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Notes and Fragments THE RHETORICAL CASE AGAINST A THEORY OF LITERATURE AND SCIENCE by Mark Kipperman In the last twenty years or so, attacks on naive realist theories of science —from the historicism of Kuhn to the outright anarchism of Feyerabend — have encouraged a perhaps equally simplistic notion of science as mere model-making, a metaphoric discourse analogous to poetry. From another direction, liberal defenders of science as a liberal art, like Jacob Bronowski, would subsume both science and poetry under what we might call "liberal discourse in general," the unrestricted, trudiseeking , world-building acts of human imagination. But all such attempts —relativist, historicist, or liberal truth-seeker — to "reconcile" literature and science misunderstand both the meaning of metaphor and the meaning of truth in the humanities. If we are truly to value, understand , and preserve the uniqueness of literary discourse, we must argue that science and literature not only cannot be "reconciled" but also that they must not be. Despite my title, I intend to argue not that a theory of literature and science is impossible, but mat any theory that attempts to show that both activities can be significantly unified in a larger historical or linguistic structure will miss the point of their incompatibility as human activities. A study of literature and science should display not their theoretical unity but their rhetorical diversity, where rhetoric is understood as die study of language's purposiveness in respect to human action, language's purposiveness in persuading its audience to see and to build this kind ofworld rather than that one. While both literature and science may both use 76 Mark Kipperman77 metaphor and share similar linguistic structures, die rhetorical directions of the two activities are not only different, they are opposed. To construct a theory, as Heidegger points out in his essay "Science and Reflection," means to step back, as is implied by the etymology of the Greek théôrein, to behold the appearance from the outside; and in our world to theorize is to behold as an object, as science does.1 Theories of literature and science that invoke linguistics or historiography may well show — indeed, precisely because the standpoint of theory is adopted, probably will show — that science's own linguistic structure looks very much like literature's. But here, having adopted die dieoretical standpoint , we are already acting as scientists, treating both science and literature as objects of observation. If we act as rhetoricians, we stand inside the scientific or literary arguments and ask what their language is trying to persuade us of, and what their activities are trying to do. After the work of Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Mary Hesse, it would be difficult to deny that science, from the point of view of epistemology or historiography, creates like art a series ofhistorically evolving metaphors, models, redefinitions. And, ofcourse, I do not deny the utility ofa literary critical language that on its side shares the historiographie or analytic subtlety of a science. But if the question is a dieory not of science and criticism, but of science and belles lettres, I believe a note of caution is called for. The worlds created by scientific and literary languages are so different that their common use of metaphor is less significant than the divergence of their aims and results. Even Kuhn has warned against applying his historiographie theory of science to the arts in the face of their diverse sociological, educational, and "normal" practical activity.2 Briefly, the aim ofscientific rhetoric is to persuade us that it reflects only a world ofobjects; die aim of literature is to persuade us that it reflects a world of human speech, representations, actions. The aim ofliterary argument is to reveal truth within this public sphere. Science's language of lawfulness argues that it is pre-Adamic, repeating but not distorting nature as physis— in Aristotle's words, nature as things that come into being through "necessity" or that "have their origin in themselves." Literary language takes its place among human artifacts that come into being through deliberation, argument, production, or action, and so belongs to the historical manifestation of nature and human nature in which it originates.3 But does not science...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 76-83
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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