Darwin, Wells, and Herzog. An Evolutionary and Ecocritical Interpretation

by Adele Tiengo

Darwin’s cultural revolution

The relevance of evolutionism in the most diverse branches of knowledge is widely known, and still spurs heated debates. Darwin still exerts his influence not only among scientists for the biological consequences of his theories, but above all for the havoc that these theories have triggered in Western civilization. In ecocritical studies, human culture is seen as part of the evolution process, too. The German scholar Hubert Zapf suggests that “imaginative literature, in comparison with other textual genres and types of discourse, can be described in its functional profile in such a way that it acts like an ecological principal or an ecological energy within the larger system discourses” (Zapf 55). Zapf proposes his triadic functional model through which literature “appears both as a sensorium for the deficits and imbalances of the larger culture, and the site of a constant renewal of cultural creativity” (Zapf 49). The first function is the cultural-critical metadiscourse, that is the representation of those “typical deficits […] within dominant systems of civilizatory power” that frustrate “fundamental communicational and ‘biophilic’ needs of human beings” (Zapf 62). The second function is the imaginative counterdiscourse, through which literature foregrounds the culturally excluded, and charges it with special aesthetic energy (Zapf 63). The third function of literature as cultural ecology is the reintegrative interdiscourse, “through which literature contributes to the constant renewal of the culturally center from its margins […], by the very act of reconnecting the culturally separated” (Zapf 64). Zapf argues that literature displays its generative and innovational power, keeping alive “its productivity by relating […] the cultural memory to the biophilic memory of the human species” (Zapf 67).

Therefore, literature serves as an adaptive strategy in the relation between the human species, its culture and the environment. Mary Midgley adds that even scientific writing itself has a symbolic force, and this is particularly true in the case of the theory of evolution, which is also “a powerful folk-tale about human origins” (Midgley 239), “the creation myth of our age” (Midgley 246). While scientists usually complain about the “webs of symbolism” on human origins, and call “for a sanitary cordon to keep them away from science” (Midgley 239), Midgley critiques this conception of science as an ‘omnicompetent’ and objective religion. In fact, she states that scientific theories are always influenced by the scientists’ world-pictures: “It seems to be assumed that […] Science is something so pure and impersonal that it ought to be thought of in complete abstraction from all the motives that might lead to practice it. This, unfortunately, cannot work because of the

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