The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 26, 2012

November 26, 1943

Marilynne Robinson (born November 26, 1943) writes novels and thoughtful nonfiction essays which probe the dilemmas of modern thinkers. She teaches writing at the Iowa workshop and has been a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2010.

We quote from her collection, The death of Adam: essays on modern thought (1998):

If we are to take this notion of natural selection as a chaste, objectively functioning scientific principle, however, the issue of tautology is not so easily resolved. Since those who are alive tend to make up the majoritv of any population, one cannot really be surprised to find their traits predominate...

At the same time, one cannot be sure that they have not found the broad path to extinction, like so many creatures before them, doomed by traits that cannot at this moment be called incompatible with their survival, given the fact of their survival. ...

There is an apparent tautology in the phrase. Since Darwinian (and, of course, Spencerian) fitness is proved by survival, one could as well call the principle at work "the survival of survivors." ...
[Darwinian] theory has been accommodated to Mendelian genetics, yielding the insight that it is not personal but genetic survival for which the organism strives, a refinement which does not escape the tautology implicit in the popular version ....

But surely science cannot extrapolate with authority from evidence which is only what happens to be available, especially when its appropriateness as evidence is very doubtful. Cats and dogs are quite closely related, but a lifetime of studying dogs would not qualify anyone to speak with authority on the ways of cats. So with the whole earthly bestiary which has been recruited to the purposes of the proper study of mankind.

Marilynne Robinson's other non-fiction titles  include:

Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989)
Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self  (2010).

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