Leads On Literary Science Writing

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I just got a great email from my friend Ira Allen in response to this:

Hey Ira, I've been getting really preoccupied with literary approaches to scientific writing, and literary mechanisms of scientific writing, and literary scientists.  It is safe to assume that there is a large body of work on it, but I don't have any clue where to start or who to talk to.  Might you or Laura?

His leads:

Hi, Seth,

Well, at long last, I'm tendering what I owe on the debt below.  While I confess that this is, as one is perennially saying (an interesting rhetorical tic among academicians, that), not my field, I hope nonetheless that some of the following will be of use--and hope, too, of course, that this comes not so late as to serve only as pallbearer for the original interest.

All best,


@ IU's English dept: Jennifer Fleissner is really sharp and approachable and is doing a project right now on obsession and modernity, which dips into scientific discourses; apparently, Christopher Irmscher is interested in intersections between lit and science; and, from all reports, since-recently-prof-emeritus Lee Sterrenburg is quite fascinated by literary approaches to science.

Elsewhere @ IU, the only person who comes immediately to mind (besides Douglas Hofstadter, of course) is Amy Cook, in Theatre and Drama, looks at cognitive science and theatre, and specifically conceptual blending theory and performance of language in Shakespeare.

A few potentially worth-thinking-about-but-alongside-the-obvious-stuff-you're-no-doubt-already-considering primary texts might be the following: much by Carl Sagan (including perhaps the recently, posthumously published /Varieties of Scientific Experience/); novelist David Foster Wallace's nonfiction book on infinity (perhaps as compared with his gargantuan novel, /Infinite Jest/); Henry Adam's /The Education of Henry Adams/, especially the chapter on "The Dynamo and the Virgin"; Alfred North Whitehead's story-styled /Introduction to Mathematics/ (in contrast with his and Russell's co-authored /Principiia Mathematica/); and a fair bit of Freud's writing, which is often literary in style even in the midst of describing case studies (personally, I think a lot of psychoanalytic writing's rather literary--and the intersection between that and the discourse in neurobiology could be a good one to explore as regards style).  Though somewhat off-topic, for beautifully literary philosophical writing, check out Denise Riley's compact and really quite excellent /Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect/.

Rhetorically oriented approaches to science would include some of the following: Charles Bazerman's /Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science/; Leah Ceccarelli's /Shaping Science with Rhetoric: The Cases of Dobzhansky, Schrodinger, and Wilson/; Jeanne Fahnestock's /Rhetorical Figures in Science/; and Alan Gross's /The Rhetoric of Science/.  Too, you might find it worth reading Aristotle's /Rhetoric/ and /Poetics/, especially book 1 of the /Rhetoric/, and/or something of Kenneth Burke's or Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrecht-Tyteca's: the essay "Terministic Screens," collected in /Language as Symbolic Action/, for the former, and /The New Rhetoric/ for the latter (they're especially concerned with the rhetoric of philosophy, which parallels in some ways the rhetoric of science--both of which inform 'literariness').

And a quick google-search turned up these two interesting tidbits: http://sci-lit-reading-group.blogspot.com/2009/04/cfp-correspondence-travel-writing-and.html and http://isotope.usu.edu/.

p.s. After all, it seems I'll only pay half the note today; I'll be in touch again soon(er) to follow up on our more recent conversation.  I hope the rest of your weekend is pleasant.

I just bought a subscription to Isotope. V. excited. Thanks Ira.