Quicksilver is Poppin’ with A High

10 Feb

Determining whether or not Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver is strictly “High Culture” or “Pop Culture” can be difficult; therefore it is simple a combination of each. I would have to say that Stephenson does a great job of being effective by telling a story combining two very different concepts. He portrays it in terms of “Pop Culture” by providing insights to our modern world with some dry humor and tweaks in order to provide more entertainment and desire for readers. On the contrary, Stephenson adds in “High Culture” aspects by adequately including historical figures and references.

Quicksilver has numerous amounts of historically accurate concepts that tend to make it seem very “High Culture”, beginning with extremely important figures in the calculus world: Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. He also includes other recognizable characters that have had an enormous impact on human culture like Ben Franklin.  Furthermore, Stephenson also extensively mentions the Royal Society and Newton’s Presidential role.  He also includes the whole “Leibniz stole calculus from Newton” dispute. As one can note, Stephenson applied several “High Culture” ideas and references to make the read seem more realistic and less fictitious. However, not everything was entirely and strictly accurate, thus giving it a pop cultural twist.

Other than the splurges of “High Culture” Stephenson provides, everything else in Quicksilver should be categorized as “Pop Culture”.  The book itself is an adaptation of history dealing with math and science. Being an adaptation, it characterizes the book in pop cultural manner. Stephenson provides some tweaks here and there in terms of history to make put a little thrill to the story plot. For example, the book starts off by claiming a man by the name of Dr. Daniel Waterhouse founded “The Massachusetts Bay Colony Institute of Technologikal Arts” in the 18th century. However in reality, Stephenson is referring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which was actually not even founded until the 19th century in 1861. Little tweaks like this Stephenson carried through with made things feel more pop cultural thus more enticing to read in a modern society like today.

Stephenson’s reasoning and purpose for adding a pop cultural feel with some “High Culture” values is most likely to take something completely boring (calculus) and make it more enjoying. Rather than presenting these scientific and mathematical topics like an encyclopedia would, Stephenson spices it up to make it more approachable for the reader. As a result, readers find Stephenson’s work so appealing they want more, causing sequels to take place and ultimately earning him tons of money.

To sum up, Quicksilver cannot be definitively proclaimed as just either “High Culture” or “Pop Culture”. Instead, Neal Stephenson used his creativity when publishing the book by mixing the two. He used historical people and references along with a huge controversial topic in history and used “Pop Culture” twists to tell a rather interesting and unique story.


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