ELINAS Inaugural Conference cfp

Call for Papers for the

Inaugural Conference of


(Erlangen Center for Literature and Natural Sciences)

at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen, Germany 29.05. – 01.06.2014

Physics and Literature: Theory – Popularization – Aestheticization

Physics, literature, and literary criticism are discourses of knowledge production which have drifted apart considerably in the course of the modern functional differentiation of social systems. At the same time, both discourses contribute to the comprehension and mastery of present and future problems, which invariably have both technological and cultural implications. Technologies and worldviews, shaped by physical knowledge, often acquire the status of central myths and determine human life worlds. Thus, they are of tremendous cultural relevance. The evaluation and assessment of their goals, limitations, and effects as well as of their inherent chances and risks is an ongoing process and cannot be negotiated within the necessarily narrow limits of physical discourse alone. At present more well-informed and highly reflective literary texts dealing with physical issues are being published than ever before. Employing dialogue and narration, they translate physical knowledge from mathematical-symbolic into verbal-polyvalent forms of representation and re-embed it in specific cultural contexts. This is why recent literary criticism and linguistic studies have therefore begun to investigate discursive and narrative modulations of physical theories both in literary texts and in scientific literature. Physics is itself becoming increasingly aware, both of the linguistic dimension of scientific communication and research and of the general cultural dimension of physical knowledge. The field has begun to reflect on both: on the epistemological importance of metaphor and on the communicative and cultural conditions determining the goals, priorities, and ethical limits of scientific research.

These points of intersection between physical and cultural practices constitute a research field recognized for its considerable importance and interdisciplinary potential. Unconventional avenues of communication between highly specialized expert discourses are necessary to advance research in this field. The analysis of concept formation in the natural sciences can profit from the competence of literary theory, while the analysis of the transformation of physical knowledge in literary texts needs to be complemented by a sound knowledge of physical theory. ELINAS provides a platform for this exchange. ELINAS is an Emerging-Field-Project of the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen Nürnberg, which will be founded by the Faculty of Humanities, the Faculty of Sciences, the Faculty of Medicine, and the Faculty of Engineering through the Departments of Physics, Mathematics, Physiology, Material Sciences, as well as the Departments of German, English and American Studies.

The conference will focus on the hitherto only exemplarily researched history of the interrelations between physics and literature and concentrates on historically specific thematic fields. While during The Early Modern Period physics primarily discusses questions of movement and force, the 18th Century is dominated by debates on Newton’s mechanics and optics (up until Goethe’s Farbenlehre, 1810). The expansion of experimental investigations, coupled with technological progress, causes a shift towards chemical (C. Berthollet, A. Lavoisier) as well as thermal (T. Young, N. Carnot) and electro-magnetic phenomena (A. Volta, G. S. Ohm, M. Faraday, J. C. Maxwell) but also to astronomy, in particular in its popularized form (A. Clerke, S. Newcomb, J. Mädler). These also move to the foreground in the literature around 1800 (G. C. Lichtenberg, H. v. Kleist, E. T. A. Hoffmann, A. v. Arnim). – A century later, the reconceptualization of the relationship of space-time and energy/matter in Einstein’s special and general relativity theory, and the debate over the development of quantum-theory created epistemological problems, which are reflected in literature up until today, and which shape the structures of literary writing. The question of how, with the help of quantum-theory, knowledge and its relations to uncertain knowledge can be problematized and represented is central (H. Broch, D. Dath). A further focus in this context will be the interplay of natural-scientific and literary theory formation. One conference section will be reserved for the presentation of other literature and natural science initiatives, networks or institutions.

Abstracts: Please send your abstracts (400 words) to Aura Heydenreich (aura.heydenreich@fau.de). The abstracts should include the title and content of the paper, as well as your name, your research interests, a short bio/bibliography, email address, and postal address. The papers themselves should not exceed the time frame of 30 minutes. The deadline for submission is February 15, 2014. More information under: http://elinas.fau.de/