The Roots of Objectivity and Scientific Language
Texts: Ezra Klein, “The Sam Harris Debate”
Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana
Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the Study of Scientific Medicine
Nouvelle Iconographie de la salpêtrière
Émile Zola, “The Experimental Novel”
Émile Zola, Thérèse Raquin
Georges Perec, “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris”
This course will trace the discursive roots of the modern forms of scientific knowledge. Why are some forms of knowledge deemed “scientific” while others are not? What kinds of linguistic practices make a text appear objective? What methods? Does our definition of objectivity change over time? How does scientific knowledge relate to state power? How can literary reading methods be applied to scientific texts, and what can we learn from these close readings?
We will read and analyze wide variety of primary texts: modern scientific articles, 19th-century pseudoscientific texts in the fields of phrenology and early psychology (Morton and Charcot), 19th-century texts that are still considered scientific today (Bernard), and the texts of several literary authors who claim that their texts are scientific (Zola) or mimic scientific writing in their literary work (Perec). These will be supplemented by brief theoretical texts that will help frame our readings.