Volume 2.2 (Fall 2018)
Here is one way that, in ordinary speech, we mark the distinction between science and art. We say that scientists discover things—the relationship between the volume and pressure of air was discovered by Boyle; nuclear fission was discovered by Hahn, Strassmann, and Meitner; the structure of DNA was discovered by Watson and Crick. We say, however, that artists invent, compose, construct, or make things—Mozart composed Così fan tutte; Botticelli made La Primavera; Philip Roth invented Nathan Zuckerman. In ordinary speech, all genuine art is made up and no genuine science is made up.
Mario Biagioli. Quality to Impact, Text to Metadata: Publication and Evaluation in the Age of Metrics.
The evaluation of intellectual and scholarly works used to be interpretively complex but technologically simple. One read and evaluated an author’s publication, manuscript, or grant proposal together with the evidence it contained or referred to. Scholars have been doing this for centuries, by themselves, from their desks, best if in the proximity of a good library. Peer review—the epitome of academic judgment and its independence—slowly grew from this model of scholarly evaluation by scholars.
In what sense is an exhibition the basis for knowledge? I ask myself the question because I have, for the first time, curated a large show comprising major loans—the result of a long academic project entitled Empires of Faith (based at the British Museum and in Wolfson College, Oxford). The exhibition, called Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions, explores the ways the visual identities of the world religions were formed during the first millennium through interaction, dialogue, encounter, and self-conscious differentiation through divergence.
For those of us who work in the historical and contemporary interstices of knowledge and power, how we identify what counts as the former and shapes the attributes of the latter—and vice versa—is a domain of exploding interest, of new research, of new and renewed debates. So much so that one might think that the murky nexus of knowing and inciting, of naming and shaming, of classifying and enraging has not been as profoundly on the agenda in the study of knowledge before.
It’s a series of average paintings, produced by an evidently average painter. Rendered between 1894 and 1901 by Ogden Rood, the chair of physics at Columbia University, watercolor landscapes unfold in flecks and smears of color. Splotches of trees materialize from the embrace of fog-filled valleys. Distant mountains shimmer hazily against vibrating foliage. A sharply drawn church steeple and a tall, blurry, pine tree vie for compositional primacy against splashes of rolling farmland.
Social sciences like anthropology and sociology have lived several different but overlapping lives in Iran. As European-imported discourses about society and history, they informed competing modernist political trends from the nineteenth century onward. As academic fields instituted after the 1950s, they aided the Pahlavi regime’s top-down modernization program and continue to act as applied, problem-solving disciplines to this day.
Futurists thrive on narratives of convulsive change. Their futures unfurl under banner headlines like “the end of an era,” “this changes everything,” and “nothing will be the same.” Their moments of disruption pit the unprecedented against forces of resistance associated with habit and tradition. For them human history is a skyscraper with a potentially unlimited number of stories. But it’s an edifice haunted by a ghost: the inevitability that fast-paced anthropocentric dreams of perpetual innovation will eventually fall prey to history’s millennial plate-tectonic movements.