Contact Address:
Prof. Dr. Klaus Mecke
Institut für Theoretische Physik
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Staudtstraße 7
91058 Erlangen
Phone: +49-9131-85 28441
Fax: +49-9131-85 28444

Contact Address:
Dr. Aura Heydenreich
Germanistik und Komparatistik
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Bismarckstraße 1b
91054 Erlangen
Phone: +49-9131-85 22978

Focus II:

Literature and Science. Historical Perspectives – Interrelations of Physics and Literature 1700–2013

Since the Early Modern Period, the paradigm of physical knowledge established itself first in various natural, philosophical, theological, and epistemological discourses. From the 17th-Century on, there is an increasing exchange between the empirical sciences and literature (Royal Society; Encyclopädie), as well as a popular engagement with scientific knowledge in Moralistic Weeklies (J. Addison, R. Steele, J. Mattheson, B. Brockes), in educational poems (A. v. Haller) and in novels and satiric writings (F. Bacon, A. Pope, J. Swift). Due to the progressive specialisation of academic disciplines between 1750 and 1830 (Sattelzeit, R. Koselleck) physics comes to its own, increasingly powerful status (cf. R. Stichweh: Zur Entstehung des modernen Systems wissenschaftlicher Disziplinen: Physik in Deutschland 1740-1890, 1984), whereas a relativey close exchange between physics, other natural sciences, and philosophy still exists around 1800 (O. Breidbach/R. Burwick: Physik um 1800. Kunst, Wissenschaft oder Philosophie?, 2012). In the wake of an increasing popularisation of knowledge (cf. Mathias Bose: Die Elektrizität nach ihrer Entdeckung und Fortgang, 1744; A. v. Humboldt Kosmos 1845-186; A. Daum: Wissenschaftspopularisierung im 19. Jhdt., 1998), a productive and deliberate exchange between literature and physics is formed, which, contrary to the thesis of ‘two cultures’ remains, with varying degrees of intensity until today (M. Gamper: Elektropoetologie 2009; B. Specht: Physik als Kunst, 2010).

This working group will focus on the previously only exemplarily researched history of the interrelations of physics and literature, and concentrates, based on the methods of cultural studies, interdiscourse-analysis, and new historicism, on specific historically 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 popularised 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 reconceptualisation 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 (see Focus IV). The question of how, with the help of quantum-theory, knowledge and its relations to uncertain knowledge can be problematised 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: R. Ingarden's Das literarische Kunstwerk (1931) lays the foundation for phenomenological literary studies and refers explicitly to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (1927). – Finally, the group will focus on current debates about “particles” and “the cosmos,” as they are being discussed in physics and increasingly in literature as well (U. Woelk; R. Schrott). “Gods Particle”, “supersymmetry”, “strings” and “loops” are metaphors for possible answers to unsolved questions in modern physics. We are clueless with regards to the accelerated expansion of the universe, we do not know, from where matter receives its mass, and we do not understand, why symmetries among elementary particles are broken. “Particles” and “cosmos” tend to outline the field, in which physicists must rely on narrative speculations because experimental observations are missing and mathematical constructions are not self-consistent. Here, in the undefined zone between certain and uncertain knowledge, mathematical and literary expressions come together (see Focus III).

Overall, Focus II provides for many methodological and thematic points of reference to neighboring disciplines (medicine, chemistry, biology) that make conceivable future interdisciplinary expansions, which will broaden the spectrum of ELINAS in the medium run.