In the generic plot of a liability trial, the world has slipped from the ordinary to the extraordi-
nary by the short path of a passive and unfathomable slippage that is resurrected into recover-
able intelligibility by being subdivided into a sequence of discrete actions. . . . Implicit in this
mimesis of restorability is the belief that catastrophes are themselves (not simply narratively but
actually) reconstructable, the belief that the world can exist, usually does exist, should in this
instance have existed, and may in this instance be “remakable” to exist, without such slippage.
—elaine-scarry, The Body in Pain
The important thing is that the photograph possesses an evidential force, and that its testimony
bears not on the object but on time. —roland-barthes,-Camera Lucida
Speculating in Retrospect
In 1880, Thomas Huxley delivered a lecture at Working Men’s College in
London titled “On the Method of Zadig.” Huxley, a prominent naturalist and
staunch Darwinist, claimed that Zadig, the philosopher- hero of Voltaire’s novel
of the same name, practiced an art of “methodised savagery.”1 Like a primitive
hunter, Zadig was an astute tracker and discoverer, able to “perceive endless
minute di≠erences where untrained eyes discern[ed] nothing.” From this ob-
servation, Huxley proceeded to argue that Zadig’s method of tracking and dis-
cerning lay at the root not only of the science of paleontology, which deduces
by “reasoning from a shell, or a tooth, or a bone, to the nature of the animal
to which it belonged,” but of “all those sciences which have been termed . . .
palaetiological, because they are retrospectively prophetic and strive towards
the reconstruction in human imagination of events which have vanished and
ceased to be.”2
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