Upon my father’s recommendation, I have recently picked up C.P. Snow’s essay “The Two Cultures,” a mild-mannered examination of the growing chasm between scientific and literary intellectual communities. Despite the fact that Snow’s evident bias towards the sciences betrays his claims of existing in the two spheres himself, and despite the unenlightened connections he makes between the Modernist movement’s emphasis on alienation and the advent of ‘imbecile expressions of non-social feeling,” i.e. Nazism, (I find this very unfair considering the scientific community’s involvement in say, the atomic bomb, etc), “The Two Cultures” raises some good points.
One, Literary intellectuals have inexplicably co-opted the term “intellectual” to refer only to them, as if there were no others. I will cede this point to Snow, for it is totally true. Literary intellectuals are also, historically, complete luddites about technology and mock the illiteracy of the scientific community without themselves even being able to recite the first law of thermodynamics. I will be the first to raise my hand and point to myself; I just figured out the keyboard shortcuts for copy/paste last week.
Two, If the two cultures cannot manage a way to communicate — or at least respect — one another, then the great findings of science and the great works of art will never get the discourse and celebration they deserve. Without a shared language, the great frameworks that intellectuals build onto the natural world on either side of the chasm will only serve to better whatever discipline they are part of, without adding to the whole. Totes.
This may be an illogical segue into this entry’s featured internet finding, but bear with it. I just found out last night that there is a 24-hour online webcam on the South Pole. As an admitted member of the so-called world of literary intellectuals (or whatever), my only knowledge of the South Pole comes from a) Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and, b) the collected writings of Fridtjof Nansen. Because of these sources, I had long imagined the South Pole to be a giant crystalline castle full of hell of penguins, ice-forts, diamonds of ice, and sea birds still unafraid of the presence of men. Imagine my disappointment (sure, this is a running theme) when I looked at this webcam. You know what the South Pole looks like — this unimaginable point, sought for centuries by explorers hungry to be the first to set foot there? It’s like some weathervanes, a drab building, and like cars. Every once in a while a dude walks by. It is so ugly. It literally looks like the base camp at Mount Hood Ski Bowl.
Of course, I am talking in extremes. One pole of intellectual society is a world apart from the other; as the South Pole of my dreams has been squelched by the South Pole of reality. Snow writes, “that unscientific flavour [of literary people] is often, much more than we admit, on the point of turning anti-scientific. The feelings of one pole become the anti-feelings of the other.” Granted, my hostility for the South Pole 24-hour webcam is unwarranted and is, precisely, the kind of anti-feeling Snow discusses.
However, what I mean to say is: it is not as if this new, ugly South Pole of scientific research has to negate my fantasies. They both exist, and mine can naively continue to be populated by diamond-coated polar creatures as the real one trudges along its ruined path. The important thing is that we all acknowledge the legitimacy of both conceptions — that the real and the mythic are both acceptable expressions of the same concept. The lack of communication between the two worlds is probably rooted in an inability to see common ground. What better terrain than the Antarctic?