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

Inaugural Conference of ELINAS:
Erlangen Center for Literature and Natural Sciences

Physics and Literature:
Theory – Popularization – Aestheticization

at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen 29.05 – 01.06.2014

OverviewInvited SpeakersProgram


Most of the talks and discussions are avaible as videos on the ELINAS videos page.


Please register via e-mail to Aura Heydenreich until the 23.05.2014. There is no conference fee.

Directions and Accomodation


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 a constitute 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.

Invited Speakers

Speaker Title
Prof. Dr. Maximilian Bergengruen, Lit.wiss., Genf, Karlsruhe Magie - Optik - Kunst. Magia Optica als metonymische Chiffre für die Barockliteratur?
Susan M. Gaines, Writer in residence, Science meets fiction, Bremen Nuance, Metaphors, and Molecules: The Book Cover That Never Was
Prof. Dr. Michael Gamper, Lit.wiss., Universität Hannover Ästhetische Eigenzeiten der Physik
Prof. Ignatius McGovern, PhD, Physik, Trinity College, Dublin Science and Poetry - not so different? 'A Mystic Dream of 4' - William Rowan Hamilton
Prof. Dr. Lutz Kasper, Physik, Schwäbisch-Gmünd Die Bedeutung von Subjektivierung und Ästhetisierung für den naturwissenschaftlichen Erkenntnisprozess
Prof. Dr. Nikola Kompa, Philosophie, Bern / Osnabrück Metapher: Funktion, epistemischer Mehrwert, Interpretation
Dr. Jay Labinger, Chemie, California Institute of Technology The role of language in conceptions of atomic and molecular orbitals and chemical bonding models
Prof. Dr. Bernadette Malinowski, Lit.wiss., Chemnitz Literarische Epistemologie: Daniele DelGiudices „Atlante occidentale“
Prof. Dr. Arkady Plotnitsky, Lit.wiss., Purdue University, Indiana Reality and Probability in Physics and Literature, From Laplace and Kleist to Heisenberg and Musil
Dr. Peter M. Schuster, Physik, Physik, Wien, European Physics Society Wie kann man sich dem Schaffensvorgang und der Erkenntnisfindung eines Physikers annähern? / Lesung aus: Schöpfungswoche – Tag eins, Christian Doppler zur Huldigung
Prof. Dr. Winfried Thielmann, Linguistik, Chemnitz Physikalische Begriffsbildung aus linguistischer Sicht
Dr. Giovanni Vignale, Physik, Northwestern University, Missouri The beautiful invisible. Creativity, imagination and theoretical physics
Prof. Dr. Dirk Vanderbeke, Lit.wiss., Universität Jena Physik der Fantastik - Fantastische Physik


Abstract Submission

Please send your abstracts (400 words) to Aura Heydenreich. 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.