Although I write this on Wednesday, I'm posting to the date it happened.
I had an epiphany today. One of those moments when the world shifts on its axis and everything means something else. It's all better now because I've not explored my realization to all its possible conclusions. I just know that it's there, complicating things.
So, what happened you ask (not really, there is only a hypothetical 'you' I'm talking to, the thin potential of being read by others as well as the knowledge that this is here for me later)? Nothing traumatic or bad, just unsettling. Let me contextualize a bit. I was assigned the second chapter of Frederic Jameson's The Political Unconscious for one of my classes. In it, he discusses (from his Marxian perspective) that literary criticism is incomplete without considering the historical (sociological, political, economic, etc.) context not only of the text, but of the critic. This way, one can examine how the notions of the critic inform the way he or she applies lables, defines structures, etc. and influence the analysis of the text (or affects their theories). An interesting and revealing exercise....
Anyway, today in my Historiography class, we had a guest lecturer who gave us a quick introduction to the history of science. To illustrate one of his points, he brought up Darwin's notebooks. (All the following details about Darwin were related by the professor.) These notebooks reveal a great deal of Darwin's thought processes, and clearly mark a difficulty he had with finding a comprehensive organizing metaphor for what became the evolution of Natural Selection and The Origin of Species. Well, apparently the notebooks indicate the precise point at which Darwin overcame the problem. How? He was reading a book he had picked up for pleasure. The book was by a political economist named Malthus who theorized (amongst other things) that a human population will grow until it reaches a limit placed by food (etc.), at which point the society will stabilize at a plateau or crash. Apparently, this was a rather gloomy book. Anyway, Darwin went ''AHA!'' and this marked the point where his theory of evolution began to solidify into a cohesive total.
This isn't such a big deal. A lot of people have noticed the relationship between economics and Darwin's theories. What was disturbing for me is that the metaphor has come full circle to the point that economic battles and success are often referred to as survival of the fittest. What I had subconsiously considered the use of a unifying universal of science applied to economics, was revealed rather as an economic theory placed upon biology (and the metaphor has travelled beyond the bounds of biology). This is so ingrained that, when I mentioned it to a classmate she said something along the lines of: ''Well, perhaps it isn't so strange, because the pattern is a universal truth which manifests in both theories indep.... Oh, wait...'' Yep, the ''rules'' proposed by the economic theory and the biological theory are both very new, and in the grand scheme of human history, far from universal concepts of how reality is organized.
Yes, I know that referring to Darwin's theory as economic is nothing new. I'm just saying that I never really thought of it before as having been applied to biology rather than to economics as a derivation from biology, and of its attendant implications. It rams home the idea that even scientific explanations of reality are imposed narratives. This, for a person who relies on science to fill some of the post-modern void, is extremely unsettling.
It's also fascinating, really cool, the stuff I love about school.