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Signs of Science: Literature, Science, and Spanish Modernity since 1868

Dale J. Pratt

Signs of Science: Literature, Science, and Spanish Modernity since 1868 traces how Spanish culture represented scientific activity from the mid-nineteenth century onward. The book combines the global perspective afforded by historical narrative with detailed rhetorical analyses of images of science in specific literary and scientific texts. As literary criticism, it seeks to illuminate similarities and differences in how science and scientists are pictured; as cultural history, it follows the course of a centuries-long dialogue about Spain and science.

Fascinating changes in the aesthetic and ideological values of literary images of science mark fundamental steps in Spain's difficult transition into modernity. The book analyzes how novels, plays, essays, and even scientific monographs plot the meaning and magnitude of science's place in Spanish culture during such episodes as the introduction of Darwinism, the dominance of positivistic science, the neurohistological discoveries by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Ortega y Gasset's interpretations of Einstein's theory of relativity, and Franco's restrictions on Spanish research. Signs of Science treats literary works by authors ranging from Galdós, Pardo Bazán, and Valera, through Unamuno and Baroja, to Ortega and Martín-Santos, and also examines Cajal's rhetoric in his scientific monographs, works of scientific popularization, and in his short stories.

By plumbing the semiotic depths of the sign science in numerous texts produced over a one-hundred-year period, Signs of Science seeks to efface what Jovellanos once called "la gran línea de demarcación entre los conocimientos humanos." The book thus explores how the increasing proportion of scientific discourse to ideological flagging in literary images of science marks the upward trajectory of Spanish cultural modernity.

"The author demonstrates a clear understanding of both the scientific concepts at stake in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the way Spanish thinkers and writers grappled with the conflictive issues resulting from scientific advances. This study is a fresh approach, bringing to the attention of the academic audience, including historians and philosophers of science, and literary scholars, a new corpus of material treated in a quite unique way." Floyd Merrell, author of Unthinking Thinking: Jorge Luis Borges, Mathematics, and the New Physics

"In this valuable contribution to Spanish cultural and literary studies, Dale J. Pratt examines the doing of science in Spain, the integration of scientific principles into Spain's thought, and the place of science in social discourse as a marker of Spain's entering into modernity. A helpful introduction traces the history of these three elements to 1868 and prepares the reader for Pratt's study of the place of science in late ninteenth and early twentieth century Spanish literature, specifiaclly in novels, short stories and essays. The last chapter and conclusion examine the evolution of science's role in Spanish culture into the years of the Franco regime. … Signs of Science offers insightful discussion of the image of science in Spanish cutlure. Because of Pratt's effective choice and comprehensive analysis of authors and texts and the cultural context which produced the "signs of science" they read, this reader highly recommends Signs of Science for any student of Spanish Literature and Culture." Cecelia J. Cavanaugh, Hispanófila

For complete review see Hispanófila 140 (2004): 156-58.

"Pratt skillfully analyzes the Spanish reception of evolution, Darwinism, and other scientific theories of the 19th century through literary images of science and scientists....Pratt offers a logical presentation with numerous examples and accurate notes." M. V. Ekstrom, Choice

Read the complete review in Choice 2001.

"Another dimension of Pratt's book is very positive and deserves discussion. Unlike many Spanish and Hispanist writers of the twentieth century, who tended to share Ortega's penchant for declaring most of the Spanish past, especially the nineteenth century, to have been pernicious for the country and deserving of scorn and oblivion, Pratt takes another tack. He discovers the elements of continuity from the realist/naturalists through Martín Santos, as well as identifies, in Cajal for example, strikingly innovative strains in Spanish literature and culture. … Writing in a time that is making increasingly irrelevant the internecine ideological battling typical of so much Spanish literary and cultural historiography since 1898, Pratt's clear-eyed analyses produce optimism. If a problem or set of problems can be so clearly understood as they are in Pratt, then there is hope that they can be resolved and that progress will follow. Stephen Miller, Hispania

Read the complete review in Hispania 86 (Mar. 2003): 51-52.

"Dale Pratt has here written an astute commentary on the literary reflections of that polemic [over the role of science in Spanish culture and society] and the idiosyncratic way in which writers dealt with science as both sign and signifier." Thomas F. Glick, Isis

Read the complete review in Isis 93.3 (2002): 467-68.

"Signalling Spain's relationship with science as key to Spain's membership in modern Europe, Dale Pratt sets out in this study to track a dialogue in process from 1870 to 1970: the place of science in Spanish culture. … If the author in the end draws back from sweeping conclusions, he has none the less opened up areas of interest and enquiry." —Alison Sinclair, Modern Language Review

For the complete review, see Modern Language Review 98.4 (Oct. 2003): 1014-15.

For another review, see Reference & Research Book News 1 May 1001.

Dale J. Pratt, Brigham Young University, is the author of a study of contemporary Mexican novelist Joaquín-Armando Chacón.

2001. Vol. 22. x, 266 pp. Cloth $54.95