The Edge of Evolution
Animality, Inhumanity, and Doctor Moreau
Oxford University Press 2016
NBN SeminarNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Big IdeasNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ScienceNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network August 25, 2017 Eric LeMay
As I was reading Ron Edward’s fascinating and far-reaching new book, The Edge of Evolution: Animality, Inhumanity, and Doctor Moreau (Oxford University Press, 2016), I had a flashback. I must have been about seven. I was watching a film adaptation of H.G. Well’s classic work of science fiction, The Island of Doctor Moreau. It’s about a doctor who takes animals and tries to make them human by surgically alerting them. I don’t remember much about the movie–I think Burt Lancaster played Moreau–but what I remember is that the story really creeped me out. It stayed with me for a long time. And, even now, as I remember those half-man, half-beasts that populate Dr. Moreau’s island, I’m creeped out. The feeling is something like a primordial shiver. Now you may attribute that feeling to the sensitivity of a seven-year-old, and that’s probably right: what were my parents thinking letting me watch a horror movie at that age? Edwards, however, has a different answer, one based on Well’s original story. It’s that these man-beasts that Wells imagines force us to realize us that we are, in our essence, animals. This realization is something that, as a culture and as individuals, we don’t like to contemplate. It unnerves us. It creeps us out. And that’s what Edward’s book explores: it is, among other things, a case against human exceptionalism, one that asks us not only to rethink our animal selves, but also our relationship to those other creatures who share our animality.