Art & Science in Djerassi’s Cantor’s Dilemma

Wrote a 7-page lit paper recently about Carl Djerassi’s Cantor’s Dilemma. This is the part I liked writing about:

When it comes to art and science, Djerassi shows a blurring of the two in more than one instance. The first instance is in the mini-lecture that Leah Woodeson gives to Jean, Celly, and Jerry. Leah, a PhD student in English Criticism, focuses specifically in a field referred to as dialogism. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, dialogism refers specifically to the field of rhetoric: “The discussion of a subject under the form of a dialogue, to the personages of which the author imputes ideas and sentiments.” The discussion that followed included Leah’s definition of deconstructionism: “the uncovering of meanings that are ‘veiled’ or ‘repressed’ in the user’s language” (54). Her explanation of deconstructionism followed a deconstruction of the word “we.” From having listened to Jean’s explanation about multiple-authorship in scientific publications, Leah concluded that there were two kinds of “we.” The first “we” is the “community” use of the word; the second is the “royal we” used by “politicians” when they are actually referring to themselves in the first-person singular (54). Leah explains that “we” is interpreted in part by how much readers invest in the author/scientist’s work and the author/scientist’s investment in the investment of the readers. Although dialogism relies heavily on logic, and therefore, scientific, one can make the argument that Leah’s field is an art. Rhetoric is often explained as “the art of persuasion.”

What is the difference between art and science? Often times, people perceive art simply as something subjective and science as something objective. Art is something to be interpreted and come usually in the form of the visual and auditory. Science is about chemicals, machines, plants, animals, etc. These are common misconceptions. What most people fail to realize is that art and science are very much related. The OED defines art as a “skill in doing something, esp. as the result of knowledge or practice.” Science is defined as “knowledge acquired by study; acquaintance with or mastery of any department of learning.” In other words, art is the set of techniques; science is the knowledge found by using artful combinations of techniques, which subsequently come from previous knowledge. Indeed, throughout Cantor’s Dilemma, the characters talk about learning new techniques and applying them to projects in labs.

How is this art different from the art referred to when we talk about the process of painting? Scientists have their lab techniques; Artists, in the traditional sense, also use techniques both in the preparation for the event of creation and the actual event of creation. The end-product, such as the painting or photograph, is often referred to as “art.” The reason why we have misconceptions about art and science as two separate entities is that most people do not have the time or opportunity to think about such nuances. When one goes to a museum “to look at art” what an untrained viewer may not understand is that art is not just about the physical aesthetic of the end-product. Art is actually the process from preparation to end-product. Science is what occurs in the process because knowledge is required to come up with a concept for the artwork. Science is also what the artist uses to make decisions on techniques and aesthetics to best convey the concept they want to express.


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