Meeting Places: Entanglements of Art and Science in the American Literary Imagination
Drawing on the work of historians of science and technology and a body of pragmatist and process-based philosophy, my dissertation investigates how four American writers—Ralph Waldo Emerson, W.E.B. Du Bois, William Carlos Williams, and Muriel Rukeyser—creatively and critically responded to the rise of modern science in the opening decades of the twentieth century. Far from treating the aesthetic and the scientific as axiomatically opposed, these writers explored what Rukeyser in her biography of the American scientist Josiah Willard Gibbs termed the ‘meeting place’ between art and science. As I show, this meeting place was a vital site for critical and imaginative reflection about a vexed series of ethical, historical and epistemic problematics central to America’s modernization. Working against simplified narratives of the emerge of the ‘two cultures’, I detail how a porous, protean idea of science simultaneously motivated aesthetic experimentation and served as a generative foil for the development of compelling critiques of capitalist industrialization and the institutionalization of knowledge. By focusing on the generative and fraught entanglements between the aesthetic, philosophical, and the scientific in each writer’s oeuvre, I not only offer new readings of their literary texts but highlight their relevance in contemporary debates focused on reimagining the relationship between humanistic and scientific disciplinary practices inside and outside of the classroom.
Areas of Interest:
American Literature, Poetics, Pragmatism, History and Philosophy of Science, Critical Theory