Atavistic Tendencies: The Culture of Science in American by Dana Seitler

By Dana Seitler

The post-Darwinian conception of atavism forecasted stumbling blocks to human development within the reappearance of throwback actual or cultural qualities after a number of generations of absence. during this unique and stimulating paintings, Dana Seitler explores the ways that modernity itself is an atavism, shaping a historic and theoretical account of its dramatic upward thrust and impression on Western tradition and mind's eye. studying past due 19th- and early twentieth-century technological know-how, fiction, and images, Seitler discovers how sleek inspiration orientated itself round this paradigm of obsolescence and return—one that served to maintain ideologies of gender, sexuality, and race. She argues that atavism used to be not just a discourse of violence—mapping racial and sexual divisions onto the boundary among human and animal—but was once additionally an indication of the way glossy technology understood person as a temporal type. On one hand, atavism located a few people as extra complex than others on an evolutionary scale. at the different, it undermined such progressivism through suggesting that simply because all people had developed from animals they have been hence no longer only human. Atavism therefore finds how medical theories of a recurrent previous have been an important characteristic of modernity. at the start of the 20 th century, atavistic thought had common social and fiscal results at the taxonomies of drugs, the good judgment of the welfare nation, conceptions of the fashionable kinfolk, and photographs of the irregular. Investigating the cultural common sense of technology along side naturalist, feminist, and renowned narratives, Seitler exposes the effect of atavism: a basic shift in methods of knowing—and telling tales about—the smooth human.

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Because no other study to date exists that catalogs the appearance of the atavistic and animalized human self in American literary Wction, science, and photography, and because atavism was not just a subtext of American culture but a manifold presence, such a cataloging is worthwhile in itself. But this book also makes a distinct argument. The literary and visual culture of the period did more than satisfy a proclivity for mimetic representation; it also contributed to the altering of people’s perceptual approach to the world.

In particular, I take “The Wolf Man” (1918) as a locus classicus. Sergei Pankejeff, the patient who came to be known as the Wolf Man, was the son of a rich Russian landowner. He is described in the study as suffering from debilitating compulsions resulting from his sexual development having gone awry during childhood. 1 In Freud’s reading of the dream, the human psyche becomes indissociable from the sign of the animal. Such an indissociable relation emerges, I argue, as a primary ground for Freud’s account of the constitution of human being.

The neurotic predicament of the Rat Man, in other words, is due to the endurance of infantile trauma, the persistence of the past in the present. What he wants from his father are things he can no longer remember in unrepressed form because they are desires that arise from earlier stages in his psychosexual development. In this instance, psychoanalysis aids the Rat Man’s psyche by performing an interpretative recovery of the past. 36 For Freud, though, sexual instincts themselves may perform this recovery, or at least the desire for it.

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