About the 2019 Reynolda Conference: Entanglements

A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and Art

May 13-16, 2019

Baird, Matthew. “Joint States” (detail) 2018. Collage made with books. (Courtesy of the artist.)

Attending Entanglements   Schedule

The 2019 Reynolda Conference at Wake Forest University, Entanglements: A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and Art, will bring together a diverse range of 10 leading poets, scientists, artists, and scholars from around the world whose work engages with transdisciplinary investigations into shared principles and methods in literature, science, and art. These featured presenters will be joined by Wake Forest University faculty and staff, special guests, visiting attendees, and the public for three days of innovative programming and events.

Distinguished, Featured Presenters

Click on each featured presenter’s name for a full profile with a biography and links to creative and scholarly work.

Will Alexander
Dr. Madhur Anand
Rae Armantrout
Amy Catanzano (Convener)
Andrew Joron
Eduardo Kac
Dr. Mark C. Kruse
Dr. Ming-Qian Ma
Ed Roberson
Dr. Gustavo A. Schwartz
Anne Waldman


The 2019 Reynolda Conference at Wake Forest University, Entanglements: A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and Art, will bring together a diverse range of 10 leading poets, scientists, artists, and scholars from around the world whose work engages with transdisciplinary investigations into shared principles and methods in literature, science, and art. These featured presenters will be joined by Wake Forest University faculty and staff, special guests, visiting attendees, and the public for three days of innovative programming and events. Entanglements is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with an award granted by the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Additional sponsors are the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute with a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Creative Writing Minor in the Department of English, and the Interdisciplinary Performance and the Liberal Arts Center (IPLACe) at Wake Forest University.

Entanglements is named after the quantum mechanical phenomenon of entanglement in which states of subatomic particles are intertwined with each other despite being spatially separated.

The conference has been uniquely organized as a National Endowment for the Humanities-style symposium combined with a literary and performing arts festival. During the daytime symposium sessions, the 10 visiting, featured presenters as well as members of the Wake Forest University community present in panels exploring the conference’s themes. Two special evening literary readings and performances feature the visiting presenters. All the events except those noted on the schedule are open to the entire university community, special guests, visiting attendees, and the public.

Throughout literary and artistic history there is a tradition of poets and artists rigorously engaging with science in their work. Similarly, there is a tradition of scientists rigorously engaging with art and literature. The presenters of Entanglements are interested in forging new ways to approach the fields in which they work by ambitiously moving outside of and between established categories, boundaries, and borders. By challenging assumptions about the ordinary limits of literature, art, and science and what they share or where they depart, the presenters of the conference think broadly and imaginatively about their subjects of study and creative and scholarly practices.

The themes to be examined include the historical, contemporary, and future intersections of literature, science, and art; collaborations between institutions and individuals across these disciplines; innovative pedagogy at these intersections; and publication, funding, and dissemination of ideas and projects. The primary questions to be engaged are: What innovative projects—art, artifacts, texts, songs, performances, dialogues, theoretical frameworks, experiments, models, and intergenre inventions—are being done at the intersections of poetry, science, and art? What is possible at these intersections for the future? What pioneering projects have come before, and how have they been received? What theoretical, ethical, and practical problems arise when working at the intersections of literature, art, and science, and how can these problems be addressed? For those participants in teaching positions, what methods are being developed to teach at these transdisciplinary intersections?

Entanglements will provide three days of innovative academic scholarship and creative practice. The public events will provide the communities of Wake Forest University and the Triad area of North Carolina an enriched setting in which to explore the intersections of science, art, and literature. Entanglements is being convened by Wake Forest University Associate Professor and Poet-in-Residence Amy Catanzano, who won the Mellon-funded 2019 Reynolda Conference Award to convene the conference.

In honor of Anne Waldman’s participation in Entanglements, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art at Wake Forest University will hang Jim Dine’s painting, “The World (for Anne Waldman),” from February through July 2019.

Major Funding:
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Additional Sponsors:
Wake Forest University’s Humanities Institute with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Wake Forest University’s Creative Writing Minor in the Department of English

Wake Forest University’s Interdisciplinary Performance and the Liberal Arts Center (IPLACe)

See the announcement on the 2019 Reynolda Conference award here.

About the Reynolda Conference

The Reynolda Conference, awarded by the Humanities Institute at Wake Forest University, is funded by a grant for Engaged Humanities from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Reynolda Conference competitive grant offers faculty $20,000 to hold a three- to five-day seminar on a humanities topic of their choice. The grant award supports travel, lodging, and stipends for invited scholars of the conference planner’s choosing, as well as stipends for participating Wake Forest University and Triad area scholars.

To learn more about the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s support for the humanities at Wake Forest, click here.

Introduction to the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and Art

By Amy Catanzano

Throughout literary and artistic history there is a tradition of poets and artists seriously engaging with science in their work. In the sixteenth century, Margaret Cavendish wrote prescient poems on the atom and a proto-science fiction novel, The Blazing World, which imagined what could now be considered the multiverse, one model for the structure of matter in theoretical physics today. In the eighteenth century, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explored pattern formation in nature through both literary and scientific contexts. In the nineteenth century, Edgar Allan Poe, in works such as Eureka, speculatively explored cosmology. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Alfred Jarry developed ’pataphysics, an artistic theory and anti-ideological “science of imaginary solutions.” In the twentieth century, poets who addressed science in relation to poetry and poetics include T.S. Eliot and A.R. Ammons. Bern Porter, a poet whose early work as a physicist contributed to the Manhattan Project, developed a poetics known as SCIART, “science” and “art” conjoined in a neologism.

Contemporary poets and artists who continue a significant engagement with science include Rae Armantrout, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and multimedia musician and former NASA artist-in-residence Laurie Anderson. Ed Roberson, who has a scientific background, often draws from science in conjunction with the concerns of African-American poetics, which explores poetry in relation to critical race theory and African-American culture, and ecopoetics, which explores poetry in relation to nature, ecology, and environmental concerns. Eduardo Kac and Christian Bök practice transgenic and bio poetry, which synthesizes DNA according to invented codes by using combinations of nucleotides that lead to the making of language. Adam Dickinson has invented metabolic poetics to explore the pollutants he has in his own microbiome; here, poetry collides with science, environmentalism, and autobiography.

Anne Waldman, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Andrew Joron, and Will Alexander, going beyond many of their contemporaries who occasionally reference science in their poetry, robustly position scientific concepts, vocabulary, and breakthroughs in their poetry and poetics. S.S. Prasad explores the intersections of poetry, science, and technology by integrating nano-dimensions onto text using silicon chips, a process inspired by scientist Ghim Wei Ho, who works on silicon nanostructures through photomicrographs she calls “nanoflowers.” Prasad wrote a code inside the microchips that replaces the numbers with words using “scrapspace,” creating “poems” that are byproducts of the chip design

Additional contemporary authors and artists whose creative work has significantly engaged with science include Tauba Auerbach, Gary Barwin, Samiya Bashir, Bruce Beasley, Laynie Brown, John Cayley, Heather Christle, Adam Cornford, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Jennifer K. Dick, Marcella Durand, Jonathan Feldschuh, Spencer Finch, Allen Fisher, Alice Fulton, Forrest Gander, Kim Goldberg, Sarah Howe, Ken Hunt, A. Van Jordan, Michael Leong, Jeanne Liotta, Sara Morawetz, Laura Moriarty, Andrew McEwan, Nick Monfort, Jena Osman, M. NourbeSe Philip, Bin Ramke, Evelyn Reilly, Brandi Reissenweber, Joan Retallack, Margaret Rhee, Pattiann Rogers, Brenda Shaughnessy, Sun Yung Shin, Tracy K. Smith, Stephanie Strickland, Daniel Tobin, Lorraine Walsh, Shanxing Wang, Christine Wertheim, Eric Zboya, and Lila Zemborain.

Literary scholars and creative practitioners also work with science at the scale of theory and criticism. Theorist N. Katherine Hayles explores the relationship of technology, science, and literature in the contexts of neuroscience, complexity, and posthumanism. Hayles co-taught a transdisciplinary course, “Science Fiction, Science Fact,” at Duke University with physicist Mark C. Kruse, whose research is in the analysis of data collected by the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. Scholar Ming-Qian Ma concentrates on modernist and postmodernist poetry and poetics in relation to philosophy, science, and arts with a particular interest in the exploratory, the speculative, and the experimental trajectories in these fields as mutually interrelated dynamics. Peter Middleton, in Physics Envy (2016), discusses poets such as Rae Armantrout, Charles Olson, Amiri Baraka, and others whose work engages with science and social science. Scott Weintraub’s Latin American Technopoetics: Scientific Explorations in New Media (2018) analyzes digital poetry and intermedia works by Eduardo Kac, Gustavo Romano, Santiago Ortiz, Loss Pequeño Glazier, and others influenced by science. In Kac’s Space Poetics, where he has put a poem and art object into space on the International Space Station in collaboration with the astronaut Thomas Pesquet, poetry and art are theorized and practiced in conjunction with astronomy and space exploration.

Just as there is a tradition of poets, artists, scholars, and theorists working with science, there is a tradition of scientists who substantially engage with literature and art. Scientists and science writers are known to turn to literary devices used in literature such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to help describe their work. It is not uncommon for scientists and science writers to quote poetry to help communicate the beauty or wonder of science. In the sixteenth century, when the divide between the disciplines of art, science, and philosophy was not as pronounced, Leonardo Da Vinci combined his work as a scientist, artist, philosopher, and inventor. In the nineteenth century, Ernst Haeckel is known for intricately drawing the miniscule sea creatures he studied as a biologist, producing a collection of detailed and unusual artworks that can be seen in Art Forms of Nature (2008 [1899]). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal made captivating drawings of the human brain. In the twentieth century, Werner Heisenberg, co-founder of quantum mechanics, discusses Goethe’s play, Faust, in his book, Physics and Philosophy (2007 [1958]), in relation to questions about language, poetry, and reality within the context of quantum physics. Some contemporary scientists are also accomplished writers of poetry and fiction. Ecologist Madhur Anand, whose research includes human-ecological modeling, complex systems, conservation ecology, and sustainable science, is a published poet. Physicist Juan José Gómez-Cadenas, who focuses on particle and astroparticle physics, neutrino physics, and nuclear instrumentation, is a published novelist and poet.

The occasion of Entanglements is set to happen within the groundbreaking and expanding field of transdisciplinary discourse, programming, and collaboration. Renowned physics research centers such as CERN have dedicated arts programs. At the Donostia International Physics Center in Spain, scientist and short fiction writer Gustavo A. Schwartz directs the Mestizajes Programme, which explores the relationship of literature, art, and science through directed programming, conferences, guest artist and writer programs, and international publications that bring together scientists, artists, and writers. Along with literary scholar Víctor E. Bermúdez, Schwartz edited #Nodos (Next Door Publishers, 2017), an international anthology on the relationship of science, art, and literature. Academic organizations such as the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts support scholarship and creative practice on the relationship of these disciplines. It is common for universities in the United States and beyond to offer programming and degrees at undergraduate and graduate levels that provide coursework across disciplines, methodologies, discourses, and practices. While humanities, literature, and arts programs and institutions are increasingly friendly to collaborations with the natural sciences, it is most often science-based programs and institutions leading the way in supporting this transdisciplinary work through dedicated programming, funding, and administrative structures. Over the past ten years or so, the term STEAM, which is now largely known as representing the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, was developed to supplement and challenge the term STEM, which does not include art.

The transdisciplinary intersections of science, art, and literature impact human culture at all scales. The benefits of these investigations for teaching and scholarship in the arts, humanities, and the natural sciences include greater innovation and more effective collaborations in each discipline; increased opportunities to find solutions to shared and discipline-specific problems; and a more sophisticated education for new generations of scientists, artists, and writers who will be trained in the value and methods of transdisciplinary discourse and practice.

Art and literature can help guide and forge the ethics of science and critique how scientific discoveries are developed and used by commercial interests and governments. Science, in turn, can inspire the making, interpretation, and subjects of literature and art so that those working within these disciplines are better poised to innovate. In the world today, where scientific discoveries are sometimes used to build weapons of mass destruction, where art and literature are vital but marginalized sites of creative and critical inquiry, and where science, art, and literature are attacked by a U.S. White House that works to delegitimize science and cut funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, it is also imperative that those working within these disciplines seek out ways to collaborate and provide advocacy for one another. One aim of Entanglements: A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and Art will be to contribute to and help lead such efforts.












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