Explorations in Science and Literature

By | February 26, 2020

We’re announcing a new series!

Guest post by Anton Kirchhofer, Janine Rogers, and John Holmes

In the twentieth century, a powerful myth arose that science and technology could solve humanity’s problems. New materials like plastics, new drugs, new computational and information technologies, would transform our world, creating a cleaner, brighter, healthier and more equal future. In some very profound ways that transformation has occurred, but we are increasingly aware of the no less profound damage done to our environments and societies on the way, and of the failure to spread the gains of modernity equitably.

Science and technology remain essential if we are to understand and address the fundamental challenges facing human beings today, from entrenched poverty and aging populations to the ecological catastrophe unfolding ever more vividly around us. At the same time, the experience of the last fifty years has shown us that science is not sufficient on its own. Instead, it needs to be matched with the insights we gain from the arts and humanities, to comprehend how scientific data and concepts and technological innovations bear on the cultures and societies of which they form a part. Today’s greatest challenges are at once scientific and social. If we are going to address them, we need to speak to and with, not across, one another.

We believe that scholarship can help promote such dialogues by building and expanding a shared understanding of how science contributes to the fabric of our culture and culture contributes to the fabric of our science. In launching Bloomsbury’s new series, Explorations in Science and Literature, we want to show how literature and literary history can help us to understand the development and implications of science, and how a knowledge of science and its history can enable us to tease out fresh insights from literary texts.

Several of the early books in the series examine urgent or entrenched challenges facing human societies. In Imagining Solar Energy, Greg Lynall shows how poets, novelists and philosophers from the sixteenth century onwards have opened up the potential for solar energy to transform society. In Biofictions, Josie Gill shows how contemporary novelists have probed genetic concepts of race, revealing how both racial and anti-racist discourses within science and beyond are themselves forms of narrative fiction. In The Diseased Brain and the Failing Mind, Martina Zimmermann marshals narratives in many forms, from novels and films to memoir and autobiography, to show how popular perceptions of Alzheimer’s Disease, but also those of patients, care-givers, family members, and scientists, have evolved through story-telling. Further titles in the series will look at the development of the idea of preventative medicine across science and literature and at how literary engagements with the new science of genomics are transforming our conception of heredity.

Part of the remit of this series is to grapple with societal, medical and environmental problems that science and literature, working together, can help us to solve. But we are also keen to explore questions about our own cultures and ideas that are less urgent but no less interesting. Neither science nor literature is or should be intrinsically instrumental. The contributors to this series do not all have the same disciplinary backgrounds, but they share the outlook and goal of building a meaningful dialogue, and they know and practice a rigorous and intelligent literary criticism whether they write about their scientific themes and concepts as practising scientists or as literary and cultural critics.

In addition to the books we have already mentioned, all of which are fascinating contributions to our understanding of literature and science in their own right as well as illuminating pressing concerns, forthcoming books in the series will be looking at the cultural significance of scientific objects of enquiry from twins to dinosaurs to archaeological remains.

All told, we hope that this series will enrich debate across literary fields and scientific disciplines, and that readers from across the academic spectrum and beyond will agree with us that science and literature have more in common in their interests, causes and insights than we usually realise, and that by bringing them together we can achieve a new level of understanding, not only of these conventionally distinct forms of inquiry, but of ourselves. 

Want to contribute to the series? Email ben.doyle@bloomsbury.com. Find all books in the series on our website.

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