A collection of articles on the theme of impossibility as it occurs in the arts, the sciences, and the social sciences....


NO WAY: The Nature of the Impossible

A collection of articles on the theme of impossibility as it occurs in the arts, the sciences, and the social sciences. Everything from mountaineering to medicine to mathemetics to politics to music to poetry is dealt with here. The final impression, however, is not a positive one, perhaps because in many of the fields here described, the question of impossibilities is trivial. Certainly the way the present book leads off with mountaineering suggests a lack of seriousness; after all, how many of the scientists and scholars represented here would want to think of mountain-climbing as the ultimate statement of man's achievement, rather than the solitary, self-satisfying occupation it is? Moreover, the questions of impossibility in the arts are equally unimportant, it seems. The essays on music and poetry are marred by vague terminology, perhaps inevitably so. The poetry expert cites ""the impossibility of adequate translations,"" then goes on to mention several translations that she apparently finds satisfactory. This self-contradictoriness only confuses the reader. In the social sciences, the definitions are equally unsure, and the writers tend to mold the word ""impossible"" to their own private definitions. Thus one writer mentions the impossibility of a ""perfect defense against nuclear attack,"" contrary to the present Administration's views. In science, however, this approach is much more familiar and has already been introduced in several books on ""what we don't know"" and ""things yet to be discovered."" A biologist speaks of ""the impossibility of defining life"" rather in the manner of the poet on translation; instead of being chained to the word ""impossible,"" it seems that both writers might prefer to use a term that expressed the need for a personal definition of the concept in question, rather than using the vague, all-inclusive yet unhelpful word ""impossible."" In short, not a fruitful experiment, probably because of the key word's generality, lack of specific focus, and aptness for being molded into whatever the individual essayist wants it to mean. Although many scientific subjects are treated here, the muzziness of approach is unscientific in the extreme.

Pub Date: March 15, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Freeman

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1987