Literature of Science, or Science of Literature?

As I reached the climax of Ian McEwan’s Saturday, I must admit that I was slightly put off by Baxter’s reaction to Daisy’s poem. Now, I get it: McEwan was saying that literature can be powerful enough to cause a mood swing, to change someone’s mind, and in this case, to overcome science, but as a left-brained individual, I have always tended more on the scientific side of things, and assumed that science and literature do not go hand in hand. That being said, I have gained an appreciation for the importance of literature in science, and science in literature throughout this class, so while I thought that McEwan’s point was a little too contrived, I understand what he’s getting at, and have great respect for his point.

I grasped this connection for the first time while we were reading The Double Helix. I enjoyed a novel that should have been, by all traditional accounts, boring, slow, and sort of like reading an encyclopedia. This novel reminded me that science doesn’t happy just like you read scientific journals and reports, because there are still people behind the discoveries. The emotions, drama, and passion that goes into a groundbreaking scientific movement is not unlike those that go into the writing of a literary masterpiece.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that science is a whole lot more like poetry than I would have thought before this class. Baxter’s attention to Daisy’s reading of “Dover Beach” helped me remember the profound effects that poetry can have on a person who truly comprehends the beauty and the meaning of great writing. Similarly, a chemist in lab looking at cells under a microscope, or an astronomer viewing constellations through a telescope experience the thrill of discovery or understanding when they finally grasp the importance of what they’re looking at.

This parallel helps me understand English majors a whole lot better; their desire to discover points and meaning in poetry and literature are not so different from my desire to solve math problems, or successfully prove theorems in physics lab. So, in spite of my previous criticisms of Baxter, it’s possible that I’m more like him than I thought: a critic on the outside, but one prepared to understand the value of literature in science shortly thereafter.

-K. Adams

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~ by kristindadams on April 21, 2012.

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