the short story project

The Origin of Species

Olga Sonkin On:

The Origin of Species by Viktor Pelevin

In “The Origin of Species” (the title of Charles Darwin’s renowned text, in which he proves the scientific theory of evolution), Viktor Pelevin revisits the character of Darwin aboard the “Beagle” research vessel, in a supposedly realistic-historical story. And yet, there is nothing realistic about this story; Pelevin’s Darwin is not a young man in his early twenties as Darwin indeed was during the Beagle expedition, but the image of Darwin as engraved in the historical consciousness, a kind of memorial of himself. Darwin’s scientific experiments in the story are the killing of apes, and each one of Darwin’s battles with an ape brings him one step closer to the great discovery—the theory of evolution. Thus Pelevin turns Darwin into the father of Darwinism in the social sense as well, i.e., the assumption that human society is also built on the principle of “survival of the fittest.” Pelevin’s Darwin examines the validity of the theory of evolution on himself, in a real battle of survival against a gorilla, and by doing so, Pelevin ridicules the scientific validity and the myth created around the character and work of the famous researcher. With fluent prose, in an almost mischievous move (like painting a Hitler mustache or giant elephant ears on the photos of pompous politicians), Pelevin transforms Darwin’s theory of evolution—“the origin of species,” into another creationism myth, simply one of many. And in the same manner, he transforms Darwin, who is considered the symbol of enlightenment and secularization, into a brawny bully whose strength lends him his glory.