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) 1-2 input presentation(s) on a topic referring to the physics, or 1 presentation regarding the media-specific, i.e. narratological/discursive 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 September).
  • We will meet on Stud.IP (go to our course --> 'meetings' --> no camera, switch on but mute microphone (we will add these as we proceed)

Session 2: 21 April

  • Contexts: Vanderbeke, "Physics" (2011)
  • Reading and discussion: Ra Page, "Introduction." Litmus: Short Stories from Modern Science (vii-xiii)
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP announcements)

Session 3: 28 April

Session 4: 05 May

  • Contexts: Dihal Kanta, "New Science, New Stories: Quantum Physics as a Narrative Trope in Contemporary Fiction" (2019)
  • Reading and discussion: "The Special Theory" by Michael Jecks; "Everything is Moving, Everything is Joined" by Stella Duffy
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP announcements)

Session 5: 12 May

  • Contexts: Norbert Schaffeld, "The Historical Science Novel and the Narrative of an Emergent Scientific Discourse" (2016)
  • Reading and discussion: "Crystal Night" by Zoe Lambert; in addition, choose one of the following: "The Woman Who Measured the Heavens with a Span" by Sara Maitland or "Patience" by Emma Jane Unsworth
  • Presentation: Lise Meitner and Nuclear Fission
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP announcements)

Session 6: 19 May

  • Contexts: Recap
  • Reading and discussion: "In Search of Silence" by Adam Marek; "Monkey See, Monkey Do" by Trevor Hoyle
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP announcements)

Session 7: 26 May

  • Reading and discussion: McEwan, Solar
  • Presentation: Solar as Narrative
  • Foreshadowing: Physics in Solar
  • Perpetuum mobile ideas and energy conservation (cf. e.g., p. 22-25)
  • Micro wind turbines, rooftop-mounted wind turbines (cf. e.g., p. 32)
  • Artificial photosynthesis, water splitting, photovoltaics (cf. e.g., p. 34-38, 120-121, 142)
  • Dirac equation (cf. e.g., p. 56-57)
  • Long-range spooky correlations (cf. e.g., p. 90-91)
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP announcements)

Session 8: 02 June

  • Contexts: Reviews and criticism, see below
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP announcements)
  • Presentation: Perpetuum mobile ideas and energy conservation (cf. e.g., p. 22-25)

Session 9: 09 June

  • Contexts: Reviews and criticism, see below
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP announcements)
  • Presentation: Photovoltaics (cf. e.g., p. 34-38, 120-121, 142)

Session 10: 16 June

  • Contexts: Reviews and criticism, see below
  • Tasks: (see Stud.IP announcements)
  • Presentations: Dirac and his equation (cf. e.g., p. 56-57); genius and physics

Session 11: 23 June

  • Contexts: Reviews and criticism, see below
  • Presentations: essentials vs. constructivist notions in Solar
  • evaluation

Session 12: 30 June

  • final discussion
  • feedback on evaluation

Session 13: 07 July

Session 14: 14 July

  • discussion of lit/cult research papers
  [Hand in research papers until 15 September 2021]


Primary Reading

  • see above

Further Reading

cf. Stud.IP/files

Literary and cultural reading

  • Literature and Science
  • Snow, C.P. Two Cultures
  • Anton Kirchhofer and Natalie Roxburgh, "The Scientist as ‘Problematic Individual’ in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction" (2016)
  • Schaffeld, ZAA
  • Engelhardt, Nina; Hoydis, Julia Representations of Science in Twenty-First-Century Fiction: Human and Temporal Connectivities. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan (London); 2019.
  • Haynes
  • Narrative Turn in Science
  • Physics in/and Fiction
  • Dihal, Kanta. "New Science, New Stories: Quantum Physics as a Narrative Trope in Contemporary Fiction." 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.
  • Oppermann, Serpil. "Quantum Physics and Literature: How They Meet the Universe Halfway." Anglia: Zeitschrift für Englische Philologie ; 2015; 133(1) 87-104.
  • Vanderbeke, Dirk. "Physics." 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:
  • Meifert-Menhard, Felicitas. "A Non-Narratable Future? Narrating Climate Change in Contemporary Forms of Storytelling." Diegesis: Interdisziplinäres E-Journal für Erzählforschung/Interdisciplinary E-Journal for Narrative Research ; 2020; 9(1) 52-67. DFG: German Research Foundation/Deutsche (journal article)
  • Lehtimäki, Markku. "A Comedy of Survival: Narrative Progression and the Rhetoric of Climate Change in Ian McEwan’s Solar." pp. 87-106 IN: James, Erin; Morel, Eric; Heise, Ursula K. Environment and Narrative: New Directions in Econarratology. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press; 2020. x, 224 (book article)
  • Wright, Laura. "Cli-Fi: Environmental Literature for the Anthropocene." pp. 99-116 IN: Baumbach, Sibylle; Neumann, Birgit New Approaches to the Twenty-First-Century Anglophone Novel. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan (Cham, Switzerland); 2019. xv, 344 (book article)
  • Özmen, Cansu Özge. "Global Disasters and Personal Responses in Ian McEwan’s Solar." Humanitas: Uluslararası Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi/International Journal of Social Sciences ; 2018; 6(12) 1-9. Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Namık Kemal Üniversitesi (journal article)
  • Nitzke, Solvejg. "The Adaptation of Disaster: Representations of Environmental Crises in Climate Change Fiction." Komparatistik Online ; 2018; 38-58. (journal article)
  • Ahn, Sunyoung. "“Science as a Vocation” in the Anthropocene: Ian McEwan’s Solar." Studies in Modern Fiction ; 2018; 25(2) 289-312. Korean Association of Modern Fiction in English (journal article)
  • Traub, Courtney. "From the Grotesque to Nuclear-Age Precedents: The Modes and Meanings of Cli-Fi Humor." Studies in the Novel ; 2018 Spring; 50(1) 86-107. Johns Hopkins University Press (journal article)
  • Dobrogoszcz, Tomasz. "Family and Relationships in Ian McEwan's Fiction: Between Fantasy and Desire." Lanham, MD: Lexington Books; 2018. vii, 255 (book)
  • Berndt, Katrin. "Science As Comedy and the Myth of Progress in Ian McEwan's Solar." Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal ; 2017 Dec; 50(4) 85-101. University of Manitoba (journal article)
  • Holland, Rachel. "Reality Check: Ian McEwan’s Rational Fictions." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction ; 2017; 58(4) 387-400. Taylor & Francis (journal article)
  • Halfmann, Roman. "Die neue Nostalgie in der Gegenwartskultur: Zur Transformation personaler Authentizität in Werken von Ian McEwan, Karl Ove Knausgård, Nino Haratschwili und Tom McCarthy." Weimarer Beiträge: Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft, Ästhetik und Kulturwissenschaften ; 2017; 63(1) 5-26. Passagen Verlag Wien Ges. m. b. H. (journal article)
  • Gladwin, Derek. Ecological Exile: Spatial Injustice and Environmental Humanities. New York, NY: Routledge; 2017. 214 (book)
  • Kirchhofer, Anton; Roxburgh, Natalie. "The Scientist as 'Problematic Individual' in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction." Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik: A Quarterly of Language, Literature and Culture ; 2016 June; 64(2) 149-168. Stauffenburg (journal article)
  • Childs, Peter. "Sunlight and Dark: Humorous Shades in Ian McEwan's Later Novels." Anglistik ; 2016 Mar; 27(1) 73-83. Universitätsverlag Winter GmbH (journal article)
  • Faivre, Robert. "Posthumanist Metaphysics and the Necessity of Dialectics." pp. 185-220 IN: Cotter, Jennifer(ed. and introd.); DeFazio, Kimberly(ed. and introd.); Faivre, Robert(ed. and introd.); Sahay, Amrohini(ed. and introd.); Torrant, Julie P.(ed. and introd.); :*Tumino, Stephen(ed. and introd.); Wilkie, Rob(ed. and introd.) Human, All Too (Post)Human: The Humanities After Humanism. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books; 2016. vii, 244 (book article)
  • Groes, Sebastian. "Against Nostalgia: Climate Change Art and Memory." pp. 175-187 IN: Groes, Sebastian; Hayles, N. Katherine Memory in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Perspectives from the Arts, Humanities, and Sciences. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan (London); 2016. xxi, 404 (book article)
  • Hsu, Shou-Nan. "Truth, Care, and Action: An Ethics of Peaceful Coexistence in Ian McEwan's Solar." Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature ; 2016 Fall; 52(4) 326-349. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (journal article)
  • Bartosch, Roman. "The Climate of Literature: English Studies in the Anthropocene." Anglistik ; 2015 Sept; 26(2) 59-70. Universitätsverlag Winter GmbH (journal article)
  • Marzec, Robert P. "Climate Change and the Evolution of the 9/11 Security State: The Fantasy of Adaptation and Ian McEwan's Solar." pp. 70-97 IN: Duvall, John N.(ed. and introd.); Marzec, Robert P.(ed. and introd.); Pease, Donald E.(afterword) Narrating 9/11: Fantasies of State, Security, and Terrorism. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press; 2015. vi, 322 (book article)
  • Wanning, Berbeli. "Klima-Katastrophen: Weshalb Klimawandel (k)ein Thema für die Romanliteratur ist." pp. 275-286 IN: Hens-Lüttich, Ernest W.B.(ed., foreword, and introd.); Takahashi, Yoshito(ed. and foreword); Hisayama, Yuho(foreword) Orient im Okzident- Okzident im Orient: West-Östliche Begegnungen in Sprache und Kultur, Literatur und Wissenschaft. Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.; 2015. 340 (book article)
  • Klaeger, Florian. "Here Comes Everybody: Anthropological Hyperbole in Some Recent Novels." Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik: A Quarterly of Language, Literature and Culture ; 2014 Oct; 62(4) 291-308. Stauffenburg (journal article)
  • Bracke, Astrid. "The Contemporary English Novel and Its Challenges to Ecocriticism." pp. 423-439 IN: Garrard, Greg(ed. and introd.); Glotfelty, Cheryll(preface) The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 2014. xvii, 577 (book article)
  • Nicieja, Stankomir. "Forays into the Scientific Mindset: The Two Cultures in Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Solar." pp. 443-449 IN: Fabiszak, Jacek(ed. and introd.); Urbaniak-Rybicka, Ewa(ed. and introd.); Wolski, Bartosz(ed. and introd.) Crossroads in Literature and Culture. Berlin, Germany: Springer; 2013. xvi, 530 (book article)
  • Garrard, Greg. "The Unbearable Lightness of Green: Air Travel, Climate Change and Literature." Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism ; 2013; 17(2) 175-188. Routledge (journal article)
  • Garrard, Greg."Solar: Apocalypse Not." pp. 123-136 IN: Groes, Sebastian(ed. and introd.); Ridley, Matt(preface) Ian McEwan. London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing; 2013. xx, 180 (book article)
  • Thurgar-Dawson, Chris. "Reality Mining and Meaningful Motion Patterns: A Critical GIS for Literary Studies." pp. 69-88 IN: Berensmeyer, Ingo(ed. and introd.); Ehland, Christoph(ed. and introd.) Perspectives on Mobility. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Brill/Rodopi; 2013. 233 (book article)
  • Zemanek, Evi. "A Dirty Hero's Fight for Clean Energy: Satire, Allegory, and Risk Narrative in Ian McEwan's Solar." Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment ; 2012; 3(1) 51-60. European Association for Studies of Literature, Culture and the Environment; Grupo de Investigación en Ecocrítica (journal article)
  • Borm, Jan. "Ian McEwan's Solar, or Literature and Contemporary Debates on Climate Change." pp. 237-247 IN: Rudaitytė, Regina(ed. and foreword) Literature in Society. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing; 2012. vii, 264 (book article)
  • Bartosch, Roman. "Literary Quality and the Ethics of Reading: Some Thoughts on Literary Evolution and the Fiction of Margaret Atwood, Ilija Trojanow, and Ian McEwan." pp. 113-128 IN: Müller, Timo(ed. and introd.); Sauter, Michael(ed. and introd.) Literature, Ecology, Ethics: Recent Trends in Ecocriticism. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag Winter GmbH; 2012. 242 (book article)
  • Nicklas, Pascal. "The Media Persona of Ian McEwan and the Meditation of the Media in Solar." Anglistik ; 2010 Sept; 21(2) 93-101. Universitätsverlag Winter GmbH (journal article)
  • Kerridge, Richard. "The Single Source." Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment ; 2010; 1(1) 155-161. European Association for Studies of Literature, Culture and the Environment; Grupo de Investigación en Ecocrítica (journal article)
  • Bracke, Astrid. "Redrawing the Boundaries of Ecocritical Practice." Isle: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment ; 2010 Autumn; 17(4) 765-768. Oxford University Press (journal article)
  • Litmus:

[no secondary literature yet, but some reviews, see below]

Science reading