Knowing Quanta: The Ambiguous Metaphors of Popular Physics
Leane, E (2001) Knowing Quanta: The Ambiguous Metaphors of Popular Physics. The Review of English Studies (New Series), 52 (207). pp. 411-431. ISSN 1471-6968
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In the late 1990s popular science writing has gained a prominence not seen since the interwar period of James Jeans, Arthur Eddington and J. B. S. Haldane. This is evident not only in the increased commercial success of the genre but also in its impact on traditional literary culture. John Carey, in his introduction to the Faber Book of Science, claims that science popularizers 'have created a new kind of late twentieth-century literature, which demands to be recognized as a separate genre, distinct from the old literary forms, and conveying pleasures and triumphs quite different from theirs'.1 In April 1999 the Royal Society of Literature announced its decision to invite scientists to be fellows, as 'an acknowledgement of the quality and range of contemporary science writing'." The Cheltenham Literary Festival, in October of the same year, featured over a dozen science popularizers in its programmer'
Creative writers have been quick to explore the possibilities presented by the new genre. Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen, which opened to critical and popular acclaim in May 1998, is only the latest in a series ofliterary harbingers of a new age of harmony, or at least meaningful exchange, between literature and science. Acknowledgements to science popularizers-usually physicists-are becoming a common sight in prefaces to novels and plays. Besides Frayn, one could mention Tom Stoppard, who found inspiration for Arcadia in James Gleick's Chaos, and begins Hapgood, a play centred on a convoluted quantum mechanical espionage plot, with a quotation from physicist and popularizer Richard Feynman;" or Ian McEwan, who acknowledges physicist David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order as a source for The Child in Time, and has a science writer as the protagonist of his Enduring Loue?
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