Bugs & the Victorians

May 31, 2009

Tags: political correctness marshals the butterflies

J.F.M. Clark`s "Bugs and the Victorians" offers a conspectus of the evolution of entomology in the nineteenth century.
Following Darwin who called himself a "decayed entomologist," Clark concentrates his attention on the social insects- bees, wasps and ants. The advantage of this to a writer who includes a chapter `The Politics of Insects` is that kings, queens, soldiers and workers are to the forefront, and homilies are the order of the day. The need to pontificate on every nuance of sociological significance is eagerly taken by the author as he books himself a place within the pious establishment of academia. This has now replaced the old Church of England hierarchy, itself the playground for Rowan Williams`s aspiration as littérateur.
The most serious error of J.F.M. Clark arises when he characterizes insect morphology as "utterly alien" which offers "no analogical or homological points of comparison for humans." My quartet of books published over the past 15 years argues precisely the opposite, that the "human" cannot be defined without going beyond the historical fact of evolution from the great apes to take in the way insect processes have defined the shapes of the great works of literature and music. Clark uses morphology in the superficial sense of `external structure` whereas the OED defines it as "that branch of biology that deals with the form of animals and plants, and the structures, homologies, and METAMORPHOSES which govern or influence that form."
The pedantry that is the Achilles heel of the one-dimensional fact-gathering taxonomists here fails the author. A richer line of evolution proceeds from the so-called `philosophical biologists` like E.B. Poulton.
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