Reading Journal: Assembling Dinosaurs, “War and Peace”

The scene: it was one of those glorious nights where I just wanted to keep reading. So first I read some 25 pages of Lukas Rieppel’s Assembling the Dinosaur. Then I opened up War and Peace and read at least 25 pages of that, concluding Volume III. After having brushed my teeth and reclined I started reading the Avengers Vs. X-Men saga, some 10 or so issues.

Assembling the Dinosaur (Chapter 3)

The discovery of the Tyrannosaurus Rex at the beginning of the 20th century has seemed to some observers a symbol of the predatory nature of capitalism. The intention of the Henry Fairfield Osbourne and others at the AMNH to stage a battle between two of the species seems emblematic of this meaning.

Before Assembling the Dinosaur, an image from William D. Matthew with Osborn's description paper.
Skeletal restoration by William D. Matthew from 1905, published alongside Henry Fairfield’s Osborn’s description paper

But the author argues otherwise, for this is not the nature of capitalism in the United States at beginning of the twentieth century. Rather, capitalism has assumed the mantle of an administrative organism in which regulation and organization is the order of the day (no pun intended). Instead of the T. Rex symbolizing capitalism’s aggressive, acquisitive nature, the T. Rex is a vestige of the past on the larger account of nature’s teleological evolution to the “Age of Man.”

The T. Rex demonstrates the necessity of regulating nature and the unique status of the human in being both able and obligated to regulate nature for its own longevity. Thus, the same capitalists that have been plundering nature’s bounty also recognize the necessity of conservation. These titans establish national parks and create game reserves, the aim being equilibrium.

Earliest mention of the word palaeontology in January 1822 by Blainville Reading Journal: Assembling Dinosaurs, "War and Peace"
Earliest mention of the word “palaeontology”, in January 1822, by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in his ”Journal de physique”.

The same managerial inspiration is able to perceive the human as an animal whose breeding must be overseen so as to avoid the regression to earlier, primitive stages. In short, these individuals contemplate and promote eugenics. The 1924 Johnson-Reed Act setting quotas on certain groups of immigrants, which suffered little resistance in Congress and enjoyed great support, gave legislative form to his ideological thread.

Rieppel’s doubts about the T. Rex as the symbolism of capitalism hypothesis resonate with me if not because of the extreme simplicity of this interpretation. Similarly, to explain the dream of one arriving in a public place without wearing pants as expressing anxiety is too simplistic. What’s more, this is not exactly how capitalism works: it’s not simply company versus company, industrialist versus industrialist. Has it ever been so?

War and Peace

Pierre has spent the night in a friend’s Moscow home with a quartered French soldier with whom bonhomie flows like the wine. This disturbs his intention to assassinate Napoleon because he finds himself getting along so well with this man and so charmed that he forgets his desperation. His intention is that of a child, and he knows this. It’s not that it is not possible, but if his intention can be disturbed by the amity of a stranger—in fact, the enemy, albeit a Frenchman of some aristocratic origin, like Pierre himself (actually a bastard)—then he cannot be that serious.

After passing out from drink, he awakes with his intention awoke. In kaftan and getup he leaves with a dull dagger (the pistol needed to be reloaded, which he probably was unable to do, and moreover it would have been detectable beneath his getup). He starts walking through the streets. The fire that is consuming Moscow does not make a significant impression on him. He’s on a mission until disturbed by a miserable woman who’s lost her child and blames her husband and nanny for it. He seeks the child.

Русский: Московский пожар (1812)
Napoleon retreating from Moscow, as imagined by Viktor Mazurovsky (1859–1944)

The house where the child is to be found has French soldiers in the street before it, searching for loot and molesting the remaining Muscovites for whatever is of value (including boots, necklaces, etc.). Pierre finds the child in the garden after being directed by a French soldier with whom he speaks in French. When he comes back to the street, he sees a French soldier in the process of harassing a “genuine Asian beauty,” the model thereof, who is trying to hide herself from the looters’ attention. When the soldier lays hands on her, Pierre attacks the soldier, beating him down, and is then arrested by another group of French soldiers.

Meanwhile, outside of Moscow the Rostovs have stopped for the night, and Natasha cannot stop herself from visiting the wounded Prince Bolkonsky. She waits until everyone else is asleep and then steals to the room where he is with several other wounded soldiers.

Postcard by Elizaveta Bem of the character Natasha Rostova from the novel War and Peace
Postcard by Elizaveta Bem: Natasha Rostova from War and Peace

His own survival surprises and disappoints the doctor who believes he cannot last long and to last longer just means to endure more pain. His consciousness partakes of the remarkable forms of disassociation experienced when the body and mind have been pushed beyond their limits. He is the spectator before a train of ideas and images, very much like the sleeping mind in the thrall of the imagination. When it is disturbed, the thoughts that he perceives cannot be brought back. But he becomes conscious again just as Natasha comes before him.

He feels a sort of divine love, which he calls such, in his wounded, fragile state. He felt this love on the surgeon’s table outside Borodino for another soldier. This love exists beyond injury or shared experience or even friendship—why it is a divine love.

Avengers vs. X-Men

I am so vain that I probably think this song is about me. Equally, I think that I dwell within a cloudy region above the adolescent desires given form in the outlined, caricature-ish images found in a comic book. Hence my embarrassment in confessing that, after I’ve read part of a monograph on 20th-century paleontological museums and capitalism and part of one of the most important works of Western literature, I read comic books.

Care to read about what I’ve said about dinosaurs or about War and Peace?