Poetry which pretends to be scientific

I began with physical anthropology. I was taught how to measure the size of the brain of a human being who had been dead for a long time, who was all dried out. I bored a hole in his skull, and I filled it with grains of polished rice. Then I emptied the rice into a graduated cylinder. I found this tedious.

I switched to archaeology, and I learned something I already knew: that man has been a maker and smasher of crockery since the dawn of time. And I went to my faculty adviser, and I confessed that science did not charm me, that I longed for poetry instead. I was depressed. I knew my wife and my father would want to kill me, if I went into poetry.

My adviser smiled. “How would you like to study poetry which pretends to be scientific?” he asked me.

“Is such a thing possible?” I said.

He shook my hand. “Welcome to the field of social or cultural anthropology,” he said. He told me that Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead were already in it – and some sensitive gentlemen as well.

From Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s address to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1971
(taken from p. 201-210 of the book “Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons”, good parts of which I give warm recommendation).

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