Special Issue 1: evolutions

Summer 2006
We are causing the reversal of evolution.
—James Hart, Eugenic Manifesto
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
—Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin'"

On 22–23 September 2006, the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at the University of Edinburgh hosted an international, interdisciplinary conference on the themes of "evolutions," opening discussion to topics as diverse as Mao, the Bible, eugenics, rock music, animal rights, genre, and many others. For these two days, scholars (both students and staff) from across four continents working in the fields of theory, literature, linguistics, music, film, culture, and history came together to talk and share ideas. Below are a natural selection of the papers, expanded and evolved into new and exciting fauna.

In addition to Forum's normal .html and .pdf options, available below, we've also prepared a continuously-numbered .pdf collection of all the articles to celebrate this special issue. You can find this version, optimised for dual-sided printing, at the following link: PDF


"The pleasure of fiends": Degenerate Laughter in Stoker's Dracula
Mackenzie Bartlett, Birkbeck College, University of London

Despite the widely-held belief in laughter's beneficial effects on the mind and body, doctors, physiognomists and philosophers in the late nineteenth century were also concerned with the potentially unhealthy and immoral consequences of the phenomenon. In the 1890s, excessive or inappropriate laughter was linked to degeneration in many examples of horror fiction, including Bram Stoker's Dracula. Rather than portraying laughter as a manifestation of humanity or healthfulness, Stoker's novel suggests that laughter is hysterical, ugly, primitive, and immoral. Perhaps most vividly of all, the violence and sexuality that characterise Stoker's descriptions of the vampire sisters' laughing and smiling faces are indicative of the fears about demonic femininity and cultural degeneration that pervade the novel. Paradoxically, these moments of laughter also hint at an undercurrent of irony which undermines the very theories of degeneration that inform the narrative.


"Endless Forms" of Evolution? Heuristics in Darwin and Taine
Andrew Court, University of Edinburgh

Morse Peckham wrote in 1959 that rejection and misinterpretation had characterised the first one hundred years of Darwinism. After reviewing René Wellek's 1956 survey of evolutionary ideas in literary history and Joseph Carroll's 1995 discussion of Darwinism in Hippolyte Taine, I argue that Wellek and Carroll have failed to provide accurate accounts of Darwin's influence. I suggest that methodological parallels must be found to make a claim for a theoretical approach being "Darwinian." I consider why The Origin of Species might have appealed methodologically to Taine by examining Darwin's argument, and then suggest that there is a better evaluative criterion of influence—that of "heuristic support"—than those provided by Wellek or Carroll. I test the hypothesis that the "shape" of Taine's theory in History of English Literature is the same as that of Darwin's theory in the Origin. I summarise Taine's theory in brief outline, counter Carroll's claim that Taine was a "biological determinist," and show that Taine's theory was congruent at the explanatory, methodological level with Darwin's, finding that Taine used the same kind of heuristic support to overcome procedural problems similar to Darwin's. I conclude that literary scholars must make better use of specialist scholarship in history and philosophy of science to answer Peckham's charge.


Subgenres as a sign of socio-cultural change: the case of men's magazines' problem pages in the UK
Eduardo de Gregorio-Godeo, University of Castilla-La Mancha

Focusing on men's lifestyle magazines as a cultural artefact in contemporary British society, this paper explores how the emergence of problem pages as a subgenre in these publications may be explained as a sign of socio-cultural change in the UK. In particular, this contribution delves into the constitution of this subgenre, and new subject positions therein articulated (e.g. "newmannism" and "laddishness"), within the context of contemporary masculinity-crisis discourses in Britain. So, after making some notes on problem pages and men's magazines in Britain, the notions of 'genre' and 'discourse' are theorized and critical discourse analysis (CDA) is presented as an analytical resource for examining the interplay between discourse, society and culture. A model for the delimitation of (sub)genres is presented prior to both demonstrating the status of British men's magazines' problem columns as a subgenre of its own and accounting for its evolution from a CDA perspective.


Entangling Rites: the Pattern of Experience in Cormac McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses
Carole Juge, Université Paris Sorbonne – Paris IV

Entangling Rites proposes to explore the journey undertaken by John Grady Cole in Cormac McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses and to examine the main character's ritual expectation as he departs from his native Texas to a southern land. Following the pattern designed by many westerners before him, John Grady hopes to reach a better land south of the Texan frontier. During this journey, he gets gradually trapped within his course for rites accomplished, whether it is the very motive for his departure, or the unsuccessful outcome of his court to the woman he wishes to settle with. His incapacity to understand correctly the necessary steps he must take lead him to perform clumsy and rudely entangled rites. Throughout his troubled quest, he gains experience though, but more importantly he becomes conscious that along wisdom comes a certain melancholic sadness. When John Grady comes back to Texas, he is, echoing Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," a sadder and a wiser man, but not the proud survivor of a solitary heroic quest.


Screaming through the century: The female voice as cathartic/transformative force, from Berg's Lulu to Tykwer's Run Lola Run
Maree Macmillan, RMIT University/The University of Melbourne

Both Berg's opera Lulu, deriving from Wedekind's fin-de-siècle Lulu plays, and Tykwer's end-of-millennium film Run Lola Run (Lola rennt), culminate in an ear-splitting scream. However, while Lulu screams in agony at the thrust of Jack the Ripper's knife, Lola uses the power of her voice to defy the laws of chance and save the life of her boyfriend. This paper examines how Lulu's operatic scream of death is transformed into what appears to be Lola's cathartic scream of empowerment in Run Lola Run, by situating Berg's and Tykwer's texts as part of a cluster of interconnected cinematic, literary and musical Lulu/Lola works that span the twentieth century. All manifest major aspects of the Pandora myth and most feature a cabaret performer as central female, the best known of whom is Marlene Dietrich's Lola-Lola in Sternberg's The Blue Angel.

My reading, which draws on Julia Kristeva's notion of intertextuality and Judith Butler's concept of identity and gender as performatively constructed, multiple and even "contradictory", explores an idea of Pandora that goes beyond her traditional casting as early femme fatale to incorporate the "hope" left at the bottom of Pandora's "box". It shows that Pandora's chaos can be read as a cathartic force that is not always destructive, but may also be regenerative, liberating, and even redemptive. In tracing the evolution across the century of the transformative role of the female voice in these works, I suggest that even Dietrich's Lola-Lola, traditionally interpreted as femme fatale, can be seen as offering hope of a fuller life to Sternberg's male protagonist. I investigate whether or not more recent portrayals of Lulu/Lola/Pandora figures as redemptive, suggest that Pandora's chaos is assuming a more positive guise in at least some of its manifestations in popular culture as we proceed into the twenty-first century.


"Dreaming While Awake": The Evolution of the Concept of Hallucination in the Nineteenth Century
Shane McCorristine, University College Dublin

The ambiguous nature of the post-Enlightenment critique of supernatural belief can be clearly traced in the transformations and evolutions of hallucination discourses during the nineteenth century. Working from the perspective of the developing physiological sciences, medical philosophers established a new paradigm in their approach to hallucinations based upon the differentiation between illusions and hallucinations. This development led to the normalisation of hallucinations in psychological terms and the establishment of the idea that ghosts and apparitions were created in the mind of the ghost-seer and were neither symptoms of psychiatric degeneration nor purely objective external apparitions that others could necessarily experience.

The strength of this paradigm was challenged during the spiritualist craze and its aftermath from the 1850s in Britain, which drew a huge amount of attention from the scientific community to the psychogenesis of hallucinations and the rich research possibilities to be found in studying the fallacies of perception. This paper traces the evolution of this idea of "dreaming while awake" as a widespread explanation for the extraordinary claims of those who experienced hallucinations from the theory of "spectral illusions" to the telepathic theory of the Society for Psychical Research.


Created Lives: The Evolution of Literary Biography
Andrew Otty, University of Exeter

Literary biography is a genre in crisis. At present, the documentary form remains dominant, but critics and biographers alike struggle to reconcile it with the post-intentionality, poststructural, critical climate. This paper demonstrates that in the past quarter-century new forms of literary biography have developed, and are still developing, and that these evidence an ongoing evolution of the genre. This paper considers the documentary form in the twentieth century, the birth of New Journalism and its application to literary biography, and the problem of biography as presented in the sub-genre of metabiography. It concludes with an argument for the repositioning of fictionalisation, the latest stage of the genre's evolution, as the dominant form over its obsolete predecessors.


Jonathan Lethem's Genre Evolutions
James Peacock, Keele University

This paper proceeds from the observation that all of Lethem's novels subvert traditional genres in some way, and argues that the way genres mutate or evolve reflects one of his central ethical concerns—evolution itself.

Many of the characters in Gun, With Occasional Music (1994) are "evolved animals" that have undergone "evolution therapy" and can now talk, walk upright, and carry weapons. As the narrator Metcalf observes, these animals are characteristically reluctant to acknowledge their animal lineage. Here one sees evolution's contradiction: it purports to be progress, but is also a melancholic forgetting of origins.

In a world where a drug called "Forgettol" abstracts people from their own memories, it is the detective's job, though he is despised for it, to continue asking questions and remind people of shared culpability and connected narratives. Metcalf, this paper suggests, is engaged in a struggle to maintain the novel as detective fiction, to resist the encroaching sci-fi elements which symbolise the death of community through increasing dependence on an unethical science of forgetting.

Amnesia Moon (1995) depicts a post-apocalyptic America in which the typical "evolutionary" reaction to the unspecified catastrophe is a retreat into a blinkered regionalism which, like Forgettol or evolution therapy, encourages the individual to forget any sense of wider responsibility.

The paper concludes with some prompts for future Lethem scholarship.


Poetry as Compass: Chaos, Complexity, and the Creative Voice
Claudia S. Schlee, Vanderbilt University

The emerging field of chaos and complexity studies comprises works in biology, linguistics, philosophy, and sociology. In literary studies, however, relatively little has been written so far on complexity theory. In this paper I relate poetry as a genre to complex systems and explain why this approach lends itself particularly well to a study about creativity.

Nature is nowadays conceived of as being its own author. Self-authoring, or "autopoiesis," expresses a fundamental complementarity between structure and function. In essence, in an autopoietic system, form is content. Since poetry takes place in the medium of perception as well as that of language, we could say that a poem creates its own form; it arises from the interactivity of the parts that are connected by a "deep structure." This dynamic interaction of parts in turn results in a whole that is naturally emergent rather than artificially predetermined.

Hence, in authoring as well as in interpreting a poem, we follow our inherent need for establishing order. The art of poetic creation, then, in the continuous re-creation of form, can be likened to a natural phenomenon. Since our need for order stems from the chaos we perceive around us, chaos can in fact be viewed as the prerequisite for the creative impulse.


Homer takes the Streetcar – The Modernist Appropriation of the Epic and Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz
Christian Sieg, Stanford University

Analysing Berlin Alexanderplatz as the best exemplification of Alfred Döblin's quest for a modern epic and taking his poetological reflections into account, this article inquires into Döblin's modernist fascination with the antique literary genre. Thereby I aim to answer how Döblin, influenced by Expressionism and Dada, could be captivated by an apparently classical genre in the first place. In fact, the poetic of the antique epic seems diametrically opposed to everything modernism stands for. In the Homeric epic, Erich Auerbach argues, the world is thoroughly illuminated, clearly visible and completely expressed. In contrast, epistemological uncertainty is among the key concerns of literary modernism. World and consciousness dissociate and the reader is confronted with unreliable narrators and fragmented narratives. Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz— arguably among the most important German contributions to the modernist revolution of the novel—is no exception to the modernist condition. How then could Döblin call his novel a "modern epic"? The article demonstrates that Döblin is captivated primarily by two characteristics of the antique epic: its extensiveness, on the one hand, and its oral character, on the other. Both qualities, though, are fundamentally altered in Döblin's modernist appropriation.


"A million years...just for us": Subversive fixity in Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock
Alex Tate, University of Newcastle, UK

Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" identifies the potential for marginalised sub-groups to resist oppression by "seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other". In the field of visual representation, this agenda can be applied to the aesthetic syntax by which this 'Othering' is deployed, namely to the formal parameters and construction of marginalised identities. Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) through its romanticised imagery, and narrative of Victorian sexual repression, ostensibly sets up a classical heterosexist ideology of woman as enigmatic Other; her presence a narratively unthreatening interval of erotic contemplation. I argue a re-reading of the film where this phallocentric project becomes self-defeating as its tools turn against itself.

The controlling perspective of 'intact' and passive femininity is broken by taking such a perspective to its most extreme conclusion, with the annihilation of female subjectivity (realised in the narrative disappearance of the girls). The complacent repetition of the female as image folds back upon itself in the form of a suspended interval or perpetual repetition that frustrates narrative progression and closure. Rather than transcended, the ideology of a marginalising lens is revealed as explicitly constructed, and therefore open to destabilisation.

So, outside current political and theoretical trends towards movement, transgression and fluidity afforded by post-human technology, and of gender bending through performative play, resistance for marked 'Others' can also lie, paradoxically, in the repeated fixity of formal structures of gendered representation.


Pull My Daisy. A Bebop Revolution
Sara Villa, State University of Milan

In 1959 Pull My Daisy, a short movie written by Jack Kerouac and directed by Alfred Leslie and Robert Frank, had its premiere in New York City. The film was highly praised by critics like Jonas Mekas as one of the most compelling productions of the New Cinema Group, as an example of a revolutionary cinematographic style, with its "fresh, lively sketch of Beat life". The movie, in fact, was not aimed at reproducing the naturalistic style of a journalistic documentary, where the events are recorded just as they happen. The true "revolutionary" form of improvisation that Leslie, Frank and Kerouac wanted to realize, both on a structural and on a thematic level, was the one that distinguished the jam sessions of bebop jazz players. Their ultimate goal was the filmic version of what Charlie Parker did as a soloist: an intimate, spontaneous creation that was released inside a pre-established melodic frame. Bebop had revealed how new harmonic creations were hidden in the structure of the traditional swing standards and the major players who were unveiling this secret were black musicians, trying to finally break the racial discrimination which still existed on the musical stage. With Pull My Daisy Beat artists like Kerouac, Leslie and Frank were trying to produce a similar effect within the filmic field. They were creating a new form of cinema by manipulating the initial script with an improvised acting style. At the same time they were showing how non-canonic intellectuals, outside the boundaries of the academic world often produced the most innovative artistic creations. This paper analyses the ways in which Pull My Daisy realizes, just like bebop, this double stylistic and cultural revolution and the similarities between its improvisational poetics and the one initiated by master soloist like Bird.