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Re: The Last Dinosaur Book(long)



In a message dated 5/1/99 3:17:44 PM EST, hairymuseum@pop.mindspring.com 
writes:

<< You are certainly correct in stating that I am skeptical about your
 claim that the dinosaur is best understood as a totem animal. >>

Another problem I had with this book was the frequent use of the noun phrase 
"the dinosaur" throughout, as if there were such a thing. There is no such 
thing. There are many kinds of dinosaurs, none of which may legitimately be 
singled out as "the dinosaur." When one says, "the dinosaur," which dinosaur 
does one mean? Tyrannosaurus? Apatosaurus? Velociraptor? Iguanodon? 
Pachycephalosaurus? Triceratops? Some kind of nonexistent hybrid of all of 
these? Some kind of mental or metaphysical construct of an "ideal dinosaur"? 
This is balderdash. And it is very easy to correct this deficiency, in most 
places: Simply substitute the plural, "dinosaurs," and change the surrounding 
grammar to correspond. This would then, for example, render the sentence 
quoted above more sensible: "You are certainly correct in stating that I am 
skeptical about your claim that dinosaurs are best understood as totem 
animals."

This correction would, however, nullify the impact of Chapter 21, 
"Schizosaur," wherein the author--having set up this red herring concept of 
"the dinosaur"--complains about Charles R. Knight's images of dinosaurs as 
"compromise formations that stitch together the dualities of the dinosaur 
image" and laments Knight's attempts to illustrate "an incoherent, hybrid 
creature that straddles two different zoological groups, the reptiles and the 
birds." He then quite clearly states,  "When we think of 'the' dinosaur, we 
should probably not imagine any single figure, but rather the confrontation 
of two figures, the bipedal carnivore and the armored quadrupedal 
herbivore..." Actually, the correct approach is not to imagine "the" dinosaur 
at all--but then there would be less to write about in the book, eh?

I also think the author might profit from reading the book "The Third 
Culture," by John Brockman (Simon & Schuster, 1995). Here are the opening 
paragraphs:

"The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the 
empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking 
the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper 
meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.

"In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has 
shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly 
marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a 
sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s. Indeed, the 
traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, 
and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly 
significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which 
dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washes 
its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the 
swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real 
world gets lost."