In her introduction, Andrea Chapela talks about the still moment between lightning and thunder, how it is a scientific phenomenon and yet more felt than named. This is how I experienced her collection of lyric essays, with anticipation and delight. Growing up in a family of scientists in Mexico City but studying writing in Iowa, Chapela straddles many lines, bringing poetry to scientific principles and astute observation to chronicling her daily life. Just as the lyrical essay is a hybrid, so too is Chapela’s work, and it’s a pleasure to explore.
Andrea Chapela, one of Granta's Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists of 2021, breaks down literary and scientific conventions in this prize-winning collection of experimental essays exploring the properties and poetics of glass, mirrors, and light as a means of understanding the self.
In powerful, formally inventive essays, The Visible Unseen
disrupts the purported cultural divide between arts and science. As both a chemist and an award-winning author, Chapela zeros in on the literary metaphors buried in the facts and figures of her scientific observations. Through questioning scientific conundrums that lie beyond the limits of human perception, she winds up putting herself under the microscope as well.
While considering the technical definition of glass as a liquid or a solid, Chapela stumbles upon a framework for understanding the in-between-ness of her own life. Turning her focus toward mirrors, she finds metaphors for our cultural obsessions with self-image in the physics and chemistry of reflection. And as she compiles a history of the scientific study of light, she comes to her final conclusion: that the purpose of description--be it scientific or literary--can never be to define reality, only to confirm our perception of it. Lyrical, introspective, and methodical, The Visible Unseen
constructs a startling new perspective from which to examine ourselves and the ways we create meaning.