Sunday, May 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, excerpt five)

from Vineland by Thomas Pynchon:

Brock scanned face after face, registering stigmata, a parade of receding foreheads, theromorphic ears, and alarmingly sloped Frankfurt Horizontals. He was a devotee of the thinking of pioneer criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909), who’d believed that the brains of criminals were short on lobes that controlled civilized values like morality and respect for the law, tending indeed to resemble animal more than human brains, and thus caused the crania that housed them to develop differently, which included the way their faces would turn out looking. Abnormally large eye sockets, prognathism, frontal submicrocephaly, Darwinian Tipped Ear, you name it, Lombroso had a list that went on, and skull data to back him up. By Brock’s time the theory had lapsed into a quaint, undeniably racist spinoff from nineteenth-century phrenology, crude in method and long superseded, although it seemed reasonable to Brock. What really got his attention was the Lombrosian concept of “misoneism.” Radicals, militants, revolutionaries, however they styled themselves, all sinned against this deep organic human principle, which Lombroso had named after the Greek for “hatred of anything new.” It operated as a feedback device to keep societies coming along safely, coherently. Any sudden attempt to change things would be answered by an immediate misoneistic backlash, not only from the State but from the people themselves—Nixon’s election in ’68 seeming to Brock a perfect example of this.

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