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Cosmos and Narrative

This line of argument is only convincing if you refuse to distinguish between narrative Рtestimony, world-making, writing oneself into the social script Рand scientific theory-making; if you see the latter as a specialized case of the former, rather than an incommensurable language game with quite different rules.

Now it may be that the Science Guy is already blurring this distinction, by narrating scientific knowledge to an audience that is an audience for narrative rather than an audience for knowledge. Such narrations are always vulnerable to cultural critique; but what that critique is critiquing is not science, but the well-meaning traduction of science – the sort of thing that scientists smile at, tolerate, and know better than. “Well, kinda”, they will say, ” but not really. It’s, uh, a bit more complicated than that. How long have you got?”.

Cosmos – which I loved as a child – is the paradigmatic attempt to render theory-making as world-making, to make the scientific image seem plausibly inhabitable for narrative-loving creatures like ourselves. So far as I know, the science in it is good: it’s an honest traduction. But its story is ultimately the story of something that is not a story, that is not lovable in the way that a story can be loved, that does not include us in the way that a story can include us – as both subjects and potential narrators – but in another kind of way altogether. Science will always keep its secret from the masters of cultural critique, no matter how much they try to talk it down from its intolerable, allegedly undemocratic aloofness.

Monday Poem: Olaf

Olaf came to the edge of the water
he knelt he drank the trees leaned in
closer the minnows darted away
from Olaf’s hands and the ripples spreading

Olaf washed his wounds brittle with rust
midges joined him at the edge of the water
he stretched he sighed the trees leaned back
in the wind he tore strips of his clothes for bandages

Olaf reviewed his equipment
his map was torn
he had lost a buckle
his hunting blade was loose in its handle

night came on at the edge of the water
Olaf lay down at the foot of the trees
he shut his eyes minnows darted behind the lids
dreams came humming across the water