evolutionary throwback, such as traits reappearing that had disappeared generations before

Atavism is the tendency to revert to ancestral type. In biology, an atavism is an evolutionary throwback, such as traits reappearing which had disappeared generations before. In the social sciences, atavism is a cultural tendency—for example, people in the modern era reverting to the ways of thinking and acting of a former time. Atavist and atavistic are derived terms.

Early embryos of various species display some ancestral feature, like the tail on this human fetus. These features normally disappear in later development, but it may not happen if the animal has an atavism

Quotes edit

Gold has an almost atavistic lure. People feel it has a panacea effect. - Howard Blum.
Nairn rejected the view of nationalist movements, purveyed by many thinkers on the liberal and Marxist left, as residues of tribal atavism. Rather, he understood national identities as distinctively modern expressions of an enduring human need.
  • I mean that it is, after all, an atavistic feeling... Conventional, I agree, but somehow, deep down, a man has the feeling that he ought to look after his wife, that he is the one who ought to earn their livilihood.
  • I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers at their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever knows. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.
  • I like best to think of the rare men of an age as suddenly emerging aftershoots of past cultures, and of their persistent strength: like the atavism of a people and its civilisation: there is thus still something in them to think of! They now seem strange, rare, and extra ordinary: and he who feels these forces in himself has to foster them in face of a different, opposing world; he has to defend them, honour them, and rear them to maturity: and he either becomes a great man thereby, or a deranged and eccentric person, if he does not altogether break down betimes. Formerly these rare qualities were usual, and were consequently regarded as common: they did not distinguish people. Perhaps they were demanded and presupposed; it was impossible to become great with them, for indeed there was also no danger of becoming insane and solitary with them. It is principally in the old-established families and castes of a people that such after-effects of old impulses present themselves, while there is no probability of such atavism where races, habits, and valuations change too rapidly. For the tempo of the evolutional forces in peoples implies just as much as in music; for our case an andante of evolution is absolutely necessary, as the tempo of a passionate and slow spirit: and the spirit of conserving families is certainly of that sort.

Literature and Science: Social Impact and Interaction edit

The idea of atavism was pervasive in the late nineteenth century, and police forces across Europe developed files of “mug shots” of criminals to be able to identify the “criminal type.” A version of this atavistic type is Count Dracula, as portrayed in Bram Stroker's Dracula (1897). Dracula himself is a version of degenerate, the Transylvanian aristocrat who has revolved into a parasitic being, feeding on the blood and life of others.

John H. Cartwright, Brian Baker in: Literature and Science: Social Impact and Interaction, ABC-CLIO, 1 January 2005

  • The word atavistic was used by the Italian doctor and criminologist Cesare Lombroso to denote the “criminal type” and means the recurrence of “lower” behavioral or sphysical traits in “higher” forms (the return of the primitive).
    • In: p. 208
  • Holmes and Watson discover that a strange ape-like creature , the “Creeping Man” of the title, has been disturbing the household of the professor. When Holmes finally discovers the (barely credible) truth, the reader is transported into the world of Gothic fiction: the “creeping man” is the professor's “Hyde,” an atavistic being manifested by a strange drug.
    • In p. 215
  • This story [The Time Machine] may also be a kind of reply to another text that features transformation and atavism, written some forty years before. In “The Creeping Man,” a letter, sent from Prague explains the truth of the “serum” and reveals something else: there is another recipient.
    • In: p. 217

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