Much as I love the Killer D.’s – Deleuze, Derrida, Doyle – and their invocations of the folds, flows, and cuts in play in organisms, languages, and other phenomena of lifedeath, sometimes the lifedeath scientists themselves do similar work for us, in a way that is perhaps more agreeable to a wider set of palates. Take developmental biologist Paul Weiss, for example. In 1973 he published a popular work with a chiasmic subtitle, The Science of Life: The Living System-A System for Living, that came with a blurb from ur-sociologist of science Robert Merton calling it a “brilliant, far-reaching essay [by] one of the most sociologically-minded biologists of our time.” While he is no Shelley, his long poem which closes the book is multiply noteworthy: for its argument concerning the folding of the literary within the scientific, and for its performance of that folding; for its image of science as a set of “sign postsand for its delineations of a view of lifedeath that is pretty near delirium – well, at least in a romantic-harmonious-Viennese-Cartesian kind of way. Quoted in full:

CONTINUUM

To life and time and space there is no end
But one continuous universal surge,
As seasons one into another blend,
Presses ahead in never ending urge
With unstaccatoed steadiness of trend;
“Now” but a flash where Past and Future merge.

All parcellations, marking phase or place,
Like merchandise in packages confined,
Are but devices of the human race
To trim immenseness to the grasp of mind –
Expedients to deal with time and space
By chopping entity to pieces uncombined.

Beginnings, ends – they are just artifact,
The knife marks of the trimming intellect;
Sign posts – no more – on an unending tract;
Bounds that we arbitrarily erect,
As if our own life, sensed as bounded act,
Could properly the Universe reflect.

Yet, raising sights from sample to the Whole,
I see the artificial boundaries fade.
I recognize my much more modest role
As but a flash in an eternal trade,
Moving from unknowns to an unknown goal,
Thread in a fabric not yet wholly made.

To feel as part of this enormous stream,
Instead of just an isolated scoop,
As actor in a universal dream,
Will make your spirits soar, instead of droop.

You will not ask if life will ever stop
But you will sense that stoppage is a sham;
You will exult in living, drop by drop,
The verity: “I think, therefore I am.”

Unbroken life lines passed down through the ages
Grant precedence to neither egg nor hen.
You note them just as serial sample stages
Of one continuum, including Man.

You will not ask if winter’s calm inaction
Means rest from Summer’s consummated fruit
Or building strength for next year’s satisfaction;
They are but signs of an eternal suit.

The Universe is one gigantic wave.
Its pulses are embodied in our lives.
We are its master neither, nor its slave,
But part of it – that is, he who strives.

The Present’s arrow points to the Tomorrow,
Though what Tomorrow brings no one can say,
Except that, whether it be joy or sorrow,
TOMORROW surely will become TODAY.


Paul A. Weiss, The Science of Life: The Living System-A System For Living (Mount Kisco, NY: Futura Publishing Company, 1973), pp. 134-135