Darwin's Doubles: Evolution, Art, and the Politics of Representation.

February 12, 2009. Possibly from 1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Venue, tba

An interdisciplinary roundtable

February 12, 2009: "Darwin Day" is the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin. 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origins of Species.

These anniversaries afford interesting opportunities for creative discussions about the relationship between artistic representation and Darwinian-inspired evolutionary theory. How did 19th century artists and literary figures respond to Darwin and related developments in evolutionist thought, and how have subsequent artists engaged with the legacies of Darwin? How have visual representations of evolutionary processes, from children's books to Natural History museum exhibitions, tended to mediate or fix popular or scientific understandings of biological and hominid evolution?

To what extent, in turn, might evolutionary thought illuminate aspects of artistic and literary representation? Are artistic and literary representational practices themselves in part governed or conditioned by evolutionary imperatives? Are processes of 'natural selection' in any sense evidenced in the careers of artistic and literary works?

Works under discussion range from novels and works of "high art" to Zombie flicks and video games.

Presenters and provisional titles include:
  • Nancy Scott (Fine Arts) Darwin's Shadows: Evolutionary Imagery in Nineteenth Century Art
  • John Plotz (English and American Literature) Anthropology, Social Evolution and the Victorian Novel
  • Wiliiam Flesch (English and American Literature) Altruism and Literature in Evolutionary Perspective
  • Bryce Peake (Cultural Production) Dawn of the Darwinians: The Specters of Degeneration and Hyper-Evolution in Zombie Films
  • Brian Friedberg (Cultural Production) From Cell to Outer Space: Playing at Evolution in Video Games
  • Mark Auslander (Anthropology/Cultural Production) Unfixing Origins: Alternative Genealogies in Kiki Smith's Lucy's Children
  • Steve Miller (Artist) Taking Gaia's Pulse: The Health of the Planet Project


Passages from The Origin of Species worth contemplating:

Divergence of Character

The principle, which I have designated by this term, is of high importance on my theory, and explains, as I believe, several important facts. In the first place, varieties, even strongly-marked ones, though having somewhat of the character of species as is shown by the hopeless doubts in many cases how to rank them yet certainly differ from each other far less than do good and distinct species. Nevertheless, according to my view, varieties are species in the process of formation, or are, as I have called them, incipient species. How, then, does the lesser difference between varieties become augmented into the greater difference between species? That this does habitually happen, we must infer from most of the innumerable species throughout nature presenting well-marked differences; whereas varieties, the supposed prototypes and parents of future well-marked species, present slight and ill-defined differences. Mere chance, as we may call it, might cause one variety to differ in some character from its parents, and the offspring of this variety again to differ from its parent in the very same character and in a greater degree; ...we may, I think, assume that the modified descendants of any one species will succeed by so much the better as they become more diversified in structure, and are thus enabled to encroach on places occupied by other beings.