The twenty‐six‐page bibliography of works cited in Breeding includes, at the front of the alphabet, James Adams, The Pronunciation of the English Language Vindicated from Imputed Anomaly and Caprice (1799). At the alphabet’s end, we find Slavoj Žižek, “Bring Me My Phillips Mental Jacket” (2003). The historical and conceptual distance between the two hints at the range of the material Jenny Davidson investigates and the imagination with which she deploys evidence in her bold study of intersections between nature and culture, primarily in eighteenth-century British thought.It is self-aggrandizing to post these reviews, but one works for such a long time on a book like this, it is gratifying to get a generous review and think about people actually reading it!
As the book’s arresting first sentence may suggest, the project here entails a discursive definition of breeding. “The word breeding,” Davidson begins, “sets a place for nature at culture’s table” (1). With both biological and pedagogical import, the noun encourages reflection about relations between natural processes and human interventions as well as about complex and divergent attitudes toward both. The author, a literary scholar, brings to her enterprise the skills of an attentive reader and a sophisticated researcher. She considers an impressive body of literary, scientific, and philosophic texts that shed light on one another, and she points out that our belief in the diversity of the intellectual disciplines involved itself constitutes a relatively recent development. The pressing issues of the past that Davidson contemplates possess twenty-first-century urgency as well, in the form of debates about genetics. Breeding does not purport to resolve such debates, but it argues for the value of understanding their continuity with historically remote and frequently obscure controversies. In a graceful, often informal, style, the book supplies abundant information and provocative analysis. To read it is to become both enlightened and engaged.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Clearly there is a one-year lag time for academic book reviews to appear, even in best-case scenario! I was very pleased, though, to see this review of my book on breeding by Patricia Meyer Spacks (link will only work for Columbia affiliates). Here are the first two paragraphs: