Remapping Reality

Chaos and Creativity in Science and Literature (Goethe – Nietzsche – Grass)


This book is about intersections among science, philosophy, and literature. It bridges the gap between the traditional “cultures” of science and the humanities by constituting an area of interaction that some have called a “third culture.” By asking questions about three disciplines rather than about just two, as is customary in research, this inquiry breaks new ground and resists easy categorization. It seeks to answer the following questions: What impact has the remapping of reality in scientific terms since the Copernican Revolution through thermodynamics, relativity theory, and quantum mechanics had on the way writers and thinkers conceptualized the place of human culture within the total economy of existence? What influence, on the other hand, have writers and philosophers had on the doing of science and on scientific paradigms of the world? Thirdly, where does humankind fit into the total picture with its uniquely moral nature? In other words, rather than privileging one discipline over another, this study seeks to uncover a common ground for science, ethics, and literary creativity.
Throughout this inquiry certain nodal points emerge to bond the argument cogently together and create new meaning. These anchor points are the notion of movement inherent in all forms of existence, the changing concepts of evil in the altered spaces of reality, and the creative impulse critical to the literary work of art as well as to the expanding universe. This ambitious undertaking is unified through its use of phenomena typical of chaos and complexity theory as so many leitmotifs. While they first emerged to explain natural phenomena at the quantum and cosmic levels, chaos and complexity are equally apt for explaining moral and aesthetic events. Hence, the title “Remapping Reality” extends to the reconfigurations of the three main spheres of human interaction: the physical, the ethical, and the aesthetic or creative.


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Biographical Note

John A. McCarthy is Professor of German & Comparative Literature, Associate Director of the Center for European and German Studies, and Chair of the Faculty Senate at Vanderbilt University. He previously taught at the University of Pennsylvania, has held visiting professorships at Swarthmore College and the Universität München, and served as the Charlotte M. Craig Visiting Professor at Rutgers University. McCarthy teaches courses on the Enlightenment and its legacies, Goethe’s Faust, Nietzsche and literature, on changing concepts of evil, and on science and literature. Among his numerous publications are: Strategien der Schöpfung. Paradigmenwechsel der Kreativität in Natur und Kunst (1995), Enlightenment Today or Movement at the Borders (1996), ‘A Chain of Utmost Potency’: On the Agon and the Creative Impulse in “Faust” (1997), Boundary Literature and the Notion of Literariness (1997), Disrupted Patterns: On Chaos and Order in the Enlightenment (ed. with Theodore E. D. Braun, 1999), Beyond a Philosophy of Alternatives: Chaos, Cosmology and the Eighteenth Century(1999), Die Nietzsche-Rezeption in der Literatur 1890﷓1918 (1999), Bewegung als ‘Gegenstand’ der Literatur (1999), Criticism and Experience: Philosophy and Literature in the German Enlightenment (2002), The “Pregnant Point”: Goethe on Complexity, Interdisciplinarity, and Emergence (2002), The History of German Departments in the United States (2003), The Many Faces of Germany (2004, ed. with Walter Grünzweig and Thomas Koebner), Goethe and Schiller after Adorno (2004), and Kopernikus und die bewegliche Schönheit oder Schiller und die Gravitationslehre (2005). He is currently working on a book on counter cultures 1770-1990.

Review Quotes

"…a masterful text…an ingenious tour de force for anyone interested in science and literature, Goethe, Nietzsche, Grass, or contemporary theories of text and mind." – in: Monatshefte 99/2 (2007) "…the vivacity and effervescence of McCarthy’s study." – in: Modern Language Review 102/2 (2007)

Table of contents

List of Illustrations Preface Introduction: Getting to the Bottom of Things PART ONE: THEORETICAL ENCIRCLEMENTS Chapter 1: From Matter to Mind: Revolutions Real and Conceptual Chapter 2: Imitating Nature – Gaining the Right Perspective Chapter 3: Grounding Creativity: Nietzsche and the New Universe Chapter 4: Eden’s Aftermath: The Nature of Evil PART TWO: LITERARY ITERATIONS Chapter 5: “A Highly Complex Matter”: The Spirit of the Earth, Evil, and Creativity in Faust Chapter 6: Zarathustra – Life on Earth Chapter 7: The Tin Drum: Myth and Reality, or The Eternal Return Epilogue: Emergence, Horizons, Continuance Bibliography Index