Sunday, June 04, 2017

Mystery Dance (1991)

This look at the evolution of human sexuality is a bit of a family affair. Lynn Margulis was an evolutionary theorist and science author and educator, whose pot-smoking husband stayed up all night looking at the sky (Carl Sagan, not involved after the one DNA contribution). Dorion Sagan is their son, described here as "a writer and sleight-of-hand magician." The book is substantive, grounded in scientific research, but playfully organized as a so-called evolutionary striptease, traveling backward in time, making clever use all along of the delicate nature of its revelations. It starts with sperm competition, which explains big dicks. Then it looks at, or entertains explanations of, the biological adaptations of women having orgasms and men having nipples. Back further, it pays a visit to the primates and their own complex sexual play, which often survives in us. Going back further, we finally arrive at the lizard brainstem, my favorite, from which likely comes jealousy and the most inexplicable fetishes. You wouldn't believe what the beasts out there are doing. This book goes all the way back, in fact, to bacteria, which have inhabited Earth for 80% of the planet's existence. Beat that, cockroaches! The gendering and reproduction habits of bacteria are richly polymorphously polygamous. Heironymous Bosch is a boy scout compared to these characters. It's a strange world after all—really strange. There's a lot more on bacteria in a previous collaboration between Margulis and Sagan, Microcosmos. This volume stays on sexuality: what it is, where it comes from, and why it exists. As to the latter, they conclude, with Samuel Beckett, "'The sun, having no alternative, rose this morning.'" They write, "Animals and plants—sexually reproducing organisms from their inception—remain sexual because they must develop from embryos into animals and plants." Mystery Dance is fun to read and full of strange facts, such as a species of lizard with no males, only females, that somehow auto-reproduces, at the same time the lizards act out male / female sexual play in their interactions. The text is lively and jokey—perhaps the only way to make it palatable, since it's also so candid about all the amazing and often repulsive ways sex has occurred across the countless millennia it has existed on this planet. Good one for the beach.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. "You wouldn't believe what the beasts out there are doing." You can say that again, brother.