The Novelist Who Wished He Was A Scientist

Ian McEwan respects science. He respects it so much that his novel, Saturday, is filled with medical facts and terminology to the point that one has to think McEwan reveres neurosurgery as an art form in itself. Some serious research had to be done to realistically describe the in-depth description of Perowne’s surgery on Baxter.

If I had written out the full title for this post, it would’ve read “The Novelist Who Wished He Was A Scientist And Then Wrote About A Scientist That Wished He Was A Novelist.” McEwan’s protagonist, Henry Perowne, respects art much in the way that McEwan respects science. Perowne’s two children are artists—one a poet like his father-in-law and the other a blues-playing prodigy. He tries to read the books his poet daughter recommends. He enjoys listening to his son’s band’s rehearsal. But when it comes down to it, Henry just doesn’t view himself as a creative guy. Why, he didn’t even like Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”!

Perhaps this is how McEwan feels about science. He admires it but it isn’t for him. Or perhaps another way to read Saturday is that it supports the collaboration of the arts and the sciences. After all, it is Daisy’s reading of “Dover Beach” that disarms Baxter to the point that he’s willing to follow Perowne upstairs to hear more about the fictional clinical trial. It’s the one-two punch of art and science that puts Baxter in the position to be pushed down the stairs and incapacitated.

Outside the world of Saturday, the products of art and science combining are all around us. Something as purely entertaining as 3-D technology in movies is the product of technological advances used to further a director’s artistic vision. So maybe Avatar isn’t Gone With the Wind but now that 3-D technology is becoming more and more popular and inexpensive, it’s not unreasonable to see it as the future of the motion picture industry.


Music site, Pandora — which, curiously enough is also the name of the planet in Avatar, refers to itself as the Music Genome Project. You rate songs and then it selects new music for you based on various attributes common in the songs you like. It attempts to bring science to musical taste and from my personal experience, works pretty well.

In an early blog post, John mentioned the conflict over whether art is as valuable as science — a debate that is brought up throughout Oryx and Crake. I know I’ve had many similar arguments with my friends in defense of my Creative Writing major. The more of them I have, the more I find that I often end up concluding that there should be room for both in our society. Why do we need to rank which one is more essential? After all, it is the College of Arts and Sciences. Do what you’re passionate about. Respect other people’s passions. And go watch some 3-D flicks. I hear they’re awesome.

-Matt P.

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~ by mattpopkin on April 2, 2010.

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