Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

Work in Progress Paper - CANCELLED Seminar

14:00 - 15:00
10 February 2016
Building 65b, Room 1005 Avenue Campus University of Southampton SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Tracy Storey at .

Event details

The below mentioned seminar has had to be cancelled, we apologies for any inconvenience. We hope to reschedule soon.


'Cosmologies and Codes: Beginning a project on cultural images of the unknown’

My talk on the inception of this new research project will be a survey of the hunches, speculations, quotations, scraps and treasures, books, memories, and other potential sources of inspiration currently heaped up both literally and imaginatively in my work space. I shall concentrate on my stumbling efforts to make sense of two accumulations of material: on cosmology and its fictional uses to portray contingency in the new science fiction of the forties and fifties; and on the use of concepts derived from wartime and cold war codebreaking as models of material and social processs ranging from the ‘code’ of life itself embedded in the DNA of organisms to the study of resistance and ideology in popular culture.

For this investigation of how our culture imagines and manages the limits of knowledge - encompassing the body, the cosmos, government secrecy and surveillance, the frontiers of science, and avant-garde art – I expect to use techniques drawn from poetry, the personal essay and scholarly research. Like many projects, this started on the cutting room floor of the last one. During the research for my recently published Physics Envy: American Poetry and Science in the Cold War and After I encountered two compelling yet oddly contorted conceptual frameworks that I did not have time to explore further. One centred on the widespread idea that science had opened up an ‘endless’ frontier to compensate for the loss of the old west, a new cultural adventure that found its most vivid image in the existential dimensions of the new cosmology that was extending its telescopic, speculative gaze to the beginnings of the universe and to what might (or might not) be an infinite space of possibility around us. The other was a consciously invented unknown: enciphered telecommunications. These provided both theories and models for disciplines as far apart as molecular biology and semiotics, as if life itself were hiding its secrets, and social life were a constant struggle to stay ahead of the cryptanalysts.

No project is singular. This has many affinities with a number of areas of inquiry, including the field of ignorance studies (sometimes called agnatology), the new pragmatism, philosophies of the unthinkable, postmodernist notions of indeterminacy, philosophy of science, theories of poetics, and the new documentary as described by David Shields, and practised by Henry Bugbee, Rebecca Solnit, John Berger and others.


Speaker information

Professor Peter Middleton,Professor of English

Privacy Settings