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Erasing a Line

kgrass's picture

The line between literature and science has definitely blurred for me after this class, and I may go so far as to say it has disappeared. I think that, as Laura said, “boxing and compartmentalizing” aspects of academia and the world can sometimes just hinder us. Literature and science are just two ways of telling stories about the world. Some people had trouble with the idea that science is a “story”, but I think that is only problematic if we assume stories are all lies. We have this notion that there is more truth in science, when stories contain truth about the human condition. Emotions people experience, life experiences, the sense of past and future—these are all things that we can account for, that we know exist because we have felt them. Just because the stories may not be “true” doesn’t mean that what they convey is false. In science, the facts presented in scientific papers are observations. These facts do not have meaning until a story is told about them in the discussion. We cannot understand the world until we make stories for it. Without the metaphor, we wouldn’t have science. There are so many things that we cannot see, like atoms, molecules, and processes that occur in cells, that much of it relies on imagination and models. Without stories and creativity, science wouldn’t have a future. Literature also must stick to some aspects of “truth” and observations in order to survive in society. People like to read something they can relate to, or make use of. If a story is too far from reality, it can’t serve a purpose for the reader. I believe that it is important for different fields of academia should be more collaborative because there is so much that each can learn from one-another. I definitely saw that process occur in this classroom between not only students of science and literature, but also Paul and Anne. No one person can know everything, just like no one field can know everything. Sometimes the solution to a problem is in the most unlikely place, and collaboration is definitely crucial to making a cohesive story of the world.    


Sarah Schnellbacher's picture

Science, aka Natural History

Last semester I took a Victorian Literature course here at Bryn Mawr in which we studied George Elliot's "Mill on the Floss". "Mill on the Floss" was published a year after Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" and thus incorporates many aspects of evolutionary theory. When discussing evolution my Victorian Literature professor, Kate Thomas, told us that the term "scientist" had only evolved after the publication of "On the Origin of Species". Prior to this all science was known as natural history. To me, history implies a story. So how can science not be a story if its very origin is a form of history? I don't think that science and literature have ever really been seperate fields and never will be.

AnnaP's picture

I agree with kgrass's musings

I agree with kgrass's musings on the overlap of science and literature, and I think that with the rise of postmodernism and the questioning of objective truth, the two are becoming closer than ever before. Feminist critiques of science are increasingly revealing how mainstream science is just one story among many possible ones, and that we are really only beginning to understand the storytelling potential of science and how it shapes our lives. By taking science off the pedestal that it may once have occupied and examining it subjectively, it becomes more like literature. In turn, as we study literature and use it to understand more general truths or try to understand our lives, it becomes more like science.

Looking back on The Plague in light of these observations, I can read both of them as a critique of the line between science and literature. The Plague seems to imply that science is just one way of trying to understand a crisis, but that the stories we all tell (i.e., that all the characters in the story tell themselves) are just as important in understanding a time of crisis. Science is not The Story or the definitive way out, but just one way of trying to cope with the situation.


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