Friday, January 02, 2009

Rolling and Tumbling / Gender Addendum

I hadn't expected to start blogging again until after I left my stint home for the holidays, but during my vacation reading, I came across the following bit that immediately made me recall back to my post earlier in the Fall about gendered pronouns, and figured I'd better write about it now, rather than put it off, since there'd be a good chance I'd never actually follow up on it.

I've been reading Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life for the past couple of days (I'd read several of his collections of articles and a couple of his other book-length offerings as well, but never gotten around to this book until now, for whatever reason). Turns out to be a great read, and very interesting and full of new-and-important-to-me kind of bits of information. However, Gould, though he never engages with the matter in any kind of preface (which was the tie that bound the examples I used in the above-linked prior post), agregiously (albeit consistently, which according to Dawkins is standard practice) prefers the male pronoun in his writing (this book was published in '89, FYI).

However, given the whole Dawkins v. Gould thing that happened once upon a time (I use the past tense here since Gould is dead and there is some amount of actually-written and archived documents re: "neo-darwinism" versus "puncuated equilibrium" (I was going to hyperlink in a link or two there, but google autofills "dawkins versus" to "dawkins versus gould" so I reckon enough people are doing this search in the first place that if another handful of you decide to look into it you can do the googling yourself (and any hyperlinking would be superficial, since it's damn late and I have no intention to do any further web-reading on the topic myself, so couldn't put any kind of seal-of-approval on whatever I would've linked to))), there's a particularly interesting passage in Wonderful Life--the one that succesfully diverted my attention from reading in the middle of the night to writing this post in the middle of the night--(though it should be remember that Dawkins too is guilty of being gender-biased), wherein, not only does Gould go along with the standard literary trope of imagining a Creator even though there isn't one, which Dawkins certainly doesn't do (and I agree with him, you can make good science writing without resorting to religionist cliches), but Gould also defaults to masculine pronouns in describing his creator:
The story is old, and canonical. The youthful firebrand ["The Great Token-Stringer"] has become the apostle of good sense and stable design. Yet the former spark is not entirely extinct. Something truly new slips by now and then within the boundaries of strict inheritance. Perhaps his natural vanity finally got the better of him. Perhaps he couldn't bear the thought of running such an exquisite play for so long, and having no chronicler to admite the work. So he let the token for more brain tumble from compartment 1 of the primate bag--and assembled a species that could paint the caves of Lascaux, frame the glass of Chartres, and finally decipher the story of the Burgess Shale.
I suppose the above passage is intended to inspire readers, especially those readers that aren't as rigorously agnostic as the average Dawkins fan, but it strikes me as rather base pandering, as well as a betrayal of Gould's larger thesis (which I won't get into--read the book, it's really good, despite the above paragraph). At any rate, definitely two big party fouls there, Gouldy, in both bothering to imagine, however literarily, any kind of Creator, and then presuming your Creator to be a man.


Post a Comment

<< Home