Distinction between science and literature

Serres, Michel. Feux et signaux de brume, Zola, Grasset, 1975.

Though his work hasn’t encountered the same success abroad as Foucault or Derrida, Michel Serres is part of the same generation of thinkers, who started publishing from the 1960s, and still is one of France’s leading intellectuals. In this book, Serres proves a precursor in challenging the distinction between science and literature, as his reading of Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle points out the presence of scientific patterns in the structure of the book as well as in the author’s style. In that sense, Serres goes further than only proposing to underline the theories exposed by Zola in his novels before tracing them back to Claude Bernard or Darwin, of whose works he had a good knowledge. Serres also further explores the links between Zola and science by drawing a series of parallels between his novels and other scientific fields, like genetics, fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. Comparing language to energy, he unravels several principles at the core of this last discipline within Zola’s novels. Thus, in the system delineated by Serres, science does not only manifest itself through its theories within fiction, it also sustains the structure of the text.

A detailed review of the book is available: Bell, David. “Serres’s Zola: Literature, Science, Myth.” MLN, Vol. 94, No. 4, 1979, p. 797-808.


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