Magic, Science, and Empire in Postcolonial Literature: The Alchemical Literary Imagination, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Magic, Science, and Empire in Postcolonial Literature

The Alchemical Literary Imagination, 1st Edition

By Kathleen Renk


184 pages | 9 B/W Illus.

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This book examines the ways in which contemporary British and British postcolonial writers in the after-empire era draw connections between magic (defined here as Renaissance Hermetic philosophy) and science. Writers such as Tom Stoppard, Zadie Smith, and Margaret Atwood critique both imperial science, or science used in service to empire, and what Renk calls "imperical science," a distortion of rational science which denies that reality is holistic and claims that nature can and should be conquered. In warning of the dangers of imperical science, these writers restore the connection between magic and science as they examine major shifts in scientific thinking across the centuries. They reflect on the Copernican Revolution and the historic split between magic and science, scrutinize Darwinism, consider the relationship between Victorian science and pseudo-science, analyze twentieth-century Uncertainty theories, reject bio/genetic engineering, call for a new approach to science that reconnects science and art, and ultimately endeavor to bring an end to the imperial age. Overall, these writers forge a new discourse that merges science with the arts and emphasizes a holistic philosophy, a view shared by both Hermetic philosophy and recent scientific theories, such as chaos or complexity theory. Along with recent books that focus on the relationship between contemporary literature and science, this work focuses on contemporary British literature’s critique of science and the ways in which postcolonial literature addresses the relationship between magic, science, and empire.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. The Alchemical Imagination 2. Victorian Science: Debating Darwin and Natural History 3. Hermeticism ‘Gone Underground’: Victorian Science and Pseudo Science in the Age of Empire 4. Superseding Newtonian Determinism: Chaos, Quantum Heresies and Hyperspace in Post-Imperial Literature 5. Paradise as Chaos: The Deconstruction of Determinism Conclusion Bibliography Index

About the Author

Kathleen Renk is an Associate Professor of English at Northern Illinois University. The author of Caribbean Shadows and Victorian Ghosts: Women's Writing and Decolonization (Virginia, 1999) and critical essays on the work of A.S. Byatt, Wilson Harris, Peter Carey, and Pauline Melville, she teaches British modernist and postcolonial literatures.

About the Series

Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Literature

This series is our home for cutting-edge, upper-level scholarly studies and edited collections. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to literary studies, it engages with topics such as philosophy, science, race, gender, film, music, and ecology. Titles are characterized by dynamic interventions into established subjects and innovative studies on emerging topics.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
SCIENCE / General