Monday, March 19, 2007

Easter 2007

This term we will be reading the writings of Thomas Pynchon. Our discussions will focus on selected passages, detailed below, but if you have time then feel free to read more! Photocopied reading packs are available in the Whipple Library box file, and the books themselves are also held in many college and university libraries.

We meet on Mondays from 7.30-9pm in the upstairs seminar room of Darwin College: please note the slightly irregular scheduling this term to avoid bank holidays.

All are welcome!

30th April
Gravity's Rainbow (1973) London: Vintage, 2002, pp. 397-433

14th May
Against the Day (2006) London: Jonathan Cape, pp. 57-80

21st May
'Entropy', in Slow Learner (1984) Boston: Little, Brown, pp. 79-98

4th June
Mason & Dixon (1997) London: Jonathan Cape, pp. 116-24; 190-8

Reports of our meetings as well as links to further resources for each session will be posted on this blog - so remember to keep checking for updates!

'Wells, Science and Philosophy' conference

The H. G. Wells Society Annual Conference, Imperial College/Conway Hall,
London, 28-29 September 2007

Proposals for 20-minute papers, or for panels of 2-3 papers, are invited
for this year’s H. G. Wells Society Annual conference. The conference
will be hosted by both Imperial College, London (on the 28 September)
and by Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London (on the 29 September). The
first day of the event will include a plenary lecture by the science
fiction writer, Stephen Baxter.

The conference will focus on ‘Wells, Science and Philosophy’. Proposals
may centre on either Wells and science or Wells and philosophy
exclusively, or might examine the intersection of both science and
philosophy in the author’s work. Proposals might focus on, but are not
limited to: Wells and evolutionary biology; Wells and Physics; Wells and
Darwin/Huxley; Wells and Astronomy; Wells and Plato; Wells and

Proposals of 300 words should be submitted via email
attachment, no late than June 11 2007. Please include a brief
biographical note, and send proposals with ‘Wells, Science and
Philosophy’ as the subject, to Dr Steven McLean.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Re:Design - Darwin letters on stage

The Darwin Correspondence Project is delighted to announce the
premiere of Re:Design, a dramatisation of letters exchanged by
Charles Darwin and Asa Gray.

This is Darwin as a human being, rather than an icon, and is
powerful stuff. The drama uses entirely Darwin's own words and
those of his correspondents taken from the letters and from
reminiscences. It includes Darwin and Asa Gray's private
discussion of design in nature and the relationship of science and
religion, and has been commissioned as part of a project on Darwin
and religion to include a web resource, the first stage of which will
go live later this month on the Darwin Correspondence site. There
will be a podcast about the drama on the Apple i-Tunes site, our
own site, and the Cambridge Science Festival site.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Carlos Williams Recap

The last session of term witnessed a great discussion of two short stories (or were they prose poems?) by William Carlos Williams.

Robin introduced our texts by giving some fascinating backgound on Williams, from his polylingual New Jersey upbringing, to his medical training, his travels in Europe, and his friendship with figures such as Ezra Pound. As an MD, Williams practiced during the Depression in East Rutherford, particularly treating inhabitants of poor immigrant communities. Apparently he loved the opportunity medical encounters gave to hear people's stories (as do we!).

Daniel kicked off the discussion by reflecting on the uncomfortable sense of the doctor character's own feelings and responses to his patients conveyed in the two texts: his lack of control, in particular, appeared to be a new feature of the stories we have been discussing this term, and a reason why Daniel had chosen them to conclude our series of readings. We thought about this unease in relation to the ideas of empathy which have recurred throughout our meetings this term: are we to empathise with the emotions and psychological state of the doctor, just as he is asked to empathise with his patients?

Simon commented on the elision of the doctor's and writer's role(s) in these texts, and asked if these sit comfortably together? We thought back to previous considerations of the appropriate nature of the short story genre for writing about medicine, this time in relation to the taking, and writing up, of case histories. We also noted that Williams' choice of not including speech marks meant the narrative slipped between his words and thoughts, as they often merged together. One extraordinary passage towards the end of 'The Use of Force' complicated rage and reason, changing from 'I' to 'one'; from the enfuried exclamation 'damned little brat' to the rationalising 'It is social necessity'.

We thought about the how the tales were structured around moments of insight, most concretely in the violent revelation of the girl's diphtheria-ridden throat.

As in the Hemingway piece, we noted the choices of language made by Williams, particularly how he draws our attention to eyes and mouths in the texts. We discussed how his paediatrician's gaze seemed to inform the descriptions of the children in the stories: his narrator is very aware of the bodies of the often overtly animal creatures he is treating. Did this make for uneasy reading? I particularly loved the description of the pimply-faced girl's father as a 'cube'!

We concluded that the literary quality of this term's readings has been very high - and thanked Daniel again for his help with their selection. Hopefully next term's focus on Pynchon can deliver just as good a prognosis of the relationships between science and literature!

Monday, March 12, 2007