Public Lecture Series: 'Literature & Science - Beyond the two Cultures' - Professor Jeff Wallace

Public Lecture Series: 'Literature & Science – Beyond the two Cultures' – Professor Jeff Wallace



Thank You Sheldon it was actually true about our building site I'll always stick to that that story thank you very much everyone for being here tonight it's fantastic to see so many familiar faces and friendly faces and also some unfamiliar ones as well so thank you very much for for coming tonight I want you to before I start just say a special thank you to my immediate family my close family my wife Fran wielding the iPad there at the moment as we speak who you know and what should thank her for her love and support really over the years and enabling inspiration labeling me to kind of do all this stuff really she's also had to put up with the agonizing over the last couple of weeks but anyway that's over just right it equally my son Rob our son Rob who's just literally leg dydt from London here just made it in time Rob's also a literature graduate as I am and The Mummy studying arts policy and management as well so he's one of my inspirations and I just wanted to have a have a word as well for my daughter Nina who isn't here tonight she was unable to leg it from Leeds and the reason believe it or not wait for it is today she's got two coursework assignments June so you know I'm looking at my students see I think they know where I'm coming from they're know where she's coming from so I have two hats on here really or my father's hat I'm kind of cut up that she's not here but with my academics hat on I'm quite proud of her really so good on you mean anyway and she's also one of my inspirations so thank you I want to begin by describing a fictional scenario a man is preparing to make a proposal of marriage the time is roughly the 1870s and a place is the air awash valley separating Derbyshire and Nottingham sure in the East Midlands the man is 28 years old lives alone at the family farm he's felt that his life is at a standstill that something had to happen marriage possibly yet he seems to live too remote from contact with others he's been subject to bouts of dissolution heavy drinking and the occasional romantic or sexual encounter but then a woman a Polish widow comes to take up the position of housekeeper at the local vicarage the woman has a four-year-old daughter they're refugees from political unrest in Poland and have spent some time in London where her husband a brilliant doctor had died the man comes to know the woman in the and her daughter seeing them at church or sometimes they visit the farm so the little girl can play with the fowls after several months he decides to ask the woman to marry him so on a March evening with the wind roaring outside the man plucks up his courage and sets out to make the proposal he approaches the kitchen of the vicarage and sees the woman inside with her daughter by the firelight he knocks and is shown in he proposes she is initially unsure no no I don't know she says but then yes I want to they embrace and kiss and then we read the following he turned and looked for a chair and keeping her still in his arms sat down with her close to him to his breast then for a few seconds he went uh turley to sleep asleep and sealed in the darkest sleep utter extreme oblivion after this they talk and embrace further but the man is overwhelmed by the paradox that he and the woman are so foreign to each other yet suddenly now so intimate it's as if the intensity can't be sustained for too long and the scene ends then in this way he went out into the night big holes were blown into the sky the moon light blue about sometimes a high moon liquid brilliant scattered across a hollow space and took cover under electric brown iridescent cloud edges then there was a blot of cloud and shadow then somewhere in the night a radio again like a vapor and all the sky was teaming and tearing along a vast disorder of flying shapes and darkness and ragged fumes of light and a great Brown circling halo then the terror of a moon running liquid brilliant into the open for a moment hurting the eyes before she plunged under cover of cloud again okay well some of you may recognize that this is a scenario from the first chapter of the novel the rainbow written by D H Lawrence published in 1915 the chapter is called with a kind of gentle irony I think how Tom Brangwyn married a Polish lady I chose it because I've spent quite a lot of my research career thinking and writing about Lawrence and also because I've always found the depiction of this scene incredibly moving and now that identified those two features in particular because they stay in my memory they've stayed in my memory as striking examples of the kinds of surprise effect that literary texts can spring on their readers the subject that I teach and research in literary studies provides us of course with ways of catching or categorizing those surprise effects so not perhaps the most auspicious start to a marriage to drop off into a deep sleep for a few seconds immediately after you've proposed but we might say this is Lawrence's representative of that movement known as modernism which aimed to D familiarize everyday experience so that we see it again afresh it's also the Lawrence who like many other modernists is interested in the power of the bodily unconscious which might at any moment override the workings of a conscious mind and then there's that description of the night I guess that all of us here in some ways recognized in Lawrence's description the thrill of coming out into that kind of night those kinds of atmospheric conditions perhaps the the fumes surrounding the brain from a couple of pints that you might have had a few minutes before will have kind of enhanced that effect though we might not have put it quite in Lawrence's terms big holes were blown into the sky and a moon liquid brilliant into the open for a moment again literary studies provides us with a kind of frame for this effect this is what you might call a landscape of desire drawing from the repertoire of the gothic imagination the Gothic sublime another what you know literally it was a dark and stormy night and this provides a language for extreme states of mind or being not easily representable in realistic prose forms the night then fully embodies the momentous thing that this proposal has been for Tom Brangwyn that clanging in torment was lawrence wright's that his passion is to him and the sense that through those big holes he's at last ripped the veil of that old world and entered into a new and strange existence tonight though I want to forget about those explanatory boxes for a while I want to set them aside instead I want to use those instances of Lawrence's writing to open out and share with you some more fundamental questions that I think they themselves open out what is it that literature does what is it that the literary text knows and this last question what is it that the literary text knows may sound strange and if it does sound strange I suggest that we might think about it through another area of study that I've spent a lot of my life exploring and that is the relationship between literature and science the aim of all this at the end of lecture is to end up with some reflections on where we are in literary studies at the moment and to present to you a couple of ideas about how the subject might begin and actually is beginning in some respects to kit itself out for new and exciting kinds of future to begin to talk about literature and science however and to give you a kind of glimpse of what what we do in that area it's always to have to negotiate our way around the looming concept of the two cultures somehow we can't seem to shake this concept off however much we might want or try to I myself have argued for years in various contexts that we should find a way of doing literature and science that doesn't defer to the two cultures yet here it is smuggling itself back into the title of my own lecture what does it mean them to talk of these two cultures maybe there's something in it after all so let's spend a little bit of time just kind of characterizing and framing the the two cultures debate and I want to start with some words from the great Victorian evolutionary scientist T H Huxley how often Huxley writes have we not been told that the study of physical science is incompetent to confer culture but it touches none of the higher problems of life and what is worse that the continual devotion to scientific studies tends to generate a narrow and bigoted belief in the applicability of scientific methods to the search after truth of all kinds how frequently one has reason to observe that no reply to a troublesome argument tells so well as calling its author a mere scientific specialist Huxley's essay science and culture published in 1880 reminds us of the extent to which science in the late 19th century was still very much a relative upstart in terms of British education and culture and a significant part of Huxley's work was a forceful and eloquent campaign for the introduction of science into school and university curricula something of course now we take completely for granted and what Huxley conveys here is a vivid sense of the entrenched prejudices ranged against science by a dominant culture whose values are grounded in classical and theological education in other words this is still a few decades before the introduction but a study of modern literature as we know it nevertheless it's this culture what we might call literary culture that Huxley means and Huxley refers to when he elsewhere refers to and I quote the school and university traditions of the great majority of educated Englishmen what he means there is that that tradition is a literary culture a literary tradition and hopes these words incidentally there remind us too that in the late 19th century we're considering an educational system still largely reserved for the male landed the wealthy the powerful okay so that's Huxley I now want to track this debate in to the mid and later 20th century when the concept of the two cultures as we know it emerges more fully and I want to characterize this debate by two moments one relatively well known I think the other far less so and the two of them separated by about 40 years the first is the debate between the scientist and novelist CP snow and the Cambridge literature scholar fr leavis and debate which roughly took place between 1956 and 1966 and in a in a topical and timely way just so happens that Cambridge University Press have recently republished both of these texts which I'll now show you my slide where we are both recently published and kind of quite handsome additions they were out of print for quite a while so you can now though they will republish last year so if you ever want to hear anything again about the two cultures after this lecture you could think about about those texts in October 1956 then snow published an article the two cultures in the New Statesman and the article begins anecdotally snow recording and overheard comment from the leading mathematician G H Hardy that from the the early 1930s and Hardy is quoted thus when we hear about intellectuals nowadays it doesn't include people like me and JJ Thompson and Rutherford in other words leading scientists leading British scientists of their generation so let's flip back snow goes on to argue that in the face of a traditional culture as he puts it which is of course mainly literary this kind of cultural exclusion the exclusion that Hardy complained of not being categorized as an intellectual was no longer a joke the separation between the two cultures snow rights has been getting deeper before our eyes to the extent of a mutual in communicability and even a refusal on a part of each culture to want to know the virtues of the other these thoughts were then further developed by snow when he was invited to give the reed lectures in Cambridge in 1959 right at the outset of this debate then and across his two works we find snow picking up that essential narrative thread from Huxley science is always obliged to confront a society in which intellectual value or what Pierre Bourdieu taught us to call cultural capital is held by the literary and the classical this seems to about historical tradition and vested interest even before any question of what it is that literature and science actually do scientists must always tug therefore lock to the intellectual precedence of literary culture or rather not in the case of Huxley and snow mildly but insistently Snow's polemic is that it's science that offers to transform an indeed define modernity and that it must be recognized as embodying the true course of enlightenment and progress embodying in fact a moral principle of social Hope a belief in the future and the democratic principle of a mode of knowledge not defined by tradition and privilege so to some extent I think you know the snow's polemic really is about about you know science being about optimism and you know in the face of literally intellectuals who continue to insist on that the human condition was a tragic one snows two cultures then became more or less officially at debate when the Cambridge literary critic and teacher fr leavis entered the fray in 1962 since the 1930s levers have been a revolutionary figure in Cambridge English himself at least overtly a democratizer of a kind literature for levers continued to be at the center of a civilized culture in fact leavis claimed that the English school should it be it should be at the center of any university organization but he also at the same time attempted to dismantle the aura of classical privilege that clung to the study of literature literary judgments he insisted were judgments about life and so were dependent upon the sensibility of the critic as a person are not on the kind of classical education they might have this also meant however that leavers still embody the prejudice that th Huxley had complained of while the literary intellectual could pronounced on life the scientist was restricted only to their specialist field that's Lee vs. view in taking snow on leave us argued that in fact there was only one will be extremely complex culture and only the reductive thinking of a scientist such as snow could come up with the idea that there was a simple divide between two cultures can't win really leave us as commentary on snow was seen also to be a personal even vicious attack which went beyond the bounds of respect and politeness expected in public discourse he claimed not to be able to bring himself to describe snow as a novelist even though he was quite a well published novelist and saw in the manner of snows own endorsement of science a fatal lack of critical thinking okay I went to fast forward now 40 years to my second moment of the two cultures now we're in America and the moment is that of what we now call the SoCal hoax and this I think is probably the the you know the moment that is less well known generally in 1996 the interdisciplinary journal of cultural studies based public from New York social text published an article by the mathematician Alan SoCal an article entitled transgressing the boundaries towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity no don't worry whatever whatever side of a whatever side of the divide you're on here I'm not going to waste time trying to describe SoCal's argument here because as soon as this article came out or actually two weeks later SoCal very publicly announced that it was a spoof a hoax he'd perpetrated the trick because he wanted to expose the ignorance and gullibility of humanity's intellectuals litter intellectuals in matters scientific the issue was not just that in accepting the article the journals editors and peer reviewers had shown an ignorance of quantum physics it was also SoCal implied that the journals intellectual rigour had been compromised by an eagerness to publish a merely fashionable concoction of science literary theory and post-modernism there's obviously a broader cultural context for this and in America in the 1980s and 90s this would be described no longer as a– as a two cultures debate but in America at that time increasingly the phrases that were used were culture wars or science Wars so you know overtly this is this is seen as a warfare how then do we compare these two modes separated by by forty years well one thing that you might notice that seems to happened from the scientist perspective is that we're CP snow had lamented the failure of intellectuals literary intellectual sorry to engage with or take an interest in science Allen SoCal's aim appears to be to warn literary intellectuals to keep off scientific territory so how did that happen to explain let me offer a brief and very ridiculously schematic thumbnail sketch of some key changes in the study of literature and science in the intervening period so and I'm conscious in thinking about my some of my literature and science buddies in the audience Martin Erica she's their Police forgive me is very sketchy like this but this is the sketch of a the kind of movements in the study of literature and science in the in in in recent history if you like so first of all up to about the 1960s we studied the impact of scientific ideas literature and the traffic was always in that direction never never in the other direction then from around about the 1960s we discovered that science and literature were united by a common medium which is language the intellectual movement responsible for this discovery was called structuralism and it swept European and American culture with the proposal not simply that we use language for everything but that the world is structured for us by language in other words that language uses us in a sense then grounded in this anthropological theory of language we moved into an exciting Lee expanded project of Greater disciplinary interdisciplinarity which I date from about the 1980s onwards in which the notion of any purely literary text was questioned or collapsed into language generally in the same way as science was opened up for the study for study as part of a broader cultural field okay so that's my sketch of literature and science this is the field of 1980s is the field that I stepped into and I started my own research in the early 1980s and it's provided me since with a rich and exciting series of possibilities for my work I feel very grateful to being around at that time and to have been able to contribute something since to the study of literature and science in this unbounded it's interdisciplinary way but there's a little irony coloring my sketch which you may have picked up on here because while from one perspective the new and exciting study of literature and science seemed to promise to dispel the divisions of the two cultures from another perspective it could be seen to reinstate an old story in other words if language is the master key to unlock both literature and science well who holds that key the literary intellectuals of course as the French thinker Roland bar put it in 1967 in an essay revealingly entitled from science to literature it was the role of literature to represent actively to the scientific institution just what it rejects that is the power of language in other words you have literature here informing science as it were about what it doesn't know about itself which is that it's made up of language and then whoever the we who is the we that I've been referring to in this exciting turn in a study of literature and science well of course again it's the literary intellectual the great move towards an interdisciplinary study of science always seem to come from our perspective and I recall here a number of conversations with colleagues over the years concerning events or conferences that we were that we wanted to put on in which we wondered about how he could get the scientists involved not just my way of invitation to speak that was easy but but to get them to want to come or even to initiate involvement and the kind of conclusion that always seemed to lurk behind these reflections was that scientists were always just too busy doing science i disagree profoundly with the the manner and some of the unfortunate effects of Allens SoCal's hoax the editors of social text andrew ross and bruce robbins are fine and pioneering scholars both of them in modern and literary monetary and cultural studies in fact in september bruce robbins will be here as a keynote speaker one of our keynote speakers at the at the john burger conference and where i'll expect him to talk about john bersia not a publicist Oh Cal hoax but who knows but I understand where so Cal's motivation came from given as we've seen the seemingly endless ways in which literary culture has seemed able to reinvent its own intellectual superiority how surprising is it that some will in the field of the sciences should respond with guerrilla tactics and the affair should trouble those of us who work in literature and science do we know enough about science and if we don't should we stick to what we know but what is it that we know that literature knows to bring these questions and those of the two cultures up to date means inevitably at least in British culture considering the work of Richard Dawkins professor of the public understanding of science at the University of Oxford and one of our most prominent public intellectuals and I assume that Dawkins doesn't really need too much introduction to here we might think of him either in terms of those you know best-selling books on evolutionary genetics from The Selfish Gene of 1976 onwards or more recently as the highly outspoken champion of atheism and scourge of what he regards as the delusions of religious belief to turn to Dawkins is also in a sense to disprove my previous claim that work on the interaction of literature and science always comes from the literary field one notable exception to this which takes us back to rainbows is Dawkins's 1998 book entitled unweaving the rainbow science delusion and the appetite for wonder and I want to spend a few a little while now just looking at some aspects of of this text of Dawkins which of course claims to kind of cross you know and address the two cultures divide the rainbow in the title of Dawkins book is a reference to the work of the English Romantic poet John Keats drawing on two sources Dawkins attributed to Keats the view that Isaac Newton's science of optics had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colors and one of Dawkins our sources for this view is Keats long poem of 1820 lamia which includes these words I know there are some poets in the audience for them I promise I won't quote too many just short extracts from poems because I know poets don't like that but I think this is the only one philosophy will clip an angel's wings conquer all mysteries by rule and line empty the Haunted air and nomid mine unweave a rainbow that's where Dawkins gets the title of his of his book from and we should understand by the way there that the word philosophy but we should translate that as science okay really what's being referred to here is natural philosophy okay so as Dawkins explains at the outset of his book Keats could hardly have been more wrong about rainbows in a gesture of reconciling the two cultures Dawkins book proposes that both scientists and poets actually work in the spirit of wonder and that the scientist analysis of a phenomenon such as the rainbow actually enhances and intensifies this wonder rather than clinically dispelling it another aim of uncovering the rainbow then and this in some ways takes us back to CP snows project is for Dawkins to argue that literary artists and poets in particular need to understand science more fully and take it more seriously Dawkins therefore sets out to demonstrate in a series of specific cases how if they had done so their poetry would have improved so what does this critical approach to literature actually look like in Dawkins's book I want to share with you now two examples from that book starting actually with D H Lawrence so going back to D H Lawrence and to Lawrence's late poem hummingbird which I will now I will quote in its entirety because it's not very long I can imagine in some other world primeval dumb far back in that most awful stillness that only gasped and hummed hummingbirds raced down the avenues before anything had a soul while life was a heave of matter half inanimate this little bit chipped off in brilliance and went whizzing through the slow vast succulent stems I believe there were no flowers then in the world where the hummingbird flashed ahead of creation I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak probably he was big as mosses and little lizards they say were once big probably he was a jabbing terrifying monster we look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of time luckily for us okay such slices poem hummingbird and here is Richard Dawkins comment on the poem in his book unweaving the rainbow ditch Lawrence's poem about hummingbirds is almost wholly inaccurate and therefore superficially unscientific yet in spite of this it's a passable shot at how a poet might take inspiration from geological time lawrence lacked only a couple of tutorials in evolution taxonomy to bring his poem in the pale of accuracy and it would be no less arresting and thought-provoking as a poll okay my second example of Dawkins literary analysis it brings us back to Keats and this is a moment in the text where Dawkins sets up a comparison in juxtaposition between two pieces of writing in the course of a discussion about the possibility of life on other planets in the universe and the irresistible urge to know more of the beauty of the universe and this is the way Dawkins sets up the contrast the great Indian astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar said in a lecture in 1975 this shuddering before the beautiful this incredible fact the discovery motivated by a search after the beautiful in mathematics should find its exact replica in nature persuades me to say that beauty is that to which the human mind responds at its deepest and most profound okay Dawkins continues how much more sincere that sounds than Keats his better known expression of a superficially similar emotion beauty is truth truth beauty that is all you know on earth and all you need to know so they are the final two lines of Keats's ode on a Grecian urn and I don't have time to look at the whole poem tonight so in what follows you'll have to kind of take my word for what I say about that poem so what do we need to say then about Dawkins's interpretations of poetry let's say first of all with those those two lines from ode on a Grecian urn the problem here is that Dawkins is completely wrong and when I say that he's wrong I mean in the same spirit his own scrutiny of the scientific accuracy of the poems that he's factually wrong rather than it's my opinion that he's wrong but that's what Dawkins would say as well so factually then it's not true that these two lines are an attempt by Keats to sincerely express an express an emotion that he felt at the time instead the lines strike a dissonant or discordant note in the ode in some ways they contradict what has gone before their quietism all you need to know in life is that beauty and truth are the same thing is at odds with a spirit of restless inquiry and dissatisfaction negation and uncertainty that characterize the rest of the poem if we ask what the poem knows about its beautiful object the Grecian urn it is that the urn embodies an irresolvable enigma or paradox art creates beauty at the cost of fixing life in a representation desire is sustained but at the same time frozen or paralyzed art celebrates life yet sets itself apart from life if we've read or studied the poem carefully then we can only see in those final two lines and irony or sense in them and untrustworthiness or duplicity where does this voice of such complacent certainty come from and we notice for one thing that you know there are two voices there because it keeps Gibbs you know but those those words in in quotes there that's the urn speaking he voices the urn and then the second voice there is the voice of the poem so while Richard Dawkins may be right – identifying in sincerity in the lines he's completely wrong to see this as a failure of the poet Keats to be sincere the insincere in sincerity is a poetic effect behind this particular misreading therefore lies a more fundamental principle which is that poetry is not a vehicle for the direct expression of the views or thoughts of the poet it's a voice a form of artifice in which knowing is more of a kind of exploration only the failure to understand this can explain why Dorking sets up the comparison between pizzas lines and Chandrasekar statement this is the kind of mistake I think that a philosopher might call a category error in the sense that these are incommensurate kinds of utterance they're doing completely different kinds of thing and are not comparable in this light then we can revisit Dawkins comments on Humminbird Lawrence in his poem remember makes a passable shot at a hummingbird and with owner only a couple of science tutorials could have made it much more accurate again the category error I think lies in applying the principle of scientific accuracy as a value to a domain which is indifferent to that value a bit like saying that a giraffe in being a giraffe fails to be a bacon sandwich or a copy of the collected works of William Shakespeare I would agree with Dawkins in his implication I think he does imply that hummingbird is not a great poem and I would wouldn't even question the idea that enhanced scientific knowledge might well produce a better poem but where Dawkins is completely wrong again is the notion that Lawrence's poem is making a shot that getting anything right in a scientifically accurate sense we might remember that the poem begins with the words I can imagine which Dawkins imputes to mean I can see back to the way things were instead of the proposition what if we thought of things like this on this logic then we can easily imagine Dawkins is disappointment that the passable shot Lawrence makes of tom brangwyn's dark and stormy night given that moonlight does not blow about nor can big holes be blown in the sky must we say then in the same corrective spirit as Dawkins assertion that Keats and Lawrence did not know enough about science must we say that Dawkins does not know enough about literature for example about how poems work well yes I think though to me this criticism is not as personal as it first sounds after all I would say how could we expect Dawkins to know about literature and how poems work in detail if he's not been trained in that area but to make this argument I think is to highlight a crucial fault line between the two cultures science tries to establish what is or is not the what is more or less accurate about the world as Dawkins says thank goodness for that and without scientific knowledge we none scientists are not in a position to intervene saying Dawkins's discussions of Newtonian optics for example but the work of art or literature is in a different position one wholly bound up with that tricky category that we call the esthetic the literary text isn't bound to just start to just to state things as they are but also has to give a sensual interest and pleasure through formal distinctiveness organization and beauty and in a modern educated democracy these things are subject to the evaluation of their success in a way that assumes in a sense that we're all entitled to our opinion on a work of art whether we've trained in the study of it or not so it's actually quite difficult for me to say that Richard Dawkins doesn't know how a poem works because to say this sounds in our culture like a kind of insult in the same way to suggest that the understanding of literature requires a specialist training sounds in our culture like a kind of elitism even though this is precisely what science requires and precisely why it seems we need professors for the public understanding of it I suppose what I'm really interested in here is what authorizes Dawkins to write with such serene confidence across the two cultures divided about the scientific failings of poets and poetry I suggest this is because science has become synonymous with knowledge and has therefore empowered itself to regard any other phenomenon such as literature as an object of that knowledge at least in Dawkins his hands obviously literature on the other hand means well a range of other things in Dawkins book there is a small repertoire familiar terms drawn from the early 19th century romanticism that the book celebrates by far the most prominent of which are terms like inspiration wonder mystical and to which we might add terms like vision and imagination but what do these words mean how they served us on the literary side of the cultural divide how good are they or dare I say it how fit for purpose are they in describing or embodying what it is that literature does or knows unweaving the rainbow of course is at estimated or consist claim that he loves literature and the romantic repertoire is used to that very enthusiastic end you know it's a very enthusiastic and enthusiastic endorsement of literature still it's sometimes difficult to see what it is that Dawkins sees in the writers that he loves given the vocabulary that he has to talk about them I just want to briefly take the example of mysticism as an example of how how this emerges so just a few comments here from from again from unweaving the rainbow first of all this is Dawkins comment on who he describes as his favorite of all poets and that is that confused Irish mystic William Butler Yeats doesn't sound very good confused Irish mystic you know his favorite poem mysticism for Dawkins is also a problem for William Blake's work and who Blake in Dawkins account remained content to bask in the Wonder and revel in a mystery that we were not meant to understand so in other words you know the scientist uses this wonder as a platform for further investigation so when Dawkins comes across Blake writing of bacon and Newton that they're terrors hung like iron scourge is over Albion Dawkins is verdict on this other than this same Dawkins verdict on William Blake at this point is what a waste of poetic talent so when we look back over the struggle that science has had to resist the imperious superiority of literary culture perhaps it's understandable that a representative figure like Dawkins should emerge tenaciously fighting back by asserting the superiority of its exclusive access to knowledge and the vigor clarity and simplicity of its pursuit of human progress this is not just two cultures remember but war culture war science war but war as we know is a dirty business and while we can smile at Dawkins's well-meaning condescension towards literature and I think you know there is an element of kind of playfulness in Dawkins argument as well there's also a darker side which emerges in Dawkins attitude to literature's very close neighbor philosophy here it's interesting to note as well that Dawkins – played a part in the debates around the SoCal hoax in 1998 in the journal Nature he very enthusiastically reviewed a co-authored book by Alan SoCal I gave it a really good review but the review begins with some comments on a French philosopher the French philosopher Philippe's qatari and this is the way Dawkins as a review in nature begins suppose you're an intellectual impostor with nothing to say but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life collect a coterie of reverent disciples and have students around the world anoint your pages with respectful yellow highlighter what kind of literary style would you cultivate not a lucid one surely for clarity will expose your lack of content the chances are that you would produce something like the following ok Dawkins then proceeds to to quote from the philosopher as a safe Felipe's qatari who's the co-author with shield de leurs of some of the most important and influential works of contemporary philosophy they've certainly been very influential on my thinking about literature and science I don't reproduce the quotation because to do that would be to reproduce Dawkins's technique and the technique is is very simple and also I think in some ways highly problematic you take a piece of philosophical prose you quoted out of context and then invite the presumably on uninitiated reader to share your contempt and ridicule for the for its unintelligibility as a piece of writer in a curious way then the technique demonstrates that behind Dawkins is thinking is a very strong theory of language which underpins his work within and across the two cultures our language he writes in unweaving the rainbow must strive to enlighten and explain and this goes with a sharp vigilance in Dawkins's work towards jargon you know he hates jargon is always on the lookout for jargon but there is a difference surely between specialized languages and jargon which i think is the kind of devious use of specialized languages for different purposes Dawkins is very role as public professor FLE understand professor Lee public understanding of science at Oxford suggests that science itself does work through highly specialist languages which surely guarantee its tenacious knowledge but which require them translation into a wider clarity but no such entitlement to their own specialist languages belongs for Dawkins – literature or philosophy if these discourses do not immediately render themselves up in the form of transferring lucidity they are seen to be fraudulent you are an intellectual impostor sprouting fashionable nonsense or and I like this one the meaningless word plays of modish francophones savants so if unweaving the rainbow is Dawkins his attempt to heal the rift between the two cultures I hope I've begun to show how literature and philosophy might need to be saved from this effort well-meaning on the literary side less so on the philosophical peacemaking requires arguably mutual respect and toleration of difference even before anything like understanding might occur and what I think is what I find deeply troubling is the aggressive intolerance and distrust shown by Dawkins towards the very idea that those disciplines pursuing their own approach as to what it is they know might have to develop their own complex languages to do so this is the same kind of intolerance symptom incidentally that we find in fr Lee vs. work towards science and scientists Dawkins interestingly in his often barely suppressed rage political rage is far more levers than snow what follows then now a my own two concluding proposals for a future for literary studies beyond the two cultures which is also a means of addressing the kinds of damage that Dawkins work represents the first which I'm sure you'll by now be expecting is that literature itself needs to be seen as a mode of knowledge those Tom Brangwyn go to sleep when he proposes to Lydia yes though the sense in which we no sleep here might combine our actual customary meaning with something else which tweaks or stretches that meaning our big holes blown in the sky yes this is true for Tom Brown it's knowledge at that moment and knowledge which is equivalent to but different from that which an atmosphere of atmospheric conditions might give us okay just change tack a little bit in recent years the philosopher and post-colonial literary critic Gayatri Spivak has turned in her work to the bold endorsement of an arts education as a strategic means to address the stark inequalities of a rapidly globalizing world globalization is inherently tied to the digital delivery and availability of information as we know seen of course as a leveling and democratic phenomenon and Spivak certainly no Luddite concedes that the globally digital can be the condition and effect of a just world but speed up also notes that still for the vast majority of the rural poor an urban underclass of both Southern and Northern Hemisphere's it is the book and writing rather than information that still constitutes the main source of human emancipation at this moment that of rapid cultural transition Spivak asks are we clear about what is really at stake in that relationship between the the digital and the analog if you like in voicing her concern for the force of literature as a cultural good Spivak argues on behalf of those who might still believe in the archaic in that archaic instrument called the book who might believe that it might take time to train the imagination this is the time it might take for example to read a long novel like Lawrence's the rain bro which is time that my students and I because we talk about these things increasingly recognize is more difficult to find or for time that we no longer have literature Spivak writes is what escapes the system you cannot speed read it yet she argues we might be in danger culturally of forgetting how to read with care and notice that the imagination here in Spivak is understood not as in Dawkins in terms of the confused yet quaintly endearing mystic poet waiting for his Inklings to be turned into concrete goodbye the scientists this I think creates a kind of mystique around the notion of the literary imagination which Dawkins subscribes to umpires into Spivak conception of the imagination by contrast is far more demystified thing it is the disciplined attentive faculty we might need to imagine for example of planetary economics of redistribution rather than of competitive self-interest it might be a way of you know using imagination to think about what that might feel and look like the imagination then in this reading does not simply supply but is in effect or might be a politics of transformation spevak's notion of literature as culture or good then brings me to my second proposal and this is that literature should albeit extremely subtly and thoughtfully begin to make its own claims for the notion of human good of human benefit even of human health and well-being our ground in other words that we might think is currently you know occupied by the sciences and biomedical science in particular studying for a degree in literary studies or English in higher education is of course alive and well it continues to be seen as a kind of gold standard subject in arts and humanities education rejuvenated by creative writing recently it delivers high levels of literacy and critical thinking the kinds of flexible skills that employers continue to prize often over more specialist professional training if you're wondering yes I have slipped into my Saturday morning opened HBO do you recognize it in the discipline – we've prided ourselves on providing ourselves and our students with a panoply of critical skills with which to analyze literary text again having moved far beyond the seemingly more innocent romantic lexicon of inspiration and visions but that's the other thing to say you know about Dawkins is you know literary criticism is that it's very very old fashioned but then you know you wouldn't expect him to know necessarily what's going on in literary studies we now examine how texts explore and expose issues of gender ethnicity and class and indeed how the texts themselves might be constrained by history and ideology this though has at times turned into what some theorists have begun to call a hermeneutic of suspicion in other ways a way of analyzing texts that is constantly on the lookout for forms of ideological limit collusion weakness or blindness is something that the the critic osofsky Sedgwick has described as a kind of neurotic mode of reading we neurotically pursue the text to kind of uncover its blindnesses and so on it's almost as if in justifying literary in terms of the kinds of valuable by-product it gives us we've forgotten that literature might simply be itself as if embarrassed perhaps by the ways in which literature might itself constitute or enact forms not just of cultural good but possibly even of health and well-being of physical and psychological good in literature and in literary studies this has begun to change one of our most important contemporary novelists is Zadie Smith and Smith continually reflects on the relationship between the two literary studies and literature because she's a writer who trained in literary studies her 2009 collection of essays changing my mind is named as such because of a principle of openness and unpredictability in the literary process that she seeks to identify looking over her essays she writes in a foreword to the volume I'm forced to recognize that ideological consistency is for me practically an article of faith and in another essay looking back on how her university training had she says made her a lonely and combative or a reader she writes as follows nowadays I know the true reason I read is to feel less alone to make a connection with consciousness other than my own to this end I find myself placing a cautious faith in the difficult partnership between reader and writer that discrete struggle to reveal an individual's experience of the world through the unstable medium of language tentatively hesitatingly I think a writer like Smith is beginning beginning to reactivate the open potential of literature to heal and console and also therefore to care one of her key reference points is the American novelist David Foster Wallace who died in 2008 and in a long essay of tribute to Foster Wallace Zadie Smith quotes him on the importance of imaginative access to other selves and this is David Foster Wallace since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering part of what we hunt humans come to art for is an experience of suffering necessarily a vicarious experience more like a sort of generalization of suffering does this make sense we all suffer alone in the real world true empathy is impossible but if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginative each identify with a character's pain we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own this is nourishing redemptive we become less alone inside it might just be that simple now it might just be that simple as ironic coming from Foster Wallace last year I read his key work Infinite Jest are fiercely technical in an intellectually demanding 1000 page tour-de-force it's a wonderful novel but it's six months of your life basically especially if you read it by the bedside table the novel's two main locations are high ranking tennis academy or hot house in which young athletes are contained and a drug addiction rehab center a test to the novel's insistent concern with human damage and how this in various forms might be represented and addressed by a kind of contrast we have the fiction of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami there he is so cool his name the recurrent motif in Murakami's fictions is the young runaway escaping from family breakdown or indifference into an uncertain future the novels spend a lot of time lingering over the seemingly banal details of these young lives what they eat and drink wear the clothes they wear the music they listen to the casual encounters friendships and relationships that they have there's a curious gentle didacticism about Murakami's writing as if the aim of all this is to help get out the young person for survival in a world of great uncertainty and fragmented market relations it often swerves into an unembarrassed moments of advice about how to live your life Murakami's work is enormous ly popular with bright younger readers yet has been largely ignored by academic criticism as if I would speculate such criticism is itself embarrassed about the way fiction such as Murakami's is prepared prepared to play it's therapeutic cards more openly I confess I'm treading very delicately here there are many dangers notably around how this sense of therapeutic good might be translated into the discipline of literary studies such dangers were flagged up in a way in Susan Sontag famous 1964 essay against interpretation in which Sontag argued that an excess of interpretation the revenge of the intellect upon art was stifling our sensual responses to art requiring a ceaselessly to translate the out the elements of art into something else we can't afford though to polarize art and intellect more than they have been done this would be another version of the two cultures divided and we see the dangerous consequences of this in Dawkins's reflex anti-intellectualism somehow the notions of literature as a form of knowledge or intellectual rigour as a form of good need to be thought or held together and perhaps the difficulty with that seems to be a deeper legacy of two cultures thinking itself but things are happening in a critical field new languages are emerging eve cassava Sookie Sedgwick proposes to replace that neurotic mode of reading with what she calls reparative reading while French thinker bruno latour embraces something called compositional ISM an ethically motivated critical practice that avoids the concept of mastery or victory for a text and in a number of different contexts literary texts already been put to work in academic contexts in various different ways within our own School of Education two such initiatives are developing given that tourism is how our culture increasingly spends its post-industrial time we're looking at ways of exploring the links between literature and place the kind of restorative potential of literature in its relationship to place and in ways that are critical rather than merely celebratory and in the field of the Medical Humanities a very fast expanding field through our association at the moment with Stroke Association come REE we're beginning to look at how texts might be put to work in ways that we might call biblio therapeutic based on the idea of bibliotherapy I'll end though with a proposal made by one of Richard Dawkins is philosophical bete noire and I would have to do that with my this is shield de leurs the French philosophers yield de leurs and this takes us back to the whole question or questions of what it is that literature does or knows and this is from de leurs essay literature and life to write is certainly not to impose a form of expression on the matter of lived experience literature rather moves in the direction of the ill-formed or the incomplete writing is a question of becoming always incomplete always in the midst of being formed and goes beyond the matter of any lived or livable experience de leur suggests then that it isn't in fact enough to see literature as a form of inquiry into what we know we should note that it's always likely to go beyond lived or livable experience and certainly in that sense beyond accuracy instead it should accompany us into a future which is always strictly open and uncertain what literature knows in this sense then is always something to do with the ceaseless ability of life to be unpredictable and to create the new I like to think there's something of what de leurs would have called a line of flight in tom brangwyn's experience in Lawrence's the rainbow coming out of the vicarage into the disorder of the night knowing little of what lay ahead of him except that it would be a new phase of life for which he would need to be as fully alive as possible we can only perhaps come to this open future with the fullest possible knowledge of what we are and what we might be and science and literature can help each other to arrive at this knowledge as long as we can learn to listen to voices of peace and trust rather than war in the continuing debates between the two cultures you

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