The Interface of Science and Literature

by Michael Purgason

As someone who has studied both Science and Literature at this university, I am compelled to raise the following question: What sort of work is produced at the interface of science and literature, and what is the effect of this work on both the American Literary canon, and broad American culture in general?

I set out to answer this question in my presentation, as well as provide specific examples of works that support my conclusions. In analyzing the works, I purport to illuminate what aspect of these works make them important canonically or culturally.

Introduction and Reading

Where does science fit in with American Literature, and what sort of works are produced at the interface of science and literature?

Kurt Vonnegut: A canonical scientific author

Richard Preston: A cultural scientific author

Official CDC website Ebola page

Works Cited

3 thoughts on “The Interface of Science and Literature

  1. Hi Michael- I really enjoyed your presentation. You speak very well and you chose a topic that I wasn’t very familiar with, which is always nice. I’m not sure that its safe to call Vonnegut canonical or to assume the familiarity of all of society with Preston’s work though. Its certainly interesting ( I’m going to read it, thanks to your work), but I had never heard of him before. Regardless of my unfamiliarity with your subject matter, I really like how you tied two fairly dissimilar authors together and were able to combine two interests of yours into this one project.

  2. I really enjoyed this project because it battled some stigmas reserved by sci-fi literature genre. Writers who earn their spots in canonized American literature often act as companions to current happenings, and we read American literature anthologies and stories which are relevant to our country’s history. Because of this, many people tend to think of writers such as George Orwell and Ray Bradbury as the most note-worthy science fiction writers. While incorporating repressed societies into their works, these dystopian writers were expressing political messages to their audiences. I appreciate that you focused on two writers who are not as popular as dystopian science fiction writers. Both Vonnegut and Preston, however, did write societal pieces, and it’s interesting to learn that varied science fiction writers hold roles of shedding light on issues by using extreme plots. Also, you made it clear that an appreciation for the natural sciences was important in reading science fiction, especially Preston.

  3. Michael,

    Solid work. I like how direct you are with a thesis:

    “a work of scientific literature can either have a profound effect on culture through the spread of compelling information that appeals to the common reader, or it can be of high aesthetic quality and leave its mark on the American literary canon. It is impossible for a work of literature to accomplish both feats, as the writing process that goes into each one is mutually exclusive with the other.”

    I might argue that your assertion is too certain–it might be too much to say that these goals are mutually exclusive. But I also think you can say something similar about most literature; literature often, but maybe not always, appeals to large numbers of people or it can be of high aesthetic quality and appeal to fewer people. But I wonder how far this distinction between popularity and aesthetics goes toward explaining or determining literary questions.

    What you seem to be arguing is that science is put to different uses–one to delve into deeper issues (philosophical, aesthetic, etc.) and one to communicate scientific ideas. In your discussion of Vonnegut, I believe this would be the place to focus:

    “Vonnegut’s tendency to downplay the meaningfulness of human existence is a theme common among virtually all of his works, and it is one of the unique aesthetic qualities of his writing that led him to placement in the American canon.”

    Notice that this is at the end of the project, and it would be stronger to structure the section more in a “sandwich” form.

    Best of luck in med school,

    Tracy

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