Thursday, 18 September 2014

monsters and fossils

The species that resembles the human heart, and for that reason is named Anthropocardite . . . is worthy of particular attention. Its sub- stance is flint inside. The form of a heart is imitated as perfectly as possible. One can distinguish in it the stump of the vena cava, together with a portion of its two cross-sections. One can also see the stump of the great artery emerging from the left ventricle, together with its lower or descending branch.59 

The fossil, with its mixed animal and mineral nature, is the privileged locus of a resemblance required by the historian of the continuum, whereas the space of the taxinomia decomposed it with rigour.

The monster and the fossil both play a very precise role in this configuration. On the basis of the power of the continuum held by nature, the monster ensures the emergence of difference. This differ- ence is still without law and without any well-defined structure; the monster is the root-stock of specification, but it is only a sub-species itself in the stubbornly slow stream of history. The fossil is what per- mits resemblances to subsist throughout all the deviations traversed by nature; it functions as a distant and approximative form of identity; it marks a quasi-character in the shift of time. And this is because the monster and the fossil are merely the backward projection of those differences and those identities that provide taxinomia first with struc- ture, then with character. Between table and continuum they form a shady, mobile, wavering region in which what analysis is to define as identity is still only mute analogy; and what it will define as assignable and constant difference is still only free and random variation. But, in truth, it is so impossible for natural history to conceive of the history of nature, the epistemological arrangement delineated by the table and the continuum is so fundamental, that becoming can occupy nothing but an intermediary place measured out for it solely by the requirements of the whole. This is why it occurs only in order to bring about the necessary passage from one to the other – either as a totality of destruc- tive events alien to living beings and occurring only from outside them, or as a movement ceaselessly being outlined, then halted as soon as sketched, and perceptible only on the fringes of the table, in its unconsidered margins. Thus, against the background of the con- tinuum, the monster provides an account, as though in caricature, of the genesis of differences, and the fossil recalls, in the uncertainty of its resemblances, the first buddings of identity. 

Foucault / Order of Things / 170-171- 

There is no limit to this line of curiosities. All sorts of subjects may be found — calves' heads, which are quite common, and eyes, birds, fishes, detached hands, feet, and ears, and human profiles. A large flint was kept for a long time at Mendon, on which everybody recognized the bust of Louis XIV. To such accidents M. J. B. Robinet, in 1778, devoted a part of his ingenious Considerations on the Efforts of Nature in trying to make Man (Considerations sur les essais de la Nature qui apprend à faire homme). As we turn the leaves of this curious work we see described, in distinct paragraphs, anthropocardites, representing the heart of man; encephalites, or brains; cranoïdes, or skulls; otites, or ear-stones; leucophthalmos, or white eyes; chirites, or hands; stones representing a muscle, and even the olfactory nerve, etc.

The drawing of the distinction between fortuitous resemblances and true fossils was protracted and made difficult by the fact that the two forms are often mingled, sometimes associated in the same specimen or originating in beds having the most essential characteristics in common.

No comments:

Post a Comment