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The Relationship between Literature and Science in John Banville’s Scientific Tetralogy


Sidia Fiorato

Starting from the debate between the two cultures, the book analyzes the relationship between literature and science in the last years of the twentieth century in the light of scientific theories which universally underline both their indeterminacy and their lack of universal values (Relativity Theory, Quantum Mechanics, the Uncertainty Principle, Chaos Theory). Scientific theories are echoed in literary texts but also a reverse influence from literature to science has taken place. In his scientific tetralogy John Banville analyzes the figures of those scientists who contributed to a paradigm shift in the world view from the early modernity to the present. His interest is not exclusively focused on epistemology but rather on the creative mind of the scientist. Science appears to follow the same epiphanic creative process as literature in its understanding of, and theorizing upon, an enigmatic sort of reality.


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1.1The "two cultures" debate Second Law and all that, I do remember the litcrits grabbing at that because of something someone had said half a century before about their ignorance. That and the Principle of Uncertainty, hardly a writer who didn't have to show he'd heard of them and drag them in at the drop of a thinking cap. The debate between the `two cultures' was sparked off and named alter C.P.Snow's Rede Lecture "The Two Cultures" (1959) and F.R.Leavis' fierce reply "Two Cultures? The Significance of C.P. Snow" (1962), which itself constitutes an updating of the older debate between T.H. Huxley and Matthew Arnold about the roles of literature and science in education. As a matter of fact, no culture has been without its version of the debate — but the conflicts have been most intense whenever one side or other laid exclusive claim to the provision of foundational planks for the good of an entire culture2 In 1880, T.H. Huxley delivered a lecture on the occasion of the opening of Mason College in Birmingham, whose educational program, in the context of the industrial revolution, rested exclusively on scientific training, deliberately banishing theology and literary instruction from the college. Huxley refers to the ancient querelle des anciens et des modernes for the pre-eminence of classical or modern literature in education and brings it up to date in a new querelle which sets humanists against scientists? He makes a plead for the importance of 1 C. Brooke-Rose, Verbivore, Manchester, Carcanet, 1990,...

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