This seminar examines the historical interaction between literary and scientific practices and modes of knowledge from Darwin’s evolutionary theory, through literary naturalism and modernism, to the postmodern novels of Thomas Pynchon. We will juxtapose critical interpretations of literary texts with close-readings of primary documents in the history of science, paying careful attention to the rhetorical devices and modes of representation operative in both.
The course therefore seeks to move beyond the mere study of science in literature, or more traditional scholarly approaches that look only at how literary works give voice to preexisting scientific ideas, or how scientific discourse unilaterally influences literary works. It will instead emphasize the reciprocal interaction between literary and scientific modes of writing, the continuities between their concerns, their objects of inquiry, and the conceptual tools available to them.
The final aim will be to interpret literary works with a nuanced understanding of the scientific concepts and theories that shape both their thematic content as well as their formal features, while at the same time taking seriously the rhetorical tools and modes of representation operative within the production of scientific knowledge, without resorting to antagonistic rejections of the ‘scientific worldview’ or relativist critiques of truth and objectivity.