Saturday, 23 July 2005

Super-Adequate Structural Homologies, or The Ornithorynchus Shuffle Frank Sulloway titles his recent review of James Secord's Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of 'Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation with brazen inaccuracy: "He Almost Scooped Darwin." In his response to my contribution to the Theory's Empire event, Sean McCann criticized the distinction I had made between Althusserian interpellation and Foucauldian discourse: [A]t some level the Althusserian account of the interpellation of the subject and the Foucauldian account (in Archaelogy) of its disappearance are in conflict. But the conflict isn’t really that deep, is it? What the two accounts share, of course, is a sense that autonomous personhood is wholly the illusory creation of larger, limiting structures...In other words, would it really be wrong for a latterday American academic to recognize an affinity here? As I noted in my response, Sean's right to say that with sufficient conceptual distance the Althusserian account of social determination resembles Foucault's. Much is lost in the acquisition of that distance. (And by much, I mean "the premises.") Granted, McCann's operating in the tradition of the New Historicist, Benn Michaels Brigade. The NHBMB values structural homologies, and McCann's analysis pointed to the possibility of a structural homology between Althusserian and Foucauldian thought which would've belied the historical and personal animus between these two pillars of French post-structuralist thinking. I spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about the Althusser/Foucault homology and I still don't know where I stand on it. But it's keyed me into the appearance of homologies of this ignore-the-premise-focus-on-the-conclusion sort. Hence my problem with Sulloway's title and the argument sitting pretty beneath it. To claim even titularly that Chambers' nearly scooped Darwin is to fundamentally misunderstand the significance of the theory of natural selection. Such a claim entails a cult of personality based first around the anonymous author (later revealed to be Chambers) of the Vestiges and later around Darwin (after the publication of the Origin). If Sulloway's argument held the water I think drowns it, this cult of personality would have to be founded on the principle that the public adored anyone who said "Things Change!" Because "Things Change!" is the extent of the connection between the intellectual content of Chambers' Vestiges and that of Darwin's Origin. (Don't take my word for it. Read the Vestiges yourself.) The most significant difference between Chambers and Darwin concerns the mechanism of evolution: Darwin had natural selection. Chambers had monstrous birth. He discusses the power of monstrous birth in Chapter 14 of the Vestiges. He first grants that the natural laws of reproduction demand that a mother of a given species give birth to a child of the same species. But what if man in his inability to be everywhere all the time has missed the occasional monstrous birth? Is it possible that every once in a while a goose gives birth to a mouse? According to Chambers, who cites as proof the work of Charles Babbage, we cannot disprove that no geese has ever given birth to...
Wrod Odrer & Cmophernosin My blog stokes the flames of my self-importance, but I'm never mentioned by the good folks at Snopes. The same can not be said for the loyal reader of this blog and generally interesting person who masquerades as Mr. Language Hat. You should read his blog daily because I've listed it in my blogroll, but if that's not motivation enough, I bumped into a link to his site while tracking down the "Can You Raed Tihs Or Cotnempalte Taht Aynnoe Wtih Kownlegde Of Lnagauge Or Wahtont Can?" meme. Read his original post on the subject and then work through a few sentences on your own. I think you'll find, as I have, that it isn't simply a matter of first and last letters, but is related to syllabic units. For example, I doubt you can parse "wahtont" with the same ease with which you parse "raed." (Or maybe this is another example of the unusual way the deaf relate to language. I'm not sure. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether abandoning linguistics for purely practical reasons was a truly terrible idea.) The longer the word, the less likely you are to parse it quickly. Take, for example, that exemplar of long words antidisestablishmentarianism I'd wager that I can rearrange the word order of antidisestablishmentarianism such that it becomes impossible to parse quickly (which is the point of the study in question). In fact, I bet I can begin it with an "a" and conclude it with an "m" and stick pretty much any letters inbetween and you'll be as flumoxed as you would be if I inserted the actual letters. You probably couldn't even tell the difference. To wit: asinitareabishemnartiandtnm aartiantemenhsilbatesdistism

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