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About this book

This Guide introduces literature and science as a vibrant field of critical study that is increasingly influencing both university curricula and future areas of investigation. Martin Willis explores the development of the genre and its surrounding criticism from the early modern period to the present day, focusing on key texts, topics and debates.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Literature and science is a relatively new field. It is interdisciplinary: indeed it is sometimes called an interdiscipline rather than an interdisciplinary field, which suggests the cohesion and purpose of a discipline while maintaining the uniqueness of the originating disciplines which contribute to it. Its aim, put as starkly as possible, is to put into dialogue the existing disciplines of literature and science in the hope of providing new knowledge about either the past or the present. In reality, neither literature nor science are, or are treated as, single disciplines. Literature is often used as a shorthand term to mean works of imaginative writing, non-fiction narrative, visual cultures, and theatrical practices. Science, too, is so broad a term as to be hardly any use. Critics much more often speak of biology and botany, chemistry, physics, and at times specific areas of knowledge such as evolution or eugenics. Even the phrase ‘literature and science’, as a description of the field, has its variations; that phrasing is common in the British tradition, but is reversed as ‘science and literature’ in the North American arena.
Martin Willis

Chapter One. Institutions

Abstract
In the history of science there have been numerous critical studies of scientific institutions; to the extent that the study of organised sites of science may be said to populate a particular sub-discipline of the subject usually called institutional history. In these histories it has long been recognised that there are significant relationships between novelists, poets or dramatists and scientific institutions: dating at least to the early years of the first meaningful and recognisable scientific institution, the Royal Society, founded at Gresham College in London in 1660 and continuing to the present day. Yet despite this extensive association, literature and science scholars have only recently come to understand the complex connections between scientific institutions and literary cultures. Early critical works, such as that of Levere (1981), depicted the relationship between scientific institutions and literary figures as developing according to a relatively simple model of influence in which specific literary figures reflected the work of those scientific organisations of which they had some knowledge but had little or no impact upon them in return. Since 2000, however, critics have come to recognise that the relationships between scientific institutions and literature are much more varied and reveal far greater interplay than had previously been thought.
Martin Willis

Chapter Two. Early Literature and Science Criticism

Abstract
Although the studies of literature and science discussed in this book cover the period from the early 1980s to the present — for reasons discussed in the introduction — there were many contributions to the field prior to the emergence of what may be called, as a shorthand, the contemporary criticism. Even leaving aside the two cultures debate of the late 1950s and early 1960s (also discussed in the introduction) numerous literary critics, scientists and philosophers entered onto the highly charged and often political battleground of the relations between science and literature. The positions adopted take their lead from late Victorian debates about the influence science might exert on the arts in the future (Edward Dowden, 1877), and appropriate models of education, opened by T. H. Huxley (1880) and continued by Matthew Arnold (1882). The most unusual feature of these nineteenth-century studies, at least to contemporary readers, is the acceptance that literature and classical scholarship hold greater sway than the sciences.
Martin Willis

Chapter Three. The Dominance of Darwin

Abstract
The area of study that most dominates the field of literature and science is evolutionary biology, which has in turn a particular focus on the cross-correspondences between the work of Charles Darwin and Victorian writers. There are several reasons for Darwin’s centrality in existing scholarship. The first is that the field itself has predominantly grown from studies that dealt with the relations between science and literature in the nineteenth century, widely regarded by historians as the most important period of scientific change in the Western world. Second, theories of evolution — or organic transformation more generally — were under discussion and investigation across that century, reaching their zenith in the years after Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859. Third, some of the most influential criticism in literature and science, criticism that energised the whole field in the 1980s, took as its subject matter Darwinian evolution and its relation to Victorian realist fiction.1
Martin Willis

Chapter Four. Body

Abstract
The focus of this chapter is on one body in particular: the human body. Lest we think that this is rather narrow, scholars have explored the human body across literature, art and the sciences from extraordinarily varied perspectives and within a range of historical periods. The body has been such ripe territory for academic analysis because the human frame has proved fascinating to scientists and writers (jointly) since the rise of new scientific methods in the early seventeenth century. This ‘new science’ was led, in part, by specific forms of medical inquiry — anatomy and dissection — that took the body as its central object and the experience of looking at and into it as its method of producing knowledge. From the earliest of modern scientific inquiries, then, the human body played a central role; while in art and literature the human had always been the focal point of imaginative investigation. As many scholars have noted, this common interest coalesced in the seventeenth century as both the sciences and the creative arts found themselves investigating the same territory and began to draw on each other’s practices and insights to give further nuance to their own.
Martin Willis

Chapter Five. Mind

Abstract
Studies of the mind have developed enormously since 2000. Before the new millennium, literature and science critics focused predominantly on medical psychology, and paid particular attention to the nineteenth century when psychology first emerged as a distinct discipline. Works in the 1980s by During (1988) and, most influentially, Showalter (1987) focused primarily on forms of insanity arising often from nervous disorders, and their work was greatly enhanced in the 1990s by Shuttleworth’s (1996) attention to the wider influence of psychological discourses across culture. Since 2000, while work on medical psychology has continued, new areas of academic interest have also emerged. Neurology has become a particularly productive field for new research, led by Richardson’s 2001 study of romantic poetry and the then nascent subject of neuroscience. More recently, studies of neurology or brain science have been extended into the Victorian period by Stiles (2007; 2012) and Mangham (2007) and on into the twentieth century in relation to trauma by Matus (2007). Interest in artificial intelligence has also expanded the range of studies fascinated by representations of the human mind. Hayles (2002) has been most influential in this area — her work highlights the complex interaction between new technologies and human consciousness — and her concerns have been further investigated in more philosophical contexts by Johnston (2002) and van Dijk (2004).
Martin Willis

Chapter Six. The Physical Sciences, Exploration and the Environment

Abstract
The dominant motif of all the studies discussed in this chapter is space: the physical space through which waves and particles move, the astronomical spaces that exist between planets and stars, terrestrial landscapes, spaces and places of exploration, and the space occupied by man and nature. Understanding space is essential for it is one of the central ways in which humanity organises its literary, philosophical and scientific knowledge, as Jenkins (2007) has argued. In physics space is often metaphoric or symbolic. Invisible physical forces, such as sound waves or thermodynamic action, are available for contemplation only through experimental data and then through the language used to describe that flow of information. Writers, both of science and fiction, describe physical forces through metaphors and analogies, revealing the new worlds opened by physicists in imaginative terms. This is the case in modernist writing, as Whitworth (2001) and Beer (1996) reveal, as well as in the narratives produced by physicists themselves, or by popularisers of physics, as Trower (2012) and Leane (2007) respectively highlight. The cultural implications of physics are therefore inevitably symbolic: the imagined consequences of physical power played out upon the social conditions of the human world. Such is the case particularly in nuclear physics and the creation of nuclear weapons, as Canaday (2000), Cordle (2008) and Shepherd-Barr (2006) investigate.
Martin Willis

Chapter Seven. Geology, Botany, Eugenics and Animal Studies

Abstract
This final chapter focuses on a collection of sciences all related to the biological and natural world. It is worth noting immediately that subjects such as botany and animal studies might seem better placed in the previous chapter’s discussion of the environment; all of these, after all, take aspects of the natural world as their subject. However, in literature and science criticism both botanical science and the study of animals play particular roles that make them much more closely aligned with both geology and eugenics. The studies discussed here view all four of these sciences as contributing to a wide-ranging set of arguments about the mutability of forms. Studies of geology and literature, for example, focus attention on two aspects of this: the connection between geological science and literary form and the metaphoric association between geological mutation and other kinds of change. Geological writing is as much beholden to literary genres as to science writing (O’Connor 2013) and it also contributed a key metaphor for literary production (Dawson 2011). Additionally, geological change over time offered writers a series of metaphors for other kinds of change, both in language and society (Buckland 2007; Geric 2013).
Martin Willis

Conclusion

Abstract
This brief conclusion speculates on the future directions of literature and science scholarship. This Readers Guide has revealed how difficult such speculation is: the extraordinary range, variety and quality of the work undertaken by literature and science scholars attests to the intellectual creativity for which the field is well known. However, it is possible to at least make some tentative suggestions about potential future interests by pointing out areas of research that seem to be growing and highlighting gaps in the scholarship which critics are already likely to be working on filling.
Martin Willis
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