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

February 12, 2009. 1:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Rose Art Museum
Brandeis University

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 video games, 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?

We take our inspiration from the final paragraph of On the Origins of Species:

"Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

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

Please see Mark Auslander's video essay on the images of evolution, especialy the art of Kiki Smith:

  • Nancy Scott (Fine Arts) Darwin's Shadows: Gender and "Degeneration" in the History of Art, c. 1880-1920
  • John Plotz (English and American Literature) Anthropology, Social Evolution and the Victorian Novel
  • Anna Henchman (English, Boston University) Scale and Consciousness: The Inner Lives of Tiny Creatures
  • Andreas Teuber (Philosophy), Darwin's Worms: High Art in Low Places
  • 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. On YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQuIbgjZakk
  • 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 Daughters
  • Steve Miller (Artist) Art: The Endangered Species