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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Schmerl, Rudolf B.
[Editorial comment: who's afraid of fantasy?],   pp. [176]-[183] PDF (9.3 MB)

Page 177

I                               I      I          I                   I 
a,                    -
Science and literature, as activities, as
pursuits, have nothing in common.
Science, which rests on the reproducible
experiment, knows no limitation of subject
other than that imposed by its single
method. Literature, which has for its
subject matter the infinity of experience
involved in being human, knows no
restriction of verbal method with which to
explore that single subject. But
science and literature are not only pursuits,
they are also - now more than
ever - enterprises. And in a certain
sense, they are competing enterprises.
Their purveyors share a concern to
relate what they do to what society may
become. If humanity has learned anything
in the last couple of centuries, it is that
the future may be different from
the past; and therefore the purveyors of
science and literature find us unusually
attentive to their various prophecies.
It happens, perhaps because of the
fundamental difference between science
and literature as pursuits, that the
most arresting visions of the future
entertained by scientists rarely corroborate
the most compelling foresights of artists.
Hence, competition, which may be
good for enterprises, even for fantasy, but
is not always good for all of us.
We are left floundering between conflicting
futures, most of which are presented
as inevitable, at least as highly probable,
and there are too many credibility
gaps already.
Obviously, science is part of the nation's
business as literature is not. The
gesture of respect accorded Robert Frost
by the late President Kennedy is not
comparable to the post of Science Advisor
to the country's chief executive.
The budget of the National Foundation
for the Arts and Humanities is about two
and a half per cent of the funds allocated
to the National Science Foundation.
The various state councils for the arts are
not trying to entice poets to change their
residence, but similar seduction of
engineers and scientists is a regular part
of the business of any self-respecting
state chamber of commerce.
Municipalities, seeking counsel, turn to
social scientists, transportation experts,
specialists in pollution abatement, but
not to playwrights, novelists, essayists.
Scientists and, even more, managers
of science have the governmental ear;
literary people talk mostly to each other.
Aware that this state of things
is relatively recent, certain that they
are being neglected to the nation's
detriment, men of letters often decry
science and society alike. Once in a while
their hostility to society is newsworthy,
at least briefly, as when Robert Lowell
snubbed President Johnson's invitation to
the White House Conference on the Arts.
But their hostility to science,
frequently camouflaged as hostility
to amoral technology, is generally a much

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