Angelique Richardson (ed), After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind

Angelique Richardson (ed), After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind (Amsterdam: Rodopi 2013) xvi + 369 pp. €112.00 Hb. ISBN: 978-90-420-3747-2

‘After Darwin, something changed,’ declares Angelique Richardson in her introduction to this wide-ranging and insightful book. ‘The disciplines, never far apart to begin with, were now brought into newly self-conscious dialogue.’ (4). The book is an extended exploration of interdisciplinarity, with Darwin as its focal point. It moves chronologically through three main areas: influences on Darwin, his life and social and intellectual networks, and his influence upon later science and culture. Through a series of readings by diverse commentators, including literary critics, historians of medicine, a biologist and a psychologist, Darwin is shown to occupy the centre of a vast web extending through multiple disciplines and modes of study.

Interdisciplinary studies of Darwin are not a new phenomenon. Richardson’s book, however, retains freshness and specificity through the choice to focus, not upon the Origin or the Descent, but upon Darwin’s less cited but enormously influential book of 1872, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. The Expression, in Richardson’s terms, established ‘the adaptive function of emotions, and their overriding relation to the physical, sensory environment’ (6). It thus presented emotion as being primarily a physiological response to external events, rather than an exclusively mental or spiritual phenomenon. It also sought to trace a common kinship between man and animals via the similarities and continuities of their emotional responses. It showed that expressions in animals function as a means of communication, as a way of establishing social bonds, and, perhaps most radically, as the foundation of a moral sense. It thus challenged epistemological distinctions between mind and body, human and animal.

After Darwin examines in great detail both the origins and consequences of these radical aspects of Darwin’s Expression. Jane Spencer’s chapter, ‘“Love and Hatred are Common to the Whole Sensitive Creation”: Animal Feeling in the Century before Darwin’, looks at accounts of the comparability of human and animal emotions in the philosophy and theology of the eighteenth century, which drew upon the emerging science of neurology. L S Jacyna, meanwhile, traces the impact of Darwin’s work upon later neurology, looking particularly at the evolutionary neurology of John Hughlings Jackson, who rooted emotion firmly within the physiology of the nervous system. In the last few chapters, the consequences of Darwin’s radical ideas for modern science and culture are illuminatingly explored. Michael Lewis, a psychiatrist in child development, follows Darwin by arguing that emotions (in this case ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’) have evolved as adaptive responses to particular situations, and are accompanied by specific ‘postural’ changes (297). In the concluding chapter, Marc Bekoff argues that Darwin’s insight about the continuity between human and animal emotions are supported by modern neuroscience, ethology, and by the more anecdotal accounts of those who live and work with animals. The disciplinary diversity of the book’s contributors, though responsible for much of its interest and scope, at times results in a lack of coherence, which might have been improved by a greater degree of editorial intervention. There is an obvious and apparently crucial discrepancy, for example, between Richardson’s own statement that ‘Darwin was establishing that expression was a way of communicating without verbal language’ (55) and Rhodri Hayward’s assertion that ‘Darwin shies away from the idea that emotions might serve as forms of non-verbal communication’ (239), one which surely merits some editorial comment. Richardson’s introduction is surprisingly brief for a book of this length.

Several of the chapters, however, function as excellent set-pieces by themselves. For scholars of literature and science, Richardson’s chapter, ‘George Eliot, G H. Lewes, and Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and Morals’, will be particularly enlightening. Richardson expertly traces the complex channels of influence between the three figures, all of whom read and commented upon one another’s work. The chapter is full of moments of fascinating analysis: Eliot revised Lewes’s book The Study of Psychology (1879) after his death and, as Richardson convincingly demonstrates, altered the work to be much more in line with Darwin’s ideas, particularly making it more unequivocal in its attribution of social morality to animals (157). Richardson also examines reviews of Eliot’s novels, to great effect. Intriguingly, she shows that Eliot’s reviewers, though always alert to the scientific content of her novels, showed a greater tendency after the publication of Darwin’s Expression to comment upon her representation of unconscious physical movements (150).

Perhaps the most novel and engaging chapters are those which articulate the impact that Darwin’s biography and his reading and writing practice have upon his theory of emotion. The concept of ‘sympathy’, so important to Darwin’s study of human and animal emotions, is shown also to be central to his biographical writings. In David Amigoni’s ingenious reading, Darwin’s biographical accounts of his father and grandfather present ‘sympathy’ as essential to his family legacy, thus inscribing his family’s place within a moral and intellectual élite. Paul White, meanwhile, argues that in both his published writings and his correspondence Darwin attempts to construct a relation of ‘sympathy’ with his reader (124-6). Richardson’s other chapter, entitled ‘“The Book of the Season”: The Conception and Reception of Darwin’s Expression’, looks at Darwin’s notebooks and correspondence in order to trace the development of his work on expressions. She identifies a ‘global network of correspondents’ on whom Darwin relied for information about the use of expressions in disparate cultures (57). This ‘network’ also encompassed his own friends and relatives, to whom he applied for anecdotal evidence about the expressions displayed by their pets and children (calling upon his niece Lucy Wedgwood, for example, to ‘Think of any fact about expression of any emotion in any of your birds’ (59)). Richardson also explores the importance of the arts to Darwin, tracing his use of images from photographers and passages from novels as evidence for his theory of expression (66-7). Gillian Beer’s chapter likewise considers the significance of Darwin’s interest in the arts. The central phrase of her chapter, Darwin’s description of his appreciation of music as a ‘backbone shiver’, aptly illustrates Beer’s point that Darwin’s own emotional responses to art play an important role in his theory of physiological emotion in the Expression. Monika Pietrzak-Franger, in her chapter on exhibitions celebrating Darwin’s bicentennial, argues that there has been a recent shift away from a perception of Darwin as a disembodied intellect, towards a more holistic view of him that prioritises his ‘affective’, ‘enchanted’ response to the natural world (194-5). This is a shift in which After Darwin itself certainly participates. It presents Darwin as an experiencing being, engaged in empathetic, intersubjective relationships with those around him. In Richardson’s own term, he is thoroughly ‘enworlded’ (3).

The choice to focus on Darwin as an interdisciplinary figure does rather run the risk of presenting interdisciplinarity as the exception rather than the rule: as the product of an exceptional individual self-consciously drawing upon a wide range of disciplines rather than a useful tool for analysing any area of cultural production. Richardson’s statement that the book ‘rejects reductive biologistic thinking which seeks to explain human behaviour along biological lines without reference to social, economic and political factors, and which bears little relation to Darwin’s own enworlded sense of development’ (2-3), for example, does rather beg the question of where that leaves writers and thinkers who are not self-consciously ‘enworlded’. Can they too be subjects of interdisciplinary analysis? The focus on Darwin does, however, have distinct advantages. It allows for a more expansive sense of influence, extending beyond the discursive interactions between institutional disciplines, into the more contingent associations that occur within individual experience. It ultimately tests the boundaries of our notion of interdisciplinarity, presenting it as being less an area of study than a mode of experience.

Catriona Livingstone, King's College London