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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Tuesday, July 26

who's afraid of virginia woolf?

for the chapter: Fascist Modernism: Double Vision

Did the invention of interchangeable parts, a prerequisite of the Industrial Revolution, influence the Zeitgeist of the mid-19th century and how it tried to grapple with Darwin's notion of fitness?

What Darwin meant by "survival of the fittest" was that the probability of an organism's evolutionary advance was greatly increased if it found an environmental opportunity it could exploit to advantage. Although the concept of ecological niches is fairly commonplace today, it was a difficult idea to grasp in 1859 when The Origin of Species was first published. Far more familiar, even at the dawn of early industrialism, was the idea of parts that "fit" their intended application. Evolutionary "fitness" thus came to be seen as a match against a preexisting norm or ideal -- an archetype, one might almost say. As a result of this Social Darwinism, eugenics came to be widely adopted as a response to a felt need for "race improvement" toward such an ideal type of human being. Those falling short of these metrics of worth, or unworthiness to live, were not only dispensable, but a positive danger to (read here: Anglo-Saxon) society. Is a picture beginning to emerge?

The introductory passage below is from A Concise Companion to Modernism by David Bradshaw (p. 49).

...there is one passage in her diary which has caused considerable consternation and which is not remotely ironic. On January 9, 1915 Woolf and her husband went for a stroll by the River Thames between Richmond and Kingston:

On the towpath we met & had to pass a long line of imbeciles. The first was a very tall young man, just queer enough to look at twice, but no more; the second shuffled, & looked aside; & then one realised that every one in that long line was a miserable ineffective shuffling idiotic creature, with no forehead , or no chin, & an imbecile grin, or a wild suspicious stare. It was perfectly horrible. They should certainly be killed.

the origin of species

A Social History of Industrial Automation

The quote is from The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. I: 1915-1919, edited by Anne Olivier Bell (p. 13).

Modernism and Eugenics: Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, and the Culture of Degeneration goes into much greater depth on these issues. That art and literature in the era of modernism was deeply bound up with eugenics -- and the eugenic "solutions" it led to -- seems to be well known in certain quarters of the academy, and largely unknown elsewhere. As the academy is where the problem largely began, there's an outside chance these ideas might be worthy of more than passing intellectual curiosity. Call it a wild hunch.

Modernism and Eugenics