Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michael Knight

Committee Members

Allen Wier, Mary E. Papke, Jinx Watson


The Theory Currently Known as M is a creative dissertation for an English doctoral degree. Recent works in contemporary literature explore connections between scientific theories and the human emotions: Venn diagrams, botanical entries, and mathematical equations are numerous in theatrical successes such as David Auburn’s Proof and Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, collections of short stories such as Karl Iagnemma’s On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, Anthony Doerr’s The Shell Collectors, and Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever and Servants of the Map, and novels such as Charles Baxter’s First Light. Writers, always searching for fresh forms of phrasing, syntax, and metaphor, find fresh ways to describe love and desire, discord and estrangement by borrowing from science.

Metaphors derived from scientific inquiries emerge as a way to specify the mysterious entity of “place” and dovetail with current critical and literary meditations on land and location. The role of gender and history in discussions of place cannot be ignored, especially if place is defined as Eudora Welty does in her treatise, Place in Fiction, and, more recently as Minrose Gwin describes it, as “space”: place as container and conduit, an impetus for all that fiction can do, acting alternatively and simultaneously as point of view, character, setting, history, and culture; a full-to-bursting vessel housing the narratives swirling within, under and above the land itself.

The novel merges scientific language and Appalachian history, creating a helicoidal text. It contains two narratives, one that takes place in 2004, one that unfolds during WWII. Both storylines alternate between Knoxville and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The female narrator, Elizabeth works at the recently built Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In 2004, Conway is a failed scientist obsessed with his past and superstring theory. He is searching for a unifying theory of love and loss.

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