Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Literature, Science and the Society of the Future
Thomas S. Kuhn in his landmark opus “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” surmises from the study of contemporary historiography that the big revolutions in science have been changes of World View. I will argue in this short introduction that World Views are expressed through Literary Narratives and are defined by them. In so doing, Literary Narratives compose a vision for the Future. This composition is undertaken by society and its exponents, namely intellectuals, and, in the case of our contemporary society, intellectuals linked through the network of media at large. They, acting as attractors in a large chaotic system, synthesize the aspirations and the fears of the present; interpret the memories of the past – which in themselves are also narratives; and ultimately generate a New Narrative, which is always a blueprint for the Future. This blueprint does not have to be concise. An intrinsic quality of any narrative is that it may be self-contradictory. It may indeed encompass circular arguments of the Gödelean type without any danger of self-destruction. Narratives hold, like minds do, because they do not have to be logically consistent. By containing the seeds of internal dissent they continuously evolve. One may thus consider society as a work in progress, the work being historiography by hindsight and debate by aspiration. Science, as the main drive of societal evolution since the European Renaissance, is the key arbitrator in this narrative process. Technology, the offspring of science, not only empowers societal change but, increasingly since the Industrial revolution and throughout the 20th century, acts as the principal mirror upon which society reflects during the process of self-evaluation and redefinition of itself. The process of the New Narrative is an interactive composition that takes place in the now. The most explicit case of this process, where narrative connects science, technology and the Vision of the Future, is science fiction literature, or any kind of literature that fuses and integrates scientific ideas – which in our times is virtually all literature. I argue “virtually all literature” because I believe that even those who make an effort not to include science and technology in their stories are implicitly partaking in the process of the New Narrative, by assuming a position of self-ascribed “innocence”. You can view them as heroins of Marquis de Sad, partaking in the orgy by default whilst touting their unassailable virginity. Under “Literature” one should also include - apart from novels, plays and poetry - new forms of literary narrative such as films, video and installations, and – in the wider sense of narrative art, the rest of the fine arts too.