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Across disciplinary boundaries

Literary Landscapes is a monthly column by Indra Wussow, a writer, translator and director of the Sylt Foundation.

‘There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way, and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other. Without art, science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science, art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.’ Raymond Chandler’s famous quote from 1938 explains the interdependence of both art and science and how critical it is to use both together for change and development.

Indra Wussow
Rahel Varnhagen

    And do not be misled into thinking that connecting arts and science is a current trend. Quite the contrary, as the collision of arts and science is an ancient practice. Aboriginal people, for example, combined science, storytelling, land management, custom, painting, dance and agriculture for more than 50 000 years.
     Another example of conversations and connections between the two disciplines is the salon culture that developed in Vienna, and later Berlin, in the late 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment. A typical salon was a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host and was generally defined as a cultural event linked to literature, art or discussion and the salon became an important vehicle for the exchanging of ideas and for the creation of networks to discuss cultural, social change and innovation.
     The Berlin Salons owed both their existence and the form of their development to Jewish women. These early salons were the result of a unique interrelation between the German Enlightenment and Haskalah on the one hand and, on the other, young, educated Jewish women from well-to-do families, who were searching for a new role in life outside the patriarchal structures of their families. These salons highlight the process of women’s emancipation in Germany
     Rahel Levin Varnhagen (1771 – 1833) was the most famous host at the time and created a very individualistic salon concept and connected artists, scientists and visionaries of her time. It was more a philosophical and psychological meeting point than the previous literary salons. Though very interested and competent in literature, Varnhagen was even more fascinated by living people, their thoughts, feelings, opinions and perceptions. Apart from traditional sources of thinking and contemporary philosophical influence, the English philosopher Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713), had formed her mind and way of thinking: that misconceptions, clichés and prejudices must be continually counteracted by ever new and never-ending reflection about the world (and oneself). Herein lies the root of Varnhagen’s frequently quoted ‘originality’ and of her important influence on the spirit of Berlin Salons.

Indra Wussow
Stephanus Rademeyer, Branches in Time I

     The salons were most important for forming new ideas and visions in all disciplines, and also led to questioning social parameters, forms of government within the arts and the research of the time.
     The culture of man is understood most by knowing the forms of expression of the arts as well as those of science. ‘Who only knows the arts does not know it and this is true for science as well’ is how German historian of science and science publicist, Ernst Peter Fischer, explains the interrelation. He wrote an important book on how science and the arts interact and complement each other. The disintegration of the dichotomies of causality and coincidence, finding and inventing, rationality and creativity, are brought forward to apply both disciplines that are not contrasting pairs but two sides of one coin that we call culture. Fischer explains that there was no coincidence that both science and the arts took the road to abstraction together almost simultaneously. The exciting search for the source of the inner relationship of both revolutionised the intellectual world at the beginning of the 20th century. Fischer connects Einstein’s idea of space-time with Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d’Ávignon, explains how Schönberg’s twelve-tone technique is related to the discovery of the atom and how Freud’s psychoanalysis is linked to the theory of relativity and the films of Sergei Eisenstein.

Read more about the interaction of science and art by purchasing our October 2018 issue, or continue supporting Creative Feels role in the arts and culture sector by subscribing to our monthly magazine, and subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter.

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