Nasser Zakariya, UC Berkeley
"An Extravagant and Enormous Unreality" : A Mid-20th Century Deliberation on 'Human Stature" and Scholarship
This talk focuses on a 1963 published "Symposium on Space,” explicitly framed by the question: “Has man’s conquest of space increased or diminished his stature?” Though the symposium involved several prominent authors, particular attention will be given to the physical scientist and Manhattan Project participant Harrison Brown, and the political theorist Hannah Arendt. Their research and publication efforts prior to the symposium help to clarify what they saw as the urgent existential and intellectual threats posed by the physical sciences. As represented in their contributions and those of the other authors and symposium editors, at stake in the potency of the physical sciences were Western and non-Western political and cultural relations, as well the integrity of prevalent constructions of Western knowledge and its history. The chief editors of the symposium volume had by then long argued for and attempted to disseminate a vision of a core, generational "conversation" elaborating Western knowledge across centuries of "great" books and ideas--a vision of Western knowledge itself represented as under threat by the status and language of Western science. This connection between the symposium and longstanding active pedagogical and cultural commitments highlights pervasive understandings of the development and consequences of physical scientific knowledge, pointing to proximate historical sources and roots of critiques.