My original notion was to interpret all the images using the concept of the sublime. In the end I decided not to, because virtually none of thescientists used the concept in describing their own work. I sequestered thesublime to the two chapters dealing with ﬁne art, and used the scientists’own words to describe what happens in their images.
The sublime is inappropriate for talk about science, for the simplereason that it is not in the vocabulary of most working scientists. I wanted tomake sure that my chapters on astronomy, physics, and microscopy could beread by specialists in those ﬁelds, without a sense that their work was beingmisrepresented, or interpreted according to some master trope they hadn’tknown. That is not to say that disciplines cannot be interpreted usinglanguage that the practitioners don’t know (economics is a good example of a discipline that claims interpretive power over many ﬁelds whosepractitioners couldn’t understand its language): it’s to say that it issometimes more important to attend to the
of individualpractices, their languages and even their equations, rather than trying to binddisciplines together using global languages. If the purpose is to understand agiven scientiﬁc practice, there is a point when it becomes necessary to avoidinterpretive agendas that are unknown to the makers and interpreters of theimages in question.
There is a long and vexed tradition of importing concepts from art tointerpret science. I am mainly skeptical of its results. I agree with LeoSteinberg’s brilliant essay “Art and Science: Should They Be Yoked?” —inwhich he reports on a conference of scientists, all of whom wereElkins