Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Signs of Science

Signs of Science: Literature, Science, and spa Modernity since 1868

Dale J. Pratt
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Signs of Science
    Book Description:

    Signs of Science: Literature, Science, and spa Modernity since 1868 traces how spa culture represented scientific activity from the mid-nineteenth century onward. The book combines the global perspective afforded by historical narrative with detailed rhetorical analyses of images of science in specific literary and scientific texts. As literary criticism it seeks to illuminate similarities and differences in how science and scientists are pictured; as cultural history it follows the course of a centuries-long dialogue about Spain and science.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-085-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    On a recent trip to Madrid, the bus I took from the airport in Barajas to the Plaza de Colón was caught in the usual morning traffic jam. The irritated driver shouted “¡ Esto no pasa en Europa!” thereby expressing the commonplace that Spain has not been part of mainstream European culture since the heyday of Felipe II. Though the driver eventually navigated the congested streets successfully, his lament about Spain’s supposed backwardness echoes those of Spanish “europeizantes” writing from the 1700s until our time. Perhaps the most important issue in the debate over Spain’s membership in modem Europe, especially...

  2. Chapter One “One Short Sentence”: The Spanish Reception of Darwinism
    (pp. 15-48)

    The idea that forms of life wildly different from those now living once existed on the earth intrigues and disquiets us. Dinosaurs—Jurassic Park, The Lost World,and Barney—hold the preeminent place among cultural representations of prehistoric life. Any visit to a toy store, a children’s library or museum, or a peek in the average toy box shows how firmly ensconced dinosaurs are in the four-year-old imagination. Nevertheless, popular culture also exploits mammalian, especially human, prehistory.The Flintstonescartoons have entertained television viewers for decades, novels such asClan of the Cave BearandThe Neanderthal Enigmahave become...

  3. Chapter Two Decorative Science, Pedants, and Spanish Realism
    (pp. 49-80)

    In the literary mind, science can either work alongside the Muses or attempt to replace them. As the previous chapter shows, the realists relegated discussions of the most radical scientific theory of the nineteenth century—organic evolution—to the periphery of their texts. Despite their hesitancy on that particular subject, they nevertheless grappled with many questions about the place of modem science in society. The realists’ most important discoveries—as evidenced by their increased skepticism toward positivism—incorporate two different perspectives on scientific discourse. Friedrich Nietzsche argued that the “real world” studied by scientists was pitifully bleak and bereft of...

  4. Chapter Three Science, Faith, and Reference
    (pp. 81-102)

    In his 1956 song “(How Little It Matters) How Little We Know,” Frank Sinatra aptly poses the. epistemological verity facing every scientific investigator: scientific knowledge eventually fails to explain certain phenomena. Despite voluminous increases in scientific research and publishing, most scientists couch descriptions of the state of their disciplines (which often frame requests for additional funding) in terms of how much there remains to be discovered. Of course, they never intimate (or could even conceive) that their own particular work matters little. However, the Sinatra tune outlines even more vividly the theme of this chapter, late-nineteenth-century unease about the limits...

  5. Chapter Four “Perspectivas tan vastas”: “Scientific” Images of Science
    (pp. 103-131)

    InLa feandCuentos de vacaciones,science serves mainly to signify one extreme of the bipolar cultural debate of faith ver: sus modernity, though the latter text expresses far more faith in the powers of empiricism. and reason. The signscienceinCuentosalso fulfills a function beyond evoking utopian possibilities for the future: it steps past the raw empiricism of Comtean positivism to couple “fact” with the creative imagination of the individual scientist. In late-nineteenth-century Spain, even the most scientifically enlightened defenders of the Catholic faith saw empirical science as at best presenting only an incomplete view of...

  6. Chapter Five The Tragicomedy of Science in 1898
    (pp. 132-153)

    Cajal’s studies of the nervous system trace the limits of scientific realism. The workings of the cellular world obviously have global effects on the body, but the greater the detail of Cajal’s descriptions, the more difficult it becomes for him to explain human behavior in terms of cells. What is it about the branches of neurons that makes individuals think the way they do? Literary realism has similar limits. It may be obvious that environmental factors like alcoholism or poverty have dramatic effects on a person’s (and a character’s) identity, but the realist process of amassing minute observations is often...

  7. Chapter Six “Muy Siglo XX”: Science and Culture
    (pp. 154-182)

    From the later Unamuno’s perspective, science holds a position of primacy in European culture, a fact that permanently distances Spain from Europe. The “tragic feeling of life” results from the most difficult question ever to face philosophy: how to justify its pursuit of reason as a worthy facet of a life well lived. For Unamuno, reason alone can provide only intellectual, not emotive or spiritual, fulfillment: “el más trágico problema de la filosofía es el de conciliar las necesidades intelectuales con las necesidades afectivas y con las volitivas”(Del sentimiento trdgico119). Not only does reality present more facets than...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 183-186)

    This study has sought to follow a few basic values of the signsciencethrough one hundred years of literary and cultural history: science as reliable epistemology; science as cultural force; and science as source of aesthetic material. This historical narrative arises from detailed rhetorical analysis of the themes and poetics that make up literary images of science. It finds its inspiration in the intellectual preoccupations of the period it encompasses. The irony implicit in a study of multifarious images is that its own imaging of real processes in nineteenth-and twentieth-century Spanish culture remains unavoidably incomplete. Nevertheless, as Ortega says,...