acrobats, Alfred Russell Wallace, Art of Latin America, Back Seat Dodge ’38, bicycle, Book of Genesis, Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, China, Edward Kienholz, evolution, Evolution and Society, J.W. Burrow, José Bernardo de Tagle, José Gil de Castro, José Olaya, Leslie Stephen, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Marilyn Monroe, natural selection, Natural Theology, On the Origin of Species, Oxford debate of 1860, Principles of Geology, railway bicycle, Richard Avedon, Samuel Wilberforce, Simón Bolívar, T.H. Huxley
In ‘Charles Darwin’, part of Horizon’s ‘Makers of Modern Thought’ series, J.W. Burrow (whose book Evolution and Society had just been published) explores the impact of Darwin’s ideas, and where they came from:
As a book, The Origin of Species gains enormously from the range of interests that a natural scientist could still, in the mid-nineteenth century, allow himself. It is a work of original research – as original as anything ever published – yet it also a vast panorama of the natural world seen in the light of natural selection, and in the almost endless perspective of geological time as it was now understood [since Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology]. Its author was not merely another evolutionist, or even one who, like Wallace, had seen where the key to evolution lay. He was a geologist who had produced the modern theory of the formation of coral reefs, and explained, on geological grounds, the gaps in the fossil record…His equipment as a student of nature was virtually complete. The former undergraduate beetle-collector was geologist, botanist, zoologist, and later, physical anthropologist.
The furore created by the publication of The Origin of Species was not due simply to the fact that it contradicted the literal word of the first chapter of Genesis. Many Christians had already reconciled themselves, for example, to interpreting the seven days allotted to the Creation in an allegorical sense…
The Origin owed its notoriety primarily to two things. First, it destroyed at one blow the central tradition of rational Protestant religious apologetics – Natural Theology. All the beautiful and ingenious contrivances in nature, which Natural Theology had explained as the benevolent design of an Almighty Clockmaker, Darwin’s theory explained by the operation of natural selection: the struggle for life, preserving random hereditary variations.
Second, the Origin became notorious for something it did not say, though anyone who read it intelligently could not fail to be aware of the implication: that man was first cousin to – not descended from, though this was an error often made – the ape and the orangutan…Darwinism was ‘the monkey theory,’ though monkeys are mentioned in the Origin no more frequently than other species. This was, however, the crux of the great Oxford debate in 1860 between T.H. Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce, at which Huxley made the famous retort, in response to the bishop’s gibe, that he would prefer to have an ape for a grandfather than a man ‘possessed of great means and influence’ who used his influence to bring an important scientific discussion into ridicule.
This episode was characteristic in many ways: of Wilberforce, whose nickname was ‘Soapy Sam’; of Huxley; of what was to the layman the central issue of Darwinism, and of the reasons why Darwin’s supporters were victorious – not only because the weight of argument was on their side, but because they were always more righteous than the righteous. Infidelity had hitherto been equated with immorality and lower-class radicalism…Hence it was of the utmost importance that the leading Victorian agnostics – Darwin, Huxley, Leslie Stephen (who resigned from holy orders as a result of reading the Origin) – were gentlemen and family men of unimpeachable sexual and financial respectability. They turned the tables on their opponents by taking a higher moral line. It was immoral to believe without proof, to refuse, as Huxley said, borrowing the language of religion, ‘to sit down before the facts as a little child.’
‘And Now, a Few Kind Words for the Bicycle’ is a photo essay with both historical and contemporary pictures:
The ‘News of Art’ section highlights recent shows, including ‘Art of Latin America since Independence’, then touring the US, and controversy over Edward Kienholz’s Back Seat Dodge ’38. One of the Latin American artists active at the time of independence in the early 19th century was Peru’s José Gil de Castro, who
…rejected the concurrent trends of neoclassicism and romanticism and developed the first consistent art style of the republican movement in Latin America. Direct, naïve, and openly admiring of his subjects, he combined a fastidious attention to the details of military dress…with a patriotic fervour that helped him to re-create the famous ‘glance of an eagle’ of Simón Bolívar, ‘the Liberator’…whom he probably painted from a French lithograph.
The same highly stylized elements are evident in Gil de Castro’s portrait of the Peruvian martyr José Olaya…An Indian fisherman-patriot, Olaya achieved martyrdom in 1823, as the cartouche explains, by preferring death to betrayal. Captured by the Spaniards after he swam seven miles across the bay from Callao to Lima, he swallowed the message he was carrying and refused to inform on his fellow conspirators, even though he was tortured. Olaya is portrayed in festival finery and standing before the cliffs of his birthplace, Chorillos, still clutching the letter he was to deliver to the illustrious Señor Grand Marshal José Bernardo Tagle, the Lima patriot leader.
The interior of Kienholz’s Back Seat Dodge ’38
…is littered with beer bottles and cigarette wrappings, and features, flagrante delicto, a partial plaster girl in the embrace of a chicken-wire youth. The experience so unnerved officials in Kienholz’s home town of Los Angeles a while ago that they almost vetoed his controversial show at the controversy-ridden County Museum of Art. ‘My wife knows art,’ explained one official, ‘but I know pornography.’ Only the firm resolve of the museum’s trustees and staff, not previously noted for their unity of purpose, kept the exhibit open, albeit with the car door closed…The irony, if it is fair to impose still another level upon Kienholz’s assemblages of junk, is that the artist is convinced he has executed a series of static morality plays – or, as he puts it, ‘three-dimensional social cartoons.’ His Dodge, for example, effectively destroys whatever ‘romantic nonsense’ the next generation may harbor about its cherished mobile privacy. The intention behind Kienholz’s social tableaux seems to be to be to confront the public with the frailties of man in his unnatural urban existence. Conceivably, Kienholz may someday attempt the ultimate metropolitan tableau, a colossal montage of neon, freeways, and air-borne wastes. He might even decide to call his creation ‘Los Angeles.’