Cosmology and Literature: Convergence of Science and Criticism presented at the 2008 Rocky Mountain Language Association (RMMLA) Convention in Reno, NV, October 9-11, 2008
MetadataShow full item record
There have been various attempts at dialogues between the humanities and sciences with relatively lackluster results. Humanists have attempted to appropriate scientific discourse and demonstrate the fundamentally elusive nature of reality while scientist have fought back articulating the need for an objective language that can only be articulated through science. Cosmology in particular has been providing substantial contributions to our understanding of our surroundings while at the same time questioning the very way in which we observe the world. As our understating of our environment improves, it obliges us to examine how these insights can expand our understanding of other disciplines. Liliane Papinin attempts to appropriate physics language and discourse and build a bridge between the two. She boldly states that â€œscientific discourse [is] far from being transparent, scientific language functions with the same complexity as literary discourse does.â€ Quantum aesthetics, basing itself on current quantum particle theories, argues one step further and denies the possibility of objective realities due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle connecting the observer with the observed world. Having thus challenged the existence of an objective and measurable world has resulted in a response from the scientific community, perhaps the most infamous of these responses belongs to Alan Sokal who concludes that the â€œsocial construction of realityâ€ is undermining social critique and perhaps undermining our ability to tell truth from falsity. His criticism is aimed mostly at the use of language and experience rather than facts to talk about the world around us. There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter. What sane person would contend otherwise? And yet, much contemporary academic theorizing consists precisely of attempts to blur these obvious truths. Alexander Nehamas summarizes the conflict seen between the sciences and literature: In the relevant sense, literature has always been essentially directionless. This has always seemed, and will continue to seem, to constitute an insurmountable difference between the two practices[science and literature]. This difference has often been interpreted to the cognitive detriment of literature, and it has sometimes prompted the unhelpful Romantic reaction of trying to attribute to literature the capacity to yield "higher" or "essentially particular" knowledge. Underscoring that science is offering us ever improving tools to quantify and predict the outcomes in nature, he brings to light the pejorative view of literature and its criticism often held by scientists due to the perceived lack of â€œorder and logicâ€ inherent in discourse. I intend to argue against many of his conclusions by integrating contemporary scientific concepts like black holes, superstrings, hidden dimension, dark matter, quantum theory and our ever changing understandings of the makeup of the universe as a basis for eliminating the â€œessentially directionlessâ€ charge that is often laid on literature and propose a framework based on scientifically accepted cosmology that can be applied to the canon, literature, language and the act of reading to perhaps bridge the two divergent paths. Papin, Liliane. â€œThis Is Not a Universe: Metaphor, Language, and Representation.â€ PMLA 107.5 (1992): 1253-65. Sokal, Alan D. â€œTransgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.â€ Social Text No. 46/47 (1996): 217-52. Sokal, Alan D. â€œA Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies.â€ Lingua Franca (1996), 8 Feb 2008. Nehamas, Alexander. â€œConvergence and Methodology in Science and Criticism.â€ New Literary History 17.1 (1985): 81-7.