Involution: An odyssey reconciling science to
P. A. Rees
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INVOLUTION is an epic exploration of scientific thought
in poetic form, for theological resolution. In her "odyssey",
Philippa Rees re-examines evolution, as "reconciling science to
God". Memory is key: "it is the enfolding and recovery of memory
that this book descends inwards (and therefore upwards) to expose."
Such sentences illustrate communication as her major problem.
It remains difficult, despite determined reading, to know what
Rees's version of "involution" means. The Oxford English
Dictionary's definition, "the process or state of
complication", can here be accusatory. Her encyclopaedic reading of
science and philosophy lacks resolution. Connections between "god"
(in various incarnations) and science remain opaque. The poetry
begs and borrows various styles, but lacks consistent music.
This appears to be Rees's Waste Land: statistically
impressive, but lacking T. S. Eliot's linguistic power, or
direction. It has occupied her for almost 45 years. Nine "cantos"
form her 239-page poem, supported by 153 pages of footnotes. The
poetry follows a history of scientific and philosophical thought,
compendious as a reference library. Rees says that it "is to be
read at a gallop".
Involution began as a scientific paper and became a
poem after her theory's "utter rejection" by the scientific
community. Publishers turned down the translation of her initial
monograph into a book. None of the 50 "top scientists" to whom she
posted copies replied. Involution is a courageous
response, but also a passport to poetic exile. Occasional lines
intrigue and sing, and perhaps it is from those that new maps
through this wasteland might emerge.
Dr Martyn Halsall is poetry editor of Third Way.