Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Analogy's territories: Ethics and aesthetics in Darwinism, modernism, and cybernetics
by Walsh, Erin Aileen, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine, 2010, 291; 3419913
Abstract (Summary)

This project explores intersections amongst three disciplines, Darwinism, literary modernism, and cybernetics, whose processes I see as constructing a shared bio-semiotic territory with generative ethical-aesthetic potential. Modernist literature, Darwinian theory, and cybernetics are all highly ambivalent. While modernism’s textual experiments incorporated a new diversity of voices, blurred conventional racial, sexual, and social categories, and opened up avenues to multiplicity, they also many times sought a unifying mythic order and corresponding unitary origin that reproduced or engendered repressive cultural and social norms and hierarchies. Darwinism and cybernetics have also both been implicated in structuring socio-political regimes that function to eradicate difference. While fully acknowledging the ways in which these disciplines have been used in service of repressive ideologies, this project investigates how Darwinism, modernism, and cybernetics construct meaning as non-teleological, self-adulterating, and generative by exploring modernist texts that work through the implications of Darwinian and cybernetic concepts.

In my first chapter I show how H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau exposes human taxonomy as a kind of conceptual dissection that is ultimately self-undoing, and that returns us to our heterogeneous heritage and embeddedness in a Darwinian world of species kinship. My second chapter explores how Marianne Moore’s “The Jerboa” and “The Pangolin” enact the interpenetration of ethical and aesthetic concerns in a post-Darwinian world and present a model for ethical behavior as a continual negotiation of boundaries. These poems reveal a becoming-cybernetic of the Darwinian notions of species kinship explored in Moreau as registered through the bio-poetic figure of analogy. In my final chapter, I show how the textual difficulty of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake produces a Darwinian merging of text and world that offers embodied ecological processes in place of humanist notions of individual subjectivity. Ultimately I hope to show how the entangled discourses of Darwinism, modernism, and cybernetics model processes of meaning-making that recursively acknowledge and subvert the taxonomies that construct differences between the embodied selves and others of individual organisms; the imagined selves and others that differentiate, for instance, epistemological categories and national affiliations; and between cognitive and embodied notions of self.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Norris, Margot
Commitee: O'Connor, Laura, Tucker, Irene
School: University of California, Irvine
Department: English - Ph.D.
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 71/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Science history, American literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Cybernetics, Darwin, Charles, Ethics, Evolution, Literature, Modernism
Publication Number: 3419913
ISBN: 9781124203003
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