"Work Out the Ape": Popular Darwinism

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Southwest Texas Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference (Albuquerque, Feb. 10-13, 2010)
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"'Work out the ape'": Popular Darwinism": The term "Darwinism" is a broad umbrella term in the late nineteenth century. Nevertheless, it is useful shorthand, expressing the preoccupation of British and American popular culture with a range of themes related to the Darwinian revolution in biology by the end of the nineteenth century: "degeneration," man's biological kinship with animals, the problem of aggression, the place of sexual pleasure in the psychic economy and its relationship to sexual selection, and the biological underpinnings of changing gender roles. This panel will explore how the "animalistic" was depicted in popular fiction of the late nineteenth century (and in a number of twentieth century films that draw on that fiction for inspiration). The major unifying assumption behind the work of this panel is that the popularization of "Darwinian" ideas occasioned a crisis in the conceptualization of human "instinct," as Tennyson's earlier call to "work out the ape," which rested on the assumption that we all know what it means to be an "ape" and thus to repress the ape within us, is reshaped through popular fiction into a riveting fascination with a spectacular and heterogeneous animality that we can never fully repress or sublimate.