Paradox: The Art of the Scientific Naturalists

Ve., Mai. 6, 2011, 4:00pm - , 5:30pm

“Paradox: The Art of the Scientific Naturalists”

4:00-5:30 pm; May 6, 2011.

The Delaney Gallery (320 Bethune College), York University

Public Lecture by George Levine, Professor Emeritus of English at Rutgers University, distinguished scholar of Victorian science and author of such works as Darwin and the Novelists, Dying to Know, and Darwin Loves You.

Part of the “Revisiting Evolutionary Naturalism: New Perspectives on Victorian Science and Culture” workshop presented by the Institute for Science and Technology Studies, York University. Also sponsored by: the Department of Humanities; The Office of the Vice President, Research and Innovation; the Office of the Dean, Liberal Arts & Professional Studies; and the SSHRC Situating Science initiative.

Abstract: While not ignoring brilliant and convincing contemporary critiques of the scientific naturalists and their social and political projects, I will be approaching them as writers still worth reading. Considered as a form of literature, as we think about the novel or poetry, their writing amounts to an enterprise epic in its ambitions and in its difficulties. It was pervaded by contradictions built into the assumptions of “naturalism” and often exposed by conservative critics like W. H. Mallock and Balfour. While they were at work attempting to transform the way people thought not only about intellectual authority but about the kind of world they inhabited, the naturalists recognized and engaged many of the contradictions their enterprise entailed. Their primary tool was literary, a rhetoric of surprise aimed at shaking traditional thinkers out of traditional ways of seeing. An irony that they themselves might not have appreciated, they survive as writers beyond their historical importance by virtue of literary powers that partly belied their own passion for the empirical and the rational.