Degeneration vs. Progeneration Science and Pseudoscience



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tarix02.10.2017
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Degeneration vs. Progeneration

  • Science and Pseudoscience


Cultural Origins of Degeneration Theory

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: degeneration of the aristocracy as moral, political, and social critique: aristocracy mannered, decadent, effeminate, immoral, diseased

  • European Romanticism

  • -- association of madness and artistic creativity

  • -- infatuation with Romantic science and pseudosciences: physiognomy and phrenology



Psychiatric Origins of Degeneration Theory: Benedict-Augustin Morel (1809-1873)

  • Worked on theory of degeneration 1839-1857, publication of theory dominated French psychiatry for 100 years

  • Argued that mental illness and social deviance hereditary: acquired traits fixed in germ plasm

  • Described 4-stage progression of generational degeneracy

  • No specific pathology passed on; rather, susceptibility of nervous system to disturbances

  • Identified dementia praecox, in 1908 renamed schizophrenia



Influence of Morel’s theory

  • Interest in how toxic substances (alcohol) affect progeny -- fetal alcohol syndrome

  • Established foundation for research in eugenics, the improvement of human (or a given race or ethnic group) by means of control of fertility (Nazis)

  • Many mental illnesses have hereditary component, albeit genetic



Literary Origins of Degeneration Theory: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

  • Son of dissolute actor and consumptive actress, genius, alcoholic, drug addict, syphilitic

  • Short stories portraying crime, obsession, madness, and delusion

  • Fall of the House of Usher

  • Interest in pseudo-sciences, phrenology and physiognomy

  • Ignored in U.S., extremely popular with French literary avant-garde



Heirs to Poe’s literary degeneration

  • Charles Baudelaire, poet, literary critic, first modern poet -- advocate of art for art’s sake, author of Les Fleurs du mal

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, Poe favorite American writer, roman-feulliton (crime, mystery)



Heirs to Morel’s degeneration theory: Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909)

  • Founder of Italian School of Positivist Criminology

  • Popularized idea that criminality is biologically determined, that criminals had devolved, evolutionary regression

  • Born criminal identified by atavistic stigmata that could be detected and measured

  • Believed that whites most evolved

  • Women less criminal because more passive



Max Nordau (1849-1923) Simon Südfeld

  • Social critic, Zionist leader

  • Entartung (Degeneration), 1892 argued that civilization itself was degenerating

  • Moral and social critique of bourgeois rationalist aimed at conduct, morality, art of new avant-garde

  • Freud first to challenge degeneration theory

  • Irony: Jewish proponents, Nazi adherents




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