By Dana Seitler
The post-Darwinian thought of atavism forecasted hindrances to human growth within the reappearance of throwback actual or cultural features 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 old and theoretical account of its dramatic upward thrust and effect on Western tradition and mind's eye. studying past due 19th- and early twentieth-century technological know-how, fiction, and images, Seitler discovers how glossy concept orientated itself round this paradigm of obsolescence and return—one that served to maintain ideologies of gender, sexuality, and race. She argues that atavism was once not just a discourse of violence—mapping racial and sexual divisions onto the boundary among human and animal—but was once additionally a demonstration of ways smooth technology understood person as a temporal class. On one hand, atavism situated a few people as extra complicated than others on an evolutionary scale. at the different, it undermined such progressivism by means of suggesting that simply because all people had advanced from animals they have been hence now not in basic terms human. Atavism hence finds how medical theories of a recurrent previous have been an important characteristic of modernity. firstly of the 20 th century, atavistic thought had frequent social and financial results at the taxonomies of drugs, the good judgment of the welfare kingdom, conceptions of the trendy family members, and pictures of the irregular. Investigating the cultural common sense of technology along with naturalist, feminist, and well known narratives, Seitler exposes the effect of atavism: a primary shift in methods of knowing—and telling tales about—the sleek human.
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I then track the ways in which new modes of imaging the body and formal methods of displaying it accompanied the modeling of identity in the human sciences. Finally, I enter into a discussion of how the collaborative exchange between scientiWc Introduction 27 empiricism and photographic representation offered up a new, unprecedented epistemology of human being at this historical moment. In later chapters, I look at the emergence of what I call “degeneration narratives” and “regeneration narratives,” stories that either dramatize the decline of an atavistic body or that articulate the potential for bodily renewal.
Conyers’s scalp dangling from his belt, Jeff Peters hardly recognizes his friend, for “the light in his eye [was] the kind the aborigines wear” and “the Xowers of the white man’s syntax had left his tongue” (51). “‘Me bring,’ says he. ‘Run Wfteen mile. Catch white man. Bring papoose’” (52). ” John Tom explains to Jeff that his behavior of the night before was due to “the interesting little physiological shake-up known as reversion to type” (52). I turn to this story, and others like it as the book proceeds, to demonstrate something of the pervasiveness of the concept of atavism at the Wn de siècle.
SpeciWcally, what of all these wolves? Parents on all fours, wolves in Freud’s Menagerie 43 trees, wolves in fairy tales, and, Wnally, the “Wolf Man” himself—given this moniker, of course, because of this multiplicity of wolves and his fear of them. What of the intensely affective power of the wolves and their amalgamation of meanings? Certainly, we can see that they operate in the case study as a sexual sign, but how and why? I think we can understand the semiotics of the wolves more precisely if we take into account that Freud’s project was not simply one of individual treatment but one that wanted to propose a theory of human development.
Atavistic Tendencies: The Culture of Science in American Modernity by Dana Seitler