week 1

katlittrell's picture

While reading On the Origin of Species, I could not shake Professor Grobstein's directive to us to read it as we would a romance, or any other novel. I felt so little of the words on the page held romance in and of themselves, that, instead, the true romance was somewhat hidden beneath the work, hinted at by Darwin's throwaway comments about his research, life, and contemporaries. Every so often his pure joy for his subject would come tumbling out: "We see these beautiful co-adaptations most plainly in the woodpecker and missletoe [sic]; and only a little less plainly... in the plumed seed which is wafted by the gentlest breeze; in short, we see beautiful adaptations everywhere and in every part of the organic world" (p132). While reading, it was easy for my mind to wander from the text and to imagine Darwin travelling across Britain and cataloguing animals of every kind; to receive with excitement the specimens sent to him from across the world by friends and colleagues; to see his enthusiasm for pigeon fancying. For me, the true romance was the story of the man behind this book, his words shaping my conception of him. I get the feeling of a man with a sharp intellect, a ravenous curiosity and love of facts, measurements and knowledge, but also a man with a strong sense of British superiority over the rest of the world - and there, showing in he foundation of the work, is the "crack" of cultural background which we discussed in class.

It was, perhaps, a little disconcerting to me to read of my country and its animals as inferior, as the bad example, the naughty non-conformist, ill-formed child in the corner, to read another's view that Australian animals are not as not as far along the evolutionary chain as more advanced European animals... blow to the collective pride of the antipodean colony, there.

Darwin himself asserts that the process of natural selection is one which never ends, in which the animals of each place become better suited to the climate and the challenges of predators and prey. I do not see how he can make that assertion, and then claim that the animals of one continent are less-well formed, or not as evolved, as those of another. And he claims that there is less diversity among Australian marsupials... that startled me, particularly as Australia seems to be known to pretty much everyone for its unique and diverse animals. In Australia's defense, marsupials alone include forms as diverse as the kangaroo and koala, the sugar glider and the wombat. Are these animals not as varied, not as diverse as the rodents of Europe?

So, my thoughts of the week are not a rejection of Darwin's story, merely an objection to some of the details.

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