Title

The Measure of All Things: The Conflict of Art and Biology in American Natural History Writing

Date of Award

1975

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Advisor(s)

William Wasserstrom

Keywords

Nature essayists, Biological phenomeon, Nature essay, Biological order, Transcendentalists

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature

Abstract

Modern nature essayists believe the mind to be a particular biological phenomenon, interesting in its own right, not a vehicle of transcendence but of biofeedback. The modern nature essayist creates analogies to suggest the ways in which man and other living things share common biological mechanisms of adaptation and replication. And, in consequence, the nature essay has evolved from an instrument for perceiving a moral and spiritual order transcendent of things into an instrument for perceiving a biological order inherent in all things. The Transcendentalists utilized the nature essay to maintain an essentially anthropocentric philosophy: Intuitively, man could perceive essences that transcend a thing's appearance. But the modern nature essayist procedes from an evolutionary philosophy which implies that essences are not so much a quality transcendent of living things, but are a function of the relationships within and between living things.

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