Almagest: Vol. X, Issue 1
Table of Contents and Abstracts, Almagest 10-1, October 2019
George N. Vlahakis
Science and Imagination: An Introduction
It is known that utopias and imagined worlds are present in literature since the Antiquity. Nevertheless we cannot consider these invaluable works as science fiction because, as we can easily recognize, they were lacking the most important element of science fiction which is not other than science. Naturally in ancient civilizations we may find attempts for the description and explanation of Cosmos based on empirical observations and reason. But science as we understand it today is something which took its form gradually since the scientific revolution until the middle of the 19th century.
Therefore we may have good reasons to argue that science fiction stories appeared actually then. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818, is considered by many as a milestone of science fiction and it became a source of inspiration for many authors in the following years. In any case, one has to admit that although we may find several novels which have, at least partly, the characteristics of a science fiction work, since 17th century or even earlier, the real founding father of this literature genre is Jules Verne.
The current special issue of Almagest includes a number of papers on Science and Imagination belonging to the more broad discipline of Science and Literature. We must note that during the last years several attempts have been made for the development of this discipline. Just indicatevely we could mention the British Society for Literature and Science (B.S.L.S.), the Society for Science, Literature and the Arts (S.L.S.A.) in U.S.A. and its sister society S.L.S.A.(eu) in Europe, ELINAS in Germany and the Commission on Science and Literature (Co.Sci.Lit.) of the D.H.S.T./I.U.H.P.S. The papers submitted for this special issue are based on presentations in international conferences on Science and Literature organised since 2015. The special issue may be divided in two parts. One including papers with a more general theme related with science fiction and one including papers devoted to Verne and his work, as it can be approached through different perspectives.
Justin Hellberg’s paper is entitled “Close Encounters of the Tertiary Kind: Science Fiction as Tertiary Epic”. As it is pointed out by the author, he tries to present science fiction as an extension of the epic tradition. According to Hellberg, the adoption of such a view will upgrade the status of science fiction in literary studies, instead of relegating it to mere genre fiction. As he concludes, “Science Fiction lets us look to the future (or past future, alternative future, or past) or alternative world in which the metaphoric reality grounds the human subjects and characters, all those desires and failures and triumphs, so that we may look upon our present lives as both real and ideal, serious yet changeable, and if changed, then hopefully for the better”.
Veronika Altasina writes on the “Probability and expectation in Pascal’s Pensées”. She examines the interaction of the scientific ideas and the literary works of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). The focus of the paper is on his most famous theological work - the Pensées (Thoughts) which is considered to be a masterpiece and a landmark in French prose. In this work, Pascal attempts to analyze several philosophical paradoxes. The paper starts with an examination of the geometrical origin of Pascal’s comparison of man with “a thinking reed” and continues with a discussion of the relationship between two different works: De l’Esprit géométrique and the Pensées. Finally, the article presents two mathematical poems from the Pascal’s treatises. In conclusion one may argue that Pascal has a philosophical attitude in his geometrical works and demonstrates as a mathematician in the Pensées.
The topic of Reiner Godel’s paper “Why Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa became a role model. On Johann Georg Zimmermann’s biography of Albrecht von Haller” is “the impact of literary texts and literary strategies on Johann Georg Zimmermann’s biography of the renowned Swiss scientist Albrecht von Haller (1755)”. But naturally this case study can be used also as a pattern to study more carefully several other biographies of pronounced scientists under a different prism than usual.
Gunhild Berg in “Experimenters versus Magicians: Poetic Strategies of an Intertextual Rivalry in 19th Century German Fiction” analyzes novels written by Gottfried Keller and Paul Heyse. This is done in a way which aims to undermine the schism between science and humanities as it is clearly described in C.P. Snow’s thesis of the “two cultures”. One of the interesting positions that can be found in her work is that “though literary and other texts discuss the pros and cons of sciences, fiction is neither just the counterpart of the sciences nor a field with a clear front-line of this rivalry. This closer look to German fiction of the 19th century proves the necessity for more detailed differentiations besides confirming or criticizing by illustrating the multi-polar relationships between science and literature”.
Gulliver’s Travels’ translation fortunes have long ago been investigated in most European countries but this is not the case with Greece. In her paper “Gulliver’s ‘travels’ through the European sea to the land of 19th century Greek translations”, Sophia Denissi follows the reception of this very well-known 18th century book in 19th century Greece. The first appearance of the work in its more or less original form, thus as a novel targeting the adult audience in the 1850s, was a failure so that soon an abridged version, more suitable for children and women, appeared. Later, at the end of the 1880s, we find also a “mutated’ publication of the fourth part of the book at the end of the 1880s, addressing this time a highbrow readership. According to Denissi, both these transformations of the novel owe a lot to different European trends of the period.
Christel Couleau in the paper “Is science a foil? Indirect powers of the novelistic speech in Jules Verne’s work” claims that despite this being a general belief, from owing to its widespread appeal, it is not so clear that Jules Verne’s novels are related with Literature and Science. According to Couleau, Verne seems “to play a double game, using science warrants and behaviour skills to build a new type of narrative ethos, different from the realistic model. In order to make his stories more attractive, Verne manipulates the reader to modify his feelings of the unbelievable”. Instead of making available to the wider public already established scientific knowledge, he prefers to explore the scientific blank spaces and the unexplored frontiers of science.
One of the most interesting questions is about the correctness of the scientific theories included in Jules Verne’s books. Panagiotis Lazos tries to give an answer to this question in his paper “Around the Moon. False scientific ideas in the famous book of Jules Verne”. As Lazos argues, though, whereas both books related to a travel to the moon, From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and the sequel, Around the Moon (1870) had an immediate success, the second one is considered as less scientific, because Verne seems to include there several scenes and information which clearly contradict the scientific knowledge of his time.
George N. Vlahakis reviews the hidden ideology of Jules Verne as it can be restored by reading his books and especially the L’ile a Helice. Vlahakis refers to the opinions of several researchers of Verne’s work with regard to his ideology and he argues that L’ile a Helice could be a valuable source of several ideas which seem to be suitable with Verne’s political beliefs and his consideration about the “New World”.
Finally, Maria Terdimou discusses the mathematics in Jules Verne’s work in her paper “Elements of Mathematics and Astronomy in the work of Jules Verne”, claiming that in fact mathematics and astronomy were essential parts of the scientific background used by Verne in his books.
Close Encounters of the Tertiary Kind: Science Fiction as Tertiary Epic
This paper will argue for science fiction as an extension of the epic tradition, modifying C.S. Lewis’ conception of primary and secondary epic with Darko Suvin’s notion of “cognitive estrangement”. Science fiction wields estrangement in a related fashion to character-driven epic and thematic-driven epic, but it collapses the distinction between them in novel ways creating a “double estrangement function” in works of science fiction. Further, John Searle’s “direction of fit” will be used to further illustrate this double estrangement. There are several advantages to seeing science fiction as a continuation of the epic tradition. It will upgrade the status of science fiction in literary studies, instead of relegating it to mere genre fiction
Probability and Expectation in Pascal’s Pensées
The article examines the interaction of scientific ideas and literary works of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French mathematician, physicist, writer and Christian philosopher. His mathematical ideas influenced his most famous theological work - the Pensées (Thoughts) which is considered to be a masterpiece and a landmark in French prose. In the Pensées, Pascal analyzes several philosophical paradoxes: infinity and nothing, faith and reason, soul and matter, death and life. In this article I shall start by looking at the geometrical origin of Pascal’s most famous comparison of man with “a thinking reed”. Then I will examine the connection between two different works: De l’Esprit géométrique and the Pensées. This analysis will bring me to the next point − the mathematical resolution of Pascal’s Wager. Historically, Pascal’s Wager, where the notion of expected value was introduced, was groundbreaking because it charted new territory in probability theory, marked the first formal use of decision theory, and anticipated future philosophies such as existentialism. Finally, the article presents two mathematical poems from the Pascal’s treatises. In the conclusion, it is said that Pascal in his geometrical works explains as a philosopher and in his Thoughts demonstrates as a mathematician, using probability and expectation in mathematical calculation and in existentialist explanation.
Why Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa Became a Role Model. On Johann Georg Zimmermann’s Biography of Albrecht von Haller
The topic of this paper is the impact of literary texts and literary strategies on Johann Georg Zimmermann’s biography of the renowned Swiss scientist Albrecht von Haller (1755). I argue in this paper that Zimmermann’s use of intertextual literary references contributes to specific writing strategies Zimmermann uses for this biography. Zimmermann, on the one hand, maintains to deal with facts only, which are proven by the same scientific methods Haller uses in his research. In proposing a new kind of biographical writing, Zimmermann claims that he intends to follow nature since nature guarantees truth. On the other hand, Zimmermann’s book cannot deny that it responds to the specific situation Haller had found himself in in the 1750s. The internationally renowned scientist Haller had returned to Berne in 1753 in a subordinate position, and soon thereafter Zimmermann published Haller ’s biography, attempting to establish a new interpretation of his life. The use of fictional aspects such as the central quote from Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa which is used as a motto aims at the fictional level which selects and interprets facts through specific writing strategies.
Experimenters versus Magicians: Poetic Strategies of an Intertextual Rivalry in 19th Century German Fiction
Even earlier than C.P. Snow’s thesis of the “two cultures”, Max Weber argued in 1917 that scientists are responsible for “the disenchantment of the world”. At first glance, this seems to be evidenced by the science-friendly belles-lettres and literary texts of the 19th century. They focus on various scientists, experimenters, and traveling explorers who displace and “overcome” fictitious characters of magicians, necromancers, and magnetizers in literary texts. Moreover, literary programs (Emile Zola, Wilhelm Bölsche) and the “social” dramas of Naturalism fostered a scientific-like tendency of literature.
According to Weber’s and Snow’s thesis of an antagonism between the natural scientists and literary intellectuals from the humanities, one might assume a rivalry between scientists and magicians in fiction, too. But this paper analyzes novels by Gottfried Keller and Paul Heyse exemplarily in order to show particular literary strategies which undermine this antagonism.
Gulliver’s “Travels” Through the European Sea to the Land of 19th Century Greek Translations
Gulliver’s Travels’ translation fortunes have long ago been investigated in most European countries but this is not the case with Greece. In the present paper we shall follow the reception of this eminent early 18th century literary work in 19th century Greece. Its course started in the 1850s in magazines addressing an adult reading public without success, and continued in a book form. The result was an abridged version mainly for the use of children but also for women and working class men in 1858, and a “mutated” publication of the fourth part of the book at the end of the 1880’s, addressing this time a highbrow readership. As we shall see both transformations of the novel owe a lot to different European trends of the period.
Is Science a Foil? Indirect Powers of the Novelistic Speech in Jules Verne’s Work
Despite its reputation, Jules Verne’s novel is not so clear about relationship between Literature and Science. First, even if Hetzel leads the author to a didactic form, novels show faulty knowledges, problems of readability, pessimism against progress. Verne seems to play a double game, using science warrants and behaviour skills to build a new type of narrative ethos, different from the realistic model. In order to make his stories more attractive, Verne manipulates the reader to modify his feeling of the unbelievable. Instead of transmitting established knowledges, he likes to explore science blanks and frontiers : adventures of sciences take place in the “field of hypothesis”. Finally, science seems to be, for him, the best way to renew novel empowerment.
Around the Moon. False Scientific Ideas in the Famous Book of Jules Verne
Two books by French writer Jules Verne are among the most famous science fiction writings of the 19th century. These are From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and the sequel Around the Moon (1870).
These books became famous not only because of the originality of their plot and the appeal that a journey within space has always had on mankind but also because of the plethora of Verne’s references on scientific matters that people of that era found fascinating. Indeed, the two books are full of references on physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and selenography issues plus some interesting illustrations like the one in Fig. 1.
The current study focuses on the sequel and more specifically on the excerpts where the writer contradicts the common grounds of scientific knowledge of the time or even contradicts himself from one extract to the other.
George N. Vlahakis
Political and Ideological Views of Jules Verne: A Consideration Through his Books
Jule Verne was not just a brilliant novelist but also a man whose ideological and political beliefs could inspire the youth of his time. It is interesting though that the researchers of his work have expressed rather contradicting views on this matter. In this paper we attempt to describe some ideological positions which probably express the relevant ideas supported by Verne himself and which are present in some of his books and especially the L’ ile a Helice, which is a book not so popular as many others.
Elements of Mathematics and Astronomy in the Work of Jules Verne
Jules Verne was an extremely prolific author, with over 100 books to his name, 54 of which form part of the famous Voyages Extraordirnaires (Extraordinary Journeys) series and the second-most-translated author after Agatha Christie.
In contrast perhaps to the popular impression, the basic feature of these books (Extraordinary Journeys) as of Verne’s other works, is not science fiction but human characters and the evolution of society. The science-fiction element is used to place people in situations unprecedented in his era, which is what gave the great author such wide recognition.
Like most people, I first met Jules Verne at my childhood, through the Greek translations published by “Asteras” in the 1960s and ’70s and I was fascinated by the adventure of the stories. Second time I met Verne was at my adulthood, writing this paper. The time that has passed shifts my interest from the adventure of the story to the human situations, clearly highlighting the literary value of these works and the poetry that distinguishes them.
In this presentation, we shall examine the way that Verne uses Mathematics and Astronomy which come unavoidably to the forefront in a lot of his novels, since it is obvious that the technology and the plot of adventure in Verne’s works need science. The natural sciences predominate: Physics and Chemistry, Physiology, Geography above all, Geology, Palaeontology, Astronomy and of course Mathematics.
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