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A Creative Conversation Between Three Texts

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Audrey Johnston
Professor Dalke & Professor Grobstein
Web Project #4

A Creative Conversation Between Three Texts

For my final web project, I reflected on the positive interdisciplinary learning experience that occurred through the braiding of scientific and literary expression in Evolution/Stories/Diversity this semester. The texts of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species and Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea, paired with Richard Powers' Generosity and Albert Camus' The Plague engaged new dimensions of perspective and multiplicity of meanings when compared and contrasted. As an English Major, I read many books this semester for each of my four classes. Inspired by the crossing of texts through class and online discussion, I decided to take three of the books I've read this semester, each from a different class, and put them into dialogue with each other on the page. The books I chose to focus on - The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, Ulysses, by James Joyce, and The Truth About Stories, by Thomas King - are three texts that represent an distinct appropriation of manifestation of a story, from the concept of creation to the literal act of communicating thoughts into words. Specifically, Darwin challenged the concept of creationism, and changed the story of biological history through chronicling his scientific observations and employing an obliging rhetoric within his writing. Ulysses, by James Joyce, is a vast novel depicting a day in the streets of Dublin, Ireland, at the turn of the twentieth century. Joyce's ever-referential narrative and complex rendering of consciousness create a story in which sense of place and character continually arise out of their social context only to disappear again into the depths of the novel's language of displacement. Finally, Thomas King tells a circuitous story of his experience as a Native American through vignettes that begin and end in near repetition. In this way, King attempts to bring bits of the repertoire of the oral tradition of Native American cultures into the Western archives. These three books resonated personally and within the context of Evolution/Stories/Diversity as acts of writing that speak beyond the page as acts of re-envisioning the stories we tell of and for our selves.
The dialogue between the texts took shape as a creative cutting and pasting of lines that, upon my first reading of each book, I highlighted or took special note of. What follows on the subsequent pages is a reconfiguring of these lines to suggest touch-points between the texts. These sites of connection at times allow for the emergence of a new story out of complementary concepts, or alternatively, a tension of ideas wherein meaning is refracted and scattered in new directions.





"I am a listener to the language's stories, and when my words form I am merely retelling the same stories in different patterns." (King, 2)

"...all kinds of words changing colour like those crabs about Ringsend in the morning burrowing quickly into all colours of different sorts of the same sand where they had a home somewhere beneath or seemed to." (Joyce, 526)

"Over all these causes of change, the accumulative action of selection, whether applied methodically and quickly or unconsciously and slowly but more efficiently seems to have been the predominant power." (Darwin, 41)

"[Individual Differences] thus afford the materials for natural selection to act on and accumulate." (Darwin, 43)

"If man goes on selecting, and thus augmenting, any peculiarity, he will almost certainly modify unintentionally other parts of the structure, owing to the mysterious laws of correlation." (Darwin, 14)

"The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh." (Joyce, 32)

"So again it is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature; but I mean by nature, only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as ascertained by us." (Darwin, 78)

"Is it our nature? Do the stories we tell reflect the world as it truly is..." (King, 26)

"You can't understand the world without telling a story," the Anishinabe writer Gerald Vizenor tells us. "There isn't any center to the world but a story." (King, 32)

"Nothing is easier to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for human life, or more difficult - at least I have found it so - than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, the whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold he face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind that, though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year." (Darwin, 62)

"'s everybody eating everyone else. That's what life is after all." (Joyce, 101)

"We can't judge the past by the standards of the present." (King, 77)

"Imperium romanum...the word reminds one somehow of fat in the fire." (Joyce, 108)

"Every fellow for his own, tooth and nail. Gulp. Grub. Gulp." (Joyce, 139)

"Ahbesee defeegee kelomen opeecue rustyouvee doubleyou." (Joyce, 48)

"It's turtles all the way down." (King, 2)





"The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere." (Joyce, 50)

"The crust of the earth is a vast museum..." (Darwin, 161)

"It was idyllic: and Father Conmee reflected on the providence of the Creator who had made turf to be in bogs whence men might dig it out and bring it to town and hamlet to make fires in the houses of poor people." (Joyce, 182)

"Sympathetic human man he is. Intelligent. Like Shakespeare's face. Always a good word to say." (Joyce, 59)


"Everything speaks in its own way." (Joyce, 100)

"She has lived her life with an optimism of the intellect and an optimism of the will." (King, 4)

"We both knew that stories were medicine, that a story told one way could cure, that the same story told another way could injure." (King, 92)

"He who believes in separate and innumerable acts of creation may say, that in these cases it has pleased the Creator to cause a being of one type to take the place of one belonging to another type; but this seems to me only restating the fact in dignified language." (Darwin, 172)

"But give this a thought. What if the creation story in Genesis had featured a flawed deity who was understanding and sympathetic rather than autocratic and rigid? Someone who, in the process of creation, found herself lost from time to time and in need of advice, someone who was willing to accept a little help with the more difficult decisions?" (King, 27)

"Somewhere in the east: early morning: set off at dawn. Travel round in front of the sun, steal a day's march on him. Keep it up forever and never grow a day older technically." (Joyce, 47)

"Child born every minute somewhere." (Joyce, 193)

"In the midst of death we are in life. Both ends meet." (Joyce, 89)

"Monday morning. Start afresh. Shoulder to the wheel." (Joyce, 80)

"It's the moment you feel." (Joyce, 91)






The individual fragments of this string of quotations speak sparsely to similar themes of origins, legacies of literature, humanity, spirituality, and selection. The dialogue of texts emerges without true beginning and trails off without conclusion; in its loose organization of touch-points it offers potential opportunities for interaction between the three texts, or simply a scattered selection of quotations that resonated with my own story and urged me to revisit them. Over all, in creating this fluid negotiation of three similar yet distinctive texts, I was able to explore the many ways in which deep questions of nativity are expressed and molded to evoke meaning in the act of storytelling.