Seth Clabough, director of Sweet Briar’s Academic Resource Center and an assistant professor of English, will travel to Nuremberg, Germany, in May to present his paper “Quantum Novels: Theoretical Physics and the Art of Writing” at a first-of-its-kind conference.
The inaugural symposium, Physics and Literature: Theory – Popularization – Aestheticization, is being presented May 29 through June 6 by the Erlangen Center for Literature and Natural Science, known as ELINAS, at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. ELINAS describes itself as a “platform for exchange between physics, literature and literary criticism” and seeks to develop this intersection as a field of research.
It’s a field that is, in Clabough’s words, “rich with interdisciplinary potential.”
Clabough’s work explores how elements of quantum physics might be applied to the creation of a novel and offers an overview of the “physics fiction” tradition.
“As literary criticism, linguistic studies and novels are increasingly incorporating, utilizing and exploring aspects of theoretical physics, those working and writing in the field of physics appear to be growing increasingly aware of the linguistic aspects of scientific research and communication,” Clabough explained. “It’s a mutually beneficial partnership of seemingly disparate modes of inquiry.”
The international slate of speakers represents colleges and universities from Rome to Poland to the Canary Islands, as well as the range of science and humanities, including physicists, astronomers, novelists, philosophers and poets. Some notable names are physicist Brian Schwartz and poet Durs Grünbein, among many others.
Clabough’s mixing of literary theory, quantum physics and creative writing also is an example of Sweet Briar faculty reaching across disciplines — a point of emphasis in the College’s curriculum, he notes. For him, Clabough said, writing about theoretical physics comes from his natural fascination with the field.
“How does the universe work — I mean, can there be any larger, more important question to pursue? When I realized that the college-age narrator of the novel I was working on was obsessed with it, too, I was really forced to learn as much as I could so that my narrator’s comments and insights would be accurate and credible,” he said.
What he discovered researching the novel made him thankful that life even exists on our planet, and the wonder of it all the more worth exploring.
“If, as science demonstrates, we are an outgrowth of the natural processes of our universe, then perhaps we can come to appreciate how, time and again, the universe proves its ability to produce forms capable of conceiving itself,” he said. “I find that fascinating and humbling.
“Which is somewhat ironic because the narrator in the book — a brilliant, possibly insane, college quarterback who sets off suddenly on a picaresque journey to catch a glimpse of the multiverse predicted by quantum theory — is grossly over-confident and is his own greatest admirer.”
Inkwell Management represents the novel, Clabough’s first, and has submitted it to several publishers for consideration. He has previously published creative and scholarly works in a variety of journals, such as storySouth, Aesthetica: The Art and Culture Magazine and New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing.
Clabough received his bachelor’s from Randolph-Macon College, an M.A. in English from the University of South Carolina, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Wales, where he taught creative writing. His current research centers on academic resource and writing center management, first-year writing, innovative classroom technologies, and ESL and LD services.
In addition to directing the ARC, Clabough teaches English courses in composition, thought and expression, and tutoring writing. He notes his teaching interests are evolving to focus on interdisciplinary courses taught through a blended learning approach — something he’s been doing as a course developer and instructor in Duke University’s online Talent Identification Program.
“I think the hybridized aspects of the ELINAS conference mirror an overall trend in liberal arts education that Sweet Briar is really embracing,” he said. “The world is more instantaneously interconnected than ever before and colleges need to keep up if they want to stay relevant. I think Sweet Briar has an exciting opportunity to take the lead and is, in fact, already making strides.”