- The Architecture of Babel: Discourses of Literature and Science, and: Chaosmos: Literature, Science, and Theory
In the books under review, Damien Broderick and Philip Kuberski explore cultural spaces in which the discourses of literature and science converge—or, at least, can be seen to converge from selected theoretical standpoints provided by structuralist and poststructuralist textual criticism. However, they do not explore identical spaces, nor do they select identical theoretical positions from which to interpret their explorations. Thus, despite superficial similarities (such as the subtitles of their respective texts), these books are very different and are likely to appeal to quite different audiences.
The Architecture of Babel is a recent addition to the Interpretations series from Melbourne University Press, which aims to provide “clearly written and up-to-date introductions to recent theories and critical practices in the humanities and social sciences” (other titles in this series that are likely to be of interest to readers of Configurations include Metafictions? Reflexivity in Contemporary Texts by Wenche Ommundsen , and Nuclear Criticism by Ken Ruthven ). Most of the volumes in the series belie the “primer” label that this description suggests, and Broderick’s book is no exception. It is concise, yet in no way superficial. Throughout the text, the reader remains aware of the breadth, depth, and complex dynamics of the intellectual territory that the author evokes and explores. Broderick demonstrates that the discursive spaces that were once assumed to separate C. P. Snow’s “two cultures” of literature and science can now be seen as a labyrinthine network of complex, interwoven, and mutually constitutive cultural narratives. He does not attempt to plot a linear course through this rhizomatic maze (or, adapting his metaphor, to provide a blueprint of Babel’s architecture). Rather, in the majority of his tersely titled chapters (which include “Creative Noise,” ‘Models,” “Stages,” “Formulae,” “Reduction,” “Construction,” “Rhetoric,” and “Undecidability”) he takes readers on a series of fast-paced excursions among selected intersections, nodes, regionalizations, and temporary frontiers in this multicentered complexity. Broderick is an engaging and enthusiastic guide, and much of the pleasure to be obtained from his text arises from his felicity with words, including his flair for apt analogy and vivid metaphor. For example, elaborating on Richard Dawkins’s proposition that humans evolved as extended phenotypes, Broderick writes: “Each body is as incomplete [End Page 437] outside its cultural setting as a spleen set loose in the jungle. Being an ambulant organ in a disseminated system is no easy life: there are many ways to go awry” (pp. 53–54).
Broderick’s guided tours of The Architecture of Babel begin from several different points of departure on both sides of Snow’s cultural divide. While some chapters emphasize science as a linguistic and textual field, others explore the appropriation of mathematical and scientific tropes and theorems by literary, social, and cultural critics and theorists. In part, these multiple starting points reflect the complex genealogy of Broderick’s text as both a distillation and an extension of parts of his doctoral dissertation, “Frozen Music: Transcoding Literature, Science and Science Fiction” (Deakin University, 1989). “Frozen Music” (he credits Goethe with writing: “I call architecture frozen music”) is a mammoth interdisciplinary analysis of interrelationships among late-industrial/ postindustrial literary and scientific theories, with particular reference to their manifestations in science fiction texts. Before embarking on his doctoral research, Broderick was already well established, in Australia and internationally, as an accomplished science fiction author and critic (after a long period as science fiction reviewer for a national daily newspaper, The Australian, he is now its popular science book reviewer). In The Architecture of Babel he brings together his several textual personae—creative writer, journalist, literary scholar—to construct a multivoiced text that resists some of the more obvious institutional reifications of knowledge and practice in studies of literature and science. His combination of styles allows for a productive engagement with both traditional...