[Humanist] 22.348 cfp: Poetries and sciences in the 21st Century
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Nov 22 11:24:44 CET 2008
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 348.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2008 18:39:05 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: cfp: Poetries and sciences in the 21st Century
Call for papers
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org)
“Poetries and sciences in the 21st Century”
This is to invite proposals for contributions to a special issue of
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews on the topic of “Poetries and sciences
in the 21st Century”. The intended aim of this issue is not just to say
or even to sketch what we believe to be true of the relationship but
also to question our views by considering where they come from, both in
the present and in the past, and to speculate on what is to be done.
The title of this issue echoes the literary critic I. A. Richards’
Poetries and Sciences, a work whose writing and revisions spanned the
middle half of the 20th Century. In the book Richards asked what poetry
could be in a world deeply and broadly affected by technoscience. The
revolution it has brought about, he argued, is “too drastic to be met by
any such half-measures” as promotion of wonder at the marvels of nature
(1970: 52-3). What could wonder be but an attitude of ignorance when
these marvels have or are assumed to have law-like explanation? Science
has neutralized nature, he argued, and so deprived poetry of its
original well-spring, “the Magical View of the world” (1970: 50). What
could a poet say to those for whom making sense ultimately requires the
radically plain style of scientific reasoning? His solution was to cut
the language of imagination free from the language of belief, hence from
epistemological certainty, implying our philosophical freedom to explore
Consider also the psychologist Jerome Bruner’s essay “Possible Castles”,
in his Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986). Here Bruner argues that
philosophical questioning of science (by Thomas Kuhn et al.) has
reawakened the ancient, even tired question of the “two cultures” by
revealing science itself to be historically contingent. In response to
this reawakening he gives us two opposed trajectories for the sciences
and the humanities. Both originate in curiosity and in speculation about
the world. Both are highly disciplined forms of the human imagination.
Both tell us how things are. Both thrive on anomalous relevatory detail.
But the sciences move steadily away from ambiguity, Bruner argues, while
the humanities move toward increasing “the alternativeness of human
possibility” (Bruner 1986: 53). He concludes his essay by quoting
Aristotle on the poet’s function: “to describe not the thing that has
happened, but a kind of thing that might happen” (Poetics II.9). What
matters to the poet, Bruner says, is verisimilitude to conceivable human
experience. The poet’s job, we might say, is to expand what is
conceivable by finding the right words, whereas the scientist’s is to
extend what is explicable by equally audacious but differently directed
acts of imagination.
Much closer to our time yet again, consider the physicist Robert B.
Laughlin’s declaration that as much in physics as in biology we have
come out of the reductionism which defined science throughout the 20th
Century (2005: 208), creating Richards’ dilemma, into an Age of
Emergence. If so, then the question to be rescued from the muddle of
“two cultures” is truly vigorous and contemporary. Let us say that, to
quote theoretical biologist Robert Rosen, we foreswear the crippling
mental habit “of looking only downward toward subsystems, and never
upward and outward” (2000: 2), which renders us unable to see emergent
organizational principles, of poetry or of life itself. What then might
poetry and science have to do with each other? What might that
preeminent expression of technoscience, computing, have to say about
poetry, and how might it go about the saying? How might our most
adventurous theories of poetic discourse inform a computing that works
“upward and outward” from its object of study?
The issue is intended for ISR 35.1 (March 2010). Submissions of 6,000 to
10,000 words will be due by 1 October 2009. Please send a preliminary
proposal of about 500 worlds to the Editor at your earliest convenience.
Bruner, Jerome. 1986. “Possible Castles”. In Actual Minds, Possible
Worlds. 44-54. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Laughlin, Robert B. 2005. A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from
the Bottom Down. New York: Basic Books.
Richards, I. A. 1970. Poetries and Sciences: A Reissue of Science and
Poetry (1926, 1935) with Commentary. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Rosen, Robert. 2000. Essays on Life Itself. Complexity in Ecological
Systems Series. New York: Columbia University Press.
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