Culture Studies And The Sciences Cultural Studies Essay

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Sabine Sielke, Director of the North American Studies Program at Bonn University and author of Fashioning the Female Subject (Ann Arbor 1997) and Reading Rape (Princeton 2002), currently works on questions at the crossroads of cultural studies and the (cognitive) sciences.


Defined as "[t]he study of living organisms, which includes their structure (gross and microscopical), functioning, origin and evolution, classification, interrelationships, and distribution," biology is a young discipline (Martin and Hine). Preceded by Aristotle's groundwork in taxonomy, physiology, and embryology and originating in the nineteenth century, the field engages questions, though, that have preoccupied philosophers and scholars from the very moment 'science' evolved and that are constantly being reformulated. Moreover, "[n]o science operates in a social, or value-free, vacuum," and "[t]his is especially pertinent for biology" (Richardson 2005: 203). In fact, inviting easy analogies between social and biological processes, biology has called into question established - religious and moral - values from its very beginnings. Needless to say, this makes biology a far field, especially if we take into account its history and the shifting perspectives it has taken on its objects. Currently, the discipline's subdivisions (including morphology, physiology, taxonomy, embryology, genetics, and ecology) approach living things and vital processes either on the level of biological organization (like cell or population) or with focus on central issues (like structure and function or growth and development). At the same time, biology is divided into branches, including botany, zoology, and microbiology, which examine particular types of organisms.

Likewise, literature is a complex, 'experimental' cultural practice, its products replete with living organisms from all runs of life, interrogating and complementing the 'life sciences' with its own particular knowledge of life. Hence, the rise of "animal studies," for instance, as a field of literary criticism. In fact, what Joan Slonczewski and Michael Levy (2003: 174) say about science fiction goes for literature in general: "Since humans are innately biological, and since most sf concerns human beings or other biological life forms, sf writers inevitably make biological assumptions." Even more so, (science) fiction - from Mary Shelley across Charlotte Perkins Gilman, H. G. Wells, John Taine, Aldous Huxley, and Frank Herbert to Ursula K. LeGuin, Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, and T. C. Boyle - takes up challenges posed by the biosciences and engages sexuality and reproduction, mutation and evolution, environment and biosphere, genetics and genetic engineering, as well as neurophysiology and brain research. Therefore, what follows is not - and could not be - an exploration of all living things and processes of life in literature. Rather, this essay raises the question how the study of living organisms and its history - which predates writing - have impacted on literature and its institutions and, to a lesser degree, vice versa. It cannot do so, however, without taking into account that, just as our sense of biology, our sense of literature has shape-shifted with the development of literary studies.

The very concept of a compendium on literature and science is an after effect of the history of knowledge production. As the sciences, in the nineteenth century, separate previously interrelated discourses such as philosophy and the natural sciences, evolving biology against the backdrop of the loosely connected fields of natural history and medicine (Junker 2004: 7), what we now know as literature also takes new shapes. While natural history and Romantic theories of life and evolution - the work of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, George Cuvier, and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, among others - still loom large in early nineteenth-century literature, including the historical novels of Walter Scott, for instance, the distinction between the realms of organic and inorganic matter is central for the rise of biology. Accordingly, early nineteenth-century literary criticism adopted the trope of the "organic whole" to distinguish literary criticism from other forms of writing (Poovey 2001: 411), and not only invested literature (and lyric poetry, in particular) with inherent principles of life. Laying claim to disciplinarily 'foreign' territory carries along with it (scientific) assumptions and terminology that inform formalist literary criticism, its "anatomy" (Northrop Frye), and its (self-sustaining) sense of aesthetic autonomy, to this very day. Meanwhile, new metaphors - such as Derridean différance - have begun to dismantle the well-worn trope of organic unity.

Literature and science in general and biology in particular have thus remained closely interrelated, even as commentators from Thomas Huxley to C. P. Snow and beyond have denied their kinship. Even Snow took a "second look" at his 1959 two cultures-thesis in 1963 and "regretted" using as his "test question about scientific literacy, What do you know of the Second Law of Thermodynamics?" Instead he "put forward a branch of science which ought to be requisite in the common culture": molecular biology (1963: 72-73). Unlike thermodynamics, Snow explained, this field "does not involve serious conceptual difficulties" and "needs very little mathematics," but "most of all […] a visual three-dimensional imagination" (ibid. 73). Snow's change of mind was, on the one hand, prophetic in that it foresaw the biosciences' increasing significance at the turn of the millenium. This rise to prominence partly results from the fact that, unlike the Second Law of Thermodynamics which is of "universal physical significance," the new biosciences "deal […] only with microscopic parts of the cosmos" which are nonetheless "of importance to each of us" (ibid. 74). On the other hand, Snow's shift from physics to biology also counts as a major move from 'hard' to historical science. According to zoologist Richard Lewontin, biology "is all about unique historical events […] and does not have the kind of universals about which physicists speak" (qtd. in Poovey 2001: 437). And while no science can go about its work "without using a language that is filled with metaphors" (Lewontin 2000: 3), only biology offers "grand universals" or "generalizations" that actually work as "governing metaphors" (Lewontin qtd. in Poovey 2001: 437). Such metaphors, like adaptation or construction, organize both biology and literary criticism and raise the question what tropes dominate the field at what time and to what effect.

The biosciences' growing cultural visibility and prestige is partly due to the fact that they can be narrativized more easily than mathematics and physics. "[T]he power of stories about life itself and its Creation," writes Sarah Franklin, "lies in their invocation of a global reach, a universal essence of humanity, a shared, primordial ontology" (2000: 197-8). This power calibrates itself both at the level of politics, truth, or liberation and as what Franklin calls "the genetic imaginary" (ibid. 198). This imaginary, projected in different ways by H. G. Wells as well as Michael Crichton, Margaret Atwood, Michel Houellebecq, and Richard Powers, resonates with one of the fundamental concepts of biology: the 'unity' of basic living substance (all biological organisms are composed of cells) and of origin (all life originates from the same chemical substance, DNA). However, our sense of DNA as information, code, and language is itself a "period piece," as Lily Kay puts it (1999: 226), inextricably bound to the rise of the computer and semiotics in the 1950s while echoing both the sense that "in the beginning was the word" and that life is a book to be read, interpreted, and edited. Like the sustainable cultural impact of theories of evolution, the "genetic imaginary" thus foregrounds the persistent interrelation between literary, theological, and biological conceptions of life.

Given all these complexities, how can we even begin to think about the relation between literature and biology in systematic ways? Reading literature and biology as stories about life is one way to shape the relation between literature and the biosciences, and in fact "the triumph of life science" has opened up whole cultural eras, like Romanticism, to new "prospects for study" (de Almeida 2004); exploring stories of biology and biologists in literature is another. Still, narrative and narratology are narrow lenses, reducing biology to dimensions which can be 'narrativized'. Poetry - from the romantics' preoccupation with nature to C. K. Williams's poems on Alzheimer's disease and Ruth Nadel's Darwin: A Life in Poems (2009) - forms and deforms our sense of the discipline in its own particular ways. Even more significant are technical terms (like origin, genus|genre, gender, reproduction, and mimicry) and cultural practices (like classification and taxonomy) which both biology and literary studies employ to their own particular ends. This essay therefore traces the conjunctions of literature and biology in three steps. Step one explores some of the ways in which biology figures and functions in literary texts. Step two, traveling some further distance, examines how biology's concepts and methods have impacted on literary studies. Step three interrogates, albeit briefly, the question whether there is literature in biology. Taking some of the many crossroads of biology, literature, and literary studies on the way, we are still bound to arrive, though, at two distinct modes of knowledge production.

Biology in Literature, or: Literary History and the Evolution of the Biosciences

When we speak of the evolution of literature - and literary studies has done so since the 1920s -, we relate a developmental narrative that both acknowledges similarities and overrides fundamental differences between natural and cultural processes. While evolution is based on random mutations in the genetic make-up of an organism, the 'evolution of literature' is a matter of neither chance nor nature. At the same time, literary history has been conceptualized as a series of epochs and ruptures - a functional analogue, perhaps, for extinction and decimation which, in addition to diversification, map the course of evolution. Separating Romanticism from realism or Victorianism from modernism, we oftentimes identify clear-cut turning points, like the publication of a certain text, e.g. William DeForest's Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty (1867), or the opening of a landmark exhibition like the 1913 Armory Show. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection thus offered models to (re-)think processes of both development and mutability, suggesting that just as nature does not radically transform at singular moments, literary history has its own (dis-)continuities. This sense of literary history as an evolutionary process - rather than a series of singular works - was further developed, in different ways, in structuralism, semiotics, and systems theory.

Whereas natural organisms adapt to their changing environments, forms and functions of literary texts change with shifting media ecologies and technologies of reproduction, enabling processes of literary serialization, of nineteenth-century novels, for instance, as well as seriality, that is, phenomena of repetition and variation. Still, in search for new descriptive, non-judgmental models for narrative adaptation (novel into film), Gary R. Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon propose "a homology between biological and cultural adaptation." Both "are understandable," they argue, "as processes of replication. Stories, in a manner parallel to genes, replicate; the adaptations of both evolve with changing environments" (2007: 444). Coming at the expense of precision, the analytic value of such conceptual homologies remains limited, though. The same goes for the utility of the term reproduction itself: the ability to reproduce and thus to enable the continuity of a species is the most fundamental feature of life - just as a book's longevity depends on its serial reproduction, though processes of biological reproduction and (re-)printing hardly compare. At the same time, reproduction is a crucial, if not necessarily explicit moment of many, if not all literary texts, irreducible to the so-called 'family novel', and a gender issue which Charlotte Perkins Gilman 'solves' in her 1915 novel Herland by making her female figures reproduce by parthenogenesis. Adapted to literary and cultural studies, the term resonates with its biological and ideological dimensions and highlights that literature prominently interacts with and substantially contributes to discourses of sexuality and sexology. Sexuality, in turn, is a preoccupation of all cultures (and their literatures), in part, as Ruth Hubbard has it, because "our most fundamental biological theory, the theory of evolution by selection, is constructed around sex and reproduction" (1987: 132).

Representations of natural processes in literature clearly mark the study of living organisms as a cultural practice with its own (long) history. By projecting nature as (m)other, for instance, literary texts from Romantic poetry to 1970s feminist fiction resonate with outdated beliefs about the origins of life forms. Sustainable tropes like "mother earth," for instance, echo the belief, held by Ionian natural philosophy and elaborated in Lucretius's De rerum natura, that the species were actually born of the earth. Perceived of as "natural objects" by their peers, female Romantic poets like Dorothy Wordsworth consequently viewed idealist conceptions of the relation between self and nature with the same scepticism that informs perspectives on (life) science taken in Shelley's Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson's poems. Texts like these expose both the interest women writers took in nineteenth-century bioscience and their exclusion from and critique of the rapidly transforming, 'horrific' scenes of scientific inquiry. In poems such as "The Brain - is wider than the Sky -," for instance, Dickinson - though probably unaware of the work of Bichat, Gall, and Sturzheim who situated mind, memory, and emotions in the brain - acknowledges that our mental universe evolves from neurophysiological processes. While Shelley speculated on the ability and future of the human brain, anticipating science fiction's later preoccupations, and while emotion has meanwhile advanced as a central category for literary studies, Dickinson's poetry thus marks a moment in the history of human self-consciousness when physiology begins to put pressure on established notions of mind, self, and soul. In turn, Richard Powers's novel The Echo Maker (2006) calls on Dickinson as it challenges current neurophysiology's supposedly new conception of a human subject that is neither continuous nor whole. Literature and poetry in particular, Powers reminds us, have been offering such insights for a long time.

Taking an ecocritical angle, contemporary critics have also explored Dickinson's garden and herbarium, celebrating the poet's familiarity with the taxonomy of local plants and showing how mid-nineteenth century environmental discourses transformed writers' understanding of the natural world. By comparison, the poetry of Marianne Moore who herself had a deep interest in biology, is replete with shelled or otherwise battle-proof skinned animals, portrayed as models of strength and defiance for the "combat cultural" (Moore) the modern female subject engaged in by the 1910s and 20s. Suggesting that 'survival' can be assured by redirecting the gaze onto surfaces, be they aesthetic or 'natural', Moore's poetry propagated a kind of mimicry, while at the same time negotiating Darwinian biology, religious belief systems, and US-American politics.

The impact of Darwin's sense of evolution is felt throughout literary history, most pronouncedly perhaps in Victorian literature and naturalist narratives of "the survival of the fittest" (Herbert Spencer), and it still figures prominently in T. C. Boyle's "The Descent of Man" (1974), Gjertrud Schnackenberg's "Darwin in 1981" (1985), and Nino Ricci's The Origin of Species (2008). Similarly, texts engaging biological sub-disciplines, such as morphology in William Blake's "The Tyger" (1794) and botany in the flower imagery of the symbolists and modernists, interrogate science's 'state of the arts' critically, thereby contributing to the field's historiography, while at the same time evoking its ideological, political, and economic situatedness. Like Darwin's expeditions, the natural wonders starring in fiction and poetry - be they peculiar flowers and fruits, foreign cats and birds, or far-travelled furs and fossils - enter literary history as tokens of European economic interest and empire building, while calling into question enlightened thinking in general and traditional (biological) classification in particular. Early biology therefore plays a significant part in New Historicism and recent postcolonial studies. At the same time, travelogues such as Margaret Fuller's Summer on the Lakes (1844) reflect on the threat of extinction of 'varieties' of the human species, insisting that what 'remains' of the American Indian needs to be carefully preserved in museums. Much more recently, the trained biologist Jonathan Trouern-Trend, author of Birding Babylon (2006), engaged in ornithological observation to communicate with locals and ascertain his own - mental as well as physical - survival as paramedic during the last Iraq war. Biology, literature, and the impact of globalization have obviously been entangled, in different ways, for a very long time.

However, biology is no mere subject matter for literary practice; it is inextricably aligned with transformations of genres and literary forms. This becomes particularly visible in naturalism where ideologies of natural selection and determinism go hand in hand with the attempt to 'objectify' literary representation. Reducing human figures to (stereo-) types, naturalist aesthetic, characteristic of works by Stephen Crane and Émile Zola, for instance, in turn reproduces contemporaneous (pseudo-) scientific methodology and the biologization of race and class hierarchies. And as literary texts engaged biology literary studies themselves transformed.

Biology and the Study of Literature: Interfacing Concepts and Methods

While literary practice and theory have more recently challenged biologistic conceptions of cultural difference, literary and cultural studies also have, during the last 200 years, evolved some of their central questions and concerns, privileged theories, methods, and concepts from a dialogue with the discourses of biology, and appropriated biological terms as cultural metaphors. And in both fields some concepts, like origin and unity, have worked as tropes for unresolved questions. How organisms originally emerged and who 'authored' the early forms of life has remained one of the big, open debates of the biosciences (Junker 2004: 10). Likewise the origins of meaning have preoccupied literary critics even after the linguistic turn and "the death of the author." Moreover, the accounting of literature's relation to its context - or 'real life' - is an ongoing debate in literary theory. More recently, theories of evolution, in particular, have been employed to enlighten our sense of literature's relation to 'nature'. For some critics, "a good deal of literature (just as life itself) makes more sense in the light of evolution" (Barash and Barash 2002) - more sense, that is, than in the light of neo-Marxist or poststructuralist perspectives. Dissatisfied with the state of current literary theory, biopoetics and evolutionary aesthetics import elements of evolutionary theory and evolutionary psychology into the practice of literary criticism, arguing that forms and functions of literary texts are highly dependent on the make-up of human cognition. Some critics also engage contested arguments made by socio-biologists, e.g. the idea that literary and cultural forms serve a supposedly progressive evolution. Such arguments create normative ideas about literary practice and interpretation meant to displace poststructuralist and current politically inspired readings. Approaching literature via evolutionary theory remains problematic, though. Just as literature does not "reflect[]," as David and Nanelle Barash hold, "the interaction (whether actual or imagined) of living organisms with the world" (emphasis added), but projects esthetically and intra- and intermedially inflected models about (how to read and re-present) the world, biology remains at a distance from (human) nature while evolving hypotheses on its processes. It is these models, hypotheses, and some scientific procedures which interrelate.

Taxonomy, Hybridity, Mimicry, or: Negotiating Biologisms

The field of taxonomy, most notably the groundwork of Carolus Linnaeus in Systema Naturae (1735), has been dedicated to the systematic classification of organisms into ranks (domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) and their subdivisions. Such systematics is echoed when terms like genealogy and generation get appropriated by literary scholars or when narratologists aim at clear-cut distinctions between genres, subgenres, and other classificatory dimensions of literary practice. Categories such as species (borrowed from "the lexicon of theology and logic") and genre (imported from biology) played a major role in the disciplines' professionalization (Poovey 2001: 412, 410). Nineteenth-century genre theory repeatedly tried to arrange literary texts in taxonomic systems that distinguish works of higher and lower order. Since culture, unlike nature, evolves not in stable blueprints which transform by random mutations only, but in ever-shifting structures and generic hybrids biological taxonomy works as methodological approximation only. Even if literary texts can be categorized according to their recurrent patterns, these structures remain abstractions of an ideal generic purity which individual works necessarily violate and transform.

Literary studies consistently adapted terms and methodological moves deriving from taxonomy and evolutionary theory as well as genetics. Julia Kristeva, for instance, employed the conceptual register of genetics in an attempt to refine structuralist perspectives, and coined the terms phenotext and genotext to distinguish surface and deep structures of texts. Nowadays the vocabulary of genetics recurs in accounts of the 'splicing' of genres and generic hybridity. As part of a conceptual complex, including heteroglossia and pastiche, hybridity references blends of aesthetic forms and genres, e.g. in postmodern literatures - a tendency which has intensified the desire, on the part of narratologists, to refine their classificatory systems. Likewise, linguistics as well as early postcolonial critique acknowledged that languages and cultures comingle, making creolization, to recall the older term, a wide-spread phenomenon of multicultures. In an age of globalization we share the awareness that all cultures and literatures are hybrid and have been for most of their existence.

As a metaphor of far-reaching cultural impact, hybridity still recalls nineteenth-century pseudo-scientific race theories, desires for racial purity, and narratives (and fears) of "miscegenation," racial contamination, and cultural mutability. Somewhat paradoxically, biological terms have thus been instrumental in deconstructing biological takes on race, ethnicity, and gender which literary and cultural studies inherited and, from the 1960s onward, turned into central parameters of analysis. Engaging in a "strategic essentialism" (Gayatry Chakravorty Spivak), both the Black Aesthetics Movement and early feminist criticism insisted that literary and cultural productions are marked by fundamental and ultimately 'natural' racial and gender differences. Whereas early black and women studies thus unintentionally reaffirmed misleading notions of gender and race as inescapable destinies, gender studies and critical race theories redefined gender, race, and ethnicity as cultural categories which serve to disempower women and 'visible minorities' socially, politically, and economically. By the turn of the millennium such claims received backing by the Human Genome Project. "Race and ethnicity," Craig Venter insisted, "are based not on scientific, but on social concepts" (2002: 51). Curiously enough, while biology encourages us to 'forget about' race, literary and cultural studies keep celebrating - and selling - ethnic differences. Was C. P. Snow right, after all, when he deemed the "literary intellectual" a racist while cheering the scientist as truly liberal, envisioning a bright future?

Matters are, of course, a bit more complicated. Whereas literary studies have indeed privileged revisionary perspectives on race and ethnicity, their analyses have been emancipatory in their appeal, pinpointing, for instance, how some fiction (by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Thomas Dixon, for instance) has reinscribed while other texts contested biological conceptions of race and gender (like much twentieth-century African American and women's writing did). Whether reinforcing or challenging eighteenth- and nineteenth-century conceptions of 'natural' racial and ethnic characters, literary texts acknowledge that even our sense of what is natural or biologically determined is, as Judith Butler argues, effected by cultural discourses, thus historically specific and variable. At the same time, Butler's challenge to our binary sense of gender is inspired by our actual biological make-up. Along with (trans-)gender and queer studies she stresses that gender often remains ambiguous and not easily determinable, a fact that Jeffrey Eugenides playfully explores in his novel Middlesex (2004). Relating the story of pseudo-hermaphrodite Calliope Stephanides who, suffering from an enzyme deficiency which curbs 'normal' masculinization, at the advent of puberty decides to become Cal, his novel interferes with the established fault lines of a reductive nature vs. nurture debate. Likewise, biologists themselves have intervened in the sex/gender-debate, stressing, as Hubbard did in 1987, that biology and society are inseparable. Not only do organisms and their environment dialectically interpenetrate each other. "[O]rganisms transform their environments all the while the environment transforms the organism living in it" (Hubbard 1987: 130). So far, biology and literary studies have merely begun to account for this reciprocity.

Organisms also imitate their environment and the concept of mimicry - a term coined in 1862 by naturalist Henry Walter Bates, working on butterflies in the Amazon rainforest and pioneering in the field - has enjoyed a rapid career in literary and cultural studies during the last decades; in turn, mimesis - another biological concept - has lost its appeal in (post-) modern times. Employed in literary analysis, mimicry refers to strategies of repetition and citation of established styles and intertexts, such as the persistent use of the sonnet by African American poet Claude McKay, and to the imitation, performance, and parody of gender conventions and ethnic stereotypes whose effects are deemed to be politically subversive (by Luce Irigaray and Homi Bhabha, for instance). How far this deconstructive potential goes remains debatable; there is no way of measuring or experimentally evaluating the political consequences of cultural practice.

Re-Naturalizing Literature? How Biology Challenges Constructivism

Focused on parameters of difference and issues of the body, work in literary and cultural studies has, one can safely say, during the last two decades, challenged the essentialisms of a "reductive biology" (Connolly 2002: xiii). Meanwhile, though, the tables have turned and the concept of a culturally constructed, gendered, racialized, and class-contoured body which emerged from its debates finds itself challenged by the biosciences. Evolving from neurobiology, molecular genetics, and biotechnology are new insights into our corporeality, projections of a post- or transhuman subject, and novel notions about how our bodies interrelate with the world. Accordingly, during the 1990s - donned the "decade of the brain" - concepts like consciousness, mind, will, and belief became "re-naturalized." Perception, experience, agency, and memory, researchers insisted, are first of all physical matters, challenging central concepts of literary analysis. The major challenge this shift poses to literary and cultural studies, though, is that it privileges the "compositional dimension of body-brain-culture relays" over "cultural representations" (Connolly 2002: xiii). Challenging constructivism, it highlights that our readings of literary texts and other cultural practices, initially aimed at escaping a sense of biology as destiny, have in principle remained a hermeneutic enterprise, limited to interrogating the cultural complexities of meaning making. What happens, though, some literary scholars wonder, if we focus less on how and what texts and images signify and more on the biological - or physiological - processes from which meanings of texts and images evolve?

The potential and the limits of such an approach to literary cultures are currently being explored, for instance, at the crossroads of literary|cultural studies and the cognitive sciences. As a part of this larger agenda, cognitive poetics interfaces cognitive neuroscience with classical rhetoric and offers an approach to literature that privileges the mind's capacity for integration over all texts' tendency toward dissemination. Alternative models, partly derived from biology, are also projected in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's "biophilosophy." Based on the conviction that art, philosophy, and the sciences provide us with distinct analytical perspectives, all of which are of equal value and in constant interplay, their work is informed by an ethical naturalism which gets played out in arguments on "becoming animal," in appropriations of biological terms for a revisionary philosophy, and in idiosyncratic conceptions of literary and cultural practice. Most prominently, in Rhizome (1976) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), the authors employ the term rhizome as an alternative to the vertical, arborescent model, featured in biology (as the 'tree of life' and genealogy) and in transformational grammar. As a cultural metaphor, "rhizome" resonates with a sense of literature and culture as non-hierarchical, decentered, manifold, interconnected, and nomadic. As a deconstructivist political move working across different "plateaus," ranging from the state to desire, 'rhizomatics' is meant to displace established notions of rootedness and territoriality. The success of this model results in part from the prominence of tropes such as network and connectionism in sociology, cognition studies, and information science, and is echoed in the increased use of "mapping" as new framework for the tools and activities of literary and cultural analysis.

Is There Art in Nature - or Literature in Biology?

The question whether natural organisms have or produce art - central, for instance, to the work of zoologist Ernst Haeckel - has also preoccupied literary and cultural theory. It is prominently addressed (again) by Deleuze and Guattari, who put forth the idea that "nature is expressive rather than mechanistic" (Bogue 1997: 468) and take human art as "a subcategory of organic creativity" (ibid. 474). Likewise Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, who suggested the term "autopoiesis" to account for all living systems' tendency toward self-organization, self-maintenance, and self-reference (ibid. 476), call into question established notions of authority. Rather than accentuating Derridean différance they downplay the difference between human and other organisms while amplifying the volume of non-verbal soundings. Evidently, though, whether we hold there is art in nature or literature in biology depends on our critical perspectives rather than the truth value of our claims. Even if we acknowledge that life writing, penned by prominent biologists, such as James Watson's The Double Helix (1968), presents us with fictionalized accounts of scientific discoveries and that, consequently, the "poetics" of scientific (auto-)biography (see Selya 2007) affects our sense of biology: reading biology as fiction does not help the case.

Can literature in turn enhance the study of life forms? The greatest challenge for current biology is to arrive at a better understanding of complex systems, like the central nervous system or the ecosystem. Providing their own knowledge, achieved by their own methods, literature and literary studies refocus our perspectives and project their own variants of these systems; after all, in some way all literature is life writing. And yet: rather than forcing a common ground for biology and literature, and, by extension, literary studies, we may want to acknowledge that each field raises and explores its own (research) questions, using its own particular methods, and, consequently, creating its own (research) objects in the process. In other words: life in literature and life in terms of biology remain worlds apart. It is from the interrelation between these objects or worlds that both biology and literary studies may evolve adjustments of their own theories, methods, and analyses.