07 August 2005

evolution, or Richard Powers is a genius II

as you can surmise by the list at right, I am still reading Powers' novel Goldbug Variations which is awesome but, in its awesomeness might be included its astounding length (639 pages). thus I am still reading it. and he is brilliant. I've always thought our pop evolution understanding was problematic, so here's Powers:

On second look, I see I've misunderstood evolution as badly as my schoolgirl botch of Mendel. Education is wasted on those of school age. Now I find that evolution is not about competition or squeezing out, not a master plan of increasing efficiency. It is a deluge, a cascade of mistaken, tentative, branching, brocaded experiment, secrets seemingly dormant, shouted down from the past, wills and depositions hidden in the attic, how-to treasure maps reading "Tried this; it worked for a while; hang on to it," program-palimpsests reworked beyond recognition, churches renovated so often in a procession of styles that it's impossible to label them Romanesque, gothic, or baroque. It is about one instruction: "Make another similar something; insert this command; run; repeat." It is about the resultant runaway seed-spreading arabesques, unrelated except in all being variations on that theme. (p. 250)

this leaves me wondering: why didn't my bio teacher in 10th grade just read this passage to us? so much clearer and more accurate than "survival of the fittest," no? sigh.


capitalism said...

what about the mall?

Liz said...

This entry, not surprisingly, piqued my interest because it has the word 'evolution' in its title. The word has been thrown around in the last few weeks so much that I think Darwin's finches themselves aren't at all proud to stand up as its mascots anymore. Thank you G.W. for opening your mouth about intelligent design, you can only hope that it will go down as one of your more major moronic statements, but I think we all know that's asking too much.

Anyway, I digress. I just looked up the word, 'palimpsest,' because Richard Powers is too smart for me to read. As I did it I got a little irritated because I am a firm believer that one should use the simplest words and concepts available to explain everything (a belief that may just have me thrown out of my field). I was fairly surprised, though, after looking at the definition, that I think palimpsest is the simplest word for what he's saying. In fact, I think we should scratch the word 'evolution' entirely, and just stick with palimpsest, because it is a far better description of what's happening. Courtesy of m-w.com:
1 : writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased
2 : something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface

That just about sums it up. Thanks, Beck (and Richard).