(Originally Posted April, 2010) This is an old favorite of my sister's, a three-page sentence I wrote as an exercise.
Charles Darwin, the very model of the eminent Victorian, bald and bearded, dreamy and driven, a failed doctor, a failed priest, a failed son, collector of birds’ eggs and beetle shells, rider of tortoise backs and diner on the meat of aquatic iguanas, bearing back with him from the Beagle, along with his taxidermied specimens, that which he sensed uneasily must be more cataclysmic than the volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands or the typhoons of the far east, harder to digest than the stringy meat of the iguana and as ineluctable as the slow swell of a neap tide, tidings indeed to astonish physicians and scandalize priests, neither of which brotherhood he was destined to belong, an outsider among them as among bricklayers, engineers, sailors, and merchants, and all walks of life, being a naturalist – and what sort of vocation is that? – an outsider to the world, in fact – the world as it was known, at least, and facts as they were known, likewise – and who better to unmake and remake the world, like Napoleon, the Corsican, remaking France, or Alexander, the Macedonian, remaking Greece, Darwin, taking up his grandfather Erasmus’ banner to be an Evolutionist, an ancient fantasy as old as Anaximander believing the Nile mud spawned tadpoles ex nihilo (Or maybe ex limus would be closer) but with a new and clarifying vision of how the deed was done, that Nature did not always achieve her ends like Newton’s clock maker, that in the bigger things, perhaps, she worked the invisible gears, springs, and flywheels of mass, energy, and Universal Gravitation, but in her detail work, she preferred a subtler device, never pushing nor pulling, but merely selecting, and in that selection, the unspoken words, “You shall reproduce, and you shall not,” what wonders and absurdities she produced, such that the Eighteenth Century Determinists, Malthus and Smith (And why stop there? Reach even further back to Calvin, "Not elect, dear John, select, select!") would have stood agog at the simplicity and elegance of it all, an unseen hand that made not merely marketplaces, but made itself! Finding as it stretched, its fingers and its thumb, its pronating wrist – what prodigies of beauty and repulsion, of camouflage and display, the interplay of selection and variation wrought, and man of course, by his own estimation the pinnacle of all, (Ask a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, and you may get a very different answer.) who out-chameleons the chameleon with his stripes, and plaids, and polka-dots, and if the chameleon has eyes that rotate three-hundred-sixty degrees, the better to see a tasty dragonfly no matter the approach, why we have eyes detachable, to leave behind and spy on nannies or the scoff-laws scooting under red-lights, and though every back-boned species, by stern effort and time’s permission, has sent at least one representative to the congress of the air – the flying fish, the bat, the bird, the pteranodon, the butterfly – why, we can fly while sitting down, eating bags of peanuts and watching in-flight movies, and so it came to this, that while every living thing else must perform the dance of evolution, Darwin alone was born to write about it, to what baboon screams and protests of primate rage of folks proud to be descended from drunken Noah or killer Cain but unable to abide being cousin to the unoffending bonobo, forgetting in their fury at Darwin’s implications for their own weak race, what dire news this was for God, for if the opposable thumb were carved by raw necessity from paw and thence from foot and thence from a fin, by what necessity could we invoke that God should have one, and if not a thumb, wherefore even rationality, that vaunted principle which priests say – I bet they wished they’d kept a better eye on their erring pupil while they had the chance! – man alone of nature shares with angels and with God, but which seems really just another one of Nature’s dodges from the fly-swatter of extinction, no different at its root than poison spines or mammary glands or roots themselves, now that I think of it, an expedient to ensure some bald and hornless biped gets a chance, at least once, for coitus non-interuptus, has brought us to – the subject of the sentence being, if you recall, Darwin himself, the sentence having mutated and evolved to such a state you may have forgotten its pre-Cambrian beginnings – has brought us to, I repeat, this singular point where we disbelieve that anything is singular, and as for points, could we suspend our doubt in them at all, it would only be to ask, “And the point is – what?”