Fabulous Creations: Con-Scientists

Fabulous Creations: Con-Scientists
And ‘Non-scientists’ in Australian Fiction
Talks / Lecture

Recording date: 
21 March 2017

Scientists seek to explore how nature works and ask how humanity can best comprehend different aspects of the world. In fictional and cultural contexts, scientists appear as rebels against the status quo and the ordinary. In the collections of the National Library of Australia, literary scholar Anna-Sophie Jürgens has discovered that some scientists even behave like artists: they are creative, skilled craftsmen or bewildering performers. By revealing how fictional and fictitious scientists not merely domesticate the unknown, but also invent and stage it, she provides new insights into the connections between scientific knowledge and the creative imagination in Australia.

National Library Fellow Dr Anna-Sophie Jürgens is currently undertaking postdoctoral research at the Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, funded by the Humboldt Foundation. Her research on the intersections between literature, cultural studies, arts and science, and on circus in fiction in particular, has been published internationally in books and papers.

Transcript

Speakers: Robyn Holmes (R), Dr Anna-Sophie Jürgens (A)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 21/03/2017

Typist’s notes: inaudibles caused by diction

 

 

R:              So good evening, everybody, and it’s really nice to see such a lovely audience tonight at this fellowship presentation by our German scholar, Dr Anna-Sophie Jurgens, on the fictional representation of the scientist in Australian literature. I’ve you know had a few questions that people have said to me: how come a German scholar’s doing this topic? and it’s because no Australian has yet done it. So thank you for being very, very daring, Anna-Sophie, indeed.

 

I’m Robyn Holmes, I’m the Senior Curator at the National Library with responsibility for the Fellowships Program. As I begin I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and recognise their continuing culture and contribution and we thank their elders past and present.

 

I especially want to welcome Dr Marie-Louise Ayres tonight in her new role – two weeks, is it? -- two weeks’ role as Director General. But of course Marie-Louise for many years also ran the Fellowships Program and has a deep love of Fellowships and comes to as many…she’s always been very committed to coming. So lovely to have you in your new role, Marie-Louise. And also welcome to members of the Fellowships Advisory Committee, visitors from the ANU, our two new fellows in residence, Timothy Daly and – where is she? Gabrielle Cary, just begun their processes of research, and Anna-Sophie’s partner, ANU scientist, Dr Jochen Brocks. Wonder where she gets her science interest from, you know? Sorry, that’s very rude of me to say so. And many supporters of the Fellowships program and of course new visitors.

 

Anna-Sophie completed her masters and doctoral studies in comparative literature at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Since then she’s published extensively on the intersections between literature, cultural studies, arts and science, which you can see from the page we’ve distributed. Many of these publications of course are in German so it was a little easier to give it to you in graphic form. This includes her own art and science project, her own creative project, inviting scientists to write stories that are hidden in their research in response to her own ink drawings. Her major book on the poetics of circus draws on literature across seven different languages including Australian literature and it really has formed a methodological model for this new project that traverses science and art.

 

This National Library Fellowship has enabled Anna-Sophie to commence the exploratory phase of a larger research project she is undertaking as the Theodore Linan Postdoctoral Fellow at the Humanities Research Centre at the ANU funded by the Humboldt Foundation and the title of her broad project is On the Origin and Evolution of a Species, Australian Scientists in Fiction. Very nice topic.

 

When scholars apply for a Fellowship, they normally propose to use a distinct body of collection material that they’ve already identified for their research. Instead, Anna-Sophie proposed a really imaginative concept, a set of fascinating questions and she sought to explore her pioneering idea across the Library’s entire collection of Australian published fiction dating across two centuries. We were daunted. You won’t be surprised then that my recurring image of Anna-Sophie at the Library is in the Fellow’s Room surrounded – actually quite hidden behind piles and piles of books which she has been copiously reading and exploring; so that’s my image of her. Yet, creativity, warmth, intellectual curiosity and vivacious presence in the Fellow’s Room, she’s just brought all of that as an inspiration to the Summer Scholars with whom she shared a room and to the other Fellows who’ve joined her. And she’s really invited lively interactions between staff and scholars; so thank you for being such a gorgeous presence in the National Library and I think we’re going to see you back over the next two years, lots.

 

That Australian fictional scientist, Don Tillman, in Graeme Simsion’s recent popular novel, The Rosie Project, asked a candidate for his wife project – remember – if you’ve read the book he goes looking for a wife – and the question he puts to them is “do you like brains?” So quite inspired by this question Anna-Sophie has been really on a quest to discover other fictional scientists in Australian novels and their intellectual pursuits. She thought she would come to understand the way novelists represent, inspire, humanise or contextualise science. But the title of her presentation tonight, Fabulous Creations, Non-Scientists and Con-Scientists in Australian Literature, suggests that instead she might just have discovered that the relationship between text and real-life science might be rather more inventive, perhaps even bewildering and creative, than she first imagined. So please welcome Anna-Sophie to lead us on her adventure in fictional science. Thank you.

 

Applause

 

A:            So many thanks, Robyn, for these kind words and let me add that I’m extremely grateful for having been invited to dive into the National Library, this pool of knowledge in which I’ve made so many discoveries. There’s my first day in the Library back in January, I was shown around and introduced to different areas, scholars and librarians and this was like a jump headfirst into a whole new world. And this world has not only many shelves and extraordinary collections, but it also provided the opportunity to meet the most knowledgeable and just impressive staff members. So for answering all my questions and coming up with expert advice and so many ideas, I would like to thank Robyn Holmes and Beth Mansfield, who was here a minute before, and - my diving instructors - but also Katrina Anderson from Manuscripts and Erica Ryan from Ephemera and many others who gave me lists with scientists in pulp fiction or movies, early gothic German movies like Conrad Sovankovich and – yeah and I’m just looking forward to more ideas and I’m extremely grateful for these contributions. I would also like to thank Roger Hillman and Will Christie from the ANU for supporting my various applications.

 

Thus at the beginning I said that the National Library is a pool of knowledge and in fact I’ve wondered every day about these goings-on on the roof of the Library, assuming there must be a pool up there. But at the end of this talk, I will suggest what this might really be.

 

So as Robyn mentioned in her introduction today’s presentation is part of my postdoctoral project On the Origin and Evolution of a Species, Australian Scientists in Fiction. This project is a two-year project and it’s – it will study the representation and dynamics of scientists and fiction set in Australia. There are major gaps in our understanding of researchers in Australian fiction and my project will ask how are fictional Australian scientists depicted in their relationship to the land and to the world? Do specifically Australian stereotypes of the scientist exist? And what aesthetic and narrative techniques are used to represent and reconfigure these stereotypes?

 

In addressing these questions, the project aims to identify and analyse fiction concerning scientists in Australia. It will at the end I hope formulate an Australian literary history of fictional scientists. It will define rhetorical devices that make a scientist in fiction and introduce Australian literature in science and fiction studies, which is a blossoming and growing field in Europe and the United States that has yet to be explored here.

 

My point of departure if 459 search findings in AustLit which I have begun trawling through over the last 10 weeks here in the National Library where as I’ve discovered even more relevant texts are to be found. So I came across for instance – I came across scientist-like figures such as Henry Archibald Mintox, an Australian inventor invented by Shaun Tan and this at the Powerhouse Museum in 2012 so this is the book called The Oopsatoreum and I also stumbled upon members from the Australian Society of Bum Collectors, so this is in a book called Bum Magic. And it’s children’s literature and I do not work with children’s literature and science fiction literature, but I just thought it’s worth mentioning.

 

Thus by trying to find out what makes a scientist and fiction I realised that many scientists are not scientists but non-scientists, con-scientists or artists. This is why today I would like to talk about these alternative scientists and my first – and the first part of my presentation I will introduce two contemporary novels and then go back in time to some of my more contextual and historical findings in regard to wondrous science. So wondrous science is science, a spectacle in the Australian context so first part fiction, second part more focused on culture and I hope this will shed a light on the connections between scientific research and the creative imagination in Australia, I mean some connections at least.

 

As we will see in the following, the word fiction not only refers to the narrative forms of literature but also as part of its broader definition to the act of creative invention and creative invention describes the protagonist science in Jem Poster’s 2006 novel, Rifling Paradise so this is the story of Charles Redburn, a 19th century British landowner who travels to Australia in order to pursue his ambitions as a mature naturalist, that is, in order to shoot – that is, to shoot skin, stuff and collect specimens. In Sydney, he engages in debate with his host’s daughter and later travels to the outback guided by a boy and a brute who’s a hunter of nature’s rarities and also called quote prepared to haggle like a fairground huckster, end of quote.

 

[Febur] 11:20 opium and hallucinations in which the violated land haunts the protagonist finally caused him back – caused him to flee back to England. From childhood onwards, Charles, the protagonist, has been fascinated by scientific enquiry based on fossil hunting and collecting trips and published notes and articles to minor periodicals and journals. He was, as a collector phrased it, a specialist. In Australia, he aims to add significantly to his collection and contribute his quota to the sum of human knowledge. All science, he explains, is grounded in fact. A collector’s cabinet is a repository of facts from which important scientific truths may be deduced and two theories constructed. We need these collections if we are to understand the world we live in; it’s as simple as that. And he justifies the slaughter of cabinets full of Australian birdlife saying the thing is that slight variations between individuals, variations that might be overlooked in the field, could turn out to be important from a scientific viewpoint. At best, a close examination might show one of these birds to be a new species. At the very least, the group provides a valuable record, a basis for future research. Thus Charles, the protagonist, appears to explore in order to ascertain how nature works, asking how humanity can best comprehend different aspects of the world and this is how we can define a scientist.

 

However, a question arises that has already occupied many philosophers of science, without preconceived opinions, how is the researcher able to select facts from the immense abundance of collected material? And only those facts simple enough to permit lawful connections to become evident. Indeed Charles does not have any hypothesis or theory in the words of Michael Sherman, or testable statement to account for a set of observations. Scientists presumably make progress if their predictions become more accurate or more numerically precise or encompass a broader range of phenomena. But Charles Redburn does not produce or contribute to any knowledge and consequently when leaving Australia he thoughtlessly discards of all the many animals he has stuffed.

 

The protagonist’s ideas about science and its performance are not merely questionable but also anachronistic. This manifests itself and Charles’ disappointment in having to take a train from Sydney to the Blue Mountains. As he had imagined setting out from the villa on horseback and plunging almost at once into the unknown a train journey seemed altogether too mundane. Charles’ anachronism is emphasised by another character in the novel assuming that in a world changing with dizzying speed the day of the amateur may well be numbered. Thus, here we have an anachronistic out of date science and this science is also questioned by the girl he finally marries, an artist. She asks ‘what is it all for anyway, this killing and skinning? What kind of fact is it your dead lorry? Whatever it is you imagine you’re laying hold of for yourself, of your precious science, it’s gone the moment you pull the trigger. What you’re left with is a handful of skin and feathers, the sort of thing a milliner might use to dress a hat. It’s dead stuff, dry as dust and nothing’s going to bring back the bird you had in your sights when you took aim. You better try to catch something of its life.’

 

In contrast to Charles, the artist can catch something of the animal’s life in her paintings, which slowly revises Charles’ approach to nature. Thus, while suffering in the outback he begins to wonder, not entirely playfully, whether Adam’s fall might have begun not with the eating of a fruit but earlier, with the arising of the desire to catalogue these animals and plants in his teeming paradise. And as he plunges deeper into the wilderness, he finally realises that his expectations of his journey and his practice of science was a sophisticated mode of ignorance, essentially without meaning. He understands that his approach to the natural world is imaginative rather than analytical and it was borne home to him with increasing force that his expectations concerning this part of the journey, so the outback part, had been tinged with fantasy.

 

As a consequence he begins to respect nature thus here we have a wannabe scientist discovering fantasy in science and the sublimity and marvellous order that reveal themselves not merely in nature but in the world of thought. So if we summarise this we have a protagonist who practises and experiences questionable science, his science is anachronistic, his science is a kind of fantasy thus, we could say he is a non-scientist.

 

So this novel, Rifling Paradise, is interesting because it undermines a common idea that many or several contemporary novels provide the idea that collectors and naturalists are proto scientists, setting the scene for future progress. As we’ve said, Charles does not produce any knowledge. It is also interesting that the text uses the shape of the historical novel to present a protagonist who experiences a change of mentality in time lapse. So here we have a protagonist, and some mere weeks in Australia, and his experiences in the outback are enough to transform this believer in science, a confident taxidermist into a vegan admirer of life and nature. And so, I think we have here a 21st century approach at the end incorporated in this protagonist that is superimposed upon the 19th century and I tried to find a picture and I found this as an illustration.

 

So here we have what looks like Darwin but what is in fact a composite so this Darwin wears a modern suit, a 20th century microscope is next to him and he’s sitting in a modern laboratory. So here we have a superimposition of Darwin’s head upon a body of a 20th century researcher and I think this time can also find in Rifling Paradise. Of course, more work has to be done in this direction. But combined with his passive and weak being Charles almost also appears as a parody of 19th century science heroism and he echoes Oscar’s trip into the wilderness in Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey in many ways so also this is interesting, I think. Throughout his youth and early manhood, Charles dreamt daily of following in the footsteps of Darwin who he tries to imitate in his collecting trips all around Europe.

 

Della Gilmore, the protagonist in Toni Jordan’s 2010, Fall Girl, also imitates a scientist albeit in a quite different way. To secure funding she impersonates an evolutionary biologist and contrives a project to trap a Tasmanian tiger in Wilson’s Promontory National Park. In order to convince her milliner patron of the relevance of her research she invites him to a field trip to the Park where she tells him quote little factoids about the life of Darwin end of quote. And she busies herself with measuring and photographing tracks and collecting droppings in the way scientists do which she had studied in the Library so this novel is also a eulogy on libraries.

 

But her science is a made-up science, a fiction. Science, at least this kind of science, is more like a country craft; it’s a manual skill, a dexterous one, where the clever hands of clever people make a story from bits of bone and photos of tracks and scratches on trees. Like making a quilt from squares of coloured fabric. And of course, as it turns out her sponsor is an evolutionary biologist himself, outsmarting the con-scientist at the end.

 

So, the protagonist in these two novels may partially add to the stereotype of the scientist at the same time that they destroy it. They explore new frontiers, seek the nonquestions and they have a knack of seeing things in a different light and these are the characteristics, the essential characteristics of scientists according to Jack Oliver’s Incomplete Guide to the Art of Discovery. However rather than domestic the unknown, they invent it. They’re creative skilled craftspeople, imagineers, reminiscent of artists and the protagonist in Fall Girl is also a performer so she’s staging science as a show. There’s of course much more work to be done in regard to these scientist-like characters in fiction but we already get an idea of the literary discourse that is remarkably different from professional scientific discourse.

 

And this also applies to a fascinating cultural phenomenon that in many ways is likened to fiction and serves as a context for the exploration of alternative scientists and I call this phenomenon wondrous science so this term is borrowed from Jane Goodall and her intriguing book, Performance and Evolution in the Age of Darwin. Wondrous science in my reading is performed by the con-scientists of the imagineers who embody fictitious scientists, fooling the audiences with facts that appear to be scientifically plausible. But it’s also performed by scientists staging their research as a show and this is what I’d like to outline in the second part of my presentation so science, a spectacle in the Australian context.

 

So let’s go back into the 19th century, an age of scientific wonder in many ways and one of the most prominent and trailblazing figures to amalgamate scientific knowledge and creative imagination at that time was P T Barnum. He is remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes that he liked to call quote wonderful specimens of creation end of quote and for founding the greatest show on earth, which was to become the largest circus in history. This superlative <inaudible> 22:44 public show empire was actually a mixture of menagerie, circus, human zoo and museum. And before launching the greatest show on earth, Barnum opened his grand scientific and musical theatre and his American museum, presenting automatons, wax figures, mummies and scientific discoveries. So he made hundreds of previously unseen specimens accessible to a broad audience and this is – it is supposed to have had considerable scientific value as Barnum boasted. By the 1860s, Barnum systematically sought rare species and also donated specimens to Harvard and the Smithsonian.

 

In 19th century debates of what might be defined as human these forms of popular entertainment played an important role in testing ideas about evolution. And this is evident especially from so-called Missing Link performances -- and here we have Zip who for a long time performed in Barnum’s shows as Missing Link and I found a description from 1846 describing such a show in London, sponsored by Barnum, by the way. It leaps, climbs and runs with the agility of a monkey. It lays the cloth and sets a table with a soft <inaudible> 24:10 of a London waiter, bows, lift his head and so on with the grace of a master of ceremonies, distinguishes colours, remembers what is said to it, goes through with military exercise and plays various games with an instinct and skill that would reflect honour to any gentleman. And in fact, this was an actor in a costume.

 

So now, Missing Link performances as I discovered in Trove were also popular in Australia and I could not find any picture of this Missing Link but Erica Ryan did from Ephemera so many thanks for that. Here we see Casey, the Missing Link, who performed also in 1910 in Perth and The Evening Star reported on Casey. Casey can turn somersaults with ease, throw himself about the rings, and amongst his educational performances, he can play the piano and mouth organ with consummate ease. Casey, wherever he has been exhibited, has astonished the public in general from scientific, educational and entertaining point of view. It only remains to be said that it seems almost impossible to believe that there can be possibly another stage of creature alive between this truly wonderful animal and man. And there are more articles to be found on Casey who performed around 1900 in Australia and on Missing Link performances up to 1928.

 

So to create a panorama of wondrous science and science as spectacle I would like to introduce another phenomenon, so-called Pepper’s ghost performances. And they were also popular in Australia around 1900. John Pepper was a professor of chemistry from the London Polytechnic. He popularised an illusionistic technique involving an image projected onto a piece of glass at a 45-degree angle and he presented it to audiences on a grand scale as public and educational entertainment. Using a mirror and directed lighting techniques Pepper’s ghost made objects, and usually ghosts as we see here, appear and disappear or metamorphose into one and another. Being a scientist Pepper was primarily interested in the technique as an experiment in optics but finally made history as an entertainer and his first public presentation of this show took place during a Christmas performance of Charles Dicken’s Haunted Men in 1862.

 

Pepper’s Ghost apparently drove crowds crazy in Australia according to The Inquirer and commercial news in 1880. An article on scientific lectures in the Kapunda Herald from the same year calls Pepper a priest of the mysteries of science who is now in our midst instructing and amusing large and intelligent audiences by his exposition and illustrations of the principles of science and some of its very department. And shows of this type acted as mediator of knowledge and were often the primary public source of information about the actor and current stage of research. Ghost shows and Missing Link performances united science with mystery and they are reminders that science and its pursuits are a matter of perspective. And here again we see that science is a product and a producer of good stories. And this also applies to many other shows, for example to many electricity shows touring Australia in the 19th and 20th century which I will present at my staff talk next week but we also have magicians touring Australia and presenting scientific feats. So here we see the Great Zorca, who in 1958 performed in Brisbane the world famous feats of x-ray eyes and the vivisection of twin clowns.

 

So – and now speaking about clowns and performers of science, scientist like performers and a panorama of science as spectacle and wondrous science I would like to introduce my last finding in the National Library and I think the most exciting one. So when I told Robyn one day that I had watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show together with summer scholars she told me that the National Library holds the Jim Sharman collection. So Jim Sharman is internationally best known for his music hit, The Rocky Horror Show in 1973 and its film adaptation so he was the director of that. So I found a review as a reminder by Perry Palmer in The Melbourne Times describing The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s a kind of camp, decadent, bawdy, romping, nasty piece of entertainment crisscrossing all the things that were dearer to the ‘50s such as monster movies, rock’n’roll, ponytails, college cuts, candy girls and true love and engagement parties with all the things that were dear to Berlin in the ‘30s such as transvestites, garters, whips and all sorts of other stuff. The kitsch, the bizarre, the creepy and the crawly.

 

So against the background of my previous research in circus studies and the cultural history and development of the arts of the ring I was delighted to find out that Jim Sharman is not only Australian but also grew up at least for several years in a family – in his family’s touring carnival show so they had a boxing group and he was deeply influenced by the aesthetics of the circus, the vaudeville and of course his family’s show. So here, we have Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien as riffraff. The most bizarre aspect of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is of course the quirky protagonist, Frankenfurter who Louis Nowra aptly describes as a demented mongrel cross between Mick Jagger and John Crawford on speed. In fact, “The Sweet Transvestite from Transylvania” is a scientist, so a crazy scientist drawing on Frankenstein and bad science fiction movies, but as the manuscripts in the National Library also reveal, he’s deeply and strongly connected to the circus and performance world.

 

So Jim Sharman writes, the transvestite hero of that musical might have owed something to German gothic cinema, but also derived from childhood memories of Bobby Le Brun so our least famous pantomime, who looked like a stevedore in drag. So – now this is seriously exciting because here we have famous Frankenfurter, a crazy scientist based upon Australian comedian. But who is Bobby Le Brun? Did he sing and dance in his performances? Did he really perform in women’s dress? Did he stage scientist characters? The answer to all these questions can be found in the National Library. Where else? Where 12 boxes of notebooks and diaries and scrapbooks and manuscripts disclose the details of Bobby’s history as a comedian and the answer to all these questions is yes.

 

So born in 1910, Bobby began his career as eccentric dancer, and here we see him together with George Chunty performing eccentric and simultaneous dancing. Bobby performed in various venues – at various venues and from 1933 to 1937, he worked as a solo comic and sketch comedian in George [Sorlee’s End] 32:35 Theatre. And after [Sorlee’s] death in 1948, he joined his widow to take the show on the road again so they travelled around Queensland and New South Wales in particular.

 

As it turned out Bobby indeed is renowned for performing as dame in pantomimes and many photographs in his collection show him in women’s dress. So he was Sarah, the cook, Bobby, Bessie, the belle of the bowling green, Bobby, and Bobby as a female harlequin. And I talked yesterday to the niece of Bobby Le Brun and she told me that Jim Sharman maybe referred to Bessie the belle in his quote because this was the signature act or performance of Bobby Le Brun. And yeah, here again Bobby and he had a tough start so he started his career in the 1930s at the time of the great depression and just amazing to see how optimistic and beaming and radiant and cheery he is and all his photographs and manuscripts. So to give you an idea about his humour I found a script. I don’t know if it was – it was a kind of a talk but there’s no signature, saying Bobby was a popular figure and constantly made guest appearances and at many charity shows. Gracie, his wife, tells us that Bobby never learned to say no. He used to say “just as well I’m not a girl, I’d be forever pregnant”.

 

So now, we know that Bobby was an eccentric dancer, and we know that he performed in women’s dress, but what about his scientist characters? Did he stage scientists? And luckily, I came across some newspaper clippings describing how funny his performance as fun doctor was. So this is of course especially interesting in regard to his influence on the Frankenfurter character but it was just impossible to find out more information so was it a specific act or was it just an expression made up by the author of the review? So by looking desperately for more information one day I came across this. Here we have a program booklet of [Sorlee’s] Review from 1959. And at that time Bobby was the manager of [Sorlee’s] Review and here we have Leo Bassey and June performing an act, a foot-juggling act. So as it happens, some years ago I gave a talk at the conference on clowning where I met Leo Bassey so this Leo Bassey is a clown, a political clown from Spain who’s probably one of the most famous clowns in Europe at the moment and he is burned in my memory because he said I hate happiness, I hate feeling free and easy. This is why I love to be in Germany.

 

So now I asked him of course if he’s related to the 1950s Leo Bassey and indeed he said yes, this is his father so he was a child when he travelled in [Sorlee’s] Review with his parents all around Australia and of course he met Bobby Le Brun. So I started an email interview and my Leo Bassey already explained I think I better phone my mother to be more precise about the style of Le Brun’s performances. I was only eight or nine at the time but I remember him as a doctor and maybe a gynaecologist. He had a partner, Hall Lennon, and I think I remember the two of them dressed as women. So now, I’m looking forward to more information about his performance as a gynaecologist and I think we see that we can find a lot of more background to Bobby Le Brun and Frankenfurter.

 

And my last finding is also exciting because I discovered that Bobby Le Brun was a long-time friend of Jim Sharman’s family and Jim Sharman remembers quote my father assured my mother that his great mate, Bobby Le Brun the pantomime dame, would look after me. Dad had even shouted Bobby a beer just to make sure he tossed the kid a fantail or two end of quote. And here we see Bobby Le Brun and Jim Sharman and again we have a – interesting name combination because this is not the Jim Sharman who wrote The Rocky Horror Show – or directed, sorry, directed the Rocky Horror Show but probably his father. And his father was also called Jim Sharman or Jimmy and his grandfather also, I mean we have a lot of Sharmans with the same first name.

 

So if we summarise, Dr Frankenfurter is a transvestite scientist founded on a comedian renowned for performing on stage as a doctor and as a woman. And all these findings are interesting because – they’re especially interesting in relation to Jim Sharman’s passion for German cabaret and Weimar cabaret and Bertolt Brecht because Bertolt Brecht was deeply influenced by Charlie Chaplin and clowning. So here we have this clowning and science theme – what is growing step by step so I think this will be a chapter on clowning in a broader sense and science in my research.

 

Frankenfurter, the scientist, is a Frankenstein-like character who creates a man, and in so doing he perfectly fuses the imaginary of science and the Latin fictor on which the word fiction is based. Originally a fictor is not merely an inventor of stories but a creator of three-dimensional artefacts, on other words a sculptor. Thus as we’ve seen today by discussing non and con-scientists and narrative fiction and by glimpsing some astonishing examples of wondrous science displayed by scientists acting as performers and performers acting as scientists, maybe surprisingly fiction and fictitious scientists have brought fascinating insights into the vagaries of the human imagination and its creatively.

 

Jem Poster’s novel Rifling Paradise depicts a fictional non-scientist who raises issues of the compatibility of science with the appreciation of Australia’s national beauty and the role art plays in shaping science-led perceptions. Charles Redburn, the protagonist of Rifling Paradise, is one of those who by seeking to discover the unknown risks disappearing into the nothingness they are striving to define or to invent. In fiction it seems science is in the process of becoming something different, its boundaries are not absolute and its definition is not certain but easily invented. This is exactly what we have witnessed by discussing examples of wondrous science and culture, the separation of science and spectacle has not and may not be absolute.

 

Finally it seems that the circus and performance words are not laboratories but labour-arteries, productive breeding grounds for the invention and staging of scientific phenomena for the fusion of the two cultures of the humanities and science. And, this brings us back to our first question about the mysterious goings-on on the roof of the National Library because now we can ask isn’t the National Library itself a labour-artery for the fusion of the two cultures of the humanity and science? Thank you.

 

Applause

 

End of recording

Download transcript 146.98 KB

Recent audio All recent audio