As part of the series Rethinking the Human Sciences, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society presents

Sense in Art and Sense in Nature: A talk by Anthony Uhlmann, Writing and Society Research Centre, University of Western Sydney



In Stephen Hero, James Joyce’s narrator states that “For Stephen art was neither a copy nor an imitation of nature: the artistic process was a natural process.” Art and Nature have long been paired together: indeed the concept of ‘representation’ seems to presuppose the relationship between artistic practice and objects, forms, or elements that pre-exist in Nature, or human perceptions of Nature. Yet what are the limits of this identification? Do Art and Nature comprise some kind of symmetry, some kind of continuity? Or is it merely a loose analogy?

Aspects of these questions might be addressed through paying attention to the concepts of meaning and sense, which is asymmetrical at least when one considers discourse surrounding art on the one hand (for example, in the hermeneutic tradition) and discourses surrounding Nature on the other (in the disciplines of Physics or Biology). While the concept of meaning (involving intention) is necessarily presupposed within artistic production and reception it is seemingly left to one side by scientific method; yet the concept of sense might be more readily applied to both domains. In drawing on examples (from the 1922 controversy between Bergson and Einstein, the concept of ‘distributed cognition’ in cognitive science, and Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee) this lecture will consider how particular concepts of ‘meaning’ and ‘sense’ derived from Spinoza might be applied to an understanding of the kind of relations that link art and Nature.