The Ghost of Darwin's Animals: Presence and the Return of the Real

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This essay takes its point of departure from the emergence of the concept of presence in the field of history and theory. The essay suggests that the emergence of presence is related to the events of September 11 and signals a weariness of the postmodern condition and a longing for the real. Advocates of presence, the essay argues, have stressed how the material traces of the past move us in the present, and in doing so have played down the problematic relationship between past experience and historical representation, which was a concern of the linguistic turn. The essay argues that this interest in the trace points to a shift away from the meaning-making of symbolic practices and toward the moment when the master signifier enables (symbolic) meaning to occur. This indicates that there is a desire for the real at play in the move toward presence. Through an analysis of Eelco Runia’s concept of presence, the essay argues that this desire for the real is related to a repression of Darwin’s evolutionary framework, which has been considered bad taste in the social sciences and humanities since the end of the Second World War.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory and Theory
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)50-66
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • research designs, theory and method


Dive into the research topics of 'The Ghost of Darwin's Animals: Presence and the Return of the Real'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this