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The L ove -Hat e Re l at ion sh ip

of Liter at ure a nd Sci e nc e

Andrea Battistini, University of Bologna

Some have likened the periodical alternation with which, in time, moments
of collaboration and moments of separation between lit­er­at­ure and science
have followed each other, to the quadrille – the old-fashioned square dance
for couples – in which the dancers sometimes proceed in separate lines
and then intertwine. Here, I will try to examine a few of these dance steps,
dividing my essay into three parts. In the first part, I wish to set the statutes
of lit­er­at­ure and science against each other. I will then consider how lit­er­a­
t­ure can be put at the service of science, through Galileo’s example. Finally,
I will examine how science can be put at the service of lit­er­at­ure, through
the Italian author Primo Levi’s example.

Two Statutes Confronting Each Other

In the relationship between science and lit­er­at­ure, it is almost always lit­er­a­
t­ure which seeks to assimilate scientific discourse. Scientists may, of course,
be acquainted with literary works, but it is unlikely that they can be used
professionally in the scientist’s research. In this sense, the cases of effective
assimilation are, historically speaking, still far too rare. The idea that Greek
Copyright © 2010. Aarhus University Press. All rights reserved.

tragedy with its concept of fate should be at the root of the modern natural
order is no more cogent than the suggestion that the faith which animates
medieval theology should be “behind” the faith in the possibility of scien-
tific progress; both hypotheses, incidentally, belong to the mathematical
logician Alfred North Whitehead. Who really believes nowadays that the
techniques of the stream of consciousness could have influenced Einstein’s
theory of relativity?
The influence of science in lit­er­at­ure is much more massive, given lit­era­
t­ure’s welcoming attitude to experimentation, an attitude which is perhaps
best summed up in the ancient Roman playwright Terence’s saying: “homo
sum: humani nil a me alienum puto” (“I am a man: what concerns man can-
not be alien to me”). This is why the relationship between the two cultures
is generally seen as one-way, from science to lit­er­at­ure. Such a view obvi-

The Love-Hate Relationship of Literature and Science 31

Hagen, Margareth, et al. Art of Discovery : Encounters in Litterature and Science, Aarhus University Press, 2010. ProQuest
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