Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Arts vs. Science: the age-old battle

The Arts vs. Science debate seems to be cropping up everywhere around me these days. Of course, this is understandable; at a university which is leading the field in many areas of scientific research, its hardly surprising that there's constant "banter" between arts and science students anywhere you look.

From the Lit.Soc debate at which my friend made a very valid point about art, in a certain way, actually being science (or visa versa), to my seminar tutor today who contextualised Margaret Atwood's representation of the debate in Oryx and Crake (2003) by asking: what is the function of art? Or indeed, what is the functionality of a student of the arts?

Before university, I was told that a languages and literature degree would open up doors to countless opportunities, for the very fact that it encourages a creative, open-minded, yet analytic approach to almost everything. Certainly at Warwick, this has held true; the English faculty in particular has made studying literature feel so relevant to society.

Sure, we've read the classics from Zola to Austen, Camus to Nabakov which all have their role to play in our understanding of history - literary, cultural, and social. In my opinion, they give an unparalleled insight into the way of living of past centuries. But it's the more modern literature that cements my love for my course. Ranging from Cities of Salt - Elias Khoury's novel about loss of identity in the Lebanese civil war, to The Baghdad Blog - a collection of posts by an anonymous blogger of the Iraq war. From Mahasweta Devi's Chotti Munda & His Arrow, written in almost-tribal song, to science fiction - the likes of Atwood and Kim Stanley Robinson - what I love most about my course (or at least about the modules that I've chosen), is that the literature is unsettling.

The kind of literature we are reading has made it in to the academic canon because it intentionally defies you as a reader, subverting your expectations and forcing you to question your preconceived ideas. I'm currently reading disaster literature - novels which are forcing me to think about our social order, our manner of living and the violent impact it is (often invisibly) having on the planet.

What makes studying a humanities subject just as relevant and indispensable as the studies of science is how it encourages new modes of thinking, probing, inquiring, and of discerning what things actually mean. Fiction offers the imaginative scope through which we are forced to re-consider our reality. In the arts, there is an innate concern with morality that demands the reader to doubt and question on a human level, in contrast to a statistic which, though telling you the answer, doesn't always ask why.

That's one defence of a humanities degree at least...Oh and, no, we don't all want to be teachers!

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