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This review is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

THE FACES OF 'SCIENCE' MICHAEL H. WHITWORTH, Einstein's Wake (Oxford University Press) £45

Recent studies of interaction between poetry and physics clarify a tension that has characterised writing on 'science and literature' for a long time. When literary critics write about science their own critical idiom takes on an inevitable liveliness, and this has two broad aspects: borrowing and questioning. In the days of critical insecurity in relation to science these were muddied: Matthew Arnold, and I.A. Richards after him, were dogged by the need simultaneously to borrow from and question scientific authority. Critics today are less anxious about scientific ideas, taking heart (perhaps too much heart) all the way from Kuhn to constructivism. We may borrow freely as Daniel Albright does, suggesting that 'the human genome itself is a kind of pre-text, busily inscribing daisies and butterflies on the empty pages of meadows', or that The Waste Land is 'a poem only by virtue of the steady wavelength of the verbal radiation, an ultraviolet of ruin'. Or we can go in for extensive questioning of the kind seen in Daniel Brown's study of Hopkins. Exploring the poet's engagement with British idealism and Victorian energy physics, Brown sees Hopkins enlisting physical science in the defence of metaphysics, transcending the opposition between materialism and idealism to found a new realism on his private doctrine of stress, instress and inscape. Hopkins' poetry is delivered from the New Critical antithesis between mechanics and organic form, enabling the mechanical implications of his poetic doctrine to be fully appreciated.

In Michael Whitworth's study of modernist ...


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