Ange Mlinko: The Master and His Emissary does more than acknowledge the difference and outright conflict between scientific method and humanistic tradition; it advocates for the embattled latter, by warning us that we are on a slippery slope toward an atomized, utilitarian culture in which intuition and feeling are suppressed, while the quantitative is valorized.
Or, if intuition and feeling cannot be suppressed, they are effectively isolated, not permitted to contribute to the public discourse. That is what I think has happened to poets (at least in the US), some of whom quietly resign themselves to their labeled bin, and some of whom are scrambling right now to reinvent poetry as a discourse as relevant to modern culture as Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde. But the fact remains: poets can’t be considered possessors or transmitters of “knowledge” because we as a society have decided that knowledge is quantifiable—but art is not. Art is precisely the experiment that can’t be reproduced under identical conditions.
Iain McGilchrist: That’s a really interesting point. I am not impressed by the trend towards neuroscience in the modern novel—it seems to me bound up with a sense of inferiority, as though, despite the bravado, we accept that our realities are only playacting, while the scientists know what’s really going on. It reminds me a bit of colonial subjects in the bad old days, dressing like the Brits in order to be taken seriously. How it messed up the study of literature, all those university departments that had to prove they were doing something difficult and serious, a form of science! We badly need an antidote to this culture: we should not be concerned with proving ourselves clever, but rejoicing in doing something science could never do on its own, understanding and celebrating experience—otherwise known as life. Poets and all artists take the inside view: as I say in the book, the brain is just the view from the outside. It’s not more real.
- Iain McGilchrist, in interview with Ange Mlinko in the October 2010 issue of Poetry. You can read the full interview here, and the whole issue here.