Publication details [#3354]

Cason, Jacqueline E. 1997. Loren Eiseley's evolutionary narratives. Fayetteville, Ark.. 381 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


Loren Eiseley's collected essays and history of science texts fall within the two cultures debate. Chapter one of the dissertation therefore begins by examining the borderlands of science and literature studies. More specifically, it focuses on the narrative element in nature writing as the characteristic that distinguishes between science and literature. Continuing with the narrative dimension of nature writing, chapter two turns to Victor Turner's anthropological theory of social drama and to Paul Ricoeur's root paradigm of mimesis as an allegory of temporal experience. This chapter outlines Ricoeur's three phases of mimesis: prefiguration, configuration, and refiguration. For analysis of the prefigurative phase, the author turns to Kenneth Burke's "The Four Master Tropes" and Hayden White's Metahistory for an understanding of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony and the tropological strategies through which writers prefigure the practical world before organizing it into a coherent narrative. For analysis of the configurative phase, the author turna to Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism and his archetypal emplotments: comedy, romance, tragedy, and farce. Following Turner and Ricoeur, the chapter also examines the role of symbolic action in reconciling social conflict and transforming social structures. Within the context of ecological crises, chapter three focuses specifically on Eiseley's history of science as a challenge to the cultural authority of science. His three texts - The Man Who Saw Through Time, Darwin's Century, and The Firmament of Time - not only offer a key to his more popular collected essays but connect him to the parson-naturalist tradition of natural history writing. Chapters four through six analyze these three history of science texts respectively, following Ricoeur's mimetic phases. Eiseley prefigures the practical world with synecdoche, assuming a connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm or between the individual and the universal. Eiseley then configures the story of evolutionary science as a romance, celebrating the idea of morphological unity. The evolutionary idea, not Darwin, emerges as the romantic hero. Finally, he refigures the drama from a twentieth-century perspective by challenging the naturalization process of modern science. The final chapter also includes some competing emplotment theories that challenge the ecological implications of the romance. (Dissertation Abstracts)