With writing, so we say, we lose all that we owe to a Homer,
an Aristotle, a Goethe. Not to speak about the Holy
Scripture. Only, how do we happen to know that these great
authors (including the author of the Holy Scripture) would
not have preferred to speak on tape or to make a film?
Vilém Flusser, Introduction to Die Schrift
In the tradition of Weber Studies, a journal dedicated to allowing
maximum space for its contributors, I was faced with the challenge
of delineating in two pages the major intersections of this
special issue on science, technology, and the arts. Yet, in a
sense, this challenge of informational compression is in part what
this issue is about: many of its contributions, either implicitly
or explicitly, raise the question how the institution of
literature can sustain itself in a culture that has frequently
been described as a post-print age. They query, what is the place
of the printed word in a world equipped with (post)modern
information processing technologies capable of recording their
environment with a speed, complexity, and economy unmatched by the
linear and single channel of written language?
Most of the contributions engaging this focus give a resounding--
albeit not unequivocal--answer: books will continue to have a
legitimate existence in an age dominated by electronic media.
CD-ROMs and hypertext will not make them into quaint archaic
artefacts--textual dinosaurs of interest only to cultural
archeologists of the cyberage. Rather, while print has emerged
from a different conceptual order, it has entered in a productive
relationship with other media emphasizing its difference from
electronic processing technologies. In the spirit of such media
interactions, this issue is now online as a special supplement
to ebr, whose hypertextual design demonstrates the
limitations of print as it implements the possibilities of
electronic publishing. We may be living in an electronic
global hamlet, but that hamlet is not prepared
to leave the culture of print behind --at least not yet.
A second "line of force" unifying many of the texts featured in
this issue is their investment in disciplinary interchange.
And by dissolving the discreet boundaries thought to exist
between domains of knowledge and inquiry, they open up
suggestive ways of rethinking discursive relationships and
of producing cross-disciplinary insights: how do the laws
of thermodynamics inform late 19th century Victorian
narrative? What is the relationship between modern
painting and the emergent theories of the electron? How can
chaos theory be brought to bear on literary narrative?
What are the reciprocities between the languages and models
of science and those of poetry? These are some of the
interdisciplinary questions raised in this issue.
Historically, the critical and theoretical contributions span more
than two hundred years of literary production, ranging from
Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759-67) to Nicholson Baker's
The Fermata (1994), and they thus reproduce, in broad brush, the
spectrum of responses toward the science & technology complex of
modernity. While Sterne's narrative polemics and formal ruptures
can easily be seen as an early literary critique of Newtonian
mechanics and the emerging cultural authority of science and
technology, Baker's novel-fantasy presupposes contemporary
technologies as a condition of possibility: the story of a
postmodern flaneur who can suspend time and indulge in the male
gaze could only have been written in a society of the spectacle
where fast-forward, pause, and play buttons afford instant
(visual) gratification and the illusion of empowerment.
Vilém Flusser's posthumanist philosophy of communication
theorizes this cultural shift toward visual codes, a shift
visible as well in the book reviews concluding this issue.
Chronologically, a piece of cyberpunk fiction extrapolates many
of these postmodern concerns into the not too distant future,
when microelectronics and genetic engineering can construct
smooth insectile cyborgs and, along with them, unmatched public
surveillance and totalitarian control.
In their entirety, the critical essays gathered in this
special issue are meant to give a sense of the current range of
interests in the fields of science, technology, literature, and
the arts. What underlies their work is a disciplinary fluidity
grounded, fundamentally, in an elementary reciprocity: just as
science is always already a rhetoric of science--a way of making
presumed-to-be factual statements with the techniques of
narrative, i.e., fiction--fiction and narrative are inevitably
informed by the tropes and models of science and technology They
are all embodiments of the human imagination.