Science and Literature: the Great Divide?
Deadline: Sunday 1st July 2012
Contributions are now invited for the 2012 edition of the MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities, an international, refereed online journal, aimed at postgraduate and early-career researchers.
There have been plenty of days when I have spent the working hours with scientists and then gone off at night with some literary colleagues […] I got occupied with the problem of what, long before I put it on paper, I christened to myself as the ‘two cultures’. For constantly I felt I was moving among two groups – comparable in intelligence, identical in race, not grossly different in social origin, earning about the same incomes, who had almost ceased to communicate at all […] By and large this is a problem of the entire West.
C.P. Snow’s infamous ‘Two Cultures’ lecture of 1959, and the heated public exchange with literary critic F.R. Leavis that ensued, highlight the great academic tension of our age: that sometimes tacit, sometimes openly explosive disjunction which exists between the arts and humanities on the one hand, and the natural sciences on the other (with the social sciences often caught in the cross-fire). To what extent, though, is this relationship one that has changed over time? How far back, chronologically speaking, can a conflict be traced between the arts and the sciences? Does the modern separation of these fields represent a post-Enlightenment phenomenon, never envisaged by eighteenth-century intellectuals such as Diderot and d’Alembert, whose Encyclopédie sought to embrace all varieties of human knowledge in a single, unitary enterprise? Or does this great Enlightenment project already betray similar tensions, defining ‘Science’ and ‘Lettres’ in emphatic parallel as equally essential to the dissemination of knowledge, yet still ultimately positing science as content, and literature as a mere vehicle or ornament (‘scientific principles would seem unpleasant without letters to lend them their charm’, notes the article ‘Lettres’)? Does the medieval division between trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic) and quadrivium (Mathematics, Geometry, Harmony, Astronomy) already point to a fundamental separation between verbally and numerically based studies? Is this the same as a division between the arts and the sciences? In a more contemporary setting, do the ‘science wars’ of the 1990s, which reached their peak with Alan Sokal’s submission of a hoax physics paper to Social Text, represent a historically unique conflict between the postmodernist humanities and the pro-Enlightenment, positivistic culture of the natural sciences? Is this conflict the same as that which C.P. Snow described in the 1950s? Are we moving towards consensus and co-operation, or ever fiercer hostilities?
It is this relationship between the arts (especially literature) and the sciences, as it has evolved over time, that Volume 7 of the MHRA’s Working Papers in the Humanities will address. The editors invite submissions on the theme of Science and Literature, with both terms taken in their broadest possible sense. Themes for discussion might include, but are by no means limited to:
- Depictions of the scientist in literature (as genius, scapegoat, asocial being…)
- Scientific essentialism vs cultural constructionism (in relation to gender, race, class)
- Literature / science and the establishment (their positioning with relation to politics, religion)
- Academic geographies (Is science synonymous with Western culture? How do tensions between postmodernism and science play out over linguistic or cultural divides?)
- Science fiction (and its predecessors)
- Shifting terminologies (how does the evolution of terms such as scientia / science / art(s) reflect a shift in cultural sensibilities?)
- Science / technology as critical tools (digital humanities, cognitive approaches to criticism)
- Popular dissemination (the public image of science/ literature/ literary studies)
- Limits of discourse compatibility (scientific poetry, mathematical structures in literary texts etc.)
- Linguistics as a science of language (and its relationship to literary studies)
- Spaces of possibility (can imaginative literature contribute to scientific development in providing a forum to explore and test future needs?)
Papers, in English, and of up to 3,000 words in length, may come from any field in the ‘modern humanities’, which include the modern and medieval languages, literatures, and cultures of Europe (including English and the Slavonic languages, and the cultures of the European diaspora). History, library studies, education and pedagogical subjects, and the medical application of linguistics are excluded.
In order to submit a paper, you are kindly requested to register as an author at http://mhra.org.uk/ojs/index.php/wph/user/register. Any informal queries can be directed to the editors at email@example.com.