Literature as knowledge for Living, Literary Studies as Science for Living
Ottmar Ette is a Professor of Romance languages and comparative literature at the University of Potsdam since 1995. He is known for different things in different places; he is famous for his work on Alexander von Humboldt in his native Germany. In 2004, he published Überlebenswissen –“Knowledge for Survival” and “About Life Knowledge”- this is the first time he reclaimed for literary studies the dual concepts of Lebenswissen (knowledge for living) and Lebenswissenschaft(science for living). Überlebenswissen and its companion volume Zwischenweltenschreiben: Literaturen ohne festen Wohnsitz both urge that literary studies “be opened up, made accessible and relevant, to the larger society. Doing so is, simply and plainly, a matter of survival.”
The basic thrust of Ette's argument is to reconceptualize literary studies in terms of a science of life or “life science”: “Lebenswissenschaften”. The term is coined to oppose and call into question the increasing dominance of the biological or medical “life sciences”, which have begun to monopolize and reduce concept and semantics of human life. The following summary from Literature as knowledge for Living, Literary Studies as Science for Living presents his argument briefly in six categories as divided by Ette himself:
· From the Garden of Knowledge: Ette points out that during the 2nd half of the 21st century. The term “life” has almost entirely disappeared from methodological and ideological debates which means humanities have lost a space for reflection, whereas other academic fields have increasingly occupied this space, e.g. life sciences (a constellation of biotechnological disciplines) have appropriated the term life in an effective, deceptively self evident way, increasingly robbing the humanities of any authority to produce knowledge about life and this is where Ette differentiates between Bio and Bios, arguing that narrowing of bios (a broadly conceived understanding of life, that includes specifically cultural dimensions) to a bio and natural-scientific concept is dangerous for the life of the society and for its cultural and intellectual development. Can Humanities change this course? To which Ette proposes his idea of Lebenswissenschaften, sciences for living, meaning knowledge about and for living, and that rather than attacking the semantic reductionism of the biosciences’ concept of life, humanities need to initiate a serious dialogue with the biosciences in which to include literature and cultural knowledge, thus making possible a more complete understanding of life and of humanities as part of the sciences for living.
· Life, the Life Sciences, and the Sciences for Living: After the discovery of DNA, life sciences became the sciences for life and both the mass media and sponsors of research invested the biosciences with extraordinary significance but Ette insists on the importance of literature as...