Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

It is exactly the “ways of knowing” that formulate the subject of Lookout Cartridge. McElroy’s novel is filled with references to information theory, computers, and film production—all of them the results of modern technology, and all requiring new languages while conferring upon society new modes of perception in order to understand what they do. McElroy is interested in redefining the nature of meaning in the novel, and in portraying a world which has already reached the point of achieving an overabundance of information while possessing scarce means of assimilating it into knowledge. In a universe populated by such “advances in knowledge” as Einsteinian physics, the Heisenberg principle of indeterminacy, and the structure of the liquid crystal (which Cartwright describes as “organic chemicals having the uniform molecular patterns of crystal systems, yet in the way they flow to conform to their containers they seem not solids but liquids”), the modes of perceiving reality—indeed, reality itself—have been radically altered so that old ways of perception, seeing something as either a solid or a liquid, a wave or a particle, will no longer work.

One metaphor which the author uses to make this point is that of the film montage, which is paralleled by the “montage” of Cartwright’s scattered, partially destroyed diary. Montage works by association, rather than by syllogistic logic; it breaks up chronology through the use of...

(The entire section is 551 words.)