Matthew P. brings up an interesting new angle on the question of defining Science Fiction:
After reading some of the blog posts and the comments I finally came down to the last couple lines of Dan’s most recent comment: “The aestheticist in me says “no,” but the part of me that despairs of the state of scientific knowledge among non-scientists says “well, why not?”
I first thought a talk I attended recently by Alison Deming Hawthorne about “the melding of poetry with the informational content of science writing”. One of the reasons she cares about this is to disperse knowledge and to make people feel for and understand science based issues in the world through poetry rather than through numbers, theories, reports, and news stories which have completely different way and efficacy of impacting people.
It’s a science fiction class not science poetry, but I began to wonder about poetry with science. Its history? Is there great poetry with science? How much science and how accurate or imaginative? I’m just curious as to where it sits in relation to quantity, quality, and history of SF.
The question of what is science fiction has kept coming up on the blog, its attributes, value, purpose, place. I’m curious about poetry with science and where it stands in relation to SF.
Dan adds: there is a long tradition of poetry (and drama, and “non-SF” fiction) that engages to various extents with scientific ideas, metaphors, images and practices. One of my most successful papers as an undergrad was on Shakespeare’s Othello as an exploration of empiricism. Milton repeatedly alludes to Galileo’s findings in Paradise Lost, and 18th-century poets in the decades following Newton were fascinated with natural laws, the nature of light, and the promise of perfect knowledge. The Romantics reacted against this to a certain extent, but many of them–notably Coleridge and Percy B. Shelley–were very interested in science too. As the 18th-century writer John Aiken argued, science changes the world, and if literature wants to retain its function of describing and exploring that world, then it ought to keep up with science. C. P. Snow would make the same point in his infamous “Two Cultures” essay in 1959 (see this article for background), and Aldous Huxley in his last publication “Literature and Science” (1963)–itself a reboot of his grandfather Matthew Arnold’s “Literature and Science” (1882), which was a response to Aldous’s other grandfather T. H. Huxley’s “Science and Culture” (1880). Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, poets have continued to mine the sciences for new devices, forms, theories, and materials.
But is any of this SF? Offer your thoughts. In the meantime, see what Kingsley Amis, one of the first critics to take SF seriously, says in his poem “Science Fiction.”