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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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2.1 A critical introduction to the author Rüdiger Imhof, in the first book-length study of Banville's narrative production, underlines how "John Banville is a highly conscientious modemist of the post-Joycean, post-Beckettian era, who unlike many Irish fiction writers can hold his own on an international plane of comparison."1 Against the conventionality of Irish narrative tradition both in subject matter and narrative technique2 Banville's fiction displays international concerns which take into account, and participate in, the current postmodernist debates; he questions established genres, and in particular he transcends traditional Irish genres and interrogates the tenets of the novel form and its very possibility in the contemporary period.3 As the writer himself declares: I set out to subject the traditional, nineteenth-century concept to as much pressure as I could bring to bear on it, while yet remaining within the rules. [...] I was interested to test, to bend close to R. Imhof, John Banville. A Critical Introduction, Dublin, Wolfhound Press, 1989, p. 13. 2 furthermore defines contemporary Irish fiction as "old-fashioned and conventional, not to say parochial". See, Ibid., p. 11. See also Ibid., pp.9-10: "The `critical' novel represents an international event that has come Tate to Ireland, at least, that is, in the form in which the `critical' novel has evolved after Joyce and Beckett. These two writers have been exceptionally instrumental in bringing this type of fiction into being. But the `critical' part of Ulysses does not belong in any Irish tradition. There was no such tradition when Joyce...

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