A Little Bit of Both

10 Feb

Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver can be looked at as an example of a mixture of both pop and high culture. The novel refers to many aspects from the Baroque period in history, which is why the novel can be deemed as an example of high culture, but the novel also depicts these aspects of history into a fictional story. Quicksilver is a fictional story tied into elements of history the novel can be depicted to be a translation or an adaption. Because of how the information in the novel is presented the Stephenson’s novel can be seen as an example of high and pop culture.

One way that Stephenson displays a mixture of pop and high culture is by having the main character, Daniel Waterhouse, have an evolving friendship with Isaac Newton. The two friends go on a quest through science and mathematics. This journey involves historic scientific findings such as the effects of gravity and the transfusion of blood. Waterhouse and Newton also research the first philosophical language, which is also a major turning point in history tied into the fictional story in the novel.

In addition to the scientific findings Waterhouse discovers with Newton they encounter meetings with John Locke and Robert Boyle in an alchemist laboratory. After working on all of these discoveries Waterhouse and Newton soon introduce their findings to the community such as calculus. Stephenson including these events of history is what makes the novel, Quicksilver, considered to be a form of high culture.

As the story unfolds Waterhouse comes across the time the plague hit. This period of time is also when syphilis started spreading. Even though Stephenson does not directly describe a lot of these historical events he still incorporates them into the story and plot of the novel.

All of the historical events, people, and scientific findings integrated into the novel are what makes Stephenson’s novel a form of high culture. Since these components are tied into the novel with a fictional story this novel can be considered as an adaptation of these historical occurrences which also makes this novel a form of pop culture as well.


Samiyah Malik


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