Panel Discussion: Science in Narratives, Narratives in Science
If the recent pandemic years and the ongoing climate crisis have taught us nothing else, they surely have demonstrated to all that the task of telling the story of science with clarity, force, and rigor is urgent – that our very lives, as well as that of our planet, depend upon it. It has also been made clear that this task, for better or worse, will not be left solely in the hands of scientists. Our panelists offer testimony from their own lives and work about the interplay between science, society, and storytelling, with the intention of opening up and furthering that discussion within the BHAAAS community and its audience.
Panelists: Fabio Deotto, Tabish Khair, Jim Hicks (moderator), Anna Botta (respondent)
Fabio Deotto is an Italian author, translator and journalist. After completing his studies in molecular biotechnology, he has written fiction and nonfiction, focusing on the intersections between sciences and humanities. He is the author of two novels, Condominio R39 (Einaudi, 2014) and Un attimo prima (Einaudi, 2017), and one nonfiction book, L’altro mondo: la vita in un mondo che cambia (Bompiani, 2021), where he focused on the cognitive and cultural underpinnings of climate inaction. He is the translator of The Lost Tetrads of Marshall McLuhan by Eric and Marshall McLuhan, The Compass of Pleasure by David J. Linden, Climate Leviathan by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright, and other works of nonfiction. His work has appeared in Wired, Esquire, Nuovi Argomenti, Corriere della Sera and other publications. He teaches Creative Writing at Scuola Holden – Contemporary Humanities in Torino. He lives in Milan.
Tabish Khair was born and educated in a small town of India, worked as a journalist in Delhi, did his PhD from Copenhagen, and now is an Associate Professor at Aarhus University, Denmark. Along with critical studies published by Oxford University Press and Palgrave, he is also the author of critically acclaimed poetry collections and novels, listed for various international prizes. His poetry collection Quarantined Sonnets: Sex, Money, and Shakespeare was published by Kitaab in 2020; recent novels include The Thing About Thugs (published by Houghton Mifflin in USA, HarperCollins in India, and Corsair in UK), How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position (Interlink 2014; Corsair 2014), Just Another Jihadi Jane (Periscope 2016; Interlink 2017), which was published as Jihadi Jane in India (Penguin, 2016). A new speculative novel, which mixes science and fiction, titled The Body by the Shore, is forthcoming from Interlink (USA) and HarperCollins (India) in 2022.
Jim Hicks is executive editor of the Massachusetts Review and former director of the Graduate Program in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His research and teaching interests include cultural studies, representations of war, comparative studies in American literature, as well as modernist narrative and literary theory. He has studied in France, lectured in Italy, and taught in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a Fulbright Professor of English. He also directed a three-year U.S. government-funded Educational Partnership Program between Smith College and the University of Sarajevo. His translations include short pieces by François-Marie Banier, Italo Calvino, Gianni Celati, Ananda Devi, Violaine Huisman, Luigi Lo Cascio, Juan José Saer, Izet Sarajlić, Igiaba Scego, and longer works by Erri De Luca. His Lessons from Sarajevo: A War Stories Primer was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2013.
Anna Botta was born in Turin, trained at the Université de Genève and the Università di Torino, and received a Ph.D. in comparative literature and literary theory from the University of Pennsylvania. At Smith College, she has chaired both the Comparative Literature Program and the Italian Studies Department, and is also a member of the Film and Media Studies faculty. She has published two co-authored books, Calvino newyorkese (Avagliano, 2002) and Le eccentriche (Tre lune, 2003). Together with Michel Moushabeck, she edited a special issue of the Massachusetts Review on “Mediterraneans” (2014). She has published articles on Italo Calvino, Cristina Campo, Gianni Celati, Antonio Tabucchi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Renato Poggioli, Lina Prosa, Georges Didi-Huberman, Julia Kristeva, Georges Perec, Patrick Modiano and Predrag Matvejević in journals such as Modern Language Notes, Italian Culture, California Italian Studies Journal, Contemporary Literature, and Spunti e parole. She is currently co-editing a special issue on Calvino for California Italian Studies.
Science Writing Workshops
Since peer-review writing workshops must be limited to a small number of participants, applicants for both workshops will be selected on the basis of their writing samples as well as other information included in their applications.
For each workshop, writing samples from all participants will be circulated in advance and allowing each participant to read and prepare in advance their responses for all the participants. Further information will be circulated to all participants in order to facilitate this peer-review process.
In particular, the workshop facilitators will consider for selection an applicant’s ability to write and discuss in English, their desire to participate actively in the workshops (including a commitment to read and respond to the work of other workshop participants), and their prior disciplinary exposure to one of the sciences, or one of the arts, or – better yet – both. Applicants should demonstrate their ability to identify aspects of our current reality – including, of course, aspects of reality specific to BiH, the former Yugoslavia, and the wider region – that merit study. We will also factor in the ability to craft stylistically effective writing that brings together narrative and science. Further information about the writing samples to be submitted with the applications follows in the two workshop descriptions below.
For selected participants coming from other cities in BiH or the region, stipends covering traveling costs (transportation and accomodation) are available
Workshop #1: Editorials from an Imminent Future
Workshop Facilitator: Fabio Deotto
Workshop Objectives: This workshop will provide participants with a thorough overview of the tools and possibilities of “speculative nonfiction”, a relatively new approach which combines elements of fiction and science writing. Among the possible forms that speculative nonfiction may take are op-eds conceived as if they had been written in a near future, a historical moment where some dynamics and transitions that are currently in progress have finally become tangible. Such work is speculative, and so a fictional component is inevitable: we write from the perspective of a near, though imagined future, even if we begin with real, already available data and trends. Authors must also decide whether to use their own voice or create a fictitious narrator (and therefore a hypothetical reporter), who can also be used as a literary character. The challenge of speculative nonfiction is to create works that don’t simply elaborate an imagined future, but also exploit its change of perspective to shed light on the present. Paraphrasing Primo Levi, more than imagining a future, it is about “casting the shadow of the present”.
Workshop #2: Real Science in Imaginary Stories
Workshop Facilitator: Tabish Khair
Workshop Objectives: This workshop intends to counter the popular and erroneous belief that the Sciences and the Arts are irrevocably opposed as constructs and disciplines. Instead, it will focus on ways in which the two overlap by looking at the use of science in fiction. Given our initial premise – that the sciences and the arts are not inevitably two separate, unequal cultures – applicants for this workshop will be allowed to submit writing samples that are either creative or argumentative, or a hybrid of both. See below.