offers a nonmathematical account of chaos theory, fractal geometry, and the physics of complexity insofar as they are relevant to crucial facets of literature and painting created over the past century. Though his account is informal, he addresses technical concepts and philosophical questions, and sheds new light on the authors and painters he discusses. His radically interdisciplinary approach is within the mainstream of postmodern practices, yet it criticizes the tendency toward facile conclusions and sweeping generalizations regarding relations between the arts, the humanities, and the sciences. It brings a collection of disciplines under an umbrella that is protective of particular theories, concepts, methods, and practices, while revealing connecting threads in the tenuously linked web of all human endeavors to know the product of the mind and of the world.

Floyd Merrell is Professor of Theory, Semiotics, and Spanish-American Literature, Purdue University. He is the author of a number of books, including Peirce's Semiotics Now: A Primer; Semiosis in the Postmodern Age; and Sign, Textuality, World.

Praise / Awards

  • "Merrell gives inter-disciplinarity a new horizon and continues the dialogue between the sciences and literature in a way I have not seen since Hegel tried to pull it all together in his Encyclopedia."
    --Eugen Baer, Professor of Philosophy, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  • ". . . those who understand learning~teaching as living~learning (rather than teaching as/for earning) must be able to personally articulate their interpreting of complex interdisciplinary notions for opening youngsters to simple understandings for moving beyond the postulations of an economic order on which to base a society. I believe simplicity~complexity is an expression of such a notion, and Merrell's book is a stimulating and accessible introduction to it."
    ---Warren Sellers, Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education

Look Inside


List of Figures     xiv

Introduction: A Silent but Ubiquitous Third     1

Part 1

1. On Things That Go Away     21
2. How/Why Is Simplicity Complex and Complexity Simple?     49
3. When Space Breaks Down     79

Part 2

4. Veering off on a Tangent     97
5. When Things Get Out of Line     110
6. Rending and Mending without Ending     139

Part 3

7. Infinite in All Directions?     173
8. Patterns That Connect     186
9. Fissures, Fractures, Gaps, and Continuity     221

Part 4

10. The Vengeful Onslaught of Sludge     241
11. Flying off in All Directions     262
12. Simplicity and Complexity Revisited     293

Notes     317
References     341
Index     361

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 384pp.
  • 27 drawings, 1 photograph.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1998
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10860-2

Add to Cart
  • $94.95 U.S.