Frames - For Science, Stories


To speak of "frames", one could get meta and talk about modern art, the self-referentiality of consciousness of medium --- at the expense of narrative. But I prefer questions of frame posed by Kenneth Burke, when he writes of terminal screens: every line of inquiry is defined by such screens (likewise, problemgeschichte).
Gadamer explains that in the ancient Greek world, the priority was not on empirical knowledge, so much as it was on being; noein. The terministic screen was more experiential. "For the Greeks the essence of knowledge is the dialogue and not the mastery of objects comprehended as proceeding from an autonomous subjectivity".
I was thinking about these things in response to some December posts over at Renaissance Mathematicus. If science is, as per the ancient Greeks, part of experience, then it is crucial for the proper articulation of lived experience to tell stories about it - that such stories circulate among the public. The late Karl Kroeber wrote that stories require a public - as opposed to modern art, which seeks autonomy from mass culture. What is more, "Narrative allows us to test our ethical principles in our imaginations where we can engage them in the uncertainties and confusion of contingent circumstance."
To think of a narrative about science that tests ethical principles, I am sure we all think immediately of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, wherein Victor's demise is set by his pride. Hubris! The ancient themes shall never disappear, so long as we possess the human character - with the flaws of our wandering from the golden mean. Such flaws, to my mind, include the shock of modernity, which Elemire Zolla writes leads us down paths in a labyrinth few ever exit. I keep returning to an image of Dickens' London with the smog of industrial belching. What a shock! And I can understand that no idyllic poetry could soothe that for some - that they had to first conquer the labyrinthine sewers - yet, as Zolla writes, not everyone returns.
It can be argued that we need stories about the science that led to the factories and inventions that led to that shock. I find that historians tell these stories best. "The principles of narrative operating in history and in novels are identical - one reason some of the most valuable analyses of narrative have been made by historians rather than literary critics," writes Kroeber.
I like the frame of experience not only because of the potential for continuity with narrative from the past, not only because the public has access to and can understand such narrative, but also because it is an explanatory frame. Experience, explanatory: out of the tested plane. What is tested? That which one has experienced. And of this experience, not all is worth keeping. I return, in the end, not to the image of the frame, but that of the pithos. Is our focus of inquiry worth preserving in that pot?

Nail polish element. Picture in background: Marie Claire Idees.
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