Monday, 02 May 2005

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How to Open an Academic Essay, Part III: Good Sir, I Implore You! vs. The Historical Anecdote Since John Holbo over at the Valve was kind enough to mention my humble little project I thought it best to hop back on the horse and continue working on it. Today I'll discuss two more introductions to my dissertation that differ not in content but in the way they address the reader. Good Sir, I Implore You! entails forcing a particular series of impressions upon the reader in the most obvious possible manner: Imagine an educated reader, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, glancing past the soft leather spine of a first edition On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and briefly mulling its ambiguous title. A student of philosophy might think it a treatment of the Platonic Ideas, Forms, or Species, an examination of the apodictic reality beyond the illusions of human experience. A logician might expect a discussion of the second of the five Predicables, that “Term affirmed of several things, which must express their whole essence, which is called a Species”; a Catholic, a treatise on the transubstantiation of bread and wine, the Eucharistic species, into the Very Body and Blood of Christ Himself; a politician, a banker, or a metallurgist, an account of “the different Rates at which the same Species of Foreign Coins do pass,” or of how “paper securities [are] held out as a currency … in lieu of the two great recognized species [gold and silver] that represent the lasting conventional credit of mankind.” Darwin frustrates potential readers, then as now, because, as John Dewey says, “few words in our language foreshorten intellectual history as much as does the word species.” In the Aristotelian tradition, ειδοσ—later translated into Latin, then English, as species—referred to the “formal activity which operates through a series of changes and holds them to a single course; which subordinates their aimless flux to its own perfect manifestation; which, leaping the boundaries of space and time, keeps individuals distant in space and remote in time to a uniform type of structure and function." The Scholastics “deepened the force of the term” by applying it “to everything that in the universe observes order in flux and manifests consistency through change,” including the Platonic Forms, the second of the five Predicables, and the Very Body and Blood of Christ Himself. For readability reasons I've omitted the citations, but I assure you of their existence and commend you on that tiny twinge of doubt you felt when you realized I hadn't reproduced them. By forcing my readers to imagine the confusion felt by a hypothetical contemporary of Darwin, I'm able to traverse, quickly, the history of "species" as a term and melt its various possible meanings into the confusing pulp with which Darwin's contemporaries would've been confronted. The intent is to militate against the associations that normally accompany discussions of Darwin and the species concept; that is, I'm out to confuse the reader in a manner that's compelling and historically accurate. The problem with this approach is that it's...

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