Science and Romanticism

Working on some academic gobbledygook on the relationship between romanticism and science I’ve come into close contact with (i.e. am reading) a neat book — a collection of essays by a historian of science David M. Knight focused on the above-mentioned connection. It’s dense history, but there is also something charmingly engaging about his style. You can tell he’s a true scholar — versatile, passionate and poetic. What academics should be, but rarely are. Then again, few of them bother with concepts like romanticism, preferring to assume such terms are silly and irrelevant to the postmodern condition.

Knight, in contrast, takes the notion seriously, teasing out romantic meaning in a domain often portrayed as inured to cultural context. He shows, through thoroughness balanced with panache, how absurd this preconception is. Good stuff.


David M. Knight, Science in the Romantic Era (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998).

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16 Responses to “Science and Romanticism”

  1. Shefaly Says:

    As a student of science policy with an interest in the philosophy and history of science, I have read a couple of David Knight’s other books. I think most scientists at some level know that the meaning of their work is steeped in the cultural context but in a time of mass scientific illiteracy (I speak of the UK), they probably do not wish to acknowledge it, lest less knowledgeable people start flogging the argument to weaken the influence of science in different aspects of life. At least so I found during my research related conversations in health policy formulation..

    However you are right although it is not just scientists who would not bother with ‘romanticism’ (or with versatility, as it requires them to straddle domains or disciplines and some see it as blasphemy or whatever equivalent term scientists may use); other serious pursuers of science and technology (outside the lab) also would hesitate to pick a book with such a title.

    Now I am tempted to check the book out. So thank you for sharing.

  2. The Necromancer Says:

    Glad you could make use of it. These sorts of post usually get only one reaction — snark. Genuine interest is refreshing. Thanks.

  3. Shefaly Says:

    // These sorts of post usually get only one reaction — snark. //

    … thereby reinforcing the point of your post. Quelle ironie! :-)

  4. uberfrau Says:

    So like, if you didn’t come into “close contact” would you be reading your book behind plexiglass? Would you call to it from across the library floor?

  5. uberfrau Says:

    P.S. I fail to see the irony of snark to this post.

  6. The Necromancer Says:

    So do I, actually. The plexiglass imagery is interesting — You dating a convict these days?

  7. Shefaly Says:

    “P.S. I fail to see the irony of snark to this post.”

    One of the key lines in this post is: “few of them bother with concepts like romanticism, preferring to assume such terms are silly and irrelevant to the postmodern condition.” Then the post talks about how good the book, that does not choose to limit itself similarly, is.

    I take the word ‘snark’ to mean some sort of cynical, snide, derisive commentary.

    To me, if a post that talks about how scientists are derisive about a concept, which nonetheless produces a good book/ outcome, attracts derision and dismissal for being too serious, then essentially – and ironically – the idea of perfectly good ideas facing derision or dismissal is kind of reinforced.

    Clear as mud, eh?

    I am afraid at 7 am on Sunday morning I can’t clarify my comment any further… :-/

  8. uberfrau Says:

    Don’t you know it Seb. It’s an entirely new dating frontier.

    I see Shefaly. Seb generally only gets snark from me, or Monica. We’re not scientists, only old drinking buddies who Sparky used to steal cigarettes from.

    Mostly, though, we’re snarky about his poetry. Mostly because it’s irresistible. In Sparky’s defense, he has never once has read it out loud.

  9. Shefaly Says:

    @ Uberfrau: Thanks. I am a new reader here so I did not have context on his (Seb’s? I assume that is the author) remark on my note… :-)

    I have not read poetry here and to be safe, I usually do not comment on people’s poetry. It is like my commenting on someone’s baking or their driving. As you can guess, I do neither…

    Happy Christmas!

  10. The Necromancer Says:

    Shefaly: Now we’re getting into the philosophy of snark. Heavy.

    uberfrau: Don’t tempt me…I might start making Youtube videos. Or long, droning podcasts of old bibliographies. Believe me, it could be worse.

  11. Shefaly Says:

    @TN: Isn’t it just? :-) One of my blog readers and I have had long discussions about blogging and Nash equilibria – and yes that is in the same discussion. Philosophising about snark is just par for the course, I imagine… Happy Christmas!

  12. uberfrau Says:

    Oh Sparky! We would totally download them, if only to hear your voice again….

  13. Jake Jakob Says:

    I’ve been meaning to read David Knight. People keep recommending him to me. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. rick Says:

    You sound well read in philosophy, but as such I can’t decide whether you are likely to have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or not. Maybe you will dismiss it as pop pseudo-philosophy I don’t know, but it has much to say about the duality of science and romanticism.

  15. The Necromancer Says:

    I wouldn’t dismiss anything as pop just because it’s not “academic”. All the better, actually. Unlike most of the rest of the world, however, I haven’t read Pirsig’s classic. Clearly an oversight. Maybe I’m not that well read in philosophy after all…

    Thanks for the tip.

  16. On the Bike « The Necromancer Says:

    […] it’s because I’m reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and thinking about “quality” but revelations about the big ideas in life are currently […]

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