Sciences and poetics of subjectivity (from Pater on)

Maria Del Sapio Garbero, John Holmes, Patrick Parrinder, Fiammetta Dionisio

«To regard all things and principles of things as inconstant modes or fashions has more and more become the tendency of modern thought. [….] Let us begin with that which is without – our physical life […]. Our physical life is a perpetual motion.. .– the passage of the blood, the waste and repairing of the lenses of the eye, the modification of the tissues of the brain under every ray of light and sound – processes which science reduces to simpler and more elementary forces. Like the elements of which we are composed, the action of these forces extends beyond us: it rusts iron and ripens corn. [ …] Analysis goes a step farther still, and assures us that those impressions of the individual mind to which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in perpetual flight; that each of them is limited by time, and that as time is infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible also; all that is actual in it being a single moment, gone while we try to apprehend it, of which it may ever be more truly said that it has ceased to be than it is. […] It is with this movement , with the passage and dissolution of impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off – that continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves». (Walter Pater, The Renaissance, Studies in Art and Poetry)
These reflections of Walter Pater about the dissolution of the subject and the concomitant celebration of the ‘moment’ (seen as one of the possible knots with the world in which the physical and mental life continues and changes) were added as a ‘conclusion’ to a collection of essays on Renaissance. In this age of deconstructionism, contemporary criticism has rediscovered Pater as a sort of British Nietzsche; quite a right epithet if one considers Pater’s radical revision of ‘absolute’ and ‘foundations’ so firmly expressed in his study Plato and Platonism, of 1893, when he feels the threshold of the new century approaching.
The purpose of this paper is therefore that of exploring Pater’s philo-scientific model (so rooted in the principles of the philosophy of “becoming” by Heraclitus, Aristippus, Lucretius, etc..) and its influence on the most advanced scientific thought of his time, in particular with studies on the structure of matter and the theory of the atom. In fact, Pater’s view of the “becoming” as the condition that science placed at the foundation of all things as well as conceptualization of a fluid subjectivity that is given only in moments of intensity, was in fact seminal for the development of English modernist poetry of the twentieth century. In this perspective, many critical studies have already shown how the Joycean epiphany and Woolf’s ‘moment of being’ can be seen as the result of Pater’s reflection. However, what such criticism still seem to be missing is the specifically scientific character of Pater’s reflection. For this reason, the main goal of this research is to investigate on the possibility of postulating a sort of Pater’s scientific paradigm to frame the poetics of the subjectivity of the early twentieth century in order to be able to finally incorporate aesthetics into modernity.