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Bollas, C. (2001). Darwin's Worms Adam Phillips Faber, London, 1999. 148 pp., £7.99. J. Child Psychother., 27(3):339-341.

(2001). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 27(3):339-341

Darwin's Worms Adam Phillips Faber, London, 1999. 148 pp., £7.99

Review by:
Christopher Bollas

Darwin and Freud changed the way we think of life (and death), finding in the natural world a harsh lesson—destruction moves us—that challenges anyone to come up with a beneficent view of human reality. What stories can we tell one another about the good life after coming to this conclusion?

‘They both decreed, in different ways, the death of immortality’, writes Adam Phillips in Darwin's Worms. In erasing belief in our endlessness they introduced us to ‘transience’. Darwin found beauty in the ruthless exchange of the natural world; its variation was inspiring. Freud found through the death instinct the right amount of death in life; indeed, a life would inevitably be judged on how artfully anyone constructed his or her own death. Permanence was out, discontinuity was in: mourning the losses was the ordinary emotional fate of anyone.

Darwin wrote about worms at the beginning and at the end of his life. Phillips argues that in the worm Darwin found a kind of unsung hero, a soul that works the earth, ‘sustaining its fertility’. Suffering as he did from digestive problems throughout his life, interestingly Darwin finds in a lowly creature not only a superior digestive ability, but something like a ‘kind of faith’. Darwin had ‘been able to describe, through the worms, that the earth could look after itself’.

Darwin avoided anything like a direct critique of contemporary theology. ‘For Darwin the best way of writing about theology was to write about science.’ Darwin's works propose a new form of afterlife, i.e. ‘the life of the world that continues after one's own death’.

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