For Thursday’s class, I asked everyone to read chapter three of Origins. Now, this is a book that is not a cuddle-in-bed page turner. It’s thorough. It’s slow. It’s super-specific, but all for good reason. Darwin knew he had a tough rhetorical challenge and establishes himself as a man whose ideas are created from the facts. I wanted them to experience first hand Darwin’s inexhaustible methods and style. To help explain his point about the struggle for existence and that more die than can succeed (“success” solely defined by propagation), the man took a 2×3 foot piece of ground that he “dug and cleared, and where there could be no choking from other plants.” He then counted all the native weed seedlings that came up. Out of the 357 seedlings that he counted, “no less than 295 were destroyed, chiefly by slugs and insects” (67). Imagine having the patience to do not only that, but the hundreds of other mundane tasks that went into his research.
Just as a matter of circumstance, we had to finish our discussion of Frankenstein on the same day we read from Origins. No two depictions of a scientist could be any different. One who is crazed versus one who is reasonable. One who barely discusses process versus one who writes hundreds of pages on process. It’s interesting how often the fabricated one—that of the crazed scientist—is perpetuated in movies, cartoons, and books instead of one who counts seedlings. Obviously, a seedling-counting scientist doesn’t make for good TV.