The Fall semester’s almost here and I’m still chopping cotton on the third chapter of my dissertation. The last 3 months have been a long, fluid blur of neo-Lamarckianism, genetic psychology, romantic naturalism, and G. Stanley Hall’s impossibly baroque writing style. Here’s an example of the latter:
“Thus it is that the vast domains of experience of man and also of his far back animal progenitors, when obliterated from all records of the race, leave as their most permanent and last-to-be-effaced trace a predisposition of the imagination to reproduce their psychokinetic equivalents in forms thought to be original creations, just as the engrams of the great saurians and megatheria of the Trias age, inclined the mind of man, eons after they were extinct, to make fables of draconian monsters slain by culture-heroes who unified peoples and founded states, like St. George, Seigfried, Perseus, Beowulf, because man’s psyche and its organ, the brain, now inherit all the marvelous plasticity once shown best of all in the morphological plasticity of these most polymorphic lacertilian forms, or finds another illustration in our altitude psychoses and nightmares of hovering, in which we see reverberations in the soul of the piscine and pelagic life of our aquatic progenitors” (Adolescence 29).
Essentially he’s arguing that the psychic life of individuals bear the traces of long-obscured memories of a pre-historic human past in the form of myths and legends. This, in a nutshell, is the theory of recapitulation. Our instincts and proclivities were scripted millennia ago by the experiences of our forebears. So, for example, “doraphobia,” the fear of fur– and its opposite, “the love of fur” — can only be fully explained by “recourse to a time when association with animals was far closer than now, or perhaps when our remote ancestors were hairy.” I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone afraid of fur, but for Hall that’s not really the point. The basis of his entire system of genetic psychology is the supposed persistence of “phyletic vestiges” in the minds of modern people.
Here’s the man himself: