Tuesday, August 26, 2003

I’m reading Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould right now. It’s making me seriously readjust the border I’d drawn between art and science. Gould’s story of the reinterpretation of the Burgess fossils is full of instances of craft, imagination, vision, lateral-thinking…things I’d normally associate with art, but here they're applied to science in an attempt to redefine the course of natural history and our existence…big questions. And what's the difference between trying to construct a viable creature from a malformed remnant inside a rock or trying to build a song from a fragment inside your head? Everyone’s after the truth.

I’m also enjoying the attention that Gould pays to the language of science. In his section on the monographs that describe the Burgess creatures, he likes to point out when the writer’s voice pierces the conventional “monographical” rhetoric. Sometimes the paleontologist’s “personal pride and passion come through beneath the stylistic cover-up.” Diana Wegner, our Print Futures guru, might call these instances a genre innovation.

Art, science and linguistic boners proliferate. I’m onto a winner here.

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