Science vs Art in Writing: Antagonistic or Symbiotic?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I strayed from my usual posts on tips, tricks and techniques on how to write and let loose with a burst of creative writing. It was an unfiltered stream of consciousness piece that captured a pure moment of joy, a snapshot in time, an unedited response to life. I was surprised at how many people liked it, which got me thinking – was I spending too much time reflecting on the science of writing and not enough on the  art  of writing? And that got me thinking about how the science and art of writing, of literature, and of creativity generally, are related…

All artforms are a delicious meld of art and science.

Art vs Science
Art vs Science
(image courtesy of Zach Baranowski, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Music is heavily grounded in science, with its mathematical progression of notes and chords, its meticulous tuning of tensions to precise values, and its consistently-timed beats in meter signatures written as mathematical fractions. Our understanding of music is grounded in the fundamental science that tells us hitting a certain shaped object, of a certain density and material, at a certain velocity, will result in a sound of particular pitch, volume and timbre. Our ability to perceive music is also grounded in the science of physics and biology. And yet, in spite of all this science, there is that something else. The soul of the music. The part that can’t be captured by mathematical equations or scientific models. That intuitive understanding that a formulaic approach to creation will, in the end, leave the music devoid of creativity.

Literature is no different. Its science manifests in the hard and soft rules that abound in writing advice published in books, articles, websites and blogs (like this one). Hard rules – grammar, spelling, punctuation – speak more to the fundamentals of legible, written communication. Soft rules – develop your antagonist, don’t forget the inciting incident and plot points, ensure every scene has tension or conflict – speak more to the best practice of creative writing. And whilst it is good to remember the science of writing (especially for a debut indie author such as myself), it is important to not overlook the art of writing – the joy, the creativity, the unedited, unfiltered emotional response that writing (and reading) sucks from us.

So, in an effort to live this beautiful dichotomy of art and science, I am going to occasionally intersperse my observations on writing compelling fiction with random outbursts of emotion at the art of writing.

I hope you join the conversations on both – because good art and important science are always enhanced by considered and interesting discussion.

Science vs Art in Writing: Antagonistic or Symbiotic?

Dystopian Archetypes – 1. High Tech Utopia vs Savage Natural World

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I finished reading two YA dystopian novels that, while very different to each other, contained a common thread that I have identified as one of the core themes of dystopian literature – The High-tech utopia vs the Savage natural world.

 

Ready Player One and Under the Never Sky both have this as the dominant characteristic of their respective physical worlds. In Ready Player One, the dichotomy takes the form of an online virtual reality called OASIS versus the crumbling urban infrastructure of an environmentally wasted city. In Under the Never Sky, it takes the form of pristine ‘Dweller’ pods and virtual ‘Realms’ versus the aether-blighted wastelands.

RPO & UTNS

In both, the high-tech virtual world is presented as the Utopia – although this is less pronounced in Ready Player One (whereby OASIS is more a kind of advanced Second Life platform) than Under the Never Sky (whereby the Realms are virtual worlds that dominate existence and provide a life free of fear, injury and consequence). Similarly, both present the ‘real’ world as uninhabitable, hostile and dangerous. This clear polarity allows both stories to set up the high-tech world as the false utopia (another core dystopian theme that I will explore in a later post). Again, Ready Player One does this less successfully than Under the Never Sky, the latter showing the inherent flaws of an overly-designed society and virtual existence through the character development of Aria, the novel’s protagonist.

Perhaps the best and well-known example of this dichotomy is found in Brave New World, where the engineered and scientifically-advanced society of Bernard is set in stark contrast to the savage and organic world of John.

brave new world

The plot device is a useful one, in that it sets up the dystopian analysis of the ‘hidden’, almost insidious, dangers of technology. This is, of course, is an old and well-worn theme, seen most notably in robots gone wild texts (Robopocalypse and Terminator) and built on a kind of ‘technophobia’. At the core of these books, films and media is an implied discussion on the ethics of technological development.

Technoethics is a continually-developing field of thought and discussion. Whilst intuitively it may seem only a new consideration, debate about the immorality of new technology has been around as long as Socrates and Plato:

The move from one set of dominant information technologies to another is always morally contentious. Socrates lived during the long transition from a largely oral tradition to a newer information technology consisting of writing down words and information and collecting those writings into scrolls and books. Famously Socrates was somewhat antagonistic to writing and he never wrote anything down himself. Ironically, we only know about Socrates’ argument against writing because his student Plato ignored his teacher and wrote it down in a dialogue called “Phaedrus” (Plato). Towards the end of this dialogue Socrates discusses with his friend Phaedrus the “…conditions which make it (writing) proper or improper” (section 274b–479c). Socrates tells a fable of an Egyptian God he names Theuth who gives the gift of writing to a king named Thamus. Thamus is not pleased with the gift and replies,

If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. (Phaedrus, section 275a)

Socrates, who was adept at quoting lines from poems and epics and placing them into his conversations, fears that those who rely on writing will never be able to truly understand and live by these words. For Socrates there is something immoral or false about writing.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/it-moral-values/

As technological development continues to advance at a rapid rate and debates about moral imperatives and ethical considerations develop in response to stubborn resistance to change, this dichotomy of High Tech vs Savage Organic will remain a key inspiration for dystopian creators.

As I continue to draft Divided Elements and read a vast range of dystopian literature, I find myself picking up and analysing the core dystopian themes. Over the coming weeks and months, I will share my observations and insight with you all in the hope of generating some great discussion and unearthing new treasures to read.

Update: The second entry in this series is now available: Dystopian Archetypes – 2. Divided Population

Dystopian Archetypes – 1. High Tech Utopia vs Savage Natural World