In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

ARTICLES EVOLUTIONARY PHYSIOGNOMY AND DARWIN'S EXPRESSION OF THE EMOTIONS Rosemary Jann George Mason University Although endowing humankind with a genealogical relationship to animals was perhaps the most disturbing aspect of evolutionary theory for the popular imagination of the nineteenth century, we should remember that this genealogy revised rather than invented a tradition of animal/human resemblance that was by then centuries old. Since the time of Aristotle, physiognomical conventions and the schematization of nature as a great chain of being implicitly acknowledged a continuum between animals and humans that remained available to be explicitly biologized by evolutionary theory. Physiognomy helped reshape the grounds for alleging human superiority in response to successive underminings of the fixed categories that traditionally guaranteed the essentially conservative force of this continuum. If physiognomic tradition concerning animals and human beings was forced to respond to the revelations of comparative anatomy and evolutionary theory, at the same time its imaginative power also helped mold scientific theorizing about human descent to serve the continuing demand for teleological reassurance and provided an important basis for the biologizing of social and racial difference that was one significant outcome of evolutionary theory in the Victorian period. Despite his explicit rejection of the claims of popular physiognomy, Darwin's own evolutionary interpretation of facial expression in The Expression ofthe Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) and elsewhere shared much common ground with them. The power of that popular tradition is demonstrated by its role in accommodating the more unsettling implications of Darwinian theory to a reassuring vision of purposeful social and biological order that lasted well into the twentieth century. Victorian Review 18.2 (Winter 1992) Victorian Review Victorian thinking about animal/human resemblance was the legacy of centuries-old physiognomical conventions as much as of eighteenth-century innovations in biological theory. The idea that animals and humans submitted to the same physiognomical "laws" was at least as old as the third century, BC, when de Physiognomica, conventionally attributed to Aristotle, had used animals as the central demonstration of its key principles, that the body was a mirror of the soul and that all character traits issued in physical signs of their presence. The result was usually a thoroughly moralized and gendered reading of animal character that projected into their faces a physical verification of the traits assigned to them by popular tradition. The Greek tradition might hold that humans alone possessed a rational or intellectual soul or had an upright posture, but they were still but superior animals whose characters could be read in the bodily signs that they shared with brutes (Thomas 30-35). Thus the large-minded man, like a lion, could be recognized by his broad forehead and well-proportioned body, and, in what would later become a common strategy, hair and skin color was taken to reveal the "natural" inferiority of non-white races.1 The Christian reworking of classical tradition promoted man to a qualitatively different status from beasts, which in some Renaissance theorizing entailed absolute physiological differences as well (Thomas 32). Yet such claims did little to undermine the popular credibility of animal physiognomy, or the assumption that humans could or did come to resemble animals whose moral traits they shared. Giambattista della Porta systematized such resemblances in his 1622 Fisonomía naturale, and Charles LeBrun gave them striking, ifsomewhat fanciful, pictorial form several years later [fig. I].2 Notwithstanding analogies in the ways men and beasts revealed their intrinsic character in their facial proportions,3 LeBrun generally followed medieval convention in reading brutish features as a sign of moral degeneration. So long as physical degeneration to animal form could be considered the punishment for moral lapses, humanity's unique spiritual status was protected from the threat of physiognomic levelling. Maintaining the Christian dichotomy between animals and humans required that the linkage between them operate in only one direction, with human spirituality constituting an absolute boundary that animals could never transgress. Yet allowing both a place on a single physiognomic scale rendered this boundary at least logically permeable and made the later deconstruction of that dichotomy possible. A similar ambiguity was also implicit in the other major paradigm for structuring animal/human resemblance. The...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 1-27
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.