Posts in Science-and-Literature
Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Springtime for Snowflakes: Villains and Laughing Stocks, The Gender Jackpot, Transgressing the Boundaries

Obviously, I had by now known and accepted the premise that English Studies was a battlefield of “textual politics,” and that the players made no bones about their agendas. Previously, critics in the field, like the old New Critics with their plodding close reading of texts, had pretended to be neutral, but their neutrality was merely a thin scrim for cultural domination. Dead white men had ruled the English canon long enough. But this was only the most flagrant of offenses. Other suspects were singled out for prosecution – including an exclusive focus on the text itself (New Criticism), assuming the centrality or superiority of European culture (Eurocentrism), implicitly endorsing heterosexuality as a norm (heteronormativity), believing that humanity is exceptional and that individual humans have unitary selves (humanism), believing in an essence of human nature and/or in the essence of essential types of humans such as racial groups and women and men (essentialism), the belief that neutral knowledge is discoverable by scientific means (positivism), the belief that words might faithfully represent an external reality (logocentrism), and the privileging of the masculine in the construction of meaning (phallogocentrism) – among others. Every one of these notions or beliefs has been treated as a villain, a laughing stock, or both. 

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Secularism and the cultures of nineteenth-century scientific naturalism

This essay examines Secularism as developed by George Jacob Holyoake in 1851–1852. While historians have noted the importance of evolutionary thought for freethinking radicals from the 1840s, and others have traced the popularization of agnosticism and Darwinian evolution by later Victorian freethinkers, insufficient attention has been paid to mid-century Secularism as constitutive of the cultural and intellectual environment necessary for the promotion and relative success of scientific naturalism. I argue that Secularism was a significant source for the emerging new creed of scientific naturalism in the mid-nineteenth century. Not only did early Secularism help clear the way by fighting battles with the state and religious interlocutors, but it also served as a source for what Huxley, almost twenty years later, termed ‘agnosticism’. Holyoake modified freethought in the early 1850s, as he forged connections with middle-class literary radicals and budding scientific naturalists, some of whom met in a ‘Confidential Combination’ of freethinkers. Secularism became the new creed for this coterie. Later, Secularism promoted and received reciprocal support from the most prominent group of scientific naturalists, as Holyoake used Bradlaugh’s atheism and neo-Malthusianism as a foil, and maintained relations with Huxley, Spencer and Tyndall through the end of the century. In Holyoake’s Secularism we find the beginnings of the mutation of radical infidelity into the respectability necessary for the acceptance of scientific naturalism, and also the distancing of later forms of infidelity incompatible with it. Holyoake’s Secularism represents an important early stage of scientific naturalism. In The British Journal for the History of Science. 46.2 (2013): 231-254. Print. Copyright The British Society for the History of Science.

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Darwin’s Ancestors: The Evolution of Evolution

Despite his unique contribution to evolutionary theory—the mechanism of natural selection—Charles Darwin can hardly be considered the first evolutionary theorist in history. It is generally acknowledged that organic evolution, or “transmutation” as it was called during his lifetime, was hardly a new idea when Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. If ancient Indian and Greek thought is included, evolutionary ideas were thousands of years old by the time Darwin wrote. But even considering his own times, Darwin was not the evolutionary lone wolf that he is often made out to be. In fact, Darwin not only followed closely behind other transmutation theorists, but his own views met with a degree of skepticism not altogether unlike that which greeted his predecessors. In Victorian Web. 1 December 2008.

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The Construction and Deconstruction of Science in Middlemarch

The fictionalizing of science happens to be a meta-theme in Middlemarch, and one which, I will argue, Eliot sets out consciously and masterfully to interrogate. In the process, I hope to show that Eliot's use of science is far from naive or merely syncretic. To the contrary, I will venture to argue that in Middlemarch Eliot actually anticipates a greater discursive shift in scientific theory of which Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (l962) is the watermark in the philosophy of science, and which Michel Foucault marks and notes in his various archaeologies of knowledge. In Victorian Web. 1 December 2008.

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Science in the Popularis Aura: Opening Statement delivered in defense of the dissertation: “The Publics of Science: Periodicals and the Making of British Science, 1820-1860”

As Thomas Carlyle quipped in 1829 in “Signs of the Times,” in the nineteenth century, “every little sect among us, Unitarians, Utilitarians, Anabaptists, Phrenologists, must have its Periodical, its monthly or quarterly Magazine;-- hanging out, like its windmill, into the popularis aura, to grind meal for the society.” In my dissertation, “The Publics of Science: Periodicals and the Making of British Science, 1820-1860,” I have endeavored to study the “machinery” for the production and dissemination of science in culture—to examine how various sects or publics provided scientific “meal for the society.” Examining several periodicals from early to mid-nineteenth-century Britain, my dissertation is an account of emerging sites for the production, dissemination, negotiation, and appropriation of knowledge amongst various participants—authors, publishers, editors, reviewers, critics, readers and others—as they vied for (and against) cultural authority on the basis of beliefs claimed as “scientific.”  

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