8 hours today– most of it spent trying to find new ways to say the same thing– got me a page and a half of very iffy prose. This is the problem with re-writes: you’ve got a passage that hangs together pretty well– one paragraph blends into the next– and then you need to just tuck in some additional information but the text is too tight, there’re no openings at all. So this morning I review what I know about the Scientific Romance, a dead genre, long since superseded by Science Fiction, but significant because it distills what I consider to be a crucial insight about the construction of the youth concept. When G. Stanley Hall invented Adolescence in the course of establishing genetic psychology he did so by relying not only on the insights of Ernst Haeckel’s biogenetic law, but according to a whole mishmash of cultural values he never examined in their entirety. He was a big R Romantic, suckled on the thin milk of Emersonian idealism, educated by Germans in the late Romantic era, soaked in sturm und drang. His vision of youth, then, emerges from the confluence of poetry and dicey science which makes treating one of his lesser texts, “The Fall of Atlantis,” as a Scientific Romance (and a Lost Race narrative to boot) perfect.
But none of this went according to plan. There was the matter of disentangling the proto-science fiction themes constituting the SR/LR genres. For instance, the Imaginary Voyage has been around for quite a long time– not just Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels but a whole host of classical antecedents. And where does the line get drawn between “the imperial adventure tale,” as Reider calls it, and the Lost Race narrative? The idea was to strike quickly, get a few jabs in about Scientific Romance, develop a short comparison between The Fall of Atlantis and Jack London’s prehistoric fiction Before Adam, then smooth out the rough edges. With that chore disposed of I could spend the rest of the week closing out the chapter on literary naturalism. Instead I find myself locked into a cul-de-sac trying to ascertain if London really knew what he was talking about regarding August Weismann’s theory of germ-plasm, which is supposed to be a refutation of the Lamarckian belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
London uses the notion of germ plasm to explain why his protagonist is consumed by dreams of a prehistoric life. Somehow by virtue of an unaccountable anomaly, said protagonist has access to deep racial memories. He is literally two men– two vying consciousnesses– in one. By way of illustrating this phenomenon Jack raises the familiar issue of dreams of falling. You never really hit bottom, he observes, and this is because the memory of falling was transmitted via germ-plasm– encoded into the heritable human substance– by those who fell but did not hit ground. I spend an hour or two revisiting credible sources, including one of the major Jack London scholars, whose critical biography should have all the information I need. But I see she’s decided to dodge the issue and allocates just a few sentences to a set of ideas that demand sustained scrutiny. So, back off and come at it again. I need to provide a formal genealogy for the Lost Race genre, link Jack’s use of the dream motif to Hall’s, and explain how this embodies the unresolved tension between scientific and romantic discourses. Ultimately, of course, the narrative arc of both stories says something about the temporal aspects of development, which is hugely important to the theory of adolescence.