2021 Physics in Contemporary Fiction

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  • Modul: ang622 ('Akzentsetzung'), phy355 (physikalische Wahlstudien), pb113, pb114
  • Lecturer: Petra Groß and Anna Auguscik
  • Course: 3.02.152
  • Time: Wednesday 10-12h
  • Venue: online via Stud.IP, BBB meetings
  • Course Description:

Physics has often been understood as the opposite of fiction: formulae vs narrative; reality vs constructedness; in short, fact vs fiction. This has not discouraged writers to take this very challenge, as a long genre tradition of science fiction attests. However, the interest on the part of what is considered 'literary fiction' seems to be more recent.

In this summer semester, we offer a new interdisciplinary seminar called "Physics in contemporary fiction". In a rare setting with students from both the English and the Physics departments, we will read a science novel and science-related short stories. We want to approach questions such as: How much science is contained in these texts and how is it incorporated? How important is it for the text? Is the representation correct or plausible? What is the underlying scientific context, and how does it relate to society or politics-related discussions? How do these writings join the 'two cultures' debate? And how can (becoming) physicists and literary scholars, or teachers of either discipline, profit from such a reading?

Please, buy and read the following novel and short story anthology:

  • McEwan, Ian. Solar [2010]. London: Vintage, 2011.
  • Page, Ra, ed. Litmus: Short Stories from Modern Science Manchester: Comma Press, 2011.

PLEASE NOTE: Use the time until the beginning of term to immerse yourself in the reading of the novel and the short story anthology. Additional materials for preparation, as well as the detailed syllabus, will be made available here and/or on Stud.IP.

Session 1: 14 April

  • Introductory session
  • Welcome: Please read our message under 'Ankündigungen on Stud.IP'; familiarize yourself with the draft syllabus that you find here and note the course requirements for 3 KP (students in Physics, Engineering) or 6 KP (students in English/American Studies)
  • For 3 KPs:
  • (1) active participation in the course (you should not miss more than 3 sessions)
  • (2) input presentation on a topic referring to the physics or presentation regarding the media-specific, i.e. narratological aspects of the primary reading
  • For additional 3 KPs (i.e. 6 KPs in total)
  • (3) one seminar paper (10-12 pp), based on the topic of your presentation (upload to Stud.IP and hand in as print version by 15 March).
  • We will meet on Stud.IP (go to our course --> 'meetings' --> no camera, mute microphone (we will add these as we proceed)

Session 2: 21 April

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion: Ra Page, "Introduction." Litmus: Short Stories from Modern Science (vii-xiii)
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 3: 28 April

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion: "The Heart of Denis Noble" by Alison MacLeod
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 4:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion: "The Special Theory" by Michael Jecks; "Everything is Moving, Everything is Joined" by Stella Duffy
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 5:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion: "Crystal Night" by Zoe Lambert and one of the following: "The Woman Who Measured the Heavens with a Span" by Sara Maitland; "Patience" by Emma Jane Unsworth
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 6:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion: "In Search of Silence", by Adam Marek?
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 7:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion: McEwan, Solar
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 8:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion:
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 9:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion:
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 10:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion:
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 11:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion:
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 12:

  • Contexts:
  • Reading and discussion:
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP)

Session 13:

  • discussion
  • evaluation

Session 14:

  • discussion of research papers
  • feedback on evaluation
  [Hand in research papers until 15 September 2021]


Primary Reading

  • see above

Further Reading

cf. Stud.IP/files

Literary and cultural reading

  • Physics in/and Fiction
  • Dihal, Kanta. pp. 55-74 IN: Engelhardt, Nina; Hoydis, Julia Representations of Science in Twenty-First-Century Fiction: Human and Temporal Connectivities. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan (London); 2019.
  • Anton Kirchhofer and Natalie Roxburgh, "The Scientist as ‘Problematic Individual’ in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction" (2016)
  • Oppermann, Serpil. Anglia: Zeitschrift für Englische Philologie ; 2015; 133(1) 87-104.
  • Vanderbeke, Dirk. pp. 192-202 IN: Clarke, Bruce(ed.); Rossini, Manuela(ed.) The Routledge Companion to Literature and Science. London, England: Routledge; 2011. xviii, 550
  • Leane, Elizabeth. "Knowing Quanta: The Ambiguous Metaphors of Popular Physics." The Review of English Studies ; 2001 Aug; 52(207) 411-31.
  • Cain, Sarah. "The Metaphorical Field: Post-Newtonian Physics and Modernist Literature." The Cambridge Quarterly ; 1999; 28(1) 46-64.
  • Solar:
  • Litmus:

Science reading