Contours of the TextnElizabeth W. Bruss: BeautifulnTheories: The Spectacle of Discourse innContemporary Criticism; JohnsnHopkins University Press; Baltimore.nRoland Barthes: A Bart he s Reader;nHill & Wang; New York.nRoland Barthes: Empire of Signs; Hilln& Wang; New York.nSusan Sontag: A Susan Sontag Reader;nFarrar, Straus & Giroux; New York.nby Gary S. VasilashnAn important change in thinkingnoccurred because of Albert Einstein andnhis theories (special in 1905 and generalnin 1915) of relativity. Some assume thatndevelopments in physics have little to donwith literature; they are wrong. Beforenand after Lucretius writers have beennwondering about the “stuff of nature,nabout what makes man and his world.nEinstein’s contribution to literature andnliterary theory is not, as many think, thenidea that “all things are relative,” but thenidea that can be formulated in the followingnmanner: There is no such thing asna privileged observer. Of course, Einsteinnwasn’t talking about literary texts, butnspace-time. Still, his idea gained currencynamong writers— whose subjects,nafter all, are not unlike those of physicists—whongained knowledge from himnabout point of view. The writers came tonrealize that it is increasingly futile—orneven absurd—to say that something is ancertain way and no other. Another physicistnwho must be brought in is lessernknown than Einstein but no less important:nMax Planck. Planck is considerednthe father of quantum mechanics, as hendiscovered “quanta,” or energy packets,nin 1900. Although it does grievousndamage to the subject, it is necessary tonMr. Vasilash is associate editor ofnChronicles of Culture.n14nChronicles of Culturensimplify the relevant aspect of quantumnmechanics. Suffice it to assert that physicistsnultimately discovered that their verynobservation of something—such as thennature of light (i.e., wave or particle)—naffected what they saw. Thus to observensomething, even under the most scmpulousnand exacting conditions, is tonchange it. Once again, it must be statednthat Planck and those responsible for thenCopenhagen Interpretation of QuantumnMechanics (1927) were talking aboutnsubatomic particles, not novels. Still, thenmodel they proposed managed to manifestnitself in literary discourse (e .g., in thenself-referential novel). The “twoncultures” is a nonsensical category (Barthes:n”Literature works in the intersticesnof science “). What some literary theoristsncame to believe is that by writing aboutnsomething, they changed the nature ofntheir subject: certainly the words on thenpages of a book aren’t altered, but theirnmeaning is modified. There is, however,nno one-to-one relationship betweenndevelopments in physics and literature.nIndeed, in her comprehensive examinationnof modern critical theory, BeautifulnTheories, Elizabeth W. Bruss doesn’tnbring up Einstein or Planck. But just asnNietzsche, Saussure, and Wittgensteinnhave had their effects, so too have thenphysicists.nIt’s difficult to make an uncategoricalnstatement about modern literature ornliterary theory. Indeed, even the termnmodem is called into question, as somenthink that postmodern is correct. Onenthing is clear: much of the writing of thensecond half of the 20th century is distinctlyndifferent from that which wasndone before, with few exceptions. Not allnof the causes for this state of affairs can benfound in the sciences or philosophy. Fornexample, in the 60’s, revolts broke outnon campuses thioughout the West.nWhile many of the students claimed thatntheir target was a specific one, namely,nAmerican involvement in SoutheastnAsia, Bruss correctly noted that thennnrebellion was against authoiity in general.nIn English departments, whereinnenrollment figures were declining, thenquestion faced was: Who says? A professornwho made an appeal to authorityncould find his classroom surrounded bynplacard-bearing youth. One way out wasnto provide a response or an interpretationnbased on a theoretical model instead ofnone taken from a learned person. SaidnElizabeth Bruss:nLiterary theory might. . . serve as thenmissing common background for andivided student body and, being annartificial language with no identificationnwith any particular group, mightnprove more palatable to all. At thensame time, theory could perhaps providena stay against relativism, a piinciplednway of making educational distinctionsnand weighing artistic merits,nwithout recourse to arbitrary authorityn(at a moment when students werennothing if not antiauthoritarian) or tonthe now tarnished standard of thenGreat Tradition.nThis is not to state that student protestsnand falling enrollments forced the handsnof respected scholars, but, just as quantumnmechanics, the philosophies ofnNietzsche and Wittgenstein, thenlinguistics of Saussure, the anthropologynof Levi-Strauss, and other influencesnwere in the air and oxidizing the standardsnof the New Criticism and othetnmodels, so too were the unrest and theneconomic factor. It must be stressed thatnthis state of ferment existed at collegesnand univeisities thioughout the West. Itnwas most potent in France. Roland Barthesnwas to say nine yeats after thenmassive strikes and protests that occurrednprimarily in Paris, “This shift [in semiology]noccurred because the intellectualncommunity has changed, if only throughnthebieakofMay’68,”and”.. .May’68nhas revealed the crisis in our teaching.”nFrance is the home of many of the currentnliterary models.n