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  • Editor's Column
  • James Phelan

The essays in this issue all had earlier incarnations as papers delivered at a symposium on "Narrative, Science, and Performance," held in October 2009 at Ohio State University and co-sponsored by the Wexner Center for the Arts and Project Narrative. The symposium was in part a follow-up to one organized by William Storm and held at the University of California, Santa Barbara in March 2005 under the rubric, "Science, Theater, Audience, Reader: Theoretical Physics in Drama and Narrative" (STAR). Both events highlight an evolving interest in the interconnections between and among science, narrative, and drama (in this context, we need not resolve the question of whether drama should be subsumed under narrative). At a more general level, this interest in interconnections is an interest in bridge-building across the divide between the "two cultures" of the humanities and the sciences that C. P. Snow famously identified back in 1959. To be sure, two medium-sized gatherings do not a Ponte Vecchio make, but, as I hope this issue demonstrates, the scientists and the humanists at both events did construct some valuable building blocks.

In expanding the STAR conference's focus on theoretical physics to science in general, the Wexner Center/Project Narrative symposium gave presenters more leeway in their choice of topics, and, although the essays in this issue are weighted heavily toward the work of humanists, they do reflect a remarkable diversity of subject matters and approaches. Kay Young explores the importance of elegance and of extravagance in the aesthetics of science and of art, an exploration that leads her to propose that the human mind itself has a fundamentally aesthetic nature. Marie-Laure Ryan examines the fate of Erwin Schrödinger's famous—and hypothetical—cat, first in scientific explanations of Schrödinger's thought experiment and then in literary narratives. In both cases, the fate of the cat is appropriately variable, and Ryan's analysis of the literary narratives insightfully demonstrates various ways narrative artists creatively re-mix scientific concepts. H. Porter Abbott and Peter J. Rabinowitz both want to explain a salient effect of a particular literary narrative, but they employ different methods to do so. For Abbott, the effect is the discomfort evoked by J. M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year, and Abbott's explanation rests on his case that narrative is distinctive among text types because it is the only one that draws on all four dimensions of our experience of the world (three of space and one of time). When Coetzee divides the individual pages of his text into narrative and non-narrative sections, he requires his readers to experience the discomfort resulting from reading in a mode in which the flow of time is crucial (narrative) to reading in a mode in which the flow of time is beside the point (essay). For Rabinowitz, the salient effect is the "strange flavor" of Rebecca Goldstein's Properties of Light, and his explanation arises out of his analysis of the main rhetorical uses authors have found for the representation of [End Page v] science in fiction. Rabinowitz argues that the strange flavor of Goldstein's novel is the result of the way she guides her reader to become a certain kind of imaginary person. Debra Journet looks at another strand of the rhetoric-science connection as she uses Kenneth Burke's pentad to illuminate a significant problem in narratives of natural selection: who is the agent responsible for the workings of this evolutionary process, the organism or the gene? Journet's insightful analysis of Williams's discussion of "the goal of the fox" exemplifies the ways in which scientific understanding and rhetorical explanation are deeply intertwined.

The diversity continues with the three essays on drama and the one on sculpture. William Demastes analyzes Tom Stoppard's career from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967) through Arcadia (1993) from the perspective provided by chaos theory. Demastes's emphasis is, first, on the ways in which Stoppard's early work was that of a chaos theorist avant la lettre and, second, on how Stoppard's discovery of the theory did and did not alter his work. William...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-974X
Print ISSN
1063-3685
Pages
pp. v-vi
Launched on MUSE
2011-05-22
Open Access
No
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