TH4. Pharyngeal Phantasy & Spinal Polyptoton


We find Ballard rehearsing the Meckel-Serres Law when he writes that the foetus’s ‘uterine odyssey [recapitulates] the entire evolutionary past’—a statement that also helps decrypt the novelist’s preoccupation with Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘lost gillslits’, for Haeckel had theorized that the human embryo’s pharyngeal grooves are palingenetic repetitions of ichthyic branchia, or gill arches—that the ‘human gill slits are (literally) the adult features of an ancestor’. Ballard himself, in 1970, acknowledges the naturphilosophische provenance of this idea, citing ‘Goethe’s notion that the skull is formed of modified vertebrae’ and that ‘the bones of the pelvis may constitute the remnant of a lost sacral skull’.

But the true progenitor of ‘Goethe’s notion’ was the towering Lorenz Oken (1779–1851), who, among other startling hypotheses, maintained that the entire human musculoskeletal system was procedurally constructed from a single self-iterating and self-deforming vertebra…